This post is the second in a series. We are explaining the seven signs in the gospel of John. This one explains the healing at the pool of Bethesda.
Previous, I explained what a “sign” is and what the difference is between “sign” and “miracle.” I then explained how turning water into wine and healing the official’s son were SIGNS meant to point to a larger reality. They weren’t merely random miracles that Jesus just did.
Difference Between an “Sign” and a “Miracle”
To summarize, here is the difference between a sign and a miracle. The other gospels use different words to describe what Jesus does. There are miracles (δύναμις) and there are wonders (τέρας), but in John, Jesus only does SIGNS (σημεῖον). Here’s what I said about the difference:
That word δύναμις (dynamis) is where we get the word “dynamo.” Or someone who has sha-bang oh-my-goodness aura around them. It communicates POWER. That word τέρας means something to just marvel at. Muhammad Ali had δύναμις and Bo Jackson had τέρας, but it is Captain America – The Winter Soldier that contains σημεῖον, because even though it was a comic-book movie, it was really about the surveillance state in the modern world.
So, a SIGN is something that has the elements of an analogy or a metaphor. Analogies and metaphors are verbal parallels to an outside reality, but SIGNS involve tangible parallels to an outside reality. The outside reality is the work of Jesus Christ. There are seven of them in the gospel of John:
- Changing water into wine at the wedding at Cana (John 2:1-11);
- Healing the royal official’s son (John 4:46-54);
- Healing the paralyzed man at the pool of Bethesda in Jerusalem (John 5:1-15);
- Feeding the 5,000 (John 6:5-14);
- Walking on water (John 6:16-21);
- Healing the man born blind (John 9:1-7); and
- Raising Lazarus from the dead (John 11:1-45).
This post is going to explain the healing of the paralyzed man at the pool of Bethesda.
The Healing at the Pool of Bethesda Explained
This is what we read in the gospel of John chapter 5. This is immediately after the healing of the official’s son, but before that, it was the story of Jesus and the woman at the well in Samaria. Before that, it was the conversation with Nicodemus. This is important.
The Context of the Healing at the Pool of Bethesda
Remember that when Jesus spoke to that woman, a big part of the conversation was the proper way to worship God. She has a question and Jesus has an answer:
The woman said to him, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.” Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” (John 4:19-24)
And in the conversation with Nicodemus, an important part of the conversation was about the proper way to follow God. When Nicodemus is confused about what it means to be born again, Jesus has an answer, and also adds an important fact about “ascending” and “descending” from heaven. Here’s what Jesus says:
Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” Jesus answered him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things? Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. (John 3:9-15)
In other words (and this is important), the third sign comes at a place in the narrative where “ascending and descending” from heaven and “the proper way to worship God” has been discussed and widely misunderstood by those who encountered Jesus. Then, Jesus gives the second sign (which is a reference to the healing of all of humanity) with the healing of the royal official’s son.
The Healing at the Pool
After this, the gospel of John says this:
After this there was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.
Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, in Aramaic called Bethesda, which has five roofed colonnades. In these lay a multitude of invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed. [for an angel of the Lord went down at certain seasons into the pool, and stirred the water: whoever stepped in first after the stirring of the water was healed of whatever disease he had] One man was there who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be healed?” The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I am going another steps down before me.” Jesus said to him, “Get up, take up your bed, and walk.” And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked.
Now that day was the Sabbath. So the Jews said to the man who had been healed, “It is the Sabbath, and it is not lawful for you to take up your bed.” But he answered them, “The man who healed me, that man said to me, ‘Take up your bed, and walk.’” They asked him, “Who is the man who said to you, ‘Take up your bed and walk’?” Now the man who had been healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had withdrawn, as there was a crowd in the place. Afterward Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, “See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you.” The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had healed him. And this was why the Jews were persecuting Jesus, because he was doing these things on the Sabbath. But Jesus answered them, “My Father is working until now, and I am working.” (John 5:1-17)
That’s the text from the ESV. But we need to cover something. Go look in your Bible and look for John 5:4. If you’re reading the KJV, the NKJV (New KJV), or the AKJV (Authorized KJV), the verse will be there. If you’re reading the ASV, NIV, RSV, ESV, NASV, CSB, or just about any other version except for the KJV, the verse WILL NOT BE THERE. Catholic bibles (like the NCB) keep the verse in the text, but put it in brackets, marking it as a very “special” type of verse that has some authority problems.
So first, we need to talk about this MISSING VERSE.
