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Bible Commentaries
John 5

Whedon's Commentary on the BibleWhedon's Commentary

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Verse 1


1. A feast of the Jews According to most ancient commentators, the Passover; by the latest critics, more generally, the Feast of Purim, held in honour of the preservation of the Jews under Esther.

Verse 2

2. By the sheep market Market is in italics, indicating that the word is not found in the original, but supplied by the English translators. It should be sheep- gate; so called, because the sheep for sacrifice were driven through it into the city. (See plan of city, vol. i, p. 274.) But the place of this gate and of Bethesda, near it, is very uncertain. Popular tradition had given the name to a pool, which later research has ascertained to have been a fosse, dug for the defence of the Castle of Antonia. (See note on Matthew 22:12.) Dr. Strong, agreeing with Lightfoot and Robinson, identifies Bethesda with the “Fountain of the Virgin;” Dr. Olin, with the pool of Siloam. Dr. Barclay pronounces both these suppositions incredible, as neither will meet the requirements of the passage; but believes himself to have identified the spot, near the sheep-gate, at which this pool will be found, when the rubbish is removed.

Five porches Small apartments, recesses for the diseased, lining the edge of the pool; covered, as some think, upon the top only, but more probably with three sides closed, and the fourth open, like a shed, toward the pool.

Verse 3

3. Impotent folk Infirm people.

Halt Limping or lame. The word is cognate with hold, and implies the holding, or withholding, in the walk of a lame person.

Verse 4

4. For an angel went down The best biblical scholars decide that this verse was not written by John, as it is wanting or defective in many of the best manuscripts. It was probably inserted early in the second century; first as a gloss or explanatory, comment, and then gradually became incorporated into the text. This moving of the water at irregular intervals probably arose from the underground connection of the pool with the water-works of the city. The popular belief of its power to heal is narrated by John, but not acknowledged as his own.

Verse 5

5. An infirmity Probably a paralysis. From John 5:14 it seems probable that it was the consequence of his own vices.

Thirty and eight years Strange, say some, that in thirty-eight years this man should have found no friend to help him into the pool. But it is said, not that he had lain there thirty-eight years, but that his disease had been of that duration. He may not have been there a week.

Verse 6

6. Wilt thou Our Lord puts the question as part of the manifestation that the healing is produced by his own divine will. But it is in truth the same great question which Jesus is putting to a world of sinners lying in disease and death. It is his will to save them, but not without their wilt thou concurring.

Whole The word whole is cognate with the words heal and hale, health. In the old English a man is called whole as free from any wound or disease.

Verse 7

7. I have no man Doubtless the paralytic expected either some medicine or some aid from Jesus in moving into the pool at the proper instant. He knew not the presence of the great physician.

Verse 8

8. Take up thy bed A small rug upon which he lay; but he whom the bed once bore must now bear his bed, a trophy and proof of miracle and mercy.

Verse 9

9. Took up… and walked With the command was given the gracious power of obedience. The man had to venture the volition, and the strength would be present, and the act would follow. So the sinner who is bidden to commit himself to Christ, need not wait for any compulsion or for any sensible moving of the Spirit. Let him do the deed, and the divine strength, the gracious ability, will he find within himself.

Same day… sabbath The prophet Jeremiah had commanded, “Take heed to yourselves, and bear no burden on the Sabbath-day,” (John 17:21;) and the Jewish doctors interpreted this to forbid carrying the lightest weight. But the nature of the forbidden burdens appears from Nehemiah 13:15: “treading wine-presses on the Sabbath, and bringing in sheaves, and lading asses,” etc.

Verse 10

10. The Jews Who beheld him bearing his burden home, but knew not the cause of his cure.

Verse 11

11. He that made me whole A most sensible answer. He who possesses divine power, possesses also divine authority. The man wisely thought that he who could cure him could sustain the responsibility for obedience to his command. Besides, the man uttered sound rabbinical doctrine. The Jews held that even the Sabbath might be broken at a prophet’s command, adducing the Sabbatical overthrow of Jericho by Joshua’s order: “If a prophet shall say unto thee, transgress the words of the law, hear him except to commit idolatry.”

Verse 12

12. What man… said… Take The man describes Jesus, gratefully, as the one who made him whole; the Jews specify him, maliciously, as the one who made him break the Sabbath. He remembers the benefaction: they can only think of the crimination. It is clear that they suspect the author of the cure to be Jesus.

Verse 13

13. Wist not Knew not; from the old Saxon verb witan, to know, whence our words wit and wise. Conveyed himself away Quietly and silently glided through the multitude as the excitement at the cure commenced. The man had thus no chance to identify his unknown benefactor.

In that place At the porches of the pool.

