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10. Healing of the Man at Bethesda


A. Passage Selected: John 5:1-15

B. Progression Stated: Logical

We see a miracle and then much emphasis on the results of the miracle. So there is a cause effect relationship.

C. Presentation Summarized:

1. Context of the miracle 5:1-5
a. Feast of Israel

This is another Sabbath miracle. I think Jesus works on the Sabbath on purpose. He is forcing the issue that the religious leaders were missing the original purpose of the Sabbath and that He is Lord over the Sabbath. In the other Gospels, there will be a number of Sabbath controversies following this miracle.

The Feast of Pentecost, Passover and Tabernacles obligated all males to attend. Perhaps it was one of these feasts. It might have been Passover, but some doubt that because it would have been too cold for people to be lying around the pool. Probably not the Feast of Tabernacles because that is the backdrop of chapter 9. That leaves us with the Feast of Pentecost as the probable setting.

John sets this miracle up almost like some movie introductions where the camera starts off with a view of the NY city skyline, then moves in closer to the city, amidst the buildings, into a crowd of people and then focuses on the main character.

Here we see the occasion is a feast, in Jerusalem, near the sheep gate, at the pool of Bethesda, near the colonnades, amidst the multitudes, with a number of disabled and finally he focuses on a man who had been sick for 38 years.

b. Focus on Individual

Jesus focuses on one man out of a whole crowd of people who are all there for the same purpose. He does not heal the whole crowd. He heals just one. Why?

  • Some suggest it is because this man is the only one who had given up all hope of ever getting into the pool.10 This man had been sick 38 years. I wonder how many other experiments this man had tried to get healed. He was ready to hope in something else. If that is true, it is analagous to the principle that people have to recognize they are lost before they are ready to trust in Christ. But, what is very evident in this miracle story, is that this man didn’t even know who Jesus was and so his faith was not involved.
  • Perhaps the lesson is that God’s sovereignty, plan and purpose are bigger than human need. It is not limited by human infirmity. Just because he heals only one person does not make him unjust.

    If it was true then, is it true today? A lot of people say, “If God did this for them, then why doesn’t he do this for me?” Why doesn’t God heal my cancer or my mother’s cancer, he healed theirs....

    Older literature called this man the “impotent man.” That word has sexual connotations in our day, so it might be better to say the “infirm man.” If we put “The Healing of the Impotent Man” on our marquee in front of the church, we might draw a larger crowd though.

    c. Factuality of the pool (5:3b-4)

    These pools were just discovered by archaeologists in the early 1960’s. This is just another example of how archaeology continues to affirm the factuality of scripture.

    What were the sick people waiting for? They were waiting for an angel to come and stir the waters. Some manuscripts leave this out. That is why your bible has square brackets around this section. Perhaps they left this out because it wasn’t true that an angel came and stirred the waters. In our day, people believe that the waters of Hot Springs will heal them because someone claimed to have been healed there. Where the tradition came from in our passage we don’t know. Someone may have been healed there or just claimed to have been. It doesn’t really matter if it is true or not because the sick people believed it anyway (cf. 7). John is not saying it is true or not. He’s just telling us why these people hung out at this pool.

    I think it is interesting to note that the solution to the man’s problem was Jesus, but he couldn’t see it. He was focused on getting to the pool. He wanted to use Jesus to help him get to the pool. He wasn’t looking to Jesus for the healing.

    I think there are a couple of applications we can make from verse 7.

  • Just like this man had used his resources for 38 years to get well, we usually depend on our own resources to solve our problems. When they don’t work, we despair.
  • Sometimes we do turn to God, but with the wrong goal in mind. Just like this man who wanted Jesus to help him get down to the pool, I think we often look to God to give us what we think we need, when in fact, what we need it God, himself. If I’m depressed over my finances, I want God to give me a better job, help me win the lotto or whatever, when I really need to just depend on God and let Him work out the details. If I’m depressed over a bad relationship or marriage, I want God to change the other person, when maybe I’m the one that needs to change or at least learn to depend on God for the fulfillment that no human can possibly give.
    2. Cause of the miracle 5:6-9
    a. The sympathy of the day (6-7)

    Jesus asks the question “Do you want to get well?” Perhaps we could paraphrase it, “Do you want help from me?” The man just wants to get to the water. He doesn’t realize who Jesus is and what Jesus can do.

    b. The sign of the day (8-9)

    “Pick up you mat and walk” is the statement of healing. That he does it is the sign of the healing. What I think is very important and applicable for us is that when Jesus gives a command, He also gives the enablement to carry out the command. If we see a command in Scripture that we are to follow, we don’t do it by our own power. We do it through the power that God supplies.

    3. Consequence of the miracle 5:10-15
    a. For the Jews (10-12)

    They are upset because of their over concern for the Sabbath. Although there were 613 commands in the OT, they had added prohibitions to the law as a hedge around the law so that people would not break the law.

