on John 5 :4
Angel - "Of the Lord," is added by AKL, about 20 others, the Ethiopic, Armenian, Slavonic, Vulgate, Anglo-Saxon, and six copies of the Itala: Cyril and Ambrose have also this reading. If this reading be genuine, and the authorities which support it are both ancient and respectable, it destroys Dr. Hammond's conjecture, that, by the angel, a messenger only, sent from the Sanhedrin, is meant, and that these cures were all performed in a natural way.
Those who feel little or none of the work of God in their own hearts are not willing to allow that he works in others. Many deny the influences of God's Spirit, merely because they never felt them. This is to make any man's experience the rule by which the whole word of God is to be interpreted; and consequently to leave no more divinity in the Bible than is found in the heart of him who professes to explain it.
Went down - Κατεβαινεν, descended. The word seems to imply that the angel had ceased to descend when John wrote. In the second verse, he spoke of the pool as being still in existence; and in this verse he intimates that the Divine influence ceased from these waters. When it began, we know not; but it is likely that it continued no longer than till the crucifixion of our Lord. Some think that this never took place before nor after this time. Neither Josephus, Philo, nor any of the Jewish authors mention this pool; so that it is very likely that it had not been long celebrated for its healing virtue, and that nothing of it remained when those authors wrote.
Certain season - This probably refers to the time of the feast, during which only this miraculous virtue lasted. It is not likely that the angel appeared to the people - his descent might be only known by the ebullition caused in the waters. Was not the whole a type Of Christ? See Zechariah 13:1. He is the true Bethesda, or house of mercy, the fountain opened to the house of David, and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, for sin and for uncleanness; unto which all the diseased may come, and find health and life eternal.
on John 5 :4
An angel - It is not affirmed that the angel did this "visibly," or that they saw him do it. They judged by the "effect," and when they saw the waters agitated, they concluded that they had healing properties, and descended to them. The Jews were in the habit of attributing all favors to the ministry of the angels of God, Genesis 19:15; Hebrews 1:14; Matthew 4:11; Matthew 18:10; Luke 16:22; Acts 7:53; Galatians 3:19; Acts 12:11. This fountain, it seems, had strong medicinal properties. Like many other waters, it had the property of healing certain diseases that were incurable by any other means. Thus the waters of Bath, of Saratoga, etc., are found to be highly medicinal, and to heal diseases that are otherwise incurable. In the case of the waters of Bethesda there does not appear to have been anything "miraculous," but the waters seem to have been endued with strong medicinal properties, especially after a periodical agitation. All that is special about them in the record is that this was produced by the ministry of an angel. This was in accordance with the common sentiment of the Jews, the common doctrine of the Bible, and the belief of the sacred writers. Nor can it be shown to be absurd or improbable that such blessings should be imparted to man by the ministry of an angel. There is no more absurdity in the belief that a pure spirit or holy "angel" should aid man, than that a physician or a parent should; and no more absurdity in supposing that the healing properties of such a fountain should be produced by his aid, than that any other blessing should be, Hebrews 1:12. What man can prove that all his temporal blessings do not come to him through the medium of others - of parents, of teachers, of friends, of "angels?" And who can prove that it is unworthy the benevolence of angels to minister to the wants of the poor, the needy, and the afflicted, when "man" does it, and Jesus Christ did it, and God himself does it daily?
Went down - Descended to the pool.
At a certain season - At a certain time; periodically. The people knew "about" the time when this was done, and assembled in multitudes to partake of the benefits. Many medicinal springs are more strongly impregnated at some seasons of the year than others.
Troubled the water - Stirred or "agitated" the water. There was probably an increase, and a bubbling and agitation produced by he admission of a fresh quantity.
Whosoever then first - This does not mean that but one was healed, and that the first one, but that those who first descended into the pool were healed. The strong medicinal properties of the waters soon subsided, and those who could not at first enter into the pool were obliged to wait for the return of the agitation.
Stepped in - Went in.
Was made whole - Was healed. It is not implied that this was done instantaneously or by a miracle. The water had such properties that he was healed, though probably gradually. It is not less the gift of God to suppose that this fountain restored gradually, and in accordance with what commonly occurs, than to suppose, what is not affirmed, that it was done at once and in a miraculous manner.
In regard to this passage, it should be remarked that the account of the angel in John 5:4 is wanting in many manuscripts, and has been by many supposed to be spurious, There is not conclusive evidence, however, that it is not a part of the genuine text, and the best critics suppose that it should not be rejected. One difficulty has been that no such place as this spring is mentioned by Josephus. But John is as good a historian, and as worthy to be believed as Josephus. Besides, it is known that many important places and events have not been mentioned by the Jewish historian, and it is no evidence that there was no such place as this because he did not mention it. When this fountain was discovered, or how long its healing properties continued to be known, it is impossible now to ascertain. All that we know of it is what is mentioned here, and conjecture would be useless. We may remark, however, that such a place anywhere is an evidence of the great goodness of God. Springs or fountains having healing properties abound on earth, and nowhere more than in our own country. Diseases are often healed in such places which no human skill could remove. The Jews regarded such a provision as proof of the mercy of God. They gave this healing spring the name of a "house of mercy." They regarded it as under the care of an angel. And there is no place where man should be more sensible of the goodness of God, or be more disposed to render him praise as in a "house of mercy," than when at such a healing fountain. And yet how lamentable is it that such places - watering places - should be mere places of gaiety and thoughtlessness, of balls, and gambling, and dissipation! How melancholy that amid the very places Where there is most evidence of the goodness of God, and of the misery of the poor, the sick, the afflicted, men should forget all the goodness of their Maker, and spend their time in scenes of dissipation, folly, and vice!
on John 5 :4