1.  After this there was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.

Again, notice that what were once feasts of the Lord are now called feasts of the Jews because of the corruption they had introduced into them.  Which feast this was is uncertain.  The Lord, as any good Israelite would do, went up to Jerusalem for the feast.  This is a proof that we have of the fact that our Lord adhered faithfully to the religion God had given the nation of Israel.  Jesus Christ was not a “Christian.”  He was an Israelite, and He kept faithfully the religion that God wanted all Israelites to keep.  He did not live in our dispensation of grace, and the rules then were far different than they are now.  That the Lord acted consistently with the dispensation in which He was working can be demonstrated by His faithfulness to the law of God.  At that time, all the Israelites were still required to keep the commandments in the law, and so our Lord kept them in every respect.

2.  Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, which is called in Hebrew, Bethesda, having five porches.

Notice the use of the present tense being verb “is” in this sentence.  This is the greatest internal evidence we could ask for that the book of John was not written in the 90s AD as so many Bible scholars, even evangelical or fundamentalist ones, try to make out that it was.  Josephus recorded in Wars of the Jews, VII, 1 that the entire city of Jerusalem was completely devastated.  Yet John here mentions Jerusalem, the Sheep Gate, and the pool as if they all were still existing.  He would never have done so if he had been writing long after he knew Jerusalem had been destroyed.  John had no such knowledge when he wrote this passage.  He knew that Jerusalem was still there, and so was the Sheep Gate and the pool.  Thus the Holy Spirit inspired him to say that these things are in Jerusalem.  In this way, the time of the writing of this gospel is positively marked out for us as being before the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD.  This must be so, or God’s word would have to be said to fail.  All who hold to the infallibility of the Word must yield to this inspired verb tense and admit that this book was written, at the very latest, in the 60s AD.

This gate was called the Sheep Gate, probably due to the fact that it was most convenient to bring sheep into the city through this gate.  The pool was called “Bethesda.”  Bethesda is an Aramaic name meaning “house of kindness.”  Why a pool would be called this can be clearly seen from the subsequent verses.  The fact that it had five porches is mentioned.  Five is the number God uses to signify grace, and what went on at this pool was indeed a gracious thing.

3.  In these lay a great multitude of sick people, blind, lame, paralyzed, waiting for the moving of the water.

It is unlikely that the Bible would mention a great multitude sitting waiting, then record the statement of the impotent man in verse 7, and yet not explain to us what all these sick people were doing here, why they were waiting for the moving of the water, and why they wanted to get into it first after it moved.  Those versions that leave out or call into question verse 4 make little sense, for there is clearly a hole here if the verse is not included.  Most likely some copyist in centuries past found the scenario surrounding this pool unlikely, having never heard of or experienced any such miraculous location in his own day, and thus thought to improve the Bible by removing the verse!  Although we might sympathize with his confusion, we cannot justify his actions.  Revelation 22:19 says, “And if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the Book of Life, from the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.”  Although from the punishments mentioned this warning is clearly to Israelites, it can be seen from this verse how gravely God views the offense of removing even the smallest part from His Word.  This ancient scholar will pay for lifting his pen against the Holy Word of God.

4.  For an angel went down at a certain time into the pool and stirred up the water; then whoever stepped in first, after the stirring of the water, was made well of whatever disease he had.

We, in our smug self-styled intellectualism, tend to scoff at statements like this, just as the ancient scholar must have who saw fit to lift his hand against the Word of God and cut this verse from his manuscript.  We are often foolishly convinced that, if something is outside our experience or what we are familiar with, it must be untrue.  Time and again this is demonstrated in the case of extinct animals.  There is not an animal alive today that is not wondrous and amazing, and yet they seem familiar to us because we know them.  Yet the wondrous and amazing creatures of the past we almost invariably reject as being fantasy, myth, and legend!  The Bible mentions such creatures as dragons and satyrs, and the modern intellectual would scoff at such references.  Yet such scoffing is not based on true wisdom or reflection, for there is not a creature alive that could not go extinct and to future generations seem equally ridiculous.  In the same way, we do not see God working in such ways in our day, so we tend to scoff at the possibility that He ever could have done so.  Yet if we put ourselves back in the days of Israel, God’s chosen people, and realize that there were many things in their religion that required God to constantly maintain them with His miraculous power (such as the rotting of the bowels of a woman who committed adultery, (Numbers 5:11-31,) or the tokens of virginity found in the home of the parents of a falsely-accused new bride, (Deuteronomy 22:13-21, although this may have a more natural explanation,) or even the gift of the Urim and Thummim, (Exodus 28:30,)) we can understand that God never stopped working in miraculous ways in those days.  Indeed, there were laws written that demanded that He act in miraculous ways each time it was necessary for them to be enforced!  So if there could be the constant output of miraculous power in those situations, then why not in this one?

