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Pool of Béthesda—What Was It All About?

The Pool of Béthesda (bay-thes-DAH) was a pool at the Sheep Gate in the northeastern section of Jerusalem. The pool was known for its curative powers via an intermittent spring or perhaps an angel supposedly stirring the waters. The healing quality would last only until the spring water became mingled with the surrounding water. As such, when the pool was “stirred” those needing healing would rush to the water to receive healing.

Christ visited this fascinating pool and ministered to a paralyzed man seeking healing there. Let’s read the passage:

Some time later, Jesus went up to Jerusalem for one of the Jewish festivals. Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades. Here a great number of disabled people used to lie—the blind, the lame, the paralyzed [and they waited for the moving of the waters. 4From time to time an angel of the Lord would come down and stir up the waters. The first one into the pool after each such disturbance would be cured of whatever disease they had.] One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?”

“Sir,” the invalid replied, “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.”

Then Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked.

The day on which this took place was a Sabbath, 10 and so the Jewish leaders said to the man who had been healed, “It is the Sabbath; the law forbids you to carry your mat.”

11 But he replied, “The man who made me well said to me, ‘Pick up your mat and walk.’ ”

12 So they asked him, “Who is this fellow who told you to pick it up and walk?”

13 The man who was healed had no idea who it was, for Jesus had slipped away into the crowd that was there.

14 Later Jesus found him at the temple and said to him, “See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.” 15 The man went away and told the Jewish leaders that it was Jesus who had made him well.

John 5:1-15

Verses 3b and 4 are in brackets because they’re not original to the Gospel of John. The earliest and best Greek manuscripts exclude these words. Apparently an overzealous scribe felt that the nature of the Pool of Bethesda needed explained to the reader and so added these words centuries later. As you can see, these additional lines attribute the curative powers of the pool to an angel who occasionally stirred the waters. But the original account omits this explanation. So we don’t know if the pool’s healing powers were due to an intermittent spring or an angel stirring the water now and then. Whatever the case, people were healed in the Pool of Bethesda immediately following the stirring of the waters and this explains why a great number of disabled people would lie by the pool—the blind, the lame, the paralyzed—waiting for it to be stirred, as shown in verse 3.

“Do You Want to Get Well?”

When the Messiah saw the paralyzed man and learned that he had been an invalid for a long time he curiously asks him, “Do you want to get well?” (Verse 6). Why on earth would Jesus ask such a question? Would it not be obvious that the man wanted to get well? Why else would he be sitting beside a pool with healing powers? But this was actually an imperative question. Some ill people—whether physically or mentally—become so used to their malady that it becomes a crutch for them and a source of pity, which they learn to rely on. For all Christ knew, the man was just going through the motions lying at the pool. After all, there was no way the man in his condition could make it to the pool in time to receive a healing before others got there before him (verse 7).

However, the man’s response convinced the Lord that he really wanted to be healed and so Jesus exhorted him “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk” and the man was immediately healed, picking up his mat and walking!

Notice how the man received his healing—he responded in faith to the word of the Lord. He didn’t try to convince the Lord that there was no way he could get up and walk because he was paralyzed for many years now. No, he simply responded in faith to the word of the Lord and thus immediately received his healing.

The Pool of Bethesda is a Type of the Gifts of the Holy Spirit

This fascinating pool is a type of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, which are detailed in this passage:

There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work.

Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, 10 to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. 11 All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines.

1 Corinthians 12:4-11

As you can see, there are nine gifts of the spirit, including gifts of healing, which is what Christ operated in on this occasion with the paralyzed man at the Pool of Bethesda. Verse 11 shows that these gifts are distributed to believers “individually as he [the Spirit] wills” (ESV).

I’m not going to go into detail about the gifts of the Spirit except to say that they are still in operation today and that they did not die out when the last of the first century apostles died, which is the false doctrine called Cessationism, i.e. the belief that the end of the apostolic age brought about a cessation of the miraculous gifts associated with it. The Bible encourages us to “eagerly desire” spiritual gifts not eagerly deny  them (1 Corinthians 12:31 & 14:1). Those who eagerly deny them based upon their sectarian indoctrination are fools.

