I have said that this comes out of the witness borne by Christ, immediately after His baptism, to the disciples first gathered to Him. These were men all sprung from the stock of Israel, fallen, as the Church is now, under an alien rule, and torn within by endless separations. But, though fallen, they were not forsaken. A witness, sent from God had come preaching repentance. And not a few had felt his words were true, who, having for a season been his disciples, through his teaching come ere long to be disciples of a higher Master. Some, like Andrew, by their earthly teacher are directed to the Lord Himself (John 1:35-37). Others, like Peter, are “brought to Jesus” by some brother in the flesh, who, having first followed one sent of God, is now following the Lord (John 1:40-42).
Some again, like Philip, are “found and called” directly by the Lord Himself, as it is written, “Jesus findeth Philip” (John 1:43); while others, like Nathaniel, are called by those whom Christ has called (John 1:45), who are perhaps the commonest type of true disciples. It is to one of these last, and not to John or Peter, that our Lord specially addresses this “Amen, Amen,” saying, “Hence- forward ye shall see”; for the promise of “opened heavens” is to all, even to the weakest and least distinguished of His true disciples. But something must be learnt ere this is reached. The disciple has to learn that he is seen, before he hears what he shall see. So our Lord, before He says, “Ye shall see heaven opened,” first says, “Before that Philip called thee, I saw thee” (John 1:48). For we must be made to feel that our Lord sees us through and through before we can be taught what we ourselves shall see in due season. Then follows the confession, the result of feeling ourselves known,–“Rabbi, thou art the Son of God; thou art the King of Israel.” And then come the words, “Because I said, I saw thee, thou believest. Thou shalt see greater things than these. Verily, Verily, I say unto you, Henceforward ye shall see heaven opened, and angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”
Now this promise manifestly refers to that which had in vision been revealed of old, when at Bethel Jacob saw a ladder linking heaven with earth, with angels of God ascending and descending on it, and the Lord Himself above, saying to weary man, “Behold, I am with you”; forcing Jacob to say, “The Lord is in this place, and I knew it not: this is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven” (Gen 33:12-17). All this is here revealed, not in vision, but as a present fact to which, even if we see it not, this first reiterated Amen of the True Witness bears sure testimony, declaring that communion with the unseen world is again restored to man in Christ, that heaven so long shut is henceforth open to him, because our nature is none other than the house of God, and even this flesh has become through grace the fate of heaven; yea, that the Lord Himself is in this place, even though we knew it not, but have lain down to sleep, like Jacob, with stones for pillows, as if there was no present God. Christ’s flesh is the ladder joining heaven and earth.
And in making this revelation, this first “Verily, Verily” further declares man’s proper name, lost in Adam, but restored again in Christ Jesus, that he is not “seed of the woman” only, great as are the glories which gather round this name, but “Son of Man,” heir of undivided man, before separation of any kind had entered in. But upon the full import of this title, “Son of Man”, I will not enter here, as it comes before us more fully in the testimony (In the sixth “Verily, Verily,”) as to Divine Nature of the new man in Christ Jesus. I turn rather to the promise, that “henceforward we shall see heaven opened, and angels ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”
The promise is first that man shall henceforth see his long-lost heavenly home. Is it then possible for us here to come to opened heavens? Is not heaven further than the sun; and is it not therefore simply incredible that we should see or hold communion with it? No–Christ’s words are true. We may through Him here enter heaven and enjoy God’s presence as really and fully as His saints of old, from Adam in Paradise to John in Patmos. Heaven is not far off. Heaven is our home.
Nothing but our flesh, with its fallen self-hood and unbelief, hinder our seeing the kingdom which is at hand (Matt 3:2). For what is heaven but the spirit-world, which is lost or shut to the natural man, only because by the fall the life of God is crushed, and the spiritual sight and sense are gone, so that man though a spirit is content to live in earthly things, not indeed without cravings for a spirit-home, as every false religion and superstition testify, nor without ceaseless protests, in his yearnings, hopes, and fears, nay even in his very dreams, that the outward world is not the only one. For indeed man is a spirit, in a house of clay, and therefore, though he knows it not, is an inhabitant of an inward, as well as of an outward, world.
Outwardly indeed, as in the present body and its life, we are in a world lighted only by the sun of nature; but inwardly our spirits even now are in a spirit- world, which only is not opened to the natural man, because to open it to such would be to open the dark world into which by sin we have all fallen. But if by grace man is right with God,–if through Christ he is brought back in spirit from self-will and self-love to trust God,–the opening of the unseen only opens again the world of light and love, which is man’s proper home and true dwelling-place. What therefore will be manifested to each man at his death may be anticipated here, and entered into more or less, just as we live of Christ, and Christ in us. Opening heaven is but opening the inward spiritual world, which mercifully is shut to us till we are restored to peace with God through Christ Jesus.