In Bible times, healing pools and shrines were very common. People believed that the pools or the gods could heal them, but true healing comes only from Jesus. Jesus is greater than gods and cultures, greater than fears and weakness, and greater than our sins—even our pride. Jesus takes us beyond our hurts and fears and truly liberates us.
Jesus performed many miracles. Let’s take a closer look at the miracle He performed at the pool of Bethesda.
I. COMMENTARY ON KEY WORDS FROM VARIOUS VERSIONS
First, let’s look at some key words and phrases from this passage:
• “Some time later.” An unspecific time reference and adage, like saying “a few weeks later” or “a few months later.”
• “Feast of the Jews.” This could have been one of three feasts: Passover, Pentecost, or Booths (also called Tabernacles). Since this day occurred on the Sabbath, it was extraspecial and holy. Jesus could not have picked a better day to challenge the pious frauds of His day (Lev. 23:34-43; Num. 29:12-38; Deut. 16:13-15).
• “There is.” These words are in the present active tense, which suggests that at the time of John’s writing, the pool was still open, and thus the destruction of Jerusalem had not yet occurred. How is that significant? It tells us that John’s Gospel was written before 70 A.D.
• “Sheep Gate/Market.” This was a gate in the wall of the city of Jerusalem used for sheep. Sheep can’t be mixed with other animals because they get distracted and are then hard to herd.
• “Bethesda.” This was a medicinal pool that people flocked to for healing. It was very popular, overflowing with people desperately seeking relief from their ills. The pool is located in the north part of the Temple Mount, near what was called Sheep Gate—just as the Bible described.
• “Invalid.” In this case, the invalid was someone suffering from an unknown sickness that immobilized him and prevented him from walking well enough to get where he wanted or needed to be.
• “Thirty-eight years.” It does not mean that this man lay at the pool for 38 years; rather, it tells us that he had been ill for 38 years.
• “Do you want to get well/made whole?” This seems like a strange question, for who would not want to be healed or restored to a better place in life? However, you cannot help someone who does not want to be helped.
• “I have no one to help me.” The man seemed to have the desire to be healed but not the means.
• “Water is stirred/moving.” This refers to a local legend that an angel would come to stir the pool with “supernatural power” (See The Desire of Ages, 201).
• “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” Miracles are mainly meant to prove Christ’s claims and Lordship and His power to transform our lives. Even if Jesus heals us, we have to rise up and follow through (Isa. 35:1-7; John 11:43).
• “Cured/Healed.” Although faith is usually required in cases like this one, it seems that faith was not required here. Rather, Jesus used this man’s situation to show His position and power and allowed this man the grace he did not deserve and would later reject (Matt. 9:22; 13:58; Mark 6:5-6).
• “Law forbids.” This refers to the religious regulations of the Pharisees, such as providing medical help that is not life-saving on the Sabbath. The Law said that the men were to keep the Sabbath and not do any work on that day.
• “Carry your mat.” If the sick man had stayed on his mat, he would have held on to his past identity and problems. The mat would have become the chain to pull him back—back to despair, back to hopelessness.
• “Man who made me well.” This was an evasion of gratitude and responsibility that led to a slippery slope of betrayal, which would lead to our Lord’s conflict with the religious leaders and eventually to His crucifixion.
• “At the temple.” The man went to the temple because the Law required anyone who had been healed to make an offering of thanksgiving. Jesus knew where to find the man who received this incredible gift of healing (2 Sam. 4:4; 1 Kings 14:4).
• “Stop sinning.” This is a call not to return to whatever we have done in the past that has kept us in sin or oppressed or sick. Jesus wants us to succeed in life, and we do this by desiring to grow in His way, removing the distractions and problems that become barriers to hold us back.
• “Something worse.” This refers to the consequences of sin with current relationships and also with eternity (John 9:3; 1 Cor. 11:28- 32).
II. DEVOTIONAL THOUGHTS AND APPLICATIONS
True healing is all about the transforming work Christ does in us. Physical healing is an insignificant shadow to God’s important redemptive work and how we incorporate Him in our lives.
How can someone not want to be healed? To continue to be sick is a powerful chain that holds us down. Sometimes, it is all we have and all we know, and we fear to venture into wellness. Of course, our willpower and desires cannot always help us. Nonetheless, whether we are in a spiritual encounter, a medical surgery, or in therapy, the desire to get well or grow is powerfully important.
People who are weak in faith or stagnant in their spiritual growth are that way (for the most part) because they do not want to receive divine help with their problems. They do not see God as the equipper and sustainer of their lives. They do not want to be helped out of their weakness; they either think they can do it on their own or have given up. They love their weakness; their helplessness is their comfort and identity. The result is stagnation and ignorance of the One who can bring them comfort. We have all been there at one time or another— I know I have been! But I also know that there is healing and power in Jesus Christ.
General Conference Ministerial Association
1. What does this passage say or mean?
2. What is God telling me?
3. How am I encouraged and strengthened?
4. How can I be changed so I can learn and grow?
5. How does this apply to me? What will I do about it?
The Desire of Ages, chapter 21, “Bethesda and the Sanhedrin,” 201-213.