What are we to make of this angel that stirred up the pool of Bethesda, which healed the first one who jumped in?
Joh 5:1 After this there was a feast of the Jews; and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. Joh 5:2 Now there is at Jerusalem by the sheep market a pool, which is called in the Hebrew tongue Bethesda, having five porches. Joh 5:3 In these lay a great multitude of impotent folk, of blind, halt, withered, waiting for the moving of the water. Joh 5:4 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. Joh 5:5 And a certain man was there, which had an infirmity thirty and eight years. Joh 5:6 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? Joh 5:7 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. 5:8 Jesus saith unto him, Rise, take up thy bed, and walk. 5:9 And immediately the man was made whole, and took up his bed, and walked: and on the same day was the sabbath. 5:10 The Jews therefore said unto him that was cured, It is the sabbath day: it is not lawful for thee to carry thy bed. 5:11 He answered them, He that made me whole, the same said unto me, Take up thy bed, and walk. 5:12 Then asked they him, What man is that which said unto thee, Take up thy bed, and walk? 5:13 And he that was healed wist not who it was: for Jesus had conveyed himself away, a multitude being in that place. 5:14 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. 5:15 The man departed, and told the Jews that it was Jesus, which had made him whole. 5:16 And therefore did the Jews persecute Jesus, and sought to slay him, because he had done these things on the sabbath day. 5:17 But Jesus answered them, My Father worketh hitherto, and I work. 5:18 Therefore the Jews sought the more to kill him, because he not only had broken the sabbath, but said also that God was his Father, making himself equal with God.
Why does this story even exist?
Let’s start with the pool itself. Bethesda, which means “house of mercy”, was the name of the pool. Archeologists had, apparently, incorrectly identified the wrong pool in the wrong location until the right pool was actually discovered in the 1860’s. Up until that time, what had confounded scholars was John 5:2 saying that the pool had five porches. What pool has five porches? By “porches,” they mean steps that are interspersed with landings, three sets of steps and landings that lead down to the bottom of the pool. So scholars concluded that either the text was “an unhistorical literary creation,” or perhaps symbolic, “intended to represent the five books of the Torah that were somehow superseded by the miracle of Jesus,” which makes no sense.
But then they discovered the correct pool, and it, indeed, had five porches. It’s, essentially, shaped like a square eight. You had porches around the outer rectangular wall with one porch crossing the middle of the pool. This pool actually had five porches. There was an article in Biblical Archeology about this that came out in June, 2021, and I talked about this on a podcast. They also said in another article that archeologists initially thought that this pool was simply a reservoir but now they argue that this was a mikveh, a Jewish ritual bath that existed at the time of Christ. They wrote that, “The first clue that what we see today is a mikveh is that steps in the southern pool extend across its entire width. Such steps allowed large numbers of individuals to undergo ritual bathing at the same time. Wide steps like those at Bethesda never occur in reservoirs since they considerably diminish the capacity of the pool.” That makes perfect sense to me. It had to have been a mikveh.
Don’t even get me started on The Chosen. They had an episode about the lame man of John 5. At one point, the show had the disciples and even Jesus Himself dismissing the idea that an angel stirred the water, called it a “myth,” and that what was happening was just natural hot springs beneath the pool, which was beyond stupid. What kind of hot spring could heal a lame man? Or heal anyone of anything? How could a hot spring only heal the first person who went into the pool? Only a miraculous intervention can make any sense out of this story.
I’d guess The Chosen’s creators took that route because the corrupted minority texts, like the Vaticanus and Sinaiticus manuscripts, say nothing of an angel in John 5, although “angel” is in the Alexandrinus. It’s irrelevant what anyone thinks about how old those manuscripts may be. They’re not the Word of God. What does God teach about the preservation of His Word? Psa 12:6 The words of the LORD are pure words: as silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times. Psa 12:7 Thou shalt keep them, O LORD, thou shalt preserve them from this generation for ever. Are you going to say that all the people of the world had incomplete, error-filled Bibles until those old texts were discovered in the 1800’s? Nonsense. God’s complete, perfect, written Word was always available to all the people before the 1800’s. Why? Because God does what He says. He will preserve His Word from that generation forever. End of story. In fact, the Sinaiticus was found in a dumpster, which is exactly where it belonged.
Back to the story. What the Majority Text tells us is the truth. An angel stirred that pool. Period. I’ll take the word of 5,000 manuscripts over 5 any day of the week, thank you. What are we to make about the meaning of this story? Why did the angel stir up this pool to heal people? How did it work? What corresponding verses would you use to substantiate any exegesis you might give on these passages?