The Missing Verse of John 5:4
If you are reading in anything other than the KJV, John 5:4 is MISSING. The text literally jumps from 5:3 to 5:5. This is weird, but there is a reason, and it’s relevant to the explanation of the sign. As explained in this article, the reason is that in the 1800s, new ancient manuscripts indicated that the verse was probably NOT in the original work. But as Michael Heiser explains in that article:
Why would verse four have not been included in the original New Testament? It is not because of the angel in the story. The Bible has no problem with angels; they’re all over the place, doing all sorts of things. But, like today, there was a great deal of folklore and superstition about them. The idea that an angel stirred the waters at a given time during the year was one such superstition. John 5:7 mentions the stirring of the water, but does not mention the angel. It’s likely that John knew of the belief about the waters of Bethesda, but chose to leave it out for a specific reason. Perhaps he does not wish to endorse that an angel was stirring the water. By excluding the popular belief about the angel, John focuses his readers on the healer who was indeed present—Jesus.
And so that is what we have. Ancient scribes and writers needed to explain the man’s belief, and so they inserted the explanation into the gospels to help the readers understand the situation. But the non-scriptural “explanation” eventually it made its way into the “official text” of scripture, even though it doesn’t belong there. This seems to have happened in the middle ages when the text became numbered and cataloged. As such, this is more than 1000 years after the original texts were written. Importantly, the earlier copies of John that we have do not have this verse.
As of late (in other words, after the KJV was translated in the 1600s), Bible translators noticed the difference between the middle-ages copies and the ancient copies. As such, they removed it from the “official” text and put it in a footnote. That’s the explanation for that missing verse:
John 5:4 explains a real belief at the time, even though the text of that explanation is not a part of divinely inspired scripture.
This is important. The BELIEF is explicitly affirmed in the text of scripture, but the FACT of what the belief is about is NOT affirmed in scripture.
The Substance and Symbol of the Belief About the Pool
But as far as it concerns the third sign in John, we need to notice something. The belief about the angel and the water was REAL. It was a SUPERSTITION about angels who could grant healing to sick people (even though the reality of this healing ability is not in scripture). The belief was a real thing. The man mentions it explicitly regarding the waters being stirred up. THIS is the context of Jesus asking the man if he wants to be healed.
Importantly, the man hardly acknowledges Jesus, but indicates that he has no one to assist him to get the help of THE ANGELS by going to the pool. Are you catching that?
The ruler of heaven and earth and the God of Israel is standing next to the man, asking if he wants to be healed, but the man ignores his God as he looks for assistance of other heavenly beings.
This should already have some resonance with certain descriptions about Jesus in the book of John:
The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. (John 1:9-11)
Jesus came into HIS OWN CITY (which is Jerusalem), and this man did not recognize Jesus. Jesus sees this, “preaches” to him, so to speak by asking if he wants to be healed. And this man ignores Jesus and cites something about angels. And that’s when Jesus, having compassion on him, just heals him on the sabbath, and goes on his way.
But there’s the explanation of what that means:
THIS IS A REFERENCE TO THE IDOLATRY OF ISRAEL, BOTH PAST AND PRESENT.
Remember the context. Nicodemus did not know about being born again. Nicodemus did not know about being born of water and spirit. The woman at the well did not know the right place to worship. As the gospel of John explains, Jesus is the object and means of proper worship, but this man did not recognize Jesus.
Instead, he is concentrated on something strange with the water of the pool.
The Water of the Pool Explained
Now, to explain what the water of the pool means, we need to do some work. You see, in the modern mind, what is “up there” above the sky is empty “space.” That is why when you go to Google Earth and see what surrounds the Earth, you will see this:
However, in the ancient and biblical mind, this was not the case. The ancients knew about the atmosphere. They knew about the stars. They knew about the planets (which they called wandering stars), and they had a general idea of what was “up there” that did not involve “space.” Instead:
The ancients believed that the “stuff” above the air was WATER.
This requires more explanation.
The Waters Above the Firmament
This might sound strange to you, but the idea that “water” is above the air is quite explicitly mentioned in the Bible:
And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters. And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so. And God called the firmament Heaven. And there was evening and there was morning, a second day. (Genesis 1:6-8)
Praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord from the heavens;
praise him in the heights!
Praise him, all his angels;
praise him, all his hosts!
Praise him, sun and moon,
praise him, all you shining stars!
Praise him, you highest heavens,
and you waters above the heavens!
