On his way to Haran, Jacob stops for the night. He puts a stone beneath his head and sleeps. He dreams of a staircase that goes from earth to heaven with angels traveling up and down. Echoing His promise to Abraham, the Lord tells Jacob He will give him the land and bless all peoples through him (Gen. 28:10-15).
Jacob wakes in awe. He sets up the stone that was under his head, anoints it with oil, and renames the place Bethel: House of God (Gen. 28:16-19).
Jesus applied this passage to Himself and said His disciples would see “heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man” (John 1:51). Jesus would open heaven and be the way to heaven.
Christ is also pictured in the stone Jacob set up. Jacob laid the stone down in sleep by his head. Then Jacob set it up and anointed it with oil. This shows Christ, our head, who slept for three days in the grave. He rose and ascended–God set Him up and anointed Him with the fullness of the Spirit as His eternal King.
In His resurrection, Jesus became the House of God, as He told the Pharisees: “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it up in three days” (John 2:19). Jacob renaming the place he slept “House of God” prefigures this because God’s house is His temple.
As the body of Christ, joined to our Head, we too are God’s house and temple. This is the further meaning of Bethel. One stone doesn’t make a temple just as a head alone doesn’t make a body. Peter says, “Coming to Him, a living stone…you yourselves, as living stones, are being built into a spiritual house….” (1 Peter 2:5).
Jacob says two significant things about the House of God. First: “Surely the LORD is in this place….” (Gen. 28:16). The Lord is in us, His house. “You in I, and I in You” is the relationship here. The Lord is here! Within us! Jacob was afraid to learn the Lord was at Bethel. It is an awesome thing to realize God is within. We do not know this at first, just as Jacob wasn’t aware the Lord was at Bethel. But when it pleases God, He reveals His Son in us, and we know He is there (Gal. 1:15-16).
The other thing Jacob says is, “This is none other than the house of God. This is the gate of heaven” (Gen. 28:17). Under the old covenant, the temple was God’s dwelling, His point of contact in the earth. This pictured the temple of Christ, who said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6). As stones in the house and temple of Christ, we share in being the way, the gate of heaven.
What a sobering thought! But it is true. Jesus gave us the keys of the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 16:19). Typologically, Israel failed this responsibility, as shown by Jesus’s rebuke of the Pharisees: “You lock up the kingdom of heaven from people. For you don’t go in, and you don’t allow those entering to go in” (Matt. 23:13).
God is in us, His house. Through this house, as he told Jacob, He wants all nations to be blessed. It is not for us to shut up our doors and hoard God. We must know He is within by revelation and invite others to know Him. Failing that, we operate based on pious ignorance; we create barriers to God out of religious imaginations.
This is not God’s intention for the church. He wants us to wake in the light of Christ and recognize He is in us and that we have become His gates in Christ!