At the Pool of Bethesda

Title: At the Pool of Bethesda

Bible Book: John 5 : 1-18

Author: David E. Owen

Subject: Miracles; Jesus, Miracles of; Mercy



Nelson’s Complete Book Of Bible Maps & Charts lists the 7 Signs of John’s Gospel and what they reveal about Jesus…

Turns water into wine (John 2:1–12)

Jesus is the source of life.

Heals a nobleman’s son (John 4:46–54)

Jesus is master over distance.

Heals a lame man at the pool of Bethesda (John 5:1–17)

Jesus is master over time.

Feeds 5,000 (John 6:1–14)

Jesus is the bread of life.

Walks on water, stills a storm (John 6:15–21)

Jesus is master over nature.

Heals a man blind from birth (John 9:1–41)

Jesus is the light of the world.

Raises Lazarus from the dead (John 11:17–45)

Jesus has power over death.

In the book “750 Engaging Illustrations,” Craig Brian Larson shared the following…

In the Pentecostal Evangel church leader George O. Wood writes:

Have you ever heard a healing take place? I have. I listened to an audiotape of Duane Miller teaching his Sunday school class from the text of Psalm 103 at the First Baptist Church in Brenham, Texas, on January 17, 1993. Duane prematurely retired from pastoring three years earlier because of a virus which penetrated the myelin sheath around the nerves in his vocal cords, reducing his speech to a raspy whisper.

Teaching his class that day with a special microphone resting on his lips, he reaffirmed his belief in divine healing and that miracles had not ended with the Book of Acts. Listening to the tape, at times you can barely understand his weakly spoken wheezy words of faith. The miracle happened at verse 4 when he said, “I have had and you have had in times past pit experiences.”

On the word “pit,” his life changed—the word was as clear as a bell, in contrast to the imperfect enunciation of the preceding word past. He paused, startled; began again and stopped. He said a few more words—all in a normal clear tone—and stopped again. The class erupted with shouts of joy, astonishment, and sounds of weeping. God completely healed him as he was declaring the truth in this psalm. (You can read the full account in Miller’s book Out of the Silence, Nelson Publishers.)

Here in John 5, we have the record of a miracle that happened just as suddenly. In fact, John says in verse 9, after a brief exchange of dialogue between Jesus and this man, that he was cured “immediately.”

As we look at this miracle…

I. Let’s Consider The Meticulous Circumstances In This Account

(John 5:1–5)

A. Notice The Feast And The Situation That Was Explained

(John 5:1) After this there was a feast of the Jews; and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.

John MacArthur said…

John refers to a feast of the Jews six times in his gospel (cf. 2:13; 6:4; 7:2; 10:22; 11:55); this is the only one he failed to identify specifically. Since Jesus went up to Jerusalem for this feast, it likely was one of the three major feasts held in that city (Passover, Tabernacles, Pentecost [Weeks]) that all Jewish males were required to attend (Deut. 16:16; cf. Ex. 23:17; 34:23). Perhaps John did not name this particular feast because Jesus' actions on this occasion are not related to its particulars. The apostle likely mentioned it merely to explain why Jesus was in Jerusalem.

Albert Barnes wrote…

[A feast] Probably the Passover, though it is not certain. There were two other feasts – Pentecost and the Feast of Tabernacles – at which all the males were required to be present, and it might have been one of them. It is of no consequence, however, which of them is intended.

B. Notice The Folks And The Stirring That Was Expected

(John 5:2-4) Now there is at Jerusalem by the sheep market a pool, which is called in the Hebrew tongue Bethesda, having five porches. {3} In these lay a great multitude of impotent folk, of blind, halt, withered, waiting for the moving of the water. {4} For an angel went down at a certain season into the pool, and troubled the water: whosoever then first after the troubling of the water stepped in was made whole of whatsoever disease he had.

Warren Wiersbe said…

The Hebrew name Bethesda has been spelled various ways and given differing meanings. Some say it means “house of mercy” or “house of grace,” but others say it means “place of the two outpourings.” There is historical and archeological evidence that two adjacent pools of water served this area in ancient times.

The pool is situated near the northeast corner of the Old City, close to the Sheep Gate (Nehemiah 3:1; 12:39). Perhaps John saw some spiritual significance to this location, for he had already told his readers that Jesus Christ is “the Lamb of God” (John 1:29).

Wiersbe further says…

While it is true that some manuscripts omit the end of John 5:3 and all of verse 4, it is also true that the event (and the man’s words in John 5:7) would make little sense if these words are eliminated. Why would anybody, especially a man sick for so many years, remain in one place if nothing special were occurring? You would think that after thirty-eight years of nothing happening to anybody, the man would go elsewhere and stop hoping! It seems wisest for us to accept the fact that something extraordinary kept all these handicapped people at this pool, hoping for a cure.

