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 (אשך) (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.
Cambridge Bible Plummer
2. there is at Jerusalem] This is no evidence whatever that the Gospel was written before the destruction of Jerusalem. The pool would still exist, even if the building was destroyed; and such a building, as being of the nature of a hospital, would be likely to be spared. Even if all were destroyed the present tense would be natural here. See on Joh_11:18.
by the sheep market] There is no ‘market’ in the Greek, and no reason for supposing that it ought to be supplied. The margin is probably right: sheep-gate. We know from Neh_3:1; Neh_3:32; Neh_12:39 that there was a sheep-gate; so called probably from sheep for sacrifice being sold there. It was near the Temple. The adjective for ‘sheep-’ occurs nowhere else in N.T. but here, and nowhere in O.T. but in the passages in Nehemiah. But so little is known of this gate, and the ellipsis of ‘gate’ is so unparalleled that we cannot regard this explanation as certain. Another translation is possible, with a change of case in the word for pool; Now there is in Jerusalem, by the sheep-pool, a place called in the Hebrew tongue Bethesda.
in the Hebrew tongue] ‘Hebrew’ means Aramaic, the language spoken at the time, not the old Hebrew of the Scriptures. See on Joh_20:16.
Bethesda] ‘House of mercy,’ or possibly ‘House of the Portico,’ or again ‘of the Olive.’ The name Bethesda does not occur elsewhere. The traditional identification with Birket Israil is not commonly advocated now. The ‘Fountain of the Virgin’ is an attractive identification, as the water is intermittent to this day. This fountain is connected with the pool of Siloam, and some think that Siloam is Bethesda. That S. John speaks of Bethesda here and Siloam in Joh_9:7, is not conclusive against this: for Bethesda might be the name of the building and Siloam of the pool; and the Greek for ‘called’ here is strictly ‘called in addition’ or ‘surnamed,’ as if the place had some other name.
five porches] Or, colonnades. These would be to shelter the sick. The place seems to have been a kind of charitable institution.
Now there is in Jerusalem. A phrase denoting intimate acquaintance with the topography of the city, and the present tense suggests either a hint of a ruin yet existing after the fall of Jerusalem, or it may betray the fact that the evangelist wrote down at the very time some details of the incident which formed the occasion of the following discourse, and never, in his later editing of the document, omitted or altered the form of his sentence. At the sheep (market) or (gate) a pool, surnamed in Hebrew Bethesda, having five porticoes or porches. The adjective προβατικῇ requires some substantive to be introduced, and since there is no reference to any sheep market in the Old Testament, little justification can be found for the gloss contained in the Authorized version. There was a “sheep gate” mentioned in Neh_3:1, Neh_3:32 and Neh_12:39. There is no reason against this method of supplying the sense, except this, that there is no other instance of the word πύλη, or “gate,” being omitted after this fashion. The “sheep gate” stood next. in Nehemiah’s recital, to the “fish gate,” and it was built by the priests. The old “sheep gate” is now known by the name of St. Stephen’s Gate, to the north of the Haram es-Sherif, or temple area from which the path leads down into the valley of the Kedron, and if “gate” be the proper term to add to προβατικη and we have its site fixed by the modern St. Stephen’s Gate, then we must look for the pool surnamed Bethesda in that vicinity. Eusebius and Jerome speak of a piscina probatica as visible in their day, but do not determine its site. Robinson did not accept the identification of the sheep gate with St. Stephen’s Gate, and places the former more to the south, and nearer to what is now called the Fountain of the virgin. This fountain, on Robinson’s visit, displayed some curious phenomena of periodical and intermittent ebullition, receiving a supply of water from another source. It was found by Robinson to be connected by a tunnel with the fountain of Siloam, and the relations of these wells have been quite recently submitted to fresh examination. Robinson identified this pool with “Solomon’s Pool” of Josephus and “King’s Pool” of Nehemiah, and thought it might be the original pool of Bethesda. Neander and Tholuck incline to agree with him. The observations of Robinson have been confirmed by Tobler, and at least show that what certainly happens now in some of these fountains may have been phenomena constantly expected at some other fountain bearing the name now before us, on the northeastern side of the Haram area. Within the (sheep gate) St. Stephen’s Gate the traditional site of Bethesda is pointed out. The modern name is Birket lsrael, and this tank, from the accumulation of rubbish, does not now show its original extent; neither does it now hold water, but receives the drainage of neighbouring houses. A church, near that of St. Anne, was built by the Crusaders over a well, in this immediate vicinity—a spot which was supposed to be the site of the angelic disturbance. Colonel Wilson prefers this traditional site to that fixed upon by Robinson. So also Sir G. Grove, in Smith’s ‘Bible Dict.’ The five porches, or porticoes, may have been a columnar structure of pentagonal form, which sheltered the sick and the impotent folk. At present no indubitable relic of this building has been discovered. Alford (7th edit.) quotes a letter which makes it probable that Siloam was Bethesda, and the remains of four columns in the east wall of that pool, with four others in the centre, show that a structure with five openings or porches might easily have been erected there. Bethesda, which is said to be the Hebrew (that is, Aramaic) surname of the pool, is very doubtful. Probably this is the correct form of the text, though there are many variants, such as Bethzatha, in א, 33, Tischendorf (8th edit.); Bethsaida, in some versions and Tertullian. It seems generally allowed that its significance (אדָּסְחֶתיבֵּ) is “house of grace or mercy,” and that it derived its reference from the dispensation there of God’s providential gifts. The healing virtue of waters charged with iron and carbonic acid and other gas is too well known to need reference, and the remarkable cures derived from their use may account forevery part of the statement which was here written by John. Eusebius speaks of these waters as “reddened,” so he thought, with the blood of sacrifices, but tar more probably by chatybeate earth.
