THE WORDS OF THE BIBLE, THE CHRISTIAN SCRIPTURES, AS FOUND IN THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO JOHN CHAPTER 5, VERSES 1-15.
5:2 Now there is at Jerusalem by the sheep market a pool, which is called in the Hebrew tongue Bethesda, having five porches.
5:3 In these lay a great multitude of impotent folk, of blind, halt, withered, waiting for the moving of the water.
5:4 For an angel went down at a certain season into the pool, and troubled the water: whosoever then first after the troubling of the water stepped in was made whole of whatsoever disease he had.
5:5 And a certain man was there, which had an infirmity thirty and eight years.
5:6 When Jesus saw him lie, and knew that he had been now a long time in that case, He saith unto him, Wilt thou be made whole?
5:7 The impotent man answered Him, Sir, I have no man, when the water is troubled, to put me into the pool: but while I am coming, another steppeth down before me.
5:8 Jesus saith unto him, Rise, take up thy bed, and walk.
5:9 And immediately the man was made whole, and took up his bed, and walked: and on the same day was the sabbath.
5:10 The Jews therefore said unto him that was cured, It is the sabbath day: it is not lawful for thee to carry thy bed.
5:11 He answered them, He that made me whole, the same said unto me, Take up thy bed, and walk.
5:12 Then asked they him, What man is that which said unto thee, Take up thy bed, and walk?
5:13 And he that was healed wist not who it was: for Jesus had conveyed Himself away, a multitude being in that place.
5:14 Afterward Jesus findeth him in the temple, and said unto him, Behold, thou art made whole: sin no more, lest a worse thing come unto thee.
5:15 The man departed, and told the Jews that it was Jesus, which had made him whole.
SURVEY OF THE CHAPTER
John chapter five records three important matters. First, in verses 1-15, the healing of an impotent man at the Pool of Bethesda in Jerusalem; second, in verses 16-29, the Lord’s discourse explaining the issues which come out of that miracle; third, in verses 30-47, the vital matter of witnesses to the truth.
STRUCTURE OF THE CHAPTER
SECTION 1 5:1-15 Work by the Son and the Father.
SECTION 2 5:16-29 Word about the Son and the Father.
SECTION 3 5:30-47 Witness to the Son by the Father.
SECTION 1 5:1-15 Work by the Son and the Father.
5:1 After this there was a feast of the Jews; and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. When the religious feasts were detailed in Leviticus 23, they were called the Feasts of the Lord. Here, however, John can speak only of a feast of the Jews. It is as if the Lord has been sidelined, and the Jews have come to the fore. God has been removed from the centre of the life of the nation, and man is now central. This situation is about to be challenged, for God manifest in flesh is about to move in the very centre of the Jew’s religion, and set out His claim to be in control, on behalf of His Father.
John records more of the Lord’s ministry in Jerusalem than any of the other gospel writers. He tells of one who has come to His own things, 1:11, and this includes the capital city of His own country, and the temple, which was the focal point of the religious life of the nation. The repeated mention of Jerusalem in John’s gospel is in striking contrast to the lack of mention in Matthew’s gospel, which is the gospel of the king. The Lord Jesus is not found in Jerusalem, (which He Himself described as the ‘city of the great king’, Matthew 5:35), until He goes there to die.
Returning to John 5, we notice that John does not tell us what feast it was. This might puzzle us, until we remember that the list of seven feasts in Leviticus 23 is preceded by the mention of the Sabbath. The healing of the impotent man was done on the Sabbath, and provoked the hostility of the Jews, and provided the starting-point for the Lord’s discourse about His work and the Father’s work, which continued even on the sabbath, the day of rest for Israel.
5:2 Now there is at Jerusalem by the sheep market a pool, which is called in the Hebrew tongue Bethesda, having five porches. As he builds up a picture of the scene for us, John is using Old Testament ideas to help us understand the significance of the miracle he is about to relate. Thus he speaks of Jerusalem, the capital city established under David and Solomon; the sheep market, where animals would be bought to be used as sacrifices; and even the name of the pool in the Hebrew tongue, the language of the Old Testament. We shall see other references as we proceed.
John describes Christ’s miracles as signs, for they had deep spiritual significance, and they demonstrated that the historical Jesus was the Christ or Messiah prophesied in the Old Testament, and that He was indeed the Son of God, as expounded in the New Testament; see John 20:30,31. The miracle after Christ’s resurrection was to demonstrate His Lordship, which is referred to eight times in John chapter 21.
