A. The third sign: the healing of the lame man on the Sabbath (5:1–18);
B. The identity of (the Son of) God: Jesus responds to the opposition (5:19–47);
C. The fourth sign: the feeding of a large crowd (6:1–15);
D. The “I am” walks across the sea (6:16–21);
E. The Bread of Life (6:22–71);
F. Private display of suspicion (7:1–13);
G. Public display of rejection (7:14–52);
H. The trial of Jesus regarding a woman accused of adultery (7:53–8:11).
In a world filled with confusion about God and religious superstition, Jesus is the revelation of God and God’s powerful work. Jesus is both the promise of true wellness and the warning against something much worse. The only appropriate response can be stop sinning and to start believing.
The central chapters of the Gospel of John are chronologically related to various festivals of the Jewish year: cf. John 6:4 - Passover; 7:2 - the feast of Tabernacles; 10:22 - the feast of the dedication of the temple, 11:55 - Passover again.
As for the festival mentioned here, its identification is uncertain. Some connect it with New Year’s Day - known as the Rosh Hashanah (the head of the year) or the festival of trumpets (see Lev 23:23–25; Neh 8:8). It is a movable holiday usually falling on Sept or Oct.
The Evangelist, however, informs us only that it was the Sabbath on that day.
The location of this narratives is a pool near the Sheep Gate. Today, it is traditionally indicated as the twin pools beneath St. Anne’s Church.
The “five porticoes” or five arcades represent a porch on each of the four sides and one separating the pools, perhaps separating men and women.
Porticoes, like public baths in the ancient world, were open to the public and were gathering places for beggars and other people.
Bethesda means a “place of outpouring”.
Three categories of sick people are mentioned: the blind; the lame - the Greek word refers to an improperly functioning body part; the paralysed or withered - due to a disease.
In the Byzantine text of GNT (around 5 century AD) - which is considered today by many as not preserving the original text, we have a further description of the situation.
“and they waited for the moving of the waters. 4 From time to time an angel of the Lord would come down and stir up the waters. The first one into the pool after each such disturbance would be cured of whatever disease they had” (5:3b–4). This statement explain verse 5:7.
Some explain this fragment as reproducing popular belief about the cause of the healing power of the water, and others see here the influence of pagan religion that regularly used healing shrines with water as the main healing component. Thus Jesus is presented as being in competition with ancient healing sanctuaries. But, such influence and connection are doubtful.
The pools contained waters but they could also received water on irregular bases from a natural spring - this would explain the disturbance of the water.
His type of sickness is not specified - a sort of paralysis due to a disease interpreted later as the result of sin (5:14).
Some connect his 38 years with 38 years the Jewish people spent in the desert after the people refused to go and conquer the land (cf. Deut 2:14).
We can also see a contrast between the slim chance of healing in the pool and the efficacious word of Christ. In that case, the water of Bethesda, like the water in the stone pots at Cana (Jn 2:6), or the water of Jacob’s well (Jn 4:13), might illustrate the rites of the Jewish religion as contrasted with the salvation brought in the Gospel.
Jesus (John 1:3–5), the incarnated Word of God in whom was life walked among all those sick being unrecognised by them.
Jesus “saw” him and “knew” about his long sickness. Did Jesus learn about his sickness form others or knew it by himself?
“Do you want to become well?” The question is indeed strange. After all the man seems to be there in order to get healed.
But some suggest that after so many years of sickness he got used to it and maybe did not prefer to face the challenge of a normal healthy life. Others indicate that the key in this question is the verb “become”, so important in the prologue. He can only become well through Jesus.
If the water represents the law, then although the law can show the way to life (Luke 10:28), it cannot give life (cf. Gal 3:12–13).
The answer of the man indicates that he takes Jesus as a simple passerby interested in his plight and does not expect things to change. The reasons he gives are the lack of help - no man to help him to get to the water and the lack of luck: there is always someone ahead of him entering the pool.
How limited is then the healing power of that waters - only one person can get healed after the water are disturbed.
Some see in this answer also a mixture of religion and superstition: as a Jew he believes in God of Israel but at the same time he is convinced that those waters have magical powers by God. Again, whether that is implied by the text it needs to be proven.
The “bed” was a mat or pallet of straw easily rolled up and carried on the shoulder (Greek “κράβαττος”; same in Mk 2:9,11,12).
The healing words of Jesus are the same like in Mk 2:1–12, but the man in Mark received the assurance of forgiveness of sins and the man at Bethesda was warned against sinning again (5:14).
Jesus’ command healed him instantly (cf. Is 35:6). Jesus asked him whether he wanted to become well - and he did not actually answer. Now he has become well by the power of the One through whom everything “became” (John 1:3).
Although, the man is healed, the story does not ends yet. The Evangelist adds in interesting time reference: “but on that day it was the Sabbath”. We immediately feel that troubles are coming up.
In the Gospels Jesus’ healings on the Sabbath brings him into serious conflict with the religious authorities (cf. Mk 3:1–6).
The ‘tradition of the elders’ distinguished 39 categories of work which might not be undertaken on the sabbath, and one of them –39th was the carrying of a load from one dwelling place to another.