Verse 14

14. Afterward A day or so.

In the temple A fit place to offer thanks to Jehovah for his cure. He knew not that Jehovah incarnate was present in that temple.

And said A recognition of Jesus by the man took place and converse ensued, from which the man was enabled to identify Jesus as the celebrated prophet of the day.

Sin no more Blessed and Christ-like advice! How should the forgiven soul dread the sin by which it has once been exposed to eternal death!

A worse thing A paralysis from which no pool can restore, and no Saviour will deliver; the most terrible catastrophe of the soul’s eternal history.

Verse 15

15. Jesus… made… whole The man still thinks and tells of the miracle of mercy; the Jews in the following verse can only think of the Sabbath-breaking He meant his statement for a eulogy and justification of Jesus; they used it for his persecution.

Verse 17

I. The eternal Sonship of Christ.

17. Worketh hitherto By virtue of his oneness with God, Jesus is truly Lord of the Sabbath; and he no more violates the Sabbath by sending the current of vitality through the limbs of this paralytic, than the Father violates the Sabbath by keeping the stars in their courses, or sustaining the generations of men in the flow of life. God, having indeed closed the work of original creation with the creation of man, rested therefrom through a long Sabbath of time, even until now. God’s creative days were each perhaps an age; and this world’s long age may be his Sabbath. But he breaks neither that Sabbath, nor the Sabbath-day that commemorates that repose, by carrying on the ordinary train of nature or redemption. And as he has hitherto worked even through these Sabbaths, so do I work. I create nothing absolutely; but I control, hasten, or even vary, the processes of ordinary nature.

Hitherto From the close of his creative work until now.

I work My secret power in healing this man worked, just as God’s secret power worked in his generation and birth.

Verses 17-47

First great discourse, furnished by John, of Jesus to the hostile Jews, John 5:17-47.

The best biblical scholars consider this defence, or self-explanation, to have been delivered by Jesus before the Sanhedrim. It bears, hence, some slight resemblance to the Apologia, or defence of Socrates before the Helioea, or popular court, of Athens. The two discourses resemble at least in this, that both refuse to extenuate, but boldly magnify and glory in the matter charged. Hence Luther calls this “a sublime apology, which makes the matter worse.” We have here, doubtless, rather an outline than full report of the discourse. It consists of two parts: The first, 17-30, bases his defence for an apparent act of Sabbath-breaking upon his eternal Sonship of God. The second, 31-47, adduces the threefold witness to his Sonship.

Verse 18

18. Making himself equal Not only his claim of Sonship, but the high position he assigned to that Sonship, both caused and justified their interpretation of his words as making himself God’s equal. He placed his work as on a par with the Father’s work, and justified his Sabbath action on the same ground as justifies God. He was no more bound to withhold his healing power on the Sabbath, than God was bound to arrest the progress of vegetation, or the waves of the ocean.

Verse 19

19. The Son See note on Luke 1:25.

Nothing of himself Nothing from himself; that is, separately and independently of the unsearchable, unknowable Father.

Seeth the Father Not with a bodily eye, but by the inmost view of consciousness.

Doeth the Son likewise The doings of the Son are the doings of the unknowable Father. And the doings of that Son through his humanity are the doings of the eternal Son, and are the true expression of the eternal Father. The Father, as the original unknowable subsistence, is recognized in the God manifest, the Son; and all he is and does is in and by and through him. So that this Sabbath work of mine is endowed with all the divinity and authority of God the Father Almighty.

And so these Jews were right in holding him responsible for “making himself equal with God.”

Verse 20

20. Father loveth the Son Love is, as it were, the cement by and in which the Trinity is Unity.

Showeth him The consciousness of the Son knows the works, and he reveals them, to the marvel of men.

Verse 21

21. Son quickeneth As the Father is the bestower and restorer of life, so the Son, in his union with humanity, will exert the resurrection power.

Whom he will This phrase implies no mere arbitrary exercise of will; for the will of Christ ever acts by most just reason and rule. Upon his wise will and power resurrection depends.

Verse 22

22. The Father In his primitive essence.

Judgeth no man The manifestive act of judgment is performed by his Son; and even by that Son as Son of man, as well as Son of God.

Verse 23

23. Even as they honour the Father Alike should they be adored; both as one Deity, and inasmuch as the Son is the representative of the Father.

Verse 24

The present conditional, spiritual resurrection of the soul, John 5:24-25.

24. Heareth my word and believeth This is a conditional quickening or resurrection to the life of the soul. The conditions are hearing, that is listening, voluntarily attending; and believing, that is, accepting the word into our heads, hearts, and lives.

Hath everlasting life Everlasting life is already in him. That life is a present possession which heaven will perpetuate.

