Simon the Zealot & the Man at the Bethesda Pool (Exploring The Chosen Season 2 Episode 4 with Youth)
Updated: Jul 23
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During the public premiere of The Chosen Season 2 Episode 4, Dallas Jenkins said it was the most complex and challenging episode of The Chosen to film, and it sure does show. This episode is our first extended visit to Jerusalem and introduces us to Simon the Zealot, a future disciple, as well as the invalid at the pool of Bethesda (who, in The Chosen, is the brother of Simon the Zealot). While the conflict among the disciples and their struggle to come together temporarily takes the backseat, this miracle-of-the-week storyline is one of the most intricately constructed episodes of The Chosen so far. Moreover, in addition to being a compelling story, The Chosen Season 2 Episode 4 offers several interesting themes that will be worth exploring with your youth group.
Intro: The Chosen Season 2 Episode 4: The Man at Bethesda Pool
To begin your time, have your youth read the main passage that this episode of The Chosen is adapting:
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. 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 Now the man who had been healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had withdrawn, as there was a crowd in the place. (John 5:1-13 ESV)
Explain to your youth group:
During the time of the New Testament, it was common for people to believe that certain places like the Pool of Bethesda had miraculous power to bring healing. Some Jewish people might have believed this was because God had blessed these places, but others believed that these healing centers were connected to pagan gods like Asclepius.
The Pool of Bethesda was specifically known to heal people only at a specific time - when the waters had been stirred up. It was most likely an underground hot spring. Only the first person to reach the stirring waters was healed.
Invalids - people with debilitating sicknesses, injuries, or birth defects - would often congregate around these miraculous places like Bethesda in hopes of having their sicknesses healed. Some might have family members carry them back and forth from home and help them when needed, but others were basically homeless people who had to beg in order to get food and care.
Now ask your students:
What do you think it would have been like to be a person who waited around pools like Bethesda in hopes of having a sickness or disability healed? What emotions do you imagine you'd feel?
In this story, Jesus sees the invalid lying by the pool of Bethesda and asks him, "Do you want to be healed?" How would you react if someone asked you that question after you'd been disabled for almost 40 years?
Why do you think Jesus asked him that question? What do you think he meant by it?
Notice that the man doesn't reply directly to Jesus' question. Instead of saying he does or doesn't want to be well, he explains why he thinks he can't get well - he doesn't have anyone to put him in the pool when it is stirred up. Jesus then simply tells him to get up and walk and he's healed. What do you think we're supposed to conclude?
Explain that this episode of The Chosen Season 2 will be exploring many of these questions imaginatively, filling in the details that the Bible leaves us to wonder about.
Reviewing The Chosen So Far
Since the story of The Chosen has grown increasingly complex in Season 2, it's a good idea to regularly review some relevant information from previous episodes (especially since there's not a regular "previously on The Chosen" segment). Here are a few questions you might want to review (no need to take too long - just a quick recap):
Who are the disciples that are following Jesus so far?
In Episode 2 of The Chosen Season 2, Jesus encountered a man who had his career crumble all around him. Who was he? What did he do?
Which disciples seem to be the potential leaders of the group?
In Episode 6 of The Chosen Season 1, Jesus faced opposition from a Pharisee in Capnernaum. Do you remember his name? Why was he mad at Jesus?
Viewing The Chosen Season 2 Episode 4
Although The Chosen Season 2 Episode 4 did livestream on YouTube and Facebook, new episodes are now only being left up for 24 hours before being taken down. To watch this season with your group, you'll need to pick up The Chosen app (Google / Apple).
While watching The Chosen Season 2 Episode 4, I make occasional comments through the chat but I try to not do too much teaching. I want the youth to enjoy it and not just see The Chosen as an elaborate preaching illustration. For the most part, I just clarify who characters are and occasionally I briefly explained a reference or allusion that is confusing to my youth.
