Chapter five skips the early Galilean ministry that the Synoptics record, bringing Jesus back to Jerusalem for “a Jewish feast” (John 5:1). There is considerable debate over which feast this was, because identifying it would help with the chronology and timeline. Since John specifically mentions three Passovers (John 2:13, 23; 6:4; 12:1) and does not call this one a Passover, one could conclude that it may not be. However, he also explicitly named the “feast of Tabernacles” (John 7:2) and “the feast of the Dedication” (John 10:22), so the generic reference to “a Jewish feast” makes it impossible to identify with certainty. 1
Regardless of the exact feast, Jesus did attend in Jerusalem. While he was there he performed a unique healing. Whereas the Synoptics show Jesus working with the vast crowds, healing hundreds and thousands at a time, John’s focus was much more personal. Sometimes it is easy to forget that crowds were not healed, people were, and John emphasized the personal touch of the Savior. In this case, Jesus seems to have walked past and stepped over “a great number of sick, blind, lame, and paralyzed people” to reach one man so that he could heal him (John 5:3-9). What a wonderful visual for a person who has lost hope! At issue was not that Jesus healed the man but that he did so on “a Sabbath” (John 5:9, 16). This is the first time John plainly showed the growing opposition between Jesus and the Pharisees (although John 4:1 hints at it). When they approached the man to correct him for carrying his mat, he replied that Jesus had healed him and told him to do so (John 5:10-15).
John 5:16-18 shows the attitude of the religious leaders toward Jesus, including their early plans (at least one year out from the crucifixion) to kill him. The rest of the chapter contains Jesus’ first recorded defense of himself to them. In verses 19-30 Jesus insisted 1) that he worked and spoke only on the agenda of the Father, 2) that the Father had assigned to him the right to judge and save, and 3) that he was the Father’s personal representative. Further, in verses 31-47, he insisted that he had the two or three witnesses that the Law required to prove him true. These were 1) John the Baptizer, 2) his own deeds and miracles, and 3) the Scriptures. Jesus’ final question is just as appropriate today as it was then: “If you will not believe the Scriptures, how will you believe my own words?” (John 5:47, paraphrased)
- Given the placement of this event within the context of chapter six and allowing for the extended Galilean ministry of the Synoptics, there is good reason to see this as the Passover two years into Jesus’ ministry. ↩