Not only is this in the Bible, but this was a well-recognized “reality” even in pagan circles. Look at how Ovid (a pagan Roman) talks about how the universe was created:
This conflict was ended by a god and a greater order of nature, since he split off the earth from the sky, and the sea from the land, and divided the transparent heavens from the dense air. When he had disentangled the elements, and freed them from the obscure mass, he fixed them in separate spaces in harmonious peace. The weightless fire, that forms the heavens, darted upwards to make its home in the furthest heights. Next came air in lightness and place. Earth, heavier than either of these, drew down the largest elements, and was compressed by its own weight. The surrounding water took up the last space and enclosed the solid world. (Ovid, Metamorphosis, Book 1, Translation by A.S. Kline)
In fact, remember what we showed about how “Google Earth” depicted the world? Well, look at how the ancients, if put in a pinch, would draw the world:
Look at what surrounds the world. It’s OCEAN. But that is no normal body of water. Instead, this is personified by the Titan god Oceanus, who is the water that surrounds the entire world. We should note that the ancients KNEW about lands that extend beyond the picture we see above. They knew about the Caspian Sea. They knew about the Indus River. They knew about these places (even if they hadn’t been there themselves). But they aren’t on this picture. Why? Because they knew that the world was a sphere Those lands are hidden by the curvature of the Earth. In other words, that sketch above DOES NOT REFLECT A FLAT EARTH. Instead, it is a FLAT PICTURE of a round earth.
For example, here’s another ancient map that shows more land:
You see, what you’re looking at is a picture of a ROUND EARTH. That’s what’s in white. And surrounding the ROUND EARTH is WATER. Today, we surround the earth with “space,” but “space” was a non-existent concept back then.
As an example of this, there is a funny part of Herodotus’s histories, where he is trying to find the source of the Nile River, and this is where he learns the Nile originates:
The second opinion is less grounded on knowledge than that afore-mentioned, though it is more marvellous to the ear: by it, the river effects what it does because it flows from the Ocean, which flows round all the world . . . The opinion about the Ocean is grounded in obscurity and needs no disproof; for I know of no river of Ocean; and I suppose that Homer or some older poet invented this name and brought it into his poetry. (Herodotus, Histories, 2.21, 2.23)
Herodotus knew of no PHYSICAL river called “Ocean,” but he knew that Homer and “the poets” (who often spoke of the gods as if they were real), brought this idea into being. However, to make things REALLY spooky, note that there was a river that came from the Garden of Eden that had several rivers that “sprang” from this one river:
A river flowed out of Eden to water the garden, and there it divided and became four rivers. The name of the first is the Pishon. It is the one that flowed around the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold. And the gold of that land is good; bdellium and onyx stone are there. The name of the second river is the Gihon. It is the one that flowed around the whole land of Cush. And the name of the third river is the Tigris, which flows east of Assyria. And the fourth river is the Euphrates. (Genesis 2:10-14)
In other words, this idea was something that not only came from “the poets,” but also something the comes from the Bible. This was such a well-known concept that Josephus, writing slightly after the time of Jesus, identifies these rivers that come out of Eden in Genesis:
Moses says further, that God planted a paradise in the east, flourishing with all sorts of trees; and that among them was the tree of life, and another of knowledge, whereby was to be known what was good and evil; and that when he brought Adam and his wife into this garden, he commanded them to take care of the plants. Now the garden was watered by one river, which ran round about the whole earth, and was parted into four parts. And Phison, which denotes a multitude, running into India, makes its exit into the sea, and is by the Greeks called Ganges. Euphrates also, as well as Tigris, goes down into the Red Sea. Now the name Euphrates, or Phrath, denotes either a dispersion, or a flower: by Tiris, or Diglath, is signified what is swift, with narrowness; and Geon runs through Egypt, and denotes what arises from the east, which the Greeks call Nile. (Josephus, Antiquities, 1.1.3)
In other words, not only do the people that Herodotus talked to in Egypt believe that the Nile started in a river that flows from an unnatural space, even the Jews in Jesus’s time believed that Genesis spoke of the source of the Nile being a very unnatural place. They believed it came from “Eden,” which was NOT a normal place, because Eden is not “on Earth,” so to speak. But that’s a story for a different post.
But after all of that background, here’s what you need to know:
IN THE ANCIENT MIND, “WATERS” WERE ABOVE “THE HEAVENS” AND ABOVE THE STARS.
That’s why the maps of the ancient world show the Earth surrounded by WATER just like maps of the modern world show Earth surrounded by SPACE.
