(John 4:45-50 ESV) 45 So when he came to Galilee, the Galileans welcomed him, having seen all that he had done in Jerusalem at the feast. For they too had gone to the feast. 46 So he came again to Cana in Galilee, where he had made the water wine. And at Cana 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.
Why does John report this exchange between Jesus and the official?
It seems that Jesus is looking for a faith that doesn’t have to see a miracle to believe. Why is it important that John make this point to the readers of his book?
(John 4:51-54 ESV) 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.
Oddly enough, John reports that the man “believed” before he learned that his son had been healed (v. 50), and then that he “believed” afterward. Which is it?
Well, in v. 53, it was not just him, but he and his household. But there’s a more subtle, more important difference. In v. 50, he “believed the word that Jesus spoke to him.” He believed that Jesus would do the miracle. He believed Jesus to have the power to keep his promise. But the sense of v. 53 is that he came to saving faith — he believed in Jesus.
To this point, John has reported the changing of water into wine and that Jesus did unspecified miracles in Jerusalem. Jesus had miraculous knowledge of the Samaritan woman’s past, but Jesus’ knowledge is not called a sign. This miracle, the preservation of the boy’s life, is the second “sign” of the seven signs reported in John.
Jesus thus has power over the inanimate — water and wine — a power beyond that of the pagan god Dionysius, and he has power over disease. Asclepius was the pagan god credited with healing disease. According to Ray Vander Laan,
As part of the healing process, “sacred water” from a spring and a well was used for bathing and drinking. Treatments included mud baths, special diet, exercise, stress relief, and exposure to the sun. (Perhaps some of the patients’ sleep was induced.)
Jesus, however, needed no medicine, no temple, and no offering. He healed with a thought! John’s subtle point to his readers in Asia Minor is that Jesus is greater than even Asclepius. He was speaking to his readers on their own terms.