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Bible Commentaries

William Godbey's Commentary on the New Testament

John 5

 

 

Other Authors
Verses 1-47

CHAPTER 13

THE POOL OF BETHESDA

John 5:1-47. “After these things there was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.” You always find the phraseology in the Bible, “Go up to Jerusalem.” This was literally true, as Jerusalem is high up on Mt. Zion. It is also a peculiar Orientalism, in harmony with the phraseology of all nations, who, through the ages, have always thus alluded to the seat of Government, whether it be on a lofty mountain or down on the seashore.

“There is in Jerusalem a pool at the sheep-market, called Bethesda in Hebrew, having five porches. In these were lying down a great multitude of the sick, the blind, the lame, the paralyzed, awaiting the moving of the water.” Bethesda means “house of mercy,” because it was a celebrated sanitarium. It is near the gate now called St. Stephen's, because they say that he was dragged out through this gate, and stoned in front of it, pointing out to us the place of his martyrdom. I went into this pool during both of my visits at Jerusalem. The five porches, with their stone arches, are still there.

John 5:4, in E.V., about the angel coming down and troubling the water, and the first incomer being healed, is not in the original, but an interpolation which some one has added.

“And there was a certain man there, having thirty-eight years in sickness. Jesus seeing him lying down, and knowing that he already has much time, says to him, Do you wish to be made whole? The sick man responded to Him, Lord, I have no man that, when the water may be troubled, may cast me into the pool; and while I am going, another goes down before me. Jesus says to him, Arise, take thy bed and walk about. And immediately the man was made whole, and took his bed and continued to walk round. And it was the Sabbath; on that day therefore the Jews continued to say to the man who had been healed, It is the Sabbath; it is not lawful for thee to carry thy bed. He responded to them, The One having made me whole, He said to me, Take up thy bed and walk about. Then they asked him, Who is the Man who said to thee, Take thy bed and walk about? And the man who had been healed did not know who He is; for Jesus went out, the multitude being in the place. After these things, Jesus finds him in the temple, and said to him, Behold, thou hast been made whole; sin no more, in order that something worse may not come upon thee. The man departed, and reported to the Jews that Jesus is the One having made him whole. Therefore the Jews continued to persecute Jesus, and seek to kill Him, because He was doing those things on the Sabbath. And Jesus responded unto them, My Father worketh, and I work also, even till now. Then the Jews, on this account, continued the more to seek to kill Him, because He was not only breaking the Sabbath, but was even saying that God is His own Father, making Himself equal to God.” While the Jews could not criticize the miraculous philanthropy of healing the poor man, who had suffered thirty- eight years, they now focalize all their diabolical malice on the Sabbath question, alleging that He was going right ahead with His work on the Sabbath-day. How stunningly Jesus answers them, “My Father worketh, and I work even until now!” i.e., God goes ahead with His work all day Sunday, keeping the planets spinning in their orbits, worlds moving, systems revolving, the sun shining, rivers flowing, all hearts beating, the blood circulating, the vital functions all going on, and the mighty machinery of the boundless universe still moving along its appointed way. If God did not work on Sunday, the worlds and systems of worlds would cease to move, vital currents no longer flow, and life cease in all the universe. This they could not deny. So Jesus certifies that He is working on through the Sabbath-day in harmony with the example of His Father. Now remember that His example is ours too. Therefore we have no right to spend the Sabbath in idleness, worldly pleasure or pastime. But, like Jesus, we should work hard on the Sabbath, doing good, saving souls, glorifying God, and laboring to girdle the world with gospel grace and heavenly philanthropy. Like all fallen Churches, the Jews had run the forms of religion into silly fanaticism, taking the shadow for the substance. The Sabbath is all right in its place, and we should certainly keep it holy; but remember that it is to be subordinated to the glory of God, and devoted to works of mercy, those of necessity being also recognized. Every age has had its fanaticisms. In my travels I frequently meet these Sabbatical fanatics, preaching holy days instead of holy hearts, disturbing and unsettling the people of God, much to the detriment of our Savior's kingdom. If the heart is holy, the Sabbath will be kept, and all other duties faithfully performed. I find another class of fanatics preaching baptismal regeneration, thus worshipping a water-god, while the poor Sabbatarians worship a daygod. Good Lord, deliver us from all sorts of idolatry!