As such, we now have the first understanding of the SIGN at the pool of Bethesda.
The man is looking down at the pool, but symbolically, he is looking UP AT THE HEAVENS as he IGNORES HIS LORD AND HIS GOD WHO IS STANDING BESIDE HIM.
This is a call back to Deuteronomy. This is a picture of how Israel went astray, looking where they should not look and missing their Lord and their God who was in their midst:
Therefore watch yourselves very carefully. Since you saw no form on the day that the Lord spoke to you at Horeb out of the midst of the fire, beware lest you act corruptly by making a carved image for yourselves, in the form of any figure, the likeness of male or female, the likeness of any animal that is on the earth, the likeness of any winged bird that flies in the air, the likeness of anything that creeps on the ground, the likeness of any fish that is in the water under the earth. And beware lest you raise your eyes to heaven, and when you see the sun and the moon and the stars, all the host of heaven, you be drawn away and bow down to them and serve them, things that the Lord your God has allotted to all the peoples under the whole heaven. (Deuteronomy 4:15-19)
For this commandment that I command you today is not too hard for you, neither is it far off. It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will ascend to heaven for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will go over the sea for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ But the word is very near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it. (Deuteronomy 30:11-14)
The picture of the man at the pool is a picture of a man who is looking to “the heavens” to find help outside of God himself. And God is NOT HAPPY about this fact.
The Bible Says Both God and Heavenly Beings (Who Are Not God) Are in the Heavens
This is a weird point, but it is totally true, and it applies to the second sign. The stuff that is “up there” is water, but it is ALSO the place were both God himself and heavenly beings who are not God are also located. There are too many pagan sources to cite to in order to prove this point, so I won’t.
But to definitively prove the point for Christians, I can show some less-than well-known examples of this in the Bible:
Let the heavens praise your wonders, O Lord,
your faithfulness in the assembly of the holy ones!
For who in the skies can be compared to the Lord?
Who among the heavenly beings is like the Lord,
a God greatly to be feared in the council of the holy ones,
and awesome above all who are around him?
When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,
what is man that you are mindful of him,
and the son of man that you care for him?
Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings
and crowned him with glory and honor.
Those are the “waters above the firmament,” which I have written about extensively on this blog:
- The Flood of Noah and the Waters Above the Firmament
- New Life and the Waters Above the Firmament
- The Parting of the Red Sea and the Waters Above the Firmament
- Crossing the Jordan and the Waters Above the Firmament
- The Adoration of the Magi and the Waters Above the Firmament
The best example of this cosmic geography of that I can find outside the Bible is in Hesiod’s Theogony:
And there, all in their order, are the sources and ends of the dark earth and misty Tartarus and the unfruitful sea and starry heaven, loathsome and dank, which even the gods abhor. And there are shining gates and an immoveable threshold of bronze having unending roots and it is grown of itself. And beyond, away from all the gods, live the Titans, beyond gloomy Chaos. But the glorious allies of loud-crashing Zeus have their dwelling upon Ocean’s foundations, even Cottus and Gyes; but Briareos, being goodly, the deep-roaring Earth-Shaker made his son-in-law, giving him Cymopolea his daughter to wed.
Notice how strange it is that the Titans are down in Tartarus, but the allies of Zeus have their dwelling “upon Ocean’s foundations.” In other words, the “Ocean” is UP THERE where Zeus and his allies are.
Isn’t that strange? How is it possible? Why would the Greeks believe that Zeus has the foundation of his home on the Ocean which is ABOVE the sky?
It is possible because of what you read in Genesis 1, which was quite a common idea in the ancient mind:
And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters. And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so. (Genesis 1:6-7)
Anyway, back to the story.
The Meaning of the Healing at the Pool
So, once again, I’m just going to explain this to you again. This is INCREDIBLY deep, but also quite complicated. This is about being healed from the effects of idolatry.
What is the pool? The pool is the heavens. That is what we just described. However, let’s look at the name of the location by the pool: Bethesda.
