Whose approval do you seek? Even if your friends or the highest officials in the world approve of our actions but God does not, we should be concerned. But if God approves, even though others don’t, we should be content.
This and other great insights are in today’s reading…
Jesus Heals a Lame Man by a Pool / 5:1-15
God gives salvation freely through Jesus Christ. But to receive salvation, a person must believe. The lame man by the pool at Bethesda had to want to be healed. Then Jesus approached him later to explain to him that he needed to believe and receive spiritual healing as well. God makes the offer and God performs the miracle, but we must respond to his offer and accept it.
5:1 All Jewish males were required to come to Jerusalem to attend three feasts: (1) the Festival of Passover and Unleavened Bread, (2) the Festival of Weeks (also called Pentecost), and (3) the Festival of Shelters. Though this particular holy day is not specified, the phrase explains why Jesus was in Jerusalem.
5:2-4 Readers familiar with Jerusalem would have known about the Sheep Gate (it is mentioned in Nehemiah 3:1, 32; 12:39). Recent excavations show that this site had two pools with five covered porches. These were open structures with roofs that allowed some protection from the weather. A multitude of sick people lay on the porches. People made pilgrimages to the pool of Bethesda to receive the healing benefit of the waters.
Verse 4 is not included in the best manuscripts. Where it does occur in later manuscripts, it is often marked in such a way as to show that it is an addition. The passage was probably inserted later by scribes who felt it necessary to provide an explanation for the gathering of disabled people and the stirring of the water mentioned in verse 7. The water would stir and it was believed that an angel disturbed it. The superstition was that the first person into the pool after the water stirred would be healed.
*LIFE APPLICATION: HURT, HOPE, AND HELP
After thirty-eight years, this man’s problem had become a way of life. No one had ever helped him. He had no hope of ever being healed and no desire to help himself. The man was paralyzed in sight of healing. His situation looked hopeless; that is, until the day that Jesus made his way through the crowd. Among all those trying to be healed, Jesus found the one who couldn’t help himself.
No matter how trapped you feel in your infirmities, God can minister to your deepest needs. Don’t let a problem or hardship cause you to lose hope. God may have special work for you to do in spite of your condition, or even because of it. Many have ministered more effectively to hurting people because they have triumphed over their own hurts.
5:5-8 A man lay there who had been sick for thirty-eight years. Jesus knew how long he had been ill and asked him, “Would you like to get well?” Jesus’ question shows us that he will not force himself upon anyone. He seeks permission before intervening in that person’s life. The man indirectly answered Jesus by telling how he had not been able to be healed because others would get into the water before he did. But in making this statement, the man admitted that he needed help. His hope for healing was stuck behind his hopelessness of ever having help to get to the water in time.
*LIFE APPLICATION: BOTTOMED OUT
The paralyzed man had one important trait that many people lack: He knew he needed help. Not only was he unable to help himself, he also hadn’t been able to persuade anyone else to help him. Apparently the religious leaders who were so quick to judge his failure to keep their Sabbath laws had not been nearly as quick to obey God’s clear Old Testament commands about helping those in need.
In contrast, we are surrounded with so many supports and buffers that we may live without ever facing our inability to save ourselves. Jesus didn’t choose the ones who were pushing forward; rather, he went directly to the person who had almost given up hope. He went to a desperate person who didn’t have to be convinced he needed help. The paralyzed man had reached the end of his rope and was ready to respond. Does God have to wait until we are desperate before he hears from us?
Jesus offered help, but not the kind of help the man expected. Jesus simply said, “Stand up, pick up your sleeping mat, and walk.” And the man responded immediately.
5:9 This miracle should have revealed to the Jews in Jerusalem that the Messiah was finally present, for Isaiah had prophesied this (Isaiah 35:5-6). Instead, they chose to focus on another issue: This miracle happened on the Sabbath day. Presumably, if the waters had been stirred on the Sabbath and he had been healed by getting in, the Jews would not have argued against his healing. But these religious leaders would not allow God in the flesh to break their rules by healing this man directly.
