Healing at Bethesda


In John’s chronology the incident at Bethesda happened two days after the healing of the Royal Official’s son in Cana. Jesus had returned to Jerusalem for an unnamed festival and was near the pool of Bethesda.  This pool has been excavated in the Arab quarter of Jerusalem and consists of two trapezoidal pools with a 21 foot divider between them.  Two porticos were built on the side of each pool with one on the strip in between.  The pools were located near the Sheep gate which was where sacrificial animals were brought in for use in the temple.  The name means house of mercy or grace.

Some manuscripts and translations include a description of a local belief that an angel periodically “stirred” or “troubled” the water and that the first person in the pools after that was cured of any ailments.  As a result of this belief the sides of the pools were lined with the sick and infirm.  Among them was a man who had been an invalid for 38 years.

Jesus asked the man if he wished to get well.  The man’s response gave evidence of his belief in the ability of the pool to heal him because he said he would like to be well but his infirmity prevented him from being first in the water.  Jesus abruptly (as has been the case with the other signs so far) says, “Get up! Pick up your bed and walk.”  The man was immediately healed and walked away while Jesus slipped away in the crowd.

The Jewish leaders saw the man carrying his bed, accused him of working on the Sabbath and the man responded (obviously confused) that he had been instructed to do by the man who healed him (as opposed to Jewish officialdom who had never done anything for him).  The Jewish leaders asked him, in a seemingly snarky manner, who had healed him, but the man had no idea.

Later Jesus ran across the man at the temple (where better for him to be after being healed) and said, “See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.”  Then the man told the Jewish leaders it was Jesus who had healed him.

This whole story leads me to more questions than answers, but before I get to the questions let me note a few things:

  • In the prior signs someone asked for Jesus to do what he did, this man did not ask for anything.
  • As in each of the other prior signs Jesus met a human need.
  • Jesus did not offer to forgive the man’s sins.

So some questions:

  • Why did John record this as a sign?
  • Did Jesus do this to tick off the Jewish leaders?  It would not have been the first thing of that type he had done.
  • What if anything about Jesus as the Messiah did this reveal?
  • Does this act as a prelude to Jesus’ declarations of the authority of the Son in 5:19-30 or is it unrelated?
  • If it does, how does it tie together?

As you might have guessed I have some thoughts on these questions.  I think John recorded this sign to demonstrate the sovereign authority of Christ.  He healed the man because it suited him, he “violated” the Sabbath because it was the will of the Father who created the Sabbath.  Jesus was at work on the Sabbath because  the Father was at work.  The declarations Jesus makes about the Son in verse 19 and following are definitely tied to the sign.  Through the sign and his words he reveals both his authority and dependence on the Father.  Even the Jewish leaders recognized what Jesus was doing.