The Sign at the Pool at Bethesda
This lesson is entitled “Real Life or Judgment” in the LifeWay Curriculum
Sunday School Lesson for October 6, 2002
Background Passage: John 5:1-47
Note to the Reader: Since the structure and stated purpose of John’s Gospel is to highlight the miraculous signs performed by our Lord (John 20:30-31), every effort will be made to cover them in the lesson outlines. This will at times necessitate a deviation from the suggested focal passages in the LifeWay curriculum.
Following the “second miraculous sign that Jesus performed” (4:54), the Lord journeyed to “Jerusalem” at the time of a “feast of the Jews.” Prior to this Jesus had been in “Cana” (4:46) where he healed the nobleman’s son. He then “went up” to Jerusalem traveling south but rising in elevation some 2625ft. The “feast of the Jews” was probably one of the three Jewish Pilgrim feasts (Passover, Pentecost, or Tabernacles), and likely occurred about the year 28 A.D. [Hendriksen, 189].
Specifically, John indicates that this third sign occurred at the “Sheep Gate” where there were two large, spring-fed pools. The gate was so named because sheep were often led through it to be sacrificed near the Temple.
This “pool” was much like a diving or swimming pool and was named “Bethesda,” meaning “house of mercy,” or perhaps Bethzath, meaning “house of the olive tree.” The pool had five porticoes, or “covered colonnades,” where people could gather and be protected from the elements. It was here by the pool that a very large number of individuals with various illnesses congregated and would “lie,” including “the blind, the lame, the paralyzed” (v.3)
Apparently, an ancient tradition maintained that the water in this spring was “stirred” (v. 7) by an “angel of the Lord” and possessed miraculous healing powers—“the first one into the pool . . . would be cured . . . . ” Verse 4, which is not included in the some of the older Greek manuscripts of the Fourth Gospel, indicates this popular belief held by the people and does not represent the view of John nor the teaching of the Holy Spirit. Yet, the notation in verse 7 evidences that the water was indeed agitated on occasion. More than likely, however, the pool was fed by “intermittent springs that caused the disturbance” [Carson, 242].
John now focuses the story line on one certain man among the many sick ones congregating near the pool (v. 5). This particular man had been “an invalid for thirty-eight years,” most likely the entire duration of his life. Sadly, the normal life expectancy at that time was roughly forty years. According to verse 6, Jesus took particular notice of him. Perhaps his despondency and depression, revealed by his outward appearance, is what initially attracted the Lord’s attention to him—“Jesus saw him lying there.” John explains that Jesus “learned,” or somehow knew that “he had been in this condition for a long time.” This might imply that others who knew the man provided the Lord with this information, or that Jesus may have known of His condition supernaturally. At any rate, Jesus fully understood the dilemma the man was facing.
In verse 6 Jesus questions the man about his desire to be better—“Do you want to get well?” Note the contrast between this healing and the one recorded in chapter four where the faith of the royal official was the focus. Observe also that the royal official came to Jesus, whereas the Lord found this paralyzed man by the pool. Here the emphasis is upon grace and the suddenness of the supernatural healing. This question was asked, therefore, in order to prompt the invalid to acknowledge his utter helplessness before men and God—“I have no one to help me into the pool” (v.7).
In verse 8 Jesus gave the man a strong and seemingly insensitive command—“Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” Verse 9 records that the miracle of healing occurred instantaneously—“At once the man was cured.” The tense of the word “cured” stresses the permanence or enduring nature of the healing. In response to the command of Christ, the man “picked up his mat and walked.”
In verse 9 John also indicates that the healing of the man occurred on the “Sabbath.” Immediately he was scorned by “the Jews” for violating the Law (Exodus 20:10; Jeremiah 17:19-27) that “forbids you to carry your mat.” Though the man had not actually violated the letter of he law, he was apparently guilty of transgressing a rabbinic code that forbade one from moving an object from one location to another [Kostenberger, ZIBBC, 56]. D. A. Carson observes the significance of this event:
[I]n the larger scheme of the Fourth Gospel, this particular story has been included in John’s Gospel partly because it illustrates the powerful voice of the Son of God and partly because of its connection with a Sabbath dispute and the Christological dialogue it precipitates .
While this discussion was in progress Jesus slipped away from the scene (vv. 12, 13). This was “in accordance with what became a consistent policy” for Him [Carson, 245]. Sometime later “Jesus found him at the temple,” which was located to the south of the pool, and issued a challenge:
This comment strongly implies a link between the man’s physical condition and his illness. That is, it is clear that there is a direct connection, at least on some occasions, between physical suffering and sin against God.
One: Note Jesus’ total identification with His people by participation in the religious feasts of Israel (v.1). This is another key element in Christ’s condescension to men and His fulfillment of all righteousness on our behalf.
Two: Our Lord was very responsive to those in situations of desperate need (vv. 5-6). The heart of the Lord is deeply touched by those who are suffering.
Three: Observe how Jesus responded to this man’s total lack of hope by challenging him with a question (v. 6). Perhaps He meant, “Do you really want to live?” or “Do you have enough faith to believe that God can make a difference in your life?” The question stirred faith in this man who was desperate for hope.
Four: Christ has an intimate knowledge of all sinners (v.6). He knows our “real need” better that we!
Five: Recognition and admission of one’s spiritual need provides the appropriate foundation for repentance and confession (vv. 6-7).
Six: Faith reveals itself in works. A saving encounter with Christ results in a changed life. This is what the miracle powerfully demonstrates (v. 8).