The cure at the pool of Bethesda. (1-9) The Jews' displeasure. (10-16) Christ reproves the Jews. (17-23) Christ's discourse. (24-47)
Verses 1-9 We are all by nature impotent folk in spiritual things, blind, halt, and withered; but full provision is made for our cure, if we attend to it. An angel went down, and troubled the water; and what disease soever it was, this water cured it, but only he that first stepped in had benefit. This teaches us to be careful, that we let not a season slip which may never return. The man had lost the use of his limbs thirty-eight years. Shall we, who perhaps for many years have scarcely known what it has been to be a day sick, complain of one wearisome night, when many others, better than we, have scarcely known what it has been to be a day well? Christ singled this one out from the rest. Those long in affliction, may comfort themselves that God keeps account how long. Observe, this man speaks of the unkindness of those about him, without any peevish reflections. As we should be thankful, so we should be patient. Our Lord Jesus cures him, though he neither asked nor thought of it. Arise, and walk. God's command, Turn and live; Make ye a new heart; no more supposes power in us without the grace of God, his distinguishing grace, than this command supposed such power in the impotent man: it was by the power of Christ, and he must have all the glory. What a joyful surprise to the poor cripple, to find himself of a sudden so easy, so strong, so able to help himself! The proof of spiritual cure, is our rising and walking. Has Christ healed our spiritual diseases, let us go wherever he sends us, and take up whatever he lays upon us; and walk before him.
Verses 10-16 Those eased of the punishment of sin, are in danger of returning to sin, when the terror and restraint are over, unless Divine grace dries up the fountain. The misery believers are made whole from, warns us to sin no more, having felt the smart of sin. This is the voice of every providence, Go, and sin no more. Christ saw it necessary to give this caution; for it is common for people, when sick, to promise much; when newly recovered, to perform only something; but after awhile to forget all. Christ spoke of the wrath to come, which is beyond compare worse than the many hours, nay, weeks and years of pain, some wicked men have to suffer in consequence of their unlawful indulgences. And if such afflictions are severe, how dreadful will be the everlasting punishment of the wicked!
Verses 17-23 The Divine power of the miracle proved Jesus to be the Son of God, and he declared that he worked with, and like unto his Father, as he saw good. These ancient enemies of Christ understood him, and became more violent, charging him not only with sabbath-breaking, but blasphemy, in calling God his own Father, and making himself equal with God. But all things now, and at the final judgment, are committed to the Son, purposely that all men might honour the Son, as they honour the Father; and every one who does not thus honour the Son, whatever he may think or pretend, does not honour the Father who sent him.
Verses 24-29 Our Lord declared his authority and character, as the Messiah. The time was come when the dead should hear his voice, as the Son of God, and live. Our Lord first refers to his raising those who were dead in sin, to newness of life, by the power of the Spirit, and then to his raising the dead in their graves. The office of Judge of all men, can only be exercised by one who has all knowledge, and almighty power. May we believe His testimony; thus our faith and hope will be in God, and we shall not come into condemnation. And may His voice reach the hearts of those dead in sin; that they may do works meet for repentance, and prepare for the solemn day.
Verses 30-38 Our Lord returns to his declaration of the entire agreement between the Father and the Son, and declared himself the Son of God. He had higher testimony than that of John; his works bore witness to all he had said. But the Divine word had no abiding-place in their hearts, as they refused to believe in Him whom the Father had sent, according to his ancient promises. The voice of God, accompanied by the power of the Holy Ghost, thus made effectual to the conversion of sinners, still proclaims that this is the beloved Son, in whom the Father is well pleased. But when the hearts of men are full of pride, ambition, and the love of the world, there is no room for the word of God to abide in them.
Verses 39-44 The Jews considered that eternal life was revealed to them in their Scriptures, and that they had it, because they had the word of God in their hands. Jesus urged them to search those Scriptures with more diligence and attention. "Ye do search the Scriptures," and ye do well to do so. They did indeed search the Scriptures, but it was with a view to their own glory. It is possible for men to be very studious in the letter of the Scriptures, yet to be strangers to its power. Or, "Search the Scriptures," and so it was spoken to them in the nature of an appeal. Ye profess to receive and believe the Scripture, let that be the judge. It is spoken to us as advising or commanding all Christians to search the Scriptures. Not only read them, and hear them, but search them; which denotes diligence in examining and studying them. We must search the Scriptures for heaven as our great end; For in them ye think ye have eternal life. We must search the Scriptures for Christ, as the new and living Way, that leads to this end. To this testimony Christ adds reproofs of their unbelief and wickedness; their neglect of him and his doctrine. Also he reproves their want of the love of God. But there is life with Jesus Christ for poor souls. Many who make a great profession of religion, yet show they want the love of God, by their neglect of Christ and contempt of his commandments. It is the love of God in us, the love that is a living, active principle in the heart, which God will accept. They slighted and undervalued Christ, because they admired and overvalued themselves. How can those believe, who make the praise and applause of men their idol! When Christ and his followers are men wondered at, how can those believe, the utmost of whose ambition is to make a fair show in the flesh!