*LIFE APPLICATION: BUILDING BRIDGES
Most people would rather avoid seeing and speaking to people with disabilities. It’s easier to politely ignore someone in a wheelchair at a mall, or a child who struggles just to walk. But notice what Jesus did in this story:
He went to the place. Jesus could have entered Jerusalem by another gate. He could have avoided walking by the pool called Bethesda. Just as Jesus went to the pool, so we should go to where people with disabilities are. It’s not enough to open the church doors and wait to see who enters. Ministry in the disabled community must be outreach-oriented to be effective.
He talked with the person. Jesus spoke to the man directly. He demonstrated respect and concern, not pity. We can sometimes feel uncomfortable around people with disabilities. We may be afraid of saying the wrong thing, so we choose to say nothing at all. But guided by love, we can build bridges with disabled people by simply demonstrating common courtesy and respecting human dignity. God can help us overcome our fears so that we can ask questions and have a conversation.
He offered specific help at a point of need. Jesus healed the man—something we are unable to do. But we can pray for people, refer them to competent, professional care, and offer to help at a point of need. Specific offers are usually more well received than general ones. If we say, “Be sure to give me a call if there is anything I can do,” we usually won’t get a call. People who are struggling with a handicap don’t want to bother anyone. Besides, how do they know we really mean what we say? Specific offers of help are better, such as: “Would you like me to drive you to the store on Tuesday?” or “Could I help you with some housecleaning on Saturday?”
Like Jesus, we should demonstrate compassion to people with disabilities of all kinds. Of all the help we offer, the most important is to point people to Christ, who will one day heal all disabilities and remove all handicaps from his people.
5:10 There is nothing in God’s law making it illegal to carry a sleeping mat on the Sabbath. But the man broke the Pharisees’ legalistic application of God’s command to honor the Sabbath. The regulation against carrying something on the Sabbath was the last of thirty-nine rules in the “tradition of the elders” that stipulated the kinds of work prohibited on the Sabbath. This was just one of hundreds of rules the Jewish leaders had added to the Old Testament law.
*LIFE APPLICATION: IN A BIND
Although God’s truth is timeless, our application of that truth may be limited by time and circumstance. The authority of an application depends on how nearly it conveys the intended truth of Scripture. Application based on personal convictions may help a person, but it becomes tyrannical if made binding on everyone. In this case, God’s command to keep the Sabbath holy was still in force, but the application of avoiding certain work activities was clearly secondary to healing a person.
5:11-13 In this exchange between the man who was healed and the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem, the man said he didn’t know who had healed him. The man’s ignorance is quite possible, for Jesus had not identified himself and had immediately disappeared into the crowd. At the same time, however, the healed man seemed to be more eager to blame the healer for having him walk around with his mat than to shout about his healing.
*LIFE APPLICATION: DON’T TRIP!
A man who hadn’t walked for thirty-eight years was healed, but the Pharisees were more concerned about their petty rules than the life and health of a human being. It is easy to get so caught up in our man-made structures and rules that we forget the people involved. Are our guidelines for living God-made or man-made? Are they helping people, or have they become needless stumbling blocks?
5:14-15 Perhaps the man had gone to the Temple to give thanks to God for his healing. When Jesus found him, he told him, “Stop sinning, or something even worse may happen to you.” This statement leads to the conclusion that the man’s sickness was in some way caused by sin. This does not contradict what Jesus said in 9:3 about the man born blind because Jesus did not say the blind man never sinned; rather, he was pointing out that sin had not caused his blindness. One of the results of sin is suffering, but not all suffering is the result of personal sin.
In this case, Jesus sought out the healed man to warn him that though he was healed physically, his thirty-eight years as an invalid would be nothing compared to something worse—that is, eternity in hell. The man needed to stop sinning and come to salvation in Christ. He had been lame, but now he could walk. This was a great miracle. But he needed an even greater miracle—to have his sins forgiven. The man was delighted to be physically healed, but he had to turn from his sins and seek God’s forgiveness to be spiritually healed.
After this encounter, the man told the Jewish leaders what he could not tell them before: It was Jesus who had healed him. This report triggered the Jews’ persecution of Jesus—a persecution that continued from that day onward.
*LIFE APPLICATION: WHAT SIN?
