Signs in John's Gospel
Arlen L. Chitwood
A Certain Man Healed
After this there was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.
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 . . .
Now a certain man was there who had an infirmity thirty-eight years.
When Jesus saw him lying there, and knew that he already had been in that condition a long time, He said to him, “Do you want to be made well?”
The sick man answered Him, “Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; but while I am coming, another steps down before me.”
Jesus said to him, “Rise, take up your bed and walk.”
And immediately the man was made well, took up his bed, and walked. And that day was the Sabbath. (John 5:1-3a, 5-9)
The third sign in the gospel of John has to do with the healing of a man who had been sick for “a long time,” for “thirty-eight years.” And this healing occurred through a manifestation of supernatural power, at the pool of Bethesda, on the Sabbath day.
This pool was located near the sheep gate, which some have associated with the gate through which the paschal lambs were brought to the temple for sacrifice. The pool had five porches, and these porches were filled with sick or incapacitated individuals, described four different ways — sick (with the Greek word denoting weakness wrought by the sickness), blind, lame, and paralyzed (referring to those with shrunken parts of the body, resulting from disease).
The entire scene speaks volumes about Israel’s condition at that time (a condition in which the nation remains today, 2,000 years later). And that which occurred when Jesus appeared on the scene revealed how long Israel would continue in this condition, and that which would occur once this time had run its course.
The preceding sign in the gospel of John, the healing of the nobleman’s son in Cana of Galilee after the two days spent in Samaria (the second sign), deals with one aspect of the matter.
Then, the healing of the man who had an infirmity for thirty-eight years, on the Sabbath day (the third sign), deals with another aspect of the matter.
Both deal with exactly the same thing. Both deal with Israel’s present condition and future healing, a healing that will occur after two days, on the third day (second sign), which is also that future time foreshadowed by the Sabbath day, the seventh day (third sign).
Both of these signs were preceded by a miraculous sign performed at a wedding feast in Cana, which occurred on the third day in one respect (John 2:1) and on the seventh day in another (John 1:29, 35, 43; 2:1).
And the other five signs in the gospel of John, as well, deal with different aspects of the same thing. All eight signs form different parts of the same word picture.
(Note how Scripture is structured in this respect, something seen throughout the Word. One event, or a sequence of events, is dealt with different ways at different times [via the use of types, parables, signs, metaphors, numbers, etc.]. God presents the matter from one vantage point, then another, then another . . . . And sufficient information is given, through a means of this nature, to allow man to come into a clear and correct understanding of the subject under discussion.)
The Pool, the Five Porches, the Occupants
“Bethesda,” the name of the pool near the sheep gate, is a Hebrew name meaning house of mercy; and “five [five porches]” is the number associated with grace. On these five porches, at this pool, lay “a great multitude” of sick and physically incapacitated individuals, waiting for a time when the water in the pool would be stirred up, agitated (v. 7; cf. vv. 3b, 4).
(The latter part of v. 3 [“waiting for the moving of the water,” KJV] and all of v. 4 are not found in most of the older Greek manuscripts. Thus, they appear only in the footnotes of later English versions such as the NASB, NIV, and Weymouth’s New Testament translation. Wuest would be an exception, retaining this section in the text of his translation.
The words, “when the water is troubled” [KJV] or “stirred up” [NKJV], in v. 7 [which appear in the older manuscripts and, thus, are not questioned] would seem to rest on at least the latter part of v. 3 being part of the text. And some view the matter after this fashion, omitting only v. 4.
Regardless of whether the disputed text is authentic or not, an angelic ministry such as that which can be seen in v. 4 would be in keeping with God using angels throughout His activities in the Old Testament, which in this third sign would also be in keeping with Christ’s ministry at this time — a manifestation of signs pertaining to Israel’s future healing. The length of this angelic ministry, if actually part of the inspired text, is unrevealed. It could have been something of recent date, occurring only during the time surrounding Christ’s ministry. We’re simply not told.
Good Bible teachers over about the past one hundred years have dealt with the authenticity or non-authenticity of John 5:3b, 4 both ways. The matter will simply be left open in this study. It is not necessary to either accept or reject this section as authentic in order to see and properly understand the third sign in the gospel of John.)
The scene in John 5:2, 3 — sick and incapacitated individuals lying on five porches at the pool of Bethesda, in need of healing — depicts the Jewish people in a condition that would prevent them from functioning in the position for which God had originally called the nation. With respect to the reason God called Israel into existence, the nation is depicted as being unable to do anything other than lie around on that which is associated with grace, at the house of mercy, in need of healing. And, while lying on the five porches in this condition, at the house of mercy, the nation is depicted as being blind to their true condition.
