Although it is not specified, this "feast of the Jews" (5:1) was likely the Passover (cf. 4:35, which can be dated to approximately two months before the Passover. If this is correct, then it can be deduced that Jesus' ministry lasted over three years (cf. 2:13; 6:4; 13:1). If this is not correct, then it is possible that Jesus' earthly ministry was not even three years in length.
It should be noted that the end of 5:3 and all of verse 4 are in question as to whether or not they belong in the inspired text. Some ancient manuscripts contain the words about an angel stirring up the water for healing purposes, but others manuscripts do not. It is believed by many that these words were probably inserted by a transcriber to explain two things: (1) the reason why so many ill people gathered at the pool, and (2) the cause for the stirring up of the water mentioned in 5:7. These comments may have first appeared as a marginal explanatory note and later gradually began to be incorporated into the text itself. In any case, there is no doubt these two verses are an accurate description of what the people believed about the pool, even though their belief was likely mistaken.
In 5:5, we are introduced to a man "who had an infirmity thirty-eight years." Although he had suffered for decades, it is unknown as to how long he had been at the pool waiting. The duration of his infirmity was likely mentioned to show that his case was truly helpless. Obviously, after this many years there was no known means of relief for him. There was no deception in the miracle about to be performed. The man considered this pool to be his only means of healing.
Jesus asked the man in 5:6 - "Do you want to be made well?" To some, this appears to be a foolish question. However, I don't believe that Jesus would heal a person who did not desire such. We understand that it would have been foolish for this man to say "No" to Jesus. Likewise, it is just as foolish for one to reject Christ's spiritual healing today, yet many do.
This man's failure to be healed was not because he lacked desire, rather he needed help (5:7). Others, who had more mobility than him or friends to assist them, were always able to get to the water first when it was "stirred up." Although there is no reason to believe that this water contained miraculous power, it may indeed have had therapeutic or medicinal powers. Evidently, an intermittent spring was responsible for this stirring up of the water. There were many sick people--people without any real hope of recovery--who placed all their trust in the stirred up waters. They believed in the power of the water with all their heart even though the text itself implies that not many people were healed at this pool (otherwise why would a "great multitude" of people still be present, waiting and hoping?).
We will continue studying this narrative tomorrow.