When Jacob had deceived his father and claimed his brother’s blessing, he had to run away from home. Jesus willingly gives to Christians the reward that Jesus deserved for obeying his father’s will, but Esau plots to kill his brother Jacob. Rebekah sends Jacob to her family, a place of safety, until enough time has passed that Esau will have lost his anger.
His first night away from home, Jacob meets Jesus. He takes a stone for his pillow and lays down to sleep. “And he dreamed, and behold, there was a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven. And behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it” (Genesis 28:12). Jesus stood above the ladder and spoke to Jacob, renewing the promise he had made to Abraham and Isaac. The same triple blessing is spoken: Jacob’s family will become a mighty nation, they will live on the land where Jacob was sleeping, and through that family on that land all the nations of the world will be blessed. (Again, the promise spoken by Jesus to Jacob is the promise fulfilled by Jesus when he comes to obey his Father and to sacrifice himself on a cross so our sins can be forgiven and we can be welcomed into the Kingdom of God.)
Jacob takes this dream to indicate that he has been sleeping in the house of God and at the gate of heaven (Genesis 28:17). He sets up a landmark to remember the place. Then he does what sinners so often do: he tries to bargain with God. Although God has made unconditional promises to Jacob, Jacob offers God a deal—if God will keep his promise to take care of Jacob, then the Lord will be Jacob’s God and the landmark Jacob made will be God’s house. Moreover, Jacob promises God one-tenth of Jacob’s wealth. God did not ask for any of this. He blessed Jacob because God’s nature is to love, to bless, and to show mercy. God’s plan, as described in his promise, is much bigger than the fortunes of Jacob. Yet Jacob takes this promise personally, thinking only of what’s in this promise for Jacob.
Not only did Jacob see Jesus at the top of the ladder; in the ladder itself he saw a picture of Jesus. We know this because of the words of Jesus: “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man” (John 1:51). Jesus is the only Way to the Father, the only way from this sinful earth to God’s perfect new creation. Jesus is the ladder, although if escalators had been invented when the book of Genesis was written, they would have been an even better picture of Jesus, bearing us up to heaven at no effort to ourselves.