Pop Comm Bible Schaff
Joh_5:2.Now there is at Jerusalem by the sheep-pool the pool which is surnamed in the Hebrew tongue Bethesda, having five porticos. The use of the present tense, there is, may seem to indicate that the pool still remained after the destruction of Jerusalem; unless indeed we adopt the opinion that, as John in all probability committed to writing very early his recollections of his Lord’s discourses and works, an incidental mark of his practice is left us in this verse.—The translation of the words that follow is much disputed. The Greek word for ‘pool’ may be written in two ways. That which is usually adopted gives the meaning, ‘there is by the sheep ….a pool, that which is surnamed,’ etc.; and the question is how the ellipsis is to be filled up. There is no authority for supplying ‘market,’ as is done in the Authorised Version; and that method of supplying the blank is now generally abandoned. The idea of most writers on the Gospel is that the ‘sheep-gate’ (Neh_3:1; Neh_3:32; Neh_12:39) is intended, but we have found no example of a similar omission of the word ‘gate.’ We are thus led to examine the other mode of writing the Greek word ‘pool,’ from which results the translation, ‘there is by the sheep-pool the pool that is surnamed;’ and to this rendering of the sentence there appears to be no valid objection It may, indeed, seem strange that the situation of the pool called Bethesda should be defined by its proximity to another pool about which no information is preserved; but it must be remembered that in questions relating to the topography of Jerusalem arguments from the silence of historians are not worth much. Early Christian writers also (Eusebius and Jerome) do actually speak of a sheep-pool in Jerusalem in connection with this passage. Ammonius tells us that the pool was so called from the habit of gathering together there the sheep that were to be sacrificed for the feast: similarly Theodore of Mopsuestia. And it is very interesting to notice that an early traveller in the Holy Land (about the first half of the fourth century) speaks of ‘twin pools in Jerusalem, having five porticos.’ We conclude therefore that John defines the position of the pool with which the following narrative is connected by its nearness to another pool, probably of larger size, and at that time well known as the ‘sheep-pool.’ It is remarkable that of the other pool the proper name is not mentioned, but only a Hebrew or Syro-Chaldaic second name or surname. What this name is and what it signifies can hardly be determined with certainty, as several forms of the name are given in Greek manuscripts and other authorities. If we assume that Bethesda is the true form, the most probable explanation is ‘House of grace.’ It is easy to see that such a name might naturally arise, and might indeed become the common appellation amongst those who associated a beneficent healing power with the waters of the pool; and it is also easy to understand how it was the second name that lingered in John’s thought,—a name which to him bore a high significance, recalling the ‘grace’ which came through Jesus Christ (Joh_1:17), and of which a wonderful manifestation was made at this very spot. The pool called Bethesda had five porticos; probably it was five-sided, and surrounded by an arched verandah or colonnade, closed in on the outward side. The hot springs of Tiberias are so surrounded at this day, and it is at least possible that the style of architecture may be traditional.
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, (Mal_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.
In these (porches) lay a multitude of sick folk, blind, lame, withered, [waiting for the moving of the water; for an angel went down season by season into the pool, and troubled the waters: he then that first stepped in after the troubling of the water became whole of whatsoever disease he had]. The interesting gloss discussed below conveys the idea of magical cure, without moral significance, and attributes such cure to angelic ministry. This is the natural and popular explanation of the Bethesda healings, and would easily occur to a copyist who has not taken pains to use New Testament diction. Wunsche quotes from ‘Chullin,’ fol. 105, b, a testimony that “deadly qualities of water were attributed to demons, and healing ones to the angels.” The crowds which gather in all countries round medicinal and intermittent springs are still unable to explain their curative quality by scientific analogies; and there is nothing more likely to have suggested itself to the mind of a copyist than the intervention of an angel. The absence from Scripture elsewhere of non-moral miracles is powerful internal reason for the lack of authenticity for the poetic gloss. The text. when deprived of this dubious gloss, loses all character that is inconsistent with the authenticity of the narrative. The close of Joh_5:3, “waiting for the moving of the waters,” is far better attested than Joh_5:4, and, moreover, is consistent with John’s manner, and with well ascertained matters of fact; and the clause would give authentic ground for the gloss that fellows. Hoffmann and Hengstenberg defend the passage, and believe that the angel at “the waters” in the Apocalypse betrays the same hand. But there can be no fair comparison between an historical fact and a symbolical figure.
Pop Comm Bible Schaff
Joh_5:3.In these lay a multitude of sick folk, of blind, halt, withered. Under the shelter of these porticos many such were laid day after day. The general term ‘sick folk’ receives its explanation afterwards as consisting of those who were blind, or lame, or whose bodies or limbs were wasted.—The omission of the remaining words of Joh_5:3 and of the whole of Joh_5:4 is supported by a weight of authority which it is impossible to set aside. The addition belongs, however, to a very early date, for its contents are clearly referred to by Tertullian early in the third century. It is evidently an explanatory comment first written in the margin by those who saw that the words of Joh_5:7 imply incidents or opinions of which the narrative as it stands gives no account. The well-intentioned gloss was not long in finding its way into the text; and, once there, it gave the weight of the apostle’s sanction to a statement which really represents only the popular belief. It will be seen that, when the unauthorised addition is removed, there is nothing in the text to support the impression that wonderful cures were actually wrought. The phenomena are those of an intermittent spring; and the various circumstances described, the concourse of sick, the eager expectation, the implicit faith in the healing virtue of the waters and in the recurring supernatural agency, find too many parallels in history to make it necessary to suppose that there was any supernatural virtue in the pool. It may be observed that the ordinary translation of the added words is not quite correct. The angel’s visit was not looked for ‘at a certain season’ (as if after some fixed and regular interval), but ‘at seasons,’ from time to time.
The majority of later mss (C3 Θ Ψ 078 f1, 13 M) add the following to 5:3: “waiting for the moving of the water. 5:4 For an angel of the Lord went down and stirred up the water at certain times. Whoever first stepped in after the stirring of the water was healed from whatever disease which he suffered.” Other mss include only v. 3b (Ac D 33 lat) or v. 4 (A L it). Few textual scholars today would accept the authenticity of any portion of vv. 3b–4, for they are not found in the earliest and best witnesses (P66, 75 א B C* T pc co), they include un-Johannine vocabulary and syntax, several of the mss that include the verses mark them as spurious (with an asterisk or obelisk), and because there is a great amount of textual diversity among the witnesses that do include the verses. The present translation follows NA27 in omitting the verse number, a procedure also followed by a number of other modern translations.
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.
Jamieson, Fausset, & Brown
And a certain man was there, which had an infirmity thirty and eight years.
And [or rather, ‘Now’ de (G1161)] a certain man was there, which had an infirmity thirty and eight years – a length of time which to the man himself might seem to render a cure hopeless, and on the principle of a mere medicinal virtue in this water, which some even sound critics are too ready to tamper with, undoubtedly would. This, then, was probably the most pitiable of all the patients assembled at the pool, and for that very reason, no doubt, was selected by the Lord for the display of His glory.
