Jesus—His Life and Message: Healing from a Distance (Part 3)

December 12, 2017

by Peter Amsterdam

In the Gospel of John we read of Jesus’ third and last healing from a distance. We’re told that Jesus was in Jerusalem for the Passover Feast, and that many people believed in Him because of the miracles He was performing.[1] Because of His growing popularity, which meant growing crowds, He left Judea and departed north for Galilee. He chose to travel through the area of Samaria, which Jews generally avoided because of cultural, racial, and religious animosity. They were often willing to add another 25 miles (40 kilometers) to their trip by going around Samaria instead of going through it. While in Samaria, Jesus encountered the Samaritan woman at the well,[2] and He remained for two days speaking to the people in her hometown of Sychar, where many believed in Him. He then departed for Galilee.

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. So he came again to Cana in Galilee, where he had made the water wine. 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.[3]

The Greek word basilikos, which is translated as “an official,” is rendered as royal official, nobleman, and government official in other Bible versions. This indicates that this man was in the service of Herod Antipas, who is referred to once in the Gospels as a king,[4] but was technically a tetrarch[5] who ruled over Galilee and Perea.[6] It is likely that this royal official was Jewish, unlike the Gentiles in the other two healings from a distance. This man was in Capernaum, which was about 26 kilometers from Cana, where Jesus was at the time. He made the trip to Cana, which was at a higher altitude, and this is why he is described as asking Jesus to come down and heal his son.

The situation with the man’s son was dire, and he implored Jesus to travel to Capernaum to heal him. The ESV Bible says that the man asked Jesus to come, while other Bible versions use much stronger wording, such as pleaded, implored, requested, or begged. The Greek verb used here expresses a persistent request, an asking over and over, which conveys the father’s desperation to save his son’s life.

Jesus said to him, “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.”[7]

This seems to be a rather harsh response to this desperate man, but because the “you” is plural in Greek, we understand that Jesus was addressing all who were present. A number of Bible versions translate this sentence as “unless you people see signs and wonders…” Elsewhere in this Gospel, we also read a similar phrase used regarding a lack of faith when Thomas, one of the twelve disciples, said that he wouldn’t believe that Jesus had risen from the dead:

“Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.”[8]

While “unless I see” is used in John’s Gospel to convey a lack of faith, the phrase “come and see” is used within this Gospel as an invitation to faith. Jesus told two of John’s disciples to “come and see” where He was staying, after which they became His followers.[9] When Jesus called Philip to follow Him, Philip went to Nathanael and told him to “come and see” Jesus.[10] The woman Jesus spoke to at the well told others:

“Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?”[11]

Jesus understood that people like this royal official came to Him mainly because they had heard of the healing miracles He had performed, and He accepted their willingness to come to Him as a sign of their faith. The official’s response showed both his desperation as well as his faith:

“Sir, come down before my child dies.”[12]

Unlike the centurion[13] who said that it was unnecessary for Jesus to come to his home in order to heal his servant, this nobleman requested that Jesus come to his house. He seemed to think that Jesus had to be in the sick person’s presence to heal them. He was desperate for Jesus to go with him right away, knowing it would take time to make the journey from Cana to Capernaum, and the child was at death’s door.

Rather than going with the man, Jesus simply said to him, “Go; your son will live.”[14] A number of Bible versions use the present tense in the translation, so that it is rendered as “Go your way; your son lives.”[15] The difference is that the present tense more clearly makes the point that the healing happened as soon as Jesus said these words (which we will find out was the case). The future tense can be understood as something that will happen sometime later.

The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and went on his way.[16]

While the official originally seemed to feel that Jesus’ presence was needed to heal the boy, he is now seen as having the kind of faith that the centurion manifested when he said only say the word, and my servant will be healed.[17] This man's faith grew, from assuming Jesus had to be present in order for his son to get well to trusting completely in Jesus’ word, so much so that he departed for home with confidence that his son was going to be healed.

As he was going down, his servants met him and told him that his son was recovering. 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.”[18]

Similar to the healing of the centurion’s servant, the official’s journey home was not yet complete when his servants brought him good news. The ESV has translated this news by saying that the son was recovering, whereas most other versions render it as the son was living, your son lives, or the boy lives.