Verses 45-47 Many trust in some form of doctrines or some parties, who no more enter into the real meaning of those doctrines, or the views of the persons whose names they bear, than the Jews did into those of Moses. Let us search and pray over the Scriptures, as intent on finding eternal life; let us observe how Christ is the great subject of them, and daily apply to him for the life he bestows.
John 5:1-47 . THE IMPOTENT MAN HEALED--DISCOURSE OCCASIONED BY THE PERSECUTION ARISING THEREUPON.
1. a feast of the Jews--What feast? No question has more divided the Harmonists of the Gospels, and the duration of our Lord's ministry may be said to hinge on it. For if, as the majority have thought (until of late years) it was a Passover, His ministry lasted three and a half years; if not, probably a year less. Those who are dissatisfied with the Passover-view all differ among themselves what other feast it was, and some of the most acute think there are no grounds for deciding. In our judgment the evidence is in favor of its being a Passover, but the reasons cannot be stated here.
2, 3. sheep market--The supplement should be (as in Margin) "sheep [gate]," mentioned in Nehemiah 3:1 Nehemiah 3:32 .
Bethesda--that is, "house (place) of mercy," from the cures wrought there.
five porches--for shelter to the patients.
4. an angel, &c.--This miracle differed in two points from all other miracles recorded in Scripture: (1) It was not one, but a succession of miracles periodically wrought: (2) As it was only wrought "when the waters were troubled," so only upon one patient at a time, and that the patient "who first stepped in after the troubling of the waters." But this only the more undeniably fixed its miraculous character. We have heard of many waters having a medicinal virtue; but what water was ever known to cure instantaneously a single disease? And who ever heard of any water curing all, even the most diverse diseases--"blind, halt, withered"--alike? Above all, who ever heard of such a thing being done "only at a certain season," and most singularly of all, doing it only to the first person who stepped in after the moving of the waters? Any of these peculiarities--much more all taken together--must have proclaimed the supernatural character of the cures wrought. (If the text here be genuine, there can be no doubt of the miracle, as there were multitudes living when this Gospel was published who, from their own knowledge of Jerusalem, could have exposed the falsehood of the Evangelist, if no such cure had been known there. The want of John 5:4 and part of John 5:3 in some good manuscripts, and the use of some unusual words in the passage, are more easily accounted for than the evidence in their favor if they were not originally in the text. Indeed John 5:7 is unintelligible without John 5:4 . The internal evidence brought against it is merely the unlikelihood of such a miracle--a principle which will carry us a great deal farther if we allow it to weigh against positive evidence).
5-9. thirty and eight years--but not all that time at the pool. This was probably the most pitiable of all the cases, and therefore selected.
6. saw him lie, and knew, &c.--As He doubtless visited the spot just to perform this cure, so He knows where to find His patient, and the whole previous history of his case ( John 2:25 ).
Wilt thou be made whole?--Could anyone doubt that a sick man would like to be made whole, or that the patients came thither, and this man had returned again and again, just in hope of a cure? But our Lord asked the question. (1) To fasten attention upon Himself; (2) By making him detail his case to deepen in him the feeling of entire helplessness; (3) By so singular a question to beget in his desponding heart the hope of a cure. (Compare Mark 10:51 ).
