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January 31st, 2018

The historical setting of the story at the pool of Bethesda (House of Mercy) has been verified.

Until the discovery of the pool with five-roofed colonnades near the Sheep Gate (although everyone was looking for a pentagon shaped pool at first), many did not consider the Gospel of John to be historically reliable.

However, both pools mentioned in the Gospel of John have been identified – the Pool of Bethesda in John 5:2 and the Pool of Siloam in John 9:7.

The pool mentioned in this chapter turned out to have five colonnades (as described in the Gospel), but it was not structured as a pentagon. There were four colonnades separated in the middle by another one, thus forming the five colonnades just as the Gospel described.

John 5:1-3

1 Some time later, Jesus went up to Jerusalem for one of the Jewish festivals. 2 Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, in Hebrew called Bethesda, which has five roofed colonnades. 3 In these lay a multitude of invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed.

Jesus is in Jerusalem again. We don’t know which festival. He makes a point to go to a pool where people with diseases and disabilities are waiting for healing.

It is possible that the pool of Bethesda was a Jewish religious ceremonial water cleansing facility, mikvah, associated with the Jerusalem Temple. But there are other interpretive options as well.

One other view is that this structure situated walking distance from the back then walls of the city of Jerusalem was a healing center dedicated to Greco-Roman god of well-being and health – Asclepius.

Devotion to Asclepius was well spread through the lands dominated by Roman Empire. There were more than 400 asclepeions (Asclepius-related facilities throughout empire), functioning as healing centers and dispensers of the god’s grace and mercy towards those in need).

Asclepius was the god of medicine and health in ancient Greek religion. The god’s mythical daughters, for example, included the goddesses Hygeia and Panacea. We can hear in their Greek names our modern words for “hygiene” and “panacea” – key concepts associated today with medicine and health. Snakes were a key attribute of Asclepius’s cult of health and healing. Even today, one of the key symbols of modern medicine is a stick with a snake around it.

If this is correct, it could change our understanding of what is happening here. You see it is possible that the blind, lame, and paralyzed were not waiting for Israel’s God to heal them; but rather for the merciful healing act of Asclepius.

Second century Christian apologist Justin Martyr mentions popular obsession with Asclepius among his contemporaries saying:

When the Devil brings forward Asclepius as the raiser of the dead and healer of all diseases, may I not say that in this matter likewise he has imitated the prophecies about Christ? (Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, the Jew, 69).

In a statement attributed to the second century Jewish Sage Rabbi Akiva we read:

Once Akiva was asked to explain why persons afflicted with disease sometimes returned cured from a pilgrimage to the shrine of an idol, though it was surely powerless. (Babylonian Talmud, Avodah Zarah 55a).

Asclepius was also known not only for his healing and life-giving powers, but for this attitude of goodness for the people, which made him one of the most popular divinities in the Greco-Roman world.

Jerusalem was the centre for religious Jews in Jesus’ days, but it was also a headquarters for Hellenized ideals in Judea which was under strict Roman control with the Antonia Fortress dominating the northwestern end of the Temple Mount.

Pool of Bethesda/Asclepion (Jerusalem branch) could have been a part of Hellenization of Jerusalem along with several other important projects such as Roman theatre, Roman sports complex, Roman baths.

It is probably referring to such Hellenization of Jerusalem that Qumranites devotees, authoring their commentary on Prophet Nahum wrote: “Where is the lion’s den, the cave of the young lions? (Nah.2:12b) The interpretation of this concerns Jerusalem, which had become a dwelling for the wicked ones of the Gentiles… (4QpNah).”

In that case, the pool of Bethesda (house of mercy in Hebrew) does not have to be a Jewish site at all, but rather a Greek Asclepion-affiliated facility.

It is interesting to notice that in this particular healing Jesus does not command the one he healed to wash himself in the pool (pool of Bethesda), while he does issue a direct command to go and wash at the pool of Siloam when it comes to the healing of the blind man (John 9:6-7).

This may be due to the pool of Bethesda being a pagan place (Asclepion), while the pool of Siloam was connected with Jerusalem Temple.