“Then Jesus responded and said to them, Truly, truly, I say unto you, The Son is not able to do anything of Himself unless He may see the Father doing something; for whatsoever things He may do, these the Son doeth likewise.” These statements certainly do prove the identity of the Father and the Son, which is in perfect harmony with their distinct personalities. I am editor in the morning, teacher in the afternoon, and preacher at night, thus exhibiting to the world three personal characters, and still I am but one.

“For the Father loveth the Son, and showeth Him all things which He doeth; and greater works than these will He show unto Him, in order that you may be astonished.” Though our Savior, during the first year of His ministry, had wrought many wonderful works, yet those attending His crucifixion witnessed far greater; i.e., the darkening of the sun, the earthquake, the rending of rocks and the temple veil, and His own resurrection and glorious ascension, transcended anything they had hitherto witnessed.

“For as the Father raiseth up the dead and createth life in them, so the Son also createth life in whom He willeth.” Not only does this wonderful and comprehensive statement apply to the resurrection of the body, but pre- eminently to that of the soul, whom God raises from the dead in regeneration, actually “creating life” in that dead human spirit as really as the creation of a world. So Jesus here affirms that He raises from the dead, human souls and bodies, just like the Omnipotent Father.

“For the Father judgeth no one, but hath given all judgment to the Son, in order that all may honor the Son as they may honor the Father. He that honoreth not the Son, honoreth not the Father who sent Him.” This not only sweeps away one hundred and seventy-five millions of Mohammedans, who are very zealous worshipers of the Father, but it demolishes all of the Unitarians, who claim to worship and honor the Father, ignoring the Divinity of the Son, and thus insulting Him with the vilest dishonor by degrading Him to the status of a man. Truly do Jesus and Paul say that Christ is a stumbling-block, over which millions stumble and plunge headlong into hell. O how stoutly the Moslem millions do argue and preach against the Divine Sonship, alleging that it is utterly incompatible with the character of God to have a Son!

“Truly, I say unto you, That the one hearing My Word, and believing on Him that sent Me, hath eternal life, and doth not come into condemnation, but has passed out of death into life.” O what a grand, unmistakable, and irrefutable declaration of salvation through faith alone! In this wonderful verse we see the subject has already passed out of spiritual death into spiritual life, so that he already has in his heart the eternal life, which the angels and redeemed around the throne enjoy, while there is no human condition specified but hearing the Word and believing. Repentance is involved in faith, being a prerequisite, to put us on believing ground, while obedience and a holy life follow invariably, as the stream flows from the fountain. In this one verse we have the whole plan of salvation in a nutshell. What a wonderful text from which to preach the everlasting gospel!

“Truly, truly, I say unto you, That the hour cometh, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God, and hearing, they shall live.” This has direct allusion to spiritual resurrection. That very moment, the Omnipotent Son of God was standing before them, whose providence it is to speak the dead to life. O what an auspicious time and golden opportunity the thronging multitudes attending the Passover enjoyed! What a pity they let the devil, through the influence of their preachers and leaders, blind their eyes and plunge them into irretrievable ruin, their bodies hastening to an awful death in the destruction of Jerusalem, and their never-dying souls into the doom of a Christless eternity!

“For as the Father hath life in Himself, so He has also given unto the Son to have life in Himself.” Here we see the co-equality of the Son with the Father, having life in Himself, which is peculiar to God alone, thus proving most unequivocally the Divinity of Christ.

