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AGAIN IN JERUSALEM: THE POOL OF BETHESDA
Once more we find the Lord Jesus visiting Jerusalem, and as in Chapter 2:13 the feast is called "the Jews' Passover" rather than the Passover of Jehovah, so here "a feast of the Jews" is the occasion of His visit. The feasts (or "set times") instituted inLeviticus 23:1-44; Leviticus 23:1-44 were really for Jehovah's pleasure in His people; but these had degenerated into merely occasions for the Jews' pleasure.
The pool of Bethesda (meaning "house of mercy") by the sheep gate would remind us that though God is indeed a God of mercy, and the water (the word of God) does have healing power, yet under law the availability of this was practically nil. This was true in spite of the nearness of the sheep gate, which typifies the entrance of the sheep (the people of God) into the city. The five porches adjacent to the pool would speak of the responsibility which, under law, man had assumed (v.2). But rather than producing active work and blessing, they were filled with impotent people. The responsibility imposed by law only found mankind helpless and without strength.
It is of course strangely unusual that an angel would once in a year trouble the pool in order that the first person then in the pool would be healed of whatever disease he had. How pathetic a sight is the great crowd waiting for blessing that could come only to one individual! Why could not all be healed? This would be no problem to God. But God intended this as a pertinent witness to the Jews to the fact that under law man was really in a blind, crippled, dried up state, unable to help himself. Though there was a possible glimmer of hope for one who was well enough to get quickly into the water, yet there was absolutely no gospel to the helpless. Also this exposed the true motives of mankind under law. Each was there because of his own selfish desire to be first. Law told him to love his neighbor as himself, but this really only manifested the fact that he did not do so. Which of them would be thankful that his neighbor had gotten the blessing? Notice too that an angel is used here, which implies that man is at a distance from God, as could only be the case under law.
Chapter 6, verses 1-13 is in beautiful contrast to this. There the blessed Son of God Himself provides abundant blessing for every soul, and more, so that all may be fed as much as they desire. This is grace.
When the Lord Jesus came among these sadly afflicted people, we read of none imploring His mercy in healing them: all apparently have their eyes elsewhere, though the hope of blessing under law is forlorn at best. The one man to whom the Lord speaks (though for 38 years infirm) only thinks of the troubled pool when he is asked if he desires to be healed, and of the fact that there is no-one to help him (vs.6-7). How slow are men's hearts to trust the blessed Lord of glory!
But the Lord did not merely help him: He speaks the word, and totally heals him; so that he immediately takes up his bed and walks in response to that powerful word (v.9). Observe however that in spite of a crowd being present, the amazing miracle seems to have passed unnoticed; and no mention is made of any other healings. Evidently all eyes were on the pool, and the Lord of glory was ignored. So indeed do people so occupy themselves with law-keeping, which can never bring blessing, that they have no eyes for Him who is alone able to bless, and just as willing as able.
Though they have no eyes for the Lord, the Jews do take notice of a man carrying his bed on the sabbath day. When their criticism of him draws out the information that he has been healed on the sabbath, this awakens even deeper animosity against the healer (vs.10-12. But sadly the man had not sufficient interest in his benefactor to even inquire who He was. How painfully in contrast is this negative attitude of the crowd, the Jews and the man himself, to the positive, wonderful blessing the Lord had brought to him!
The man further proves that he has not been born again in spite of his physical healing. The Lord's words to him in the temple (v.14) indicate this too. There was no need to tell the Samaritan woman to sin no more, for her heart had been reached, but since the man is still in a negative condition of unbelief, the Lord speaks negatively to him, warning that further sin may issue in worse results. It is still the principle of law, for the man understands nothing more, in spite of grace having been shown him.
Besides this, he is more willing to ally himself with the Jews than with the Lord Jesus, for he goes directly to them to report Him as the One who had healed him (v.15). What callous ingratitude, one would say: but so it is with one whose heart is not affected by the grace of God. Was he not immediately virtually inviting a worse thing to happen to him? This is in striking contrast to the man in John 9:1-41, who was healed of his blindness and took a clear decided stand for Christ (John 9:17; John 9:27).
EQUAL HONOR TO THE FATHER AND THE SON
The Jews turn their attention from the man whom they had accused before, and both persecute and plot to kill the Lord Jesus, because He had healed on the sabbath (v.16). How blind religious prejudice can be!
