1 After this there was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 2 Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, in Aramaic called Bethesda, which has five roofed colonnades. 3 In these lay a multitude of invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed. 5 One man was there who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. 6 When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be healed?” 7 The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I am going another steps down before me.” 8 Jesus said to him, “Get up, take up your bed, and walk.” 9 And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked.
Now that day was the Sabbath. 10 So the Jews said to the man who had been healed, “It is the Sabbath, and it is not lawful for you to take up your bed.” 11 But he answered them, “The man who healed me, that man said to me, ‘Take up your bed, and walk.’” 12 They asked him, “Who is the man who said to you, ‘Take up your bed and walk’?” 13 Now the man who had been healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had withdrawn, as there was a crowd in the place. 14 Afterward Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, “See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you.” 15 The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had healed him. 16 And this was why the Jews were persecuting Jesus, because he was doing these things on the Sabbath. 17 But Jesus answered them, “My Father is working until now, and I am working.” – John 5:1-17
Small Details Come and Go
If you read through this translation provided, you might think that there is an error. You might even have a translation of a bible with the same omission. In detail, it is verse 4. Many of the newer versions of the bible have concluded that the verse is not actually in the original manuscripts and has been omitted. There are many documented overviews and summaries (A) of this situation, and we will not dive into the details here. The thing we want to make clear, and it is evident in more than just this one situation. The verse in question is never about the topic of discussion. As we will see, the verse that was most likely added as an initial marginal comment, does not have any binding impact on the story.
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. – John 5:4 NASB
A Different Encounter
Up to this point in the book of John we have had many different encounters. We have been with the servants/disciples at the wedding in Cana, we have details of the encounter with Nicodemus, and of the woman at the well, as well as the nobleman that needed his son healed. As Chapter 5 opens, Jesus has another encounter, this time with an invalid. As the chapter unfolds we see that John is presenting this story much different than the past. John really focuses on the cultural scene and tension that is in place. The main focus is not on the man, but the bigger mosaic of how the man can be used for God’s intentions.
It is not clear which festival that Jesus is attending in Jerusalem, but we do know one thing, He had an agenda to walk out. He went to Bethesda, to some pools where the sick gathered for healing, a “healing sanctuary”. John’s Gospel is the only scripture that records this story. The Sheep Gate, it is on the northern end of the temple complex that had been apart of the the outer wall of Jerusalem that was rebuilt under the direction of Nehemiah (Nehemiah 3:1). There were actually two pools there, side by side, and they were surrounded by five columns, or colonnades. These columns supported a covering that provided shelter beside these pools. People who had illnesses and disabilities came and waited under the shelter to take advantage of a rather unusual and fascinating phenomenon.
This is the only place in scripture where we find any mention that there were pools in Jerusalem. The myth was that periodically the water would stir and the first one in the water would be healed. Now this unique situation is what was attempted to be captured in notes by a scribe along the way, and that actually slipped in as verse 4.
The earliest Greek manuscripts of the New Testament do not contain verse 4, but the man’s statement in verse 7 demonstrates that the people around the pool believed something similar to what is said in verse 4. However, verse 7 contains no note about an angel, suggesting that verse 4 may have been a later attempt to explain verse 7. (Assigning verse numbers to the contents of the New Testament began with the invention of the printing press in the 1500s and is based on later manuscript traditions.)
One man was there who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. – John 5:5 ESV
This man certainly believed in the healing powers of the waters; he was convinced that if he could get in the water first he would be cured. For thirty-eight years he suffered from what seems to be some sort of paralysis, which prevented him from getting in the pool first. We have to realize also that this was most likely one of the oldest people sitting around these pools at the time. The average age at the time was 40, and he had been suffering with the ailment for 38 years.
Verse 3 tells us that there were multitudes of sick people around these pools. It is mysterious how Jesus goes into this area and passes many and identifies this one man. What are we to learn from this selection? We know that Jesus could have healed any of the residents, and used it for His glory, but why just one? Was it really about the healing?
Jesus knew that the man had been there a very long time and his direct opening statement to the man is quite abrupt, but to the point:
When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be healed?” – John 5:6 ESV
If Jesus knew the man had been handicapped for 38 years and knew why all the people were gathered at the pools, why would he be so blatant?
There are people who are satisfied in their paralyzed condition and who are threatened by life to such a degree that they don’t want to have to deal with the vagaries of human existence. There is a social scale at varying levels even in our community. I know from hitting the streets and feeding the people in need there is a mind-set sometimes to just figure out who is feeding you on what day, where to stay and the social order begins to establish itself. I have been face-to-face with individuals that have put in their time on the streets and they feel they are in the drivers seat in their social scale. When offered a chance for change, many will elect to defer and remain where they are at, because it is not unknown.
The response to Jesus question may seem acceptable, but it does require a bit more insight.
The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I am going another steps down before me.” – John 5:7 ESV
Evidently the man was hoping Jesus would help him into the water at the appropriate time. But Jesus had other plans. He did not ask about the scene before him; He did not get the details of how to move him. He literally tells the guy, get up and carry your mat. Much like the nobleman, when the invalid heard his command, he just obeyed. He did not ask for further explanation or guidance. He literally just stands up and heads out.
Then we learn what was so significant for this story; “And that day was the Sabbath”
Is it a law?