“The Jews” representing religious establishment and teachers of the law are in need of being taught what is the true meaning of the sabbath rest and who is the Lord of the Sabbath (cf. Mk 2:27). The man, on the other hand, still did not grasp the true identity of the one who made him well.
Notice that the attention from the place of healing shifted to the time of healing.
The healed man defends himself saying that he obeys another’s man command. One can even view it as a way of making Jesus’ responsible for his breaking of the sabbath. But, the command to pick up his mat and walk had to be obeyed if he wanted to be healed.
In Mark 2:1–11, the ability of the healed man to pick up his mat and walk was a sign of Jesus’ authority to forgive sins. Here, the man also sensed that Jesus’ had an authority to command what he commanded.
In Jesus’ eyes, the sabbath was given to be a blessing and not a burden to human beings. Therefore acts of healing and relief should be particularly done on that day.
The Jews move from the man to Jesus. Moreover, they do not even consider the miracle. The ‘violation’ of the sabbath is more important than the healing of a sick man. Such attitude reveals their blindness.
Unlike the blind man in John 9:11, this man does not know his own benefactor, “for Jesus became invisible”. Jesus shunned publicity and the presence of the crowd around the poor of Bethesda made it easy for him to disappear as soon as the cure was accomplished.
The fact that Jesus “found” the healed man suggests that it is not a chance encounter. Jesus often “finds” the people he is looking for (cf. 1:43; 9:35).
Jesus gives him a word of advice or his final - the fourth command: “sin no longer”. Then, an appeal is added: “so that nothing worse [than sickness] may happen to you”.
The man should take warning and not repeat the sin (or continue in it) - whatever sin he was in habit of committing we do not know - for fear of something worse. The ‘something worse’ might well be eternal death.
It is the first time sin is directed at a particular person and the first time sin is mentioned since 1:29.
In the light of the scriptures sin has its consequences and sickness and death are seen as two of them (cf. Ps 38:4; Rom 6:23).
However, John 9:2–3 shows that the connection is not that obvious and that sickness and suffering were not necessarily the result of one’s personal sin.
However, some indicate that in the case of this man, Jesus knew what the cause of his infirmity was, and let him know that he knew. Was it his magical and superstitious attitude towards his own religious tradition that Jesus had in mind?
Others take a broader look at sin and point out that the sin Jesus is concerned with is defined as the unwillingness to believe that Jesus is the one in whom the Father is revealed and through whom God’s power works (cf. 8:24; 15:24; 16:9). Thus, the command to stop sinning is an admonition against sin of unbelief in Jesus and putting trust in something else instead - healing power of waters of the pool, for example.
Knowing the identity of his benefactor, the man reports Jesus to the authorities. How to look at his action? Some commentators view it negatively. It seems that the man still was blind to the identity of Jesus. And the reporting created a problem for Jesus.
Inciting others to break the law (as the authorities understood it) was worse than breaking it oneself. Therefore, they launched a campaign against Jesus which was not relaxed until his death (cf 1:11).
The verb translated as “persecute” also has the resonance of “prosecute” in judicial sense. Jesus seems to be ‘prosecuted’ for his breaking of the sabbath. The One whose coming into the world brings divine judgement is himself being judged by the world (cf. John 3:19–20).
In Mk 2:27–28, when he was challenged in Galilee regarding the Sabbath, Jesus stated the purpose of the sabbath and that he is Lord of the sabbath.
In John, Jesus must surprised/ shocked the authorities by talking about his Father and his work. What did he mean? Did God keep his own laws? Did he keep the sabbath law? But how could he, since plainly his providential care over his creation was unceasing?
The idea that God “rested” after creation the world in six days (Gen 2:2–3) should not be interpreted to mean that God is now inactive. God not only created the world; he also sustains it. Thus God is active all the time, on sabbath days as much as on ordinary days. Even, the rabbis agreed to that.
God’s seventh-day rest, which began when creation’s work was finished, has never come to an end. The point made by the writer of the Hebrews is that this rest of God is still available for his people to enter and enjoy (Heb 3–10).
The point made by Jesus in the Gospel is different: Although his Father’s sabbath rest began when he completed his work of creation, he continues to work - and so does Jesus - his Son. The work would include then the healing of the lamed man.
The Jews were accustomed to address God as ‘our Father’, but Jesus appeared to be claiming God as ‘his own Father’ in an exceptional, if not exclusive, sense (cf. 1:18; 2:16).
Is 40:25 presuppose the answer that no one can be compared to God. Adam wanted to be like God and ended up out of paradise, and the mysterious son of dawn/morning from Isaiah 14:12–14 - a symbol of Assyria or/and Babylon, and satan - fell from the sky for the same reason.
But, here was Jesus who in their view (1) not only broke the sabbath but - which was much more serious - (2) was making himself equal to God. He was blasphemous and therefore deserving to die.
By misunderstanding Jesus, the Jews are misunderstanding God whom they are trying to defend.
And yet, the very people that “were seeking to kill him” are the same ones for whom Jesus came to die.