The next miracle of Jesus that John records after His healing of the royal official’s son is the healing of the lame man at Bethesda. Unlike the former healing, the healing of the lame man took place in Jerusalem, where Jesus had gone up to celebrate one of the feasts “of the Jews” (John 5:1). This would have been one of the great pilgrimage feasts, such as Passover or Booths/Tabernacles, that required Jews to make the journey to the Holy City, but John does not specify which one it was.
Bethesda was the name of a pool—actually, the site featured two pools—at Jerusalem’s Sheep Gate. There Jesus met a man who “had been an invalid for thirty-eight years” (vv. 3, 5). The text does not identify the specific ailment of the man, but clearly he was paralyzed or so weak that he could hardly move. He was at Bethesda with a number of other invalids, all of whom came there expecting a healing. Apparently, it was thought that the first one in the pool after the waters were stirred could be healed, and though some manuscripts report that an angel stirred the waters, it is likely that that part of the story was a later addition to John’s gospel. It may reflect, however, a common first-century belief about Bethesda.
In any case, note that Jesus selects the lame man out of a crowd of many people who were unwell. He exercised His sovereign prerogative to heal when and where He would choose, thus asking only the man in today’s passage if he wanted to be healed (v. 6). It is also notable that there is almost no indication that the man had faith in Christ when Jesus healed him. Later verses state that he did not know who Jesus was at the time of his healing, and he later reported Jesus’ activities to the authorities who were out to accuse Him of sin (vv. 12–13, 15). That Jesus asked the man if he wanted to be healed may also imply a lack of faith on the man’s part or at least that he did not know who Jesus was. Anyone familiar with the pool and those gathered there, as Jesus no doubt was, would have known that an invalid such as the lame man came to the pool for healing. Some commentators suggest that Jesus was probing a little deeper, asking the man not about mere physical healing but for healing from his sin (see v. 14), though it is hard to be certain of this.
Regardless of whether the man had faith or how strong his faith was, Jesus nevertheless healed him (vv. 8–9a). Because Jesus is the incarnation of the sovereign God, His intent cannot be thwarted.