John's Gospel Commentary by Robert Brow (www.brow.on.ca) 2000
Towards the end of his Gospel John tells us that "Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, and that through believing you may have life through his name" (John 20:30-31). He specified the turning of water to wine at the marriage in Cana of Galilee as the first of the signs he chose for this purpose (2:11).
In this section the "second sign" (4:54) is the healing of the son of a royal official. And immediately after the second sign we have the healing of the man who has been paralyzed for 38 years (5:5). This suggests that John counted the healing of the paralytic as the third of the signs (see comment under 2:11).
4:43-44 The reference to Galilee probably refers to Jesus' home town of Nazareth in the hill country of western Galilee. It was where he first made the remark that "no prophet is accepted in the prophet's home town" (Luke 4:16, 24). And it was there he just escaped lynching (Luke 4:28-29). It was a two day walk to Capernaum on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee, where he had most of his ministry. He had been well received in that area and in the nearby country of Syria (Matthew 4:23-24, see Mark 2:1-2).
4:45 It seems he now risked going back to Nazareth. The people who knew his family well (Matthew 13:55-56) were impressed by how their home town prophet had been received by the sophisticated religious people of Jerusalem. Their welcome was perhaps more a matter of pride than evidence of genuine spiritual interest.
4:46-47 It was just a morning's walk from Nazareth to Cana, where he had provided the wine needed for the wedding (2:1-11). An official who was a member of the Herodian royal family heard that Jesus was there. He had made the two day journey from his home in Capernaum to plead for the healing of his young son (4:49) who was at death's door. He asked Jesus "to come down and heal" the boy.
4:48 At first sight Jesus' answer seems to deny the obvious faith of a man who has traveled two day for help when his son is dying. But the remark about faith is not addressed to him since it is in the plural. People kept asking for signs to bolster their faith (6:30, Matthew 12:38-39, 16:1, Mark 8:11, Luke 11:16), so Jesus may be reminding the official of a remark he had made on a previous occasion in the synagogue in Capernaum.
4:49 The man makes clear he is not trifling and certainly not asking for a proof of Jesus' power. He is an important official but he calls Jesus kurie meaning Lord. "Sir, come down before my little boy dies."
4:50 The official had imagined the Messiah would need to come and lay hands on the boy, but as soon as Jesus said "Go, your son will live" he believed the promise and immediately went back to Capernaum.
4:51-53 Half way home his servants met him to announce that the fever left the boy "yesterday at one in the afternoon." The official realized that was exactly the time the previous day when Jesus had given him the assurance of the boy's healing.
As we saw in the comments about faith earlier in the chapter (4:41-42), the official already had faith when he traveled the two days to ask for help but now he has the full assurance of faith (Colossians 2:2, Hebrews 10:22). In his faith he immediately wanted to include "his whole household." This shows that household faith (see Acts 10:48, 11:14, 16:15, 33, 1 Corinthians 1:16) was already a feature of Jesus' ministry (see Acts 2:39, 1 Corinthians 7:14).
4:54 For the first sign and a suggestion about other signs see John 2:11, 20:30-31).
5:1 As noted in the comments on "the next day" (1:29, 35, 43, 2:1, 3:22), John's use of the words "After this" (as in 6:1, 7:1) may be a literary device that means "on another occasion." John is not interested in historical chronology but in presenting faith from many different angles, and the arrangement of the book has that in mind (20:30-31). But John certainly presents Jesus as going up to Jerusalem for various festivals, not only as a child (Luke 2:41-42) but also during his ministry (see comments on 2:13).
5:2 The pool of Bethzatha (Bethesda) has been excavated, and is now a tourist site next to St. Anne's Church in the northeastern part of old Jerusalem. There were originally two pools surrounded by four stoa (colonnades, ) and a fifth dividing the two pools.
5:3-4 It was a place where invalids were left in the company of others for the day, including the one man who is singled out as having been left there for the previous 38 years. Verse 4 (KJV) is an addition found in later manuscripts as an explanation of verse 7 : "An angel of the Lord went down at certain seasons into the pool, and stirred up the water; whoever stepped in first after the stirring of the water was made well from whatever disease that person had."
It is impossible to believe that God used such an unfair method of healing by giving the advantage to the strong and agile who could be the first to get into the water. These days we know from the placebo effect that a proportion of people are healed if they have faith in the medication or means that are offered for their healing. So it is not surprising that over the years numbers of people were healed by this pool and other places where the sick gather for healing. But the man who had been there 38 years had lost any hope of ever being healed.
5:6-7 Jesus' question is very pointed. "Do you want to be made well?" Perhaps the sick man had become comfortable with his daily routine of being left with his friends by the pool, and being provided for by his relatives. But so far he cannot conceive of being healed by any other means than the superstitious method accepted by others around that pool.
5:8-9 Jesus must have given the man some explanation of God's power to heal, and of his own person as Messiah. When he hears the words "Stand up, take your mat and walk," healing is immediate, and the previously paralyzed man gets up and begins to walk (a Greek imperfect that suggests a process of beginning to learn walking after 38 years). But picking up his bed was viewed by the religious authorities as work on the sabbath day!
5:10-11 The religious leaders don't care that a man who has been paralyzed for 38 years can suddenly walk and pick up his bed! With total insensivity they declare this to be sabbath breaking. But the obvious answer is that getting up and picking up his bed was exactly what he had been told to do. That raises the question of who has the higher authority, religious tradition or the words that had resulted in his healing?
5:12-13 When asked who had spoken the healing words, it is interesting the man did not know Jesus name (see 5:15), and Jesus had slipped away in the crowd.
5:14-15 Jesus later found the man (perhaps giving thanks) in the temple and says "See, you have been made well! Do not begin to sin again (a Greek present continuous), so that nothing worse happens to you." It seems the man remembered something he had done 38 years before which was connected with the onset of his paralysis. Perhaps he had misappropriated an inheritance, or born false witness against someone? Or there was some lying hypocrisy? He might have told God he wanted nothing more to do with him. This suggests that on the one hand sickness and disease can have causes in our previous attitudes or behavior. On the other hand God can wonderfully forgive and heal us. But if there was something which may have caused this terrible trouble in his life, it was important not to go back to causing it again.
5:16-47 Son of God