By John Aldworth

Published 22nd May 2019

John 5:2-8: Now there is at Jerusalem by the sheep market a pool, which is called in the Hebrew tongue Bethesda, having porches. And a certain man was there which had an infirmity thirty and eight years. When Jesus saw him lie, and knew that he had been now a long time in that case, He saith unto him, Wilt thou be made whole? The impotent man answered him, Sir, I have no man, when the water is troubled, to put me into the pool: but while I am coming, another steppeth down before me. Jesus saith unto him, Rise, take up thy bed and walk. And immediately the man was made whole and took up his bed, and walked, and on the same day, it was the Sabbath day.

Have you ever wondered if Jerusalem had a hospital when Jesus walked its streets? If there was what would it be like? Well, a stark picture of one is portrayed in John 5:5-8. Of course, the word hospital had not been coined yet so it was called Bethesda, the ‘house of mercy’, of pity, a place where grace and mercy were supposedly ‘poured out’ on those in need. But for the many who lay helpless and incurable beneath this pool’s five arches, it was actually a place of despair.

Myth held that at certain times ‘an angel troubled’ the waters of the pool and the first person to step into the stirred water was healed. (Actually, the pool was refreshed only when rain caused an overflow from the Gihon spring outside the city to pass through the conduit to Bethesda built by King Hezekiah centuries before). But the fact that underneath the arches ‘lay a great multitude of impotent folk, of blind, halt, withered waiting for the moving of the water’ (John 5:3) means such healings took place very rarely, if at all. In reality, it was a place basket cases were left to die.

So Bethesda, Jerusalem’s only ‘hospital’, was the dumping ground for helpless, hopeless cases doctors could not heal and families no longer wished to care for at home.  The Apostle John uses telling words to describe their condition: impotent, meaning strength-less, i.e. unable to move, to help oneself; blind, that is unable to see; halt, brought to a complete stop in life; withered, i.e. shrivelled, dried up and shrunken. Now it has been rightly pointed out that the subjects of Jesus’s healing miracles pinpoint with amazing accuracy the spiritual plight of Israel at the time of his visitation. In relating to God the Israelites were blind, they were deaf, they were halt and had come to a stop and their faith had withered away; in short, they were, unable to help themselves out of the difficulties overwhelming them.

Religion, as taught by the scribes and Pharisees, was of no help at all.  It held that since paralysis and other medical calamities were the direct results of sin the best course was to let the afflicted suffer as a warning example to others. Fact is that even today modern medicine can do little to help those permanently paralysed by stroke or head injury; it cannot make the truly blind see, those born deaf hear, nor can it restore withered limbs. And, as in Jesus’s day, such sufferers today are eventually left alone and bereft to face the consequences. Why? Because such calamitous congenital abnormalities are in fact the result of the death brought about by Adam’s sin (Romans 5:17).

Bethesda was the dark side of Jerusalem in Jesus’ time and a similar inability to help the helpless, still less solve the ever-deepening problems of society, is also the plight of the world today. Here in New Zealand, for example, successive governments have no remedy for the destitution of communities such as Opotiki, South Waikato and parts of Northland where unemployment, family breakdown, abuse, drugs, drunkenness and crime lead to violence and murder. Like the victims of such deprivation themselves, the governments are ‘impotent’ to help.

But Jesus did help at least in one man’s case at Bethesda, foreshowing that when his glory is fully displayed He can and will not only remove the curse of incurable sickness and death but also heal society’s ills worldwide. Reading we find that the infirm man had lain impotent at Bethesda for 38 years (John 5:5). The number is significant for in Hebrew 38 means kavodo – His (that is, the Lord’s) glory.  As Psalm 98:2 puts it: ‘For behold the darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the people: but the Lord shall arise upon thee and his glory shall be seen upon thee’. On that Sabbath day long ago the glory of the Lord was briefly seen as a paralysed man rose up, took up his bed and walked. And, in the soon coming Day of Christ, when the Lord blazes forth his glory in all its fullness his glory will be seen by everybody on earth.