Where in the Word of God does it say it is unlawful for a person who has been healed of paralysis to carry his bed? You know the answer to that question: nowhere. But the rabbis, in their historical interpretation of the law, had enumerated thirty-nine specific types of work that were illegal on the Sabbath day, and the very last on on the list, was the prohibition against carrying something from one place to another. As a result of the human rule, the Jews reacted very negatively when they saw this man – a man whole had been lying paralyzed for thirty-eight years, now walking and carrying his bed.
Instead of responding to the miracle of his healing with joy and praise to God, they said, “Why are you carrying your bed? How wicked and deceitful is the human heart.
The Jews were so caught up in the rules they had added to the law of God that they were more concerned with this man’s disobedience to rabbinic tradition than with rejoicing and glorifying God for the man’s astonishing deliverance from suffering.
The surprising response
When the Samaritan woman encountered Jesus and had him reveal himself she ran to town and told everyone about the Messiah, Jesus being in their village. She was not healed physically, but she did respond to the great encounter.
How did this paralytic man respond to Jesus healing?
The man picked up his mat and he was confronted while carrying his mat. We are not told where he was going, but it is clear how he responded to the accusations.
But he answered them, “The man who healed me, that man said to me, ‘Take up your bed, and walk.'” – John 5:11 ESV
In an essence, the man was saying: “It wasn’t my idea. Somebody came along and told me to pick up my bed and walk for the fist time in 38 years, so what was I supposed to do? I only did what he told me to do. If you have a problem with that, go talk to him”.
What does that answer remind you of?
The man said, “The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me from the tree, and I ate.” – Genesis 3:12 NASB
This makes it clear that there was no dialog between Jesus and the man that revealed who Jesus was. He does not even know how to communicate that it was a divine appointment. If he did know who Jesus was, he surely does not share that. We know that it is very serious when we do not share the good news we have received. RC Sproul provides a very powerful challenge to all Christians:
If you are embarrassed by Jesus and you’re afraid to confess Him before men, either change your behavior or cease to call yourself a Christian.
Afterward Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, “See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you.” – John 5:14 ESV
What do you find the most odd about this line and a theme in the story?
While NT teaching generally rejects the assumption that all suffering is a result of sin (compare John 9:1–3; Luke 13:2–3), Jesus seems to imply here that the man’s affliction was related to sin. The worse fate that could happen is likely a reference to the eternal consequences of sin and failure to be reconciled with God.
2 And Jesus said to them, “Do you suppose that these Galileans were greater sinners than all other Galileans because they suffered this fate? 3 I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.4 Or do you suppose that those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them were worse culprits than all the men who live in Jerusalem? 5 I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” – Luke 13:2-5 NASB
In a same way, Jesus tells the healed man, “Stop your sinful lifestyle lest a worse thing befall you.” Jesus had already healed this man after his long malady. How did the man repay these blessings from Jesus?
The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had healed him. – John 5:15 ESV
I don’t know about you, and it is not clear in the scriptures, but it sure seems like the man just went and told them the facts and was not changed spiritually. Most individuals that have encountered Jesus and received blessings from His hand would have crawled over broken glass to bear witness to Him as their Lord, but not this guy. It seems as though he was healed physically but was not impacted spiritually.
How easy is it for us to be faithful to Christ when we receive some benefit from His hand?
How hard is it to retain your faith when you do not receive what you want?
We need to remind ourselves that if God never blessed us another moment for the rest of our lives, we would have no reason to do anything but glorify Him, adore Him, and be grateful to Him for the blessings we already have experienced. Let us learn from this man in the scriptures how not to receive the blessings of Christ.
Closing thoughts and ideas
This is the third unique miracle that John records in scripture (water to wine, official’s son healed) John uses many of his writings to give us some wise teachings that were overlooked by the other three Gospels. In this miraculous event, it is apparent that the actual healing at the pool was not the main focus.
What do you think the main focus of this event was?
It is clear that Jesus went to the pools where there were multitudes of invalids and sick people and he only healed one. We can only imagine what it would have been like if would have just started healing everyone there. It would have been utter chaos. This illustrates that Jesus cares more about peoples future than he does their current situation. Otherwise one would say He was heartless and does not care about everyone.
How does this encounter Jesus had with the multitudes stir with you when you or others you pray for are not healed?
I know from personal experience and with my own inner struggles that there are times when I plead with God to change things going and yet out of fear, I elect to remain unchanged. My inner thoughts are that He has done so much for me already and that it could be so much worse, but is that really a way to have a relationship with someone, let alone God? We may encounter individuals that merely do not want to change. They have become accustom to the situation they are in and the fear of the unknown dampens or hinders their desire for better.
Have you ever been in a situation where you wanted change, but the fear of what life might be like changed your desires and mindset?
In verse 14, it indicates that Jesus found the healed man in the temple. This is a special scene where Jesus actually follows up with someone after he blesses them. Almost like he was checking in on his heart, how he was living now that he had been blessed.
Do you find yourself interacting with the Holy Spirit after blessings, or is is more of just a mental obligation to be grateful?
John does not record any of the emotions, actions or involvement of the disciples during this event. What do you think was going on with them during these scenes?
- R. C. Sproul. John (St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary). Kindle Edition.
- Nicholas Thomas Wright. John for Everyone. Kindle Edition
- The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
- New American Standard Bible: 1995 update. (1995). LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation.
- Barry, J. D., Heiser, M. S., Custis, M., Mangum, D., & Whitehead, M. M. (2012). Faithlife Study Bible (Jn 5:3). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.