7. Sir, I have no man, &c.--Instead of saying he wished to be cured, he just tells with piteous simplicity how fruitless had been all his efforts to obtain it, and how helpless and all but hopeless he was. Yet not quite. For here he is at the pool, waiting on. It seemed of no use; nay, only tantalizing,
while I am coming, another steppeth down before me--the fruit was snatched from his lips. Yet he will not go away. He may get nothing by staying, he may drop into his grave ere he get into the pool; but by going from the appointed, divine way of healing, he can get nothing. Wait therefore he will, wait he does, and when Christ comes to heal him, lo! he is waiting his turn. What an attitude for a sinner at Mercy's gate! The man's hopes seemed low enough ere Christ came to him. He might have said, just before "Jesus passed by that way," "This is no use; I shall never get in; let me die at home." Then all had been lost. But he held on, and his perseverance was rewarded with a glorious cure. Probably some rays of hope darted into his heart as he told his tale before those Eyes whose glance measured his whole case. But the word of command consummates his preparation to receive the cure, and instantaneously works it.
8. Rise, take up thy bed, &c.--"Immediately" he did so. "He spake and it was done." The slinging of his portable couch over his shoulders was designed to show the perfection of the cure.
9. the same day was the sabbath--Beyond all doubt this was intentional, as in so many other healings, in order that when opposition arose on this account men might be compelled to listen to His claims and His teaching.
10-16. The Jews--that is, those in authority.
it is not lawful to carry thy bed--a glorious testimony to the cure, as instantaneous and complete, from the lips of the most prejudiced! (And what a contrast does it, as all our Lord's miracles, present to the bungling miracles of the Church of Rome!) In ordinary circumstances, the rulers had the law on their side ( Nehemiah 13:15 , Jeremiah 17:21 ). But when the man referred them to "Him that had made him whole" ( John 5:11 ) as his authority, the argument was resistless. Yet they ingeniously parried the thrust, asking him, not who had "made him whole"--that would have condemned themselves and defeated their purpose--but who had bidden him "take up his bed and walk," in other words, who had dared to order a breach of the sabbath? It is time we were looking after Him--thus hoping to shake the man's faith in his Healer.
13. he that was healed wist not, &c.--That some one, with unparalleled generosity, tenderness and power, had done it, the man knew well enough: but as he had never heard of Him before, so he disappeared too quickly for any inquiries.
conveyed himself away--slipped out of the crowd that had gathered, to avoid both hasty popularity and precipitate hatred ( Matthew 12:14-19 ).
14. findeth him in the temple--saying, perhaps, "I will go into Thy house with burnt offerings, I will pay my vows which my lips have uttered and my mouth hath spoken when I was in trouble" ( Psalms 66:13 Psalms 66:14 ). Jesus, there Himself for His own ends, "findeth him there"--not all accidentally, be assured.
sin no more, &c.--a glimpse this of the reckless life he had probably led before his thirty-eight years' infirmity had come upon him, and which not improbably had brought on, in the just judgment of God, his chronic complaint. Fearful illustration this of "the severity of God," but glorious manifestation of our Lord's insight into "what was in man."
15. The man departed, and told, &c.--little thinking how unwelcome his grateful and eager testimony would be. "The darkness received not the light which was pouring its rays upon it" ( John 1:5 John 1:11 ) [OLSHAUSEN].
16. because he had done these things on the sabbath day--What to these hypocritical religionists was the doing of the most glorious and beneficent miracles, compared with the atrocity of doing them on the sabbath day! Having given them this handle, on purpose to raise the first public controversy with them, and thus open a fitting opportunity of laying His claims before them, He rises at once to the whole height of them, in a statement which for grandeur and terseness exceeds almost anything that ever afterwards fell from Him, at least to His enemies.
17, 18. My Father worketh hitherto and I work--The "I" is emphatic; "The creative and conservative activity of My Father has known no sabbath-cessation from the beginning until now, and that is the law of My working."
18. God was his Father--literally, "His own [or peculiar] Father," (as in Romans 8:32 ). The addition is their own, but a very proper one.
making himself equal with God--rightly gathering this to be His meaning, not from the mere words "My Father," but from His claim of right to act as His Father did in the like high sphere, and by the same law of ceaseless activity in that sphere. And as, instead of instantly disclaiming any such meaning--as He must have done if it was false--He positively sets His seal to it in the following verses, merely explaining how consistent such claim was with the prerogatives of His Father, it is beyond all doubt that we have here an assumption of peculiar personal Sonship, or participation in the Father's essential nature.
19, 20. the Son can do nothing of himself--that is, apart from and in rivalry of the Father, as they supposed. The meaning is, "The Son can have no separate interest or action from the Father."
for what things, &c.--On the contrary, "whatever the Father doeth that same doeth the Son,"
likewise--"in the like manner." What claim to absolute equality with the Father could exceed this: not only to do "the same things," but to do them as the Father does them?
