Jesus Reveals - John's Gospel chapter 5:1-18
Some Time Later ... verse 1
Jesus, after living 30 years quietly in Galilee, the remote northern province of Israel, has begun His public work of revealing the Kingdom of God. He would reveal Himself to the Jewish people as their long-awaited Messiah, and to all people as the "Saviour of the World" (as He had already to some Samaritans, chapter 4:42).
A Public, Spectacular Miracle Expected, verses 2 & 3
- Jesus returns to Jerusalem for a Festival of the Jews (there were 3 that all Israelites were expected to attend each year; Passover, Pentecost and Tabernacles. We do not know which this was, however, it was certainly an occasion when large crowds would gather).
- The Pool of Bethesda: thought to be a large complex of two pools with covered verandahs to shelter those who gathered there. It seems to have been a place for public bathing.
- Many, many sick people were there that day, expecting a miracle. It was thought that the waters of Bethesda pool occasionally became stirred up, and that when they did whoever was first to step in would be healed of whatever disease they had, v7.
- Perhaps many were there to see a spectacle, if a miracle should indeed occur. They were no different from us, loving to see something novel and surprising.
When the Bible records Jesus doing a miracle it is never for show, and only in response to people's great need, and to reveal who He really was to those who had "eyes to see and ears to hear". Many sadly, though having physical eyes and ears, could not see Who He was, nor receive His words. Even when He worked a miracle on a large scale, as when He fed the 5000 with a few bread rolls and dried fish, it was done quietly and without any fanfare.
A Private, "Invisible" Miracle Given, verses 5-9
In complete contrast to the expected, spectacular miracle is what actually took place. Jesus comes quietly and heals a man that would easily have won the prize for the most miserable and afflicted of all the sick folk at the pool-side.
- Jesus was there, and it seems, not noticed among the crowds (no one even knew His name, see v13 - He was not yet so well known in Jerusalem).
- When He knew that this sufferer had been afflicted for 38 years, and how neglected and friendless he was, He made the approach - Jesus took the initiative (He really always does, right from the beginning of time, when He created everything, and us. John 1:1-3).
- Note: Did Jesus know in a supernatural way, or did he learn from some bystanders about the man's condition? The original Greek word can mean either "know" or "learn". John is teaching us that Jesus was indeed God the Son, and as such He certainly had supernatural knowledge, as He demonstrated when talking with the Samaritan woman, John 4:16-18. Either way, it is not an important point in what John wants to teach us here.
- "Do you want to be healed?" What a question to a man who had suffered some form of paralysis for 38 years! Yet this was often Jesus' way, to awaken hope in the person, and to arrest their attention.
- The poor man gives his complaint - his second problem, as his mind is naturally on the expected public miracle of healing from the pool. "I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up. While I am going (crawling perhaps?) another steps down before me."
- Then it happens - Jesus says "Get up, take up your bed (mat), and walk." Impossible for the man, but not for God. "At once the man was healed" v9, and to prove it, he stood up, rolled up his mat, and walked, which he had not been able to do for 38 long years.
- See how quietly it was done. It was just between Jesus and the man (and perhaps some of Jesus' close disciples). Then He slipped away into the crowd, not even leaving His name!
- The man was not even asked for an expression of faith. The healing was all of Jesus' initiative, because of His compassion on one without friends and without hope. That is why He came into this world of the curse, with all its physical, moral, social and spiritual illnesses. He comes to every one of us out of this same wonderful compassion.
The Miracle Worker Hated, verses 10-16
Verse 9 tells us this miracle was done on the Sabbath day, that is the Jewish weekly day of rest. This little fact stirs up the most bitter hatred against Jesus, when the wonderful healing should have instead stirred up great praise to God, and love to Jesus. How did this happen?
- While the man was walking home, carrying his bedroll, he was spotted by some of the Jewish leaders. "It is the Sabbath, and it is not lawful for you to take up your bed." verse 10. He has inadvertently fallen foul of the "Sabbath Police".- Now for the Jews it was the law that they should rest from labour on the Sabbath day. It was indeed one of the commands given through Moses at Mount Sinai so many centuries before. Why was this man in trouble?
- The key is the way the Jewish teachers had been interpreting "work". They had established 39 categories of work that were not allowed on the Sabbath, then added lots of detailed regulations in an attempt to cover every possible circumstance. For example, chopping wood was work, and prohibited, so they also prohibited climbing a tree, in case you snapped a twig, which would amount to "chopping" - http://www.meirpanim.org/page_e.php?name=Shabbos
Today many Jewish people will not drive a car on the Sabbath, as kindling a fire is a prohibited activity, and the burning of fuel in an engine is defined as a type of "kindling a fire". Some will not even operate an electrical switch (such as an elevator call button) in case a minute spark occurs. Once you start on the path of legalism there is no obvious end in sight.
- Carrying a burden as part of commerce was prohibited too. The rules had been extended so that this poor man's carrying of his bed-mat on his way home after a marvelous outpouring of God's goodness was counted the same as carrying a basket of trade goods to market.
- The man defends himself - "The man who healed me, that man said to me 'Take up your bed and walk'", verse 11. He was only doing what such a great man as Jesus obviously was had told him to do. In effect he is saying "the man who commanded my healing commanded my carrying, and I am obeying him."
- The Jewish leaders care nothing about the man's healing. Instead they turn their attention to the upstart who commanded him to pick up his bed-roll. However, he has no idea who it was. (verse 13).
- Later Jesus found the man in the Temple (Jesus taking the initiative again) and said "See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you."
