An Essay on John 4:46-54
So he came again to Cana in Galilee, where he had made the water wine. And at Capernaum there was an official whose son was ill. When this man heard that Jesus had come from Judea to Galilee, he went to him and asked him to come down and heal his son, for he was at the point of death.
So Jesus said to him, “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.”
The official said to him, “Sir, come down before my child dies.”
Jesus said to him, “Go; your son will live.” The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and went on his way. (John 4:46-50 ESV)
Even though Jesus regularly performed miracles, John identified only a handful as signs. His first sign was done at a wedding in Cana, a day’s walk from Capernaum. While at the wedding, Jesus turned water into wine. He did something only God could do. He created one thing out of another thing. Water is made from three atoms, two are hydrogen and one is oxygen (H2O). Water is essential for life but is not itself life. Wine comes from grapes which are the seed of grapevines, which are life. Jesus took that which was not alive and created a product of that which is alive. Only God can create one thing from another.
His second sign was healing a royal official’s son, who was on the verge of death. Jesus sustained the boy’s life. Only God can sustain life.
This man came to Jesus begging Him to come with him and heal his son. He had travelled a day to get to Jesus, walking or riding over twenty miles. Jesus’ response sounds like a rebuke. Still, the man pleads with Jesus to come but Jesus does not go. He sent him away with the assurance his son would live. Returning home the next day the official discovers his son is healed. At the exact time Jesus said the boy would live the fever killing him broke and he started getting better. Because of this miracle of healing the royal official’s whole house, everyone within his family including servants, believed Jesus.
Who this royal official was is never indicated in the passage. He was not himself royal but worked for or was related to royalty. In that area Herod was the only royal official we know of at that time. We also know that “Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod’s household manager” (Luke 8:3 ESV) provided for Jesus and His disciples “out of their means.” Was it Joanna’s son who was healed by Jesus after Chuza journeyed from Capernaum to Cana to fetch Him? We do not know. Chuza was a royal official and his wife, Joanna, followed Jesus.
Was Jesus’ comment, “unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe” truly a rebuke? Jesus did more than heal people. He taught them about God and how they should live for God. He demonstrated God’s love for them by more than miracles. He didn’t just heal lepers. He touched them and healed them. He didn’t just talk to people. He ate with “tax collectors and sinners” (see Luke 7:34). He is much more than a performer of miracles and wonders. He associated with those the righteous Jews considered under God’s wrath. He came because they were under God’s wrath.
Are Jesus’ words a rebuke? In Cana, at the wedding, His mother came to Him and told Him there was no more wine. Jesus’ response to her appears as a rebuke to our western ears and mindset, but actually was not. His mother knew what He was capable of but He would not let her control His timing and actions. He traveled around the nation, going to Jerusalem and returning to Galilee. Again in Cana, Jesus is surrounded by a multitude of Galilean’s who had watched Him in Jerusalem during the feast. “So when he came to Galilee, the Galileans welcomed him, having seen all that he had done in Jerusalem at the feast. For they too had gone to the feast” (John 4:45 ESV). When the official, the father of the dying son, asked Jesus to come Jesus spoke to everyone present, including the royal official, the Galileans and His disciples.
One of the implications of this observation by John was Jesus had performed other miracles and healings while at the feast in Jerusalem. John tells us “now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing” (John 2:23 ESV). Jesus did more than drive the money-changers out of the temple or predict His death and resurrection. He healed people. John does not tell us about those healings but the people who traveled from Galilee saw them and mobbed Jesus when He returned.
Most probably the royal official had seen Jesus heal someone or heard He performed miracles. His son was dying and he reckoned Jesus could save him. So he traveled a day on a desperate mission to find Jesus and persuade Him to come and heal, like He had done in Jerusalem.
Jesus’ statement is not a rebuke but a statement of fact. Knowing the hearts of those surrounding Him He told them why they were there. They had seen miracles. They wanted to see more miracles. For them Jesus was entertainment. Yet, there was a part of Jesus’ statement that thrust a verbal blade to the tender core of their motivation. Unless they saw more miracles they would not continue to believe Jesus. Once He stopped performing miracles they would leave and find something else to tickle their senses.
