Harry Whittaker
Studies in the Gospels

27 The Nobleman in Galilee (John 4:43-54)*

Jesus would doubtless have wished very dearly to spend a long time among the Samaritans who gave such a ready reception to him and his message, but to do so would have meant building up big unsurmountable prejudices in the minds of the Jews, when the news got round. So, since he must needs go first to “the lost sheep of the house of Israel”, after two days of refreshing (in more ways than one) he set out northwards again.

At this point the text of John’s gospel presents a strange inconsistency: “and he went unto Galilee. For Jesus himself testified, that a prophet hath no honour in his own country” (4: 44). This, one would have thought, was an excellent reason for not going to Galilee.

Nazareth and Galilee

Resolution of the difficulty is best found by understanding that Galilee is to be taken in the narrower sense as meaning the district immediately round the lake. From this point of view, Nazareth was not in Galilee. A hint of the same distinction is traceable in Luke 4: 31: “He came down (from Nazareth) to Capernaum, a city of Galilee.” John’s text also implies that on the present occasion Jesus went first to Nazareth, but left it almost immediately for the lake: “and he went forth (from Sychar), and he went away (from Nazareth?) into Galilee” (v. 43). Unless the repititious phrases be filled out in this way,the language here is almost childishly tautological. Matthew reinforces this conclusion: “he departed into Galilee; and leaving (abandoning) Nazareth, he came and dwelt in Capernaum” (4: 12,13).

The Galileans, unlike the people of Nazareth, gave him a ready welcome, because so many of them had been present in Jerusalem at the Passover, and had themselves seen the cleansing of the temple and the miracles which Jesus did there (2: 23; 3: 2). To be sure, people from Nazareth had shared that experience, but even when the prophet was not in his own country, he was still without honour “among his own kin, and in his own house.” On the occasion of this return to Nazareth, the town must have given him a bad reception, for Matthew 4: 13 implies a permanent transfer of residence to Capernaum. It was a long time before he again brought his message to the people who had known him all his life (Mt. 13: 54).

On the way to Capernaum some time was again spent at Cana. The text implies (what one would naturally surmise) that this was at the home where the miracle had been performed of turning water into wine.

By this time Jesus had so much become headline news, because of the remarkable happenings in Jerusalem, that the whole countryside was aware of his movements. So there came to him at the end of the day (the seventh hour, 7 p.m) a nobleman from Capernaum, seeking the cure of his son, now lying at death’s door.

The man is described by a word which might mean “a member of the royal family” (Dan 1: 3 LXX) or “an officer of the king’s court”. The former meaning would be appropriate to Manaen, the son of a rabbi, who was “brought up with Herod the tetrarch” (Acts 13: 1), the latter to Chuza, “Herod’s steward” (Lk.8: 3). It may be taken as fairly certain that if not identifiable with the former, this nobleman was a Gentile.

Faith of a Sort

It is not difficult to see that the man had only on incomplete faith in his mission. The words of Jesus, strangely discouraging, imply as much: “Except ye see signs and wonders, ye will not believe” (v. 48). Was Jesus quoting back to the man the very words which he himself had used earlier in hard-headed sceptical fashion when the character and work of Jesus were being discussed? ‘Except I see these signs and wonders, I will not believe!’ Compare Thomas’s experience: 20: 25,27.

Maybe also Jesus said the words with a slight hint of bitterness because precisely this had just been (and was to be; Lk. 4: 23) the attitude of his old friends in Nazareth.

“Signs and wonders”! This is the only time in the gospels that the latter word is used with reference to the miracles of Jesus. It serves to emphasize the contrast between this demand for miraculous marvels and the spontaneous belief of the Samaritans as soon as they were told about Jesus by one of their least reputable citizens (v. 39).

Even so, the man did have a faith of sorts, or he would never have made the journey from Capernaum. It is noteworthy that neither now nor on later occasions did Jesus rebuff this rudimentary faith, but encouraged and nurtured it: “Though ye believe not me believe the works” (Jn. 10: 38). He was willing to accept a faith that was rooted in marvels, even whilst regarding it as inferior. Nevertheless, “blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed” (20: 29).

Faith answered

The nobleman was not to be put off by the apparent discouragement in the words and tone of Jesus. In desperation he swept aside the Lord’s seeming reluctance, pressing his request in a cry of anxiety and misery: “Sir, come down ere my child die. “He was not one of these hard-headed sceptics presenting an ultimatum for the satisfying or his own critical mind. Rather, it was as though he had said; “Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief”. For, without him realising it, his words implied a belief that Jesus might have the power to heal, but not to raise the dead.

