The various manuscript readings do not make it possible to determine for which festival Jesus went to Jerusalem. (John 5:1) While the oldest extant manuscripts omit the definite article before “festival” (heorté), many later manuscripts include it. Based on the definite article, many have thought that this would have been the most prominent of the three annual festivals—the Passover (followed by the seven-day Festival of Unleavened Bread). A ninth-century manuscript does, in fact, read ázymos, identifying the occasion as being the Festival of Unleavened Bread. A fourteenth-century manuscript, however, refers to it as “the Festival of Tabernacles” (he skenopegía).
While in Jerusalem, Jesus, on a Sabbath day, passed by the pool of Bethzatha (Bethesda or Bethsaida [according to other manuscript readings]), which was situated near the Sheep Gate, the northeastern entrance into the temple area. In the five porticoes that had been constructed for this pool, many afflicted persons were lying, including the blind, the lame, and the crippled. Among them was a man who had suffered from his ailment for 38 years. Aware of this man’s pitiable state for many years, Jesus said to him, “Do you want to get well?” The man explained that he had no one to put him into the pool when the water would get stirred up. While he would then try to make it into the pool, someone else would precede him. Jesus told him, “Rise, pick up your mat, and walk.” Immediately cured from his affliction, the man got up, took hold of his mat, and started to walk. (John 5:2-9)
Seeing the cured man carrying his mat, fellow Jews told him that it was unlawful for him to do this on the Sabbath. He replied that the man who had made him well had told him to pick up his mat and walk. Instead of rejoicing about the marvelous cure, the objectors continued to focus on what they perceived to be a violation of the law, saying, “Who is the man who said to you, ‘Pick up [your mat] and walk’?” The cured man could not answer this question, for Jesus had not identified himself and, because of the crowd there, had walked away. (John 5:10-13)
Later, Jesus found the cured man in the temple complex. Whether he chose to look for the man or just happened to meet him again is not disclosed in the biblical account. Jesus did use the opportunity to admonish him not to sin any more and thus to avoid having something even worse than the 38 years of suffering befall him. This could suggest that the man had in earlier years lived a sinful life that brought on his affliction. Now that he was again well he should have been concerned about not repeating past wrongs and sinning with full knowledge of the serious consequences. (John 5:14)
The biblical record does not state why the cured man felt impelled to reveal Jesus’ identity to the Jews who had accused him of breaking the law by carrying his mat on the Sabbath. It seems most unlikely that he thought that this would bring trouble to his benefactor. As he appears to have made a point of the fact that Jesus had restored him to sound health, the man may have felt that this would cause them to draw a positive conclusion about his healer and cease making an issue about his carrying the mat on the Sabbath. (John 5:15)
Those who regarded what had taken place in connection with the cured man as a violation of the law, however, made Jesus the object of their hostility. Establishing his right to do good deeds on the Sabbath, Jesus said to his opponents, “My Father has been working until now, and I continue working.” The Jews would have believed that God completed his creative activity but continued to work, extending his blessing and expressing his judgment. Based on their holy writings, they would have known that God’s works included healing and making alive. (Deuteronomy 32:39; 1 Samuel 2:6; 2 Kings 5:7) In imitation of his Father, Jesus continued to work, doing good deeds on the Sabbath. (John 5:16, 17)
Recognizing that he was referring to God as his Father in an intimate way, those hearing Jesus’ words became enraged, intent on killing him. In their minds, he had violated the Sabbath and called God his own Father in a very personal manner that was foreign to them, prompting them to conclude that he was blasphemously making himself “equal to” or like God. (John 5:18)
Jesus’ reply revealed that they were wrong in their thinking that he was making himself equal to God, for he never acted independently of his Father. He solemnly affirmed the certainty of his words with “amen, amen” and stressed that he did not act on his own authority respecting a single deed but only did what he saw his Father doing. Whatever the Father did, the Son did likewise. Calling attention to the close relationship with his Father, Jesus continued: “The Father loves the Son and shows him everything he himself does, and works greater than these he will show him, so that you may marvel. For just as the Father raises the dead and restores life, so also the Son restores life to whomever he wishes. For the Father judges no one but has granted all judgment to the Son, so that all may honor the Son as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him. Amen, amen, I say to you, that whoever hears my word and believes the one who sent me has eternal life, and is not condemned but has passed from death to life.” (John 5:19-24)
As the intimate and dearly beloved of his Father, the unique Son possessed complete knowledge of his Father’s activity. In this context, the deeds of the Father specifically relate to humankind. The Father would do works even more astonishing than one like the restoration of good health to the man who had been afflicted for 38 years. The more impressive works would amaze those beholding them. As Jesus’ words revealed, those astonishing works involved more than temporary cures from affliction. The Father would make it possible for his Son to raise the dead and give them life.
