This is the third miraculous sign given in John’s account. Jesus clashed with the religious authorities several times, overhealing on the Sabbath, Mark 3:1-6 / Luke 13:10-17 Luke 14:1-6 / John 9.
It’s not the general principle of the Sabbath that He disagrees with, but rather with the petty restrictions imposed by the religious authorities, which often worked against God’s purpose in giving the people a weekly day of rest.
Here the Jews attack Jesus on two counts, Sabbath-breaking and blasphemy because He puts His own work on the same level as God’s, John 5:17, God’s activity didn’t finish at creation.
The amount of time that passed between the last verse of chapter four and the first verse of chapter five is difficult to determine. The phrase used could indicate any period other than immediately after this, John 2:12.
It doesn’t necessarily indicate a long period of time. If this time were clearly indicated, then we would be able to determine more clearly which feast Jesus had travelled back to Jerusalem for, whatever the feast it demonstrates the faithfulness of Jesus.
The pool was most likely a mineral water pool similar to those found around the world.
‘Bethsaida’, ‘Bethesda’ ‘Bethzatha’, there may have been more than one pool in this area or a group of pools with the same name. A pool in this area was excavated in 1871 and found to be 100 metres long, 67-80 wide and 7-8 deep.
It’s possible that a gush of mineral water would flow occasionally from the depths disturbing the water and encouraging those waiting to get in. Such pools are often even today considered to have healing powers, or at least to have some therapeutic value, we call them spa’s today.
The pool was identified by the five covered colonnades, the latter part of verse three and all of verse four are generally accepted as being additions to the early text and are omitted from modern versions. The text runs quite clearly without them and they add little to the understanding of the situation.
In John 5:5 we see this paralysed man was one among a multitude of invalids, yet he alone is healed. The age of the man is unknown, but it seems to have been common knowledge that he had been an invalid for thirty-eight years.
He may have advertised that to gain a little sympathy, the nature of the invalidity is unknown, but it is more than fair to assume that he was paralysed and otherwise unable to walk.
It may seem strange that Jesus asks, ‘Do you want to get well?’
There were some ‘professional beggars’ around in those days who could lose an easy and even perhaps profitable income if cured, and therefore would not want help. Obviously, Jesus knew the man’s heart and any man could assume that he would want to get well.
It could have been that the man, in his depression after 38 years of being an invalid, had given up the idea of ever being well again. He could lose the living he made from begging or he would have to begin to compete in the job market.
Like many people, long-term invalids can sometimes learn to feel comfortable in their limitations and their familiar environment. Jesus needed to challenge the man’s will and ask the man for faith in himself. It is sad to see a man in such a desperate position with no one to help him all those years.
John 5:7 tells us that as the water stirred, it was each man for himself, the invalid never had a chance. The water could be stirred by a gush of mineral-rich water, or perhaps someone actually stirred the pool at certain times. Note though that the man didn’t see Jesus as a potential healer, he still had his faith in the pool.
Jesus could well have been touched by the man’s plight as He gives strong instructions, three imperatives
1. Get up!
2. Pick up your mat and
He may have known that it was just tradition that gave him belief in the pool, but Jesus gives a direct instruction which the man immediately follows.
Imagine the joy, no aches and stiffness after all those years, just up and on. Again, notice the healing was immediate and complete, Jesus sometimes chose not to heal completely for his own purpose.
In John 5:9-13 we see that Jesus is then persecuted for healing on the Sabbath, this is the first real religious hostility He has encountered, and the attitude of the individual is important. It was the Sabbath, this was the first time, the Sabbath ‘law’ was broken as a result of Jesus’ action in Jerusalem. This wasn’t the law of Moses but the fine hair-splitting type definition that had appeared around the Sabbath.
Sabbath observance, the law of Moses strictly forbade working on the Sabbath, Exodus 20:8-11 / Jeremiah 17:19-27 / Nehemiah 13:15-18. The Jews saw law-breaking, John 1:19 / John 5:33, instead of rejoicing with the man they were looking for fault someone to blame.
‘The law forbids you!’, no it doesn’t, the law forbade work for money, but the animals still had to be fed, and the priests still made their sacrifices. This prohibition applied to that type of burden-bearing which was connected with ordinary labour, secular work, bargaining, and bartering connected with ordinary trade during the week.
If a man had a toothache on the Sabbath, he was forbidden to apply vinegar directly to the tooth, but he could take large quantities of vinegar with his food, and this did not come under the command of work, the Rabbi’s defined work under 39 separate regulations.
When they criticised the disciples for taking a handful of grain on the Sabbath, they said that was work because it involved, reaping, threshing, winnowing and preparing a meal.
Dragging a chair along the ground was work, it was ploughing if it made a furrow in the ground that seed could fall into. If your house caught fire you could run outside, but you could only carry out the clothes you were wearing, but if you stripped off and went back in and put on some more clothes and ran out again, that would be all right and you could do that as often as you like.
1 Maccabees 2 tells us of the Jewish revolt against the Syrians when 2000 men were wiped out when they were attacked on the Sabbath and wouldn’t defend themselves. Jesus wasn’t violating the law, only their human traditions.
John 5:13 tells us that the man didn’t even know who had healed him, he had no faith in Jesus or the cause, and the healing depended entirely on the power of Jesus Christ. The man evades all the conditions put on potentially healed people of today’s healing ministries.
Although Jeremiah 19:20-21 forbids the carrying of a load on the Sabbath, the Jews ignore the fact that this man had been healed, they did not celebrate with him, and they didn’t even congratulate him. They immediately persecuted Jesus because of the binding of the law, Jesus sought no payment or thanks for His charity, He didn’t declare Himself or the Gospel, He simply, ‘slipped away into the crowd’.
Jesus ‘found him’, implies that Jesus had been looking for him, John 9:33 / John 1:45. The man’s body had been healed, but his spiritual status hasn’t been mentioned. As a result, Jesus again finds the man and mentions the more spiritual aspects of life and so. He encourages the man to live a more holy life.
This isn’t a threat of physical disability if the man doesn’t behave himself, rather, it is an example of Jesus encouraging the man to prevent his spiritual disablement. eternal consequences of sin are worse than any illness he has suffered.
Perhaps his illness had been caused by a specific sin and Jesus warns of the more serious consequences than physical ones that await those who face spiritual punishment. If he was to continue, a worse punishment could be the result, this implies being warned about the Final Condemnation, he will lose his soul.
The ex-invalid then tells the Jews who it was who healed him, which proves that more occurred in the conversation between Jesus and the man than we are told, Jesus did quite possibly tell him of salvation.