John 4:43-54

Healing the Nobleman's Son

There was a certain nobleman, whose son was sick at Capernaum. When he heard that ­Jesus was come out of Judaea into Galilee, he went unto him, and besought him that he would come down, and heal his son: for he was at the point of death. Then said Jesus unto him, Except ye see signs and wonders, ye will not believe. The nobleman saith unto him, Sir, come down ere my child die. Jesus saith unto him, Go thy way; thy son liveth. And the man believed the word that Jesus had spoken unto him, and he went his way. And as he was now going down, his servants met him, and told him, saying, Thy son liveth. Then enquired he of them the hour when he began to amend. And they said unto him, Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him. So the father knew that it was at the same hour, in the which Jesus said unto him, Thy son liveth: and himself believed, and his whole house. This is again the second miracle that Jesus did, when he was come out of Judaea into Galilee.—John 4:46-54

Donald Holliday

The sequence of events in John’s gospel leading up to this miraculous sign is of particular interest from our vantage point at the end of the age. The ministry of Jesus had been in Judea, but while some interest there is recorded in John 4:1, hostility had also developed to the point that Jesus needed to depart. Curiosity may have brought out crowds greater than had been attracted by John the Baptist, but this had produced a deepening hatred by the powers that be. “When therefore the Lord knew how the Pharisees had heard that Jesus made and baptized more disciples than John, (though Jesus himself baptized not, but his disciples), he left Judaea, and departed again into Galilee” (John 4:1-3). Notwithstanding the interest shown, in John 3:32 we read, “And what he hath seen and heard, that he testifieth; and no man receiveth his testimony.”

Jesus then departed from Judea, and this may be seen aptly to parallel the closing of the first advent of Israel’s Messiah. “He came unto his own, and his own received him not” (John 1:11).

A depiction of the work of the Gospel age follows. The message and blessing of the gospel now finds ready hearts in Samaria. These were a people of mixed origin drawn mainly from various Gentile nations, though including some of Jewish stock. “For Jesus himself testified, that a prophet hath no honour in his own country” (John 4:44). The account of the response, first of the woman of Samaria, and then of her kinsfolk, forms a moving illustration of the call of the church during the age between the two advents. That this work occupied “two days” adds to the force of the analogy (see John 4:43).


Then Jesus was to appear again, this time in Galilee. While Galilee was essentially a part of Israel, it was in close proximity to ten Gentile nations forming the Decapolis. The blessings of the Master’s further ministry were now figuratively to extend beyond Israel. In fact, his future activities include restoration and blessing both for Israel and for all mankind. It is here that we are afforded a beautiful illustration of the central feature of the Second Advent program: the deliverance of mankind from the bondage of sin and death.


Jesus is now at Cana, and John is careful to remind us that here the first sign had taken place, the turning of the water into wine. What happens now is described by John as the “second sign.” (See John 2:11; 4:46,54.) We may justly ask, “A sign of what?”


In this gospel John refers to “many miracles” or signs: “And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book: but these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name” (John 20:30,31).


We notice that John 2:23 and 3:2 speak of impressive miracles he had already performed. Why then is this one called a “second sign”?

The apostle John’s reference to this second sign has caused some to enumerate in this gospel special mention of six further signs (elsewhere described in this issue). Each of these signs is thus selected to reveal the Master’s ability in wonderful ways to fully rise to the needs of human limitations and failure. However, John does not continue to enumerate in this way by calling the next “sign” the “third” sign (John 5:1-17, the impotent man), nor are the following ones so numbered. This “sign” was notable for being the “second sign” performed here at the same place. He had marked his first presence here by turning water into wine. He would now manifest his great authority over death itself, his second presence sign.

This second sign reveals the power of an invisible Lord to release mankind from the dying process. An “invisible Lord”? Yes. The miracle took place in Capernaum while Jesus was in Cana.

The invisible presence of the Lord at the second advent is one of the gems of truth long hidden and reserved for disclosure at the time of his parousia. A literal interpretation of such texts as Revelation 1:7 (“every eye shall see him”) led to expectations of a dramatic and breath-taking display of the descent of a divine form fulfilling literally the visionary language of this book of symbols.


Job, speaking of the Most High, confessed, “I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth thee” (Job 42:5). Here the Greek version of the Old Testament uses the same Greek word found in Revelation 1:7, illustrating the wider meaning of perception. We are told in John 1:18, “no man hath seen God at any time.” Here the word horao is used again but now in its literal sense. This confirms that Job’s “seeing” was therefore not by literal sight.1


The thief-like presence of the returned Lord was taught by Jesus, and echoed by Paul and Peter (see Matthew 24:43; Luke 12:39; Revelation 16:15; 1 Thessalonians 5:2-4; 2 Peter 3:10). Yet in the wisdom of God, this truth became submerged under human misconceptions and awaited the appropriate hour for a full appreciation.2


We are reminded here of God’s word to Moses in Exodus: “And he said, Certainly I will be with thee; and this shall be a token unto thee, that I have sent thee: when thou hast brought forth the people out of Egypt, ye shall serve God upon this mountain” (Exodus 3:12). The token, or sign, that this faithful servant was indeed sent of God would be in the final achievement of the divine purpose in bringing the bondaged race out of Egypt unto himself at this mountain of God’s holiness, representative of the kingdom. Likewise with the second sign of Jesus. If the wine of the first presence sign was the giving of the spirit, the second sign that he was sent of God would be in the achievement of the divine purpose in bringing mankind to the Father, the work of the intervening age.