What was this paralyzed man’s sin that Jesus now told him to stop? Was it some kind of unhealthy behavior that had directly caused his paralysis? Was it the sin of unbelief? Was it the sin of ingratitude? Or was Jesus using the man’s past illness to warn him about the dangers of falling into sin? None of these possibilities provide an absolute answer. Beyond all these questions is Jesus’ warning that continuing in sin eventually leads to something worse. The various benefits of God’s grace, including physical healing, must be followed by repentance and growing commitment to him. Many people focus on their physical well-being while completely neglecting the health of their souls.
Jesus Claims to Be the Son of God / 5:16-30
The Jewish leaders were faced with a mighty miracle of healing and a broken rule. They threw the miracle aside as they focused their attention on the broken rule. As is common with those who assume authority that is not rightfully theirs, these leaders instinctively felt their power threatened by Jesus’ actions, thus they resented him.
5:16-17 Jesus was being harassed for breaking Sabbath rules. But Jesus told these leaders, “My Father never stops working, so why should I?” With this statement Jesus challenged the notion that God himself was somehow literally subject to the Sabbath rules. If God stopped every kind of work on the Sabbath, nature would fall into chaos and sin would overrun the world. Genesis 2:2 says that God rested on the seventh day; he rested from the work of creation but began the work of sustaining the creation. God has been at work and continues to work; so does his Son, Jesus. With this claim, Jesus affirmed his equality with God. Furthermore, Jesus was teaching that when the opportunity to do good presents itself, it should not be ignored, even on the Sabbath.
*LIFE APPLICATION: SABBATH KEEPING
Two significant principles come to us from the Bible regarding the Sabbath. By Jesus’ declaration (Matthew 5:17-20), the fourth commandment (along with God’s other commands) is still in force: “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy” (Exodus 20:8 niv). But Jesus gave helpful guidelines in applying the commandments (see Matthew 5:1–7:29—much of the Sermon on the Mount is Jesus’ application of God’s commands). In the case of Sabbath keeping he said, “The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath” (Mark 2:27 nrsv). Jesus did not release us from keeping the Sabbath; he challenged us to keep it in the right way by setting down our work, consciously taking time for rest, and understanding that God has a place in our work and our rest, which makes them both holy.
When you keep the Sabbath, consider the answers to the following questions:
- When I work, am I working for God?
- When I rest, am I resting for God?
- Does my “resting” refresh me for work?
- How does my time of rest include devotion to God?
- How well do I understand the fact that one person’s “work” is another person’s “rest”? (For example, some might find tending a rose garden tedious work, while others find it a joyful, restful act of worship.)
5:18 The Jews realized that Jesus’ words revealed his very personal relationship with God. In saying, “my Father,” he was clearly claiming to be God’s Son, thus equal with God. For a human to claim equality with God was blasphemy; and blasphemy was a sin carrying the death penalty (Leviticus 24:15-16). People regularly misunderstood Jesus, and he was constantly correcting them. Jesus never attempted to correct the understanding that he was claiming to be God, for that was exactly what he meant. Thus the Jewish leaders tried all the more to kill him.
*LIFE APPLICATION: UNDERSTANDING THE HATE
To understand the hate that Jesus received from some of his own people, we must examine the larger political picture. The Roman rule over the Jews placed severe limits on most power and control exercised by native peoples. But the Romans made an important exception in matters of religion. The Romans, with their pluralistic views of religion, interpreted the religious sphere as little more than local, meaningless activity to help keep the masses under control. However, their relaxed philosophy of religion ran into serious difficulties when applied to the monotheistic Jews.
Among the Jews of Jesus’ time, the highest power someone could wield was in the religious structure. The authorities Jesus confronted had worked hard to obtain and maintain their positions of prestige and power. To the Romans, their squabbles seemed trivial, but among the Jews, religious issues, whether politicized or not, were matters of life and death.
Into this arena stepped Jesus, challenging the legitimacy of the religious leadership, exposing their false pretenses, and claiming a higher authority. To those in power, his credentials were unacceptable:
- Jesus was an outsider and not from their ranks.
- Jesus was reputedly a Galilean, considered worthy of little respect.
- Jesus was young and his training was suspect.
