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Bible Commentaries
John 5

Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New TestamentsSutcliffe's Commentary

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Verses 1-47

John 5:2 . Now there is at Jerusalem a pool, called Bethesda, which signifies a house of mercy, beneficence, or alms. The pool was situate at too great a distance from the temple to be a place for washing the sacrifices, but people washed here who had any ceremonial impurity. The verb being in the present tense, proves that both Jerusalem and the pool existed when the evangelist wrote, as stated in the introduction. This gospel therefore was written before the destruction of the city.

John 5:4 . An angel troubled the water, making the pool turbid. This was not produced by any natural cause whatever, but was purely the effect of an angelic agency, to display a particular providence, and God’s favour to the afflicted. How often the angel did this we are not told; and enquiry in that case is a kind of presumption. The virtue of this pool ceased, when the jews persevered in rejecting our Saviour. So at least Tertullian affirms.

It has been alleged that earthquakes occasion great changes in fountains and rivers. And further, that about the time of the battle of Actium between Cæsar and Antony, which happened in the seventh year of Herod the great, there was a great earthquake in Asia. But this occurrence is quite irrelevant. It does not affect the evangelist’s testimony, that the occasional agitation of this pool emanated from an angelic ministry.

Ancient history by profane authors abounds with inexplicable occurrences. Herodotus was shown by the priests of Egypt a record, that the sun had four times altered its hour of rising and setting. Livy, in the ancient history of Rome, records omens: so does Josephus prior to the fall of Jerusalem. And what else was the strong gale from the north-east, which in 1797 drove the French grand fleet out of Bantry Bay, with twenty two thousand troops on board, while the protestants were engaged in prayer. Had they landed, Ireland had been deluged in blood. “Verily there is a God that judgeth in the earth.”

John 5:18 . The jews sought the more to kill him, as a sabbath breaker, and for blasphemy in saying that God was his Father. These jews were doctors of the council. To which our Saviour replies, that,

John 5:19 . The Son can do nothing of himself. Nothing separate from the wisdom, power, and love of the Father. Being one in essence, whatever works the Father does, they are equally the works of the Son. By consequence this miracle, not less than a creation, to heal a man lame for eight and thirty years, was small compared with what he was about to do, in giving life to every believer, in raising the dead, and judging the world. See on John 8:58.

John 5:21 . As the Father raiseth up the dead, as when Elisha prayed over the Shunamite’s son, and if we may so speak, when he revived the bodies of Abraham and Sarah, and heard Hannah’s prayer for a son. Even so the Son quickeneth whom he will. Thus, whatsoever the Father doeth, that also doeth the Son likewise, for he and the Father are one. These delicate words are no concession to the doctors, but a confirmation that he was the ineffable SON of the Father.

John 5:25 . The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God: and they that hear shall live. On this subject St. Paul speaks of the Saviour as the Saviour spoke of himself. “In him dwelt all the fulness of the Godhead bodily It pleased the Father that in him should all fulness dwell.” He hath given to him the name JEHOVAH, which is above every name, having existence, life, and all perfections in himself.

In these replies to the doctors, who had accused the Lord with blasphemy in making himself equal with God, we have a full defence of the truth. The time was not yet come for him to be declared the Son of God with power; that must be reserved till after his resurrection, every jew being decided in opinion that there was no place on earth for the Messiah, but the throne. The Lord therefore justified himself in using the strong words of their own prophets, because of his works. Whatever works the Father did in healing the sick, in raising the dead, in judging the world, the Son did likewise, because he is the Son of God. He is sent to be the mediator, the healer, the prophet, the judge. In all his miracles he exercised the same power as the Father; the same honour was therefore due to him as to the Father. Under those displays of the Godhead he could say, “He that hath seen me, hath seen the Father also.”

John 5:26-27 . As the Father hath life in himself, so hath he given to the Son to have life in himself; and hath given him authority to execute judgment also, because he is the Son of man. These words are to be understood in unison with correspondent declarations. “All things are delivered unto me of the Father All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth.” As St. Paul says, “All things are put under him.” And again, “All that the Father hath are mine.” Daniel had said the same: Daniel 7:13. “Behold, one like the Son of man came with clouds, and came to the Ancient of days; and there was given unto him dominion and glory.” The comments of the rabbins on the last place, as in Dr. Lightfoot, are, This is the king, the Messiah. Rabbi Solomon. Again, This is the Messiah our righteousness. Rabbi Saadias. Therefore when our Saviour cited the above words of Daniel before the sanhedrim on the morning of his crucifixion, the question being put to him by Caiaphas, Art thou the Christ, the Son of the blessed; he witnessed a good confession, that he was the Christ, the Son of God. All men should therefore honour the Son as they honour the Father, because the Father, the whole Theotes or Divinity, is in the Son.

John 5:36 . The works which the Father hath given me to finish bear witness of me. The number of his miracles, the variety of cases, the presence of the multitude, or the distance of the sick, the obedience of all nature to his voice, are demonstrations of the glory of Him that spake. The success of the works, in the conversion of those in whose presence they were achieved, complete the divinity of their character.

John 5:37 . The Father himself hath borne witness of me, with a voice from heaven. John also, whom the jews acknowledged as a burning and a shining light, had borne witness of him, John 1:19; and above all, the miracles that he wrought sealed the testimony. Thus, there are three that bear witness in heaven, the Father, the Word, by whom he spake, and the Holy Ghost in all his miracles. 1 John 5:7.

John 5:39 . Search the scriptures. Greek. Ye search the scriptures, because they had there the promise of eternal life. How was it then that they did not discern the Saviour, for the old testament is full of him. Had they believed Moses, they would have believed that Christ was that prophet of whom Moses wrote. We should read the scriptures as though we were reading the last will and testament of our father.

John 5:43 . I am come in my Father’s name, unblameable in life, and clothed with miracles; yet ye receive me not. Here lay their sin. The pride of their hearts was touched: they sought to kill him, because he sprung as a root out of the dry ground.


What a sight does this house of mercy present. The incurable, or lame children of Æsculapius, from every part of the land all awaiting a cure, and most of them begging their bread. Surely, in a moral view, they resemble the unregenerate throng which sometimes crowd the house of God, but remain uncured. Here are the proud, the dissipated, the covetous, the unchaste, the drunkards, and the infidel with his haughty sneer and affected doubt.

The cases in Bethesda were mostly of a chronic kind. The man whom Jesus healed had been impotent for eight and thirty years: and from the caution which he received, it is probable that his affliction had proceeded from the indiscretions and dissipation of his youth: John 5:14. So it is with the crowd who attend the ministry, with regard to the antiquity of their moral defects. They are of long standing, and length of time has not made them better but worse. Were they but as eager of conversion as they are of bodily cures, and of the pleasures and gains of the age, they would exhibit on earth the health of heaven, even in righteousness and life eternal.

Afflictions being in general sent for men’s conversion and sanctification, it is not proper to remove them before the design is accomplished; yet here was a most piteous case which attracted the notice of Jesus. The man had long groaned for a cure; he was poor, having none to help him; his misery was augmented to see others plunge into the pool, and steal away the virtue of the phenomenon before he could crawl into the water. Perhaps this led him to ask the help of God in the anguish of his soul. And where is that man who has been troubled with the plague of sin for a vast course of years? How many in that time have received the cure of conversion, and even in the same religious assembly; yet the plague of his heart still remains. Let jealousy and alarm be excited in his breast, and let him cry to the Lord in the anguish of his soul.

Jesus came in an unexpected moment, and asked the impotent man, whether he would be made whole? Not that any doubt was entertained of his willingness, and to be healed on the sabbath day, but with a view to excite in him an earnest expectation of a cure. This gave him opportunity to tell his sad case in the ears of omnipotent compassion. And the same Jesus still puts the same question to every sinner anxious of salvation. Wilt thou be healed? Wilt thou be saved on evangelical terms? Art thou conscious of thy utter poverty and inability? Then thy salvation is at hand. What a fine opportunity have sinners under the ministry to utter all their anguish in the ears of the Lord.

The Lord Jesus healed this man in a moment; so he can save the sinner by a gracious discovery of his perfections, by the soft whisper of a single promise, or by a manifestation of pardoning love shed abroad in the heart. Then the lame man shall leap as a hart, and the tongue of the stammerer shall speak plainly. An epitome of all the exterior glory displayed by Christ in Judea is still repeated in the regenerate heart.

But this cure was accompanied with caution; sin no more, lest a worse thing come upon thee. Let a man addicted to drunkenness shun the alehouse. Let a man captivated by his companions avoid their company. We cannot conquer sin on Satan’s ground. Can a man take fire in his bosom, and not be burnt? Let Solomon’s sad experience prohibit our doubts of his precept, and awe us from the experiment. Sins committed prior to regeneration, have but half the guilt of those committed by apostates.

The defence which Jesus made of this miracle is admirable beyond all encomium. When accused of profaning the sabbath, for the poor man could not forego his couch, he said, My Father worketh hitherto, and I work. Here he doubled the offence, associating himself with God in the high car of heaven, and holding the reins of the universe. God holds all in order on the sabbath days, as much as on other days, and Jesus had chosen on that day to restore defective nature to her primitive order. For the truth of his mission he appealed to John and to Moses; yea, to the scriptures which testify of him; but above all, to his miracles. Thus Jesus would sacrifice no part of the beauteous law to tradition. The haughty rulers, on their part, would not embrace a humble Messiah. Hence they persisted in gainsaying, till providence decided the contest in their destruction and banishment.

The defence of our Lord against the acrimonious malice of the doctors of the temple, who would have destroyed him for healing the most abject of the human kind on the sabbath day, is full of wisdom and glory above all that comments can declare. Aware of their weakness, he shelters the miracle under a cloud of the divine omnipotence. “The Son can do nothing of himself:” he and the Father are inseparably one. To heal a man lame for thirty eight years, and that could not crawl into the bath, was equivalent to raising up the dead, a miracle the enemies could not deny.

The coëquality of honour and worship delicately claimed by the Saviour is built on a cloud of testimonies.

(1) That he had in himself, as the Father had, the power, not only to heal cases the most inveterate, but even to raise the dead.

(2) That he had life in himself, the uncreated principle of divine life; or in other words, the life of regeneration to quicken the souls of men. And by consequence, at the general resurrection, he has power to awake and raise the sleeping dead of ages past.

(3) In support of these assertions the Father bore witness, and his witness is true, as demonstrated by numerous miracles.

But the grand stroke of this disputation with the doctors is, the accusation, that they did not believe in Moses, of whom they made their glory of being his disciples, and whom they exalted high as the prince of prophets. Had they searched the scriptures for the words of eternal life, which in them is promised, they would have seen the whole pentateuch full of Christ, in the types, in the sacrifices, and in all the promises. He is there described as the woman’s seed, as Abraham’s heir, as the Shiloh, coming to Israel when the sceptre was departed from Judah. He is the sole prophet raised up, the new lawgiver, like Moses. He is the great prophet, concerning whom it was said, that whosoever would not hear him should be cut off. Jerusalem in ruins gives the tragic comment on the words of Moses. The branches were exscinded for unbelief, but they may be grafted in again.

Bibliographical Information
Sutcliffe, Joseph. "Commentary on John 5". Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jsc/john-5.html. 1835.
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