“And He hath given Him power also to execute judgment, because He is the Son of man.” It is a precious consolation to know that a member of our own race, in purest and truest sympathy with us, is to judge us in the great day. Whereas fallen human beings are the children of the devil (John 8:44), Jesus is the only Son of unfallen humanity the world has ever seen. Hence the Man Jesus is perfectly free from every taint of human corruption. Consequently we know that His judgment in our behalf is not only infallible, but sweetened with that unutterable love which brought Him from heaven to die for us.

“Be not astonished at this; because the hour cometh in which all who are in their graves shall hear His voice, and shall come forth: those who have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and those who have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation.” Here we have a clear and positive revelation, assuring us that all, both good and bad, will be raised from the dead. While the resurrection and glorification of the bodies of the saints, and their reunion with their spirits, will prove a glorious augmentation of their happiness, it follows, as a legitimate sequence from the law of Divine retribution, that the physical resurrection of the wicked will infinitely increase their torments in the regions of endless woe. There are mysterious problems connected with these momentous truths, solvable only from the consideration of the participation in good or evil appertaining to these bodies. Man is mysteriously and wonderfully made, consisting of spirit, intellect, and body, and all immortal, like God, who created him “in His own image and likeness.” Therefore the body of man is as immortal as his soul. You see how these words of the Savior sweep away the silly dogma of the annihilationist, showing clearly that the bodies of the wicked will be raised in the general resurrection, clothed with immortality, again becoming the receptacles of the wicked souls once inhabiting them, and soul and body, thus reunited, cast into hell, sinking down to deeper depths and more horrific retributions than ever known in the disembodied state. On the contrary, though the saints, disembodied, are perfectly happy in heaven, as everything there is perfect, yet when, responsive to the archangel’s trump, they shall descend and receive their bodies, lustrous with the resurrection glory, and, soul and body united, fly away to explore the boundless celestial universe, with adoring wonder eternally contemplating the ineffable glory of creative Omnipotence, profounder depths, broader latitudes, more infinite longitudes, and more glorious altitudes will continue to burst upon the enraptured soul, now not only in possession of the glorified intellect, but the risen, transfigured, and immortalized body; thus, with ever-increasing sunburst of ineffable glory and immortality, triumphant humanity, probation left far behind in total and eternal eclipse, will sweep on, parallel with the flight of celestial cycles, accumulating new luster, exploring hitherto unseen worlds, and will sweep on through ceaseless cycles of eternity.

“I am not able to do anything of Myself; as I hear, I judge; My judgment is righteous, because I do not seek My own will, but the will of the Father who sent Me.” Of course, the Divine will of the Son is identical with that of the Father, while His human will must be perfectly subordinated to it, otherwise a trend to aberrate from the Divine will would supervene, which could only prove detrimental and focalize ultimately in selfwill. As the Man Jesus is our Paragon, and He ignored His own will to do that of His Father — thus His human will, not only being subsidiary to, but identical with, the Divine will — so in our case, self-will must be totally abnegated and absorbed in the will of God. You must remember that while Jesus is perfect God, He is also a perfect Man, having a personal human will, like all other men, with the single exception that, having no participation in the fall, His will was always perfectly free from every taint of selfishness.

“If I testify concerning Myself, My testimony is not true.” Lord, save us from testifying about ourselves! Jesus abnegated it. While on earth, He was God's Witness, testifying to the word the power, love, and grace of the Father. We should do likewise — go and tell the people about God, His wonderful salvation, at the same time, in the attitude of His humble witnesses, testifying to a lost world His power to save, witnessing to all His mighty works in our own souls and bodies.