His answer to them is pointed and plain: "My Father has been working until now, and I have been working" (v.17). This was no mere servile work, with the object of selfish gain. But God's rest (of Genesis 2:2) had been broken through man's sin, and throughout the Old Testament He had worked unceasingly in seeking the restoration of the guilty: now Christ Himself, the Son of the Father, was doing the same work of seeking to reach men's souls in grace. This was certainly not the kind of work the law forbid.
But the Jews are the more incensed against Him in murderous anger because they knew that His claim of Sonship with the Father involves His equality with God (v.17). Some who dare to profess Christianity today will deny this blessed fact, but the Lord does not deny it. Indeed, His following words emphasize and establish it unmistakably. How absolute is His double affirmative: "Verily, verily" or "most assuredly" (v.19). What the Son was doing was in perfect co-ordination with the Father: It was impossible, because of His very nature, for Him to do anything independently of His Father. There can be no stronger claim of His equality and unity with the Father. What the Father was doing the Son also was doing. Those who resisted the word of the Son were resisting the Father.
In the same sense in which Christ spoke, He is exclusively the Son, He who is the prime object of the Father's love; and in the perfect complacency of that love, the Father has shown Him everything that He Himself does. Even greater works still the Father would show Him for the wondering admiration of His creatures. Consider His great work of redemption, resurrection, His giving of the Spirit and the building of His church, with those brought from among all nations, to form one body.
But the Lord speaks particularly of one greater work, that of His raising up the dead and quickening them (v.21). The Jews accepted the doctrine of an eventual resurrection by the power of God, but in like manner the Son affirms that He Himself quickens (or makes alive) whom He will. Then this also goes on to the question of judgment. In fact, the Father has committed all judgment to the Son. Quickening is bringing life out of death, and is absolutely the prerogative of God: the Son therefore is God. Judgment too is the prerogative of "the Judge of all the earth." Yet as the Father He does not judge at all. The Son has in fact been manifested, and has manifested God, so that it will not do for men to object that God is unknowable, and therefore that He would be unfair to judge men. The Son has been here, to be seen of men: He has been known, and rejected. Their Judge therefore will be One whom they have consciously rejected, the One who is Himself the living God.
This divine power seen in His raising and quickening the dead, and divine authority in His judging, are an absolute demand that all men should honor the Son in the same measure that they honor the Father (v.23). Some may claim to honor the Father while refusing the Son, but it is a false claim: their dishonoring the Son is dishonoring the Father, who sent the Son as His own exact representation.
THE SON HOLDING THE ISSUES OF LIFE AND JUDGMENT
In verse 24 is another emphatic and insistent "most assuredly." The word the Lord Jesus speaks has in it the full authority of God, spoken in fullest unity with the Father who has sent Him. Therefore one who honestly hears His word and believes in the Father as having sent Him, is assured of now having eternal life. Marvelous, wonderful certainty! More than this, lest there should be any misunderstanding of so magnificent a declaration, the Lord adds that, as to the future, all is perfectly settled. Such a person is quickened rather than under judgment: He will never come into judgment at all, but is already passed out of death into life.
For the third time the Lord Jesus pressed the importance of His words, "Verily, verily," (or "most assuredly") "I say to you." "The hour is coming" intimates that which is true of the present dispensation of grace. "And now is" shows that the presence of the Lord Jesus Himself introduced this. Yet it remains just as true, though now He has returned to glory. The dead hear the voice of the Son of God, and they that hear live. One might object that a dead person cannot hear; but the power of that voice can penetrate where natural means are powerless. When one truly hears there is life immediately given. This is quickening immediately into eternal life, as verse 24 intimates. There is no intermediate condition: it is either death or life, a life that is eternal, a character of life far higher than what is natural, for it is the same wondrous life that is the Father and in the Son, as verse 26 implies.
This verse shows that in incarnation the Son was perfectly dependent on the Father. The Father, having life in Himself, has given to the Son, in incarnation, the same prerogative, "life in Himself." This is intrinsic life, for He Himself is God manifest in flesh.
The Father has given Him authority also to execute judgment because He is the Son of Man. As such He has been made known to mankind, has entered into and known their circumstances, has proven His own blessed subjection to proper authority, so that no possible excuse is left for men to object that He is not fully qualified to execute judgment. Verses 28 and 29 enforce the solemn reality of the issues of life and of judgment being in His hand. As to this he bids them not to marvel, for the literally dead, those in their graves (in contrast to the spiritually dead in v. 25), will eventually, when the hour comes, hear His voice. That voice will awaken all the dead, and all will come forth from their graves. Not that all will rise at the same time, for He immediately speaks of two resurrections, that of life and that of judgment. In fact, the first is a full thousand years before the second. Compare Revelation 20:4-5, where the resurrection of martyrs is seen to be the completion of the first resurrection. The main part of this is when the Lord Jesus comes for His saints before the great tribulation.
