Tuesday, November 15, 2022

Jacob’s Ladder and the Locomotion Entelechy (Gospels 10)

“Most assuredly, I say to you, hereafter you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”

(John 1:51 NKJV)



While most other interpreters (including visual artists of the last few thousand years) depict Jacob’s Ladder as angels climbing up and down on a ladder, the Gospel of John cites Jesus as saying that the angels would be ascending and descending on a person, instead of a ladder (specifically, on Jesus Himself).  At first glance, one might think that John and Jesus must be making a very loose application of the Jacob’s Ladder incident in Genesis 28:12 by having the angels ascend and descend on a person.  Hugo Odeberg (p. 35), however, instructs that “there is the record of the two variant interpretations put upon the [Hebrew word commonly translated ‘on it’] of Gen. 28:12, one taking it in the sense of ‘on the ladder,’ the other in the sense of ‘on [a person].’”  Specifically, this second variant would be literally translated “on him.”  If one looks only at the Greek translation of the Old Testament (the Septuagint), the translation must be “on it.”  Nevertheless, the Hebrew word is בו.”  Writes Odeberg: “Burney has pointed out that the [Johanine] interpretation presupposes a direct reference to the Hebrew original, and cannot be derived from the LXX [Septuagint].”  Like the interpretation in the rabbinic text, Genesis Rabbah, John and Jesus are translating the Hebrew word as “on him.”  Jesus is the ladder (or train track, a slightly updated metaphor) to and from Heaven on whom angels are ascending and descending (in a locomotion sense).  Train tracks have the railroad ties that cross the tracks at intervals, resembling the rungs of

a ladder, so the updated metaphor may be easily visualized.

The clearest Aristotelian entelechial language in Jesus’ John 1:51 comment to is Aristotle’s description of the fourth type of  kinēsis/κίνησις: “in respect of locomotion, upwards and downwards” (Physics 201a5ff.).  Hugo Odeberg (p. 38) observes that the Johannine interpretation of Jacob’s ladder “is necessarily and essentially bound up with the Son of Man . . . there is no ascent and descent of the angels, no ‘heaven opened,’ no union of the celestial man with the terrestrial without the Son of Man.”  Jesus is, most likely, understood to be the “gate of heaven” referred to by Jacob in Genesis 28:17.  Odeberg (p. 36) quotes Bauer who says, “the from heaven descended one (3:13) . . . will also be elevated thither again (3:14, 6:62, 8:28, 12:34) in order to receive the glorification (12:23, 13:31).” There is a “locomotion” entelechy when one “descends” from heaven (to earth) and another “locomotion” entelechy when one is “elevated thither [to heaven] again.” 

The angelic descending and ascending, however, is different from that of Jesus’ descending and ascending.  My uncle Beauford H. Bryant, in his commentary on John (p. 68), draws my attention to the extraordinary (opposite) directional sequence of the ascent and descent of the angels.  One might typically think of angels, first, descending to Earth from Heaven PRIOR TO their ascending back to Heaven from Earth, but the Genesis 28:12 and John 1:51 accounts both have the angels “ascending,” first, and then, “descending,” second.  The order of Jesus’ own (circular?) locomotion entelechy appears to be a “descending” to Earth, first, followed later by His “ascending” back into Heaven.  

·         In John 3:13 (NKJV), Jesus says: No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of Man who is in heaven.” 

·         In John 6:32-33 (NKJV), Jesus says: “Most assuredly, I say to you, Moses did not give you the bread from heaven, but My Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is He who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” 

·         In John 6:38 (NKJV), Jesus says: “For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.” 

·         In John 6:42 (NKJV), the Jewish skeptics ask concerning Jesus: “How is it then that He says, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” 

·         In John 6:50-51 (NKJV), Jesus says: “This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven.” 

·         John 6:60-62 (NKJV) reports: “[M]any of His disciples . . . said, ‘This is a hard saying; who can understand it?’  . . . Jesus knew . . . that His disciples complained . . . He said to them, ‘Does this offend you? What then if you should see the Son of Man ascend where He was before?’”


Angels, God’s Word, and God’s Work


John’s record of Jesus’ descent to Earth uses telos/τέλος-related entelechial language as Jesus views his being sent (down to earth) to achieve an end/telos/τέλος for God’s “work.”

·         In John 4:34 (NKJV), Jesus says: “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to finish [teleiōsō/τελειώσω from the root telos/τέλος] His work.” 

·         In John 5:36 (NKJV), Jesus says: “[T]he works which the Father has given Me to finish [teleiōsō/τελειώσω from the root telos/τέλος]—the very works that I do—bear witness of Me, that the Father has sent Me.” 

·         In John 17:3-4 (NKJV), Jesus says: “[T]hat they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent . . . I have finished [teleiōsas/τελειώσας from the root telos/τέλος] the work which You have given Me to do.”