In  NIV, ESV, NASB there is no waiting for the waters to be stirred by an angel of the Lord.

But it’s there in the old Authorized King James version.

4 for 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.

Why is it missing? The answer is that it’s not there in the oldest and best manuscripts.

There are thousands of Greek manuscripts or fragments of Greek manuscripts and the way we arrive at our amazingly reliable Greek and Hebrew and English versions is that these texts are compared with each other in painstaking and complex ways so that when some manuscripts have different wording, we can tell almost all the time which is original.

And in the few places where we can’t, there is no significant historical or doctrinal issue at stake.

Here it seems that somewhere along the way, a copyist drew a marginal note of explanation into the actual text. Verse 7 begs for an explanation. It says, “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.’”

It seems like only a few were healed (or maybe only one), when the water was “stirred up,” and if you were too slow, you missed out.

So verse 4 was an attempt to make sense out of verse 7 where the man says he can’t get to the pool in time.

Since it’s missing from the earliest manuscripts and has other marks of being added later, the more recent versions omit it so that we have a version that is as close to the original as possible. How the pool worked is not essential to the story.

The fact that Jesus worked is essential to the story.


5 One man was there who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. 6 When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had already been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be healed?”

After I had prepared this message I read some lyrics of soul singer of the 60’s Janis Joplin who died of a heroin overdose at 27.

“Work Me, Lord”
Work me Lord, work me Lord.
Please don’t you leave me,
I feel so useless down here
With no one to love
Though I’ve looked everywhere
And I can’t find me anybody to love,
To feel my care.

So ah work me Lord, whoa use me Lord,
Don’t you know how hard it is
Trying to live all alone.
Every day I keep trying to move forward,
But something is driving me, oh, back,
Honey, something’s trying to hold on to me,
To my way of life.

So don’t you forget me down here, Lord,
No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no,
Ah, ah, don’t you forget me, Lord.
Well I don’t think I’m any very special
Kind of person down here, I know better,
But I don’t think you’re gonna find anybody,
Not anybody who could say that they tried like I tried,
The worst you can say all about me
Is that I’m never satisfied. Whoa.

Whoa, oh, oh, work me Lord, hmm, use me Lord,
Please, honey, don’t you leave me,
I feel so useless down here.
I can’t find me anybody to love me
And I’ve looked around,
I’ve looked everywhere, everywhere
And I can’t find me anyone to love,
To feel my care.

So honey don’t you go and leave me, Lord,
No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no,
Honey, don’t you go off and leave me, Lord.
Can’t I show you how hard it is
Trying to live when you’re all alone.
Everyday I keep pushing,
Keep trying to move forward
But something is driving me, oh, back,
And something’s trying to hold on to me,
To my way of life, why.

Oh please, please, oh don’t you go and
Forget me down here, don’t forget me, Lord.
I think that maybe you can ease me,
Maybe I can help you, said uh whoa,
Oh please, please, don’t you go and leave me Lord,
No, no, no, no, no, no, no, whoa, whoa please,
Hmm please, don’t you leave me, Lord.

Jesus must have seen his pain – his aloneness in an uncaring world that would have seen him as having no value.

It seems like an obvious question. The man has been there for a long time.

In response to Jesus’ question about whether or not he wished to get well, we read an answer that was anything but hopeful. In the words of the sick man

7 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.

The stirring up of the water could be caused by the the priests of the Asclepius cult. They would open the connecting pipes between the higher and the lower portions of the pool of Bethesda. The water in the upper reservoir would then flow into the lower one.

The “institutionalized” man was there for a long time. He was a man with a significant personal need and with all his hope gone.

Later in the story Jesus would meet the man he healed in the Israel’s Temple and will warn him not to continue in his life of sin (something that fits perfectly with the idea that the Pool of Bethesda was Asclepion).

