Jacob had gotten himself into a mess. His brother, he had felt, was about to claim a blessing that belonged justly to him. And so he had gotten in his brother’s way. He had lied and cheated Esau, but he had not seen it as cheating because the blessing belonged to him anyhow. Regardless, he had gotten Esau upset, and now Esau was after him. He was after Jacob’s very life, and fleeing his homeland was Jacob’s only option. Leaving father and mother, banished from the comforts of home, Jacob had become a fugitive, a tramp. Lonely, heartsick, and braving the perils of the wilderness, he was forced to find a place to sleep upon the cold, hard ground. Finding a stone for his pillow, Jacob drifted into a troubled sleep. It was here amid the tumult of his tortured, angry thoughts that the dream found him.
Jacob dreamed and saw a ladder, leading from earth to heaven. The ladder, it seemed, began right where Jacob lay; but it stretched away, away, up past the realm of his fears and his failures and his disappointments, right up to the throne of God. At the top of the ladder was Jehovah, promising to be with Jacob, to keep him and bless him and prosper him through all his wanderings. And, in between, ascending the ladder and coming back down, were angels– ministers of mercy from the throne to Jacob.
It was a dream, and yet it was not a dream. As Jacob roused himself, so assured did he feel of the truth of this strange vision that it seemed to send a quickening power all through him. No longer was he alone! No longer was he an aimless wanderer in a strange country whose people knew and cared little about him. His eyes had been opened to the unseen Guide of his path. He was loved. He was guarded. He was escorted by a company of angels. Up to heaven they could go and open the door for Jacob. Back to Jacob they could come carrying heaven’s mercy just when he needed mercy the most. Jacob had found a gate out of his discouragement, out of his disgrace, and into heavenly places. “And he was afraid,” scripture says, “and said…this is none other but the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven” (Genesis 28:17). Overwhelmed with the mighty presence of God’s love, Jacob set up his pillar, and pouring oil upon it, vowed to take God as His God and to return to God a tenth again of everything He prospered him with.
Some might call Jacob a visionary, but there is not one of us who does not need a ladder up to heaven. Beset as we are by powers we don’t always understand, and made the target of foes we cannot see, we are as good as ruined, body and mind and soul, if there be not some way of escape for us–some door of entrance into heaven, some gate through which mercy can come down. We need angels–angels in our own form–who know the way up the ladder to represent us at the throne of God, and who know how to climb back down with our deliverance in their hands.
When discoursing with Nathanael about the things he would see in the gospel dispensation, Jesus gave Nathanael a beautiful promise: “And he saith unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Hereafter ye shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man” (John 1:51).
The thing we are compelled to notice about this promise is that these angels, just like the angels Jacob saw in his dream, began not by descending from heaven, but by ascending from earth. They had to climb from the earth because they dwelt on the earth among the people of the earth. That human beings can fill the office of angels (heavenly messengers) is further obvious from at least two references in the New Testament (see Revelation 1:20; Galatians 4:14) where the word is used to describe God’s ministry in their capacity of relaying messages to us from heaven.
We, when defiled and wretched sinners, needed a mediator to bridge the gap between heaven and earth. Jesus Himself, in love unfathomable and free, came down from heaven, and through the merits of His own blood, spanned that gulf which separated man from God. He became a ladder, and upon the strength of His merits, climb angels of mortal frame who have joined Him in His ministry of mercy. They are the flesh and blood embodiment of the grace to which that ladder gives access. They carry messages from the throne–messages of mercy, of comfort, of reproof. They plead for men, representing our case before God; and they plead for God, representing His goodness to us. They are a true ministry connected with God and invested with divine authority. They form a link from earth to heaven, and if we can touch them, they can help us to touch God.