John 5 Part 1

From the House of The Nazarene. This will be a very in-depth deep dive study of the Book of John.
As we approach John 5 and looking forward to John 6, these two chapters seem to share a common theme. It is that of causes and the nature of Israel’s actual lack of faith in Jesus. It deals with the issue of rejection. Why did Israel reject her Messiah? Chapter 5 focuses particularly on what this looked like in Jerusalem during the Sabbath festival whereas chapter 6 explores what happened there at a Passover festival in Galilee. We go to Jerusalem in chapter 5 and back up to Galilee in chapter 6 after being in Galilee in chapter 4. There we see in both cases we have rejection- the Jews who refuse to accept Him as their Messiah.
Lord, we thank you for this time that we have together to study Your word and to reflect upon it. I ask that You’d give us clarity of insight and willingness to not only hear but to respond to what we hear. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.
This is a very common theme in the synoptic gospels. Remember the Synoptics- Matthew, Mark, and Luke- all concern “seeing together” (that’s what synoptic means). They all present conflict stories and also the Passion narratives but John adds something more.
What we have in John is a typology- a theme of what this looked like. John’s gospel places Jesus on trial and not just at the end of His life. In a way, we see that He’s been on trial continually.
His arrival forces us to see. What evidence do we have that He is who He claims to be in view of His audacious claims? We’ll see His claims become much more direct and much more explicit than they were in the first four chapters of John. How are we to handle this? What are we to do with it? If He is, in fact, who He claims to be, the implications are nothing less than stunning. Whereas if He is not who He claims to be then He was a blasphemer and needs to be ultimately disciplined. In fact, the law would say He was to be stoned to death. You have this issue that really eliminates the possibility of seeing Him just as a mere teacher but it’s far, far more than that and claiming a great deal more than that. We have a template of accusations and response- a template of prosecution and then defense. The interesting irony is that wherever Jesus is on trial, the world gets on trial. It turns it around and ultimately it’s we, not Jesus, who is going to be on trial because the issue will be what do we do with this Person? He cannot be overlooked or ignored.
I want to point out a couple of things in this story. One of those things is in chapters 1-4 we saw that Jesus was being compared with institutions of Jewish piety in history. Now in chapters 5-10, we see a festival cycle. Jesus, in this new section of John, is being seen in the light of the major festivals of Judaism. In chapter 5 we would see the Sabbath festival. We’ll see how Jesus handles this. This takes place in Jerusalem and what the controversy will be. There’s another festival that will appear and that will be the Passover in John 6. That takes place in Galilee. Then in John 7 and 8, you’re going to have the Feasts of the Tabernacles.
In John 9 there’s kind of a case story- a blind man and the issue of spiritual light and darkness and receptivity.
There is an Iranian film called the Color of Paradise. It’s not famous by any stretch but I believe it can be used to illustrate this theme of light and darkness. It’s a beautiful and touching film. It contrasts a blind Iranian boy’s physical blindness with his father’s spiritual and moral blindness. His passion and desire would ultimately be to see the face of God. Another film that illustrates the same thing is Woody Allen’s intriguing development of Crimes and Misdemeanors that is based upon the novel Crime and Punishment. In this novel, you have a man who is an optician and so it immediately deals with the idea of sight. This optician is morally and spiritually blind. He hires someone to rub out his lover because she’s threatening to ruin his family. He has her bumped off and he eventually lives to be able to explain this to himself. In other words, although he’s filled with guilt at first, in about a year he realizes he’s going to get away with murder- literally! He finally comes to accept that and to actually embrace life and to move on from there. The interesting irony is that this optician’s brother turns out to be a Rabbi who goes physically blind. Woody Allen wrestles with the fundamental question about the goodness and evil that we find in life. He never arrives at a satisfactory conclusion but at least he raises the issues very, very well. Similarly, in John’s gospel, we see this theme of light and darkness being repeated again and again. Often people will be seen as dealing on a physical level but Jesus is speaking about moral and spiritual darkness and blindness. That becomes particularly evident in chapter 9.
In chapter 10 we see the Hanukah festival. The Hanukah festival was one of the recent ones as well as Purim compared to the other festivals of Judaism. In Jesus’ time though they were already hundreds of years old. In Leviticus 3, three of these festivals required that Jews would go up with their families to Jerusalem. They were Passover in the spring, Pentecost seven weeks later and finally in the autumn, Tabernacles, to thank God for the harvest of crop and to remember great episodes in Israel’s history. Jesus is going to be saying, just as I actually fulfill the institutions of Judaism concerning the temple and concerning other areas of life itself, so also will I fulfill the imagery here of these festivals.
