46 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. 47 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. 48 So Jesus said to him, “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.” 49 The official said to him, “Sir, come down before my child dies.” 50 Jesus said to him, “Go; your son will live.” The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and went on his way. 51 As he was going down, his servants met him and told him that his son was recovering. 52 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.” 53 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. 54 This was now the second sign that Jesus did when he had come from Judea to Galilee. – John 4:46-54 ESV
After their two-day, unplanned stopover in Samaria, Jesus and His disciples left for the northern region of Galilee. He did so, in spite of the popular proverb He had quoted to His disciples: “a prophet has no honor in his own hometown” (John 4:44 ESV). Jesus was returning to Galilee, but He made His way to Cana, rather than His own hometown of Nazareth. He returned to the scene of His first miracle, where He had turned the water into wine.
In verse 45, John indicates that Jesus received a warm welcome in Galilee because many of the people had been eyewitnesses to the signs He had performed in Jerusalem during the Feast of Passover. With this reference to Jesus’ signs, John provides a link back to the miracle performed at the wedding feast in Cana. While the guests at the feast had no idea that Jesus had transformed ordinary water into wine, His disciples were fully aware of what had transpired.
This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him. – John 2:11 ESV
And when Jesus had gone on to perform additional signs in Jerusalem during the Passover festival, John records, “many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing” (John 2:23 ESV).
The basis for their belief was the nature of the miraculous signs Jesus performed. And John makes it clear that the warm reception Jesus received in Galilee was due to “all that he had done in Jerusalem” (John 4:45 ESV). They too were attracted to and enamored by the miracles of Jesus. And His reputation as a miracle worker was spreading rapidly throughout all Israel. Which sets up the next encounter Jesus will experience.
While in Cana, Jesus received a visit from an unnamed government official who came seeking healing for his deathly-ill son. While we know little about this man, it is likely that he was a Jew who was in the employment of Herod Antipas, the unofficial “king” of the Jews, appointed by the Romans. This distraught father had made the 13-mile journey from Capernaum to Cana in the hopes that he could convince Jesus to return with him and heal his son.
But this man’s impassioned plea for help was met with what a somewhat caustic response from Jesus.
“Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.” – John 4:48 ESV
While it is unclear in our English translation, Jesus used the plural pronoun “you,” indicating that His comment was aimed at the Jewish people. Their belief in Him was fickle and focused solely on His ability to entertain them with His supernatural miracles. They loved the idea of a miracle-working Messiah. But Jesus had made it clear to Nicodemus that the key to eternal life was to believe in Him, not just the miracles He performed.
“Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” – John 3:18 ESV
They were believing in the miracle-performing reputation of Jesus, but not in the name of Jesus. It was not enough that He came declaring Himself to be the Son of God. They needed proof. They demanded signs. And the apostle Paul would later condemn his own people for their stubborn refusal to acknowledge the greatest sign ever given that proved the deity of Jesus.
Since God in his wisdom saw to it that the world would never know him through human wisdom, he has used our foolish preaching to save those who believe. It is foolish to the Jews, who ask for signs from heaven. And it is foolish to the Greeks, who seek human wisdom. So when we preach that Christ was crucified, the Jews are offended and the Gentiles say it’s all nonsense. – 1 Corinthians 1:21-23 NLT
Undeterred by the seeming slight from Jesus, the desperate father begged Jesus to come to Capernaum and heal his son before it was too late. He was running out of time. His son was at death’s door and they still had a 13-mile journey ahead of them. If only he could get Jesus to agree to accompany him back to Capernaum, there might still be a chance that his son could live.
And Jesus answered the man’s impassioned plea with the simple response, “Go; your son will live” (John 4:50 ESV). On that matter-of-fact statement from the lips of Jesus, the official “believed what Jesus said and started home” (John 4:50 NLT). He didn’t argue. He didn’t continue to plead with Jesus to come with him. He simply turned and began the 13-mile return trip home – believing the words of Jesus. No sign. No miracle. No proof.
The belief this man exhibited was of a different sort that those in Cana who believed because of the signs Jesus had performed in Jerusalem. It stood in stark contrast to the belief of Jesus’ disciples which had been based on His ability to turn water into wine. This man had believed the words of Jesus. And this distinction is significant. It brings to mind the testimony of God Himself, spoken at the baptism of Jesus.
“This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!” – Luke 9:35 ESV
The Jews were enamored by the works of Jesus but they refused to listen to His words. As long as He kept performing miracles, they kept believing, but that belief was misplaced. They were so busy seeking a sign, that they missed the Savior.
Later on in his gospel, John records the words of Jesus declaring the divine origin of His message.
“For I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment—what to say and what to speak.” – John 12:49 ESV
And this was not the first time Jesus had claimed His words to be divinely inspired and spoken on behalf of His heavenly Father.
“My teaching is not mine, but his who sent me. If anyone’s will is to do God’s will, he will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority.” – John 7:16-17 ESV
The people should have been listening to the words of Jesus, but they were too busy focusing their attention on the works of Jesus. And with their obsession over His miracles, they were missing the meat of His message.
“Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else believe on account of the works themselves.” – John 14:10-11 ESV
In a sense, Jesus was stating that there were two sources of belief: His miracles or His message. But the truest form of belief was to receive the words of Jesus as the words of God because He spoke as God. And Jesus went on to assure His disciples that they too would go on to perform miracles and signs.
“Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father. Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.” – John 14:12-13 ESV
Their ability to perform miracles would be based on their belief in Him and who He claimed to be. He was the Son of God and had the full authority of God to share His power with those who placed their faith in Him.
John’s entire gospel is focused on the divinity of Jesus. He is declaring the divine Sonship of Jesus and providing indisputable proof that this Rabbi from Nazareth was indeed who He claimed to be: The Son of God and the Savior of the world.
And as further evidence of Jesus’ deity, John describes the scene that took place when the father ran into his servants on his way home. They met him alone the way with the good news that “his son was alive and well” (John 4:51 NLT). And when the father asked at what time his son had begun to improve, he was told, “Yesterday afternoon at one o’clock his fever suddenly disappeared!” (John 4:52 NLT). And John closes his account with the following words:
Then the father realized that that was the very time Jesus had told him, “Your son will live.” And he and his entire household believed in Jesus. – John 4:53 NLT
When Jesus had said, “Your son will live,” the man had taken Him at His word and headed home. Now, he received confirmation that His faith had been rewarded. His son was well. Jesus had spoken, the man had believed, and his son had been healed. But notice how John ends this story with the words, “he and his entire household believed in Jesus.”
Their belief was not in the miracle but in the one who had spoken the miracle into existence. They believed in Jesus. Their faith was not focused on the healing of their family member. It was directed at the one who spoke with the authority of God.
English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson