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Jesus Encounters Doubts and Opposition
Jesus heals the invalid at Bethesda
John Chapter 5, verse 1
Some time later, Jesus went up to Jerusalem for a feast of the Jews.
Jesus remained in Galilee until another festival led him to Jerusalem. Three times a year Jewish males were expected to attend pilgrimage festivals in Jerusalem: Passover (April), Pentecost (May), and Tabernacles (October). John doesn’t tell us which festival came up this time, but suggests significant time had passed since Jesus’ return to Galilee and tells us why he left again for Judea.
Since John records so little of Jesus’ stay in Galilee, we ought to remember that he rarely repeated information already in the other gospels, and he wrote of select miraculous signs by Jesus so we might believe and live (20:30,31).
John Chapter 5, verses 2-3
Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades. Here a great number of disabled people used to lie—the blind, the lame, the paralyzed
Near one of the gates to Jerusalem where the shepherds brought their sheep to the city, Jesus came to a pool called Bethesda (“house of mercy”). The pool still stood in John’s day, having survived the destruction by the Romans in A.D. 70. It had five colonnades near it where disabled people lay, apparently hoping for healing from the pool’s waters when agitated (see verse 7).
Some early Bible manuscripts include here an explanation that an angel of the Lord stirred up the water, but most Bible scholars feel it was added to explain the invalid’s words in verse 7. In either case, John directs our attention not to the waters but to Jesus. He gives no indication what caused the waters to move.
John Chapter 5, verses 5-7
One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?”
“Sir,” the invalid replied, “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.”
At the pool Jesus discovered a man who had been an invalid for 38 years. Whether by his omniscience or by hearing from the Sabbath day crowd assembled there, Jesus knew the man had suffered an exceptionally long time and apparently was one of the worst cases among the disabled people there. He asked this man, “Do you want to get well?”
The words served little more than to get the man’s attention. His presence at the pool signaled already that he wanted to be healed.
The invalid’s reply indicates that was a fair assumption. But it also reveals that the man had no inkling Jesus could or would heal him. He began complaining that he could never get into the pool at the opportune time when its waters might cure him. Maybe this stranger could throw him into the pool the next time its waters were stirred?
John Chapter 5, verses 8-11
Then Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked.
The day on which this took place was a Sabbath, and so the Jews said to the man who had been healed, “It is the Sabbath; the law forbids you to carry your mat.”
But he replied, “The man who made me well said to me, ‘Pick up your mat and walk.’”
A word from Jesus cures all. “Get up. Take your mat. Walk,” said Jesus. At once the man did as told. Thirty-eight years of infirmity disappeared at Jesus’ command, yet the man didn’t even know who Jesus was. By the time the former invalid came to know and believe in Jesus, the Lord had used this sign for more than his physical well being.
Jesus knowingly healed on the Sabbath Day, and he specifically told the man to take his mat with him. To the Jewish religious leaders, represented primarily by the Pharisees, both Jesus and the man were guilty of working on the Sabbath.
God had forbidden working on the Sabbath (Exodus 20:10); however, the command was against working to conduct business for one’s livelihood (Jeremiah 17:19-27; Nehemiah 13:15-22). The Pharisees, who used the law in an attempt to earn righteousness, had expanded on God’s law and added many trivial Sabbath rules governing almost all activities. Jesus’ act exposed their work-righteousness.
The spotlight turned back on Jesus when the man under fire explained, “The man who made me well said to me, ‘Pick up your mat and walk.’”
John Chapter 5, verses 12-14
So they asked him, “Who is this fellow who told you to pick it up and walk?”
The man who was healed had no idea who it was, for Jesus had slipped away into the crowd that was there.
Later Jesus found him at the temple and said to him, “See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.”
The Jews paid no attention to the wonderful sign Jesus had worked. They didn’t care about compassion and healing and the mercy of God. They wanted to make a case against Jesus for breaking their fabricated laws passed off as God’s will.
The man who was healed couldn’t help them, however. The miracle happened so suddenly that Jesus had disappeared into the crowd before the man could find out who he was. Nevertheless, Jesus wasn’t finished with the former invalid, nor with the hostile Jews. He found the healed invalid in the temple, where we assume the man was thanking God for his healing, and Jesus directed him to look from physical health to spiritual health. Jesus called for repentance.
“Stop sinning,” he ordered, “or something worse may happen to you.” We should not take that to imply the man could successfully stop all sinning, any more than the Jews could gain heaven with their Sabbath rules. It may have meant that the man’s original disability resulted from sinful activity and he was being warned not to repeat the tragedy. Or, just as likely, it meant he should sin that leads to damnation. He was to “throw off . . . the sin that so easily entangles” (Hebrews 12:1).
Jesus answers the Jews who wish to kill him
John Chapter 5, verses 15-18
The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had made him well.
So, because Jesus was doing these things on the Sabbath, the Jews persecuted him. 17Jesus said to them, “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working.” For this reason the Jews tried all the harder to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.
The man felt he had to tell the Jews who had questioned him. It’s useless to question the man’s motives in telling the Jews. He probably did not mean any harm. More likely he meant to praise Jesus. Those Jews, however, were out to get Jesus.
The unbelieving Jews wanted Jesus out of the way because of his attitude and actions on the Sabbath. Jesus responded, but in a way that riled up the Jews all the more. He called God his Father and told them that his Father was continuing to work to that moment and he too was working. “If you condemn me, you condemn my Father. You condemn God. My work is an extension of his, and it doesn’t change on every seventh day.”
We can give thanks that God is at work without stopping. Not only does he uphold all his creation by the power of his Word, including healing the sick and lame, but he extends his grace to all people through his Word. His Spirit works in the hearts of believers as he directs and rules us in his grace and works against the unbelievers in their sin. So too Jesus works without rest. God’s compassion does not take a holiday.
