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Jesus manifested God's glory through 8 miraculous signs in the gospel of John. These are a revelation of the feast of tabernacles.
Category - Bible Commentaries
We now come to the third miracle-sign, where Jesus healed the man who had been an invalid for 38 years. As we will see, according to the parallelism, this sign correlates with the sixth sign in John, where Jesus healed the blind man (John 9). One was healed near the pool of Bethesda, the other near the pool of Siloam.
John 5:1 begins, saying,
1 After these things there was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.
We are not told specifically which feast this was. Dr. Bullinger suggests that it may have been the feast of Purim. But it was not mandatory for anyone to go to Jerusalem to celebrate Purim, which was a feast dating only from the time of the kingdom of Persia in the book of Esther. There were just three feasts that all the men of Israel were to keep if possible: Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles (Exodus 23:17).
It seems likely that Jesus would have avoided going to Jerusalem unnecessarily.
John 5:2 continues,
2 Now there is in Jerusalem by the sheep gate a pool, which is called in Hebrew Bethesda, having five porticoes.
The miracle took place at the pool of Bethesda, which was located near the Sheep Gate, suggesting that this was the feast of Passover. The Sheep Gate (now known as the Lion’s Gate) at that time was located outside of the city wall. Bethesda is a compound word from beth (“house”) and chesed (“mercy, lovingkindness”).
As always, the location and timing of any sign contributes to our understanding of its spiritual meaning. In this case, as we will see shortly, the invalid represents the Israelites who had lacked sufficient faith to enter the Promised Land at Kadesh-barnea. Their lack of faith made them spiritual invalids for the next 38 years (Deut. 2:14). They were given mercy according to God’s lovingkindness when, at last, they were able to enter the Promised Land under Joshua.
Hence, the man at the pool of Bethesda had been an invalid for 38 years as well (John 5:5). The miracle of healing prophesied of the day when the church is healed of its own infirmity at the end of its own wilderness sojourn.
After healing the invalid, both he and Jesus would have walked through the Sheep Gate into Jerusalem, “like a lamb that is led to slaughter” (Isaiah 53:7). This relates back to the day that Israel crossed the Jordan into the Promised land on the tenth day of the first month (Joshua 4:19), the day when the lambs were to be selected for Passover (Exodus 12:3).
So there is no doubt that the healed man walked into Jerusalem with Jesus, even as the Israelites crossed the Jordan into the Promised Land with Joshua, the type of Christ. It also suggests that this healing took place on the same day of the year. The healed man then qualified as an unblemished lamb as part of the body of Christ.
The opposition coming from the priests, which comprises the rest of John 5, represents the four-day time of inspection to be sure that the lamb was indeed unblemished. As we will see, the priests failed to appreciate the miracle of healing that had just taken place, focusing instead on the fact that Jesus had told the man to carry his pallet on the Sabbath.
In other words, the priests inspected the lamb and pronounced him blemished, for they refused to recognize the healing that had taken place. The reality—from God’s perspective—was that the Lamb, both Head and body, was fully healed and therefore unblemished, even as both Joshua and the Israelites had been shown mercy, allowing them to enter the Promised Land.
The Israelites under the Old Covenant were disqualified from entering the Promised Land. But after 40 years in the wilderness, God gave them a “second covenant” (Deut. 29:1) in the plains of Moab. The terms of this second covenant were different from the first that was given at Mount Horeb. The first was man’s oath to God; the second was God’s oath to man. Hence, it was based on the New Covenant.
It was the New Covenant, given 38 years after the Old Covenant, that qualified them to enter the land with Joshua. So also, when the story was replayed in John 5, the man that was healed after 38 years entered Jerusalem with Jesus, the Mediator of the New Covenant. The priests failed to recognize the truth, because they had rejected the New Covenant in their hearts already by rejecting its Mediator.
The priests’ rejection of the Lamb in John 5 broke the prophetic type, inadvertently declaring that the Israelites had been unworthy of crossing the Jordan as unblemished lambs. Furthermore, in their official capacity representing Judea at the time, they pronounced their own nation (under the Old Covenant) to be blemished and unqualified for entrance into the Kingdom.
This story, then, explains John’s earlier statement that “He came to his own, and those who were His own did not receive Him” (John 1:11). Their rejection of Jesus as the Messiah and as the Lamb of God did nothing to disqualify Jesus and His body but actually disqualified the priests who had declared Him to be blemished.
John 5:3, 4 (NASB) reads,
3 In these lay a multitude of those who were sick, blind, lame, and withered, [waiting for the moving of the waters; 4 for an angel of the Lord went down at certain seasons into the pool and stirred up the water; whoever then first, after the stirring up of the water, stepped in was made well from whatever disease with which he was afflicted.]
Most of the above passage is placed in brackets, indicating that the oldest Greek texts omit this part of the text, though it was included in the ancient Syriac version. Dr. Bullinger’s notes tell us:
“If it be an addition it must have been a marginal note to explain the ‘troubling’ of v. 7, which gradually got into the text.”
