12/17/2012 Portland, Oregon – Pop in your mints…
If you have just recently joined us here at The Mint, we are exploring the seven signs that Jesus performed which are related in the Gospel of John. We recommend that you begin by reading Changing water into wine: The first sign, and Healing of the Official’s son: The second sign, for additional context, as well as bookmarking or subscribing to The Mint for updates as we move through this important series.
We are finding that each sign appears to have a central theme, an overarching lesson that Jesus was teaching. Perhaps this is why John chose these seven out of the seemingly infinite miracles of Jesus that he had witnessed. In Changing water into wine, Obedience appears to be central to the operation of the Miracle, in the words of Mary, the mother of Jesus, “Whatever he says to you, do it.”
In healing the Official’s son, the operation of blind faith, believing without seeing, is required, “Go your way. Your son lives.” is Jesus’s response as the Official pleads with Him to journey from Cana to Capernaum to heal his son.
Today, as we begin to examine the third sign, the healing of the paralytic at Bethesda, we must be attentive to the presence of an underlying theme, for it is becoming clear that John selected each miracle carefully, and is recounting each one in order to give us something of eternal value, something that we can use today.
In the book of John, the narrative of the third sign immediately follows that of the second sign, beginning in John, Chapter 5, verses 1 – 17. It begins with Jesus returning to Jerusalem.
The return to Jerusalem
As we pick up the narrative, we find that Jesus has gone to Jerusalem for the second time during his earthly ministry (we know that he went once before with his parents at twelve years of age, making it technically the third time). This time, Jesus goes to Jerusalem in full view of the religious authorities. The observant reader will recall that after His Passover first visit, Jesus and his disciples were run out of Jerusalem by the Pharisees for what may be called “excessive baptisms.” This time, Jesus would have the first of what would be many direct confrontations with the Jewish religious authorities.
In relating this sign, John does something that at first appears to be an uncharacteristic oversight, he forgets to tell the reader which particular feast of the Jews that Jesus is attending. This apparent oversight has led come commentators to conclude that Jesus had gone to Jerusalem to celebrate Purim, which would have occurred in early March.
However, it is more likely that the feast that John referred to, or didn’t refer to, as it were, is actually the second Passover that Jesus attended during his earthly ministry. This can be inferred both positively, in that the Passover was referred to as the “Feast of the Jews” and that the explicit Passovers mentioned in John 2:13 and 6:4 require an extra year between them. This interpretation also allows for the harvest seasons mentioned in Mark 2:23 and 6:39.
It can be inferred negatively as well, in that Purim was not considered a religious feast of the Jews (it would be akin to the 4th of July, in a very stretched metaphor), and that it is unlikely that, due to the climate in Palestine in early March, that the sick persons by the pool would be lying in the open air.
The final arguments against the feast being Purim lie in the narrative itself. As Jesus performs the sign on the Sabbath, for which the religious take exception to Him, and the feast of Purim cannot be celebrated on the Sabbath.
The greater question, perhaps, is why did John, who meticulously recorded the name of the other Jewish feasts in his gospel, omit the name of this particular feast? For an answer, as well as beautiful insight into the importance of John, we turn to Dr. William Milligan in the “International Lesson Commentary”, who is here quoted in Volume III–John of B.W. Johnson’s “The New Testament Commentary,”
Why did John, whose custom it is to mark clearly each festival of which he speaks (see 2:13, 23; 6:4; 7:2; 10:22; 11:55; 12:1; 13:1; 18:39; 19:14), write so indefinitely here? The only reply that it is possible is that the indefiniteness is the result of design. The Evangelist omits the name of the feast, that the reader may not attach to it a significance that was not intended. To John,–through clearness of insight, not from power of fancy,–every action of his Master was fraught with deep significance; and no one who receives the Lord Jesus as he received him can hesitate to admit in all his words and deeds a fulness of meaning, a perfection of fitness, immeasurably beyond what can be attributed to the highest of human prophets. Our Lord’s relation to the whole Jewish economy is never absent from John’s thought. Jesus enters the Jewish temple (chapter 2:4). His words can be understood only by those who recognize that he is himself the true temple of God. The ordained feasts of the nation find their fulfillment in him. Never, we may say, is any festival named in this Gospel in connection with our Lord, without an intention on the author’s part that we should see the truth which he saw, and behold in it a type of his Master or his work. If this be true, the indefiniteness of the language here is designed to prevent our resting upon the thought of this particular festival as fulfilled in Jesus, and lead to the concentration of our thought on the Sabbath shortly to be mentioned, which in this chapter has an importance altogether exceptional.”
The significance of the Pool
The Pool of Bethesda. Up until the 19th century, when archeologists uncovered the site of the pool where Jesus performed this sign, there was no evidence outside of the Gospel of John that the pool existed. This lack of evidence caused some to argue that the Gospel was written later by someone who did not have first hand knowledge of Jerusalem and chose to use the pool in a metaphorical sense.
The discovery of the pool by archeologists in 1856 did wonders for the credibility of the Gospel of John.
As it turns out, the pool, which was first mentioned in the 8th century BCE, was formed when a dam was built across the short Beth Zeta Valley, creating a reservoir. The pool is mentioned in two other Biblical texts 2 Kings 18:17 and Isaiah 36:2, where it is referred to as the “upper pool”:
17 The king of Assyria sent Tartan and Rabsaris and Rabshakeh from Lachish to king Hezekiah with a great army to Jerusalem. They went up and came to Jerusalem. When they had come up, they came and stood by the conduit of the upper pool, which is in the highway of the fuller’s field.
2 The king of Assyria sent Rabshakeh from Lachish to Jerusalem to king Hezekiah with a large army. He stood by the aqueduct from the upper pool in the fuller’s field highway.
As well as in Isaiah 7:3:
3 Then Yahweh said to Isaiah, “Go out now to meet Ahaz, you, and Shearjashub your son, at the end of the conduit of the upper pool, on the highway of the fuller’s field.
A second pool was then added on the south side of the dam around 200 BCE. In the first century BC, caves to the east of these pools were turned into baths as part of what was know as an asclepieion, a Roman healing temple dedicated to the god Asclepius. The symbol for this god of medicine, healing, rejuvenation, and physicians is used today as the symbol for the American Medical Association and is ubiquitous in medical settings.
The site was brought inside the walls of Jerusalem by the expansion of Herod Agrippa around 50 BCE. The pools, which had been constructed to bring living water into Jerusalem, had been turned into a pagan bath house whose waters are thought to have healing powers. Naturally, it was crowded with those hoping to become well.
Today, the site of these pools is in the Muslim East Jerusalem near the ruins of a Crusader church which was completed in 1138 CE on a site that what was thought to be the birthplace of Jesus’ grandmother, Saint Anne.
So Jesus, on the Passover, the holiest of all Sabbaths, goes to the pagan bath house, which also happens to be the site that representatives of the Assyrian army stood and publicly humiliated Hezekiah, the King of Judah, before Jerusalem was invaded by them in 701 BCE. Furthermore, according to later tradition, is near the grotto where his grandmother was believed to have born.
The pool at Bethesda ia a very interesting place, and Jesus has chosen to go there on the Passover. What would he do?
Stay tuned for more of the third sign and Trust Jesus.
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