Jesus Heals an Official’s Son
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. 
The Second Miracle
Once more he visited Cana in Galilee, where he had turned the water into wine. And there was a certain royal official whose son lay sick at Capernaum. When this man heard that Jesus had arrived in Galilee from Judea, he went to him and begged him to come and heal his son, who was close to death.
“Unless you people see miraculous signs and wonders,” Jesus told him, “you will never believe.”
The royal official said, “Sir, come down before my child dies.”
Jesus replied, “You may go. Your son will live.”
The man took Jesus at his word and departed. While he was still on the way, his servants met him with the news that his boy was living. When he inquired as to the time when his son got better, they said to him, “The fever left him yesterday at the seventh hour.”
Then the father realized that this was the exact time at which Jesus had said to him, “Your son will live.” So he and all his household believed.
This was the second miraculous sign that Jesus performed, having come from Judea to Galilee.
It does not matter who you may be, sooner or later you are going to experience great sorrows or even tragedies in your life. You may be rich or poor, a man or a woman, black or white. Tragedy inevitably will become a part of your personal experience and there will be nothing you can do to avoid it.
That is not merely my own opinion, of course. It is a truth that has been recognized by many throughout history. One of the oldest pieces of literature in any language contains an expression of this that has become somewhat proverbial. It is from the Book of Job: “For hardship does not spring from the soil, nor does trouble sprout from the ground. Yet man is born to trouble as surely as sparks fly upward” (Job 5:6–7). The Hebrew of this saying is beautiful; for the two Hebrew words translated by our one word “sparks” are literally “the sons of flame,” and the thought is that men are born to endure the fires of this life and eventually perish in the burning.
We know it is true. Psychologists tell us that life begins with pain, as the child, who for the first nine months of its life has rested warmly and comfortably within the uterus of its mother, is suddenly pushed and pulled into a hostile environment in which his first independent act is to cry. The experience is one akin to strangulation as the baby gasps for its life. For a time after birth the mother cares for the baby’s needs. Yet, as the child grows up, the years progressively knock away the props of life and the child is forced increasingly to depend on his own resources. He must learn to eat and clothe himself. Eventually he must go to school, then earn a living. In time there will be the failure of his plans and the dissolution of cherished relationships. There will be pain and sickness. Death will inevitably come to friends and family, and at last the person himself will face his own death and that which lies beyond.
I am not pointing this out to spread gloom. There is enough sorrow in this world without emphasizing it. Rather, I am writing in this way to start us thinking about how you and I will react to such events when they come to us. What will we do? Will we be beaten down by them? Or will we triumph over them in complete victory? The verses we end with show how we can have such victory and how the same solutions can enrich our lives even in the far more abundant times of joy and great happiness.
In Joy and Sorrow
The basis for arriving at such solutions comes from a story in the life of Jesus Christ. It is the story of a rich nobleman whose son was dying and who, out of his desperation, came to Jesus about it. By the end of the story we find that not only had the son been cured but in a far more wonderful way the rich man and his entire family had found a genuine faith in Christ.
The story begins by telling us that “once more he visited Cana in Galilee, where he had turned the water into wine” (John 4:46). It ends with the remark: “This was the second miraculous sign that Jesus performed, having come from Judea to Galilee” (v. 54). Why do we have this emphasis upon the place where Jesus performed the miracle? Why is this called the second miracle, when obviously many other miraculous things had been done by Jesus previously (cf. John 2:23; 4:45)? Why, in fact, is the former miracle of changing water into wine at Cana mentioned? Quite clearly, this is John’s way of telling us that we are to put the two miracles—that of changing water into wine and that of healing the nobleman’s son—side by side. In other words, we are to see them in relationship to each other and compare them.