These miracles were not only performed so that unbelievers might learn from them and believe. They were done “in the presence of His disciples”, John 20:30, which assures us not only that they were witnessed at first hand, but also that the miracles have a lesson for believers as well as unbelievers. As the Lord said to His disciples, “Believe Me that I am in the Father, and the Father in Me: or else believe Me for the very works’ sake”, John 14:11.
So it is that in the city of Jerusalem, near to where the sheep would be brought from the market to be sacrificed, that the Lord finds a sorry collection of infirm folk. And all this in Bethesda, which means loving-kindness! Yet the Lord Jesus is going to be very selective as to who He heals.
5:3,4 In these lay a great multitude of impotent folk, of blind, halt, withered, waiting for the moving of the water. For an angel went down at a certain season into the pool, and troubled the water: whosoever then first after the troubling of the water stepped in was made whole of whatsoever disease he had. Impotent folk are people who have no strength, and the way in which this lack of strength manifested itself is told us, for some were blind, some were unable to walk properly, and some had no energy at all. How like Israel under the law this was. For Romans 8:3 speaks of the inability of the law to enable men to walk in obedience to God, and the cause of that inability was not a fault in the Law, but rather the weakness of the flesh. Man is unable to live for God without Divine strength. Even the power of the water to heal, (supposed or otherwise), had not remedied the situation.
5:5 And a certain man was there, which had an infirmity thirty and eight years. This is the man that the Lord singles out. But why? Because of the time he has been infirm. For 38 years was the period of time that the nation of Israel of Israel had wandered in the wilderness, after they had refused to go into the land because of unbelief, Deuteronomy 2:14. Now in the Epistle to the Hebrews a connection would be made between God resting on the seventh day after His work of creation, and the rest that Israel will enjoy when they eventually receive their Messiah and enter the land under His benevolent rule. See Hebrews 4:1-10. The sabbath day, therefore, was a reminder that God had rested, but also that “there remaineth now a rest (the particular word meaning ‘a keeping of sabbath’), for the people of God”, Hebrews 4:9. And the Lord Jesus is working to bring them in to that rest. Hence the discussion a few verses later about the sabbath, and work.
5:6 When Jesus saw him lie, and knew that he had been now a long time in that case, He saith unto him, Wilt thou be made whole? Joshua said that the people had “dwelt in the wilderness a long season”, Joshua 24:7. Similarly, this man has been unable to enjoy the rest of the sabbath because of his disability; he is still “in the wilderness”. It is strongly implied in the words the Lord spoke to him afterwards that his infirmity was the result of some particular sin, which he is commanded to forsake, verse 14. So, too, the people of Israel had, by their own confession, sinned by not entering the land when God commanded, Deuteronomy 1:41, and as a result wandered outside of the land, (the “rest”), for 38 years. The Lord’s words to the man served to introduce the subject of being made whole, and caused the man to review his options, either self-help to get into the pool, or the help of another. As yet, he does not realise there is a third option, which will enable him to be healed without recourse to the pool. In the Old Testament angelic interventions had occurred fairly frequently, but now the Lord of the Hosts of angels is present in lovingkindness.
5:7 The impotent man answered him, Sir, I have no man, when the water is troubled, to put me into the pool: but while I am coming, another steppeth down before me. What a sad commentary on the men of religious Jerusalem! Obsessed with their rituals, they forgot the weightier matters such as mercy, Matthew 23:23. What better way to remember the sabbath day and sanctify it to sacred uses, than to lower the man into the pool, if the waters moved that day. He would then have been able to keep sabbath, and worship God in an undistracted way. On two occasions the Lord found it necessary to quote the words of Hosea 6:6 to the people, “I desired mercy, and not sacrifice”. By which is meant, not, that there was a choice between bringing sacrifice or showing mercy, but rather, that sacrifice without mercy was not pleasurable to God.
5:8 Jesus saith unto him, Rise, take up thy bed, and walk. The three things the man is commanded to do have special significance, since greater works than these are spoken of in verse 20. He who can cause a man to rise from his bed, can also raise men from the dead. He who can give a man strength to carry his bed in ordinary life, can also quicken with eternal life. He who can warn the man that if he sins further a worse thing will come upon him, verse 14, will bring worse things by way of judgement on all unbelievers at the Great White Throne, verse 29.
