Jesus’ healing of the royal official’s son rounds off the section of John’s Gospel chapters 2-4. In Chapter 2 Jesus demonstrates the reality of exciting newness of life in turning mere water into a super-abundance of the tastiest best wine (2.1-11). Following this he cleanses the Court of the Gentiles in the Temple to open the door for this new life to reach out not only to Israel, but also to the Gentiles (2.12-24). Jesus particularly relates this cleansing and new life for the Gentiles to his coming Resurrection (4.19-22) – Jesus is raised unto new life and believers in him also experience his resurrection life on earth. In Chapter 3 Jesus teaches Nicodemus the need for birth from above, new life by the Spirit. This glorious new life becomes available to those who believe in Jesus through his atoning sacrificial death as the Lamb of God (1.29); “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life” (3.36). This promised gift of life may involve the true believer in suffering (3.24), but those who follow Jesus testify to the trustworthy truth of Jesus and the words of God he conveys to us (4.31-34).
So Chapters 2 and 3 form the introduction to chapter 4 where Jesus brings new life and the clear revelation of himself as Messiah to the Samaritan woman. He thus broadens the borders of God’s kingdom to include not only Jews, but also now Samaritans and Gentiles unto the ends of the earth. These three chapters about new life through faith in Jesus, the Messiah of Israel who also brings his gift of life to all people, conclude with the healing of the royal official’s son in 4.43-54. We immediately note how John emphasizes Jesus’ gift of life (4.50, 51, 53) in the context of imminent death (4.47, 49).
Another key word in this passage is the Greek ‘Oun’/’therefore’. John’s use of this word underlines the direct sequence of what is happening. “When therefore he went to Galilee” (4.45) and “he went therefore again to Cana of Galilee” (4.46) – “Jesus therefore said to him, ‘if you don’t see signs and wonders, you won’t believe'” (4.48) – “He enquired therefore the time when the healing began” and “They therefore said to him that the fever left him yesterday at the seventh hour” (4.52) – “The father therefore knew . . .” (4.53). What a sequence of one thing leading to another! And the climax is that the official and his household came to believe in Jesus.
We may observe how John starts the sequence with Jesus leaving Judea and Jerusalem for Galilee. He carefully underlines the importance of this change of location. His reference to this healing miracle as the “second sign” probably means the second sign in Galilee – Jesus had evidently done various miracles in Jerusalem. While Jerusalem would become the centre of opposition, “the Galileans welcomed him” (4.45). Nevertheless Jesus remains somewhat sceptical about people’s apparent faith. He points out that their faith is merely based on seeing sensational “miraculous signs and wonders” (4.48). Such expressions of faith are shallow and unreliable. Will such professions of faith survive under the pressures of suffering or persecution?
The royal official’s faith in Jesus came before his son was healed, so it was not based just on seeing the miracle. He “believed in the word which Jesus spoke to him” (4.50) – and he acted on it.
“And he and all his household believed” (4.53). In many cultures still today decisions are often taken communally – households, families, groups working together, people living in one particular housing area etc. We experienced such group decisions for Christ in Indonesia. For example, we had the joy of witnessing a whole hospital ward coming together to faith and through us a boys’ high school of 500 teenagers became Christians. Western individualism is not the only biblical model! God also works in tribes, clans and peoples. He brings crowds of 3,000 and 5,000 to himself (Acts 2.41 and 4.4). God delights in whole households unitedly believing and following him.