As the one to whom the Father had granted judgment authority, the Son would be in position to judge those whom he restored to life. Being the possessor of life-giving power like his Father and judge by his Father’s appointment, Jesus would be deserving of honor. All, in fact, should honor him as they would rightly honor the Father. A refusal to honor the Son would signify a refusal to honor the Father, as the Father had sent him.
In his capacity as judge, the Son would not express condemnatory judgment against those who believe in him, acknowledging him as God’s beloved Son and living a life that gives evidence of their belief or faith. Those who “hear” his word, accepting it in faith and acting on it, and who believe that the Father had sent his Son come into possession of eternal life. It is a life of an abiding approved relationship with the Father and his Son. Possessors of this eternal life, a newness of life as divinely approved persons, do not face condemnatory judgment. From a state of being dead in sins and therefore without a divinely approved standing, they have entered into the realm of life.
In past generations, this opportunity had not been opened up, as Jesus continued, “Amen, amen, I say to you that the hour is coming and is now when the dead will hear the voice of God’s Son and those hearing [it] will live.” Those who paid attention to Jesus’ words and embraced them in faith ceased to be dead in trespasses and sins and began to enjoy a newness of life. With the arrival of God’s Son on earth, the “hour” or time for this marvelous development had arrived. (John 5:25)
The Father, who had “life in himself” or life-giving power also granted the Son to have the same life-giving power. Jesus explained that he had been granted authority to render judgment because of being the “Son of Man.” By speaking of himself as the “Son of Man,” he identified himself with the one like a “son of man” (mentioned in Daniel 7:13, 14) to whom the Most High would grant kingship. (John 5:26, 27)
Jesus’ statement, “Do not be amazed at this,” could apply either to his words about being the “Son of Man” with divinely granted authority to judge or to his next comment about his restoring life to the dead and thereupon judging them. He continued speaking about himself in the third person, “The hour is coming when all in the tombs will hear his voice and come out.” Those who revealed themselves to be doers of good during their lifetime would then experience the “resurrection of life,” from then onward enjoying life eternally as persons having an approved relationship with the Father and his Son. Practicers of vile deeds, those who had set themselves in opposition to God’s ways, would face a “resurrection of judgment,” a condemnatory judgment commensurate with the life they had lived. (John 5:28, 29)
These words of Jesus parallel Daniel 12:2 (Tanakh), “Many of those that sleep in the dust of the earth will awake, some to eternal life, others to reproaches, to everlasting abhorrence.” Similarly, the apostle Paul wrote about judgment, (2 Corinthians 5:10 (NAB), “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive recompense, according to what he did in the body, whether good or evil.”
Christ’s judgment would conform to the highest standard of justice. He continued, “I can do nothing of myself, as I hear, I judge, and my judgment is just, for I seek [to do] not my own will but the will of the one who sent me.” (John 5:30) In judging, Jesus would not handle matters as if he were a law to himself. His Father is the source of the ultimate standard of justice, and it is to him that Jesus would always listen, assuring absolute impartiality. At all times, he would seek to do his Father’s will, never deviating therefrom to do his own will and failing to uphold what the demands of flawless justice require.
