What does John chapter 5 mean?Chapter 5 presents John's first record of Jesus directly confronting His enemies. Most of this passage is taken up by the words of Christ Himself, responding to Jewish critics. Many of John's recurring themes are found in this passage. Among these are the miraculous "signs" of Jesus, His claims of divinity, and the warped perspective of those who reject Him.
This chapter also continues John's frequent use of contrast. So far, John has described Jesus attending a quiet, friendly wedding, followed by His aggressive clearing of the temple (John 2). This public debacle was followed by a one-on-one conversation with Nicodemus (John 3). After speaking with the educated, confident, respected Nicodemus, Jesus is next seen speaking with the unlearned, outcast Samaritan woman (John 4).
Jesus' miracles are also presented with a sense of contrast. When Jesus turned water into wine, it was practically a secret (John 2:9), and the couple who benefitted from it didn't even know it had happened. In the second "sign" John records, Jesus heals from a distance, for a man who went to great effort to seek out a miracle (John 4:46–54). Here, in chapter 5, Jesus will heal in person, for a man who wasn't really looking for anything in particular.
The Bible gives us limited details on the conversation Jesus has with the crippled man. However, it's interesting to see the man's response when Jesus asks about healing. Rather than saying, "yes, I want to be healed," he makes excuses about nobody helping him into the water. The same man, later, pushes blame for his breaking of the Sabbath on Jesus (John 5:1–11). And, he never seems to express any particular gratitude to Christ. Maybe he'd given up hope. Maybe we're just not told every detail. However, there are those who actually revel in their afflictions—they are a source of pity and emotional leverage against others. One wonders if the crippled man was in that category.
We should note that there were many, many other people looking for healing at the pool that day. Jesus did not heal every single one of them. This is a reminder that miracles were not the real purpose of His ministry. And, they are not the real purpose of our Christian lives. True miracles, the "signs" John records in this book, are extremely rare and unexpected events.
When John uses the phrase "the Jews," he typically means the religious leadership of Jerusalem. In this case, the Jews seem more upset that Jesus has disturbed the Sabbath than amazed at His miracle! They also object to Jesus' claiming to be equal to God. This will become a major accusation used against Him at His sham trial, later in this Gospel (John 5:12–18).
Jesus' response in this chapter comes in two major parts. First, He describes the authority which He was been given by God (John 5:19–29). In doing so, Jesus lays claim to many of the same rights, attributes, and abilities as God. Jesus claims equality with God in works (John 5:19), in love (John 5:20), in judgment (John 5:22), and in honor (John 5:23). He also points out that eternal life comes only to those who believe in Him (John 5:23–24). Jesus' words foreshadow the resurrection of Lazarus, as well as the final resurrection of all men (John 5:28–29).
In the second part of Jesus' response, He focuses on evidence (John 5:30–47). This is a crucial passage to turn to when dealing with accusations of "blind faith." Jesus never says, "believe Me because I said so." Nor does He appeal to mystery, or sincerity, or tradition. Rather, Jesus gives three specific lines of evidence which prove the truth of His claims. These are human witness (John 5:33), the miracles He is performing (John 5:36), and the written Scriptures (John 5:39). According to Jesus, these all point to Him as the fulfillment of prophecy.
Jesus closes this discussion with an interesting point. Namely, that those who won't accept the message of the written Word aren't going to come to faith, no matter what. The Pharisees had extensive knowledge of the Scriptures, but rejected Jesus in favor of their own traditions (John 5:39–47). This echoes the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. There, Christ also points out that even miracles cannot convince those who reject the written words which God has given (Luke 16:27–31).