Pool of Bethesda
The Pool of Bethesda is one of two sites in the city of Jerusalem where Jesus performed miracles. Interestingly enough, both of these sites took place next to a pool—a reminder that Jesus is indeed the “living water” of healing. At the Pool of Bethesda, Jesus performed a miracle of healing that’s now recording in the Book of John. What happened at the Pool of Bethesda? What was the significance of this location? What can we learn from this miracle today?
What Happened at the Pool of Bethesda?
Just before the miracle at the Pool of Bethesda, there was a feast day for the Jews, so Jesus went to Jerusalem. While in Jerusalem, Jesus went to a pool where many disabled and ill people were gathered by the water. Jesus saw a man who had been ill for many years and asked him if he wanted to be healed. The man told Jesus he couldn’t be healed because he couldn’t get into the pool, and he had no one to lower him into the pool. Jesus then tells him, “Get up, take up your bed, and walk” (John 5:8). The man was healed immediately and walked.
This man was then questioned by the Pharisees because he had been healed on the Sabbath. Originally, the healed man hadn’t known it was Jesus who healed him, but he went back to see Jesus and learned he had been healed by the Son of God. Jesus told those questioning the man that his father was working, so Jesus would work as well on the Sabbath.
What Is the Pool of Bethesda?
Since we don’t have public pools like the Pool of Bethesda anymore, some of the context of this miracle isn’t easily understood. The Pool at Bethesda was a five-sided hole in the ground full of water, and it was only accessible by stairs. It was located by the Sheep Gate of Jerusalem (which was used to access the Temple with sacrificial lambs), which means it was north of the Temple. In John’s Biblical account, the pool is described as having five porticoes (roofs supported by columns), and modern archaeological digs have found a five-sided basin with these porticoes.
The origins of the Pool of Bethesda go back to the Hellenistic period in Jerusalem. The ancient Greeks had a cult for the pagan god of healing named Asklepion, and during the peak of their empire, they built “Asklepios” or healing centers all across the Greek empire—including in Jerusalem. Those who were ill would visit these centers, bathe in the pools, drink the water, and sleep inside the walls. If they did this, Asklepion or his serpents would possibly visit the ill in a dream and give them hints about their healing. This belief in Asklepion and his serpents “churning the waters” of natural pools and springs persisted in Jerusalem at the time when Jesus lived.
Essentially, the Greek influence in Jerusalem meant that these pools in the city were a popular spot for the ill or disabled to visit or to stay near. They believed if they could enter the pool when bubbles and ripples rose to the surface that it was the best time for a healing miracle. That’s why when Jesus asked the man at the pool if he wanted to be healed, the man told Jesus he couldn’t be healed because he couldn’t get into the pool when the waters were churned. It was the popular belief at the time that someone had to be in the pool at the right moment to have a chance for a healing miracle. If someone couldn’t lower themselves into the pool, the people at the time thought that meant they wouldn’t be healed.
What Is the Meaning of the Pool of Bethesda?
What does the name “Pool of Bethesda” mean? The Hebrew word Beth hesda means “house of mercy” or “house of grace.” So potentially the pool could be named for mercy and grace, a fitting name for the miracle that would happen within. In Hebrew and Aramaic it could also mean “shame” or “disgrace.” But what is the meaning of this location? Why did Jesus choose to heal here?
Jesus chose this particular location for a miracle for many reasons. First, Jesus performed a miracle at the Pool of Bethesda to show the power of God over the traditions of the area. Many people at the Pool of Bethesda believed that it was the churning of the water or the pagan spirits in natural springs that could possibly heal them. But Jesus instantly healed a man who waited on the outside of the pool who was unable to get into the water. By doing this, Jesus showed the people at the pool that he has more power than anything else in the world. We can see this today, as we come to find Christ’s healing power is greater than any pain or suffering.
Jesus quite possibly also chose the pool because it was symbolic. During his life, Jesus taught that he is the living water. In one chapter before this miracle, John included this scripture: “But whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life” (John 4:14). By choosing to heal beside water, Jesus is emphasizing that he is the well of water that leads to eternal life. He is the living water through which anyone can be healed. Christ is still living water that can guide us through our own suffering and toward healing through eternal life.
What Is Significant about the Man at the Pool of Bethesda?
In the Biblical account, no one is entirely sure who the man healed at the Pool of Bethesda is. In John 5:1, we learn that he was a man who had been paralyzed for thirty-eight years. This man had been patiently waiting for a chance to be healed for many years. In The Chosen, the man by the pool is Jesse, a brother of the apostle Simon the Zealot. This moment of healing for Jesse then leads Simon the Zealot to Jesus Christ and to his ministry. This depiction doesn’t come from the Gospels, but it provides a beautiful idea of how healing can bring us to Jesus and his gospel.
The Pool of Bethesda is the site of one of Jesus’s great miracles and of his love for all of us. The man at the pool was an outcast in society, left by the side of a pool with no one to help him into the pool. But Jesus saw this man and healed him. Even when no one else will help us, Jesus sees us and will heal us spiritually.