The Pool of Bethesda March 1, 2024

The Pool of Bethesda
is a mishmash
archaeologically.
At various points in
history it has housed Byzantine and
Crusader churches, as well as an
Islamic law school.
It has been built
over multiple times through the
centuries.
Photo by John Buckner

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” (John 5:1-3). 

On the Via Dolorosa, just inside the Lion’s Gate in Jerusalem’s Old City, is the site of Bethesda. This is where Jesus famously found the man who had been waiting for the stirring of the waters. For thirty-eight years, this mad had been unable to enter the waters for healing. Jesus famously asked him, “Wilt thou be made whole?” When the man answered that he was unable to enter the pool, Jesus said, “Rise, take up thy bed, and walk.”

What is fascinating about this story is that the ancient pool itself sat in a pagan temple. The temple was a dedication to the Roman god of healing, Asclepius, and possibly also to Fortuna, the goddess of good luck. In the Bible, it was full of people presumably waiting for some angel to stir the waters. In reality, like most pagan revelations, there is a prosaic explanation. The spring that fed the pools sometimes inexplicably surged in flow, causing pools in the city to bubble and stir.

Jesus, in His mission to seek out the lost sheep of the house of Israel, entered this pagan temple, and on the Sabbath day, no less. He came there to find a lost Jewish man who was seeking healing where he should not even be, much less stay for thirty-eight years. The man did not know it was Jesus who healed him until he spoke with his Healer in God’s Temple, which was perhaps a ten-minute walk away from the pool of Bethesda.

Are you seeking healing in the wrong places? Are you uselessly waiting for a natural phenomenon that the lost world mistakes for an angel? Just as the man in the book of John found no healing outside of Jesus, you too need Him alone. If you are a believer, meditate on the fact that our Savior was willing to go to an unclean place dedicated to vile gods on the Sabbath day just to find those who needed Him.

Excavation pursuits have removed part of the pool system. Much remains buried under the city of Jerusalem, which surrounds the pool. Photo by John Buckner

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