Yet many who are small in faith will fail to accept that such a thing could be.  They can see short periods of great miracles such as when Christ was on earth, the times of Elijah, or the Acts of the Apostles.  Yet to imagine that miracles could have been an everyday occurrence in Israel is beyond their faith.  Tales of miraculous judgment seem as incredible to them as the acts of the men of the Inquisition, who fed people poison and said if they were innocent God would save them.  Places of miraculous healing seem as unlikely to them as the mad superstitions of the Dark Ages parodied in books like A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court or Don Quixote.  Yet just because the Catholic Church claimed such powers for itself and didn’t have them does not mean that Israel also was devoid of such power.  God had made Israel His nation, and in many ways was in charge of its day-to-day operation.  Thus, He was constantly working miraculously.  There is no reason, therefore, to suppose that such a pool as Bethesda, the House of Kindness, could not have existed, and that God could not have blessed the sick among His people in this way.  It is not an impossible thing at all.  Is anything too hard, after all, for the Lord?

5.  Now a certain man was there who had an infirmity thirty-eight years.

This is a long, long time to have an infirmity.  No doubt the idea that he could be healed of it seemed almost an impossible dream to him at this point.  Yet he had latched unto this pool, this House of Kindness, and had placed his hope upon the healing power it offered.

6.  When Jesus saw him lying there, and knew that he already had been in that condition a long time, He said to him, “Do you want to be made well?”

This is the third sign we read of the Lord performing in John.  It corresponds with the sixth sign.  There, in John 9:1-6, we see Him heal a blind man.  In that passage, as in this, the blind man never asked Him to heal him.  Instead, the Lord took the initiative, came to the man Himself, and chose to heal him.

Thus we see the Lord approach this man.  He knows how long he has been in this state.  As we learn later on, this man had earned this infirmity through some wicked act.  Yet our Lord knows he has already paid for many years for his past act, and now seeks to help him.

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.”

This sick man explains his distress.  Because he cannot walk, it is impossible for him to make it to the pool first.  There were no doubt many different kinds of infirmities represented at the pool, and many of them allowed the sick one to be much quicker on his feet than the lame man.  Moreover, with the crowd at the pool, perhaps he could not get a close enough spot to wait by the pool to have a hope of beating the faster sick.  This is how he explains the problem to the Lord.  Notice that the fact that he cannot get to the pool first is his only concern.  There seems to be no doubt in his mind that if he could get there first, he would be healed, and his vigil would be over.  Yet notice that he also clearly implies that this problem that is plaguing him is something that has happened before, perhaps many times.  Time and again the water has stirred, and time and again he has not been the first into the pool.  Surely if this story of the pool were just a myth or a legend, this man would have seen and understood that fact by now and given up his vigil at the pool.  Just because he was lame is no reason to think he was a fool.  If he had seen those who went into the pool leave before him disappointed and unhealed, he would have been able to put two and two together and would have left the pool, knowing that it could not help him.  The fact that he had not, that he still lingered at the pool, desperately hoping that somehow he could make it in first and be healed, is the most definite evidence we could ask for that this pool really worked.  Indeed, it is the modern scoffers, not the lame man, who prove themselves fools, thinking that they know better what the lame man saw and experienced than he himself did!  These prove themselves illogical, and lacking in faith.

8.  Jesus said to him, “Rise, take up your bed and walk.”

The man had been so focused on the pool that he never even stopped to consider Who it was Who was talking to him.  He had no idea that this One Who was speaking with him was the Source of life and health, or that a word from Him was all it would take to heal a lifetime of infirmity.  I say, he did not know this, and it did not matter.  The Lord worked, He spoke the word, and the man was healed.

Notice that the man had no faith whatsoever in the Lord before this healing.  His whole focus and hope was directed toward the pool of Bethesda.  He had not a thought that the Lord could heal him, and so he had no faith that He would.  Some erroneously suppose that faith is necessary before anyone can be healed.  This miracle shows clearly that this is not so.  The man had no faith whatsoever, and yet the Lord was still able to heal him.  The Lord can heal when and how He wishes to.  He doesn’t have to have faith to work with first!

9.  And immediately the man was made well, took up his bed, and walked.  And that day was the Sabbath.

Again, this sign goes along with the theme of John by demonstrating (along with the sixth sign) that Jesus is the Christ or Messiah.  Isaiah had predicted that He would heal their griefs and sorrows (Isaiah 53:4,) and this is what the Lord did.  Thus, we have set forth for us yet another piece of evidence to prove the great premise of John’s book, that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.

Notice that the man is immediately made well at the word of the Lord.  This is the same Word that created the world (John 1:3.)  He Who could speak the heavens and earth into existence could easily speak and heal a lame man!

This took place on the Sabbath.  Yet the Greek reads “a” Sabbath, not “the” Sabbath.  Remember that this took place at one of the feasts (verse 1.)  There were special feast Sabbaths associated with each of the feasts God instituted, and this was apparently one of those, not a weekly Sabbath.