These three things also have significance when we link them to what the Lord Jesus said about this miracle months afterwards, in John 7:19-24. The Jews were angry about what He had done. The Lord, however, exposed their inconsistency, for they were fully prepared to circumcise a male child on the Sabbath if he was born on a Friday, in order that Moses’ eighth-day rule be not broken. But that work of circumcision only gave the boy nominal entrance into the nation of Israel under the Old Covenant, whereas the truth expressed by Christ’s healing of the impotent man makes “every whit whole”, and gives entrance into the rest of God. Moreover, circumcision is a wounding, and partial, and physical, whereas Christ’s work is restoring, and complete, and spiritual.
Pursuing this line a little further, we may compare the three commands to the man, with the three aspects of circumcision presented to us in Scripture. The first command was “Rise”, and we may link this with the circumcision of Joshua, to whom the word came, “Moses my servant is dead; now therefore arise, go over this Jordan”, Joshua 1:2. Having done this, the people were circumcised at Gilgal, on the further bank of the river. The circumcision of Christ brings into the reality of this, as Colossians 2:11,12 indicates, for the believer is associated with a risen Man, and as such is spiritually circumcised, being cut off from his former life.
The second command was “Take up thy bed”. By saying these words, the Lord Jesus deliberately set His authority against that of the Jews. They had hedged the sabbath about with their regulations, which they had elevated almost to the level of the law itself. The man, as he obeyed Him, becomes a living example not only of the superior authority of Christ over the leaders in Israel, but also of the superiority of grace over law. The circumcision of Christ not only frees us from our past, but also from the traditions of men, and even the law of Moses itself, which the circumcision of Moses placed men under. See Galatians 5:1-6, 6:12-16.
The third command was “Walk”. This would remind us of the circumcision of Abraham, for the apostle Paul speaks of him as “the father of circumcision to them who are not of the circumcision only, but who also walk in the steps of that faith of our father Abraham, which he had being yet uncircumcised”, Romans 4:12. The walk of a believer should be a separated one, following in the footsteps of a man committed to walking by faith in the path marked out for him by God.
5:9 And immediately the man was made whole, and took up his bed, and walked: and on the same day was the sabbath. Instead of waiting for intermittent angel ministry, or the help of men who are indifferent to his plight, the man finds someone who shows him kindness, so that the pool of Bethesda truly was the House of Loving-kindness that day. The Lord has deliberately told him to do these three things, for they will serve to introduce the subject that He intends to discourse upon.
5:10 The Jews therefore said unto him that was cured, It is the sabbath day: it is not lawful for thee to carry thy bed. Note that the Jews are not overjoyed that the man has been made whole at last, and is strong enough now to walk and carry his bed, but are only concerned with the fact that he is carrying his bed on the sabbath day. In fact to carry one’s bed on the Sabbath day carried the death penalty according to their regulations.
5:11 He answered them, He that made me whole, the same said unto me, Take up thy bed, and walk. Though the Jews ignore the fact that the man is now whole, the man himself cannot, so connects the healing with the command. If his benefactor had power to make whole, He must have power to command, so he reasons, and rightly. It is a question of authority that is developed in the next section. The Jews feel that their authority is being questioned and overturned, and that at Feast time.
5:12,13 Then asked they him, What man is that which said unto thee, Take up thy bed, and walk? And he that was healed wist not who it was: for Jesus had conveyed himself away, a multitude being in that place. Taking advantage of the crowds, the Lord had conveyed Himself away, no doubt in order that the questioning of the man might take place, and the issues involved might become clear. He is not interested in the praise of men for what He had done, but rather that they see the significance of what He had done, and, believing, come into the good of the rest of heart and conscience He bestows. Only in this way could they know true “sabbath”.
5:14 Afterward Jesus findeth him in the temple, and said unto him, Behold, thou art made whole: sin no more, lest a worse thing come unto thee. Not only does the Lord identify Himself as the man’s healer, but also as his judge if sin is returned to. And this is very relevant, for in His subsequent discourse, He shows that He not only has power to give life, but also to judge as well.
5:15 The man departed, and told the Jews that it was Jesus, which had made him whole. Perhaps it is understandable that the man should have a certain amount of fear for the authorities, given that, as already mentioned, they demanded the death penalty for sabbath breaking. And not just sabbath breaking in the limited sense of breaking God’s law, but also for breaking their additions to the law.