There is, in the Epistle of John, an account that speaks of the healing of an ailing man at the pool of Bethesda. (Ch5: 1-15) This account is not cited in any other writing. John did not include extensive particulars about the pool or the traditions, since this would have been common knowledge. Subsequently the pool’s features were changed through the centuries, even to the point of being completely lost until the late nineteenth century, the porches being rediscovered during archeological excavations as late as 1956.
This is a curious account, in that the pool is not identified by its Greek name, an angel or messenger participates, the prescription for curing is not in accord to Levitical methods, and other ways that will be discussed herein. There is also an issue with the various sources used for interpretation, in that the end of verse 3 and all of verse 4 are included in some Bibles but not in others.
So the Biblical scholars and expositors have had a challenge in making this account come into alignment with interpretative methods, and many volumes have been written to apply man-made explanations. In many cases the relatively recent archeological evidence and the history that has been made evident connected with those discoveries does not support the expositors accounts, or at least leads us to reevaluate the conclusions.
New King James Version
1 After this there was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.
2 Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, which is called in Hebrew, Bethesda, having five porches.
3 In these lay a great multitude of sick people, blind, lame, paralyzed, waiting for the moving of the water.
4 For an angel went down at a certain time into the pool and stirred up the water; then whoever stepped in first, after the stirring of the water, was made well of whatever disease he had.
5 Now a certain man was there who had an infirmity thirty-eight years.
6 When Jesus saw him lying there, and knew that he already had been in that condition a long time, He said to him, “Do you want to be made well?”
7 The sick man answered Him, “Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; but while I am coming, another steps down before me.”
8 Jesus said to him, “Rise, take up your bed and walk.”
9 And immediately the man was made well, took up his bed, and walked. And that day was the Sabbath.
When we look at the history of the pool during the time of Jesus we discover that its purpose and use was not for Jewish cleansing but for pagan worship, particularly Greco-Roman deities of healing, Asclepius, and the Egyptian god Serappis.
After Herod the Great re-built the temple, the pool water had been used in the holy temple.
In the year 44 BC, Herod Agrippa built near Bethesda a new wall, which stopped the water supply for the pool. Few years later, the Romans built near it a pagan temple, dedicated to the god Asclepius, a Greek hero – the god of medicine and healing, and to the Egyptian god Serapes. Romans reconfigured the pool as healing baths for Roman soldiers and officials.
But the biblical scholars and expositors have tried to reconcile the account as being at a Jewish controlled site under the watch of God and his angels, for the purpose of divine healing. Some of the Biblical interpretations even go so far as to add words after angel or messenger of the Lord in verse 4.
When one realizes that this is a pagan god worshiping pool one can easily reason that the angel or messenger would not be of God but would be of the fallen angel, or a demon conjured by a satanic inspired pagan priest. That is, if it the water was troubled(stirred) by an divine source at all, because there is evidence that it could have been under the direct control of pool management, there being ducts to channel water from the upper pool to the lower pool.
Key points to ponder:
Why would God make for a way of healing that was contrary to Levitical law?
Why would God entice people to be healed and then withhold the healing to all but the swiftest?
How would people have come to be informed of the tradition and to believe the tradition of the stirred or troubled waters and subsequent healing?
Did you ever wonder how the ill man was able to get to the pool and carry his mat or bedroll?
If he arrived on the Sabbath why was he not intercepted by the Pharisees?
Did he live there?
Was he an active adherent to the pagan practices and god Asclepius?
What price did the ill man have to pay to gain entrance to the pool?
If it were a healing pool why were ill people staying out of it?
Wouldn’t it be pure torture to be in pain, and to be constantly watching for the first sign of a stirring, perhaps for months at a time, and then not be swift enough?
Wouldn’t it be likely that a person could be waiting for 38 years?
Wouldn’t a person’s life be totally consumed by the false promise of healing?
Why were Pharisees apparently present in the immediate vicinity of the pool?
Were they partaking in the pagan practices or were they lying in wait to catch someone being healed on the Sabbath?
Should they have been present on the Sabbath?
In this account Jesus entered the pagan worship area in direct confrontation to the Roman officials and priests. Jesus addressed the most long standing case, the man who had been ill for 38 years. Jesus confronted the man, “Do you want to be made well?” The man didn’t say yes, but rather came up with an excuse as to why he couldn’t be made well. Perhaps it was an appeal that Jesus might help him into the pool. The account does not unequivocally state that Jesus healed the man, rather in spite of the mans lack of an affirmative answer Jesus commanded the man, “Rise, take up your bed and walk.” The man did so immediately, which makes one wonder if he was actually ill. Certainly, Jesus has the ability to heal, but did he have to heal in this instance. What followed this incident is the more important part of scripture.
This incident served as the introduction to the revealing of Jesus’ divine nature on earth. This is not found in any other epistle, only in John’s.
10 The Jews therefore said to him who was cured, “It is the Sabbath; it is not lawful for you to carry your bed.”
11 He answered them, “He who made me well said to me, ‘Take up your bed and walk.’ ”
12 Then they asked him, “Who is the Man who said to you, ‘Take up your bed and walk’?”
13 But the one who was healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had withdrawn, a multitude being in that place.
14 Afterward Jesus found him in the temple, and said to him, “See, you have been made well. Sin no more, lest a worse thing come upon you.”
15 The man departed and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had made him well.
16 For this reason the Jews persecuted Jesus, and sought to kill Him, because He had done these things on the Sabbath.
17 But Jesus answered them, “My Father has been working until now, and I have been working.”
18 Therefore the Jews sought all the more to kill Him, because He not only broke the Sabbath, but also said that God was His Father, making Himself equal with God.
19 Then Jesus answered and said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He sees the Father do; for whatever He does, the Son also does in like manner.
20 “For the Father loves the Son, and shows Him all things that He Himself does; and He will show Him greater works than these, that you may marvel.
21 “For as the Father raises the dead and gives life to them, even so the Son gives life to whom He will.
22 “For the Father judges no one, but has committed all judgment to the Son,
23 “that all should honor the Son just as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him.
24 “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life.
25 “Most assuredly, I say to you, the hour is coming, and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God; and those who hear will live.
26 “For as the Father has life in Himself, so He has granted the Son to have life in Himself,
27 “and has given Him authority to execute judgment also, because He is the Son of Man.
28 “Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice
29 “and come forth—those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation.
30 “I can of Myself do nothing. As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is righteous, because I do not seek My own will but the will of the Father who sent Me.
31 “If I bear witness of Myself, My witness is not true.
32 “There is another who bears witness of Me, and I know that the witness which He witnesses of Me is true.
33 “You have sent to John, and he has borne witness to the truth.
34 “Yet I do not receive testimony from man, but I say these things that you may be saved.
35 “He was the burning and shining lamp, and you were willing for a time to rejoice in his light.
36 “But I have a greater witness than John’s; for the works which the Father has given Me to finish—the very works that I do—bear witness of Me, that the Father has sent Me.
37 “And the Father Himself, who sent Me, has testified of Me. You have neither heard His voice at any time, nor seen His form.
38 “But you do not have His word abiding in you, because whom He sent, Him you do not believe.
39 “You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me.
40 “But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life.
41 “I do not receive honor from men.
42 “But I know you, that you do not have the love of God in you.
43 “I have come in My Father’s name, and you do not receive Me; if another comes in his own name, him you will receive.
44 “How can you believe, who receive honor from one another, and do not seek the honor that comes from the only God?
45 “Do not think that I shall accuse you to the Father; there is one who accuses you—Moses, in whom you trust.
46 “For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me; for he wrote about Me.
47 “But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe My words?”