Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
After this there was a feast of the Jews; and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.
Joh 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.
Now there is at Jerusalem by the sheep market a pool, which is called in the Hebrew tongue Bethesda, having five porches.
2, 3. sheep market—The supplement should be (as in Margin) "sheep [gate]," mentioned in Ne 3:1, 32.
Bethesda—that is, "house (place) of mercy," from the cures wrought there.
five porches—for shelter to the patients.
In these lay a great multitude of impotent folk, of blind, halt, withered, waiting for the moving of the water.
For an angel went down at a certain season into the pool, and troubled the water: whosoever then first after the troubling of the water stepped in was made whole of whatsoever disease he had.
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 Joh 5:4 and part of Joh 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 Joh 5:7 is unintelligible without Joh 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).
And a certain man was there, which had an infirmity thirty and eight years.
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.
When Jesus saw him lie, and knew that he had been now a long time in that case, he saith unto him, Wilt thou be made whole?
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 (Joh 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 Mr 10:51).
The impotent man answered him, Sir, I have no man, when the water is troubled, to put me into the pool: but while I am coming, another steppeth down before me.
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.
Jesus saith unto him, Rise, take up thy bed, and walk.
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.
And immediately the man was made whole, and took up his bed, and walked: and on the same day was the sabbath.
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.
The Jews therefore said unto him that was cured, It is the sabbath day: it is not lawful for thee to carry thy bed.
10-16. The Jews—that is, those in authority. (See on Joh 1:19.)
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 (Ne 13:15; Jer 17:21). But when the man referred them to "Him that had made him whole" (Joh 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.
He answered them, He that made me whole, the same said unto me, Take up thy bed, and walk.
Then asked they him, What man is that which said unto thee, Take up thy bed, and walk?
And he that was healed wist not who it was: for Jesus had conveyed himself away, a multitude being in that place.
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 (Mt 12:14-19).
Afterward Jesus findeth him in the temple, and said unto him, Behold, thou art made whole: sin no more, lest a worse thing come unto thee.
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" (Ps 66:13, 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."
The man departed, and told the Jews that it was Jesus, which had made him whole.
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" (Joh 1:5, 11) [Olshausen].
And therefore did the Jews persecute Jesus, and sought to slay him, because he had done these things on the sabbath day.
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.
But Jesus answered them, My Father worketh hitherto, and I work.
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."
Therefore the Jews sought the more to kill him, because he not only had broken the sabbath, but said also that God was his Father, making himself equal with God.
18. God was his Father—literally, "His own [or peculiar] Father," (as in Ro 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.
Then answered Jesus and said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do: for what things soever he doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise.
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?
For the Father loveth the Son, and sheweth him all things that himself doeth: and he will shew him greater works than these, that ye may marvel.
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 (see on Joh 1:1; Joh 1:18), whose interests are one, even as their nature, 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 (Joh 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.
For as the Father raiseth up the dead, and quickeneth them; even so the Son quickeneth whom he will.
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.
For the Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son:
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.
That all men should honour the Son, even as they honour the Father. He that honoureth not the Son honoureth not the Father which hath sent him.
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.
Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life.
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 Joh 3:18; 1Jo 5:12, 13).
is passed—"hath passed over"
from death unto life—What a transition! (Compare 1Jo 3:14).
Verily, verily, I say unto you, The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God: and they that hear shall live.
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 Joh 5:28. Here He rises from the calmer phrase "hearing his word" (Joh 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 Joh 5:24.
For as the Father hath life in himself; so hath he given to the Son to have life in himself;
26. given to the Son, &c.—Does this refer to the essential life of the Son before all time (Joh 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.
And hath given him authority to execute judgment also, because he is the Son of man.
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.
Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice,
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 Joh 5:25), "and now is," because this was not to be till the close of the whole dispensation of mercy.
And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation.
29. resurrection of life—that is, to life everlasting (Mt 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 Da 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.
I can of mine own self do nothing: as I hear, I judge: and my judgment is just; because I seek not mine own will, but the will of the Father which hath sent me.
30-32. of mine own self do nothing—that is, apart from the Father, or in any interest than My own. (See on Joh 5:19).
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."
If I bear witness of myself, my witness is not true.
31. If I … witness of myself—standing alone, and setting up any separate interest.
There is another that beareth witness of me; and I know that the witness which he witnesseth of me is true.
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 Joh 7:28; 8:26, 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.
Ye sent unto John, and he bare witness unto the truth.
33-35. Ye sent unto John—(See Joh 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."
But I receive not testimony from man: but these things I say, that ye might be saved.
He was a burning and a shining light: and ye were willing for a season to rejoice in his light.
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. (See on Joh 1:6).
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.
But I have greater witness than that of John: for the works which the Father hath given me to finish, the same works that I do, bear witness of me, that the Father hath sent me.
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.
And the Father himself, which hath sent me, hath borne witness of me. Ye have neither heard his voice at any time, nor seen his shape.
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].
And ye have not his word abiding in you: for whom he hath sent, him ye believe not.
38. not his word abiding in you—passing now from the Witness to the testimony borne by Him in "the lively oracles" (Ac 7:38): both were alike strangers to their breasts, as was evidenced by their rejecting Him to whom all that witness was borne.
Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me.
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 Ac 17:11, 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.
And ye will not come to me, that ye might have life.
I receive not honour from men.
41. I receive not honour from men—contrasting His own end with theirs, which was to obtain human applause.
But I know you, that ye have not the love of God in you.
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.
I am come in my Father's name, and ye receive me not: if another shall come in his own name, him ye will receive.
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].
How can ye believe, which receive honour one of another, and seek not the honour that cometh from God only?
44. How can ye believe, &c.—(See on Joh 5:40,41). The "will not" of Joh 5:40, and "cannot" here are just different features of the same awful state of the human heart.
Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father: there is one that accuseth you, even Moses, in whom ye trust.
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.
For had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed me: for he wrote of me.
46. he wrote of me—"an important testimony to the subject of the whole Pentateuch—'of Me'" [Alford].
But if ye believe not his writings, how shall ye believe my words?
47. If ye believe not—(See Lu 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.