20. Father loveth . . . and showeth him all, &c.--As love has no concealments, so it results from the perfect fellowship and mutual endearment of the Father and the Son that the Father communicates to the Son all His counsels, and what has been thus shown to the Son is by Him executed in His mediatorial character. "With the Father, doing is willing; it is only the Son who acts in Time" [ALFORD]. Three things here are clear: (1) The personal distinctions in the Godhead. (2) Unity of action among the Persons results from unity of nature. (3) Their oneness of interest is no unconscious or involuntary thing, but a thing of glorious consciousness, will, and love, of which the Persons themselves are the proper Objects.
show him greater things, &c.--referring to what He goes on to mention ( John 5:21-31 ), comprised in two great words, LIFE and JUDGMENT, which STIER beautifully calls God's Regalia. Yet these, Christ says, the Father and He do in common.
21-23. raiseth the dead and quickeneth them--one act in two stages. This is His absolute prerogative as God.
so the Son quickeneth them--that is, raiseth up and quickeneth.
whom he will--not only doing the same divine act, but doing it as the result of His own will, even as the Father does it. This statement is of immense importance in relation to the miracles of Christ, distinguishing them from similar miracles of prophets and apostles, who as human instruments were employed to perform super-natural actions, while Christ did all as the Father's commissioned Servant indeed, but in the exercise of His own absolute right of action.
22. For the Father judgeth no man, &c.--rather, "For neither doth the Father judge any man," implying that the same "thing was meant in the former verse of the quickening of the dead"--both acts being done, not by the Father and the Son, as though twice done, but by the Father through the Son as His voluntary Agent.
all judgment--judgment in its most comprehensive sense, or as we should say, all administration.
23. honour the Son as . . . the Father--As he who believes that Christ in the foregoing verses has given a true account of His relation to the Father must of necessity hold Him entitled to the same honor as the Father, so He here adds that it was the Father's express intention in making over all judgment to the Son, that men should thus honor Him.
honoureth not the Father--does not do it in fact, whatever he may imagine, and will be held as not doing it by the Father Himself, who will accept no homage which is not accorded to His own Son.
24. believeth on him that sent me--that is, believeth in Him as having sent Me. I have spoken of the Son's right not only to heal the sick but to raise from the dead, and quicken whom He will: And now I say unto you, That life-giving operation has already passed upon all who receive My words as the Sent of the Father on the great errand of mercy.
hath everlasting life--immediately on his believing (compare John 3:18 , 1 John 5:12 1 John 5:13 ).
is passed--"hath passed over"
from death unto life--What a transition! (Compare 1 John 3:14 ).
25-29. The hour cometh--in its whole fulness, at Pentecost.
and now is--in its beginnings.
the dead--the spiritually dead, as is clear from John 5:28 . Here He rises from the calmer phrase "hearing his word" ( John 5:24 ), to the grander expression, "hearing the voice of the Son of God," to signify that as it finds men in a dead condition, so it carries with it a resurrection-power.
shall live--in the sense of John 5:24 .
26. given to the Son, &c.--Does this refer to the essential life of the Son before all time ( John 1:4 ) (as most of the Fathers, and OLSHAUSEN, STIER, ALFORD, &c., among the moderns), or to the purpose of God that this essential life should reside in the Person of the Incarnate Son, and be manifested thus to the world? [CALVIN, LUCKE, LUTHARDT, &c.] The question is as difficult as the subject is high. But as all that Christ says of His essential relation to the Father is intended to explain and exalt His mediatorial functions, so the one seems in our Lord's own mind and language mainly the starting-point of the other.
27. because he is the Son of man--This seems to confirm the last remark, that what Christ had properly in view was the indwelling of the Son's essential life in humanity as the great theater and medium of divine display, in both the great departments of His work--life-giving and judgment. The appointment of a Judge in our own nature is one of the most beautiful arrangements of divine wisdom in redemption.
28. Marvel not at this--this committal of all judgment to the Son of man.
for the hour is coming--He adds not in this case (as in John 5:25 ), "and now is," because this was not to be till the close of the whole dispensation of mercy.
29. resurrection of life--that is, to life everlasting ( Matthew 25:46 ).
of damnation--It would have been harsh to say "the resurrection of death," though that is meant, for sinners rise from death to death [BENGEL]. The resurrection of both classes is an exercise of sovereign authority; but in the one case it is an act of grace, in the other of justice. (Compare Daniel 12:2 , from which the language is taken). How awfully grand are these unfoldings of His dignity and authority from the mouth of Christ Himself! And they are all in the third person; in what follows He resumes the first person.