In the previous blogpost, I note that John 19:30 (NKJV) indicates the precise end/telos/τέλος of Jesus’ race (or course) to Earth, when Jesus, on the cross, declares “It is finished [tetelestai/τετέλεσται from the root telos/τέλος]!’ And bowing His head, He gave up His spirit.”  In answer to the question posed at the end of the previous blogpost, Jesus begins His Race when He comes down from Heaven.

What is the Father’s work that Jesus is finishing?  Odeberg (pp. 191) is certainly cognizant of the fact that, according to John, “the Son does the Father’s ‘works’” which Odeberg identifies: “he gives life, ‘makes living’ the dead’ . . . executes judgement [sic], is the judge of the world,” based on John 5:22-29.  If giving life to the dead is one of the works of God, then Jesus accomplishes this same work.  He raises the widow’s son in the town of Nain (Luke 7:11-17), the daughter of Jairus (8:40-56), and Lazarus (John 11:1-44), not to mention himself.  If executing judgment is one of the works of God, not only will Jesus execute judgment in the future (John 5:27-29), but He also “forgives sins” (and, thus, executes judgment) while He is on Earth for the woman who anoints His feet (Luke 7:48) and the paralytic (Matthew 9:1-8, Mark 2:1-12).  Note that the scribes remark, in Mark 2:7 (NKJV): “Who can forgive sins but God alone?”

The Rabbis could agree with Jesus that God’s work of judgment “is continually active from the beginning of time unto eternity,” according to Odeberg (p. 202).  The Rabbis, however, think God’s works of “creative fiats” are no longer in progress.  They think God has “rested” on the seventh day (Sabbath) from those works.  Therefore, God would not allow any “work” to be done (such as healing) on the Sabbath.  Jesus, however, claims in John 5:17 (NKJV): “My Father has been working until now, and I have been working.” The work of “executing judgment,” which Jesus (and God) do, involve Him making “pronouncements” or using “words,” such as “your sins are forgiven you.”  Giving life to the dead typically involves Jesus making “pronouncements” or using “words,” such as “Lazarus, come forth!”  The biblical understanding of God’s creative and life-giving work is that it was accomplished by making pronouncements, using creative fiats or “words.”  In my book, Angels and Demons:  The Personification of Communication—Logology (p. 153) I cite Kenneth Burke regarding “Words” used by God.  Burke calls the type of words God uses in creating the world (capitalized) “Word”: 


If God speaks a “Word,” that Word has “omnipotence” (or, at least, the total power necessary to complete its task).  In Genesis 1:3, God speaks a Word (“And God said, ‘Let there be light’”).  The very Word he speaks has the “omnipotence” to produce light.  Psalms 33:9 confirms the power of this (capitalized) Word: “He spoke, and it was done; he commanded, and [the universe] stood fast.”  The Word of God has tremendous power.  Isaiah 55:11 goes so far as to suggest that God’s Word is infallible--it cannot fail: “So is my word that goes out from my mouth; it will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.”


Furthermore, these creative fiats/Words are understood by the Rabbis to generate angels who accomplish the works demanded by the fiats.  On pages 155-156 of Angels and Demons, I connect the Rabbinic teaching on angels with God’s spoken Words:

[A]ngels were considered by Jewish teachers to be . . . generated by God’s use of “Word” (capitalized).  When [Louis] Ginzberg [vol. V, p. 21] states, "Out of every word uttered by God angels are created," he is picturing angels as the personification of God’s creative fiats.  He presents these angels, not as the free moral agents humans are, but as the commissioned forces that are charged with making certain that God’s Words are infallibly fulfilled.  . . .  When God says, “Let there be light,” an Angel of Light (Gabriel?) is created who infallibly produces light.

In his Dictionary of Angels (p. 25), Gustav Davidson describes angels, in the rabbinic fashion, as nothing more than personified spirit forces that are charged with carrying out the terms of God’s creative fiats.  Hence, whenever Jesus pronounces creative fiats, He also generates angels who would, then, ascend to Heaven (after accomplishing their explicit tasks).

Consider the “creative fiats” of Jesus on Earth.  From the time of Jesus, and down to the present day, the blessing Jews recite at their meals make two basic acknowledgements: (1) It is God who “brings forth bread from the earth” and (2) It is God who “creates” the “fruit of the vine.”  (Compare these two creations—bread and wine—with the Lord’s Supper.)  Note that, in the very first “sign” that John lists in his gospel, Jesus changes water into wine at Cana of Galilee.  This is evidence that, like God, Jesus creates the fruit of the vine.  In another sign, the feeding of the five thousand, Jesus creates enough bread to feed the multitude and, then, take up twelve baskets of left-overs.  This is evidence that Jesus, like God, brings forth bread from the earth.  Jesus accomplishes this sign by a pronouncement (blessing) over the five loaves belonging to a boy in the crowd.  A Christian Rabbi might say that by speaking “Words,” Jesus generates angels who fulfill the works of the Words He has spoken.

