Has anything ever opened up your understanding in a flash by showing you a comparison of something new with something familiar?

By a cross-reference (in this post’s title), I don’t mean “a reference to The Cross,” at least not as its definition—although here it well may be that in another sense. When I say “cross-reference,” I mean a little notation at the bottom of a page, and the place elsewhere in scripture to which it leads, for further information.

When I began my journey of investigating Christ, just such a little set of letters, numbers, and punctuation became a great agent of change in my sense of Who and What He was—and is.

The scripture I was reading: John 1. The verse: last one in the chapter. The situation: Nathanael is also coming to investigate Jesus. His friend Philip has told him that he and some others have found the long-awaited Messiah. Nathanael, like I, was skeptical.

Philip has said their found Messiah is Jesus of Nazareth. Nathanael’s incredulous (and perhaps snarky) response was, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?

Yet he goes with Philip to see for himself.

As he approaches this ordinary-looking person, the man turns toward him and says, “Behold an Israelite in whom there is no guile/deceit.” (Does a little snarkiness tinge this statement, too? Representatives of the Pharisees had just been to visit Jesus…)

To this bold assessment, Nathanael, perhaps still skeptical but with curiosity rising, can’t help asking, “How do you know me?”

To which the man answers, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.”

There’s a lot of knowledge packed into Jesus’ two sentences, and evidently they’re enough to knock Nathanael right off his disbelief. I think I hear him gasping as he blurts out, “Rabbi, You are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” (A lot packed into his two statements, too!)

It really didn’t take a lot for Nathanael to believe after all, did it? But this man before him makes the bits of evidence he’s already given Nathanael seem small change. He says, “Do you believe because I said I saw you under the fig tree?”

Then comes the statement that got me seeking my first scripture cross-reference, because to me it was a most cryptic gathering of words:

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

What? What on earth (or in heaven) could he have meant?

Did you wonder that when you first read John 1? Did Nathanael wonder? I wonder.

He would likely have known, at least, that Jesus was referring to a pivotal event in early Israelite history. He, as about every Israelite of his time, was probably clinging fiercely to their history, for this was a time of great political tribulation, of suffering under and longing to break free from an oppressive foreign power. At such a time, your own nation’s history becomes more than dull textbook facts. I’m quite sure Jesus’ words would have brought to Nathanael’s mind their ancient history, and he’d know what He was referencing.

But it wasn’t my history, and I didn’t know. So, to the cross-reference: Genesis 28:12.

What questions and thoughts go through your mind as you look up that reference and read? What claim do you think Jesus was making here?

Intriguing, compelling, it was for me. And though I couldn’t be sure exactly what He meant, I felt the force of its importance. And I thought I got His drift.

That’s when I got hooked on cross-references. What important and  sometimes fascinating background information that led me to!  After while I found my mind automatically cross-referencing from what I was reading to things they reminded me of reading elsewhere. They’re really a lively understanding aid. If you don’t use them, I invite you to start.

And The Gospel of John is a great place to do it.


{Note: Different Bibles and versions of Bibles often have different cross-references. If you become (or are already) quite familiar with much of the Bible, some will come to your own mind that aren’t noted down in your footnotes. I’ve added some of my own to my Bible’s footnotes. You could, too.}

2 thoughts on “The  Power of a Cross-Reference

  1. Thanks for sharing this meaningful cross-reference, Sylvia. I thought of Jacob but still wasn’t sure what Jesus meant…until I read the notes in my Bible; it’s like HE IS our stairway to heaven!

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