Discussing The Chosen Season 2 Episode 4: Simon & Jesse
To begin your discussion, ask your youth group:
What stuck out to you about this episode? Were there any scenes that you found interesting or moving?
Did you have any questions about what happened?
Did the healing of the invalid man by the Pool of Bethesda play out like you expected?
Explain to your students:
In order to explain why, in the Gospel of John, the invalid tells Jesus that he has no one to put him in the water, this episode of The Chosen depicted him as having a brother who abandoned him in order to pursue life as a Jewish Zealot.
Remember that, during the time of the New Testament, the land of Israel was occupied by the Roman Empire, which had conquered it several decades earlier. As The Chosen has showed us at various points, the Romans were hated by most of the Jews, who viewed them as oppressive enemies.
The Zealots were a group of Jews who believed that God had called them to overthrow the Roman Empire through physical force. Some of these Zealots, known as Sicarii, would carry out terrorist attacks and assassinations of Romans and Jews who cooperated with the Roman Empire.
Jesus really did know a Zealot named Simon. The Gospels tell us almost nothing about him, but they all list him as one of the twelve disciples. While the Chosen depicts Simon the Zealot as the brother of Jesse, the invalid Jesus heals by the Pool of Bethesda, this detail does not come from the Gospels. The Chosen creatively connects these two characters in order to make a point.
Now ask your youth:
Why do you think The Chosen made Simon the Zealot and Jesse the Invalid brothers?
How does it affect your view of Jesse, to know that he had a brother who left him at the pool in order to go fight the Roman Empire?
How does it affect your view of Simon the Zealot, to know that he went off to become a Zealot and fight for the freedom of the Jews while leaving his brother helplessly lying by the Pool of Bethesda?
What has Simon the Zealot put his hope in to bring salvation? What has Jesse the Invalid put his hope in to bring salvation? How do the hopes of Simon and Jesse turn out?
Jesse initially hopes that the Pool of Bethesda will save him from his injury but ends up disappointed. In the place of the pool, what does he discover is a much better hope?
If Simon the Zealot had gone through with his attempt to assassinate the Roman leader, his hope would also have been disappointed by the intervention of Atticus, the undercover Roman agent. After seeing his brother healed by Jesus, do you think he will continue to hope in violence to bring salvation?
What kinds of things do people today put their hope in?
In what ways do these hopes end up disappointing us?
What do you think it looks like to stop putting hope in things that disappoint us, like the Pool of Bethesda, and to instead focus our hopes around Jesus?
As a teaser for the future, explain to your students:
You might have noticed Shmuel, the Pharisee who opposed Jesus in The Chosen Season 1, was back and joined by a new group of Pharisees. Some of these Pharisees witnessed the healing of Jesse and saw how Jesus told him to get up and take his mat and walk. Carrying a mat around was forbidden on the Sabbath, so we can expect that their conflict with Jesus about this to come up in next episode of The Chosen Season 2.
Bonus Commentary on The Chosen Season 2 Episode 4:
Why does this episode omit John 5:14-15?
While The Chosen Season 2 Episode 4 closes on a happy note, with Jesse joyfully dancing on his new legs full of gratitude to Jesus, the original account of this story in the Gospel of John ends much more ambivalently:
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. (John 5:10-16 ESV)
The ending of this story in the Gospel of John seems to suggest that the invalid, after getting healed by Jesus, turns into a snitch, reporting Jesus to the Pharisees. The sketchiness of the invalid is further highlighted by how his healing in John 5 is closely mirrored by the healing of the man born blind in John 9 and the much more faithful response of the blind man.
We don't see any signs of Jesse responding to his healing in a sketchy way in Episode 4 of The Chosen Season 2. There are two possible explanations for this. The first is that we simply haven't gotten to that point in the story. This would be very in-keeping with the Gospel of John, which is quite interested in the way people initially respond to Jesus with faith when he does a miracle but eventually fall away when he doesn't something inexplicable or the water gets too hot. The second explanation is that the show wanted this story to have a happy ending and so it significantly changed it to end in the desired place.