The unfailing compassion of Jesus could not withstand an assault such as this. “Go thy way; thy son liveth.” The authority with which these words were spoken carried conviction. There was no asking for elucidation of how or when. With a faith far greater than that with which he had come, “the man believed the word that Jesus had spoken.” He uttered his incoherent inadequate thanks, and eagerly went his way.

Faith Confirmed

The return journey through the night was necessarily slower than the earlier hot-foot quest for Jesus. Perhaps time was lost waiting for the moon to rise. So it was sometime next morning, when he was just over halfway home, on the stretch of road that dipped down to the lake side near Magdala when he met household servants sent, probably, with the idea of saving Jesus the trouble of the journey to Capernaum. They brought marvellous news: “Thy son liveth!” Enquiry soon verified that sudden recovery had taken place at the very time that Jesus had announced it. This was even more than the father’s faith had reached out to. He had been prepared to believe that the boy would show signs of recovery from the time that Jesus responded to the appeal. Yet apparently the healing had been instantaneous and complete-at the very time Jesus spoke.

Such evidence, if it was needed, made conviction complete: “and himself believed, and his whole house”, that is, the servants who made the journey and those who had witnessed the recovery. That word “himself” surely carries an implication that someone in the house was already a believer in Jesus. This must have been the nobleman’s wife. It was her conviction which had goaded the man to make the journey to Cana in the first instance.

The Growth of Faith

The progression of this man’s faith is something to note and admire and emulate:

  1. “Except ye see signs and wonders, ye will in no wise believe.”
  2. He besought him that he would come down, and heal his son.
  3. “Sir, come down, ere my child die” (implying: once he’s dead even you can do nothing for him).
  4. The man believed the word that Jesus had spoken.
  5. Himself believed (i.e. fully) and his whole house.

John adds a very brief comment: “This is again the second sign that Jesus did, having come out of Judaea into Galilee.” Here, the word “again”, normally redundant, is apparently intended to emphasize that again, as with the changing of water into wine, in each instance Jesus had exercised his divine power in Galilee of the Gentiles after leaving Judaea. Once again John’s symbolic mind is at work. Very probably this nobleman from Herod’s court was a Gentile. It is noteworthy that the other miracles of healing wrought by Jesus at a distance were both for the benefit of Gentiles -the healing of the centurion’s servant, and the casting out of the demon from the daughter of the Canaanitish woman. These things happened by design.

Perhaps also the healing of the blind man at the pool of Siloam falls into this category. He was definitely Jewish, but (as Study 124 seeks to show) that miracle makes him an impressive “sign” of the spiritual healing of the Gentiles.

This healing of the nobleman’s son is all that John’s record has of the Lord’s ministry in Galilee during the first two years of the ministry, up to the Passover of 6: 4. What a contrast with the fulness of the Galilean ministry as described by the synoptists!

Notes: John 4:43-54

He departed. From the lack of mention here of the disciples some have actually inferred that until 6: 3 (one year before the crucifixion) they stayed in Samaria. What foolishness! A splendid example of how argument from omission (nearly always of dubious value) can corrode a man’s commonsense.
Jesus testified. John would surely not have written this about Jesus without the sanction given by his Lord.

A prophet hath no honour...; eg. 1 Sam. 10: 11,12. This reads like a good reason for not going to Galilee.

Other explanations offered besides that in the text are these: (a) Because not honoured in Galilee, he went there for peace and quiet, (b) He had been dishonoured in Judaea (his own country!), and therefore was glad to be received by Samaritans and in Galilee of the Gentiles (c) The words are here to explain why Jesus had gone to Jerusalem-because ignored in Galilee (and hence now v. 45). (d) He must leave Samaria where he had been honoured in order to put a big effort into Galilee where he had been ignored. Remarkable that there should be so many different ways of reading a fairly straight forward verse!
All the things that he did at Jerusalem. The third time mentioned (2: 23; 3: 2), and yet no details.
Cana... where he made the water wine. John had a flair for associating incidents and places (or people): (a) 3: 1; 7: 50; 19: 39; (b) 1: 44; 12: 21; (c) 13: 23,25; 21: 20.
Was come. This less common Greek word seems always to be used of divine action (see concordance).
See. Was Jesus making a play on the meaning of the man’s name? Chuza — seen by revelation from God.
It can be a rewarding exercise of the imagination to attempt a full re- construction of this conversation. And so also in many another place, especially where the miracles are concerned.
Began to amend suggests that the father was looking for a gradual recovery.

The seventh hour. 19: 14 is decisive that John uses Roman (modern) time, and not Jewish. Therefore 7 p.m.
Himself believed. See v.50. Other examples of faith becoming a greater faith: 1: 14 with 2: 11; Ex. 14: 31; 1 Kgs 17: 24.
The second miracle. Is this John’s way of drawing attention to one feature of the pattern of his gospel? - three miracles in Judaea, and three in Galilee

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