What does the comparison show? In the first place it shows a number of similarities. Both were “third-day” miracles. Thus, the miracle at the wedding occurred three days after Jesus had left the area of the lower Jordan River to return to Galilee (2:1), while this miracle similarly occurred three days after Jesus had determined to leave Judea to return to Cana through Samaria (4:43). Both miracles contain an initial rebuke to the one who requested it. In the first case it was to Mary, Jesus’ mother (2:4). In the second it was to the nobleman (4:48). Third, in each case Jesus performs the miracle at a distance, doing nothing but speaking a word (2:7, 8; 4:50). Fourth, the servants possess unique knowledge of what happened (2:9; 4:51). Finally, each account concludes with a statement that certain persons who knew of the miracle believed. Thus, in the earlier story we are told that “his disciples put their faith in him” (2:11), while in the second narrative we are told that the father “and all his household believed” (4:53).
These points reinforce the need of comparing the two stories. Yet the significant point of the comparison is not in the similarities but in their one great difference. What is the difference? Certainly that in the first the scene is one of joy, festivity, and happiness. The stage is a wedding. In the second the scene is fraught with sickness, desperation, anxiety, and the dreadful shadow of death. One is a picture of joy, the other of sorrow. In comparing the two we are clearly to see that life is as filled with the one as the other and that Jesus, the One who is the answer to all human need, is needed in both circumstances.
One writer has noted: “Jesus is more than equal to either occasion. He has a place in all circumstances. If we invite him to our times of innocent happiness, he will increase our joy. If we call on him in our times of sorrow, anxiety, or bereavement, he can bring consolation, comfort, and a joy that is not of this world.”
In pointing to this truth John is further documenting his claim that Jesus is indeed “the Savior of the world”; for Jesus is the Savior of all men, at all times, and in all circumstances.
Growth of Faith
The next fact we are told is that the man who came to Jesus at Cana was a nobleman. This is not the same word that is used in chapter 3 where Nicodemus is described as being a Pharisee, “a ruler of the Jews.” The word that is used of Nicodemus is one that denotes preeminence of authority, however derived. In this case, the word is basilikos, which is related to the word for king and therefore denotes royalty. The word could even mean that the man was a petty king, but in this context it probably means that he was one of the royal officials at the court of Herod.
Moreover, the man had some means, for he had servants. Here was a nobleman, rich, no doubt with great influence. Yet neither his rank nor riches were able to exempt him from the common sorrows of mankind. Remember, as you think about those in positions of importance or power, that there is just as much sickness among them. And there is just as much of a need for Jesus Christ.
The wonderful thing, of course, is that this man sensed his need and its solution. When Jesus had performed his first miracle by changing water into wine, the miracle was at first known only to the disciples and to the servants who bore the wine to the master of ceremonies. Still, people being what they are, the news must have spread and have created a stir in Galilee. In time, some of the Galileans got to Jerusalem and learned of miracles that Jesus had been doing there. They told about these when they returned. It is part of the same picture that news of what Jesus was doing must have reached even Herod’s court, for the nobleman had heard of Jesus and immediately remembered what he had heard when faced with the fact of his son’s illness.
News came to the nobleman that Jesus was back in Galilee at Cana where the first miracle had been performed. Leaving home he made the four-hour trip (about twenty-five miles) from Capernaum, where he lived, to Cana. There he begged Jesus to accompany him back to Capernaum and heal his son.
There are two ways of looking at the man’s faith at this point. The first way is to be surprised that he was exercising faith at all. Here was a man who was high in the court, where he doubtless exercised great authority, traveling twenty-five miles to request a miracle from a carpenter. It is true that desperation has driven many men and women to unusual actions, and that therefore we must not find this overly significant. Nevertheless, the man’s faith is surprising. That is one way of looking at it. The other way of looking at the man’s faith, however, is to look at it in the way in which Jesus looked at it and to realize that although it was real faith it was nevertheless quite weak. The man apparently believed that Jesus was able to heal his son. But he limited Jesus to the place—he thought it was necessary that Jesus should come down to Capernaum—and to a mode of operation. Presumably the nobleman thought that Jesus would have to touch his son to heal him, just as Jairus thought that Jesus would have to touch his daughter to heal her (Mark 5:23) and the woman with an issue of blood thought it would be necessary for her to touch the hem of Christ’s garment (Mark 5:28). It therefore became Jesus’ purpose to teach the nobleman and to help his faith to grow.