The Spirit of God moved Isaiah to begin his prophecy surrounding Israel by presenting exactly the same picture concerning the nation, along with the reason for the existing condition:
Alas, sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, a brood of evildoers, children who are corrupters! They have forsaken the LORD, they have provoked to anger The Holy One of Israel, they have turned away backward.
Why should you be stricken again? You will revolt more and more. The whole head is sick, and the whole heart faints.
From the sole of the foot even to the head, there is no soundness in it, but wounds and bruises and putrefying sores; they have not been closed or bound up, or soothed with ointment. (Isaiah 1:4-6)
This was the picture of Israel in Isaiah’s day (eighth century B.C.); this remained the picture of Israel’s condition when Christ was upon earth during the first part of the first century A.D.; and this remains the picture of Israel’s condition today, at the beginning of the twenty-first century.
This would apply to the Jews in the land (forming the present nation of Israel) or the Jews scattered throughout the Gentile nations. There is absolutely no difference between those in the land or out of the land in this respect; both form separate parts of the same group of people — the Jewish people throughout the whole world, who are sick because of past unbelief and disobedience, from which there has been no repentance.
And this is simply an outworking of that which God stated would happen as a result of the nation’s refusal to “hearken unto the voice of the Lord…to observe to do all His commandments” (Leviticus 26:14ff; Deuteronomy 28:15ff).
The present state of the Jewish people in the world stands as a testimony that God has honored that which He had revealed in His Word and has done exactly as He had stated.
And God will also remain just as faithful to His Word and heal the nation once repentance does occur. But, remaining faithful to His Word, God cannot heal the nation before repentance occurs (cf. Leviticus 26:40ff; 2 Chronicles 7:14).
Note Psalm 138:2b in this respect:
. . . for You have magnified Your Word above all Your name [lit., ‘. . . you have exalted above all things your Name and your Word’ (ref. NIV)].
There has been no change in Israel’s condition down through the centuries, and there can be no change until the One who has “torn” the nation binds the nation’s wound, which will occur following repentance, which will take place “after two days . . . in the third day [which will be the seventh day, the Sabbath, counting from the beginning of Man’s Day]” (Hosea 5:13-6:2). And this is perfectly in keeping with the signs in the gospel of John, the signs in the other three gospels, and the signs in the book of Acts.
A very similar picture is presented in Revelation 3:17 of the Church as it will exist at the end of the dispensation, depicted by the seventh church in Revelation chapters two and three, the church in Laodicea:
Because you say, “I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing”— and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked.
And the reason for this condition is revealed to be exactly the same as the reason for Israel’s present condition — unfaithfulness, disobedience, on the part of the people (Revelation 3:14-16; cf. Revelation 2:4, 14, 15, 20; 3:2). God simply will not countenance actions of this nature among His people, whether Israelites or Christians.
And the Church, very near the end of the present dispensation, is not only like Israel in the sense of being sick because of unfaithfulness and disobedience but the Church is also like Israel in the sense of being blind to their condition.
That is to say, neither Israel nor the Church recognizes their true condition. Both, relative to this condition, are blind.
One segment of the Church, as it exists today in its sick and blind condition, is so involved and intermixed with the world that it has become almost completely estranged from spiritual things; another segment has come up with all types of man-made means to bring itself out of a condition that is not even being recognized; and still another segment has involved itself with signs, seeing within the signs a supernaturalism and closer adherence to the Scriptures, not understanding that signs relate to Israel’s condition and have nothing to do with Christians.
And any or all of the preceding can only foster an already decadent condition in Christendom.
That which emanates from the flesh (man-derived means, man-made programs) is never acceptable to God. Ishmael is to be cast out; he has no inheritance with Isaac. Everything must emanate “from above,” never from below (John 3:31; cf. John 1:12, 13; 3:3, 5; 1 Peter 1:3, 23; 1 John 2:29; 3:9; 4:7; 5:1, 4, 18).
And Christians involving themselves in error (e.g., signs, which have to do with Israel, not the Church) will find no favor with God (cf. Matthew 7:21-23). The things seen and foreshadowed in Christ’s ministry in Judea and Galilee are not to be brought over into that which is seen and foreshadowed by His two-day ministry in Samaria (ref. chapter 11 of this book).
