The Berean Expositor
Volume 54 - Page 54 of 210
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Chapter 5:
The central chapters of the Gospel are related to the various festivals of the Jewish
year: Passover (6: 4), Tabernacles (7: 2), Dedication (10: 22) and Passover again (11: 55).
But the feast mentioned in 5: 1 is not identified, and there have been many guesses.
Passover (Irenaeus, Luther, Lightfoot), Pentecost (Chrysostom), Purim (Kepler), others
suggest Trumpets, but surely it is wiser to leave the matter as John records it:
"Some time later, Jesus went up to Jerusalem for a feast of the Jews" (5: 1).
At the sheep gate there was a pool called in Hebrew Bethesda (place of outpouring).
There were five colonnades in which lay a crowd of infirm people. Professor F. F. Bruce
comments here "Jerusalem may have been in ruins for several years when this gospel was
written, but the Evangelist envisages it as it was when he knew it and describes its natural
features in the present tense". No wise person will therefore build doctrine on the tense
of the verb here, for to do so would be building on a shaky foundation. The belief at this
time was that an angel of the Lord came down to the pool and disturbed the water. The
person who stepped in first after this was healed.
There was a man there who had suffered for 38 years, possibly with paralysis, since he
was unable to get into the water unaided (5: 2-4). The Lord Jesus saw him and learned
that he had been a sufferer for a long period. He asked him, "Do you want to get well?"
The man explained that he had no one to help him get into the pool. Someone else
always got in first.
"Then Jesus said to him, `Get up! Pick up your mat and walk'. At once the man was
cured; he picked up his mat and walked. The day on which this took place was a
Sabbath, and so the Jews said to the man who had been healed, `It is the Sabbath; the law
forbids you to carry your mat'." (5: 8-10).
This was the first of the violations of the Jewish Sabbath rules that led to so much
bitterness and opposition from the religious leaders (cf. 9: 14, 16).  There are 13
occurrences of the word "sabbath" in this Gospel and 13 references to Moses. The
Sabbath, with all the added legalism of the Rabbis added to it, occupied a dominant place
in the life and heart of every orthodox Jew. Dean Farrar writes:
"It had become the most distinctive and the most passionately reverenced of all
ordinances which separated the Jew from the Gentiles as a peculiar people. It was at
once the sign of their exclusive privileges, and the centre of their barren formalism.
Their traditions, their patriotism, even their obstinacy, were all enlisted in its scrupulous
maintenance . . . . . their devotion to it was only deepened by the universal ridicule,
inconvenience and loss which it entailed upon them in the heathen world."
The Rabbis had added scores of commands to the Scriptural teaching, and these
commands formed a heavy weight on the people. There were 39 "primitive" kinds of
work (including ploughing, sowing, and reaping) which, if done presumptuously on the
Sabbath, rendered a man liable to death. "Derivative" work was, for example, "digging",
for that was a kind of ploughing; and "plucking" ears of corn, for that was a kind of
reaping. We remember the upset caused by the disciples plucking corn on the sabbath