What is the meaning of Bethesda in John 5?

“Now there is at Jerusalem by the sheep market a pool, which is called in the Hebrew tongue Bethesda, having five porches.” John 5:2

The Pool of Bethesda was “in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate” (John 5:2), which places it north of the temple, near Fort Antonia. John gives the additional detail that the pool was “surrounded by five covered colonnades.” During Jesus’ time, the Pool of Bethesda lay outside the city walls. It was at this pool that Jesus performed a miracle showing that He is greater than any human malady and that superstition and religious folklore are foolish and feeble substitutes for faith in God.

The Pool of Bethesda was used in ancient times to provide water for the temple. The mention of the “Upper Pool” in 2 Kings 18:17 may be a reference to the Pool of Bethesda. Sometime during the Hasmonean Period, an additional pool was added to the original one.

The name of the pool, “Bethesda,” is Aramaic. It means “House of Mercy.” John tells us that “In these lay a great multitude of impotent folk, of blind, halt, withered, waiting for the moving of the water.” John 5:3. The covered colonnades would have provided shade for the disabled who gathered there, but there was another reason for the popularity of the Pool of Bethesda. Legend had it that an angel would come down into the pool and stir up the water.

“For an angel went down at a certain season into the pool, and troubled the water: whosoever then first after the troubling of the water stepped in was made whole of whatsoever disease he had.” John 5:4.

On the day that Jesus visited the Pool of Bethesda, there was a man there who “had been an invalid for thirty-eight years”

“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 was the sabbath.” John 5:5–9

In this account, Jesus does NOT dispute the story about the Angel stirring the pool, in the same manner that Satan stated the world was delivered to him and that he could give it to whoever he wanted.

“And the devil, taking him up into an high mountain, shewed unto him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. And the devil said unto him, All this power will I give thee, and the glory of them: for that is delivered unto me; and to whomsoever I will I give it. If thou therefore wilt worship me, all shall be thine. And Jesus answered and said unto him, Get thee behind me, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve.” Luke 4:5-8

The point is a subtle one, that Jesus did not invalidate these beliefs or statements as He has in other cases.

“The same day came to him the Sadducees, which say that there is no resurrection, and asked him, Saying, Master, Moses said, If a man die, having no children, his brother shall marry his wife, and raise up seed unto his brother. Now there were with us seven brethren: and the first, when he had married a wife, deceased, and, having no issue, left his wife unto his brother: Likewise the second also, and the third, unto the seventh. And last of all the woman died also. Therefore in the resurrection whose wife shall she be of the seven? for they all had her. Jesus answered and said unto them, Ye do err, not knowing the scriptures, nor the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels of God in heaven.” Matthew 22:23-30

The day Jesus healed the man at the poolside was on the Sabbath. As the man left Bethesda, the Jewish leaders saw him carrying his mat, and they stopped him:

“The Jews therefore said unto him that was cured, It is the sabbath day: it is not lawful for thee to carry thy bed. He answered them, He that made me whole, the same said unto me, Take up thy bed, and walk. Then asked they him, What man is that which said unto thee, Take up thy bed, and walk? And he that was healed wist not who it was: for Jesus had conveyed himself away, a multitude being in that place.” John 5:10-13

The reaction of the Jewish leaders shows that, no matter how much proof God provides, there will be some people who refuse to see the truth. Jesus was a bona fide Miracle Worker, but the religious leaders couldn’t see the miracle. All they could see was that someone had violated a rule. The issue was not the breaking of God’s command, for Jesus fulfilled the Law and was completely subject to it (Matthew 5:17). The only thing being broken was a pharisaical interpretation of one of God’s laws. So, a blessing meant to increase faith only increased the blindness of those who refused to acknowledge the blessing.

The postscript to the story reveals that the man who was physically healed still needed some spiritual healing. “Afterward Jesus findeth him in the temple, and said unto him, Behold, thou art made whole: sin no more, lest a worse thing come unto thee.” John 5:14

Jesus’ words are a rebuke of an unnamed sin—the man was living contrary to God’s will somehow—and a warning of “something worse.” than thirty-eight years of paralysis could come upon him. (Mark 9:47)

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© Tony - W.A.M