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.
Cambridge Bible Plummer
6. knew] Or, perceived, perhaps supernaturally (see on Joh_16:19), but He might learn it from the bystanders: the fact was very likely notorious.
Wilt thou?] Or, more strongly, Dost thou will? Note that the man does not ask first. Here and in the case of the man born blind (9), as also of Malchus’ ear (Luk_22:51), Christ heals without being asked to do so. Excepting the healing of the royal official’s son all Christ’s miracles in the Fourth Gospel are spontaneous. On no other occasion does Christ ask a question without being addressed first: why does He now ask a question of which the answer was so obvious? Probably in order to rouse the sick man out of his lethargy and despondency. It was the first step towards the man’s having sufficient faith: he must be inspired with some expectation of being cured. The question has nothing to do with religious scruples; ‘Art thou willing to be made whole, although it is the Sabbath?’
Pop Comm Schaff
Joh_5:6.Jesus seeing him lying there, and perceiving that he hath been now a long time in that case, saith unto him, Wilt thou be made whole? The first movement is altogether on the side of Jesus: comp. Joh_5:21 (‘whom He will’). His knowledge of the case is by direct intuition (comp. Joh_2:25), not, as we believe, the result of inquiry. In Mat_8:2 the leper’s words to Jesus were, ‘Lord, if Thou wilt, Thou canst make me clean,’ and the answer was, ‘I will.’ Here the address of Jesus contains His ‘I will,’ for His question to the man is ‘Dost thou will? if thou dost I do also.’ Jesus has the will to heal him: does he answer this with a corresponding will, or is he like those to whom Jesus would have given life, but who ‘would’ not come to Him? (Joh_5:40). It will be observed that there is no broad separation made between bodily and spiritual healing. The man certainly understood the former, but we cannot limit the meaning of Christ’s words by the apprehension of those to whom He speaks, and the subsequent narrative seems to imply more than the restoration of bodily health.
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.
Cambridge Bible Plummer
7. I have no man] He is not only sick but friendless.
is troubled] No doubt this took place at irregular intervals, else there would be no need to wait and watch for it.
to put me into the pool] Literally, in order to (Joh_4:47) throw me into the pool; perhaps implying that the gush of water did not last long and there was no time to be lost in quiet carrying. But in this late Greek ballein (= throw) has become weakened in meaning. Comp. Joh_13:2, Joh_20:25.
while I am coming] Unaided, and therefore slowly.
another steppeth down] This seems to shew that the place where the bubbling appeared was not large. He does not say ‘others step down before me:’ one is hindrance enough.
The sick (impotent) man answered him: Sir,£ I have no man, when the water has been troubled, to put me £ into the pool: but while I am coming, another steppeth down before me. This implies that some special advantage accompanied the troubling of the water. The sudden escape of the medicinal gas may have soon subsided, and, with it, the special virtue of the well. The difficulty which the sick man found in reaching the point of disturbance may be accounted for in many ways. The steps which led into the water; the weakness of the sufferer, which made it an impossible task without help; the eagerness at many other impotent folk to take advantage of the supposed cure, jostling one another with selfish haste; or the absence of any personal friend to fight his battle for him, and cast him (βάλῃ) with the required plunge into water. The last point may be explained on the supposition that he was a comparative stranger in Jerusalem, and had made no friends; or by another, which several other allusions justify, viz. that he was a man who, from some reason or other, could neither make nor retain friendship. The melancholy recital of his frequent disappointment is given with an air of mendicant resignation—a kind of morbid satisfaction with his lot. The phrase, “while I am coming, another,” etc., implies that he could move, if slowly, without help. The moroseness of self-dependence characterizes some sufferers, who rather glory in isolation than lament it. Still, the words express the hopelessness of thousands who, for lack of human help, are jostled out of life, peace, and salvation.
Cambridge Bible Plummer
8. Rise, take up thy bed] As in the case of the paralytic (Mar_2:9), Christ makes no enquiry as to the man’s faith. Christ knew that he had faith; and the man’s attempting to rise and carry his bed after 38 years of impotency was an open confession of faith. His bed would probably be only a mat or rug, still common in the East.
It is scarcely necessary to discuss whether this miracle can be identical with the healing of the paralytic let down through the roof (Matthew 9; Mark 2; Luke 5). Time, place, details and context are all different, especially the important point that this miracle was wrought on the Sabbath.
Rise, take up … – Jesus not only restored him to health, but he gave evidence to those around him that this was a real miracle. and that he was really healed. For almost 40 years he had been afflicted. He was not even able to walk. Jesus commanded him not only to “walk,” but to take up his “bed” also, and carry that as proof that he was truly made whole. In regard to this we may observe,
1. That it was a remarkable command. The poor man had been sick for a long time, and it does not appear that he expected to be healed except by being put into the waters. Yet Jesus, when he gives a commandment, can give strength to obey it.
2. It is our business to obey the commands of Jesus, however feeble we feel ourselves to be. His grace will be sufficient for us, and his burden will be light.
3. The weak and helpless sinner should put forth his efforts in obedience to the command of Jesus. Never was a sinner more helpless than was this man. If God gave him strength to do his will, so he can all others; and the plea that we can do nothing could have been urged with far more propriety by this man than it can be by any impenitent sinner.
4. This narrative should not be abused. It should not be supposed as intended to teach that a sinner should delay repentance, as if “waiting for God.” The narrative neither teaches nor implies “any such thing.” It is a simple record of a fact in regard to a man who had no power to heal himself, and who was under no obligation to heal himself. There is no reference in the narrative to the difficulties of a sinner – no intimation that it was intended to refer to his condition; and to make this example an excuse for delay, or an argument for waiting, is to abuse and pervert the Bible. Seldom is more mischief done than by attempting to draw from the Bible what it was not intended to teach, and by an effort to make that convey spiritual instruction which God has not declared designed for that purpose.
Thy bed – Thy couch; or the mattress or clothes on which he lay.
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, (Jer_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.
