Miracles of Jesus: Healing the Invalid at the Bethesda Pool

The Bible Describes Jesus Curing a Man Who Had Been Disabled for 38 Years

Jesus miracle healing Bethesda pool invalid
The painting "Christ healing the Paralytic at the Pool of Bethesda" (circa 1600s) by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo. Public domain

The Bible reports in John 5:1-18 about how Jesus Christ performed a miracle to heal an invalid man who had been disabled for 38 years. The man had struggled for so long with his affliction and become so used to it that Jesus first asked him if he wanted to get well again. Here's what the Bible says happened, with commentary:

Do You Want to Get Well?

The story begins in John 5:1-7: "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. One who was there had been an invalid for 38 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.'

A local tradition said that an angel sometimes came by to stir the pool’s water, and the first person who made it into the pool after that happened was healed. So people suffering from all different kinds of injuries and illnesses would hang out by the pool, hoping that an angel would happen to come by while they were there, and that they could win the competition to get in after bubbles appeared in the pool before anyone else did.

But the tradition discouraged people because the water stirred at unpredictable times that seemed arbitrary, and while the people who needed help were all weak, only the strongest among them could manage to be the first in the pool after bubbles appeared in it. Bible scholars believe that the bubbles were caused by a natural spring nearby -- not by angels who showed up at random times -- and any healing that people may have experienced came from the health benefits of bathing in spring water.

Rather than directly answering Jesus' question about whether or not he really wants to get well, the man responds with excuses about why he hasn't been able to get into the pool to try to be healed. This shows how discouraged the man has become.

Get Up!

The story continues in John 5:8-13: 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, 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.'

But he replied, 'The man who made me well said to me, 'Pick up your mat and walk.'

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

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

Jesus responded to the man's discouragement with encouragement, telling him to get up and walk. By speaking those words, Jesus did more than just encourage the man; he also miraculously spoke the man's healing into existence.

This was one of several times that Jesus healed people on the Sabbath day, angering Jewish religious leaders who thought he was breaking religious law by technically doing work on the Sabbath.

But Jesus wanted to show them that the purpose of the Sabbath wasn't inactivity; instead, it was activity designed to redeem and restore.

Stop Sinning

The story concludes in John 5:14-15: "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.'

The man went away and told the Jewish leaders that it was Jesus who had made him well.

When Jesus warns the man that something worse may happen to him if he doesn’t stop sinning, he’s likely referring to spiritual consequences rather than physical ones. The man had already experienced the physical pain of severe disability, and for a very long time (38 years). What could be worse than that? Failing to set his relationship with God right would lead the man to suffer serious consequences: the spiritual pain of hell.