This story reveals the the compassion of Jesus. Jesus chooses to go to this pool. He did not have to. It didn’t sneak up on him. He didn’t stumble by. He knew what he was doing. He was going to this pool the same way he went to Samaria to find the woman at the well, and the same way he went to sign-seeking, prophet-dishonoring Galilee to find a kingly official who had a sick son. Jesus moves toward need, not comfort. Toward brokenhearted sinners, not the self-righteous.

Notice that when he asks the sick man in verse 6, “Do you want to be healed?” what the man said was not, “Yes.” Instead, he explains his tragic situation.

Jesus asks no more questions. In response to that description of his sorrows, Jesus acts.

8 “Get up, take up your bed, and walk.”

So it looks like this healing is not a response to anything religious or faithful about the man. It looks like Jesus healed him simply because his situation was so miserable for so long. In other words, it looks like it came from Jesus’ compassion, not the man’s faith or righteousness.

There are at least nine times in the Gospels where it says Jesus was moved with compassion or pity. So not only does Jesus know us perfectly, but he is moved by the misery we feel. He is a sympathetic High Priest.

9 And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked.

The words “at once” signify the immediacy of Jesus’ power. When he speaks, diseased muscles and bones obey. And they obey “at once.” This is John exulting again in the sovereign power of Jesus the same way he did where the official’s son was healed at exactly the seventh hour 15 miles away when Jesus said the words.

We could say the royal son of Israel’s King came into the pagan abode (asclepeion) and healed the Jewish man without any magical formulas and spells.

Jesus did so simply by telling the man to get up and walk.This is a powerful story. Sickness – the symbol of human chaos was called into order by the power of Jesus’ word, just like the pre-creation chaos was once called by Israel’s Heavenly King into the order of creation in exactly the same way. In other words, Jesus healed the man the same way Israel’s God once created the world – simply by the power of His spoken word.

Who has the power to heal, the Greek god Asclepius, or the Judean God, through his royal son Jesus?

So his knowledge of us is complete, and his compassion toward us is great. And now his power is immediate and sovereign.

So far , John’s aim is that we see the complete knowledge, the heartfelt compassion, and the sovereign power of Jesus.

The day on which this took place was a Sabbath,

And we pause and say, “Uh oh.” Now what? The question this raises is: Is that what this story is really going to be about?

Is this going to turn into a conflict over what you are allowed to do on the Sabbath? Is John going to shift from the glory of Jesus to the ground rules of the Sabbath?

The answer is no. The Sabbath issue is raised, but it’s raised in a way that amazingly keeps the focus on the glory of Jesus.

10 and so the Jewish leaders said to the man who had been healed, ‘It is the Sabbath; the law forbids you to carry your mat.’
11 But he replied, ‘The man who made me well said to me, “Pick up your mat and walk.”’
12 So they asked him, ‘Who is this fellow who told you to pick it up and walk?’
13 The man who was healed had no idea who it was, for Jesus had slipped away into the crowd that was there.

Notice two things. At the end of verse 13, the reason Jesus walked away from the man was that there was a crowd there.

The place was filled with sick people and, no doubt those who cared for them. Had he stayed there after healing one man there would have been a tumult of miracle-seeking. This is not the main thing Jesus is after.

Now notice what is most remarkable here. Jesus healed and disappeared before the man could find out who he was. He didn’t even know who healed him. Does this mean Jesus had no intention of dealing with this man’s salvation? Was he content just to do a random miracle and leave the man in ignorance as to where it came from?

14 Later Jesus found him at the temple and said to him, ‘See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.’

No. And we know this because Jesus who found the man, not the man who found Jesus: ” Jesus had no intention of walking away from this man and leaving him with nothing more than a healed body.

Remember if the idea of a pagan temple is true then this would make sense in the context.

Jesus seems to be saying; “I have pointed you to myself as a life-giver. I heal in more ways than one. Don’t turn from me to a life of sin.”

Jesus seeks out the man in the temple and tells him the real issue in his healing. ” What’s the issue? The issue is holiness mainly, not health. “I have healed you to make you holy.”