At first Jesus delivered a rebuke. He said, “Unless you people see miraculous signs and wonders, you will never believe” (John 4:48). That was the equivalent of calling him a curiosity seeker and was perhaps directed as much toward the crowd that had gathered as to the nobleman. It was a test of the man’s faith or sincerity. How did he react? Fortunately, the nobleman proved himself to be truly noble, for he was not offended, nor did he seek to justify himself either before Jesus or the others. He simply stood his ground, reiterating his need and humbling himself to receive his answer in whatever way Jesus chose to give it to him.
Here then is the first answer to the way in which we can find triumph or victory in sorrow. It is to trust Jesus enough to allow him to operate in whatever way he chooses.
Believing is Seeing
But there is also a second lesson to be learned, and it was this lesson that Jesus next began to teach him. Jesus taught that one must believe first, then he will see the results. Jesus had said, “Unless you people see miraculous signs and wonders, you will never believe.” This statement was a true description of the thinking of vast numbers of men and women. The world even has it in a proverb, which says, “Seeing is believing.” The teaching of Jesus was that in spiritual things the order is reversed and that believing is seeing, for it is only as one believes in Jesus that he sees spiritual things happening. Therefore, Jesus told the boy’s father, “You may go. Your son will live” (v. 50). The nobleman was called upon to believe without sight. It was hard, but that is precisely what he did. The story goes on to say, “The man took Jesus at his word and departed.”
Needless to say, if it had been a mere man speaking, the belief of the nobleman would have been absurd. No one believes without sight. Yet in spiritual matters it is entirely logical to do so—because we are dealing not with a man but with God. Jesus is God. Hence, to believe him is the most logical thing in the universe.
Moreover, to believe in Jesus is also the most effective way to set one’s mind at rest, even when faced with sorrow. For we are told that having believed Jesus the nobleman simply continued on his way. The word used, plus the tense employed (imperfect), suggests that the nobleman believed Jesus so implicitly that he simply picked up his work where he had left it and went on about his business. At any rate, it is obvious that he did not rush home; for although the conversation took place about one o’clock in the afternoon and the journey was only four hours, the nobleman did not get back until the next day. When he did return it was to learn that his son had been healed instantly the day before at the very hour in which Jesus had spoken to him.
What a splendid story this is! And it is all the more splendid in that the man came to such strong faith from such a weak beginning. It is hard to read this story without thinking of that other similar story of the centurion who came to Christ requesting him to heal his sick servant. There are some noted similarities, so much so that some scholars have imagined these to be two versions of the same incident. Yet they are not the same, and the greatest of all differences is to be found in the attitudes of the two men involved. The centurion had the greatest faith. He said to Jesus, “Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed” (Matt. 8:8). Jesus praised his faith, saying, “I tell you the truth, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith” (v. 10). Still the centurion had this faith from the beginning, while the nobleman who sought out Jesus in Cana came to the same level of faith in a very short time through Jesus’ teaching.
Truths for Everyone
The applications of this story to our own experiences are obvious. I am sure that you have already seen some of them. First, if Jesus acted as he did with this man and if his actions actually had the effect on him that the Bible tells us they did, then surely Jesus is the answer to our own anxieties also. The man came, talked to Jesus, and then went on his way without any tangible evidence that his request had been granted. Why? Because in meeting Jesus and in talking with him, his anxiety evaporated. It can be the same for you. You may be weighed down under great burdens. You may be crying inside. Just come to Jesus. Tell him about it. He will be delighted to ease your burdens and to take the weight of them all upon himself.