Now it was the sabbath on that day. The form of the expression implies that it was one of the festival sabbaths rather than the weekly sabbath. These days, however, received the same reverence, and were observed with nearly the same rites and restrictions, as the ordinary sabbaths. This statement is the keynote of the great discourse which fellows, and it is made to prepare the way for the subsequent incidents. The Jews; i.e. the authorities, either the rabbis or Sanhedrists who were present in the crowd which gathered round the pool of Bethesda, or filled the neighbouring courts, are to be distinguished from “the multitude,” or from the people generally. The designation evidently means the leading folk, the social censors, the hierarchy, who very soon displayed in marked fashion their jealousy and hatred of Jesus. The Jews therefore said to the man who had been healed, It is sabbath, and £ it is not lawful for thee to carry thy bed. Judging by the letter of the Law (Exo_20:10 and Exo_35:3), and by the precedents of Scripture (Num_15:32-35), and by the special injunctions of the prophets (Jer_17:21-23; Neh_13:15, etc.), the man was infringing a positive command. Rabbinism had indeed declared that, in cases affecting life and health, the law of the sabbath was legitimately held in abeyance; but this relaxation was so hedged about with restrictions that the poor man and the layman were unable to apply the rules. The rabbinic interpretations of the sabbatic law concerning burden bearing were so intricate and sophistical that the entire majesty of the law, and the merciful intent of the prohibition, were concealed and vitiated. Apart from these complications, the man was prima facie disobeying the letter of the law. ‘Shabbath,’ fol. 6, a, declares that if unwittingly a burden was carried on the sabbath, the transgressor was bound to bring a sin offering; if with knowledge, he must be stoned.
The Sabbath – To carry burdens on the Sabbath was forbidden in the Old Testament, Jer_17:21; Neh_13:15; Exo_20:8-10. If it be asked, then, why Jesus commanded a man to do on the Sabbath what was understood to be a violation of the day, it may be answered,
1. That the Son of man was Lord of the Sabbath, and had a right to declare what might be done, and even to dispense with a positive law of the Jews, Mat_12:8; Joh_5:17.
2. This was a poor man, and Jesus directed him to secure his property.
3. The Jews extended the obligation of the Sabbath beyond what was intended by the appointment. They observed it superstitiously, and Jesus took every opportunity to convince them of their error, and to restore the day to its proper observance, Mat_12:6-11; Luk_6:9; Luk_13:14; Luk_14:5. This method he took to show them what the law of God really “permitted” on that day, and that works of necessity and mercy were lawful.
10.It is the Sabbath. It was the duty of all to maintain the sanctity of the Sabbath, and, therefore, they justly and properly accuse the man. But, when the excuse offered by the man does not satisfy them, they already begin to be in fault; for, when the reason was known, he ought to have been acquitted. It was a violation of the Sabbath, as we have said, to carry a burden; but Christ, who laid the burden on his shoulders, discharges him by his own authority. We are therefore taught by this example to avoid every rash judgment, until the reason of each action be fully known. Whatever contradicts the word of God deserves to be condemned without hesitation; but, as it frequently happens that there are mistakes in this matter, we ought first to inquire modestly and calmly, that our decision may be sound and sober. For since the Jews, prejudiced by wicked dispositions, have not patience to inquire, they shut the door against judgment and moderation; but, if they had allowed themselves to be taught, not only would the offense have been removed, but they would have been conducted still farther, with great advantage, to the knowledge of the Gospel.
We now see how far the Jews were in the wrong. It is, because they do not admit a reasonable defense. The defense is, that he who had been cured replies that he does nothing but by the command of him who had power and authority to command; for, though he did not yet know who Christ was, yet he was convinced that he had been sent by God, because he had received a proof of his divine power, and learns from it that Christ is endued with authority, so that it must be his duty to obey him. But this appears to be worthy of reproof, that a miracle turns him aside from obedience to the Law. I confess, indeed, that the argument which the man employs in contending with them is not sufficiently strong, but the others are faulty on two accounts, that they neither consider that this is an extraordinary work of God, nor suspend their judgment until they have heard a Prophet of God who is furnished with the word.
10–16. The Sequel of the Sign
10. The Jews] The hostile party, as usual: probably members of the Sanhedrin (see on Joh_1:19). They ignore the cure and notice only what can be attacked. They had the letter of the law very strongly on their side. Comp. Exo_23:12; Exo_31:14; Exo_35:2-3; Num_15:32; Neh_13:15; and especially Jer_17:21.
Pop Comm Schaff
Joh_5:10.The Jews therefore said unto him that was cured, It is the sabbath day, and it is not lawful for thee to take up the bed. The Jews—some of the rulers of the people (see note on Joh_1:19)—who had not been present at the miracle met the man as he departed carrying his bed. As guardians of the law they challenge him, and condemn the bearing of burdens on the sabbath. It is very important for us to determine whether in so doing they were right or wrong. Were they faithfully carrying out the letter of the law of Moses, or were they enforcing one of those traditions by which they destroyed its spirit? We have no hesitation in adopting the former view. The question must be decided apart from the miracle, of which at this moment the Jews seem to have had no knowledge. It is true that, even had it been known by them, their judgment would not have been altered; they would have equally condemned the healing on the sabbath (see Luk_13:14), since there had been no question of life and death. When, too, they afterwards hear what has been done (Joh_5:11) there is no change in their tone and spirit; and our Lord’s own reference to this miracle (chap. Joh_7:23) seems to show that, so far from convincing them, it had roused their special indignation. But at the point of time now before us the lawfulness of healing on the sabbath was not in question. They met a man carrying his bed in the streets of Jerusalem on the sacred day. The law of Moses forbade any work on that day; and the special enactments in the Pentateuch (the command to kindle no fire, Exo_35:3, and the judgment on the man who gathered sticks, Num_15:35) show how this law was to be interpreted. In Jer_17:21-23, moreover (comp. Neh_13:19), this very act, the bearing of burdens, is explicitly condemned. What could they do but condemn it? Would the same act be regarded otherwise in England at the present hour? One other consideration remains, and it is decisive. Our Lord’s answer to the Jews (Joh_5:17) makes no reference to their casuistical distinctions or to traditions by which the law was overlaid. It differs altogether in tone and spirit from the reproofs which we read in Luk_13:15; Luk_14:5. Had their objection lain against the healing, we cannot doubt that they would have brought on themselves the like rebuke: here however they were right in holding the man’s action, so far as they understood it at the moment, to be an infraction of their law.