30-32. of mine own self do nothing--that is, apart from the Father, or in any interest than My own.
as I hear--that is, "My judgments are all anticipated in the bosom of My Father, to which I have immediate access, and by Me only responded to and reflected. They cannot therefore err, as I live for one end only, to carry into effect the will of Him that sent Me."
31. If I . . . witness of myself--standing alone, and setting up any separate interest.
32. There is another--that is, the Father, as is plain from the connection. How brightly the distinction of the Persons shines out here!
and I know that the witness, &c.--"This is the Son's testimony to the Father's truth (see John 7:28 , John 8:26 John 8:55 ). It testifies to the full consciousness on the part of the Son, even in the days of His humiliation, of the righteousness of the Father" [ALFORD]. And thus He cheered His spirit under the cloud of human opposition which was already gathering over His head.
33-35. Ye sent unto John--(See John 1:19 , &c.).
receive not testimony . . . from man--that is, depend not on human testimony.
but . . . that ye might be saved--"I refer to him merely to aid your salvation."
35. He was a burning and a shining light--literally, "the burning and shining lamp" (or torch):--that is, "the great light of his day." Christ is never called by the humble word here applied to John--a light-bearer--studiously used to distinguish him from his Master, but ever the Light in the most absolute sense.
willing for a season--that is, till they saw that it pointed whither they were not prepared to go.
to rejoice in his light--There is a play of irony here, referring to the hollow delight with which his testimony tickled them.
36-38. I have greater witness--rather, "The witness which I have is greater."
the works . . . bear witness of me--not simply as miracles nor even as a miracle of mercy, but these miracles, as He did them, with a will and a power, a majesty and a grace manifestly His own.
37. the Father himself . . . hath borne witness of me--not referring, probably, to the voice of His baptism, but (as seems from what follows) to the testimony of the Old Testament Scripture [CALVIN, LUCKE, MEYER, LUTHARDT, &c.].
neither heard his voice, &c.--never recognized Him in this character. The words are "designedly mysterious, like many others which our Lord uttered" [STIER].
38. not his word abiding in you--passing now from the Witness to the testimony borne by Him in "the lively oracles" ( Acts 7:38 ): both were alike strangers to their breasts, as was evidenced by their rejecting Him to whom all that witness was borne.
39-42. Search the scriptures, &c.--"In the Scriptures ye find your charter of eternal life; go search them then, and you will find that I am the Great Burden of their testimony; yet ye will not come to Me for that life eternal which you profess to find there, and of which they tell you I am the appointed Dispenser." (Compare Acts 17:11 Acts 17:12 ). How touching and gracious are these last words! Observe here (1) The honor which Christ gives to the Scriptures, as a record which all have a right and are bound to search--the reverse of which the Church of Rome teaches; (2) The opposite extreme is, resting in the mere Book without the living Christ, to direct the soul to whom is its main use and chiefest glory.
41. I receive not honour from men--contrasting His own end with theirs, which was to obtain human applause.
42. not the love of God in you--which would inspire you with a single desire to know His mind and will, and yield yourselves to it, in spite of prejudice and regardless of consequences.
43-47. if another shall come, &c.--How strikingly has this been verified in the history of the Jews! "From the time of the true Christ to our time, sixty-four false Christs have been reckoned by whom they have been deceived" [BENGEL].
44. How can ye believe, "will not" of John 5:40 , and "cannot" here are just different features of the same awful state of the human heart.
45. Do not think I will accuse you to the Father--"My errand hither is not to collect evidence to condemn you at God's bar."
one that accuseth you, even Moses, &c.--"Alas! that will be too well done by another, and him the object of all your religious boastings--Moses," here put for "the Law," the basis of the Old Testament Scriptures.
46. he wrote of me--"an important testimony to the subject of the whole Pentateuch--'of Me'" [ALFORD].
47. If ye believe not--(See Luke 16:31 ).
his writings . . . my words--a remarkable contrast, not absolutely exalting Old Testament Scripture above His own words, but pointing to the office of those venerable documents to prepare Christ's way, to the necessity universally felt for documentary testimony in revealed religion, and perhaps (as STIER adds) to the relation which the comparative "letter" of the Old Testament holds to the more flowing "words" of "spirit and life" which characterize the New Testament.