- Jesus spoke with uncompromising clarity and authority.
- Jesus had a startling way of cutting through the technicalities of the law that preserved the position of the hierarchy.
Threatened by the loss of power if Jesus’ claims were true, the religious leaders chose to reject him. When unable to discredit him, they attempted to dispose of him. But God used their attempted solution to the “Jesus problem” to solve once and for all the entire world’s “sin problem.”
5:19-20 Jesus did not say that he would not do anything independent from the Father, but that he cannot: “The Son can do nothing by himself. He does only what he sees the Father doing.” The Son performs the tasks the Father wants done because they are of one spirit. The Father and the Son know and love each other completely. Because of their transparent relationship, the Son always knows what the Father is doing and works in harmony with him to see it accomplished. Because of his unity with God, Jesus lived as God wanted him to live. Jesus promised to do far greater things. According to the following verses, this refers to the Son’s ability to give life to the dead and to execute judgment.
*LIFE APPLICATION: IN JESUS’ STEPS
Because of his unity with God, Jesus lived as God wanted him to live. Because of our identification with Jesus, we must honor him and live as he wants us to live. When we need guidance, the questions What would Jesus do? and What would Jesus have me do? may help us make the right choices.
5:21 This statement would have shocked Jesus’ audience because it ascribes to the Son—Jesus himself—what was seen as exclusively the activity of God the Father. God alone can raise from the dead anyone he wants to. That God gave that power to the Son is demonstrated in Jesus’ raising of Lazarus from the dead (see 11:41-44).
5:22-23 The certainty of our salvation is in the hands of the Son because God entrusted him with judicial and executive authority to judge. Thus, he has equal dignity and honor with the Father—“everyone will honor the Son, just as they honor the Father.” The flip side is that those who refuse to honor the Son are not honoring the Father who sent him. Here Jesus was referring to that time when everyone will recognize his lordship. The tragedy will be that many will then recognize Jesus’ true nature but will have lost the opportunity to receive his saving help. Those unwilling to honor Christ now will discover that they have not been honoring the Father either. People should not say they believe in God while ignoring the power and authority of his Son.
5:24 True hearing results in believing. The gospel usually stresses believing in Jesus himself; but Jesus points to believing in God who sent him. The statement affirms the unity of the Father and the Son. To believe in the Father is to believe in the Son he sent to earth. This belief gives eternal life. Believers have eternal life as a present possession. Because of that, they will never be condemned for their sins, but they have already passed from death into life. The judgment has passed. Belief in Jesus provides the only escape from this judgment.
5:25 When Jesus spoke of a time that is coming, and is here, he saw God’s wonderful future plan as happening in the present. Christ makes the same power that will resurrect the dead at his return available to all who are spiritually dead—the woman at the well, the paralyzed man, and each one of us.
In the future, the physically dead will hear the voice of the Son of God. Jesus was speaking about two kinds of life-giving power. On one level, he was speaking of the power to give life as we know it; on the other, he was speaking of the power to give life as he knows it. In saying that the dead could hear his voice, he was referring to the power to return physical life to those who had died. In fact, Jesus raised several persons who had died while he was on earth (11:38-44), though at some point they would die again. But he was also referring to the spiritually dead who hear, understand, and accept him. Those who accept God’s Word will live, even though they may still experience physical death (11:25-26).
*LIFE APPLICATION: ETERNITY NOW
Everlasting life—living forever with God—begins immediately when a person accepts Jesus Christ as Savior. At that moment, new life begins (2 Corinthians 5:17). It is a completed transaction. We will face physical death; but when Christ returns again, our body will be resurrected to live forever.
5:26 Human beings do not have life in themselves; they receive it from God. God does not receive his life from any exterior source; he is the source and Creator of life. In eternity past, the Father gave his Son the same capacity—to have life in himself (see 1:4). God does not share this uniquely divine characteristic with any created being. Because Jesus exists eternally with God the Father, he too is “the life” (14:6) through whom we may live eternally (1 John 5:11). God’s gift of life comes through Christ alone (Deuteronomy 30:20; Psalm 36:9).