Furthermore (illustrating another approach to “words” as “angels”), Odeberg (p. 217) credits J. Lindblom with pointing out how important for John was the “conception of ‘the testimony’” (martyria/μαρτυρία), which would also be “words.”  According to Odeberg, Lindblom “lays stress on [Jesus’] function as bearer of the testimony from the celestial to the terrestrial world.”  Odeberg also connects the testimony/martyria/μαρτυρία with “the believer’s testimony” and classifies it with descending and ascending (κατάβασις and ἀναβασις).  Odeberg juxtaposes: “[T]he Divine μαρτυρία . . . the Divine-spiritual reality, brought down to earthly men (κατάβασις) . . . [with] the self-expression of that reality in man (ascending ever upwards in his experience of Jesus (ἀναβασις).”  As Odeberg notes in his comments on Lazarus’s resurrection (pp. 120-121), those who witness the resurrection supply “testimony [martyria/μαρτυρία] concerning the Divine power of [Jesus], emanating from a personal experience of that power.”  Testimony (especially Divine testimony), whether it emanates from God (and descends to man) via Jesus or whether it emanates from the believers who have witnessed the Divine power of Jesus, exists as words (that are, effectively, personified as angels).  Odeberg (p. 218) writes, further: “The Son gives μαρτυρία (to the world), he receives μαρτυρία (from the Father on one side, and from the believer . . . on the other).”

Why, then, do angels “ascend” first and “descend” second?  Angels are God’s Words personified.  If God the Father were the only one whose Words become personified, then the angels would naturally “descend” first.  But, Jesus, who is already on Earth when he meets Nathaniel generates His own angels of communication with God (thus, His angels ascend).  This ascent is followed by God’s communication back with Jesus (thus, descending), and so on, back and forth.  Jesus’ identity as God is indicated by the “ascending” of angels.  Jesus and his Father are communicating back and forth with each other (their Words personified as angels).  As Odeberg’s comments (in the previous paragraph) seem to suggest, Jesus can be both the creator of angels (the Word/Logos) and the Way by which His angels “ascend” to God.  This is a Locomotion entelechy.  Since I use the word “connectivity” to describe Jesus as He relates to humans and God, we might even attempt even more modern metaphors, however reductionist, of a spiritual telephone wire (or internet cable) to describe Jesus as Jacob’s Ladder.  Messages (Word/Logos) are sent both ways, using the same telephone line/internet cable.  As Odeberg’s comments suggest, Jesus may be understood as both the creator of the messages He sends to God and the metaphorical-phone-line-connection that delivers that message.  The point is: Jesus is “connected” to both God and man.  Jesus, both “delivers Words” to God and “receives Words” from Him, delivering them on to man.  Put more plainly, the words Jesus teaches on Earth are the angels that Jesus receives from above and His words to God on behalf of His believers are the angels Jesus sends back to God.  What kinds of messages (angels) does Jesus communicate from God to us and from us back to God (on our behalf)?  Most importantly, Jesus communicates to us God’s love for us and He communicates back to God that we believe in Him. 

The locomotion entelechy of angels, however, is not the primary interest of John’s Gospel.  The back-and-

forth locomotion of angels is designed to communicate between God and man.  “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us,” not to save angels. Rather, angels ascend and descend on the Word-become-flesh in order to connect God with man, to communicate God’s “love” for the world and to allow mankind’s “faith” to be communicated back to God, in order to “save” mankind:

·         In John 3:13-17 (NKJV), Jesus says: No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven . . . that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.  For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.”

·         In John 3:35-36 (NKJV), John the Baptist testifies: The Father loves the Son, and has given all things into His hand. He who believes in the Son has everlasting life.”

·         John 20:31 (NKJV) states: “These are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.”

Can you personally see the angels ascending and descending on the Son of Man?  Can you see the love of God being sent to you via Jesus?  Are you sending back your faith testimony through Jesus?  Jesus assured Nathaniel that he would see the angels.  We need to see them, as well.  Jesus and God are both working identical works for an identical outcome.  As Jesus said: 

“Most assuredly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He sees the Father do; for whatever He does, the Son also does in like manner. For the Father loves the Son, and shows Him all things that He Himself does; and He will show Him greater works than these, that you may marvel.  For as the Father raises the dead and gives life to them, even so the Son gives life to whom He will.  For the Father judges no one, but has committed all judgment to the Son, that all should honor the Son just as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him.  Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life” (John 5:19-24 NKJV).

Jesus, in John 5:36 (NKJV), pulls it all together, entelechially: “But I have a greater witness (martyrian/μαρτυρίαν) than John’s; for the works which the Father has given Me to finish (teleiōsō/τελειώσω from the root telos/τέλος)—the very works that I do—bear witness (martyrei/μαρτυρεῖ) of Me, that the Father has sent Me.”