“Sin no more. Stop sinning. My aim in healing your body is the healing of your mind and spirit. I have given you a gift. It’s free. It came first, before my command. You didn’t earn it. You weren’t good enough for it. I chose you freely. And I healed you. Now, live in this power. Let the gift of healing, the gift of my free grace, be a means to your holiness.”
And yes, he warns him that, if he turns away, and mocks this gift, and embraces sin as his way of life, worse things will happen.

“ Worse thing” (in verse 14) that will happen because there aren’t many natural things worse than the 38 years this man endured, and because in verses 28–29, Jesus says, “An hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.”

In other words: “I have healed you that you may be holy, that you may stop doing evil, and that you may not rise to the resurrection of judgment, but to the resurrection of life. I have pointed you to myself as a life-giver. I heal in more ways than one. Don’t turn from me to a life of sin.”

How do we understand this today?

There is so much disease and disabilities that we deal with today. Jesus walked into a huge “multitude of invalids” according to verse 3. And he heals one man. Just one. And disappears before even that man can know who he was. He leaves hundreds of invalids behind unhealed. Then he finds the man in a less conspicuous place and puts all the focus on holiness. “Sin no more.”

The point is this: In the first coming of the Son of God into the world, we receive foretastes of his healing power. The full healing of all his people and all their diseases and disabilities awaits the second coming of Christ. And the aim of these foretastes which we receive now is to call us to faith and holiness.

Most people who suffer from disabilities in this life will have them to the day they die. And all of us, till Jesus comes again, will die of something. Here and there, some are healed. We believe in miracles. But even though Jesus had all the power to heal, he did not usher in the final day of perfect wholeness. His ministry points to that day. But this age of groaning continues.

Romans 8:23

Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies.

Healing is the exception, not the rule. And that is not because we are weak in faith. To be sure, we might see more miracles if we expected more and believed more.

But Jesus left hundreds unhealed at the pool of Bethesda. And told the one man he did heal, who had not even believed on him—to wake up. I am pursuing your holiness. The main issue in this age till Jesus comes back is that we meet him—meet him—in our brokenness, and receive the power of his forgiveness to pursue holiness.

In this calling to faith and holiness, those with a disability physically, mentally, intellectually often run faster and farther than many of us who have everything working. Because there is nothing in this creation that can hinder God’s work in us. And his grace abounds in our weaknesses.

This is not by sight but by faith. So we cannot judge before the coming of Jesus. We cannot compare through ideas like productivity. That’s why Christianity is offensive to raw capitalism.

The healing of this man at the pool of Bethesda, and Jesus’ statement ‘sin no more’ show the point of the healing was  not to gratify sign-seekers but to conquer sin.

None of the physical miracles of Jesus was an end in itself. They all point to something more about him and about the kingdom of God and about the spiritual and moral change that he is working.

So he is saying to the healed man now in John 5, “Don’t miss what your healing was pointing to.”

Your healing was about your holiness. I have come for that. So look to me and turn from sin.

Sin is what will prevent us entering the kingdom of God. Not our infirmities. We may think if I wasn’t so weak I could do great things for God.

It is in our weaknesses he does great things in us and  for us. It is when we are nothing God is everything.
And once he has worked his holiness into us, then the sky is the limit of what he can give us to enjoy for evermore.

Revelation 21:4-8

4 “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death” or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.’
5 He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!’ Then he said, ‘Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.’
6 He said to me: ‘It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life.

But only after evil, rebellion, sin has been eradicated form this earth.

7 Those who are victorious will inherit all this, and I will be their God and they will be my children.

There is no place for sin in this coming world.

8 But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practise magic arts, the idolaters and all liars – they will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulphur. This is the second death.’

Back to John5:15-16

15 The man went away and told the Jewish leaders that it was Jesus who had made him well.
16 So, because Jesus was doing these things on the Sabbath, the Jewish leaders began to persecute him.

We have covered one of the main things going on.

The other two main things have to do with the way the Father and the Son are related, and the fact that this miracle of healing was done on the Sabbath. So let’s take those one at a time and see how they are related to each other and how they relate to the healing and the man’s holiness.

We will look a this next time.

Message for the Day

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