In this respect, Christians contending for signs in the Church today have not only involved themselves in error but are doing something that is quite detrimental to correctly understanding God’s dealings surrounding Israel. They have taken that which, for a God-ordained purpose, belongs to Israel; and they have brought it over into the Church, producing confusion in this whole realm.
The Church (comprised of all Christians) will be removed in its present condition at the end of the dispensation, to be dealt with by Christ at His judgment seat, with a view to the Messianic Era. Then God will turn back to Israel and deal with the nation during Daniel’s unfulfilled Seventieth Week.
Israel will pass through the fires of the Great Tribulation with one end in view — the nation’s repentance. And, accordingly, this period — a final seven years — will be of such a severe nature that repentance will ultimately be effected, resulting in God then healing the nation.
The Sign Itself
Isaiah 35:5, 6, a Messianic passage (vv. 1ff), states:
Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped.
Then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the dumb sing. For waters shall burst forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert.
Isaiah had dealt with that which sin had wrought for both the people of Israel (sickness) and the land of Israel (desolation) as he opened his prophecy in chapter one (vv. 2-7). But in chapter thirty-five he writes about a time when healing would occur for both (as he had done in the latter part of chapter one, leading into chapter two (1:16-19, 25-2:5).
When Christ was on earth manifesting signs, the time of healing, spoken of centuries before by Isaiah, was “at hand [or, ‘had drawn near’],” conditioned on Israel’s national repentance (Matthew 3:2; 4:17). All of the healings performed by Christ and His disciples (e.g., Matthew 4:23-25; 10:5-8; Luke 10:1, 8, 9, 17; Acts 3:1-8) formed signs, reflecting back on sections of Scripture such as Isaiah 35:5, 6 and foreshadowed that which the nation could have had (conditioned on national repentance, which didn’t occur) and which the nation one day will have (following national repentance, when it does occur).
1) Agitated Waters or Christ
The scene in John chapter five is that of sick and disabled Jews lying on five porches before a pool, waiting for a movement of the waters, with the hope that healing would be effected by the agitated waters. At the same time, the One who could heal them stood in their midst, offering healing, but was being ignored.
Of all those present, Christ singled out one man in order to perform a supernatural sign for all to see, pointing to healing available for all, if . . . . But even when the one man had been singled out and Christ asked, “Do you want to be made well?” (v. 6b), this man’s response remained within the same mind-set as all the others awaiting the movement of the waters:
The sick man answered Him, “Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; but while I am coming, another steps down before me.” (v. 7)
But regardless of the circumstances, Jesus then healed the man as a sign for all to behold and consider. And John, years later, was moved to record this account in his gospel as a sign for the Jewish people to continue to behold and consider.
2) Attitude of the Jews Toward Christ
The attitude of the Jews in the day Jesus healed the man who had been sick for thirty-eight years and the attitude of the Jews years later when John penned his gospel was exactly the same. The Jewish people, at the time when this sign was performed, along with Christ telling the man to take up his bed and walk, ignored the miraculous sign and sought to slay Christ because “he had done these things on the Sabbath day.” They ignored that to which the Sabbath pointed (the coming seventh day, when healing would occur for the nation), and they rejected Christ’s statement concerning His true identity, which made “Himself equal with God” (vv. 9ff).
The Lord of the Sabbath (Matthew 12:8; Mark 2:28) had used the very day (the Sabbath) when healing would occur for the nation to show the Jewish people what they could have, if . . . . And they sought to kill Him for so doing.
And the years that followed, during which time John wrote his gospel, were no different. Beginning with the first recorded healing during this period (Acts 3:1-11), though numerous Jews did believe (Acts 4:4), the nation as a whole, led by the religious leaders, followed the same path as previously seen in the gospel accounts (Acts 4:1-3, 5-22). One rejection followed another, with bloodshed and death eventually being the outgrowth of unbelief and disobedience once again (Acts 6:8; 7:51-60; cf. Matthew 12:10-14; 15:1ff; 16:1ff).
After Thirty-Eight Years, on the Sabbath
The man Christ singled out and healed had been in his sick and weakened condition for thirty-eight years. “Thirty-eight,” in this account, signifies completeness by pointing to the number forty. Comparing Scripture with Scripture, it can only relate back to the time between the Israelites’ arrival at Kadesh-Barnea under Moses (two years following the Exodus from Egypt) to that time when they were ready to enter the land under Joshua (thirty-eight years later [Deuteronomy 2:14]). Thus, there is a full forty years between the Exodus from Egypt under Moses to that time when an entire generation had been overthrown (because of unbelief and disobedience) and a new generation was ready to enter the land under Joshua, portending healing (Acts 7:36).
