Jesus had stayed with the Samaritans for two days (Jn. 4.42). Then he left for Galilee, where the people welcomed him. They had seen him do wonderful things, and they were glad to have him back.
Jesus went back to Cana, where he had turned the water into wine in chapter 2. There was a certain royal official, and, knowing what we do about John’s motive for writing, we are about to learn of another person in yet another segment of society who is able to see who Jesus is. Let’s watch the action.
The man is a wealthy aristocrat, probably a Jewish man strongly influenced by the Greco-Roman culture, and most likely not overly religious, by general Jewish standards of the time. He lives in Capernaum, a good 25 miles away, and his son was sick. The man had heard that Jesus had arrived, so he rushed to Jesus and begged him to heal his son. I would say at this point that we should make clear that faith in Jesus is never a leap in the dark or a step into the unknown. It’s always founded in some knowledge. It’s always based on evidence. What faith really is is an assumption of truth based on the evidence that makes it reasonable to make that assumption. The man had some knowledge of people’s experience with Jesus’ healing power (a confirmed truth with evidence to back it up). Now he makes a reasonable assumption: Maybe Jesus can help my son and me. That’s what faith is.
Jesus says, “Unless you people see miracles, you’ll never believe.” His answer sounds harsh, but he’s also talking to the crowd all around them. Remember, they had been excited that Jesus was back in town because of the cool things he did (his teaching is never mentioned).
The official stays on task: “Just come and heal my son, please? He may die.” He’s no thrill-seeker. His heart is breaking, and he has come to get help.
“Jesus replied, ‘You may go. Your son will live.’ The man took Jesus at his word and departed.”
Merrill Tenney comments, “These words put the man in a dilemma. If he took Jesus at his word, he did so with no assurance beyond that word that Jesus would do anything for him. If he refused to take Jesus at his word, he would insult the very man upon whom all his hopes depended, and so forfeit whatever benefits He might confer. With a short and simple command Jesus put the nobleman in the position where he would be compelled to show real faith if he had any to show.”
Can you imagine? The man lives 25 miles away. He has no cell phone. He either has to confront Jesus for more evidence, or to do something else, or he has to walk away, either in sorrow or faith. Long-distance miracles were rare by Old Testament, other Jewish, and Greco-Roman standards. The distance suggests extraordinary power. John writes, though, that Jesus affirmed, “Your son will live,” and the man “took Jesus at his word.” He shows obedience and faith. “And while he was on his way, his servants met him with the news that his boy was living,” and that the turnaround in his condition came when the man had been with Jesus.
What is the verdict? “He and all his household believed.”
I have mentioned before that John is presenting his case about who Jesus is.
John the Baptist, a Jewish prophet, said Jesus is God.
Andrew, a disciple of John’s, said Jesus is the Messiah.
Nathanael, a devoted Jewish man, said Jesus is the Son of God and the King of Israel.
Jesus’ disciples are convinced He is worth their faith.
Nicodemus, an educated man, and a religious leader in the Jewish community, became a follower of Jesus.
An uneducated Samaritan woman becomes convinced Jesus is the Messiah.
A group of Samaritan people become convinced Jesus is the Messiah
Now an official, probably a non-religious Jew, and his household believe.
Are you catching the flow? Whether you are Jewish or not, man or woman, educated or not, religious or not—all of these people are able to see that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, the King of Israel: God Himself in the flesh.