5:27 This statement seems to contradict 3:17, where Jesus is said not to have come into the world to judge it, but 8:15-16 offers an explanation. Jesus did not come to judge, but his coming led to judgment because his coming forced decision—and decision results in judgment for those who reject Jesus. Because he is the Son of Man, Jesus, as man, will judge all mankind (see Daniel 7:13-14). In this way, the Father has given all authority to the Son, for everyone must answer to him (see Philippians 2:5-11). Jesus always kept before his audience, in word and deed, his unique dual nature as God-man.
5:28-29 Verse 28 speaks only about a future event—the time is coming when all the dead in their graves will hear the voice of God’s Son, and they will rise again. Every person will be resurrected when the Lord returns, with one of two results: one will be life, the other will be judgment. God grants eternal life to those who have come to the Light and have believed in Jesus Christ. But God will judge and condemn those who rebelled against Christ by refusing to come to the Light. God’s judgment has already come upon them and will be completely executed by the Son of Man after the resurrection (see 3:18-21).
5:30 Even though the Father committed to the Son the task of executing judgment, the Son cannot and will not perform on his own authority and by his own initiative. The distinctions within the persons of the Trinity allow each to perform certain specific functions, but the divine unity of God means that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit each do what the others would do if the roles were changed.
Jesus Supports His Claim / 5:31-47
Jesus claimed to be equal with God (5:18), to give eternal life (5:24), to be the source of life (5:26), and to judge sin (5:27). These statements make it clear that Jesus claimed to be divine—an almost unbelievable claim. So he called upon several witnesses to his divine being: (1) John the Baptist (5:33-35), (2) Jesus’ works (5:36), (3) the Father himself (5:37), (4) the Scriptures (5:39-40), and (5) Moses (5:45-47). Any of these witnesses should have been enough, but together they supplied a compelling testimony to Jesus’ claims. But many of the ones listening to Jesus were examples of how a hard heart can nullify even the most powerful argument.
5:31-32 According to the Jewish law, truth or validity had to be established by two or three witnesses (Deuteronomy 17:6; 19:15). Therefore, Jesus’ testimony would not be valid by itself. For these Jewish leaders, he needed the witness of another. So Jesus said that someone else was testifying about him, referring to his Father (see 5:36).
5:33-35 Further witness came from John the Baptist (see 1:6-8). His testimony that Jesus was the Christ was necessary for the Jews, not Jesus. They all knew he preached the truth. He shone brightly for a while, and some of the Jews enjoyed the light he brought them. But they did not really understand his message or receive the illuminating revelation concerning the one to whom John gave witness—Jesus, the Son of God.
*LIFE APPLICATION: LIGHT WORK
Jesus’ description of John as a “lamp” and container for the light reminds us of Jesus’ description of the believers as being “the light of the world.” He said, “Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16 niv). We have both the privilege and command to be carriers of the light in our corner of the world. We can hardly predict how God might use the witness we have to offer others, but we have been warned not to keep our light hidden. We simply must keep asking ourselves if those who are regularly part of our lives know of our relationship with Jesus Christ.
5:36-38 The teachings and miracles testified that the Father had sent Jesus. The Father testified about his Son at Jesus’ baptism (Matthew 3:16-17), on the Mount of Transfiguration (Matthew 17:5), before his crucifixion (12:28), and in his resurrection (Romans 1:3-4). The Jews to whom Jesus was speaking had never heard God’s voice or seen him face to face. Yet, here they had the greatest of all God’s manifestations standing right before their eyes—Jesus, the Word, the visible expression of God to people. But they did not have his message in their hearts because they were refusing to believe in Jesus. Even though the Jews to whom Jesus was speaking had not received the kinds of revelations some of their ancestors had, they still possessed the Word of God. If that Word had been abiding in their hearts (see 8:31; 15:7), they would have recognized the one to whom the Scriptures give testimony.
5:39 The Jewish teachers devoted their lives to studying the Scriptures—not so much to search for the truth but to analyze the minutia of the law. And the “scholars” studied, Jesus said, because they thought that by doing so they would possess eternal life. But by studying the Scriptures they should have seen the source of life: “The Scriptures point to me!” If we fail to see this testimony, we miss the very purpose for which the Scriptures exist. If there were no such person as Jesus Christ, the Scriptures would have little value. The Bible’s chief value lies in its testimony to him.
