In my last two posts, I concluded that the encounters with Nicodemus (John 3) and the woman at the well (John 4) seem to be examples of Jesus using “believing members” of largely “unbelieving populations” to reach different groups in and around Israel. Jesus used some unlikely believers to help spread the word that Messiah had arrived.
The last few verses of John 4 may tell of yet another “unlikely believer” within another population in Israel. The royal official was probably someone that worked for Harod… and was likely not Jewish. A longstanding Roman occupation of the Holy Land, would have brought many people like him to live in and among the Jews.
Common sense says there would have been some, of the occupation, who had come to believe in God through the witness of the Jews.
This nobleman sought out Jesus at a particularly difficult time in his life.
John 4:46–47 (ESV)
… And at Capernaum there was an official whose son was ill. 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.
The trip from Capernaum to Cana that this royal official made not a short distance. It was over 20 miles. Two-days journey if by foot. This man obviously had some faith working inside to determine it was worth leaving his dying son to seek audience with Jesus. The trip alone would suggest that.
One might be tempted to view Jesus’ next statement as an indication that whatever the official believed… it wasn’t the stuff of true faith.
John 4:48 (ESV)
So Jesus said to him, “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.”
At first glance, it seems Jesus is speaking directly to the official. Similar to His last two encounters (Nicodemus and the Samaritan Woman)… Jesus makes a statement to a single person, but He uses a plural “you”.
Jesus said to him… “Unless you all…”.
This begs the question… “To whom was Jesus talking?” Some have surmised that there must have been a crowd of people standing around, but the text says nothing of anyone else being there. As far as we know, Jesus was having a one-on-one conversation with this desperate father. This would be very consistent with the statements Jesus made to the lone Nicodemus and the singular woman at the well. In both of those stories the text is clear that there was one person talking to Jesus… yet Jesus responds to each of them (in the plural “you”) as representatives of larger people groups.
It would be consistent to read this story yielding the same conclusion. Jesus was speaking to a singular man… but he was speaking “through him” to the larger people group he represented. In this case, the official represented those living among the Jews, but not of the Jews.
The official implored Jesus to follow him back to the village by the sea where his boy was. Jesus said five simple words (in the Greek, but only four in our translation), “Go, your son lives.”
Interestingly, this man believed Jesus’ words… without seeing a sign or wonder.
He traveled back towards his house full of faith, and grasping a story that would change his whole household… for eternity.