And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it’ (Isaiah 40:5).

Imagine. In the Day of Christ, not a single case of cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy or stroke will be known. All withered limbs will be restored, every blind person will see, all the deaf will hear, and the paralysed will leap and run. None will need to see a doctor or have an operation. There will be no hospitals for healing then will be instantaneous, just as it was for the impotent man at the Bethesda Pool.

All this will happen when God causes ‘his face to shine on us’ and makes his way ‘known upon earth’, his ‘saving health among all nations’ (Psalm 67: 1-2).  In Titus 2:13 this ‘shining’ is described as ‘the glorious appearing (i.e. ‘blazing forth’) of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ’. When on earth our Lord called this future time of great healing and blessing ‘the kingdom of heaven’. In Acts 3:19-21, the Apostle Peter proclaimed it the long-awaited ‘times of refreshing’ and ‘the times of restitution of all things spoken by all the prophets since the world began’. Seven times in his epistles the Apostle Paul described it as the Day of Christ (1 Corinthians 1:8, 5:5, 2 Corinthians 1:14, Philippians 1:6, 1:10, 2:16, 2 Thessalonians 2:2).

And in regard to healing the Prophet Isaiah said of this wonderful new age:

And the inhabitant shall not say, I am sick; the people that dwell therein shall be forgiven their iniquity (Isaiah 33:24).

Contrast that with the pitiful state not only of Israel but of all mankind that Jesus found some 2,000 years ago.  He saw that spiritually, they were deaf to the word of God, so blind they could not perceive God the Son in their midst, still less see his glory. Worse still, they were impotent; neither they nor anybody else could do anything to cure their terrible condition.

Have you ever wondered why Jesus singled out the paralysed, blind, deaf, mute, lame, devil-possessed and the withered to heal them? One answer is that nobody else could heal them. Another is that there is not one but two kinds of sin that he died to save us from. The first is the personal sins that we each commit because of our sin nature (1 John 4:10). The second is what the Apostle John called ‘the sin of the world’ (John 1:29). That they are quite different is made clear in 1 John 2:2:

And He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.

Note that the words ‘the sins of’ are italicised in the King James Bible, indicating they are not the in the original text but an insertion. Actually, it is the ‘sin of the world’ (singular) that John is speaking of as clearly seen in John 1:29 which reads:

The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him and saith, Behold the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world.

What then is the ‘sin of the world’? In short, it is the sin of even trying to be a world without God. In rebelling against God’s first command – not to eat of the forbidden fruit - Adam plunged humanity into a world, not of God’s making but one engineered and directed by the devil. And we have been stuck in it ever since.

Now true, Christ died for our sins (1 Corinthians 15:3), meaning the sins we individually commit and the sin nature that is ours by birth. He is also our Redeemer who will redeem (bring back) our life from the death and destruction caused by sin (Psalm 103:4, Ephesians 1:7). Importantly, however, He also died as the propitiation for the sin of the world and is the Lamb of God who will take it away. The big question is when He will take it away. A mere glance at the world around us, its nosedive into ever deeper wickedness, tells us He has not done so yet. Nor has Christianity even with its best efforts saved society from sin. Today, like the impotent man at Bethesda, the world is a basket case.

But very soon Christ will save the world. He Himself said so and his doing so is, in fact, the very next thing on God’s dispensational agenda. What’s more, it has been God’s very purpose from the start. Consider the following scriptures:

    •    John 12: 47: I came not to judge the world but to save the world.

    •    John 3:17: God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world but that the world through Him might be saved.

    •    1 John 4:14: The Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world.

Adam was given dominion over creation and used his governing power to bring sin and death into what was until then a perfect world created by God. When Jesus Christ takes authority and rules the earth which He will very soon He will remove sin, end death and restore perfect health to its inhabitants. In that wonderful day, the Day of Christ, there will be no more hospitals, no Bethesdas and no basket cases lying in them.


The end