Week 5 – John 4:46-54
There are two linguistic notes that’ll help us get started with this passage. First off, the “official” introduced in v.46 isn’t described in much detail, but the Greek title basilikós, here translated as “official” is rendered in other translations as “royal official” or “government official.” The term itself implies a relation to a king or governing body, so this official was most likely a Gentile Centurion stationed in Capernaum. This helps us understand the racial boundaries being crossed by Jesus’ miracle here. This Gentile official was humbling himself by coming to Jesus, a poor Jew who likely did not enjoy Roman rule. Simultaneously, Jesus was kind to heal this man’s son, even though that man was a pagan member of an oppressive regime.
Secondly, we don’t pick it up in the English translation, but the “you”in v.48, “Unless you see signs and wonder you will not believe,” is plural (which is yet another argument for using “y’all” in the Bible). Jesus’ reply to the official’s request is a little mysterious, but the “y’all” helps us understand that Jesus directs his initial response to a broader audience than just this one man. We can gather that Jesus is taking a moment to teach before agreeing to heal this man’s son. This was a typical practice for Jesus; he would ask a blind man, “what do you want me to do for you?”(Luke 18:41) Or, before healing a man on the Sabbath in the synagogue, ask the leaders whether such an act was lawful.(Luke 14:3) Jesus’ response to the Gentile official isn’t as gruff as it might seem at first.
This comment from Jesus casts the theme of belief on this passage, which we see three times here in verses 48, 50, and 53. Belief is also the crux of the story. Note that the official traveled to Cana to ask Jesus to come back with him to Capernaum to heal his son. While Jesus agrees to heal the man’s son, he refuses to return with him when he says, “Go; your son will live.” Capernaum was about 18 miles away. Jesus was inviting the man to take his words on faith, to go all the way back to Capernaum believing what Jesus said rather than witnessing the healing with his own eyes. What a test of faith! And yet the man believed, and the next day on his way home he got word that his son was healed. We see God’s sovereign kindness here in that the official’s servants met him partway home, so he didn’t have to go all 18 miles to hear the good news.
Here in this passage, and throughout scripture, we see God’s interest in our belief, particularly our belief in his word. Just like this official was invited to take Jesus at his word, even with very little evidence, the whole of the Gospel is an invitation to take God at his word even when we don’t get the kind of evidentiary answers we’re looking for. Our believing what God says has implicit components of trust, submission, deference, and obedience to God. In a way it returns us to the Garden to witness a rewriting of history, where Jesus’ work on our behalf invites us to hear God’s warnings, believe his word, and enjoy life with him forever.
Questions for Discussion
• Could someone read John 4:46-54?
• What stood out to you from the passage?
• What can we learn from the conversation between Jesus and this official?
• What role does belief have in this story?
• Why do you think, of all things, that Jesus is interested in belief?
• What can this passage tell us about the role of belief in the Christian life?
• How does this passage call you to deeper faith in Jesus?