If you look up a meaning of Bethesda, it comes from two words: “bayith,” meaning “house” and “checed” meaning “goodness.” And since we’ve already covered that the pool is the heavens, is there anything in the creation story that equates to a “house” that is “good”? You bet there is:
And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day. Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation. (Genesis 1:31 – 2:4)
Do you see it? This is CREATION and in this beautify place, there are all kinds of sick people gathering at the pool. This is a picture of the world itself. Also, let’s notice that this healing happens on THE SABBATH, and this is precisely the time and place when God rests after creation. And this is INTIMATELY tied to the miracle of the healing at the pool of Bethesda:
And this was why the Jews were persecuting Jesus, because he was doing these things on the Sabbath. But Jesus answered them, “My Father is working until now, and I am working.” (John 5:17)
So, let’s get what is happening here. This is NOT ONLY a problem with a man breaking the laws of the Sabbath. Instead, this is a problem because the other HEAVENLY BEINGS are like “Whoa, whoa! Wait a minute! You’re not supposed to be stepping back into creation and messing with things! We are still in the seventh day! God is supposed to be RESTING!”
But what does Jesus say? And this was why the Jews were persecuting Jesus, because he was doing these things on the Sabbath. But Jesus answered them, “My Father is working until now, and I am working.” (John 5:17)
Do you see that “hand off” of work? In Genesis, God stops working. But now, Jesus STARTS working.
This is a picture of the NEW creation. You might think “new creation” is a metaphor of some sort. But that is not how the Bible sees it. This is something that is QUITE LITERAL:
From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. (2 Corinthians 5:16-19)
And the ANGER that the pharisees have at the healing at the pool of Bethesda parallels the anger that evil heavenly beings have against God himself who is taking back the world from their clutches:
Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness:
He was manifested in the flesh,
vindicated by the Spirit,
seen by angels,
proclaimed among the nations,
believed on in the world,
taken up in glory.
(1 Timothy 3:16)
Yet among the mature we do impart wisdom, although it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away. But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. (1 Corinthians 2:6-8)
Those “rulers of this age” are not human rulers. They are heavenly beings. We would call them “angels.” The pagans would call them “gods.” These heavenly beings (gods/angels) are opposed to God and the work of Jesus Christ. And when we read that they are “doomed to pass away,” that means that they will DIE.
This is a picture of what is happening with the man by the pool. He is looking to other gods:
And God spoke all these words, saying, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. “You shall have no other gods before me. “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. (Exodus 20:1-3)
You shall not go after other gods, the gods of the peoples who are around you— for the Lord your God in your midst is a jealous God—lest the anger of the Lord your God be kindled against you, and he destroy you from off the face of the earth. (Deuteronomy 6:14-15)
You see, this is a man in Jerusalem who is a little bit metaphorically, but mostly LITERALLY DOING EXACTLY THE OPPOSITE of what he was commanded to do. And with that in mind, notice the other detail we know about him from the event:
They asked him, “Who is the man who said to you, ‘Take up your bed and walk’?” Now the man who had been healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had withdrawn, as there was a crowd in the place. (John 5:11-12)
Here’s the issue, and this is key:
HE DOES NOT KNOW JESUS.
This man who represents Israel does not know who Jesus is. This a theme in the book of John, and all the gospels, really. Israel rejects Jesus.
The Lesson of the Healing at the Pool of Bethesda
And so that’s the explanation, but what is Jesus trying to get the people to learn? That involves what Jesus does, both literally and “symbolically,” after the man gets healed. Look at what we read:
Afterward Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, “See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you.” (John 5:14)
That’s a bit odd of a thing to say from Jesus, but that’s THE POINT. The man was acting in an idolatrous way and he did not know his Lord and his God. But now he has met him. So Jesus tells him who he is, and then tells him to STOP SINNING. In other words:
LOOK TO JESUS, AND NOT TO OTHER GODS.
Had this man followed the law of Moses, he would have been fine, because the law of Moses speaks against idolatry. But he didn’t follow the law of Moses. As such, he was in trouble. But if he returns to his bad ways, the consequences will be much worse. Not only for him specifically, but for all of Israel, as well.
This is PRECISELY the same instruction that was given to Israel in the New Testament:
Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. For since the message declared by angels proved to be reliable, and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution, how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard, while God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will. (Hebrews 2:1-4)
Now, this verse confuses some people, because they always wonder what the message was that was declared “by angels.” The answer is quite simple, but a little bit complicated, too. The English word “angel” comes from the Latin word “angelos” which comes from the Greek word ἄγγελος. This is a word that describes a CATEGORY OF BEING. It is one of those “other” people from the heavenly places.