And he answered them, He that made me whole, that very same man (ἐκει ͂νος,, “even he;” cf. for this use of the pronoun, Joh_1:18, Joh_1:33; Joh_14:21, Joh_14:26, etc.) said unto me, Take up thy bed, and walk. This was justification for him. The Prophet-like Healer must know what was right, and upon his shoulders the responsibility must rest. There was a rabbinic saying, which the cured man may or may not have heard, that conferred a dispensing power upon a prophet; but the man could not have known with any certainty that such was Christ’s official character. It is, moreover, clear that he did not know at this moment either the face, the voice, or the name. Meyer hears a ring of defiance in these words. The other hints we obtain touching the man’s character do not sustain such an idea.
Pop Comm Schaff
Joh_5:11. But he answered them, He that made me whole, the same said unto me, Take up thy bed, and walk. Whether the man knew the Rabbinical saying that a prophet’s command to transgress the letter of the law was to be obeyed, save in the case of idolatry, may be doubted; but the impression made on him by the majesty of Jesus was sufficient to guide his answer. Divine power had healed him: a command from One who wielded such power could not transgress the law of God.
Cambridge Bible Plummer
12. What man is that which] Better, Who is the man that, ‘man’ being contemptuous, almost = ‘fellow.’ Once more they ignore the miracle, and attack the command. They ask not, ‘Who cured thee, and therefore must have Divine authority?’ but, ‘Who told thee to break the Sabbath, and therefore could not have it?’ Christ’s command was perhaps aimed at these erroneous views about the Sabbath.
13.And he who had been cured knew not who he was. Christ certainly did not intend that the glory of so great a work should pass away, but he intended that it should become generally known before that he acknowledged himself to be the Author of it. He therefore withdrew for a little, that the Jews might have it in their power to judge of the fact itself, without reference to any person. And hence we learn that the cure of this man cannot be ascribed to his faith, since, even after having been cured, he does not acknowledge his Physician; and yet, when he was ordered, he carried his bed, which appears to have been done by the guidance of faith. For my own part, as I do not deny that there was in him some secret movement of faith, so I say that it is clear from what follows, that he had no solid doctrine or clear light on which he could rely.
Cambridge Bible Plummer
13. had conveyed himself away] Better, withdrew. Originally the word signified ‘to stoop out of the way of,’ ‘to bend down as if to avoid a blow.’ Here only in N.T. The word might also mean, ‘swam out of,’ which would be a graphic expression for making one’s way through a crowd.
a multitude being in that place] This is ambiguous. It may explain either why Jesus withdrew, viz. to avoid the crowd, or how he withdrew, viz. by disappearing among the crowd. Both make good sense.
Pop Comm Bible Schaff
Joh_5:13.But he that was healed wist not who it was. We need not wonder that this man, unable to move from place to place, perhaps only recently come to Jerusalem, had no previous knowledge of Jesus.
For Jesus withdrew himself, a multitude being in that place. After his cure, too, he could hear nothing of his benefactor, for, to avoid the recognition and enthusiasm of the multitude (comp. chap. Joh_6:15), Jesus withdrew,—literally ‘slipped aside,’ became suddenly lost to sight.—Here, as always, the ‘multitude’ or mass of the people is to be carefully distinguished from ‘the Jews.’ The conflict between Jesus and the Jews has begun: all His actions deepen their hatred against Him. The ‘multitude,’ on the other hand, is the object of His compassion: from time to time they follow Him eagerly, however slight may be their knowledge of His true teaching and aims (Joh_6:2; Joh_6:15). In subsequent chapters we shall often have to call attention to the contrast between ‘the Jews’ and the ‘multitude;’ and it will be seen that some passages are almost inexplicable unless this most important distinction is kept clearly in view.
14.After these things Jesus found him. These words show still more clearly that, when Christ concealed himself for a time, it was not in order that the remembrance of the kindness which he had conferred might perish, for he now appears in public of his own accord; only he intended that the work should first be known, and that he should afterwards be declared to be the Author of it. This passage contains a highly useful doctrine; for when Christ says, lo, thou art made whole, his meaning is, that we make an improper use of the gifts of God, if we are not excited to gratitude. Christ does not reproach the man with what he had given him, but only reminds him that he had been cured in order that, remembering the favor which he had received, he might all his life serve God his Deliverer. Thus, as God by stripes instructs and spurs us on to repentance, so he invites us to it by his goodness and forbearance; and, indeed, it is the universal design both of our redemption and of all the gifts of God, to keep us entirely devoted to Him. Now this cannot be done, unless the remembrance of the past punishment remain impressed on the mind, and unless he who has obtained pardon be employed in this meditation throughout his whole life.
This admonition teaches us also, that all the evils which we endure ought to be imputed to our sins; for the afflictions of men are not accidental, but are so many stripes for our chastisement. First, then, we ought to acknowledge the hand of God which strikes us, and not to imagine that our distresses arise from a blind impetuosity of fortune; and next we ascribe this honor to God, that, since He is a Father full of goodness, He does not take pleasure in our sufferings, and therefore does not treat us more harshly than he has been offended by our sins. When he charges him,sin no more, he does not enjoin him to be free from all sin, but speaks comparatively as to his former life; for Christ exhorts him henceforth to repent, and not to do as he had done before.
Lest something worse befall thee. If God does not succeed in doing us good by the stripes with which he gently chastises us, as the kindest father would chastise his tender and delicate children, He is constrained to assume a new character, and a character which, so to speak, is not natural to Him. He therefore seizes the whip to subdue our obstinacy, as He threatens in the Law, (Lev_26:14; Deu_28:15; Psa_32:9;) and indeed throughout the Scriptures passages of the same kind are to be found. Thus, when we are incessantly pressed down by new afflictions, we ought to trace this to our obstinacy; for not only do we resemble restive horses and mules, but we are like wild beasts that cannot be tamed. There is no reason to wonder, therefore, if God make use of severer punishment to bruise us, as it were, by mallets, when moderate punishment is of no avail; for it is proper that they who will not endure to be corrected should be bruised by strokes. In short, the use of punishments is, to render us more cautious for the future. If, after the first and second strokes, we maintain obstinate hardness of heart, he will strike us seven times more severely. If, after having showed signs of repentance for a time, we immediately return to our natural disposition, he chastises more sharply this levity which proves us to be forgetful, and which is full of sloth.
