“After these things there was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 2Now there is in Jerusalem by the sheep gate a pool, which is called in Hebrew Bethesda, having fiveporticoes. 3In these lay a multitude of those who were sick, blind, lame, and withered, [waiting for the moving of the waters; 4for an angel of the Lord went down at certain seasons into the pool, and stirred up the water; whoever then first,after the stirring up of the water, stepped in was made well from whatever disease with which he was afflicted.] 5And a certain man was there, who had been thirty-eight years in his sickness.”
Prior to John 5 Jesus had dealt almost exclusively with individuals. The healing of the lame man leads directly into conflict with the Pharisees, the religious leaders. From the human standpoint, it may be said that the healing of the lame man on the Sabbath cost Jesus His life, for the Pharisees never forgave this healing. The words of John 5:18, “seeking all the more to kill Him,” introduce a motif for the rest of the book.
The portion of the text within brackets is textually uncertain and is found in no manuscript before the fourth century. It is certainly absent from the earliest and best witnesses. In ATextual Commentary on the Greek New Testamentby Bruce M. Metzger, note is made that there are some seven phrases or words that are non- Johannine, which argues against his authorship.
One can view the pool of Bethesda today since it lies beneath the church of St. Anne in the northwest corner of Jerusalem. Fragments of stone piping have been found near the pool suggesting that it may have been fed from the temple. The site has been well excavat- ed.
After being bedfast for thirty-eight years, one would be unable to walk or even stand for any length of time. The thirty-eight years shows that the illness was well established and well known. Within this setting, the healing is more obvious.
THE CONVERSATION 5:6-8
Jesus’ Question 5:6
“When Jesus saw him lying there, and knew that he had already been a long time in that condition, He said to him, ‘Do you wish to get well?’ ”
How are we to understand Jesus’ question to the man concerning his desire to get well? Does it not stand to reason that a man in this condition would desire to be well? Apparently the man was resigned to his condition and had lost the will to be well. Jesus’ question, then, would be designed to excite hope in the man. It is worth noting, however, that an Eastern beggar often loses a good living by being cured of his disease. With the exception of the healing of the nobleman’s son, Jesus takes the initiative in all the sign miracles recorded by John.
We are not told how Jesus knew how long the man had been in this condition. It is possible that bystanders told Him; on the other hand, it may be a demonstration of Jesus’ omniscience. It could be similar to the incident with the woman at the well where Jesus knew of her marital history without being told.
The Man’s Reply 5:7
“The sick man answered Him, ‘Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, but while I am coming, another steps down before me.’ ”
The Lord’s Command 5:8
“Jesus said to him, ‘Arise, take up your pallet, and walk.’ ”
Each of the three verbs calls upon the man to do something that either he could not possibly do or had never been able to do. The Lord focuses on the man’s inability in order to prepare him for the display of His power.
THE MIRACLE 5:9
“And immediately the man became well, and took up his pallet and began to walk. Now it was the Sabbath on that day.”
The word immediately indicates the instantaneous nature of Jesus’ miracle. It is important to note that the healing was in no way dependent upon the man’s obedience to Jesus’ command found in verse 8. The action of rising, taking up his pallet, and walking occurs after he has been healed, not before. The healing power was in Jesus’ word, not the man’s faith. Taking up his pallet and walk- ing about shows the permanency of the cure. The miracles of Jesus are all easily verifiable by those who witnessed them.
John has good reason for telling his readers that this happened on the Sabbath. This notation shows that the incident had two results: It healed the man, and it created great controversy. The Pharisaic rulings on what constituted work on the Sabbath are both numer- ous and absurd. Jesus ignored these and came into violent conflict with the religious leaders, eventuating in His death.
THE DISPUTE 5:10-18
THE JEWISH OBJECTION 5:10-13
“Therefore the Jews were saying to him who was cured, ‘It is the Sabbath, and it is not permissible for you to carry your pallet.’ 11But he answered them, ‘He who made me well was the one who said to me, “Takeup your pallet and walk.” ’ 12They asked him, ‘Who is the man who said to you, “Takeup your pallet, and walk”?’ 13But he who was healed did not know who it was; for Jesus had slipped away while there was a crowd in that place.”
The objection was lodged by the legalistic Jews. Legalism knows only one god—its traditions. No matter how much good is done, it all goes unnoticed if tradition is violated. Jewish hatred of Jesus reaches its climax in this chapter. This has been preceded by a sequence. First, in John 2:18 they question Jesus. Second, in John 4:1-3 there is an implied threat to Him. Now, with this Sabbath healing, they are ready to kill Him.
It is worth noting that at no point do they question the reality of the healing; that it was not genuine was never considered. A mira- cle had occurred, and they knew it. When the man is told that it was not permissible to carry his pallet, they may have in mind Jeremiah 17:21. Legalistic activity always thinks it has the support of Scripture.
Four times John notes that Jesus removed Himself from the scene of conflict with the Jews over His claims (John 5:13, 8:59, 10:39, and 12:36). Jesus was immune to danger until His hour came; but at the same time, He did what was reasonable to avoid premature conflict.
THE WARNING OF JESUS 5:14
“Afterward Jesus found him in the temple, and said to him, ‘Behold, you have become well; do not sin anymore, so that nothing worse may befall you.’ ”
That Jesus found the man assumes that He searched for him. John 5:14 shows the search was prompted by Jesus’ concern for the man’s spiritual condition. That he is told to stop sinning implies that the man’s physical condition was due to his own sin.
THE JEWISH PERSECUTION 5:15-18
Linked to Jesus’ Actions 5:15-16
“The man went away, and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had made him well. 16And for this reason the Jews were persecuting Jesus, because He was doing these things on the Sabbath.”
The verb doing is present tense, which calls attention to Sabbath healing as a continuous practice of Jesus, not an isolated event.
Linked to Jesus’ Words 5:17-18
“But He answered them, ‘My Father is working until now, and I Myself am working.’ 18For this cause therefore the Jews were seeking all the more to kill Him, because He not only was breaking the Sabbath, but also was calling God His own Father, making Himself equal with God.”
Jesus replies to their criticism concerning His Sabbath action by noting that God observes no Sabbath and neither does He. Jesus’ claim is obvious. God observes no Sabbath, and I observe no Sabbath for I am God!
The Jews understood clearly what He was saying and, as a result, were determined to kill Him. Verse 18 is tied very closely to verse 17 by the words for this cause and therefore.The single charge of verse 16 now becomes a double charge. The verb phrase were seeking involves more than desire; it stresses urgent effort. It involves the search for the time and method by which they could kill him. Such attempts are recorded in John 7:19, 25; 8:37, 59.
The first charge leveled at Jesus is that of breaking the Sabbath.The word for breakingis luo, which means to loose. It does not so much express a Sabbath violation as a Sabbath abrogation. Jesus wanted to do away with the Sabbath, so they believed. The present tense shows they believed this was a fixed habit. The second charge was that He was calling God His own Father, which they clearly under- stood as a claim to deity. The term His own is idios and refers to something that belongs to an individual in contrast to belonging to everyone. The sense in which God was Jesus’ own Father is that of divine equality. From this, Jesus begins a discourse on His nature and His prerogatives as the Son of God.
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