The Spirit of Prophecy, vol. 2


Chapter 12—Jesus at Bethesda

“After this there was a feast of the Jews; and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. Now there is at Jerusalem by the sheep market a pool, which is called in the Hebrew tongue Bethesda, having five porches. In these lay a great multitude of impotent folk, of blind, halt, withered, waiting for the moving of the water. For an angel went down at a certain season into the pool, and troubled the water; whosoever then first after the troubling of the water stepped in was made whole of whatsoever disease he had.” 2SP 156.3

Jesus did not hold himself aloof from the poor, the suffering, and sinful. His great heart of love went out in yearning tenderness for wretched objects who needed his help. He was acquainted with the sufferers who had learned to look forward to the period when it was thought that the waters were agitated by a supernatural power. Many suffering from different maladies visited the pool; but so great was the crowd at the appointed time, that they rushed forward, trampling under foot men, women, and children weaker than themselves. 2SP 157.1

Hundreds were pressed back and could not get near the water. Many disappointed sufferers, who had, by great pains and effort, succeeded in reaching the pool, died upon its brink without being able to make the first plunge into its depths. Shelters had been erected about the place that the sick might be protected from the scorching rays of the sun and the chilliness of the night. Some wretched sufferers spent their nights in the porches, and would drag their diseased bodies to the favored spot day after day in the vain hope of obtaining relief. 2SP 157.2

One man had been afflicted by an incurable disease for thirty-eight years, and he had repeatedly visited the pool. Those who pitied his helplessness would bear him to and fro at the time when the waters were supposed to be troubled. But those stronger than himself would rush in before him and seize the opportunity that he coveted. Thus the poor, palsied sufferer waited by the pool day and night, hoping that the favored moment would at length come when he could plunge into the water and be healed. His persistent efforts toward this object, and the doubt and anxiety of his mind, were fast wearing away the poor remnant of his strength. 2SP 157.3

Jesus visited this retreat of misery, and his eye rested upon this helpless invalid. The poor creature was weak and despairing, but as the looked-for moment arrived, he gathered his feeble energies in a last effort to reach the water, but, just as he had almost gained his object, another stepped in before him. He crept back to his pallet to die. But a pitying face bends over him, saying, “Wilt thou be made whole?” The desponding man looked up, thinking it might be some one who had come to assist him into the pool; but the faint glow of encouragement faded out of his heart when he remembered that it was too late, his opportunity for that time was gone, and, in his state of sickness and exposure, he could scarcely hope that he might live to see another. 2SP 158.1

He turned away wearily, saying, “Sir, I have no man, when the water is troubled, to put me into the pool; but while I am coming, another steppeth down before me.” Poor man! how could he hope to contend successfully with the selfish, scrambling crowd! Jesus did not ask this wretched sufferer to exercise faith in him; but with a voice of command said, “Rise, take up thy bed, and walk.” A sudden vigor was communicated to the paralyzed cripple. His whole being was stirred with a healing power, new blood and strength leaped into every limb and member. He bounded to his feet in obedience to the Saviour's command, and stooped to take up his bed, which was only a simple rug and blanket. As he straightened himself again, with a sense of delight at standing upon his feet after so many years of helpless infirmity, he looked around for his deliverer, but he was nowhere to be seen. Jesus was lost in the crowd, and the restored paralytic feared that he would not know him again if he should see him. He was disappointed, for he longed to pour forth his gratitude to the stranger. As he hurried on toward Jerusalem, with firm, free step, praising God as he went, and rejoicing in his new-found strength, he met the Pharisees, and immediately related to them the wonderful cure he had experienced. He was surprised at the coolness with which they listened to his story. 2SP 158.2

Presently they interrupted him by asking why he was carrying that bed on the Sabbath day. They sternly reminded him that it was not lawful for him to bear burdens upon the Lord's day. In his joy the man had forgotten that it was the Sabbath; yet he felt no condemnation for obeying the command of one who had power from God to perform so wonderful a miracle. He answered boldly, “He that made me whole, the same said unto me, Take up thy bed, and walk.” The Pharisees were not delighted at the cure which had been effected upon this poor invalid of thirty-eight years. They overlooked the object of the wondrous miracle, and, with their characteristic bigotry, seized upon the act as a violation of the Sabbath law. 2SP 159.1