I honestly wouldn't be surprised if the second explanation will prove true, but I would prefer the first - since there are plenty of other miracle healings that the show could have utilized instead of undermining a central feature of this specific story. That said, this is an adaptation and that means it's their telling of these stories, so I won't be too bummed if they've taken reworked this relatively minor story.
How does Episode 4 fit into The Chosen Season 2?
In my last post, I examined episodes 1-3 of The Chosen Season 2 and predicted that The Chosen was moving away from a focus on personal encounters with Jesus in order to focus instead on the struggle of Jesus' disciple to come together as a community following Jesus, in spite of their various differences and competing ambitions and desires. Episode 4 of The Chosen Season 2 would seem to challenge that prediction, since it is very clearly centered around developing the invalid at the Bethesda Pool and Simon the Zealot in order to set up the invalid's personal encounter with Jesus. We get scenes of the disciples building a booth for the Feast of Tabernacles and a little ribbing of Matthew for his eccentricity and for his ignorance of Jewish custom. The majority of the episode's conflict, however, centers around the two brothers - with Shmuel's return as a Pharisaical voice opposing Jesus featuring as a C-plot.
All of this being said, I'm not yet ready to withdraw my prediction that the arc of The Chosen Season 2 as a whole will still revolve around conflict among the disciples as they seek to come together as a community. While the disciples may play a relatively small role in the episode, it doesn't seem like a coincidence that the disciples Jesus intentionally chooses to bring with him when he goes to heal the invalid at Bethesda are the main players in conflict this season: Matthew, Simon (Peter), and James. The first few episodes of The Chosen Season 2 built up the conflict for power and influence between Simon and James, and one of the key centers of their conflict was the treatment of Matthew, with Simon favoring Matthew's exclusion because of his past as a tax collector and James favoring more leniency. We know that Simon the Zealot will eventually be counted among the twelve. Given his Zealot background, it seems likely that he will side with Simon (Peter) in hatred of Matthew for being a Roman sympathizer, which could bring the conflict about Matthew's place among the disciples to a boiling point. For now we'll have to wait and see.
Have these posts about The Chosen helped you understand The Chosen or explore it with your ministry or family? Would you consider giving a few bucks to support my work as a writer? It's really simple to do using my account on Buy Me a Coffee. Thanks so much!
If you liked this post, I've done several other posts on The Chosen that you might want to check out, including explorations of how the show adapts key biblical characters and guides on how to lead your youth group in discussing each episode of The Chosen Seasons 1 & 2. You may also be interested in some of my other content on adaptation and youth ministry.
Adapting Biblical Characters Series
Judas in The Chosen ***Season 2***
James & John in The Chosen ***Season 2***
Exploring the Chosen with Youth [Guides for Youth Leaders]
Season 2 Reflection P1: What is The Chosen Season 2 about?
Episode 1 Guide: The Beloved Disciple
Episode 2 Guide: Philip, Nathanael, & Matthew
Episode 3 Guide: Life Among the Disciples of Jesus
Episode 4 Guide: Simon the Zealot & the Man at the Bethesda Pool
Episode 5 Guide: Mary's Demons & the Destiny of John the Baptist
Episode 6 Guide: Mercy and Not Sacrifice
Episode 7 Guide: Quintus Returns
Episode 8 Guide: Judas, Matthew, & the Sermon on the Mount
Episode 1 Guide: Mary Magdalene, Lilith, and the Redeemer
Episode 2 Guide: Mary Magdalene, Nicodemus, and Shabbat
Episode 3 Guide: Depicting Jesus in Art, Film, and TV
Episode 4 Guide: When Jesus Met Simon (Peter)
Episode 5 Guide: Mary, Mother of Jesus
Episode 6 Guide: Jesus, Shmuel, & the Pharisees
Episode 7 Guide: Did Nicodemus Follow Jesus?
Episode 8 Guide: The Woman at the Well, Eden, & Zohara