Jesus’ Authority Questioned
Healing at the Pool of Bethesda (John 5:1-15)
Jesus returns to Jerusalem for one of the feasts. There are three feasts that all Jewish men are required to attend: the Passover or Feast of Unleaven Bread, the Feast of Pentecost, and the Feast of Tabernacles (Deuteronomy 16:16). John doesn’t record which feast is being attended, but some of the early manuscripts use a “the” in front of the word feast leading scholars to conclude that it was probably the Passover feast. Of all the possibilities, the Passover feast fits best with the available evidence.
While in Jerusalem Jesus visits the Pool of Bethesda located by the Sheep Gate. The gate gets its name as it is close to the Temple and this was the gate used for delivering sacrifices. The word “pool” here means a larger pond used for swimming or bathing. The pool was called Bethesda, or “house of mercy,” because of its reputation. An angel would stir up the water every once in a while and the first person to enter the pool thereafter was healed of his infirmities.
Therefore, the pool became a gathering place for many sick people who hoped for a chance to be healed.
Near the pool was a man who had an unspecified infirmity for the past 38 years. Though he was close to the pool, he was unable to be healed because he had no aid and wasn’t able to reach the waters quick enough on his own to be the first one in.
Jesus asked if he would like to be healed. The man didn’t deny it, but stated it was unlikely since there was no one to aid him into the water. To this Jesus tells him to rise, take up his bed, and walk. The man was immediately healed; once again we see there was no need for a recovery period. But more importantly, we must take note that the man did not know who was speaking to him. The man demonstrated no faith, no faith was asked of him, yet Jesus was able to heal him.
This ended up causing a small stir among the Jews. He was healed on the Sabbath, a day in which no work was to be done, yet this man was carrying his bed roll with him. When the man was scolded, he replied that the man who had healed him had instructed him to carry his bed. It was sound reason. After all, if a man is able to heal by the power of God, surely anything he said to do along with it must be authorized by God. Of course, the Jews now want to talk to the man who authorized something they saw as violating Moses’ Law. Unfortunately the man wasn’t certain who had did the healing and on returning to the place he was healed, he couldn’t find Jesus.
Later, Jesus finds the man at the Temple. He tells the man to be thankful that he has been healed and no longer sin else the consequences of those sins leave him in a worse state. The statement seems to imply that the man’s infirmity was caused by a sin he had committed in his youth that left him bedridden and friendless for 38 years.
Now knowing that it was Jesus who had healed him, he returned to the authorities to tell them. It is not proper to attribute an evil motive to his action. He went to tell the authorities who had made him whole, not who had said to carry his bed roll. Perhaps he thought that telling the authorities that it was the noted Jesus who had healed him would clear up the matter, but if such was the case, he was mistaken.
Jesus is both the Messiah and God’s Son (John 5:16-18)Thus began the hunting of Jesus by the Jewish authorities because he had healed a man on the Sabbath and apparently (to them) encouraged another to break the Sabbath laws. Though a trial had not been conducted, they were ready to kill Jesus over these matters.At some point Jesus is confronted regarding the matter and his response was that both God and himself have been working (Hebrews 1:3). “The answer of Jesus to his accusers goes to the very root of the matter. The basis on which the Sabbath rested was that God had ceased his creative labors on the seventh day. Jesus shows that God's rest was not idleness. The Father had continued his works of love and mercy. He worked in these works right on till Jesus came; "now," says the Son, "I work as my Father works. There is no suspension on the Sabbath of works of benevolence and mercy." The Father's example is the pattern given to direct man” [People’s New Testament Commentary].God was involved in the healing on the Sabbath, thereby showing that what happened, including the command to pick up the bed roll, was in accordance to God’s will. However, Jesus pushes the point further by saying that he too has been working. Jesus is implying that the healing also involved him, something to which he had the right because God is his Father. To put it plainly, Jesus is saying that the healing came about by the power of both the Father and himself, which, of course, is a claim of deity. Jesus is pointing out that as God, he would not be issuing commands contrary to himself (Matthew 12:8; Mark 2:28; Luke 6:5).Jesus’ defense did not endear himself to the Jews. They were still convinced that he had broken the Sabbath laws, but now they also saw him as a blasphemer because he made himself out to be equal to God. In the later they came to the correct conclusion, he was equal to God (Philippians 2:6), but they rejected the truth outright.
Jesus then begins a discourse on himself and his work.
Jesus’ Relation with God, the Father (John 5:19-23)United in action. Jesus is acting in accordance with God’s will. Jesus’ actions are in harmony with God’s (John 10:30). United in love, counsel, and plan. God loves His son and has made him privy of His plans. There will be greater works done than merely healing a man on the Sabbath day.United in the ability to give life. God is able to raise the dead (I Kings 17:22; II Kings 4:32-35) and Jesus has the same ability (Luke 7:14-15; 8:54; John 11:43). Further, Jesus will chose to whom he will give life (John 11:25).