There’s an interesting thing about the Gospel of John. John has eight miracles. And what’s so brilliant about these eight miracles in John is that there is a connection between the first four miracles and the last four miracles. The first miracle corresponds with the eighth miracle. The second corresponds with the seventh, the third to the sixth, and the fourth to the fifth.
Now consider what we read about the pool of Bethesda. This is the third miracle in the book of John, which would correspond with the sixth miracle in John 9, the healing of the blind man at the pool of Siloam. Baker writes, “Both took place in Jerusalem. Both took place at pools, one at the pool of Bethesda and the other at the pool of Siloam. In both cases the men had been afflicted for a very long time, one for 38 years and the other from birth. Of both it is stated, ‘Jesus saw him,’ and in both cases it was Jesus who came to the afflicted ones, and not as was usually the case, the afflicted coming to Jesus. Both men were healed on the Sabbath day, and in both cases great persecution by the Jews resulted. In only these two signs is sin mentioned, and strangely enough in both cases the ones healed did not know at the time who had healed them. One does not need to have great spiritual insight to see that these signs point to Israel’s spiritual condition, that of longstanding impotence and blindness…”
So WHY did an angel stir the pool?
Look at Joh 5:1 After this there was a feast of the Jews; and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. We do not know which feast this was. Then look at Joh 5:4 For an angel went down at a certain season into the pool, and troubled the water… It may be possible that the certain season in which the angel came to stir the waters was one or all the feast days, the feast of Passover, Pentecost, Tabernacles, Dedication, Purim, the Day of Atonement, whatever. Why? None of the dispensationalists I read tried to offer an explanation.
I’m going to warn you now this is pure Joel-ology.
I’d suggest that this was designed to prepare the people for the coming of the Messiah and all the healings He would bring them. Whereas the one lucky person who got into the pool first was healed, when the Messiah comes, everyone would have the opportunity to be healed. I think God limited the number of healings at the pool so the people would be conditioned to rejoice at the unlimited number of healings by Christ for all the people. Now that the Messiah has come, no longer would there be limits to the number of people who could be healed. Now they’d have healings without limits, restrictions, or conditions. And the healings were not simply signs that Christ was the Messiah, but they also painted a portrait of Israel’s spiritual poverty and the healing He brings, plus, they foreshadowed life in the kingdom, the healing of His own people, as well as the healing of the nations, and the restoration of long life as we had in the distant time past.
Did the angel have the power to heal?
I don’t believe he did, because miraculous healings were always done through the Spirit, just as Christ healed through the Spirit, just as the disciples healed through the Spirit, and just as Paul had healed through the Spirit. Miraculous healings were always through the Spirit. In Act 10:38 Peter would say that “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Ghost and with power: who went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil; for God was with him.” Christ was anointed by God with the Spirit and He was anointed with power “healing all that were oppressed of the devil”. I think Christ was anointed to begin miracles by the Spirit at His baptism, and Peter explained what it was He was anointed to do. Healings. Exorcisms. Christ would even say in Mat_12:28 that He casts out devils “by the Spirit of God.” He said, “But if I cast out devils by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God is come unto you.” Here we have another mention of the entire Godhead in one verse. We have Christ proclaiming that He is doing miracles according to the will of the Father through the Holy Spirit. Everything in the Bible is of the Father, by Jesus Christ, through the Spirit. Likewise, I think, the angel who stirred the waters of the pool Bethesda was operating in service of the Holy Spirit who was the One who actually did the miracles. So the angel stirred the waters, which made everyone know that it was time to jump into the pool, and then the Holy Spirit Himself healed the first one in.
How many years was this angel stirring the water?
We know the lame man had been afflicted for 38 years, but we don’t know how many years he’d been waiting by the pool. I’d guess that these miracles had been going on for 30 years, since the birth of Christ, to prepare the people for the coming of the Messiah and the unlimited healings He would do for them. It may have been the arrival of Christ onto the Earth that brought about the reopening of the gate Heaven to the people of Israel along with the visitation of the angels, which was why Christ told Nathanael, Hereafter ye shall see heaven open… Heaven had been closed but became open again with the arrival of Christ, and from that moment onward Nathanael would be blessed by seeing it open and all the angels serving Christ. Thus, I suspect that it was when the gate of Heaven had reopened again that the angel began a healing ministry by stirring the water at the pool of Bethesda in order to ready the people for the Messiah and His unlimited healings.