We see in this gospel that the festivals were made by God to bring good gifts to people not to legislate and control behavior. What has happened in Judaism is it’s ossified all these things and made it a rigidity of external do’s and don’ts and lost all the joy. Religiosity has a way of really killing the spirit. We can lose the true vitality that comes from a living faith.
In chapter 5 we have an interesting development. We have accusations and Jesus’ response. We have Him being prosecuted but then we also see His defense. The crime, first of all, is to be seen in verses 1-15 where Jesus is accused as a criminal who violates the Sabbath. We see a man at Bethesda and he’s healed on the Sabbath day. The man is going to be interrogated by the Jewish religious leaders and ultimately the criminal, Jesus, is identified. Then in verses 16-18, we have the decision to prosecute. Jesus meets with tremendous hostility now that this man has identified who He is. There are two bases for this prosecution. First, they claim He violates the Sabbath. Secondly, He’s making divine claims. We have the issue of the Sabbath feast and Him claiming to have the prerogatives that only God could have. In verses 19-47 we have Jesus going on trial.
In this era, Jewish trials were different than what we have today. In our time, a person might be accused and so forth and eventually found innocent or guilty. In those days, defendants didn’t simply just prove their innocence and thus end the trial. The trial would work to uncover the truth and if the accusers were found to have made false claims in court, they could actually find themselves placed in the defense and subject to serious jeopardy. That’s an interesting twist on the law. Wouldn’t it be something if people making lawsuits would be liable for the consequences? In fact, punishments they hoped to inflict upon their opponent could actually turn back on them. The implications of the judiciary system would be profound if the consequence of people found making false claims would then in the same trial be prosecuted. It would actually lead to a great deal of less litigation. People would realize they had a real downside. Also, the person who filed the lawsuit would have to pay the court fees if it is thrown out. This is what they do in England and they have a lot less litigation in England than we do because they have a lot more sensible approach to this matter. Frankly, anybody can sue, sue, sue- but what if you had to pay the court fees? Do you see my point here? The Jews had a different thing and here’s what happened. He goes on trial defending himself, marshals 5 witnesses as evidence to himself as we’re about to see. Then at the end of the chapter, he’s accusing them. It’s all reversed around and they’re the ones on trial. That’s how this chapter will unfold.
May I stress something I’ve mentioned before but I must mention again and again? It’s so important for us to see this. Being Jewish isn’t the problem. You must understand that Mel Gibson’s film has been criticized for being anti- Semitic because it talks about the Jews. He’s specifically talking about the Jews who reject Jesus- those who were in the religious establishment. This gospel was written by a Jew about a Jew and all the disciples were Jewish. You have to understand it’s not anti-Semitic. It’s written about Jesus who’s a Jew and they were Jews and it was written about that. It’s idiotic to say it’s anti-Semitic if you follow the gospels. In fact what the gospel tells us is that really many of the Jews accepted their Messiah but many didn’t. The main point is that the leaders, the religious leadership, the establishment, ultimately rejected Him. That’s the point he’s making.
Furthermore, you need to understand that when John is writing this gospel, he’s also writing to show that this rejection of Jesus is the paradigm of what his actual listeners are experiencing in their own lives. It was written around 80A.D. or maybe a little later but at this time the Jewish believers who were in their assemblies, which were often called synagogues, were being persecuted as being part of a Christian synagogue as opposed to the Jewish synagogue. In other words, they were being persecuted by their own. This paradigm is saying, look, our Lord said that if you will follow Me, you too will be persecuted so don’t be surprised. Look at John 15:20, “Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A slave is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they kept My word they will keep yours also.” He stresses then that what they’re going to be experiencing is conflict just as He’s experiencing conflict. It’s a comforting word to understand that this is no surprise. This is what happens when you testify the truth. It will not go over well with the world system. Ironically, the ones who will most hate it will be people who are in a religious establishment who would see their own positions as being threatened if this thing were really true. We have this paradigm that John’s developing to help us understand this model of the gospel. This issue is not something that is new. It’s an ancient concept.
May I point out one other verse that is often overlooked in this discussion of who really “murdered Jesus”? The answer is all of us. What the Bible itself says about this is instructive. Acts 4:27, “For truly in this city there were gathered together against Your holy servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel.” In other words, he’s saying it was Herod and Pontius Pilate, both the Jewish and Gentile authorities as well as the Gentiles and peoples of Israel- they all gathered against Him. See the point here? It’s not just the Jews but it was the Jews and the Gentiles. It was no accident. The Romans and the Gentiles crucified Him. As you know the Jews were not allowed to actually crucify. Their method of capital punishment was stoning. They couldn’t do it under the laws of that day because they didn’t have the right to that in that culture at that point. They had to get Pilate to go along with it and instigate it through him. The point is it’s not just one group or another.