10.  The Jews therefore said to him who was cured, “It is the Sabbath; it is not lawful for you to carry your bed.”

Notice once again that the “Jews” here clearly are the religious leaders, not the common people, for the formerly lame man himself was one of those!  They complain that he is carrying his bed on a Sabbath Day.  Perhaps, they might have reasoned, he did not remember that it was a Sabbath since it was a holiday Sabbath, not a weekly one.  Thus they sought to instruct him.  By twisting Jeremiah 17:21-22, the Rabbis made carrying anything from a public place into a private place or vice versa unlawful (Talmud, Sabb. 6 a).  Thus, by their definition, this man was breaking the Sabbath.  Yet notice that what he was carrying was his bed.  The Sabbath was given by God in order to be a day of rest.  This man was carrying his bed, the thing that could give him rest.  And the Jews were trying to forbid him to carry it, the very thing that could give him rest!  This is as clear a picture as we get anywhere in the Bible that the Jews had overemphasized the letter of the law, and had completely ignored its intent.

11.  He answered them, “He who made me well said to me, ‘Take up your bed and walk.’”

As far as this man is concerned, the Man Who had healed him had far more authority than these Jews, who for years had never done a thing to help him.  He considered his healing and newfound ability to walk as all the proof he needed to know that it was perfectly fine for him to be carrying his bed on the Sabbath.  And, of course, this is what he should have been doing, as it is what the Lord commanded him.

12.  Then they asked him, “Who is the Man who said to you, ‘Take up your bed and walk’?”

These Jews were so concerned with their exaggerated laws that they were more concerned about reproving the One Who had told this man to take up his bed and walk than they were with the fact that a lame man had been healed in the first place!  God had done an amazing work right under their noses, and they were so wrapped up in their legalism that they hardly seemed to notice it.

13.  But the one who was healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had withdrawn, a multitude being in that place.

The man had not really been paying all that much attention to the Lord before He healed him, as we saw.  And after the healing the Lord had withdrawn from the crowd.  Now, the man had no idea Who it was Who had healed him.

14.  Afterward Jesus found him in the temple, and said to him, “See, you have been made well.  Sin no more, lest a worse thing come upon you.”

The Lord later finds him in the temple courts and warns him.  Apparently, this infirmity of his had been caused by some sin he had committed.  This may or may not have been a miraculous occurrence.  There are many ways we could sin and harm ourselves somehow because of it.  Sexually transmitted diseases are one example.  Yet however it had occurred, this man had been infirm because of some sin.  Now the Lord warns him.  He must no longer sin, or the next time he will suffer an even worse fate than becoming infirm.  The Lord’s grace did not give him license to continue in his sin!

15.  The man departed and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had made him well.

It is amazing that this man would inform on the One Who had just healed him from his infirmity.  We can only speculate as to why he did this.  Perhaps he did not realize the Jews’ intention, and thought only to witness to them of the One Who had healed him.  Perhaps he was more afraid of their wrath than he was grateful to the Lord for the healing.  Perhaps, since he was expecting to be healed by the waters of Bethesda anyway, he did not consider the Lord’s actions as that big of a gift.  At any rate, this action does not speak well to his heeding the Lord’s warning.  Remember, this man had showed no faith before this healing, and we have no evidence that he showed faith afterwards.  Perhaps he did continue to sin, and the worse thing the Lord warned him about came upon him.  Indeed, perhaps the worse thing was the loss of his life, or even of his hope for eternal life.  We have no way of knowing for certain.

16.  For this reason the Jews persecuted Jesus, and sought to kill Him, because He had done these things on the Sabbath.

This was apparently the Lord’s first clash with the Jews, and the beginning of their hatred of Him and seeking to kill Him.  Remember, back in chapter 3 they had merely been discussing among themselves Who and What He was.  And since their hatred and envy of Him had not yet developed to cloud their minds, their conversation was no doubt on a very high plane.  The Lord had warned Nicodemus, however, that the knowledge God had given them placed them under a responsibility as to what to do with it.  And now, with their power to enforce the Sabbath in question, they make up their minds.  Although they knew He was a teacher come from God, still they rejected Him and tried to kill Him.  This rejection is their great sin, and the reason He opposed them so harshly.

17.  But Jesus answered them, “My Father has been working until now, and I have been working.”

The Lord claims an amazing place for Himself.  Up until now, throughout the Old Testament, His Father had been working.  Now, however, it was His time and His turn to work.  This claim, of course, made Him equal with God.  This is another statement to us from the Lord’s Own lips that He is the Son of God.  This is another appeal to us to believe the fact that is the great theme of John: that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.

18.  Therefore the Jews sought all the more to kill Him, because He not only broke the Sabbath, but also said that God was His Father, making Himself equal with God.

This incites the Jews against Him even more.  Having rejected Him in spite of their knowledge that He had come from God, they are now totally unwilling to accept His testimony of Himself.  Notice what they realized from what He said.  They knew that, by claiming that God was His Father, He was making Himself equal with God.  How then can some today claim that He was inferior to God?  To do so, one would have to deny the truth proclaimed here so clearly.  The Scriptures are plain that He claimed equality with God.

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