C. Notice The Fellow And The Sickness That Was Endured

(John 5:3) In these lay a great multitude of impotent folk, of blind, halt, withered, waiting for the moving of the water.

Marvin Vincent explained…

Impotent ‎asthenountoon‎. The English Revised Version (1885): “sick.” Yet the King James Version gives the literal meaning, “people without strength.” Wycliffe: “languishing.”

Withered ‎xeeroon‎. Literally, “dry.” So Wycliffe.

(John 5:5) And a certain man was there, which had an infirmity thirty and eight years.

infirmity – Greek 769. astheneia, as-then'-i-ah; from G772; feebleness (of body or mind); by impl. malady; mor. frailty:--disease, infirmity, sickness, weakness.

(John 5:7) The impotent man answered him, Sir, I have no man, when the water is troubled, to put me into the pool: but while I am coming, another steppeth down before me.

impotent – Greek 770. astheneo, as-then-eh'-o; to be feeble (in any sense):--be diseased, impotent folk (man), (be) sick, (be, be made) weak.

In The Pulpit Commentary, a B. Thomas shared the following homily…

Here we have -

JESUS ATTRACTED BY MISERY. Why was Jesus found at Bethesda? Because there were such misery and need. He was ever found where he was most wanted, and where he might do most good. He was not found in places of luxury, but in the haunts of misery.

1. The misery was great. There was presented to the eye of Jesus there such pain, degradation, poverty, and misery, physical, mental, and moral, as could scarcely be described, and all presented to him together in one scene.

2. The misery was various. It was not confined to one disease, but embraced many classes - “the impotent, the halt,” etc. The diseases were various in their kind and history, but all baneful branches from the common stem of physical and moral disorder.

3. The misery was distributed among a great number. There was a multitude. The porches were full, and doubtless many could not be admitted for want of room. Physical suffering is the heritage of the human family, and the special heritage of some. It is a mercy that suffering is distributed. We only know of One who could and did bear all in himself “the Man of sorrows,” etc.

4. All were waiting and struggling for the same blessing, viz. restoration to health. With what anxiety they would watch the moving of the waters, and what efforts they made to have the first bath! To this place Jesus was attracted. Being the incarnation of mercy, he was attracted by misery. The whole scene was such as would naturally excite his compassion, and stood forth as a picture to him of a more terrible and universal malady, that of sin, which he came to take away.


They were all miserable enough, but there was a certain man standing alone in misery and helplessness.

1. He was impotent, perhaps paralytic, thoroughly helpless, and unable to plunge into the healing pool, and had no one to help him in.

2. He had been a long time in this condition. Thirty-eight years. The best part of his life was spent in pain and misery. He had only just sufficient life left to feel his pain and woe.

As MacArthur said…

Among those gathered at the pool hoping for a miracle was a man who had been ill for thirty-eight years. The exact nature of his illness is not stated, but he was either paralyzed or too weak to move freely on his own. Having been incurably ill for nearly four decades, this man provided Jesus with an opportunity to display His divine power.

II. Let’s Consider The Miraculous Change In This Account

(John 5:6–9)

A. We Are Told Of The Perceptive Witness

(John 5:6) When Jesus saw him lie, and knew that he had been now a long time in that case, he saith unto him, Wilt thou be made whole?

saw – Greek 1492. eido; a prim. verb; used only in certain past tenses; prop. to see (lit. or fig.); by impl. (in the perf. only) to know:--be aware, behold, X can (+ not tell), consider, (have) known (-ledge), look (on), perceive, see, be sure, tell, understand, wist, wot.

knew – Greek 1097. ginosko; a prol. form of a prim. verb; to “know” (absol.), in a great variety of applications and with many impl.:--allow, be aware (of), feel, (have) known (-ledge), perceive, be sure, understand.

The Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown Commentary says…

When Jesus saw him lie, and knew that he had been now a long time in that case. He doubtless visited the spot just to perform this cure, so He knew where to find His patient, and the whole previous history of His case.

He saith unto him, Wilt thou be made whole? Could anyone doubt that a sick man would like to be made whole, or that the patients came there, and this man had returned again and again, just in hope of a cure? But our Lord asked the question, first, to fasten attention upon Himself; next, by making him detail his case, to deepen in him the feeling of entire helplessness; and further, by so singular a question, to beget in his desponding heart the hope of a cure.

B. We Are Told Of The Pessimistic Weakling

(John 5:7) The impotent man answered him, Sir, I have no man, when the water is troubled, to put me into the pool: but while I am coming, another steppeth down before me.

The Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown Commentary further says…

The impotent man answered him, Sir, I have no man, when the water is troubled, to put me into the pool: but while I am coming, another steppeth down before me. Instead of saying he wished to be cured, he just tells with piteous simplicity how fruitless had been all his efforts to obtain it, and how helpless and all but hopeless he was. Yet not quite. For here he is at the pool, waiting on. It seemed of no use; nay, only tantalizing - “While I am coming, another steppeth down before me” - the fruit was snatched from His lips. Yet he will not go away. He may get nothing by staying; he may drop into his grave before he get into the pool; but by going from the appointed, divine way of healing, he can get nothing. Wait therefore he will, wait he does, and when Christ comes to heal him, lo! he is waiting his turn. What an attitude for a sinner at Mercy’s gate! The man’s hopes seemed low enough before Christ came to him. He might have said, just before “Jesus passed by that way,” ‘This is no use; I’ll never get in; let me die at home.’ Then all had been lost.

John MacArthur wrote…

The possibility that Jesus might heal him never entered his mind; in fact, he did not even know who Jesus was (v. 13). His only concern was finding a way to be the first one into the pool when the water began stirring. Maybe he thought that Jesus could help him by waiting there with him and carrying him into the water when the time was right. But he certainly never considered that, in a moment, Jesus could miraculously make him completely well. No doubt years of failing to make it first into the water had left him embittered and hopeless. Thus, “v. 7 reads less as an apt and subtle response to Jesus’ question than as the crotchety grumblings of an old and not very perceptive man who thinks he is answering a stupid question” (D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John, The Pillar New Testament Commentary [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991], 243). Like many people, his expectations of what Jesus could do for him were limited to what he believed was possible.

C. We Are Told Of The Powerful Words

(John 5:8-9) Jesus saith unto him, Rise, take up thy bed, and walk. {9} And immediately the man was made whole, and took up his bed, and walked: and on the same day was the sabbath.

Wiersbe said…

The Lord healed him through the power of His spoken word. He commanded the man to do the very thing he was unable to do, but in His command was the power of fulfillment (see Mark 3:5; Hebrews 4:12). The cure was immediate and certainly some of the many people at the pool must have witnessed it. Jesus did not pause to heal anyone else; instead, He “moved away” (John 5:13) so as not to create a problem. (The Greek word means “to dodge.”)

Craig Keener said in the IVP Bible Background Commentary…

The man had been sick there longer than many people in antiquity lived — for about as many years as Israel had wandered in the wilderness. Ancient reports of healings often specified how long the person had been sick to emphasize the greatness of the healer's cure. Obviously nothing else, including this pool, had succeeded in restoring him.

Matthew Henry said…

He is bidden to rise and walk; a strange command to be given to an impotent man, that had been long disabled; but this divine word was to be the vehicle of a divine power; it was a command to the disease to be gone, to nature to be strong, but it is expressed as a command to him to bestir himself. He must rise and walk, that is, attempt to do it, and in the essay he should receive strength to do it. The conversion of a sinner is the cure of a chronic disease; this is ordinarily done by the word, a word of command: Arise, and walk; turn, and live; make ye a new heart; which no more supposes a power in us to do it, without the grace of God, distinguishing grace, than this supposed such a power in the impotent man. But, if he had not attempted to help himself, he had not been cured, and he must have borne the blame; yet it does not therefore follow that, when he did rise and walk, it was by his own strength; no, it was by the power of Christ, and he must have all the glory. Observe, Christ did not bid him rise and go into the waters, but rise and walk. Christ did that for us which the law could not do, and set that aside. [2.] He is bidden to take up his bed. First, To make it to appear that it was a perfect cure, and purely miraculous; for he did not recover strength by degrees, but from the extremity of weakness and impotency he suddenly stepped into the highest degree of bodily strength; so that he was able to carry as great a load as any porter that had been as long used to it as he had been disused. He, who this minute was not able to turn himself in his bed, the next minute was able to carry his bed.

III. Let’s Consider The Many Criticisms In This Account

(John 5:10–18)

A. These People Were Aggravated By His Authority

(John 5:10-12) The Jews therefore said unto him that was cured, It is the sabbath day: it is not lawful for thee to carry thy bed. {11} He answered them, He that made me whole, the same said unto me, Take up thy bed, and walk. {12} Then asked they him, What man is that which said unto thee, Take up thy bed, and walk?

B. These People Were Angered By His Assertion

(John 5:15-18) The man departed, and told the Jews that it was Jesus, which had made him whole. {16} And therefore did the Jews persecute Jesus, and sought to slay him, because he had done these things on the sabbath day. {17} But Jesus answered them, My Father worketh hitherto, and I work. {18} Therefore the Jews sought the more to kill him, because he not only had broken the sabbath, but said also that God was his Father, making himself equal with God.

C. These People Were Affected By His Absence

(John 5:13-14) And he that was healed wist not who it was: for Jesus had conveyed himself away, a multitude being in that place. {14} Afterward Jesus findeth him in the temple, and said unto him, Behold, thou art made whole: sin no more, lest a worse thing come unto thee.

conveyed himself away – Greek 1593. ekneuo, ek-nyoo'-o; from G1537 and G3506; (by anal.) to slip off, i.e. quietly withdraw:--convey self away.

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