Again, in the person of this man it is of importance for us to observe with what gentleness and condescension the Lord bears with us. Let us suppose that the man was approaching old age, in which case he must have been visited by disease in the very prime of life, and perhaps had been attacked by it from his earliest infancy; and now let us consider how grievous to him must have been this punishment continued through so many years. It is certain that we cannot reproach God with excessive severity in causing this man to languish, and to be half-dead, for so long a period; and, therefore, when we are punished more lightly, let us learn that it is because the Lord, in his infinite goodness, moderates the extreme rigour of the punishments which we would have well deserved. Let us also learn that no punishments are so rigorous and severe, that the Lord cannot make additions to them whenever he pleases. Nor can it be doubted that wretched men by their wicked complaints, often draw down upon themselves dreadful and shocking tortures, when they assert that it is not possible to endure heavier distresses, and that God cannot send them any thing more. Are not these things hidden among my treasures ? saith the Lord, (Deu_32:34.) We ought also to observe how slow we are in deriving benefit from God’s chastisements; for if Christ’s exhortation was not superfluous, we may learn from it that the soul of this man was not yet fully purified from every vice. Indeed, the roots of vices are too deep in us to be capable of being torn out in a single day, or in a few days; and the cure of the diseases of the soul is too difficult to be effected by remedies applied for a short time.
Cambridge Bible Plummer
14. Afterward] Literally, after these things, as in Joh_5:1. Probably the same day; we may suppose that one of his first acts after his cure would be to offer his thanks in the Temple. On Joh_5:13-14 Augustine writes, ‘It is difficult in a crowd to see Christ; a certain solitude is necessary for our mind; it is by a certain solitude of contemplation that God is seen … He did not see Jesus in the crowd, he saw Him in the Temple. The Lord Jesus indeed saw him both in the crowd and in the Temple. The impotent man, however, does not know Jesus in the crowd; but he knows Him in the Temple.’
sin no more] Or perhaps, continue no longer in sin. Comp. [Joh_8:11,] Joh_20:17. The man’s conscience would tell him what sin. Comp. [Joh_8:7]. What follows shews plainly not merely that physical suffering in the aggregate is the result of sin in the aggregate, but that this man’s 38 years of sickness were the result of his own sin. This was known to Christ’s heart-searching eye (Joh_2:24-25), but it is a conclusion which we may not draw without the clearest evidence in any given case. Suffering serves other ends than being a punishment for sin: ‘whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth;’ and comp. Joh_9:3.
a worse thing] Not necessarily hell: even in this life there might be a worse thing than the sickness which had consumed more than half man’s threescore and ten. So terrible are God’s judgments; so awful is our responsibity. Comp. Mat_12:45; 2Pe_2:20.
After these things (see Joh_5:1). Westcott thinks that a looser connection between the foregoing and subsequent events is denoted by μετὰ ταῦτα than by the expression μετὰ τοῦτο.. Consequently, the persecution referred to in the remainder of the chapter may have occurred several days after the foregoing conversation. Jesus found him in the temple. Some have inferred from this, the recognition by the healed man of the hand of God in his cure, and his desire to express his gratitude in the house of God by some appropriate conduct or service; and, granting this explanation, much charm is observable in the tact that Jesus found him. and found him there. The Lord’s habit of visiting the temple, and the penetrating glance which he casts over all the frequenters of his Father’s house might then fairly be deduced from the passage; but the motive of the man is quite conjectural. From the words of Jesus one might as reasonably suppose that the man was treading at the time on dangerous moral ground, making some kind of gain from his notoriety. The healing was, at least, imperfect until the man had learned its spiritual significance. Every gift of God is doubled in value when its source is recognized. God’s signature on his own mercies gives them their true meaning. Christ found the healed man in the precincts of the temple, whether his motive was pure or mixed in going thither. And he said unto him, Beheld, thou art made whole (hast become sound and healthy throughout thy physical system; cf. for the form of this description of his case, the query, Joh_5:6): no longer continue to sin. The form of the sentence points to something special and persistent in this man’s habits, rather than to the general corruption of human nature. Christ’s penetrating glance discovered all the hidden misery and bleeding wound and putrefying sore of the man’s soul. Apart from the obliteration of the consequences of his bad life, and without a clean and free condition of things, the future would have proved hopeless, and deliverance from the yoke of fear and concupiscence impossible; but now this new chance is given. He was made whole, born again physically. As Naaman’s flesh became like that of a little child, so this man—once bent, crippled, distorted by his self-indulgence, and now made whole—is to “sin no longer.” It would not be reasonable to conclude from this that Christ’s doctrine, like that of Job’s friends, involved the indissoluble connection of sin with sickness, or made the amount of pain in any case the criterion of individual sin. Our Lord repudiates this position in Joh_9:3 and in Luk_13:1-5; but special calamities have unquestionably followed wrong doing, and can, in many instances, be referred to obvious transgressions, to specific acts, or inveterate habits. The man’s own conscience would respond to the charge. Jesus added: Lest a worse thing befall thee. There is, then, something worse than thirty-eight years of apparently hopeless wretchedness! Jesus said, even as reported by the apostle of love, the most terrible things that ever fell from human lips. The “sin no longer” makes it seem as though man’s will could accomplish much (cf. Isa_1:16, “Cease,” etc.), and as though all the future of our life were, so far as human responsibility goes, dependent upon ourselves. We are to act as if it were. Let it be noticed that he who said, “Sin no more,” said, “Rise up, take thy bed, and walk.” Three things, which appeared utterly beyond the power of the impotent man, were, nevertheless, done by him through the grace of Christ, which he then and there appropriated.
Findeth him – Fell in with him, or saw him.
In the temple – The man seems to have gone at once to the temple – perhaps a privilege of which he had been long deprived. They who are healed from sickness should seek the sanctuary of God and give him thanks for his mercy. Compare the notes at Isa_38:20. There is nothing more improper, when we are raised up from a bed of pain, than to forget God our benefactor, and neglect to praise him for his mercies.
Thou art made whole – Jesus calls to his remembrance the fact that he was healed, in order that he might admonish him not to sin again.