The hard-hearted Jews understood Jesus and so tried even harder to kill him. They didn’t just want him to stop bothering them; they wanted him dead. Now he was “calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God,” they complained.
In his day even Jesus’ enemies understood that he claimed to be divine. Oddly, some liberal theologians today, who may even pay lip service to the authority of the Scriptures, insist he never made the claim. They deny the inspired testimony of John.
John Chapter 5, verses 19-20
Jesus gave them this answer: “I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. For the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does. Yes, to your amazement he will show him even greater things than these.
Jesus did not disagree with the Jews’ conclusion that he made himself equal with God. Instead, he drove home the point with his emphatic “I tell you the truth” (“truly, truly”).
The truth is that Jesus is so much equal with the Father that he saw whatever the Father was doing and acted in perfect harmony. He could not do differently from what the Father was doing. It was impossible. This can be said only of him who is the same essence as, of one being with, the Father.
Still, God’s Son was also fully human. That means that the very things Jesus knew by his divine nature, the Father also showed him in his human nature. The Father so loved his Son that he withheld nothing from him as he prepared him for his work of salvation. And if the Jews didn’t think they saw a manifestation of Jesus’ divine self in his healing of the invalid, they would marvel at the greater things the Father would still show him.
The words of Jesus clearly enough said to the Jews: “You feel I claim to be equal with God. You’re right, but you haven’t seen anything yet.” The same words lead the reader ever so gently yet directly into the deep mysteries of the Trinity and the dual nature of Jesus as the God-man in one person. All is recorded here so that we might believe and live.
John Chapter 5, verses 21-23
For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son gives life to whom he is pleased to give it. Moreover, the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father, who sent him.
What greater works did Jesus mean that even the unbelieving Jews must stand in awe of him? Jesus shared the Father’s power to give life and received full and sole authority from the Father to judge. At the end of time everyone will see in person exactly what Jesus meant.
Jesus elaborated in his next words, but first he explained the purposeful result of this revelation; namely, the Father and the Son share equal honor. “All may honor the Son just as they honor the Father.” But whoever fails to honor the Son also fails to honor the Father, who sent him.
The words fill the hearts of believers with praise but the hearts of unbelievers with loathing. What did Jesus claim? God had said, as recorded by Isaiah, “I will not give my glory to another” (42:8). And the apostle Paul concluded later: “Every tongue [will] confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:11). Jesus claimed the honor as God and, with the greater works, would do what only God could do.
John 3:17 showed us that Jesus came to save, not to judge. Now we hear that the Father has entrusted all judgment to him. The passages complement each other. Jesus’ sole purpose in coming into this world was to save, and whoever believes in him will be saved. But unbelievers will be damned, and this same Jesus has the authority to make the final judgment.
John Chapter 5, verse 24
“I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.
The life Jesus gives is the life God gives, and it is eternal. It is the life God first breathed into Adam (Genesis 2:7). As Moses said to the Israelites, “The LORD is your life” (Deuteronomy 30:20). Jesus has this life in himself (1:4), just as the Father does.
Jesus needs only to speak and the dead will come forth alive. He is talking here about spiritual life and death. Still today by his Word the spiritually dead come to life and live with God forever.
The process by which we receive this eternal life is a clear and constant refrain of John’s gospel. In truth (“truly, truly”), everyone who hears Jesus’ Word and believes in the Father, who sent him, “has eternal life and will not be condemned.” Notice how Jesus here makes the Father the object of the believing, whereas earlier he spoke of the Son (3:16). With what he has just taught about the unity of the Father and the Son, we understand these as two ways of saying the same thing.
We hear. We believe. We live.
When unbelievers are condemned, Jesus, because he is the Son of Man, has received power and authority to do the judging. In other words, the “son of man” foreseen in Daniel’s vision (7:13,14) has come, the very Son of God and the essence of a human being without sin. He has fulfilled God’s plan of salvation. Life or death and glory or judgment are measured in connection with him. He will judge.
John Chapter 5, verses 25-30
I tell you the truth, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son to have life in himself. And he has given him authority to judge because he is the Son of Man.
“Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned. By myself I can do nothing; I judge only as I hear, and my judgment is just, for I seek not to please myself but him who sent me.
We marvel to learn that Jesus, just by speaking to us through his Word, gives us his eternal life. We were dead, but he has made us alive.
Still, there is more to come. At the appointed hour, when time as we know it comes to an end, “all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out.” What Jesus has done for believers spiritually, he will do for everyone physically. The graves will open and bodies long since decayed will come forth physically alive.
Those who have done good will rise to life with God forever. Those who have done evil will rise for judgment and be condemned to eternal damnation.
But how will Jesus measure the good? We shudder to think of eternity riding on any good we’ve done, don’t we? And well we should! Scripture speaks God’s truth when it says, “There is no one who does good” (Romans 3:12). On the Last Day when Jesus has identified those who have done good, they all will still ask, “When did we do these good things?” (Matthew 25:31-46).
The answer lies in what Jesus has just said and will repeat momentarily. Those who do good are identified in verse 24 as those who hear God’s Word and believe in the Father and the Son. Whatever believers do in faith, God measures as good. In faith they receive eternal life, and the faith-full are evident by the good they do.
The unbelievers, whose deeds are all counted as evil, will be condemned.
This wasn’t a mere man talking. This was the Son of God, who takes all his orders from the Father. Jesus does not act alone in his judging. He cannot. His judgment is just and fair, since he hears it first from the Father. The Son and the Father act together. Jesus only did and does what pleases the One who sent him.