The father was interested in when the child was healed, because he took Jesus at His word. Rather than interpreting Jesus’ words as a general statement that the boy would eventually recover, he believed that as soon as Jesus proclaimed the healing, his son was healed. So he wanted to confirm what he had understood and believed. In both of the other healings from a distance, the healings happened “in that hour”[19] and “from that hour.”[20] In this case, it was at “the seventh hour,” which was one o’clock in the afternoon according to how we keep time today. Craig Keener explains, If one assumes a fifteen-mile walk and the word of healing being spoken at the seventh hour (1:00 pm), it is not surprising that the man is met by his servants the day after his son’s healing. Except during protracted marches, people often travelled only twenty miles in a day, and would start early in the morning. The father undoubtedly stopped in a town on the way before the approach of dusk, resuming his trek along the same road in the morning.[21]

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.[22]

The tense of the Greek word translated as knew conveys the concept that the man right then understood that it was at the same hour that Jesus said his son would be healed. The official’s faith led to his whole household believing in Jesus. Similarly, in the book of Acts we read of a number of families who came to belief through the faith of the head of the family.[23]

We see a progression of this royal official’s faith throughout this encounter. He first came to Jesus looking for a miracle because of the desperate situation of his son’s looming death. Coming from Capernaum, he had probably heard that Jesus had healed others, and he needed such a miracle to save his son. Upon encountering Jesus and hearing Him pronounce that his son would be healed, we see that he believed Jesus’ word. When he met his servants and heard that his son was healed at the same hour Jesus had proclaimed that the child was healed, we’re told that he himself believed, and all his household. While the man may not have had full faith when he left his home to seek help for his son, his faith grew step by step, which is often the way faith develops in people’s lives.

Our lives of faith have probably followed this pattern to some extent. As new Christians, we may have had more hope than faith that our prayers would be answered. Over time, as we grew in faith and our trust in God and His Word blossomed, our relationship with Him deepened. Our experience of His goodness and grace resulted in our more fully trusting in His love, care, and protection, leading to the growth and flourishing of our relationship with Him. As one author wrote, Faith is a living thing which grows and develops.[24]

This and the other healings from a distance in a sense reflect how each of us experiences the Lord’s presence and His answers to our prayers. While the centurion’s representatives, the Syrophoenician woman, and the royal official were all in Jesus’ presence when they made their requests for the healing of others, those who were healed were not. The Lord’s power to heal didn’t require that He be physically present with those He miraculously healed. Although we don’t have the Lord physically present with us, He is always present with us through His Spirit. Therefore, when we petition Him in prayer, He is with us as much as He was with these three. Likewise, our prayers can be answered even if those we pray for are far away from us physically—or even spiritually, seeing as those Jesus healed in these accounts weren’t believers.

God is our almighty Father. Because we have become His children through faith in Jesus, He is relationally present in our lives. We have the privilege of bringing our prayers before Him with the knowledge that He hears and answers us. While the answer may not always come immediately, and may not be the exact answer that we wanted or expected, we have the incredible privilege of knowing that our Father listens and responds to us in His great love and wisdom, and answers in the way He knows will benefit us and those we pray for.


Unless otherwise indicated, all scriptures are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

General Bibliography

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[1] John 2:23.

[2] John 4:4–42.

[3] John 4:45–47.

[4] Mark 6:14.

[5] A tetrarch was someone who governed one quarter of a large province. The kingdom of Herod the Great, the father of Herod Antipas, was divided between his sons when he died. Herod Antipas ruled over the tetrarchy of Galilee and Perea, which was one quarter of Herod the Great’s kingdom.

[6] Luke 3:1,19; 9:7; Matthew 14:1.

[7] John 4:48.

[8] John 20:25.

[9] John 1:38–39.

[10] John 1:46.

[11] John 4:29.

[12] John 4:49.

[14] John 4:50.


[16] John 4:50.

[17] Matthew 8:8.

[18] John 4:51–52.

[19] Matthew 8:13.

[20] Matthew 15:28.

[21] Keener, The Gospel of John, 632–633.

[22] John 4:53.

[23] Acts 11:14, 16:15, 16:31–33.

[24] Milne, The Message of John, 92.