52 Reflections on the Gospel of John: #11. Healing the Royal Official’s Son

by Travis Bookout

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John 4:46-54 contains the incredible account of Jesus healing the son of a royal official in Galilee. This is the third in a series of exchanges that Jesus has with various characters. John 2:24-25 makes an important claim about Jesus: “He knew all men…He Himself knew what was in man.” Immediately following that verse, Jesus proves that He knows all men by a series of interactions.

Jesus Knew All Men:

The first is a well-respected man, Nicodemus, a Pharisee and member of the Jewish Sanhedrin Court (John 3:1). Then Jesus meets the polar opposite; a poor, sinful, and disgraced Samaritan woman (John 4:7). An honorable, probably wealthy, male Jewish leader VS a probably poor, female Samaritan of ill-repute. You cannot find two more opposite people. Yet Jesus knows both, talks with both, and leads both closer to Him.

The third interaction is with a royal official in Galilee (John 4:46), who we will spend this post talking about. But immediately afterwards, Jesus meets up with a man who spends his time lying by a pool in Jerusalem with the “sick, blind, lame, and withered” (John 5:3), he had been ill for 38 years and was a social outcast (John 5:5). He is quite the opposite of the royal official in Galilee. Yet again, Jesus knows these people, He knows what’s in them. No one is beneath Him and no one is above Him. No matter who He meets, He responds perfectly because “He knew all men…He Himself knew what was in man” (John 2:24-25).

Jesus Enters Cana of Galilee:

The reason for focusing of the third of these interactions, the royal official, is because this is the next “sign” in John’s collection. John gives a list of carefully selected signs in hopes of bringing people to believe (John 20:30-31). This event is counted as “a second sign that Jesus performed when He had come out of Judea into Galilee” (John 4:54). Upon experiencing this sign, the royal official “believed and his whole household” (John 4:53). I think John hopes that we will too.

This account begins with Jesus entering Cana of Galilee (John 4:46). This should immediately remind you of Jesus’ first sign in Cana, turning water into wine (John 2:11). To ensure you don’t miss it, John says, “He came again to Cana of Galilee (where He had made the water wine)” (John 4:46). This is intentional. You are supposed to read this account with the sign at the wedding feast in mind. Both of these signs are in Cana, both produce belief, and both tell us something about Jesus.

Once in Cana, Jesus meets a royal official. This official had heard of Jesus. In fact, many of “the Galileans received Him, having seen all the things that He did in Jerusalem at the feast” (John 2:45). The “feast” is the Passover that Jesus went to right after turning water into wine (John 2:12-13).  While there, He cleansed the temple, performed many signs (John 2:23), and met Nicodemus (John 3:1). On His way back to Galilee, He interacted with a woman in Samaria (John 4:7). Now He is back in Galilee and reports have spread about His signs. This royal official is in desperate need of one of them, so He comes to Jesus, leaving behind a dying son about 15 miles away in Capernaum.

What did Jesus Do?

So, let’s examine the actions that make up this sign, and then ask the question, “What does this sign mean?” What Jesus did is quite remarkable. He sent a miracle 15 miles away to the city of Capernaum to a deathbed with precision accuracy. This sign transcends time and space. The official wanted Jesus to go back with him to Capernaum but Jesus refused. Jesus told him to go back home alone (John 2:49-40). He simply said, “Go; your son lives” (John 4:50). That would be extremely hard to do.  Your son is dying, you know Jesus can heal, you travel all the way to Him to bring Him to your son, but He doesn’t come. He gives you just a few words, possibly a few seconds, and sends you back.

Imagine turning around and walking home, empty-handed, by yourself. Why did the official do this? Why didn’t he stay and beg Jesus to come with him? Because “the man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him” (John 4:50). He believed the word, even though he hadn’t seen the sign yet. This is the opposite of what Jesus has just told him, “Unless you (pl.) see signs and wonders, you (pl.) will not believe” (John 4:48). Jesus is giving him a test. Can you believe, unlike so many others, without seeing?

So the official heads to his son. The next day he is greeted by some slaves who tell him the great news that his son is alive and well. So he asks what time His son recovered, and lo and behold, it was the exact moment that Jesus uttered the words, “Your son lives.” Thus, the official and his whole household believe. This was the second sign Jesus did in Cana of Galilee.

What does it Mean?

Now, I can’t help but think that the true spiritual meaning lies in the fact that this sign was believed, but not seen. The Galileans were willing to receive Jesus because they saw His signs in Jerusalem (John 4:45). Either this official heard their testimonies, or was in Jerusalem, but he believed Jesus could heal His son. That belief led him both to walk to Jesus, and to walk away from Jesus, trusting His words.  He did not see his son healed. He didn’t witness Jesus touch him, hold his hand, or raise him up. But he believed the testimonies about Jesus, the words of Jesus, and the evidence that came later.

This is the way that all the readers of John are asked to believe in Jesus. Some were told they will see great things (John 1:50). Some saw the glory of Jesus made manifest (like the first time He was in Cana, John 2:11). Some, like Thomas, had the benefit of seeing the resurrected Lord (John 20:27-28). Some will only believe if they see signs (John 4:48). But Jesus wants us, you and me, to believe based on what we haven’t seen. Believe the testimonies about Him. Believe what we read. Believe in what we will see one day. Remembering, “Blessed are they who did not see, but yet believed” (John 20:29).

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