United in judgment. God has given Jesus the full right to judge men. God has full trust in His Son and will not override his judgments.
Jesus’ Rights (John 5:23-30)A right to receive honor. Jesus claims that his unified relationship with the Father gives him the right to receive equal honor from man. A rejection of him is equal to a rejection of the Father.The power to give life. Jesus lays out the criteria for receiving life from him. A person must listen to his teachings and believe that the Father holds everlasting life (Hebrews 11:6). The time has come for the spiritually dead to hear the voice of Jesus and live (Ephesians 2:1; Colossians 2:13). Hearing is not a passive activity, but in the same sense your mother used when she asked, “Did you hear me?” A person who listens to Jesus is a person who does what he asks of him. Just as God has independent life and the ability to give life to others, Jesus has the same power. Authority to execute judgment. One day Jesus will call forth all the dead from the graves and pass judgment on them based on their deeds in life. Jesus’ judgment will be righteous because the standard on which the judgments will be based will be in complete harmony with God, the Father’s will. Jesus’ judgments will be unbiased because he is not promoting an agenda separate from the Father (Psalm 40:7-8).
In each right claimed by Jesus, he is further demonstrating the unity of Father and himself in all things.
Witnesses (John 5:31-39)The claims Jesus just made would be ludicrous for a mere man to make. Jesus is not expecting people to accept his claims on his mere say-so. Though what he states is true, a person expecting others to believe only on his own word would be advocating a falsehood (John 8:14-18). Jesus calls upon four witnesses to demonstrate that what he stated is truth.The Testimony of John the Baptist. John was accepted as a prophet of God (John 1:6-7). He spoke as God directed (John 1:15, 29-34). If Jesus was relying on John’s testimony as a mere man, it would be inadequate because Jesus is claiming a relationship and rights beyond the reach of men. It is because God spoke through John that John’s testimony is important. Jesus starts with this witness because John is accessible, not because he was necessarily the best witness. They willingly accepted the guidance John gave for a time, thus they should be willing accept his testimony.The Testimony of Jesus’ Works. A stronger, more decisive witness is that which comes from above man (I John 5:9). God Himself has given testimony on behalf of Jesus because the miracles done by Jesus are a demonstration that God is behind him (Hebrews 2:4). But Jesus said it is the works God has given him to finish that provides the strongest evidence. Jesus came to save mankind and in order to do that he had to give himself as a sacrifice. This statement foreshadows the end when Jesus cried out from the cross, “It is finished.” (John 19:30).The Testimony of God, the Father. Jesus states that there has been direct testimony from God. In this he is probably referring to God’s words at his baptism (Matthew 3:17). But there are further testimonies given by God through the mouths of the Prophets. This has long been a problem with Israel. God spoke the Ten Commandments to them at Mount Sinai, but they wanted Moses between them and God (Exodus 20:19; Deuteronomy 4:12). Moses represents the rare man who truly heard God and say God for who He is (Numbers 12:8). Jesus is implying that these Jews are not able to measure up to the faith of Moses whom they claim they follow.They do not receive God’s testimony because they are not following God’s word. If they truly accepted God’s word, then they would believe Jesus (Psalms 81:11).
The Testimony of the Scriptures. They claim to be knowledgeable about God’s word because they believe they can gain eternal life by following them. Yet these same Scriptures testify of Jesus through the prophecies made (Deuteronomy 18:15, 18; Isaiah 49:7). The prophecies foretold that salvation would come through the Messiah, but now that the Messiah is here they are unwilling to accept him.
Why the Jews Rejected the Truth (John 5:40-47)They don’t want to come to Jesus. Jesus was not accepted primarily because the Jews didn’t want Jesus as the Messiah (John 1:11; 3:19; Isaiah 53:1-3). Jesus has been given no honor and recall the warning that he gave in John 5:23.They don’t really love God. In words they might claim to love God, but their actions show otherwise. They accept people who have no more authority that themselves, but when Jesus came in the name of God, they rejected him (John 8:42). The evidence shows that these people are worldly minded (Romans 8:7-8; I John 2:15).They wanted the praise of men. There is no way for the Jews to believe when they prefer the honor of men over honor from God (Matthew 23:5; Romans 2:29; John 12:43). The only honor that matters is the honor received from God (II Corinthians 10:18).
They don’t really believe Moses. Moses wrote about Jesus, but they refuse to accept what Moses says. Moses will stand in testimony against them. They claim to accept the writings of Moses, but refuse to listen when they don’t want to do so. Thus, it cannot be expected that they will believe the Prophet Moses foretold was coming. In other words, a person willing to reject the inspired word of God in one area has no foundation to accept it in other areas.