However, in the Old Testament, the Hebrew word that gets translated as “angel” is the word “malak” (מֲלְאָךְ), which is “malakim” when plural. This is NOT a word that describes a category of being. Instead, it is a word that describes a JOB DESCRIPTION. This different meaning is most clearly demonstrated in the following passage:
Moses sent messengers (malakim) from Kadesh to the king of Edom: “Thus says your brother Israel: You know all the hardship that we have met: how our fathers went down to Egypt, and we lived in Egypt a long time. And the Egyptians dealt harshly with us and our fathers. And when we cried to the Lord, he heard our voice and sent an angel (malak) and brought us out of Egypt. And here we are in Kadesh, a city on the edge of your territory. Please let us pass through your land. We will not pass through field or vineyard, or drink water from a well. We will go along the King’s Highway. We will not turn aside to the right hand or to the left until we have passed through your territory.” (Numbers 20:14-17)
But look at how the Septuagint translates this passage:
14 Καὶ ἀπέστειλε Μωυσῆς ἀγγέλους (angels) ἐκ Κάδης πρὸς βασιλέα ᾿Εδὼμ λέγων· τάδε λέγει ὁ ἀδελφός σου ᾿Ισραήλ· σὺ ἐπίστῃ πάντα τὸν μόχθον τὸν εὑρόντα ἡμᾶς, 15 καὶ κατέβησαν οἱ πατέρες ἡμῶν εἰς Αἴγυπτον, καὶ παρῳκήσαμεν ἐν Αἰγύπτῳ ἡμέρας πλείους, καὶ ἐκάκωσαν ἡμᾶς οἱ Αἰγύπτιοι καὶ τοὺς πατέρας ἡμῶν, 16 καὶ ἀνεβοήσαμεν πρὸς Κύριον, καὶ εἰσήκουσε Κύριος τῆς φωνῆς ἡμῶν καὶ ἀποστείλας ἄγγελον (angel) ἐξήγαγεν ἡμᾶς ἐξ Αἰγύπτου, καὶ νῦν ἐσμεν ἐν Κάδης πόλει, ἐκ μέρους τῶν ὁρίων σου· 17 παρελευσόμεθα διὰ τῆς γῆς σου, οὐ διελευσόμεθα δι’ ἀγρῶν, οὐδὲ δι’ ἀμπελώνων, οὐδὲ πιόμεθα ὕδωρ ἐκ λάκκου σου, ὁδῷ βασιλικῇ πορευσόμεθα, οὐκ ἐκκλινοῦμεν δεξιὰ οὐδὲ εὐώνυμα, ἕως ἂν παρέλθωμεν τὰ ὅριά σου. (Numbers 20:14-17 Septuagint)
And the Septuagint, even when it is giving a description of ordinary human beings who are “messengers,” translates that as “ANGELS” into Greek. For example, look at Joshua 7:22:
So Joshua sent messengers, and they ran to the tent; and behold, it was hidden in his tent with the silver underneath. (Joshua 7:22)
καὶ ἀπέστειλεν ᾿Ιησοῦς ἀγγέλους (ANGELS), καὶ ἔδραμον εἰς τὴν σκηνὴν εἰς τὴν παρεμβολήν (Joshua 7:22, Septuagint)
This creates some interesting translation issues, because the word “angels” still brings around some of its old meaning. But this is the explanation for this funny verse in the book of Hebrews. Who are the “angels” that delivered a message that brought punishment and reward?
They are MESSENGERS from God.
Who are these messengers that either brought punishment or reward for following them?
They are the prophets.
And so the idea is that if the MESSENGERS/ANGELS could bring punishments if they were ignored, how much more Jesus Christ himself, who is the Lord. This is why Jesus tells the man he healed to stop sinning. That is why Jesus tells him:
Afterward Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, “See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you.” (John 5:14)
In other words, even though Israel in the past forsook their God, this man has been made well, not by any good thing he has done, but by the compassion of Jesus Christ himself. He was then made well, even though he did not know what had happened to him. Jesus then tells him to STOP FOLLOWING OTHER HEAVENLY BEINGS, and instead look to Jesus. Because if he doesn’t, then something WORSE than being crippled will happen to him.
And bad things WOULD happen to Israel, which would reject Jesus. That would be the destruction of Jerusalem in 66-70 AD. But regardless, Jesus once against calls out to those in Jerusalem, asking them to look TO HIM for their salvation. This is what he says IMMEDIATELY AFTER the SIGN at the pool of Bethesda:
So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise. For the Father loves the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing. And greater works than these will he show him, so that you may marvel. For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will. For the Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son, just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him. Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life. (John 5:19-24)
And THAT is the third sign of John. It’s a call for Israel to reject its idolatry and look to Jesus.