They excused the restored man from blame, but appeared shocked at the guilt of him who had assumed the responsibility of ordering a man to take up his bed upon the Sabbath day. They asked him who it was that had done this thing, but he could not enlighten them on that subject. These rulers knew very well that only one person had shown himself able to do this deed; but they wished to get direct proof that it was Jesus, for they then hoped to be able to condemn him as a Sabbath-breaker. They considered that he had not only broken the law in healing the sick man on the Sabbath, but had committed an act of sacrilege in bidding him take up his bed and bear it away. 2SP 159.2

Jesus did not come into the world to lessen the dignity of the law, but to exalt it. The Jews had perverted it by their traditions and misconceptions. They had made it a yoke of bondage. Their meaningless exactions and requirements had become a by-word among all other nations. Especially was the Sabbath hedged in by all manner of senseless restrictions which made that holy day almost unendurable. A Jew was not allowed to kindle a fire upon the Sabbath, nor even to light a candle on that day. The views of the people were so narrow that they had become slaves to their own useless regulations. As a consequence, they were dependent upon the Gentiles to do many services which their rules forbade them to do for themselves. 2SP 160.1

They did not reflect that if these necessary duties of life were sins they were full as guilty in employing others to perform them as in doing them themselves. They thought salvation was restricted to the Jews, and the condition of all others, being entirely hopeless, could neither be improved nor made worse. But a just God has given no commandment which cannot be consistently kept by all. His laws sanction no meaningless usages nor clumsy restrictions. 2SP 160.2

Soon after, Jesus met the man he had healed in the temple. He had come to bring a trespass-offering, a sin-offering, and a thank-offering for the great mercy he had received. Jesus, finding him among the worshipers, made himself known to him. The great Physician addressed him with a timely warning, “Behold, thou art made whole; sin no more, lest a worse thing come unto thee.” He who had suffered for thirty-eight years, as the result, in part, of his own dissipation, was thus plainly warned to avoid the sins that had caused him such suffering. 2SP 161.1

The healed man was overjoyed to behold his deliverer, and, ignorant of the malice which the Jews held against Jesus, informed the Pharisees, who had before questioned him, that this was he who had wrought the wondrous cure. The Jewish dignitaries had only waited for proof that it was Jesus; from the first they had been confident that it could be no other. Now, a great uproar ensued in the court of the temple; for they sought to slay Jesus, but were prevented by the people, many of whom recognized in him a friend who had healed them from their infirmities and relieved their sorrows. 2SP 161.2

A controversy now took place in regard to the true claims of the Sabbath law. Jesus had purposely chosen the Sabbath day upon which to perform the miracle at the pool. He could have healed the sick man as well on any other day of the week; also he might have simply cured him, and avoided arousing the indignation of the Jews, by bidding him take up his bed and depart. But a wise purpose underlay every act of Christ's life on earth; everything he did was important in itself and its teaching. He came to vindicate his Father's law and make it honorable. The Sabbath, instead of being the blessing it was designed to be, had become a curse through the added requirements of the Jews. Jesus wished to rid it of these incumbrances and leave it standing upon its own holy dignity. 2SP 161.3

Therefore he chose the Sabbath for this special work. He selected the worst case among the afflicted ones at the pool of Bethesda upon whom to exercise his miraculous healing power, and bade him carry his bed through the city in order to publish the great work that had been wrought upon him, to call the attention of the people to his case, to the circumstances attending his cure, and to Him by whom it had been accomplished. This would raise the question of what it was lawful to do on the Sabbath day, and would give him an opportunity to denounce the narrow prejudice and restrictions of the Jews in regard to the Lord's day, and declare their bigotry and traditions void. 2SP 162.1

Jesus stated to them that the work of relieving the sufferings of the afflicted was in harmony with the Sabbath law, whether it was relative to the salvation of souls or the removal of physical pain. Such work was in harmony with that of God's angels, who were ever descending and ascending between Heaven and earth to minister to suffering humanity. Jesus answered their accusations by declaring, “My Father worketh hitherto, and I work.” All days are God's, in which to carry out his great plans for the human race. If the Jews’ interpretation of the law was correct, then Jehovah was at fault, whose work had upheld and quickened creation since first he laid the foundations of the earth, when the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy. He who pronounced his work good, and established the institution of the Sabbath to commemorate its completion, must put a period to his labor, and stop the never-ending routine of the universe. 2SP 162.2