“There is Another who testifieth concerning Me, and I know that His testimony is true that He testifieth concerning Me. You sent to John, and he testified to the truth; but I do not receive the testimony from man; but I speak these things in order that you may be saved. He was a bright and shining light, and you were willing to rejoice for an hour in his light.” John the Baptist, the last of the Old Testament prophets and the greatest of all, was sent of God to witness to the people the Christhood of Jesus. He did his work faithfully, courageously, and unequivocally, not only preaching to the multitude the presence of the Messiah on the earth, but actually pointing Him out, and formally introducing Him to the gazing throng. Those very people, to whom Jesus is here preaching on the Temple Campus, had sent a delegation of priests and Levites to John to make a special inquiry in reference to this momentous issue. To these, John gave a most unequivocal answer, making them all witnesses to his testimony to the Christhood of Jesus. Here our Savior tells them how they “rejoiced for an hour” in the grand and glorious light of John the Baptist. Here He touches a memorable and significant fact; i.e., the evanescence of that wonderful Johannic revival which, beginning in the desert of Judea with the illiterate peasantry, swelling out, magnetized Jerusalem, Judea, and all the regions round about Jordan, so that, dropping their employments, they hastened away to hear the wonderful prophet of the wilderness: the tide rising, the revival wave broadening, multitudes coming from foreign lands; e.g., Apollos from Africa, such a revival having never been known in the annals of the world. Yet how transient the effect! Well does Jesus speak of it as lasting but “an hour.” While that was true of the great multitude, the same tumultuous throng who hung spellbound six solid months on the lips of the eloquent Baptist, three years subsequently, manipulated by their leading ministers, shouted, uproariously, “Crucify Him!” Yet we must remember that the apostles and the original disciples of Jesus, the faithful few who followed Him in all of His peregrinations, and stood by Him in all His persecution — His enemies hounding Him for His life — subsequently receiving the Pentecostal baptism, and preaching the gospel to the ends of the earth, were, in the main, disciples of John the Baptist.

“I have a testimony greater than that of John; for the works which the Father gave Me, in order that I may perfect them, these works, which I do, testify concerning Me, because the Father hath sent Me; and the Father having sent Me, Himself bath testified concerning Me.” While the testimony of John and many others is really conclusive and unanswerable, yet the stupendous miracles which Jesus was all the time performing — so many cases of bodily healing and demoniacal ejectment that we may justly conclude that the New Testament record is but a tithe — prove and demonstrate His Christhood, to the satisfaction of every diligent inquirer after truth, beyond the possibility of cavil.

“You have never heard His voice, nor seen His face, and you have not His Word abiding in you, because you do not believe Him whom He has sent.” Did not God come into the garden and speak to Adam and Eve face to face? Did not Moses look upon the rear of His person as He passed by, putting His hand over him that he might not see His face? Did not Moses abide with Him, hear His voice, and see His face forty days on Mt. Sinai when He gave him the law? Did He not come, accompanied by two angels, to Abraham's tent at Mamre, conversing and eating with him? There are two Hebrew words occurring throughout the Old Testament representing God — i.e., Elohim, which means God Almighty, the word being in the plural number, including the Son and the Spirit; and Yehovah i.e., Jehovah, which means the Excarnate Christ. John the Baptist (M. in) and Paul (1 Corinthians 10) certify the identity of the Jehovah of the Old Testament with the Christ of the New. Hence these personal manifestations of God in the Old Testament are the Excarnate Son; as we must remember that Christ has always been in the world, throwing wide open the door of God's saving mercy to all appreciative souls, making salvation graciously possible in all ages and nations, and under all circumstances, as He is the “True Light, which lighteth every man which cometh into the world.”

“And you have not His Word abiding in you, because you do not believe Him whom He has sent.” Now, remember, Jesus rang out this awful truth in the faces of the pastors of the popular Churches, the great preachers, the ruling elders, and the Official Board. If these people, who claimed to understand and love the Word of God, were in this awful dilemma, “without the Word abiding in them,” should we not all profit by their sad example?

“Search the Scriptures, because in them you think you have eternal life, and they are the witnesses testifying concerning Me; and you do not wish to come to Me, in order that you may have light.” Those people, with the highest culture of the age, graduates from the rabbinical colleges, expounders of the Scriptures in the synagogue, lights and leaders of the people, could not see that the Bible was literally full of Christ. The same phenomenon this day confronts us on all sides: men of highest culture, with collegiate diplomas, standing at the front of the Churches, leaders to whom the multitudes look for light, example, and wisdom, can not find Christian perfection in their Bibles. What is the solution? The Bible is a sealed book until revealed by the Holy Ghost. These people are without the indwelling Expositor, standing precisely where the clergy and official members stood in the days of Christ. They would not come to Christ because they believed they were already saved, when they were barbarically ignorant of first principles.

