Rev. Haak is pastor of Bethel Protestant Reformed Church in Elk Grove Village, Illinois.
We cannot be sure what feast it was to which Jesus went up, and at which He healed the man beside the pool of Bethesda. If it was the Passover, and we are inclined to think that it was, then Christ’s ministry covered a space of about three and a half years. (See ch. 2:13; 5:2; 6:4; and 12:12.) This much is certain, it was our Lord’s second appearance in Jerusalem recorded by John.
While in Jerusalem Jesus went on a Sabbath day to walk among the porches around the pool of Bethesda. This pool was situated near the market where sheep could be obtained for religious purposes. It was also one of the city’s resorts where people came for relaxation. Besides this, it attracted a large number of the physically afflicted, who waited for an angel to come down and stir the water. The first one in the water after it was so troubled would be healed of his affliction.
Here Jesus heals a friendless and hopeless man who had long lain by the water, and who had seen many others healed while he himself was unable to get into the water quickly enough due to his lameness. The compassion and power of Christ are beautifully shown in His taking notice of this man’s helplessness and healing him instantly by His word. He warns the man not to return to His former sin and to walk in true gratitude and repentance.
The reaction of the Jews to this miracle shows the hardness of their hearts. They at once suspect that it was Jesus who had performed this miracle, and they discredit it because it was done on the Sabbath day. He answers the charge of Sabbath violation by telling them that the keeping of the Sabbath does not consist in inactivity but in doing the works of God. This is true of God Himself. God’s rest consists in preserving, sustaining, and rejoicing in the works of His hands (Gen. 2:1-3). Jesus, as God’s Son, may also work the works of God on the Sabbath. He declares that His authority to heal on the Sabbath is exactly this, that He is the eternal and natural Son of God (Heb. 1:3). The Jews now have even a greater reason to hate Him. He has clearly stated that He is equal with God.
A few of the important truths which we must see in this passage are:
1. Christ’s healing of the impotent man is a sign of the power of salvation to take us who cannot walk in the ways of God and give us to live according to God’s will and walk in genuine thanksgiving and repentance.
2. The Sabbath day is not, as the Jews interpreted, merely to cease from one’s work, in the belief that this will merit with God. Rather, it is to be consecrated to God with works of gratitude for the salvation God has given. This consists primarily in attending God’s house diligently, meditating on the mysteries of the faith, and performing works of mercy. The Sabbath is not hardship and idleness, but spiritual rest and work.
3. The Jews are correct in interpreting His words in verse 17 to mean that He stood in a closer, personal, and particular relation of Sonship to the Father. His words mean that there is a unity of nature between Himself and the Father.
1. The setting for this miracle (vv. 1-5).
2. The miracle itself (vv. 6-9).
3. The reaction of the Jews to the miracle (vv. 10-16).
4. Jesus’ response to the charge of Sabbath violation (vv. 17, 18).
1. Can we determine what feast it was to which Jesus goes up to Jerusalem to celebrate? Passover? Purim? Pentecost? How does this bear on the question of the length of Jesus’ earthly ministry?
2. What do we know about the pool of Bethesda and its five porches? What was the purpose for the pool? What is the significance of its being by the sheep market (Neh. 3:1)? Why was it a place where the impotent folk would congregate?
3. Most commentators think that verse 4 and verse 7b are inserted and thus not inspired Scripture. (The NIV, as well as other translations, omits these verses.) Without entering into the details of the testimony of the manuscripts, show from the narrative itself that these verses are to be retained if the passage is to make sense.
4. How are we to conceive of the angel’s coming to stir the water? Is this the record of the superstition of that day or is this something that really happened?
5. The various sicknesses recorded in Scripture are signs of different aspects of our sin. Jesus’ healing of these different sicknesses represents aspects of His salvation. (For example: demon possession is a sign of the dominion of sin over us, and the Lord’s casting out demons is a sign of His power to free us from the service of sin.) What does lameness (impotent man) represent concerning our sin? What aspect of salvation is represented in this miracle?
6. Discuss the sovereignty of Christ in this healing? Show His compassion for this man. Why does Jesus so quickly convey Himself away after healing this man?
7. What was the Jews’ conception of the Sabbath law?
8. Was there a connection between the infirmity this man suffered for 38 years and a sin he had committed? How are the healing mercies of Christ to us the warning to keep His ways in the future?
9. How does Jesus answer the charge that he had violated the Sabbath?
10. The Jews interpreted Jesus’ words in verse 17 to mean that He makes Himself equal with God. Explain how this is so.