Should God forbid the sun to do its office upon the Sabbath, cut off its genial rays from warming the earth and nourishing vegetation? Must the system of worlds stand still through that holy day? Should he command the babbling brooks to stay their course from watering the fields and forests, and bid the advancing and receding waves to still their ceaseless ebbing and flowing? Must the wheat and corn stop growing, and the ripening cluster defer its purple bloom for a single day? Must the waving trees and the delicate flowers put forth no bud nor blossom on the Sabbath? 2SP 163.1

Surely in such a case man would miss the fruit of the earth and the blessings that make life desirable. Nature must continue her unvarying course; God must not stay his hand a single moment, or man would faint and die. And, in a like proportion, man has a labor to perform on this day. The necessities of life must be attended to, the sick must be cared for, the wants of the needy must be met. God does not hold him guiltless who stays his hand from relieving the suffering on the Sabbath day. The holy Sabbath was made for man, and acts of mercy and benevolence are always in order upon that day. God does not desire his creatures to suffer an hour's pain that may be relieved upon the Sabbath or any other day. 2SP 163.2

Jesus sought to impress upon the narrow minds of the Jews a sense of the folly of their view of the Sabbath. He showed them that God's work never ceases. It is even greater upon the Sabbath than upon ordinary occasions, for at that time his people leave their usual employments and spend the time in prayerful meditation and worship. They ask more favors of him upon the Sabbath than upon other days, they demand his special attention, they crave his choicest blessings, they offer importunate prayers for special favors. God does not wait for the Sabbath to pass before he grants those requests, but he deals to the petitioners, with judicious wisdom, whatever is best for them to have. 2SP 164.1

Heaven's work never ceases for a moment, and men should never rest from doing good. The Sabbath law forbids labor on the sanctified rest-day of the Lord. The toil that gains a livelihood must cease; no labor for worldly pleasure or profit is lawful upon the Lord's day; but the work of Christ in healing the sick did honor to the holy Sabbath. Jesus claimed equal rights with God in doing a work equally sacred and of the same character with that which engaged his Father in Heaven. But the Pharisees were still more incensed, because he had not only broken the law, according to their understanding, but added to this offense the heinous sin of declaring himself equal with God. Nothing but the interference of the people prevented the Jewish authorities from slaying him on the spot. “Then answered Jesus and said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do; for what things soever he doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise. For the Father loveth the Son, and sheweth him all things that himself doeth; and he will show him greater works than these, that ye may marvel. For as the Father raiseth up the dead, and quickeneth them; even so the Son quickeneth whom he will.” 2SP 164.2

Here Jesus elevated himself to his true station before the Jews, and declared himself to be the the Son of God. He then, in mild and dignified language, instructed them regarding the Sabbath. He told them that the rest-day which Jehovah had sanctified and set apart for a special purpose, after he had completed the work of creation, was not intended to be a period of useless inactivity. As God ceased his labor of creating, and rested upon that day and blessed it, so man was to leave the occupation of his daily life, and devote those sacred hours to healthful rest, to worship, and to holy deeds. 2SP 165.1

The rulers of the people could not answer these elevated truths that were brought home to their consciences. They had no arguments with which to meet them; they could only cite their customs and traditions, and these seemed weak and vapid compared with the strong arguments that Jesus had drawn from the work of God and the unceasing round of nature. Had they felt any desire to receive light, their hearts would have been convinced that Jesus spoke the truth. But they evaded the points he made concerning the Sabbath, and sought to stir up anger against him because he had made himself equal with God. The fury of the rulers knew no bounds, and it was with difficulty that they were prevented from seizing upon Jesus to put him to death. 2SP 165.2

But the people were not excited to violence, and put the rulers to shame by the candor with which they listened to the words of Jesus. They justified him in healing the poor sufferer who had been afflicted for thirty-eight years. So the priests and elders were obliged to restrain their hatred for the time, and wait for a more favorable opportunity to carry out their evil designs. 2SP 166.1