John 5:1, “After these things (note-the previous chapter) there was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.” Now it’s not “the” feast it would be better attested to say “a” feast of the Jews. This is probably not the Passover but it may be the Feast of Tabernacles but we’re not sure. If it were it would’ve happened on October 21-28 in the year 31 A.D. You can identify that. The events of John 6 are just before the Passover and that occurred on April 13-14 A.D. 32. You can date these. I take a 33 A.D. crucifixion. Some hold to a 30 A.D. crucifixion. I’m not going to lose sleep over it!
John 5:2, “Now there is in Jerusalem by the sheep gate a pool, which is called in Hebrew Bethesda, having five porticoes.” We’re dealing right now in the first 15 verses with a cure. Now, this particular pool was actually not discovered until quite recently. Earlier archeological attempts to find it proved unfruitful and many therefore criticized John’s gospel as being non-historical because they couldn’t find this thing. It was discovered in 1888. It fits the description and we have this pool that’s adjacent to the church of St Anne inside old city Jerusalem. It’s right there for people to see and you can go in there and see the five porches. This is where this particular event took place. It’s very specific.
John 5:3, “In these lay a multitude of those who were sick, blind, lame, and withered, [waiting for the moving of the waters;” There is a textual variant here and many texts do not have the next few verses. Mine has it in brackets because frankly some of the earlier manuscripts don’t have the remainder of v. 3 and v. 4. This is one of the biggest textual variations in the scriptures. No textual variations or various readings affect the sense at all in even a minor area of doctrine or practice. It may have been supplied later on. The moving of the waters refers to a superstition known at that time. That’s how the word got out! As soon as this legend came out it was never eradicated- that’s how it’s going to be.
John 5:4. “for an angel of the Lord went down at certain seasons into the pool and stirred up the water; whoever then first, after the stirring up of the water, stepped in was made well from whatever disease with which he was afflicted.]” That is implied and if it’s in the original text, that’s fine because it would explain why he says in v.7 that there’s no one to put me in the pool when the water is stirred up. This gives an understanding of why that verse is there. It may or may not have been there but frankly, at least this explains the actual tradition that was associated with it. In any case, this is what takes place. The tradition was apparently that in this pool the water would get stirred every so often, supposedly by an angel of God, and you couldn’t know when but the first one to hop in would be cured. They were all waiting for their opportunity. This poor guy has been going there for 38 years and he hasn’t been very successful.
John 5:5, “A man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years.” It says there were sick, blind, lame and withered people there. It’s an image of the havoc that sin has brought into the world. It’s a portrait of the distortion of this world. This is not the world as it was meant to be. The Messiah would ultimately heal these infirmities. Look at Isaiah 35 and you’ll see the Messianic work includes this healing and ultimately this will be fulfilled. We see hints of it in this world. We see evidence of it in His ministry and hints even now. Every now and then, pieces of evidence that He’s done this from time to time. There will come a time when it will be universal among the people of God. Isaiah 35:3-4, “Encourage the exhausted, and strengthen the feeble. Say to those with anxious heart, ‘Take courage, fear not. Behold, your God will come with vengeance; the recompense of God will come, but He will save you.” This refers to the time of judgment- after that apocalyptic time of judgment. Isaiah 35:5, “Then the eyes of the blind will be opened and the ears of the deaf will be unstopped.” I hear Handel’s Messiah here in one of his arias! Isaiah 35:6-8a, “Then the lame will leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute will shout for joy. For waters will break forth in the wilderness and streams in the Arabah. The scorched land will become a pool and the thirsty ground springs of water; in the haunt of jackals, its resting place, grass becomes reeds and rushes. A highway will be there, a roadway, and it will be called the Highway of Holiness.” He describes what I believe are kingdom blessings that are ultimately to come. You’ve got to associate them with the Messianic work. Part of the problem is, as we’ve seen so many times, that Jesus didn’t fit their ideas of what the Messiah would do. They expected Him to come, at least the version of the Messiah they wanted, and would finally deliver the people and bring in physical prosperity. Jesus came instead to first provide spiritual healing and reconciliation with God, which is the far greater thing to do- the miracle of actually reconciling them with God. They didn’t really go for that option. They wanted to have the visible. That’s the way we’ve always been. We want the visible over the invisible- its just part of human nature. Ultimately what they couldn’t realize is that the two are one and the same. The Suffering Servant is also to be the reigning King. This is the thing we want to keep in mind. The One who came and was rejected was really the Prophet that Moses spoke about, as we’ll see. That Prophet will not only be greater that the greatest of the prophets, He will also be the priest who will actually become the One who offers the sacrifice and becomes the offering once and for all. More than that, He’ll not only be a Prophet and Priest but He’ll also be Israel’s coming King. He will then deliver His people and bring in an eternal reign of righteousness. He’ll fulfill all three offices of Prophet, Priest, and King. You know the mystery. How on earth could He be both a Priest and a King because to be a priest you have to be from Levi and to be a king you had to be from Judah? It turns out He’s not a Levitical priest but actually a higher order of priesthood, namely the priesthood of Melchizedek. He can actually function in all three roles in this unique way.