- Why did He say this? We are not told, but we need to keep in mind that all illness and suffering is the result of sin in general, because of the curse Adam and Eve brought upon the Earth and all their descendants. Suffering is certainly not always because of an individual's sin (see Luke 13:1-4). The "worse thing" might not be another illness, but far more likely the eternal judgment of God on those who in this life refuse to leave their sins.
- The man, now knowing it was Jesus, goes to tell the Jewish leaders. Why? Perhaps it was naivety, thinking they would then say "O, that is alright, since it was Jesus!" Perhaps he was afraid of them, and wanted to protect himself. If so it was a sad and ungrateful lapse, but he was not the only one; something similar is recorded in John 9, about a healed blind man's parents.
- Now the tide of their anger flows against Jesus. "How dare he!"
"And this is why the Jews were persecuting Jesus, because he was doing these things on the Sabbath." Verse 16. As you read through the Gospels again and again you see this tide of bitter hatred rising against the best Man that ever lived.
They were more concerned about their legalistic interpretations of God's good rules than they were for God's good Son. They loved their positions of authority over the people, and would not give way to God's authority.
The Miracle Worker Reveals Himself
The Jewish leaders (probably they were Pharisees, judging by their approach to the Law and to making the most minutely detailed regulations to surround it) now knew who had commanded the man to carry his bed-roll. The focus of their hatred now shifts to Jesus. They find him, and begin to harass Him, challenging Him over this issue of the Sabbath, and what they called His "breaking" of the Sabbath, by various acts of healing on that day (verse 16). The word used is "persecute", implying bitter and determined harassment, with a view to His downfall. In fact, they wished Him dead, so bitter was their hatred. (see verse 18, where they "were seeking all the more to kill Him")
Jesus Defends His Actions and Reveals His Identity
In the other Gospels there are several accounts of Jesus defending His actions on the Sabbath day, but none perhaps as striking and revealing as this one.
There are three parts to His defence:-
- "My Father is working until now", verse 17a.
- God the Father did not cease working after the six days of Creation in Genesis 1. He only ceased from His work of creation.
- His work of sustaining the universe goes on day by day. Without His work everything would fall into ruin in an instant and cease to be - Galaxies, stars, planets, Earth, animal and plant nature and greatest of all, mankind made in His image (though that image is horribly disfigured by the space-time Fall we find in Genesis 3, and reflected and worked out in all our hearts). See here for Scriptures that would have told the Jews this.
- "and I am working." verse 17b. The Jewish leaders might have accepted His first point, but this was too much! He was claiming the same right to "work" as the Father, the Creator's right.
- Followed by the natural conclusion, which He gave later as recorded in John 10:30, "I and the Father are one."
Many people refuse to accept that Jesus ever made such claim to being one with God, though obviously (they say) he was a good and great man and teacher. Yet what did the law-masters of the Jews, who were there on the spot, eye and ear witnesses, think? What was their reaction?
This is why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God. verse 18
What do you think? Will you trust yourself to Him as God and Saviour, ignore Him as of no interest at all, or hate Him as one who interferes in your own plans and life? You must make a choice - even to avoid the choice is still a choice.
The name "Jew"
The name "Jew" comes from the name of the Israelite tribe of Judah (one of Jacob's 12 sons. Jacob was also named "Israel"). The name Judah was later applied to the southern kingdom of Israel, centred at Jerusalem, after the civil war and split after the death of Solomon, last king of a united Israel. The northern kingdom, bearing the name Israel, was destroyed by the Assyrians about 722BC, with mass deportations of the people. Judah survived until it too was conquered by the Babylonians from 597BC. People of the southern kingdom later returned to Israel under the protection of Cyrus, King of Persia, and the land was generally known as Judah from that time onward.
By the time that Jesus was born, the Romans ruled the land, and the southern province was then known as Judea. By long use the term "Jew" had come to mean anyone of Israelite descent, whether living in Judea, the northern province of Galilee, or elsewhere in the world.
The Jewish leaders
The name "Jew" is also used by John to refer to the Jewish leaders, that is the members of the Jewish ruling council, the Sanhedrin. The Sanhedrin members were mostly of the sect of the Pharisees or that of the Sadducees.
Doubtful verse 4, the angel's stirring of the pool
Older English translations, especially the King James Bible and its variants, include verse 4, now thought by many Bible scholars to be a later addition, and not part of what John wrote down. For this reason it is omitted from such popular modern translations as the New International Version (NIV), the Contemporary English Version (CEV) and the English Standard Bible (ESV). Two reasons it is thought to be an addition are that it does not appear in the oldest of the early Greek manuscripts, and that it is strangely inconsistent with the other miracles in the Bible. The idea of a "permanent" miracle happening at a particular place is more in keeping with pagan superstition than the Bible, and the concept of sick people competing for a cure, and the most disabled always missing out, is repugnant to the whole ethos of the Bible.
God's work of sustaining everything goes on. He has never rested from it
Scriptures that show God the Father has never rested from His work of sustaining the universe:-
Psalm 104 (all of it, but here is an excerpt) 21 The young lions roar for their prey, seeking their food from God. 22 When the sun rises, they steal away and lie down in their dens. 23 Man goes out to his work and to his labour until the evening. 24 O Lord, how manifold are your works! In wisdom have you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures.
Job 38:39-39:4 39 "Can you hunt the prey for the lion, or satisfy the appetite of the young lions, 40 when they crouch in their dens or lie in wait in their thicket? 41 Who provides for the raven its prey, when its young ones cry to God for help, and wander about for lack of food? 39 "Do you know when the mountain goats give birth? Do you observe the calving of the does? 2 Can you number the months that they fulfil, and do you know the time when they give birth, 3 when they crouch, bring forth their offspring, and are delivered of their young? 4 Their young ones become strong; they grow up in the open; they go out and do not return to them.
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Last published: 4 July 2014
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