Jesus acknowledged that, if he merely testified respecting himself, his testimony could not be accepted as true, for it would be lacking the needed confirmation from at least one other witness. (Compare Deuteronomy 17:6; 19:15; 1 Timothy 5:19.) There was, however, another witness who bore testimony concerning him, and Jesus knew the testimony of this other witness to be true. The dependable witness was not a man. (John 5:31, 32)
Prominent Jews from Jerusalem had sent a delegation of priests and Levites to John to question him about his activity. On that occasion, John provided testimony that focused on the Messiah, the one for whom he was preparing the way. (John 1:19-27) Jesus, though, was not “accepting” the testimony from any man as if he depended upon it. He had testimony from a much higher source than man, making testimony from a human source unessential for confirmation of his identity. Jesus did not, however, reject John’s testimony. With the objective of leading his listeners to salvation or liberation from enslavement to sin, he called attention to John’s truthful witness. (John 5:33, 34)
Jesus wanted his listeners to reflect on John’s words and to act on them, leading to their acceptance of him as the promised Messiah. John proved to be a shining lamp, providing enlightenment about what was essential for being ready for Messiah’s appearance. For a short time (an “hour”), the people rejoiced in the light from this lamp, with many coming to John, listening to what he proclaimed, and being baptized by him in acknowledgment of their sinful state. (John 5:35; compare Matthew 3:1-6.) Eventually, however, increasing numbers looked upon him negatively, slanderously referring to him as being demon possessed. (Matthew 11:16-18)
The miraculous works his Father had empowered Jesus to do served as testimony far greater than what John could give. These works undeniably established that he had come from God. (Compare John 3:2; 9:24-38.) As Jesus said, “The works that I am doing testify about me that the Father has sent me.” (John 5:36) By means of the works he had given Jesus to do, his Father testified that he was his beloved Son. (Compare Hebrews 2:2-4.)
When telling those to whom he was then speaking that they had never heard God’s voice nor seen his form, Jesus did not refer to their not having such an experience in the literal sense. The holy writings, which they claimed to believe, contained God’s words and presented a clear vision respecting him. (Compare Exodus 20:18-22; 24:9-11; Judges 13:21-23; Job 38:1; 42:5; Isaiah 6:1-5; Ezekiel 1:26-28.) Their response to Jesus, the unique Son of God who flawlessly reflected the image of his Father, proved that they had not heard God’s voice as conveyed through the holy writings nor did they see God in the way he had revealed himself in these writings. God’s revelatory word did not abide in them. It was no part of their inner self, and so they lacked the essential light for recognizing the Son. This was the reason for their refusal to believe him as the one whom the Father had sent. (John 5:37, 38)
They did search the scriptures, thinking that through them they would have eternal life or a life as God’s favored people. Despite their searching, though, they failed to see the vital truth respecting the activity of the coming Messiah and allowed themselves to be blinded by what they wanted him to be. (Compare Deuteronomy 18:18, 19; Isaiah 53:1-12.) The kind of life they were seeking could only be obtained by coming to Christ, acknowledging him as God’s unique Son who could liberate them from enslavement to sin. But, as Jesus said, “You do not wish to come to me so that you might have life.” (John 5:39, 40)
Jesus felt no need to have men bestow glory or honor upon him, seeking to please them in efforts to gain their favor or approval. He was fully aware that those to whom he spoke did not have the love of God in themselves. Their refusal to love him showed that they did not love the Father who had sent him. He had come in his Father’s name, faithfully representing him in word and deed. Yet those who heard Jesus’ words refused to accept him. If, on the other hand, someone came to them in his own name, acting and speaking on his own authority, they would accept him, evidently because they would be of kindred spirit and would be hearing what they wanted to hear. (John 5:41-43)
They had the wrong view of glory, wanting the praises of men, which required an appeal to those aims and desires that pandered to the flawed human condition. They did not seek the glory or praise that had its source in the only God, not wanting to submit themselves fully to his will and ways. (John 5:44)
Although Jesus thus reproved their unbelief, he could say that they had another one who accused them for their faithlessness. That one was Moses, the very one in whom they had set their hope. If they had truly believed Moses and the Messianic prophecies recorded in the sacred writings they attributed to him, they would have believed Jesus. How, though, could they believe Jesus’ words if they did not really believe the writings of Moses, writings which they claimed to believe as being of God? (John 5:45-47)
The measure of uncertainty about which festival was involved also makes the placement of the event uncertain.
The Greek text of John 5:2 does not include the word “gate.” Based on the context, the term has been included in translations.
According to the oldest manuscripts, there is no mention about the reason for the stirring up of the waters in the pool. Later manuscripts say that an angel stirred up the waters and that the first person then stepping into the pool would be cured of whatever ailment he may have had.
The words “amen, amen, I say to you,” found in John 5:19, 24 and 25, constitute a solemn declaration and strong assurance of the statements thus introduced.