He heard Jesus say these words to the crowd. We do not know how many people Jesus healed that day. We know He was in Cana. We know the people there had seen and heard Jesus do wonders. But, this man was not there to watch Jesus perform. He was there to beg Jesus to come and heal his son. Perhaps he was grasping at the last possibility, desperate to do something which would help his son live. He was a day away from home, constantly aware of the suffering his wife and family were enduring as they watched a loved-one die. He was not there for entertainment but to bring his last hope back.
But, maybe the words were for him. We think Jesus has to be present to work. Present as we demand present. Tangibly present. Though Jesus is fully man, those around could touch Him, He is fully God, untouchable by anything sinful. “So Jesus said to him, ‘Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.’” Unless you can touch the tangible evidence of a miracle you will not have faith. Jesus uses the word pisteuo, which means to believe the evidence and trust the object which did the deed that left the evidence behind. Yet, there is an implication in pisteuo of obedience. There must be action as well as intellectual assent and emotional acceptance. Unless you see you will not actively believe. And even if you see you may only believe for a while and then forget and stop believing.
“Sir, come down before my child dies.” He believed Jesus could heal his son. He did not believe Jesus could do anything after the child died. But, before he died, Jesus can do a miracle.
Jesus knows Himself. He also knows the heart of the father standing before Him and the deepest motivation of all those standing around waiting for Him to do something spectacular. Faith is a moment by moment link to God. Even when there are many moments when it seems there is no connection there are still a few moments of faith with a firm and solid connection. God knows Himself. Where we waver He never falters.
“Jesus said to him, ‘Go; your son will live.’ The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and went on his way.”
When God speaks what He speaks happens. He spoke creation into being. He spoke light. He spoke the separation of waters from dry land. He spoke life and life covered the planet. When He changed water into wine He didn’t speak to the water but to the servants who knew the difference between water for washing and water for drinking. And they drew out water which became the finest wine.
Jesus spoke to the father of a dying son. Go home. Start now. Your son will not die but will live. I can visualize the father staring into the eyes of Jesus through tears and fear and seeing in those eyes certainty and truth. So he turned and went home. He pistueo, believed the evidence of Jesus’ works and words and emotionally trusted Jesus as the object and walked his faith home in obedience. He would walk home the rest of that day, spend a night somewhere and finish walking home the next.
As he was going down, his servants met him and told him that his son was recovering. So he asked them the hour when he began to get better, and they said to him, “Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him.” The father knew that was the hour when Jesus had said to him, “Your son will live.” And he himself believed, and all his household. This was now the second sign that Jesus did when he had come from Judea to Galilee. (Joh 4:51-54 ESV)
But the story doesn’t end with a healed son and a comforted father. He was met by other servants before he arrived home. They came to him bearing news. His son was well and would live. When Jesus spoke to the father the previous day his son immediately began to get well. “The fever left him.” His son had an infection and his body was fighting it and losing. Jesus spoke and the infection ceased. At a specific time the fever broke. When he arrived home and told his story, about meeting Jesus and what Jesus said, his family and those bond-servants in his household believed, pisteou, also.
What did they believe? Did they believe Jesus could heal over distance? He can. Did they believe Jesus’ teaching? If I am right, the wife of Chuza, the head of Herod’s household, began following Jesus and providing for Him and His disciples out of her means. She probably would not do this without her husband’s approval. They believed the evidence of Jesus’ words and works and trusted Him showing their faith through their actions and obedience. There is more to this story but we do not have all of the facts. We have enough.
“This was now the second sign that Jesus did when he had come from Judea to Galilee” (John 4:54 ESV). Jesus did many miracles, healed many people, even raising some from death before His resurrection. Yet, John identifies this healing as “the second sign” with the first sign the changing of water into wine at the wedding in Cana.
As with His first sign, Jesus here does only that which God is able. At the wedding He created something out of something else. Here, He sustains life. Facing eminent death Jesus spoke and death fled. Yes, the wine eventually ran out. Yes, the boy, and his family, would face death and finally die. But John is telling us about who Jesus is and why we should believe, trust and obey Him. Jesus did that which only God can do. He took upon Himself our sin and covered us with His righteousness. He took us, dead in sin, separated from God, and recreated us, giving us life He will sustain for eternity. Only God can do this.