“I do not receive glory from men; but I have known you, that you have not the love of God in yourselves.” Jesus here uses that profoundly significant word agape, which means the Divine nature, and constitutes the essence of human salvation. The Holy Ghost pours it out into the heart in regeneration (Romans 5:5), while it is made perfect in the sanctification, which eliminates away all depravity, leaving this love to reign in the heart and life without a rival. The very fact that these preachers and influential Church members, to whom Jesus made this statement, were without the love of God abiding in their hearts, simply means that they were sinners, exposed to wrath and hell. Lord, help us to profit by their fatal mistake!

“I have come in the name of My Father, and you are not receiving Me; if another may come in his own name, him you will receive.” A number of false Christs did rise, within the next forty years after this utterance, whom those same people did receive and follow. It is equally true this day, that if a man wants a following, he must come in his own name, with a flourish of trumpets, high-sounding titles, and human display. If he sinks away into God, the world will lose sight of him, and the worldly Churches reject him.

“How are you able to believe, receiving glory from one another, and you do not seek the glory which is with God alone?” Here we see that human ambition, in all of its forms and phases, is incompatible with real faith. For this reason, everything possible should be done to divest preachers and Church members of all human eclat, worldly aggrandizement, and vain glory. Ministerial ambition ruins the clergy and the Churches, defeating all efforts in the way of their sanctification; as no one can be sanctified who is a candidate for anything but reproach, persecution, and heaven. The New Testament bishop is simply a pastor — i.e., a leader of a holiness band, as the apostolic Churches knew nothing about human ecclesiasticisms, but were simply holiness bands. The creation of these high, honorable, and remunerative ministerial offices is calculated to ruin all of the young preachers, inflating them with ambition, and stirring them up to seek office, place, and emolument — i.e., human honor — which Jesus here utterly condemns, certifying its irreconcilable disharmony with faith, without which neither preacher nor people can be saved.

“Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father; Moses, in whom you have hope, is the one accusing you. If you believe in Moses, you believe in Me; for he wrote concerning Me. If you do not believe his writings, how will you believe My words?” Our Savior's learned audience at this time boasted in the discipleship of Moses, claiming to keep every ramification of the Mosaic law, and making it their daily business to expound to the people the Scriptures of Moses; yet Jesus certifies that they didn't believe them. Of course, they thought they did. Do not forget that the preaching of Jesus is as applicable to the present generation as to His contemporaries. His audience verily thought that they not only believed the Pentateuch of Moses, but were walking daily in obedience to the same. The mystery clears away when we remember that the Bible is a spiritual book, having a spiritual interpretation, of which unspiritual people are utterly ignorant. God's religion is a secret, which none but God — i.e., the Holy Ghost — can reveal. The apostate Jewish Church had fallen into the hands of the unspiritual clergy, who are utterly incompetent to dispense to the people the bread of life, because they themselves were spiritually dead, and dead men are not very suitable to feed others. John is the only evangelist who gives an account of our Savior’s visit to Jerusalem at this time, attending the second Passover, of His ministry, and preaching to the vast multitudes convened on the Temple Campus. In this chapter he gives us one of the Master's powerful sermons, which shot the lightning of conviction in forked horrors in all directions, hewing down the tall clergy without distinction or mercy, revealing inbred sin in its Gorgon horrors, and sending the dynamite of conviction into the deep interior of all appreciative hearts, thus scoring deep with the gospel ax, and hewing to the line of the infallible plummet.

 


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Bibliography Information
Godbey, William. "Commentary on John 5:4". "William Godbey's Commentary on the New Testament". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/ges/john-5.html.

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