Shall not While that life is thus within him. So, on the other hand, John 3:36, he that believeth not shall not see life; that is, unless his unbelief be removed; for the wrath of God abideth on him. So that as eternal death is upon the unbeliever until he is converted, so eternal life is in the believer so long as he is a believer and does not apostatize. When a man is converted his death is removed; when a believer loses his faith, his eternal life is removed from within him.

Is passed Has passed from death unto life. To him this resurrection is already past. The seed or principle of life is within his soul. It is in him a well of water springing up to everlasting life. The life cannot expire, but the well may be removed. See notes on John 4:14.

Verses 24-29

24-29. The twofold quickening power of the Son; exercised (John 1:24-25) in quickening the believing soul with spiritual life, and ( John 2:26-30) in raising the bodies of all to the resurrection.

Verse 25

25. And now is It is even now here; but not with the fulness in which it cometh. They that hear They that listen; this resurrection is conditional and of a part only; and being present as well as future in time, is spiritual, and of the soul.

Verse 27

The final universal resurrection of the body, John 5:26-30.

27. Judgment also In addition to the resurrection of the body. And now we have in the present passage a brief but most explicit description of the simultaneous resurrection and universal judgment of mankind.

Because he is the Son of man As the dying Son of man he is our atoning Redeemer; and so as the living Son of man he is our just Judge. As by man was our death, so by man is our life and our judgment. The cross and the judgment throne bear the same Son of man.

Verse 28

28. Marvel not at this We may suppose that as he uttered the last words, claiming to be the Son of man, (Daniel 7:13,) tokens of indignant marvel or surprise appeared on the faces and gestures of his hostile audience. But the Lord, so far from retracting, rather gave the idea a still more explicit shape and language.

The hour is coming But not now is.

This resurrection is wholly future.

All that are in the grave It is universal, ALL. It is bodily, and of the same body that was buried. The very bodies that are laid in the graves are the bodies that arise. The very body that dies is the body that revives.

Verse 29

29. Shall come forth The coming forth of all precedes the judgment. At one hour, one voice, one coming forth, is the resurrection of all, preparatory to the judgment at once performed.

Resurrection of life In which the spiritual life, implanted in the soul at the first resurrection, (John 5:24-25,) is developed into the glorified life. Resurrection of damnation Opposed to the resurrection of life; and so, is a resurrection to eternal death.

Verse 30

30. Of mine own self Either as Son of God or Son of man he received the sustentation of the Father, and hence his action was sustained by omnipotent authority.

Judgment is just Even though human, the work of a man, that judgment has no human fallibility or wrong.

Seek not mine own will At his temptation Satan would have seduced him to seek his own will. But, in the freedom of his own will, he chose to lose his own will in the will of his Father; and thenceforth forever does his finite will, freely and with all the force of its energies, enter into and cooperate with the will of his Father.

Verse 31

1 . The witness of the Father, through John, John 5:31-35.

31. My witness is not true It was the province of the Son to be authenticated by another, whom he will adduce in the following verse. HE by whom the Son was sent furnishes all the credentials of his genuineness. If Jesus is without His testimony, his own claims, and all his self-witnessing, are false. The universal maxim applies to him, that no man’s evidence, uncorroborated, is valid in his own case.

Verses 31-47

II. The threefold witness to the Sonship of Christ, John 5:31-47.

As in the first part of this defence Jesus (17-30) unfolds the truth of his Sonship, so now he adduces the testimonies to that Sonship, of all which the real Author is truly God, (John 5:32;) but, instrumentally, there are: 1. John the Baptist, 31-35. 2. His works, 36. And, 3. The Scripture, 37-40. Our Lord’s mention of each witness is closed with an allusion to the Jews’ rejection of it. See John 5:35; John 5:38; John 5:40.

Verse 32

32. There is another Who is properly the sole original testifier, namely, God. All others are his signatures and seals.

Verse 33

33. Ye sent unto John Our Lord quotes John, first, as a witness whose testimony they have once acknowledged. Here is an argument from their concession.

He bare witness You were ready to take his assurance that he was Messiah; but lo! he balked you by testifying to me.

Verse 34

34. From man John’s testimony as John’s, as a mere man, even though accepted and conceded by you, I do not receive. It is only God’s testimony through him, and not any mere human honour, that I can accept.

Ye might be saved It is not a matter of man’s esteem, but of their own salvation.

Verse 35

35. He was a… light Not that he would depreciate John; he will rather pronounce a beautiful eulogy on his martyred forerunner.

Burning… shining Some lights are shining, but not burning John was both. Burning he was with the fire of holy zeal; burning, as consumed away in his Master’s service.

For a season to rejoice in his light They could be pleased, like children, with his light; but they could not stand his burning. God’s testimony to Jesus through John they therefore rejected.

Verse 36

36. Greater witness John’s testimony was indeed divine; it furnished a strong personal argument from their own past concessions; but it was only preparatory and subordinate.

Works… I do These were higher, closer, and more conclusive than John’s announcements.

Father hath given me This working testimony is God’s testimony given to him.

The same works Miracles are, in their place, not only a demonstration of Christ, but they were held by himself to be such a demonstration. If Christ performed supernatural works, he uttered supernatural truth, and his religion is true.

Verse 37

37. Father himself… borne witness By giving him a miraculous incarnation, rendering him a living miracle; by an audible voice at his baptism; by dwelling in him with all the Godhead bodily, and speaking to the world through him; and by accompanying him with signs and wonders.

Nor seen his shape His shape you have not seen; you have only seen the effects of his divine power attached to my person, and in testimony to my divinity.

Verse 38

3 . God’s testimony to Christ through the Holy Scripture, John 5:39-40.

The mention of voice has prepared a transition to the written word of the Old Testament.

38. His word His revealed truth; whether by work, by spirit, by testimony, or by Scripture.

Ye believe not The very fact that they accepted not Him to whom the word testified, proved that the word dwelt not in their heads or hearts.

Verse 39

39. Search the Scriptures Whether the word search should be, as it is in our translation, imperative, or whether it should be in the indicative, is a matter on which commentators differ. We prefer the indicative. It is one of a series of indicatives, in the plural second person, both preceding and succeeding. It is given as a proof of the last preceding proposition. John 5:38 says the word abides not in you, since ye believe not Him whom the word declares. John 5:39, expanding and confirming the same thought, says, Ye do indeed search the Scriptures, because ye think therein is eternal life; and yet, though they contain me, ye will not come to me to obtain that same eternal life revealed by them as being in me.

Verse 41

41. I receive not He rejects the crown of secular Messiahship; he receives not the testimony of even John and the prophets as the endorsement of even those great MEN. His commissioner and endorser is God alone.

Verses 41-44

The cause of all this unbelief their desire for human honour, John 5:41-44.

The true Messiah seeks the divine glory, and honour from God alone. The Jews seek human power and honour, and desire Messiahs after their own heart. The true Messiah is spiritual, holy, and divine; their false Messiah, like themselves, is political, self-seeking, and ready for the mutual exchange of honours.

Verse 42

42. Not the love of God In its place was an eager hunger for the honour of men; for power, with individual and national aggrandizement.

Verse 43

43. In my Father’s name The truly sent of God.

In… own name Though pretendedly sent of God. No less than sixty-four false Messiahs have risen to deceive and destroy that deluded race.

Verse 44

44. Receive honour one of another We should indeed honour all men. But the excited ambition of these Jews, unable to gratify itself in triumph over foreign nations, exhausted itself in exacting and exchanging honours with each other. The honour that cometh from God only is alone eternal, enduring with our immortal existence. While this contrary feeling of earthly honour filled their hearts, belief in Christ was impossible. That worldly temper and that heavenly faith were incompatible.

Verses 45-47

Who is their accuser? not Christ, but their own Moses, John 5:45-47.

Though in all these misdoings he is their Admonisher, (in order to be their Saviour, as he must be their final Judge,) he is not their Accuser. Their true accuser is their own Moses. Christ is the gospel, and Moses is the law, and the law condemns. Their own Old Testament is the indictment. Through its representative, Moses, it charges them with rejecting the true Messiah. And as in rejecting the Messiah they reject the propitiation for sin, so they stand exposed to the indictment from Moses as wholly guilty before the Father.

Verse 46

46. Had ye believed Moses They wilfully, but falsely, believed that they believed Moses. But the Moses they believed, like the Messiah they believed, was a false one. They substituted a false Moses because they desired a false Messiah. And so it is that false religions, and false moralities, and false philosophies are formed. They are false beliefs engendered by corrupt desires and dispositions.

He wrote of me The Old Testament is prophet of the New. To prepare for Christ was the purpose of its whole system. He who rejects the Old Testament can never find the true Christ. A Colenso rejects Moses, and of course he diminishes and mutilates Jesus.

Verse 47

47. His writings… my words? The same question Christ addresses to the rationalists of our age. Their unbelief is the result of a predisposition, and its consequence is a terrible accusation from the Moses they disbelieve in behalf of the Christ they reject. Their belief is grounded in the heart, and that heart is a wilful and guilty heart that refuses the means of its own regeneration.

Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on John 5". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/whe/john-5.html. 1874-1909.
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