Whenever there is a question like this, I always consult Dr. Ivan Panin’s Numeric New Testament, since he has determined authenticity through the use of gematria. The mathematical patterns seen throughout Scripture are God’s fingerprints, and any addition or omission destroys those patterns. Panin determined that the passage in the above brackets was indeed added later and should be omitted.
Hence, we ought to remove those words from the inspired text and assign them to an ancient scribe’s marginal notes. Whether an angel or an earth tremor actually stirred the waters is a mere opinion and may be treated accordingly. John 5:7 tells us only what the invalid believed and explained to Jesus: “Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, but while I am coming, another steps down before me.”
John himself does not tell us that an angel actually stirred the waters, although it seems that the invalid believed this and that this was the common belief whenever an earthquake occurred. It was for this reason that “a multitude of those who were sick, blind, lame, and withered” had gathered at the pool. At any rate, Jesus Himself gave no validity to the common belief but simply healed the man.
John 5:5 says,
5 And a certain man was there who had been thirty-eight years in his sickness.
It is curious that Jesus healed only one man, “a certain man,” out of the multitude who had gathered at the pool. Perhaps he was the only one who had been an invalid for 38 years. This one man was a prophetic type of the Israelites who had spent an extra 38 years in the wilderness (Deut. 2:14).
We may ask as well why the man had not been healed at the previous Passover when Jesus went to Jerusalem and cast out the money changers (John 2:13-15). Apparently, 37 years was too soon for the man to be healed, for that would not have fit the pre-written script.
John 5:6-9 continues,
6 When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been a long time in that condition, He said to him, “Do you wish to get well.” 7 The sick man answered Him, “Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, but while I am coming, another steps down before me.” 8 Jesus said to him, “Arise, take up your pallet, and walk.” Now it was the Sabbath on that day.
The invalid’s response to Jesus’ question showed no particular faith, nor did he appear to know who Jesus was. He probably thought that Jesus was volunteering to assist him if, by chance, the waters were stirred at that moment. Such help would certainly be viewed by all as an act of mercy. But Jesus ignored this entirely and simply commanded him to “Arise, take up your pallet, and walk.” The time for mercy did not depend upon an earthquake but upon the time established by Israel at the end of their prophetic wilderness journey.
John 5:9 tells us that “it was the Sabbath” when Jesus healed the man. This provided the main reason for the priestly opposition and, in fact, the same issue was used as “proof” that Jesus was not really the Messiah. They assumed that their traditions and Sabbath restrictions were positively the word of God, for they could not separate man’s opinion from God’s law.
But from the standpoint of prophecy and prophetic types, we must ask ourselves why, in the foreknowledge of God, this miracle of healing occurred on a Sabbath. Perhaps God just intended to “stir the waters,” that is, to cause men to be troubled. But I believe it is much more than that. In fact, this sign reveals the heart of God and the true meaning of Sabbath. The sign was designed to confront the priests on their man-made view of the Sabbath.
The Promised Land represented entering into “rest” (i.e., Sabbath). If the Israelites had entered the Promised Land on the 50th Jubilee from Adam at their first opportunity, they would have entered God’s rest. But the people believed the evil report of the ten spies, and so, as Heb. 3:11 says,
11 As I swore in My wrath, “They shall not enter My rest.”
There are three levels of rest, each corresponding to a feast day: Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles. God’s rest was the Jubilee, which is the preparation day for Tabernacles. If the Israelites under Moses had believed the good report of Caleb and Joshua and had blown the trumpet of the Jubilee, it would have signaled that they were ready to enter God’s rest five days later at the feast of Tabernacles.
Potentially, they could have inherited the Kingdom and conquered Canaan during the week of Tabernacles. But they were faithless, and God swore that they would not enter His rest.
They were sentenced to remain in the wilderness for 40 years. Having already spent about 18 months in the wilderness since leaving Egypt, they had to sojourn another 38½ years before the mercy of God allowed them to cross the Jordan and enter their rest.
As we showed already, they actually entered the land just before the feast of Passover, not the feast of Tabernacles as originally offered to them. This was only the first level of “rest.” It was not the highest “rest,” and in fact Heb. 4:8-10 tells us,
8 For if Joshua had given them rest, he [David, in Psalm 95:11] would not have spoken of another day after that. 9 There remains therefore a Sabbath rest for the people of God. 10 For the one who has entered His rest has himself also rested from his works, as God did from His.
The greater rest (God’s rest) is the Jubilee, where all debts are cancelled, and every man returns to the inheritance that he lost through the sin of Adam. In practical terms, this “rest” is where we cease from our own works, desires, and words, as Isaiah 58:13 describes. In other words, the true Sabbath means that we, like Jesus, become an AMEN people.
Jesus’ third sign occurred on a Sabbath in order to connect it to the day that the Israelites entered the Promised Land. Although their “rest” was only the first level of rest, nonetheless, it illustrated the good purpose of the Sabbath on its introductory level. The church as a whole entered its second level of rest on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2. We now await the fulfillment of the Jubilee and Tabernacles, through which we enter God’s rest.