At the Pool of Bethesda, Part 1: The Setting -- By Lyn Chaffart

The book of John takes us through many deep discussions that Jesus gave at various times in His ministry. This next study takes us to John, Chapter 5, to the pool of Bethesda, to a miracle that Jesus performed for a man who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years (See John 5).

But first, let's look at the setting behind this famous discourse:

1. We know very little about the recipient of this miracle. We only know that:

a. He was disabled ("Here a great number of disabled people used to lie--the blind, the lame, the paralyzed. One who was there . . ." John 5:4,5a), and he was very likely lame ("'Sir,' the invalid replied, 'I have no one to help me into the pool . . ." John 5:7)

b. He had been an invalid for thirty-eight years (". . . He been an invalid for thirty-eight years." John 5:5b)

c. He was alone ("'Sir,' the invalid replied, 'I have no one to help me into the pool . . ." John 5:7)

d. He had never before heard of Jesus ("The man who was healed had no idea who it was . . ." John 5:13)

e. He was obedient ("At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked." John 5:9)

2. We are told that this miracle happened at the Pool of Bethesda: "Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, which is called in Hebrew, Bethesda, having five porches. In these lay a great multitude of sick people, blind, lame, paralyzed, waiting for the moving of the water. 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." (John 5:2-4 NKJV)

Archeology sheds a bit of additional light on this famous pool. It was, apparently, a familiar locale among the Jews of Jerusalem, for it was mentioned in Quran's Copper Scroll as the "place of poured out water". It is believed to have been located to the North of the temple mount, near what are now the ruins of the basilica of Saint Anne, and it was actually two pools surrounded by four porticos, with a fifth portico situated between them. Hence, "... surrounded by five covered colonnades." Archaeological remains tell us that healing at this pool was also sought by the Romans after taking over Jerusalem in A.D. 135, thus attesting to the healing properties mentioned by John.*

3. Finally, we must note that this miracle occurred on the Sabbath day: "The day on which this took place was a Sabbath . . ." (John 5:9b), and we know that the Jews were not too pleased about this man "working" on the Sabbath: "and so the Jews said to the man who had been healed, 'It is the Sabbath; the law forbids you to carry your mat.'" (John 5:10)

Although this information is interesting and helps us to better understand the miracle itself, how is this setting important for us, today?

Just this, friends.

1. In order to receive what Jesus would teach us at the Pool of Bethesda, we, like the paralytic, need to realize that we are crippled! We have lost the spiritual plane that was available to us prior to the fall of mankind! We've been this way for all of our lives, and for most of us, it has become so "normal" to be without this spiritual plane that we no longer even believe it exists (See LESSONS FROM THE BOOK OF JOHN, Study #1: Jesus and Nicodemus). Like the paralytic, we must realize first that there IS a better way, a way out, and just like him, we must abandon all other pursuits until we find it.

2. Some of the people at the pool had loved ones close by to help them get into the water when it stirred, and some of us also have those who can help us find the way back to true life. But the fact that some don't is no excuse. Remember the paralytic had been at the pool for 38 years!

3. Like the paralytic, when Jesus comes knocking on our door, we need to be open to His healing touch.

4. Just like the paralytic knew there was healing in the waters of the pool of Bethesda, we, too, have healing in the "living water" that comes from Jesus! (See LESSONS FROM THE BOOK OF JOHN, Study #2: THE WOMAN AT THE WELL).

5. And finally, there is a lesson to be learned from the fact that this miracle happened on the Sabbath. Let's remember that Jesus IS our Sabbath rest (See Heb. 4:1-10). No matter what predicament we find ourselves in, Jesus IS the answer! He invites us to cast ". . . All your care upon Him, for He cares for you." (1 Peter 5:7 NKJV). Didn't He say, "Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest" (Matt 11:28-29 NKJV)?

But aren't God's miracles something that happens often? So often in fact, that we often don't realize they are miracles of God? Join us next Saturday for AT THE POOL OF BETHESDA, Part 2: When you Receive a Miracle ...

In His love,


Lyn Chaffart, Mother of two teens, Speech-Language Pathologist, Author and Moderator for The Nugget, a tri-weekly internet newsletter, and Scriptural Nuggets, a website devoted to Christian devotionals and inspirational poems, with Answers2Prayer Ministries.

* Taken from commentary given in The Archaeological Study Bible, New International Version, Copywright © 2005 by the Zondervan Corporation, pages 1728, 1729.

(To access the entire "At the Pool of Bethesda" mini-series, please click here.)