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Bethesda. Christ and the Sabbath
1-47. A miracle at the Pool of Bethesda on the Sabbath Day, and a controversy arising therefrom. This miracle may be regarded as a parable illustrating the deadly effects of sin, and the power of the Saviour to deal with the most hopeless cases. This poor man in his youth had shattered his nervous system by a life of sensual indulgence (John 5:14), and had lain for thirty-eight years a hopeless paralytic (John 5:5). This being an extreme case, the usual order of Christ’s miracles is reversed. Instead of being wrought as a reward of faith (see John 5:13), the miracle is wrought to produce faith. The man was too much broken down in mind and body to believe, until some signal mercy had been vouchsafed to him. The mercy was vouchsafed, and repentance and faith followed (John 5:14).
This visit to Jerusalem took place in March, 28 a.d., consequently the Galilean ministry mentioned John 4:54 lasted three or four months. Among its most notable incidents were the appointment of the Twelve and the Sermon on the Mount. Desiring to visit Jerusalem without interrupting the Galilean work, our Lord sent the apostles on a preaching tour through the country (Mark 6:7), and then went up to the capital, either alone, or more probably accompanied by St. John, who acted as His host. Having stayed there about a week, He rejoined the Twelve in Galilee, shortly before the Passover, 28 a.d. (Mark 6:30: cp. John 6:4).
1. A feast] i.e. the Feast of Purim, which occurs in March (Adar 14, 15), about a month before the Passover. Its origin is doubtful, though the Jews commemorated in it the triumph over Haman, who proposed to exterminate the Jews in the Persian empire on a particular day (13th Adar, 473 b.c.), chosen by lot (pur, Esther 3:7). The feast was mainly of a convivial and charitable character, but in the synagogues the book of Esther was read, and the congregation applauded the name of Mordecai, and cursed that of Haman. (An inferior but strongly supported reading here is ’the feast,’ which would probably mean the Passover. Those who adopt it are compelled to add a whole year to Christ’s ministry.)
2. Sheep market] RV ’sheep gate’: cp. Nehemiah 3:1; Nehemiah 12:39. Bethesda] i.e. ’house of mercy,’ or, possibly, ’house of the stream,’ is perhaps the Virgin’s pool, SE. of the Temple, the only natural spring in Jerusalem. It is an intermittent spring, and when ’the troubling of the waters’ occurs, the Jews still bathe in it for medicinal purposes. Variant spellings are ’Bethzatha’ and ’Bethsaida.’
3, 4. The best authorities omit the words waiting for.. whatsoever disease he had, which describe the troubling of the water by an angel. The troubling of the waters was a natural phenomenon, which popular superstition ascribed to supernatural agency.
8. Thy bed] i.e. mat.
10. The man’s act was not unlawful, even from the OT. standpoint. Jeremiah 17:21 and Nehemiah 13:19 only forbid the bearing of burdens on the sabbath in connexion with labour and trade.
15. And told the Jews] doubtless to win honour for Jesus as a prophet and worker of miracles.
17. RV ’My Father worketh even unto now, and I work.’ (1) These words enunciate a new ideal of the sabbath. The ’rest’ of God after the creation, which the sabbath typifies, is not mere inertia, but activity in doing good. So man’s true sabbath rest is not inactivity, but leisure for work of a higher character, e.g. the worship of God, and works of mercy. (2) The words also imply our Lord’s Deity, for (a) He claims that God is His Father in a unique sense (’My Father,’ not ’our Father’), and (b) He coördinates His own work with God’s.
19-29. An important doctrinal section. Our Lord, while affirming His filial subordination to the Father (’the Son can do nothing of Himself,’ John 5:19), and the derivation of His own Being from His (John 5:26); yet declares that He exercises the Father’s whole power and authority (John 5:20);—the power to quicken those dead in sins (John 5:25), the power to raise men from literal death at the Last Day (John 5:28), and the power to judge the world (John 5:22). He accordingly demands ’that all men should honour the Son, even as they honour the Father.’
20. Loveth the Son] Hence God is love (1 John 4:8) from eternity. Greater works] something greater than miracles; the giving of new life to those dead in sins (see John 5:21, John 5:24-25).
21. This v. speaks both of spiritual and literal death.
24. Heareth] and obeyeth.
25. The dead] i.e. the spiritually dead. They are raised from the death of trespasses and sins to a new life by the preaching of the gospel.
26. The Father is the fountain of life even within the Godhead. From Him the Son is begotten, and the Spirit proceeds.
27. Because he is the Son of man] rather, ’because He is man,’ lit. ’a son of man.’ As man He can sympathise with the nature which he shares: cp. Hebrews 4:15.
28. The literal resurrection at the last day is meant.
29. Damnation] i.e. condemnation, lit. ’judgment.’
30-36. Our Lord mentions four ’witnesses’ through which men may be brought to believe in Him: (1) the witness of the Baptist, good, but insufficient; (2) the witness of the Father, which Christ’s hearers are not willing to receive; (3) the witness of Moses and the prophets, which they also reject; and (4) the witness of Christ’s own ’works,’ the character of which is sufficient evidence that the Father has sent Him.
30. As I hear] viz. from the Father.
31. Christ’s witness to Himself could not be received according to the principles of Jewish law: see John 8:13, and cp. Numbers 35:30; Deuteronomy 17:6.
32. Another] i.e. the Father, not the Baptist.
34. ’I attach little importance to John’s testimony, for he, though a prophet, was but a man. Nevertheless, since you attach importance to it, I will use it, for I wish, in whatever way, to bring you to believe in Me, and so to be saved.’
35. ’John is only a lamp or lantern, shining feebly by borrowed light; I am the True Light which he feebly reflects.’ Ye were willing] John’s ministry was plainly past.
36. The works] include the miracles, but should not be confined to them. The gracious character, and redemptive purpose of Christ’s acts, prove that they come from God.
37. The witness of the Father is given (1) in the OT. Scriptures, (2) in the response of all that is good in the heart of man to the teaching of Christ. The divine element in man, which the Father planted there, recognises and welcomes the divine in Christ: cp. John 3:21.
38. His word] is not here the Scripture, but the Divine Voice speaking through the conscience and spiritual nature of man.
39. Search] rather, ’Ye search’ (RV).
43. If another] ’A false Messiah, adapting his views to your carnal ideas, you will receive.’ Our Lord’s words were literally fulfilled a century later, when the bulk of the nation accepted the claims of the impostor Barcochba.
46. He wrote of me] in type and figure as well as in direct prophecy.
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Dummelow, John. "Commentary on John 5". "Dummelow's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week of Advent