This seems to be beautifully confirmed in the Master’s prayer: “That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one: I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me.”—John 17:21-23.


The body members of Christ complete in perfect oneness with their head, Jesus, and with their heavenly Father, now achieve that blessed purpose in the divine mind from before the foundation of the earth, releasing death’s captives and restoring man into that close communion with his Maker once lost by Adam at the fall.


Did Jesus have all this in mind when he saw that nobleman approach and listened to his ­urgent plea to restore his dying son? Does it perhaps explain the words of the Master in response to that appeal? “Then said Jesus unto him, Except ye see signs and wonders, ye will not believe” (John 4:48).


Was Jesus in fact reflecting on the inert faith, not only of Israel, but also of the whole human race he came to save? Until the divine plan is completed, when the almighty power of heaven has devoured death and destroyed the vail that covers the nations (Isaiah 24:5,6), “Except ye see these signs and wonders, ye will not believe” (John 4:48). On the other hand, they who during this age of preparation have tasted the wine of the spirit and pronounced it more wonderful than anything man has ever experienced in the former days are those described as the ones who “have believed that thou didst send me” (John 17:8). How precious is such faith to the Master.

The almost universal lack of belief and trust in an Almighty God and in the efficacy of one perfect man’s death upon the tree, does not frustrate that merciful purpose. Yet how can any who know and love the Lord bear the thought of so great a love thus spurned!

If we thus weep for man’s hopeless rejection of that arm so long out-stretched, we do indeed the more take comfort in the truth that this great vail is due for removal. Countless scales are yet to fall from eyes long blind to heaven’s love.


In desperation the nobleman cries out. The very urgency of the case demands action, not philosophy. It has taken him so long to make the journey, and, with material mind, he is frantic to see how both he and this healer can make the return in time to be of use. Still does he demand sight. He expects a visible work of a visible Lord. He is yet to realize the enormity of the power of an invisible presence. With wonder does he hear the words of Jesus: “Go thy way; thy son liveth.”


A whole day’s journey lay ahead before he could fully realize the certainty of that assurance. With haste he would now make his way. Did he sleep that night, or did he brave the hours of darkness the sooner to reach the sick- bed of his son? Whichever way, a new morn broke before the sight of servants hurrying to meet him with that news so welcome to his ears. Again he heard those words, in echo of the promise from the Master’s lips: “Thy son liveth!”


One more day’s journey, and mankind will find that every promise of the Word of God is true, as real and valid at the moment of utterance as that day when sight reveals what lack of trust before had missed.


What hour did death’s fever begin to lift? For some it was at Golgotha, confirmed by an empty tomb. Others may need to wait until the visible manifestations of the “seventh hour.”


Then will all know that when Jesus rose from death, assurance was there given for every man. Do we require that second sign to kindle faith? Or is that first sign more than we could ever ask?


1, (a) Generally horao means see with one's own eye, become aware (Genesis 27:1). (b) Figuratively it is used of intellectual or spiritual perception: notice, become conscious (Psalm 34:8); or of what man experiences or suffers (seeing death, Psalm 89:48). It also means to regard (misfortune, Psalm 106:44), attend to, know or have experienced (Deuteronomy 11:2), or be concerned about something (Genesis 37:14; Isaiah 5:12). “Seeing” in the Greek and Hebrew O.T. can refer also to perception by means of other senses, e.g., hearing (Jeremiah 33:24) or understanding (1 Samuel 12:17; 1 Kings 20:7 or LXX 1 Kings 21:7).—New International Dictionary of N.T. Theology

2. We have an interesting confirmation of the early teaching of an invisible coming of Christ in 2 Thessalonians 2:1,2: “Now we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together unto him, that ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter as from us, as that the day of Christ is at hand.” Here “at hand” is an unfortunate mistranslation, as Vine and others confirm. The true rendering of enistemi should be “is present.” The word is used elsewhere consistently in this way such as in Romans 8:38, (“nor things present, nor things to come”). See also 1 Corinthians 3:22; 7:26; Galatians 1:4; Hebrews 9:9.
      The graphic language used by Paul in his first letter to this church (1 Thessalonians 4:16,17, “with a shout,” “trumpet,” etc.) was evidently understood in the light of his verbal teaching while at Thessalonica, and in that same first letter in chapter 5:1-4, (“as a thief”). He had warned them to be ever alert lest that day should overtake them. It appears subsequently that some had disquieted the friends with the belief that certain events signified that the day of Christ's return was already present. Paul reassures them not by asking, “Well did anyone see him descend, hear the shout?” Instead he describes certain events that must precede the Lord's return. (See Studies in the Scriptures, vol. 2, p. 269.)