Again He emphasizes the fact that it is impossible for Him to do anything independently of the will of the Father. Though He Himself gives life, and He Himself is Judge, yet both of these are in total co-ordination with the Father: His ear was open always to the Father's counsel. He discerned and judged every matter as He heard from the Father, who knows perfectly every involvement. He Himself, as Man on earth, sought only the will of the Father: therefore His judgment is just.
A FOURFOLD WITNESS
The Lord has spoken marvelous things, unheard of before this time. However, He did not ask the Jews to depend on His own witness of Himself: if this were so, it could not claim to be true (that is, in the sense of being valid). But another bore witness of Him, a witness of absolute truth. This cannot refer to John the Baptist, for the Lord puts John's witness on a much lower level in verses 34 and 35. It is the Father's witness of which He speaks, both in the works the Father had given Him to finish, and in the Father's spoken word (v.37).
Not that the Lord rejected John's witness, for it was true, but it was only what John had heard, therefore not first-hand witness. John had not known Him in eternity past: mere man's witness could not establish the eternal glory of the Son of God. Yet God had sent John in order that his witness might turn people to the Lord Jesus that they might be saved. There was no doubt of John's fervent reality and burning zeal, or of the clear, shining light of his testimony. It did have effect on great numbers, and the Jews generally at first rejoiced in this bright, prophetic witness. No doubt with many the novelty of it wore off, for they were not willing, in true repentance, to turn in heart to the Lord Jesus.
But the works the Lord Jesus did were clear, divine witness, for these were what the Father had shown Him, including the healing of the impotent man on the sabbath, works of compassionate goodness to His creatures. How contrary to this was the callous attitude of the Jews! In all of His works He was doing the will of the Father, a powerful witness indeed that the Father had sent Him.
But also the Father Himself had borne witness of Him. Crowds were present at John's baptism, and when John baptized the Lord Jesus, there was a visible sign of the Spirit's descending upon Him as a dove, and the audible voice of the Father declaring, "This is my beloved Son, in whom I have found my delight" (Matthew 3:17). That voice certainly was heard; yet the Jews in hearing did not hear: they had no heart to hear in reality of faith. Nor had they seen His shape, for the only true revelation of the Father is in the Son.
The Jews here, in opposition to the Lord, proved that the word of God had no dwelling-place in their hearts, by the fact of their refusing to believe the Son, whom the Father had sent. They did search the scriptures, but not as honestly seeking the mind of God: rather only because they wanted eternal life apart from genuine subjection to God. But those scriptures were full of testimony to Christ Himself, and this they blindly ignored or refused. Their wills were set against coming to Christ Thus men may know a great deal about the truth of the Bible, while being utter strangers to the word of God.
THE WITNESS INEFFECTIVE BECAUSE OF MAN'S PRIDE
From verse 41 to 47 the Lord exposes the root of the whole matter as being man's pride in desiring the recognition of men, with no real sense of being under the eye of God. As to Himself personally, He did not receive honor from men: the approbation of His Father was His one real delight. But His divine omniscience shines through in verse 42, that is, His knowledge of their inmost souls as being destitute of the love of God. Compare this with John 12:43, those loving the praise of men more than the praise of God. For when God's love is really known, His honor is first and foremost.
This was true of Christ Himself: He honored His Father: He came in His Father's name; but the Jews would not receive Him. Another will eventually come who honors himself, exalting his own name, and Israel will receive him (v.43) This is the antichrist of 2 Thessalonians 2:3-10, a man who will exude the pride of the flesh. How could the Jews believe the meek and lowly Son of God, so long as they clung to the same pride as that of antichrist, desiring honor from mere creatures? God's approval -- the honor that comes only from Him -- was foreign to them.
Yet the Lord Jesus had not come as their adversary, to accuse them. Their actual accuser was Moses (v.45), of whom they claimed to be disciples (cf.ch.9:28). Of course Moses was the lawgiver, and the very law that he gave was their condemnation, of which fact they were blindly insensible. But Moses wrote of Christ, in many ways, in type and prophetically, as the true and full answer to Israel's needs. Certainly then, if they had really believed Moses, they would believe Christ, just as if they believed the Father, they would believe Him. Moses' writings and Christ's words were perfectly concordant: therefore they did not believe Christ's words because they had not actually believed Moses' writings (v.47).
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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Grant, L. M. "Commentary on John 5". Grant's Commentary on the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
Eve of Ascension