For those who genuinely believe in the gifts of the Spirit and desire to operate in them, they will manifest, but only “as the Spirit wills.”

NOTE: 1 Corinthians 12:31 instructs us to “eagerly desire the greater gifts.” Which of the nine gifts of the spirit is the “greater gift”? Simply the gift that’s needed at the time. For instance, when Jesus encountered the invalid at the Pool of Bethesda the gift of healing was needed, and arguably special faith (which would obviously be needed to suddenly order a paralyzed person to get up and walk!).

Doesn’t this remind you of the Pool of Bethesda, which only healed people when the waters were stirred, and then, only those who made it to the pool in time? I’ve been at services where there’d suddenly be an anointing for, say, back problems and thus the minister called people with back issues to come up for healing. Those who complied received their healing while those who refused didn’t. I’ve also heard ministers say, after a period of time functioning in one gift of the Spirit or another, “the anointing’s gone.” Like the curative waters of the Pool of Bethesda, the anointing of one gift of the Spirit or another would come and people could receive a healing for this or that, but they had to obediently come up and receive because the anointing would eventually depart.

You might say that this is sad for the person who, for whatever reason, fails to comply and receive their healing (or whatever the case) when the gifts of the Spirit are in motion. But here’s the message of Jesus’ encounter with the invalid at the Pool of Bethesda…

You Can Receive a Healing from the LORD Any Time You want!

That’s right, you don’t have to wait around for this or that gift of the Spirit to manifest at a Charismatic service. You can receive a healing from the Lord Himself any time you want! That’s what happened with this paralyzed man at the Pool of Bethesda. His excuse for not receiving a healing at the pool was that he couldn’t get there in time, and it’s a good excuse. But this didn’t prevent him from receiving the miracle he needed directly from the Lord. Moreover, it’s important to stress that the Lord clearly wanted him to be healed even though he couldn’t make it into the curative waters. So when the man took the Lord at his word and responded with faith instead of unbelief he immediately received his healing!

For more on receiving a healing directly from the LORD see this article and the corresponding video.

The Response of Legalists to the Paralyzed Man’s Amazing Healing

Notice how the religious hypocrites responded to the invalid’s incredible healing:

At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked.

The day on which this took place was a Sabbath, 10 and so the Jewish leaders said to the man who had been healed, “It is the Sabbath; the law forbids you to carry your mat.”

John 5:9-10

Amazingly, instead of being thrilled and praising God for the man’s mind-blowing healing they were upset that he disobeyed one of their unbiblical religious rules concerning the Sabbath.

You see, the Pharisees were so ridiculously detailed and rigid with their rules concerning “working” on the Sabbath that they objected to this former-invalid carrying his mat! Can you imagine people being so blinded by legalistic zeal that they overlook an incredible healing to nitpick over what constitutes “work” on the Sabbath? This is what the poison of legalism does when people are seriously infected. Those who are not contaminated, by contrast, are ever ready to praise God when people are miraculously healed and set free. Take, for instance, the occasion when blind Bartimaeus received his sight through faith and he immediately glorified God. The passage goes on to say, “And all the people, when they saw it, gave praise to God” (Luke 18:43 NKJV). This is how normal people react to incredible healings and life-changing miracles. Not so with legalists. They’re so corrupted by rule-ism they can’t see the forest for the trees!

On another occasion Jesus and his disciples were walking through the fields on the Sabbath and picked some heads of grain to quell their hunger. Since it was the Sabbath the Pharisees argued that the disciples were guilty of working because they plucked the grain and rubbed it in their hands before eating. To their legalistic way of thinking this was equal to reaping and threshing. God’s law did forbid working on the Sabbath but it was intended to be a blessing, not a burden. The Sabbath was supposed to be a welcomed rest and celebration of God after a 6-day work week, not a joyless ritual observing man-made technicalities. Jesus’ simple-yet-brilliant response says it all:

“The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.”

Mark 2:27

For more on legalism see:

Law (Torah) — New Testament Believers are NOT Under the Law

Law (Torah) and the Believer

Legalism — Understanding its Many Forms

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