The second application is that the experience I have described may be true even though our actually seeing the results is postponed. They may even be postponed until after this life. We witness the death of a parent, friend, or child. We experience sorrow or sickness ourselves. We come to Jesus and find him saying, “I know what I am doing. I am working it all out.” The Bible says, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28). There will always be circumstances in which we will not see that this is true. Nevertheless, we are to go on about our business. We may have to pass through the night into the bright day of the next world before we see how our prayers are answered. Still we are to believe and know that Jesus has heard and that he has answered.
Finally, there is fact that these truths are for everyone. That is the burden of this first great section of John’s Gospel. What has John done? He has shown Jesus at work in the three major sections of his world—Judea, Samaria, and Galilee. He has shown him with the rich and the poor, with the educated and the uneducated, with Jews and Samaritans, with religious leaders and those who show no religious orientation at all. He has shown him as the “light of the world,” “the lamb that takes away the sin of the world,” “the Savior of the world.” In other words, he has shown us that the gospel is for everyone. Thus, the gospel is for you also, whoever you may be.
Jesus is speaking to you when he says, “Come now, let us reason together … though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool” (Isa. 1:18). He speaks to you when he says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28).
Jesus said to him, “Go; your son lives.” The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and started off. As he was now going down, his slaves met him, saying that his son was living. So he inquired of them the hour when he began to get better. Then they said to him, “Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him.” So the father knew that it was at that hour in which Jesus said to him, “Your son lives”; and he himself believed and his whole household. This is again a second sign that Jesus performed when He had come out of Judea into Galilee. (4:50–54)
Instead of agreeing to go back to Capernaum with him as the official had begged Him to do, Jesus merely said to him, “Go; your son lives.” At that very instant (vv. 52–53), the boy was healed. Even though he had no confirmation of it, the man nevertheless believed the word that Jesus spoke to him. The Lord’s words to him had moved him from the third level of unbelief (which needs miracles) to the second (which believes Christ’s word). Without any tangible proof that his son was healed, he took Jesus at His word and started off for home.
Leaving Cana in the Galilean hill country, the official went down toward Capernaum, on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee (about seven hundred feet below sea level). On the way, his slaves met him, already having left the town to find him and tell him the good news that his son was living (i.e., that he had recovered, not merely that he had not yet died). Overjoyed, the man inquired of them the hour when he began to get better. The servants replied, “Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him.” The seventh hour would have been early afternoon, sometime between 1 and 3 p.m. in the broadest reckoning. By the time he left Cana and arrived in the vicinity of Capernaum, it was after midnight (yesterday). It is possible that Jesus’ word to him relieved his anxiety about his son, allowing him to remain in Cana, perhaps to hear and see more from the Lord and understand His message. That would have been critical, because it led him to fully believe in Jesus when his servants reported the complete healing of his son, confirming the Lord’s claims (v. 53).
It was the time of his son’s recovery that verified to the father that a miracle had taken place, because he knew that his son’s healing had happened at that very hour in which Jesus had said to him, “Your son lives.” When he heard the news, the royal official himself believed, along with each member of his whole household (cf. Acts 11:14; 16:15, 31–34; 18:8; 1 Cor. 1:16; 16:15).
John concluded this account with the footnote, This is again a second sign that Jesus performed when He had come out of Judea into Galilee. This act of healing was the second of the eight major signs that John records as proof that Jesus was the Messiah. It was also the second sign (the first having taken place at the wedding at Cana [2:1–11]) He had performed in Galilee. That it was not Jesus’ second miracle overall is made clear from 2:23. In this instance, the stunning verification of Jesus’ power lifted the royal official all the way from sign-seeking unbelief to genuine saving faith.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Jn 4:46–54). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
 Boice, J. M. (2005). The Gospel of John: an expositional commentary (pp. 341–346). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.
 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2006). John 1–11 (pp. 167–168). Chicago: Moody Press.