5:40 To refuse to come to Jesus is to reject life because Christ is the giver of eternal life (1:4; 5:25; 14:6). Religious zeal—even involvement with the Scriptures—does not bring a person eternal life. The religious leaders knew what the Bible said but failed to apply its words to their lives. They knew the teachings of the Scriptures but failed to see the Messiah to whom the Scriptures pointed. They knew the rules but missed the Savior. Entrenched in their own religious system, they refused to let the Son of God change their lives.
*LIFE APPLICATION: APPLIED TRUTH
Every other lesson and application drawn from the Bible takes second place to our personal response to Jesus Christ. Bible study and the accumulation of Bible knowledge profits us little if we are not brought face to face with our own need for salvation. All the applied principles will do us little good if we have never allowed God to give us spiritual birth!
5:41-43 Just as Jesus did not receive (or need) the testimony from people (5:34), he does not need to receive approval from them. Jesus knew the condition of the people; they did not really have God’s love within them—they loved their religion. Therefore, they could not receive the Son of God. Jesus came as the Father’s personal representative (see 14:7-11), but many of the Jews could not accept his claims of being the one sent by the Father. The others that were accepted may have been other persons who claimed to be the Messiah. Because they fit the mistaken image of what the Messiah was supposed to accomplish (political liberation), people eagerly received them. Many men made such a claim. For example, in a.d. 132 Simeon ben Kosebah claimed to be the Messiah, and his claim was upheld by Akibah, the most eminent rabbi of the day.
*LIFE APPLICATION: WHY PEOPLE REFUSE TO COME TO CHRIST
People do have reasons for rejecting Jesus. Their wrong attempts to justify themselves are often plain when they are willing to share their reasons.
- Life in Christ is too demanding. People think they have found an easier path. But have they?
- Life in Christ is too humiliating. People resist surrender to Jesus because they think it is the same as surrender to anyone else. But is it?
- Life in Christ is too costly. People value their power, position, or possessions too much to set them aside for Christ. But are these things really theirs?
- Life in Christ is too disappointing. Christ seems no different from the Christians who have been bad examples. But is the example of inadequate, failure-prone Christians an acceptable excuse before God?
- Life in Christ is irrelevant. It is about as significant as some people’s dim memory of a visit to Sunday school or the latest talk-show discussion on religion. Is ignorance an adequate defense before God?
- Life in Christ is for later. Someday some people might get around to giving him serious consideration. But while they are pursuing “better things,” their hearts and minds become insensitive. Will God wait forever until we are ready to listen?
5:44 This condemning word exposes why the Jewish religious leaders could not believe: They were so dependent on group acceptance that an individual could hardly make a stand that differed from the rest. Instead of seeking what would honor God and bring glory to him—which, in this case, would be to believe in his Son—they continued to seek acceptance from their peers.
*LIFE APPLICATION: STAMP OF APPROVAL
Whose approval do we seek? The religious leaders enjoyed great prestige in Israel, but their stamp of approval meant nothing to Jesus. He was concerned about God’s approval. This is a good principle for us. Even if the highest officials in the world approve of our actions but God does not, we should be concerned. But if God approves, even though others don’t, we should be content.
5:45 The verb tenses here reveal that Jesus wouldn’t have to go to the Father and accuse these religious leaders because they were already being accused by Moses. This could mean that Moses was in the presence of God in heaven accusing them (Matthew 17:3), or it could mean what Moses wrote, as is indicated in the next two verses. To be told that Moses was accusing them was a great blow. The Pharisees prided themselves on being the true followers of their ancestor Moses. They followed every one of his laws to the letter and even added some of their own. Jesus’ warning that Moses was accusing them stung them to fury.
5:46-47 Moses had written about Christ (see Genesis 3:15; Numbers 21:9; 24:17; Deuteronomy 18:15-18; see also Luke 24:44), but since they did not believe in Christ when he came, they did not really believe in the writings of Moses. This was Jesus’ final condemnation in this section.
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— Life Application Bible Commentary
— Life Application Concise New Testament Commentary