    It is important to understand that their “hedge” commands were not really a hedge at all. They were designed to allow the Jews to break all the 10 commandments. I’m sure they would deny this and perhaps they didn’t do it intentionally, but because of their natural evil human nature, they had ways of getting around all the commandments. For example: they could swear on the door of the temple and that was not binding but to swear on the doorknob of the temple was. That allowed them to get around the command to not bear false witness. They had very liberal divorce laws which allowed them to get around the command not to commit adultery. They just got divorced, married the one they wanted to be with and then divorced her when they found someone new (cf. Matt 5:32). The sermon on the mount goes through this in detail.

    They set up 39 prohibitions to supposedly protect the Sabbath. #39 was that you can’t carry your bed on the Sabbath. Jesus goes right for that to challenge the tradition. In reality, their Sabbath prohibitions kept them from bringing rest to mankind as the Sabbath was originally intended. Jesus was going to bring rest to this man who had been sick for 38 years.

    b. For the man (13-15)

    This man had no faith. He didn’t even know who Jesus was. This account destroys the idea that miracles are always the consequence of faith. Later we will see that raising a dead person is also not the result of the person’s faith. Only a few of the 35 miracles were the consequence of faith.

    Vs 14 makes me think that sin was probably the cause of his ailment. This is the only miracle when someone is told this. This tells me that we need to be real careful not to jump to any conclusions about the cause of someone’s sickness. There are certain Christian groups that attribute most sickness to sin. I think that is wrong and dangerous. It is dangerous because those that believe that, logically believe that if they stop sinning, they will get well. If they don’t get well, then they can only conclude that they haven’t figured out which sin it is that caused this.

    Jesus says, “Don’t sin anymore, so that nothing worse may befall you.” What could be worse than 38 years of sickness? Perhaps he is referring to Hell. That would fit the following context of John 5:29.

    Why is the man in the temple? Perhaps he is now a believer. Perhaps the fact that Jesus commands him to stop sinning is an indication that he is now saved/a believer because unbelievers do not have the capability to not sin anymore. Others take this command to be a message of conviction. Perhaps Jesus warning of worse consequences is designed to convict him further.

    Vs 15. Why does the man go tell the Jews? He had to have known that they were angry at Jesus because of what they said in verses 10-12.

    c. For Jesus (16)

    Persecution - they plan to kill him. Because of their Sabbath traditions, they missed the Savior.

    After this, Jesus goes into a major discourse on His equality with God. As always, the signs are given to validate a sermon that was just given or about to be given.

    The Jews knew that God did not cease to work on the Sabbath. People were born and people died on the Sabbath, and that was from God because He gives life and causes death. When Jesus says My Father is working now (on the Sabbath) and I am working, it is an obvious claim to deity.


  • Jesus’ answer in vs. 18 is that he is doing his Father’s work and has the prerogative of working on the Sabbath just as God does because he is equal with God. Just because God rested on the 7th day of creation to set the tone for the Sabbath, doesn’t mean he always rests on the Sabbath. In fact the Bible says, that God doesn’t sleep. If you are a priest in the OT, you better hope God is not asleep on the Sabbath.
  • Jesus is showing the Jewish tradition to be invalid by commanding the man to carry his pallet on the Sabbath. It is OK when truth challenges tradition.
  • There is kingdom imagery in this miracle. Isa 35:5 speaks of the blind seeing and the lame walking. This was another sign that the Messiah was present. The Sabbath rest was itself a foreshadow of the ultimate rest of the future kingdom. When Jesus heals on the Sabbath, He is saying the Messiah is here and the Kingdom is at hand. In the following context 5:19-25 we see realized eschatology and then in 26-30 future or final eschatology.


  • Jesus has the sovereign choice to deal with one out of a crowd. Just because God heals others, does not mean He will heal me or someone I know.
  • One’s eternal destiny is more important than one’s temporal disability. To some -- The healing of disease is more important than evangelism. I think that some of the television healers are a good example.
  • Sickness is sometimes the cause of sin, but not always.
  • We carry out the commands of God by the power which God supplies.
  • Genuine gratitude should be demonstrated by holy living.
  • There is a danger of missing the work of God if I’m trusting in my traditions. The Pharisees’ traditions said you couldn’t do any work on the Sabbath, so they missed it when God worked on the Sabbath. What kind of traditions do we have that might blind us to God’s work? I think Cessationists (which includes me) need to be careful of this one. Our tradition says that sign gifts have died out. Unfortunately, this causes many Cessationists to conclude that God doesn’t work supernaturally. This is what it means to put God in a box.

    10 John G. Mitchell, “Does God Heal Today?” BibSac ,Vol 122 #485, Jan 1965, p. 48.

  • Related Topics: Miracles

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