1. After these things there was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.2. And there was in Jerusalem, at the sheep-market, a pool, which is called in Hebrew Bethesda, having five porches.3. In these lay a great multitude of diseased, blind, lame, withered, waiting for the motion of the water.4. For an angel went down, at intervals, into the pool, and troubled the water. Whosoever went down first after the troubling of the water was cured of whatever disease he formerly had.5. Now there was a man there, who had passed thirty and eight years in infirmity.6. When Jesus saw this man lying, and knew that he had now been a long time diseased, he saith to him, Dost thou wish to be cured? 7. The diseased man answered him, Sir, I have no man to let me down into the pool, when the water is troubled; but while I am coming, another goeth down before me.8. Jesus saith to him, Arise, carry thy bed, and walk.9. And immediately that man was cured, and carried his bed, and walked. And the Sabbath was on that day.
1. There was a feast of the Jews. Though the Evangelist does not expressly state what feast this was, yet the probable conjecture is that he means Pentecost, at least if what is here related took place immediately after that Christ came into Galilee. For immediately after the Passover he set out from Jerusalem, and, as he was passing through Samaria, he reckoned four months to the harvest; having entered Galilee he cured the courtier's son. The Evangelist adds that the feast came afterwards; and, therefore, the order of time leads us to conclude that we ought to understand it to be Pentecost; though I do not dispute about that matter. Now Christ came to Jerusalem to the feast, partly because at that time, on account of the great multitude of people who were assembled, he had the opportunity of publishing his doctrine more extensively, and partly because it was necessary that he should be subject to the Law, that he might redeem us from the bondage of the Law, as we have already explained on former occasions.
2. There was in Jerusalem, at the sheep-market, a pool. The circumstance of the place is added, from which we learn that the miracle was not concealed or known to a few persons only; for the five porches show that the place was celebrated for the great number of persons who resorted to it, and this was also implied in its vicinity to the temple. Besides, the Evangelist expressly says that many diseased persons lay there With respect to the meaning of the name, the learned justly reject the fanciful opinion of Jerome, who, instead of Bethesda, makes it Betheder, and interprets it to mean the house of the flock; for here mention is made of a pool, which was near the sheep-market Those who read it Bethesda, as meaning a place of fishing, have no reason on their side. There is greater probability in the opinion of those who explain it to be a place of pouring out; for the Hebrew word ('sk) (Eshed) signifies flowing out; but the Evangelist, as was then the ordinary way of speaking, pronounced it Esda For I think that the water was conveyed into it by conduits, that the priests might draw out of it; unless perhaps the place received its name from the circumstance that the water was poured into it by means of tubes. It was called the sheep-market, in my opinion, because the beasts which were to be offered in sacrifice were taken there.
3. In these lay a great multitude. It is possible that diseased persons lay in the porches to ask alms when the people were passing there who were going into the temple to worship; and there, too, it was customary to purchase the beasts which were to be offered in sacrifice. Yet at each feast God cured a certain number, that, in this way, he might recommend the worship prescribed in the Law and the holiness of the temple. But might it not appear foolish to believe, while we read of nothing of this kind having been done at a time when religion was in the most flourishing condition, and even since in the age of the Prophets miracles were not performed but on extraordinary occasions, that when the affairs of the nation were so decayed and almost ruinous, the power and grace of God were displayed with more than ordinary lustre? I reply, there were, in my opinion, two reasons. As the Holy Spirit, dwelling in the Prophets, was a sufficient witness of the divine presence, religion at that time needed no other confirmation; for the Law had been sanctioned by abundantly sufficient miracles, and God ceased not to express, by innumerable testimonies, his approbation of the worship which he had enjoined. But about the time of Christ's coming, as they were deprived of the Prophets and their condition was very wretched, and as various temptations pressed upon them on every hand, they needed this extraordinary aid, that they might not think that God had entirely left them, and thus might be discouraged and fall away. For we know that Malachi was the last of the Prophets, and, therefore, he closes his doctrine with this admonition, that the Jews may
remember the Law delivered by Moses, (Malachi 4:4,)
until Christ appear. God saw it to be advantageous to deprive them of the Prophets, and to keep them in suspense for a time, that they might be inflamed with a stronger desire for Christ, and might receive him with greater reverence, when he should be manifested to them. Yet, that testimonies might not be wanting to the temple and sacrifices, and to the whole of that worship by which salvation should be made known to the world, the Lord retained among the Jews this gift of healing, that they might know that there was a good reason why God separated them from the other nations. For God, by curing the diseased, showed plainly -- as by an arm stretched out from heaven -- that he approved of this kind of worship which they derived from the injunction of the Law. Secondly, I have no doubt that God intended to remind them by these signs that the time of redemption was approaching, and that Christ, the Author of salvation, was already at hand, that the minds of all might be the better aroused. I think that signs, in that age, served this twofold purpose; first, that the Jews might know that God was present with them, and thus might remain steady in their obedience to the Law; and, secondly, that they might earnestly hope for a new and unwonted condition.
Of lame, blind, withered. For the purpose of informing us that the diseases cured by our Lord were not of an ordinary kind, the Evangelist enumerates some classes of them; for human remedies could be of no avail to the lame, blind, and withered. It was indeed a mournful spectacle, to see in so large a body of men so many kinds of deformities in the members; but yet the glory of God shone more brightly there than in the sight of the most numerous and best disciplined army. For nothing is more magnificent than when an unwonted power of God corrects and restores the defects of nature; and nothing is more beautiful or more delightful than when, through his boundless goodness, he relieves the distresses of men. For this reason the Lord intended that this should be a splendid theater, in which not only the inhabitants of the country, but strangers also, might perceive and contemplate His majesty; and, as I have already suggested, it was no small ornament and glory of the temple, when God, by stretching out his hand, clearly showed that He was present.