In John 5:5 we don’t know if this is some allusion but it is interesting at least there’s a certain parallel to the wandering of Israel of 38 years in Deuteronomy 2:14. There were an extra 38 years that was not planned for. In a way, you could almost say that this is a picture of Israel’s spiritual paralysis. This man turns out to be a paralytic. He was in a difficult condition because he’d been in that condition now for so much of his life. In v. 6 and v. 7 Jesus asks him a rather strange question at least at first glance.
John 5:6-7, “When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been a long time in that condition, He said to him, ‘Do you wish to get well?’ The sick man answered Him, ‘Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, but while I am coming, another steps down before me.” It sounds odd to ask someone if they would want to get well as they would say, well obviously I do, what do you think I am doing by this pool? But you’ve got to ask yourself this question again. Do you understand the implications of what will happen to you if you do get well? It will mean your whole identity will change. You can no longer define yourself as one who is carried here by your friends and dropped off and then basically lives off the charity of others who see your pathetic plight. It will mean your whole identity will change. It will mean that you have to move in another direction that you do not know. Are you sure you want that? All of us in effect are being asked this question. Do you really want to be healed? A lot of people, I find, resist coming to Christ, not because of intellectual issues, often you can help them think through the intellectual objections, but many times it’s because of the moral implications of what it might mean for their lives. That is to say, coming to Christ is not a neutral matter. It’s not a matter of coming to Christ and having a better life just on your terms. It’s a matter of surrender to His purposes. That’s a scary thing. It might mean there’s some change. A lot of people don’t want that change and so they resist Him. This is an issue. So He says to him, “Do you want to get well?” Now this man will offer Him some excuses because of his will in some way paralysis’ his body. We see here- compare it with John 5:40, “ and you are unwilling to come to Me so that you may have life.” So He says, “Are you really willing?”
His excuse, John 5:7, “The sick man answered Him, ‘Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, but while I am coming, another steps down before me.” We have a frustrated man with no one to aid him, as was the case of the paralytic in Mark 2- recall his friends brought him. They were aggressive. They opened the roof and lowered him down and then Jesus spoke to him. I want you to notice He says to this man here almost exactly what He said to that man in Mark 2. The contrast is intriguing. Recall when that man was lowered down and the account is found in Mark 2:1-13. Specifically, in v. 5, Jesus says,” Son, your sins are forgiven.” But then in verse 9, He said, “Get up, pick up your pallet and walk.” That is a pretty strong claim. The point is, I’m on this pallet for a reason. I can’t walk, that’s the problem so why tell me to get up-you see? It sounds very strange at first.
John 5:8, “Jesus said to him, ‘Get up, pick up your pallet and walk.” How can He possibly demand that he do something that’s impossible? It’s this. These men were healed by the power of His spoken word. He commanded him to do what he could not do but the command actually had the power of fulfillment. Take a look at Mark 3:5. It’s another example of this. He told the man with the withered hand, “Stretch out your hand.” That’s exactly what he can’t do. When he tried, he was able to do so. There’s a power in the word of Jesus then that actually makes the command possible. Similarly, that’s an analogy of the whole spiritual life. There’s a power in His indwelling life that makes the Christian life possible. You and I can’t live it. But we’re inviting Him to do it through His indwelling word and His indwelling power. That’s what makes it possible for us to accomplish this. We see then this beautiful portrait of healing that takes place and then John underscores something.
John 5:9, “Immediately the man became well, and picked up his pallet and began to walk.” He underscores that the man became well not in gradual fits and starts but immediately.
The problem was the Jews didn’t care for this kind of a thing because actually, you’ll see in v.9 it was the Sabbath on that day. The scribes by this time had listed in the oral tradition some 39 tasks that were prohibited on the Sabbath. One of those 39 tasks was you couldn’t carry a burden. When they saw him picking up his pallet and carrying it, that was a violation of the Sabbath. They’re more concerned about their tradition than in his healing.


John 5 Part 1


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