Sin no more – By this expression it was implied that the infirmity of this man was caused by sin – perhaps by vice in his youth. His crime or dissipation had brought on him this long and distressing affliction. Jesus shows him that he knew the cause of his sickness, and takes occasion to warn him not to repeat it. No man who indulges in vice can tell what may be its consequences. It must always end in evil, and not unfrequently it results in loss of health, and in long and painful disease. This is always the case with intemperance and all gross pleasures. Sooner or later, sin will always result in misery.
Sin no more – Do not repeat the vice. You have had dear-bought experience, and if repeated it will be worse. When a man has been restored from the effects of sin, he should learn to avoid the very appearance of evil. He should shun the place of temptation; he should not mingle again with his old companions; he should touch not, taste not, handle not. God visits with heavier judgment those who have been once restored from the ways of sin and who return again to it. The drunkard that has been reformed, and that returns to his habits of drinking, becomes more beastly; the man that professes to have experienced a change of heart, and who then indulges in sin, sinks deeper into pollution, and is seldom restored. The only way of safety in all such cases is to “sin no more;” not to be in the way of temptation; not to expose ourselves; not to touch or approach that which came near to working our ruin. The man who has been intemperate and is reformed, if he tastes the poison at all, may expect to sink deeper than ever into drunkenness and pollution.
A worse thing – A more grievous disease, or the pains of hell. “The doom of apostates is a worse thing than thirty-eight years’ lameness” (Henry).
Cambridge Bible Plummer
15. told the Jews] Not in malice against Jesus, nor in any hope of converting His opponents. Neither of these is probable, nor is there the least evidence of either. Rather, he continues his defiance of them (Joh_5:11). He had given as his authority for breaking the Sabbath ‘He that made me whole.’ Having found out that it was the famous teacher from Galilee, he returns to give them this additional proof of authority.
Went away and told (apēlthen kai eipen). Both aorist active indicatives. Instead of giving heed to the warning of Jesus about his own sins he went off and told the Jews that now he knew who the man was who had commanded him to take up his bed on the Sabbath Day, to clear himself with the ecclesiastics and escape a possible stoning.
That it was Jesus (hoti Iēsous estin). Present indicative preserved in indirect discourse. The man was either ungrateful and willfully betrayed Jesus or he was incompetent and did not know that he was bringing trouble on his benefactor. In either case one has small respect for him.
Pop Comm Bible Schaff
Joh_5:15.The man went away, and told the Jews that it was Jesus which had made him whole. The Jews asked who had commanded him to take up his bed.The man’s reply, given as soon as he had learnt the name of his Deliverer, was that Jesus had made him whole. The careful variation in the expression seems to repel the supposition that he gave the information through ingratitude or in treachery. Probably his motive was a sense of duty to those who, whatever might be their spirit, were constituted authorities who had a right to be satisfied as to all breaches of the law, with whom also would rest the decision whether he must bring a sin-offering to atone for his violation of the sabbath. Whilst, however, this may have been the man’s motive, we can hardly doubt that John (who here uses a word, ‘declared,’ which with him often has a solemn significance) sees in the act a Divine mission. In his eyes the man is for the moment a prophet of the Most High, a messenger of warning, to the guilty Jews.
The man departed, and told £ the Jews that it was Jesus who had made him whole. Therefore the Jews persecuted Jesus, (and sought to slay him £), because he was doing these things on the sabbath. The motive of the man may have been one of gratitude, or may have arisen from a sense of duty, seeing that he had not answered the question of the Jews, and had been himself charged with doing the unlawful thing (Weiss). He may have sought to win from his interlocutors some reverence for his Healer; but everything points the other way. He was a loveless being; he seems to have been nettled by the charge and warning he had just received, and went with the name of his Benefactor on his lips to those who in his hearing had already condemned the Saviour’s conduct. The connection is close between the two facts, viz. the man’s eager implication of his Healer in the responsibility of his own act, which was said by “the Jews” to be unlawful; and the course of cruel persecution and deadly hate which was there and then inaugurated against the Saviour of the world. The sixteenth verse represents a course of conduct on the part of the Jews which led to open conflict with the dominant party. Christ’s view of the sabbath lay, indeed, in the heart of the old Law, and was even recognized by some of the wisest and noblest spirits of Judaism; but it ran counter to the current traditionary interpretation, and cut as with a sharp sabre through the knots and entanglement of the schools. It was the unpardonable sin that ideas and rules which sustained and fed the authority of the hierarchical party should be swept away as valueless and perilous accumulations, and as fungoid encrustations upon the Law of Moses. Weiss justly remarks that there is no colour for the charge that the fourth evangelist antedated the sabbath controversy, for Mark (Mar_3:6) shows that it had already commenced in Galilee. In Joh_4:1-3 we see that the Pharisaic party distrusted Jesus; here we see that the authorities are in arms against him.
Pop Comm Bible Schaff
Joh_5:16.And for this cause did the Jews persecute Jesus, because he did these things on the sabbath day. The man whose cure had been the occasion of the action taken by the Jews nowpasses from view. For the second time Jesus and ‘the Jews’ are brought face to face. He had appeared in the temple (Joh_2:14) to put an end to the abuses they bad permitted or fostered, and to vindicate the holiness of His Father’s house. Then He offered Himself to Israel as the Son of God; He declared Himself the antitype of their temple, the idea of which (as God’s dwelling-place) had its fulfilment in Himself alone. As by supernatural influence on those who trafficked in the Holy Place He had then challenged the attention of the rulers of Israel, so now by a wonderful sign He fixed on Himself the eyes of all (Joh_7:21). This time it is not on the temple that He lays His hand, but on the law, the cherished commandment of the sabbath. It is not as one who with authority checks abuses which none could defend, though from them many derived gain,’ that our Lord now appears in Jerusalem: He comes as one who claims to be above the law, having the right, as Lawgiver, to set aside its letter. As the temple had its idea fulfilled in Himself, so was it with the sabbath. As to the Son of God God’s house belonged, so to the Son of God belonged that Rest of God of which the sabbath was a type; and the sabbath cannot be broken by the Son of God. This is the light in which the following verses teach us to regard the whole narrative. The choice of the sabbath day for the miracle is the kernel of the paragraph. Had the Jews been teachable and free from prejudice, had they taken the miracle as the starting-point of their reasonings, they would have been prepared for hearing the ground of the claims of Jesus thus to regulate their law. ‘How can a man that is a sinner do such miracles?’ (Joh_9:16) was in truth a convincing argument, and by yielding to its force they would have been led to Jesus as humble seekers after truth. But because He ‘did these things,’ wrought such works and showed that He would persevere with them, they became and continued to be His persecutors.