1) Thirty-Eight, Forty Years
“Forty” is one of several numbers used in Scripture to signify completeness (three, seven, ten, and twelve are the others, with each pointing to a particular type of completeness).
Forty days and nights were required for the Flood waters to completely cover the earth (Genesis 7:12-20); Moses life is divided into three periods of forty years each (Acts 7:23, 30, 36; cf. Deuteronomy 34:7); Moses spent forty days and nights with the Lord on Sinai (Exodus 24:18; 34:28); the twelve spies spent forty days searching the land (Numbers 13:25); then, because of unbelief, the time spent searching the land formed the basis for the time that the Israelites would be caused to wander in the wilderness before being allowed to enter the land — a year for a day (Numbers 14:34); Christ was tempted by Satan, in the wilderness, for forty days (Luke 4:2); and Christ’s post-resurrection ministry lasted forty days (Acts 1:3).
As previously seen, the thirty-eight years that the man at the pool of Bethesda had lain in his sick condition in the third sign in John’s gospel reflects back on the experiences of the Israelites under Moses at Kadesh-Barnea. And the experiences of the Israelites in history had to do with a time of unbelief and disobedience, which resulted in the Jewish people remaining in a particular condition for a full forty years.
There was a complete period of time in which God dealt with the Israelites in history; and the third sign in the gospel of John, drawing from Jewish history, foreshadows a subsequent complete period of time in which God would deal with His people, for exactly the same reason — unbelief and disobedience.
That which occurred following the experiences of the Israelites under Moses at Kadesh-Barnea had to do with the Jewish people being unable to enter into the land until a full forty years had run its course. At the end of forty years they were allowed to enter the land under Joshua, with the theocracy previously established at Sinai then being established in the land (a theocracy existed in the camp of Israel from the time that the Glory filled the Holy of Holies of the tabernacle at Sinai to that time when the Glory departed from the Holy of Holies of the temple following the Babylonian captivity [cf. Exodus 40:34; Joshua 3:13, 17; 4:18; Ezekiel 10:4, 18; 11:22, 23; 43:2-5]).
And Christ healing the man at the pool of Bethesda in John 5:1-9 (representing all in need of healing on the five porches at the pool) foreshadowed that which the Israelites under Joshua, over fourteen centuries earlier, had also foreshadowed. Both foreshadowed the Israelites ultimately being healed and being able to enter the land under Jesus (Joshua and Jesus are the same name, Hebrew and Greek), with the theocracy to be restored to Israel at that future time when the Jewish people have been reestablished in the land.
And this will not only occur after the complete period of time set forth by the full forty years but it will also occur during that time, as seen in the sign, on the Sabbath day, the seventh day, the seventh 1,000-year period introduced in the septenary arrangement of time in Genesis 1:1-2:3.
(Note also that the first man healed in the book of Acts, as a continuing sign for the nation of Israel, had been “lame from his mother’s womb” and he was “above forty years old” at the time this miraculous healing occurred [Acts 3:2; 4:22].)
2) The Sabbath
The Sabbath, introduced in Scripture in Genesis 2:1-3, forms the closing day of the septenary structure of days with which God chose to open His Word. The Sabbath later formed the fifth and longest of the Ten Commandments given to Israel under Moses (Exodus 20:8-11). The Sabbath was then later stated to be “a sign between Me [God] and the children of Israel forever” (Exodus 31:13-17).
The Israelites were to work for six days and then rest the seventh, exactly as God was doing and would yet do at a future time, based on the pattern set forth in the opening section of Genesis.
God, since Adam’s day, extending into present time, has been/is working six days (6,000 years) in a subsequent restoration of a ruined creation to that which is seen in chapter one of Genesis (that of restoring ruined man). And God, in exact accord with the established pattern will rest a day (1,000 years) at the conclusion of His work. And the Sabbath given to Israel, following six days of work, reflects back on that seen in the opening two chapters of Genesis.
Reference is made back to this section of Genesis in both the fifth commandment in Exodus chapter twenty and the sign of the Sabbath in Exodus chapter thirty-one. Then note in Hebrews 4:9 that “a rest [Greek: Sabbatismos, ‘Sabbath rest’]” awaits the people of God, and reference is once again made back to the opening two chapters of Genesis (vv. 3, 4).
Thus, the third sign in John’s gospel was performed on a day which itself formed a sign. The Sabbath was give to Israel as a sign, to keep the thought ever before the nation, that God was going to work six more days in man’s restoration (which would include healing for the nation) and then rest a seventh day.