Jesus declared that he could do nothing of himself “but what he seeth the Father do.” His relationship with God forbade him from working independent of him, and he could do nothing against his will. What a rebuke were these words to men, and especially to those who were calling the Son of God to task for the very work that he was sent upon earth to do. They had separated themselves from God by wicked acts, and, in their pride and vanity, were moving independent of him, feeling sufficient in themselves for all things, and realizing no need of a higher wisdom than their own, to aid them in the direction of their acts. 2SP 166.2

Few realize the full force of Christ's words in regard to his connection with the Father. They teach man that he should consider himself inseparably bound to his Heavenly Parent, that, whatever position he may occupy, he is responsible to God, who holds all destinies in his hands. He has appointed man to do his work, he has endowed him with faculties and means for that purpose, and so long as man is faithful to his high stewardship, he may feel warranted in claiming the blessings and promises of his Master. But if, when raised to a position of sacred trust, he becomes exalted in his own estimation,—depending upon his own wisdom and power, taking affairs into his own hands, and separating himself from Him whom he professes to serve,—God will call him to an account for his unauthorized acts; he has not worked in unison with his Commander. 2SP 166.3

Jesus now stood before the Jews in his true character. He declared that whatsoever things the Father did, those did also the Son in like manner, by the exercise of a like power, and with like results. He also promised those who heard him that they should witness greater acts than he had yet performed in healing the sick, the lame, and the blind. The Sadducees were in opposition to the Pharisees regarding the resurrection of the dead. The former claimed that there would be no resurrection of the body. But Jesus tells them that one of the greatest works of his Father is raising up the dead, and even so the son of God has power in himself to raise from the dead. “Marvel not,” said he, “at this; for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, and shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation.” 2SP 167.1

The humble Nazarene asserts his real nobility. He rises above humanity, throws off the guise of sin and shame, and stands revealed, the Honored of the angels, the Son of God, equal with the Creator of the universe. The rulers of the Jews, and the listening multitude are spell-bound before his mighty truths, and the lofty dignity of his bearing. No man had ever spoken words like these, nor borne himself with such a kingly majesty. His utterances were clear and plain, fully declaring his mission and the duty of the world. “For the Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son, that all men should honor the Son, even as they honor the Father. He that honoreth not the Son honoreth not the Father who hath sent him. Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on Him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life. Verily, verily, I say unto you, The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God, and they that hear shall live. For as the Father hath life in himself, so hath he given to the Son to have life in himself; and hath given him authority to execute judgment also, because he is the Son of man.” 2SP 167.2

Here Jesus throws back upon the rulers their accusations against him, and their attempts to prescribe his work, and to judge, by their narrow bigotry, his acts of mercy and benevolence. He declared himself their Judge, and the Judge of all the world. When he came to earth as the Redeemer, it was given into his hands, and all men are responsible unto him. He took the burden of humanity that he might save men from the consequences of their sins. He is in one their Advocate and Judge. Having tasted the very dregs of human affliction and temptation, he is qualified to understand the frailties and sins of men, and to pronounce judgment upon them. Therefore, the Father has given this work into the hands of his Son, knowing that He who victoriously withstood the temptations of Satan, in behalf of man, will be all-wise, just, and gracious in his dealing with him. 2SP 168.1

The words of Jesus were more impressive because the controversy had risen very high. He was virtually summoned before the dignitaries of the Jews to be tried for his life. He, the Lord of the Sabbath, was arraigned before an earthly tribunal, to answer to the charge of breaking the Sabbath law. When he so boldly made known his mission and work, his judges looked upon him with mingled astonishment and rage, but his words were unanswerable and they could not condemn him. 2SP 169.1

He denied the right of the Pharisees to question him or to interfere with his business. The Jewish system invested them with no such authority; their claims were based upon their own pride and arrogance. He refused to plead guilty to any wrong or submit to being catechised by them. 2SP 169.2

After presenting before them these grand truths concerning his work in connection with the Father, he binds his assertions with the testimonies that have been borne of him: “I can of mine own self do nothing; as I hear, I judge; and my judgment is just; because I seek not mine own will, but the will of the Father which hath sent me. If I bear witness of myself, my witness is not true. There is another that beareth witness of me; and I know that the witness which he witnesseth of me is true. Ye sent unto John, and he bare witness unto the truth. But I receive not testimony from man; but these things I say, that ye might be saved. He was a burning and a shining light; and ye were willing for a season to rejoice in his light.” From his sublime height he reads the secrets of their hearts and reminds them that for a time they had accepted John as a prophet of God and rejoiced in the message that he brought them. He affirms that the mission of John was solely to prepare the way of himself, whom the prophet testified was the Christ, the Redeemer of the world. 2SP 169.3

