The Pool of Bethesda (Aramaic for “House of Mercy”) was a spring-fed pool just north of the temple. Near the water “a great number of disabled people used to lie—the blind, the lame, the paralyzed” (John 5:3). These people would wait expectantly at the pool because they believed an angel would come down into the pool and “stir up the water.” Then, according to the superstition, “whoever stepped in first, after the stirring of the water, was made well of whatever disease he had” (John 5:4, NKJV). The man who was told to “take up your bed and walk” was one of these people who trusted that the water would provide healing. What he really needed was Jesus.
On the day Jesus visited the Pool of Bethesda, the invalid was there, waiting for the angel to do his magical work. The man did not know Jesus and thought the pool was what he needed to be healed. He complained to Jesus that there was “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” (John 5:7). Jesus swept aside all superstition and false belief with one command: “Rise! Take up your bed and walk!” (John 5:8, NKJV). The man was instantly cured, and “he picked up his mat and walked” (verse 9). The man never got wet. It was not the water the man needed but Jesus.
Through this third “sign” or miracle in the Gospel of John, Jesus shows He is the ultimate Healer, not just of physical maladies but of our hearts. After the healing, “Jesus found [the man] in the temple, and said to him, ‘See, you have been made well. Sin no more, lest a worse thing come upon you’” (John 5:14). Jesus revealed that the man’s physical healing was secondary to his need to be healed spiritually. Although the passage does not reveal the man’s conversion, it does teach that Jesus sees not only our physical maladies but our hearts as well. He is the only one who can provide the spiritual healing we need. While being physically ill for thirty-eight years is difficult, an eternity in hell is even worse (see Mark 9:47).
Jesus telling the man, “Take up your bed and walk” became an issue for the Jewish leaders because the healing took place on the Sabbath (John 5:9). The fact that a paralytic was walking did not matter to them; they were furious. “For this reason the Jews persecuted Jesus, and sought to kill Him, because He had done these things on the Sabbath” (John 5:16). The Pharisees’ traditions forbade the carrying of one’s mat or bed on the Sabbath. Of course, Jesus had not violated the Sabbath law (see Matthew 5:17). It was only the pharisaical interpretation and addition to God’s laws that were being broken. The healing of the lame man exposed the Pharisees’ hard hearts and revealed that Jesus is greater than their man-made laws.
Jesus’ command, “Take up your bed and walk,” and its immediate result reveal that He is greater than any superstition, folklore, or man-made rule. Faith in anything other than Jesus is misplaced and leaves us wanting. Yet Jesus can forgive anyone who will turn to Him for salvation—that is the ultimate healing we all need.