Many Old Testament accounts offer pictures and symbolism depicting New Testament teachings. When Jacob left home and traveled to Haran to find a wife, the first night of his journey he found himself in a barren, rocky wilderness. He places a rock under his head for a pillow and has a dream of a staircase or ladder to heaven. Angels were ascending and descending upon it. Jacob's ladder symbolizes Jesus Christ.
There above it stood the LORD, and he said: "I am the LORD, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying. Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south. All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring. I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you." When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he thought, "Surely the LORD is in this place, and I was not aware of it." (Genesis 28:13-16 HCSB).
Symbolism of Jacob's ladder to heaven
When Jacob lay down and fell asleep he saw a staircase to heaven with angels ascending and descending upon it. In the dream, the Lord (Jehovah) is standing there and talks to him. The Lord promises to give him the area where he is lying, promises to bless him and to go with him, and promises to give the land to his "seed." The Lord is repeating the promises he made to Abraham.
To understand the symbolism of Jacob's ladder to heaven, we need to go to the New Testament at the time when Philip came to Nathanael and announced they had found the Messiah. When Jesus saw Nathanael coming he said, "Here is a true Israelite, in whom there is nothing false." The statement surprised Nathanael because they had never met. When he asked Jesus about this, Jesus told him, "I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you." Nathanael declares that Jesus is the Son of God and the King of Israel. Jesus promises that Nathanael will see greater things than this and added:
"I tell you the truth, you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man" (John 1:51)
In the same way Nathanael recognized Jesus as the Son of God, Jacob recognized the Lord's presence in that place. And in the gospel of John we are offered insight that Jacob's ladder represented access to heaven through Jesus Christ.
The Lord is in this place
Jacob was in the desert…a rocky deserted place. Jacob's ladder to heaven was found even in a place like this during a difficult time in Jacob's life. The following day when Jacob could no longer see the ladder he still understood that the Lord was present. He said "God IS in this place"…not that God had been in that place. It was something he hadn't known the night before. He recognized it as the gate to heaven and set up the stone he had used as a pillow as a pillar. He anointed it and called it The House of God. This barren place where he became aware of God became an altar to the Lord.