But no man could witness concerning the mysterious connection of Jesus with the Father; human knowledge cannot reach the courts of Heaven. Jesus assures them that he does not refer to the testimony of John in order to sustain his claims, but only that his persecutors may be convinced of their blindness and inconsistency in defiantly opposing him whom John had stated was the Son of God. They were not in ignorance regarding the evidence of John, for they had sent a deputy to him who had brought back his statement of the baptism of Jesus and the wonderful manifestations of God at that time. 2SP 170.1

Jesus speaks of John that they may see how, in rejecting himself, they also reject the prophet whom they had received with joy. He further declares: “But I have greater witness than that of John; for the works which the Father hath given me to finish, the same works that I do, bear witness of me, that the Father hath sent me.” Had not the heavens opened and light from the throne of God encircled him with glory, while the voice of Jehovah proclaimed, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased”? Besides all this, his own works declared his divinity. He who had been arraigned as a Sabbath-breaker stood before his accusers clothed with divine grace, and uttering words that pierced them like arrows of truth. Instead of apologizing for the act of which they complained, or explaining his purpose in doing it, he turns upon the rulers, and the accused becomes the accuser. 2SP 170.2

He rebukes them for the hardness of their hearts, for the blind ignorance with which they read the Scriptures, while they boasted of their superiority over every other people. They who assume to be teachers of the Scriptures and expounders of the law are themselves basely ignorant of its claims. He denounces their worldliness, their love of praise and power, their avarice and want of compassion. He charges them with disbelieving the Scriptures which they profess to revere, carrying out its forms and ceremonies while ignoring the great principles of truth that are the foundation of the law. He declares that they have rejected the word of God, inasmuch as they have rejected him whom God has sent. He commands them to “search the Scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life; and they are they which testify of me.” 2SP 171.1

The truth spoken by Jesus collided with their prejudices and customs, and they cast it from them, hardening their hearts against it. They refused to listen to the teachings of Christ, because those teachings directly condemned their cherished sins. Had the Son of Man come flattering their pride and justifying their iniquity, they would have hastened to do him honor. Said Jesus, “I am come in my Father's name, and ye receive me not; if another shall come in his own name, him ye will receive.” Pretenders, who could present no evidence of divine authority, might arise, who by prophesying smooth things, and gratifying the vanity of the rich and unsanctified, might secure their firm allegiance. These false prophets would lead their followers to eternal ruin. 2SP 171.2

Jesus declared that there was no necessity for him to accuse them to the Father, for Moses, whom they professed to believe, had already accused them. “For,” said he, “had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed me; for he wrote of me. But if ye believe not his writings, how shall ye believe my words?” Jesus knew that the Jews were determined to take his life, yet in this discourse he fully explained to them his Sonship, the relation he bore to the Father and his equality with him. This left them without an excuse for their blind opposition and insane rage against the Saviour. But, though baffled in their designs, and overawed by his divine eloquence and truth, the murderous hatred of the priests and elders was not quenched. Fear seized them, for they could not close their understanding to the convincing power which attended the ministry of Christ. But they were so bound by the chains of pride and arrogance that they rejected the evidence of his divine power, resisted his appeals, and locked themselves in darkness. 2SP 172.1

They had signally failed to subvert the authority of Jesus, or to turn from him the respect and attention of the people, many of whom were powerfully affected, and deeply convicted, by his impressive discourse. His mighty works had first arrested their notice and aroused their wonder, and when his searching words disclosed his true character, they were ready to acknowledge his divine authority. On the other hand, his words had thrilled the hearts of the rulers with condemnation for their course. He had pressed their guilt home upon their consciences, yet this only made them more bitter against him, and they were fully determined to take his life. They sent messengers all over the country to warn the people against Jesus, whom they denounced as an impostor. Spies were sent to watch him and report what he said and did. The precious Saviour was now most surely standing under the shadow of the cross. 2SP 172.2