4. For an angel went down. It was, no doubt, a work peculiar to God to cure the sick; but, as He was accustomed to employ the ministration and agency of angels, so He commanded an angel to perform this duty. For this reason the angels are called principalities or powers, (Colossians 1:16;) not that God gives up his power to them, and remains unemployed in heaven, but because, by acting powerfully in them, he magnificently shows and displays his power. It is, therefore, wicked and shameful to imagine any thing as belonging to the angels, or to constitute them the medium of communication between us and God, so as to obscure the glory of God, as if it were at a great distance from us, while, on the contrary, he employs them as the manifestations of his presence. We ought to guard against the foolish speculations of Plato, for the distance between us and God is too great to allow us to go to the angels, that they may obtain favor for us; but, on the contrary, we ought to come direct to Christ, that, by his guidance, protection, and command, we may have the angels as assistants and ministers of our salvation.
At intervals. God might have at once, in a single moment, cured them all:, but, as his miracles have their design, so they ought also to have their limit; as Christ also reminds them that, though there were so many that died in the time of Elisha, not more than one child was raised from the dead, (2 Kings 4:32;) and that, though so many widows were famished during the time of drought, there was but one whose poverty was relieved by Elijah, (1 Kings 17:9; Luke 4:25.) Thus the Lord reckoned it enough to give a demonstration of his presence in the case of a few diseased persons. But the manner of curing, which is here described, shows plainly enough that nothing is more unreasonable than that men should subject the works of God to their own judgment; for pray, what assistance or relief could be expected from troubled water? But in this manner, by depriving us of our own senses, the Lord accustoms us to the obedience of faith. We too eagerly follow what pleases our reason, though contrary to the word of God; and, therefore, in order to render us more obedient to him, he often presents to us those things which contradict our reason. Then only do we show our submissive obedience, when we shut our eyes, and follow the plain word, though our own opinion be that what we are doing will be of no avail. We have an instance of this kind in Naaman a Syrian, whom the prophet sends to Jordan, that he may be cured of his leprosy, (2 Kings 5:10.) At first, no doubt, he despises it as a piece of mockery, but afterwards he comes actually to perceive that, while God acts contrary to human reason, he never mocks or disappoints us.
And troubled the water Yet the troubling of the water was a manifest proof that God freely uses the elements according to his own pleasure, and that He claims for himself the result of the work. For it is an exceedingly common fault to ascribe to creatures what belongs to God alone; but it would be the height of folly to seek, in the troubled water, the cause of the cure. He therefore holds out the outward symbol in such a manner that, by looking at the symbol, the diseased persons may be constrained to raise their eyes to Him who alone is the Author of grace.
5. And there was a man there. The Evangelist collects various circumstances, which prove that the miracle may be relied on as certain. The long duration of the disease had taken away all hope of its being cured. This man complains that he is deprived of the remedy of the water. He had frequently attempted to throw himself into the water, but without success; there was no man to assist him, and this causes the power of Christ to be more strikingly displayed. Such, too, was the import of the command to carry his bed, that all might plainly see that he was cured in no other way than by the agency of Christ; for when he suddenly rises up healthy and strong in all the members in which he was formerly impotent, so sudden a change is the more fitted to arouse and strike the minds of all who beheld it.
6. Wilt thou be made whole? He does not inquire about it, as if it were a doubtful matter, but partly in order to kindle in the man a desire of the favor which was offered to him, and partly to quicken the attention of the witnesses who were present, and who, if they had been thinking of something else, might not have perceived the miracle, as frequently happens in sudden occurrences. For these two reasons, therefore, this preparation was necessary.
7. I have no man. This diseased man does what almost all of us are wont to do; for he limits the assistance of God according to his own thought, and does not venture to promise to himself any thing more than he conceives in his mind. Christ forgives his weakness, and in this we have a mirror of that forbearance of which every one of us has daily experience, when, on the one hand, we keep our attention fixed on the means which are within our reach, and when, on the other hand, contrary to expectation, he displays his hand from hidden places, and thus shows how far his goodness goes beyond the narrow limits of our faith. Besides, this example ought to teach us patience. Thirty-eight years were a long period, during which God had delayed to render to this poor man that favor which, from the beginning, He had determined to confer upon him. However long, therefore, we may be held in suspense, though we groan under our distresses, let us never be discouraged by the tediousness of the lengthened period; for, when our afflictions are long continued, though we discover no termination of them, still we ought always to believe that God is a wonderful deliverer, who, by His power, easily removes every obstacle out of the way.
9. And it was the Sabbath. Christ was well aware how great offense would immediately arise, when they saw a man walk along laden with burdens; for the Law expressly forbids
to carry any burden whatever on the Sabbath-day, (Jeremiah 17:21.)
But there were two reasons why Christ, disregarding this danger, chose to make such an exhibition; first, that the miracle might be more extensively known; and, secondly, that he might give occasion, and, as it were, open up the way for the beautiful discourse which he delivered immediately afterwards. Of so great importance was the knowledge of that miracle, that he found it to be his duty to despise boldly the offense taken by the people, particularly because he had at hand a just defense, by which, though he did not pacify the ungodly, he abundantly refuted their calumnies. We ought therefore to observe this rule, that though the whole world kindle into rage, we ought to proclaim the glory of God and celebrate His works, so far as His glory requires that they should be made known. Nor ought we to be uneasy or discouraged, though our labors should not be immediately successful, provided that we keep in view the object which I have stated, and do not go beyond the limits of our office.