17.My Father worketh hitherto. We must see what kind of defense Christ employs. He does not reply that the Law about keeping the Sabbath was temporary, and that it ought now to be abolished; but, on the contrary, maintains that he has not violated the Law, because this is a divine work. It is true that the ceremony of the Sabbath was a part of the shadows of the Law, and that Christ put an end to it by his coming, as Paul shows, (Col_2:16;) but the present question does not turn on that point. For it is only from their own works that men are commanded to abstain; and, accordingly, circumcision — which is a work of God, and not of men — is not at variance with the Sabbath.
What Christ insists upon is this, that the holy rest which was enjoined by the Law of Moses is not disturbed when we are employed in works of God. And for this reason he excuses not only his own action, but also the action of the man who carried his bed; for it was an appendage, and — as we might say — a part of the miracle, for it was nothing else than an approbation of it. Besides, if thanksgiving and the publication of the divine glory be reckoned among the works of God, it was not a profanation of the Sabbath to testify the grace of God by feet and hands. But it is chiefly concerning himself that Christ speaks, to whom the Jews were more hostile. He declares that the soundness of body which he has restored to the diseased man is a demonstration of his divine power. He asserts that he is the Son of God, and that he acts in the same manner as his Father.
What is the use of the Sabbath, and for what reasons it was enjoined, I do not now argue at greater length. It is enough for the present passage, that the keeping of the Sabbath is so far from interrupting or hindering the works of God, that, on the contrary, it gives way to them alone. For why does the Law enjoin men to abstain from their own works, but in order to keep all their senses free and occupied for considering the works of God? Consequently, he who does not, on the Sabbath, allow a free course and reign to the works of God, is not only a false expounder of the Law, but wickedly overturns it.
If it be objected, that the example of God is held out to men, that they may rest on the seventh day, the answer is easy. Men are not conformed to God in this respect, that He ceased to work, but by abstaining from the troublesome actions of this world and aspiring to the heavenly rest. The Sabbath or rest of God, therefore, is not idleness, but true perfection, which brings along with it a calm state of peace. Nor is this inconsistent with what Moses says, that God put an end to his works, (Gen_2:2;) for he means that, after having completed the formation of the world, God consecrated that day, that men might employ it in meditating on his works. Yet He did not cease to sustain by this power the world which he had made, to govern it by his wisdom, to support it by his goodness, and to regulate all things according to his pleasure, both in heaven and on earth. In six days, therefore, the creation of the world was completed, but the administration of it is still continued, and God incessantly worketh in maintaining and preserving the order of it; as Paul informs us, that in him we live, and move, and are, (Act_17:28;) and David informs us, that all things stand so long as the Spirit of God upholds them, and that they fail as soon as he withdraws his support, (Psa_104:29.) Nor is it only by a general Providence that the Lord maintains the world which He has created, but He arranges and regulates every part of it, and more especially, by his protection, he keeps and guards believers whom he has received under his care and guardianship.
And I work. Leaving the defense of the present cause, Christ now explains the end and use of the miracle, namely, that by means of it he may be acknowledged to be the Son of God; for the object which he had in view in all his words and actions was, to show that he was the Author of salvation. What he now claims for himself belongs to his Divinity, as the Apostle also says, that he upholdeth all things by his powerful will, (Heb_1:3.)
But when he testifies that he is God, it is that, being manifested in the flesh, he may perform the office of Christ; and when he affirms that he came from heaven, it is chiefly for the purpose of informing us for what purpose he came down to earth.
Cambridge Bible Plummer
17–30. The Prerogatives and Powers of the Son of God
17, 18. Defence of healing on the Sabbath based on the relation of the Son to the Father.
My Father worketh hitherto, &c.] Or, My Father is working even until now; I am working also. From the Creation up to this moment God has been ceaselessly working for man’s salvation. From such activity there is no rest, no Sabbath: for mere cessation from activity is not of the essence of the Sabbath; and to cease to do good is not to keep the Sabbath but to sin. Sabbaths have never hindered the Father’s work; they must not hinder the Son’s. Elsewhere (Mar_2:27) Christ says that the Sabbath is a blessing not a burden; it was made for man, not man for it. Here He takes far higher ground for Himself. He is equal to the Father, and does what the Father does. Mar_2:28 helps to connect the two positions. If the Sabbath is subject to man, much more to the Son of Man, who is equal to the Father.
Answered (apekrinato). Regular aorist middle indicative of apokrinomai, in John here only and Joh_5:19, elsewhere apekrithē as in Joh_5:11.
My Father (ho pater mou). Not “our Father,” claim to peculiar relation to the Father.
Worketh even until now (heōs arti ergazetai). Linear present middle indicative, “keeps on working until now” without a break on the Sabbath. Philo points out this fact of the continuous activity of God. Justin Martyr, Origen and others note this fact about God. He made the Sabbath for man’s blessing, but cannot observe it himself.
And I work (kagō ergazomai). Jesus puts himself on a par with God’s activity and thus justifies his healing on the Sabbath.
Pop Comm Bible Schaff
Joh_5:17.But he answered them, My Father worketh until now: I also work. In three different ways does our Lord rebut the charge which His foes so often brought against Him, that He broke the sabbath. At one time He showed that it was not the law but the vain tradition that He set aside (Mat_12:11; Luk_13:15; Luk_14:5); at another He declared Himself as the Son of man Lord of the sabbath, and taught that the law of the sabbath must be determined from its aim and object (Mar_2:27-28); here only does He take even higher ground. God rested from His works of creation on the seventh day; this day was hallowed and set apart for man’s rest from labour,—a rest which was the shadow of the rest of God, and which was designed to remove from man everything that might hinder him from entering in spirit into that fellowship with God which is perfect rest. From the creation to this very moment the Father hath been working; in His very rest upholding all things by the word of His power, providing all things for His creatures, working out the purpose of His love in their redemption. ‘My Father worketh until now,’ with no pause or intermission: ‘I also work.’ He who can thus call God His Father finds in the works of His Father the law of His own works. No works of the Father can interrupt the sabbath rest: no works of the Son on earth can break the sabbath law. The 19th and 20th verses more fully explain what is expressed in these majestic words.