The Healing of The Nobleman's Son

The Healing of The
Nobleman’s Son

S. Lewis Johnson, Jr.

Dr. S. Lewis Johnson, Jr. is a Bible teacher at Believers Chapel, Dallas, Texas.

This is the second of his series of studies on the seven signs of the Lord Jesus Christ recorded in John’s Gospel prior to His death and resurrection Bee John 20:30-31).

Scripture Reading: John 4:43-54


The second of John’s signs, by which he hopes his readers will come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing might obtain eternal life, is narrated in the section that we study in this message (cf. 2:11; 20:30-31).

The occasion of our Lord’s healing of the nobleman’s son is His journey from Judaea to Galilee. He had left Judaea and had traveled through Samaria, where He had His important conversation with the Samaritan woman (cf. 4:3-4). After being there with the Samaritans for two days, He returned again to Cana of Galilee (cf. 4:43-45, 46). Cf. Isaiah 9:1-2.

There is an interesting comment in verse forty-four, “For (notice the “for”) Jesus Himself testified that a prophet hath no honor in his own country.” There is some question over the standpoint from which the comment is made. It is said by some that John writes with the assumption that Jerusalem is His city, and thus the statement is a remark concerning His reception in Judaea. On the other hand, others think that the statement is made in view of His coming ministry in Galilee, namely, that it will demonstrate the truth of the testimony that a prophet has no honor in his own country. Morris writes, “Perhaps the ‘for’ is meant to indicate that Jesus must show that this is, indeed, the case. He had come unto His own, not under delusion that He would be welcomed, but knowing full well that He must expect rejection. This would not take Him by surprise, for it was in the divine plan. So, to fulfill all this implies, He went into Galilee.”1 It is not easy to know exactly what John had in mind. We do know that it turned out to be true that both Galilee and Judaea rejected Him.

We have a common saying, “Familiarity breeds contempt,” a statement that surely reflects man’s unwitting testimony to his own depravity, and our Lord’s testimony has sometimes been related to it. In His case the rejection of Him is not a reflection upon the object of the contempt, but upon those who are so blind as to fail to see that He, one of them in His humanity, is more than one of them in His Person.

The nobleman evidently was from Capernaum, the place by the side of the Sea of Galilee that Jesus made His center of operations for some time after He left Nazareth. Cana was about twenty to twenty-five miles distant, and it was to Cana that He had come. He had been welcomed in Galilee, for the Galileans had been in Jerusalem when He was there, and they had seen the things that He had done there (the verb translated by “received” in the AV is one that means to receive gladly, to welcome). They were skill filled with the enthusiasm that He was a prophet, but things would change later.

We turn to the account of the miracle now.

The Men

The nobleman (John 4:46). There are three important characters in the story of the healing: the nobleman, the son, and the Lord Jesus Christ.

The nobleman (lit., a king’s man) served Herod Antipas, but whether in a civil or military status we do not know. Some have sought to make a connection between the steward of Herod mentioned in Luke 8:3, and others with Manaen , who had been brought up with Herod, mentioned in Acts 13:1. These suggestions are purely speculative.

One thing we do know is this: He was a nobleman, and he through his contact with the Lord Jesus passed into a new realm, becoming a nobleman in the Kingdom of God and of Christ. And, further he carried “his whole house” (v. 53) with him into that kingdom, too.

He illustrates the fact that social status is no barrier to entrance into the kingdom. Lady Huntingdon, the friend of the Wesleys and Whitefield, who took a very active part in the great spiritual movement of the wonderful days in which these men lived, used to say that she was going to heaven by an “m.” When asked what she meant, she replied that she was, indeed, thankful the Bible did not say, “not any noble are called,” but “not many noble.” Therefore, she got in by an “m.”

The son (John 4:46). The son of the nobleman does not loom large in the account. It is simply said that he was “sick at Capernaum.” The tense of the Greek verb only tells us that he was lying ill, but in the following verse it is said that he was about to die, as it is clear that his illness was a very serious and critical one.

The Lord (John 4:46). John refers to the Lord Jesus simply by the term, “Jesus” (AV; the Greek text that John wrote probably said simply He), but it is clear from what happens that He is “the Great Physician,” both physically and spiritually.

John, of course, would have us move beyond the physical in our thoughts concerning Him. “A miner,” The Interpreter’s Bible relates, “once interrupted John Hutton when he was preaching, by leaping to his feet and leading the whole congregation in the doxology. Later he explained that he had been a Christian only for some months, and that it was all so gloriously different that he could not sit still in his place. For, said he, ‘I was a bad lot; I drank; I pawned the furniture; I knocked my wife about; and now life is real life, and splendidly worthwhile.’ Asked how he fared among his fellows down in the pit, he laughed and replied, ‘Today they asked me, “you don’t seriously credit that old yarn about Jesus turning the water into wine?”’ To which, it appeared, he had made the devastating answer, ‘I know nothing about water and wine, but I know this, that in my house Christ has turned beer into furniture; and that is a good enough miracle for me!’”2

“Henry Clay said that he did not know for himself personally what the change of heart spoken of by Christians meant; but he had seen Kentucky family feuds of long standing healed by religious revivals, and that whatever could heal a Kentucky family feud was more than human,” affirmed A. H. Strong.3

The Miracle

The first test (John 4:47). The story of the healing of the son may be highlighted by the three tests that Jesus gave the nobleman. And the first test is found in the report that came to the nobleman in Capernaum that Jesus had arrived in Cana. The text says, “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.” In the word “heard” is concentrated the test. Would the nobleman respond, exhibiting trust in the power of Christ to heal? The response indicated that he did. Paul says that faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God. The news of Jesus’ coming into the area was the occasion for the exhibition of the nobleman’s faith in His power to heal. He evidently had heard accounts of our Lord’s power, for that is what he has come to trust at this point (cf. Rom. 10:17). Like the leper he has come to rest in the power of the Lord, and he visits the Lord to see if He might be also willing to heal (cf. Matt. 8:1-4).

The second test (John 4:48-49). The second test is given to the nobleman in our Lord’s reply to his request. “Except ye see signs and wonders, ye will not believe” (v. 48). In a sense, His words are no specific answer to the troubled man, for the second person plural, “ye,” is used by Jesus. It is something of a reflection on His part of the unwillingness of the people, both Jews and Gentiles, it seems, to believe without some accompanying miracle. The reply does afford a test for the nobleman, however, for it clearly asks whether faith shall continue in spite of the mild rebuff.

The nobleman replies, “Sir, come down before my child dieth” (v. 49). He does respond favorably to our Lord’s verbal reflection, but he is still dictating the method of the healing, for he says, “come down before my child dieth.” It has not dawned upon him that the power to heal with a word is our Lord’s, because He is the Son of God. He can heal in Cana as well as He can heal in Capernaum.

The third test (John 4:50). Our Lord’s response to the appeal that He come down to Capernaum is, “Go thy way; thy son liveth.” The answer presented the nobleman with a dilemma. He had asked, “Come down,” but Jesus had replied, “Go.” If he took Jesus at His word, the only thing he had to go on was the bare Word of God, or the word of a mighty prophet, who seemed interested in the well-being of his son. If he refused to believe Jesus, then he risked insulting Him, the one upon whom his hopes rested. In other words, he risked forfeiting whatever benefits He might be willing to confer upon him. The short and simple retort of the Lord had put the nobleman in a position where he would be compelled to act upon the faith that he had, whatever that might be.

The essence of the answer of the nobleman is seen often in the lives of believers. Do we not often say to the Lord, “Lord, please do this for me and, for your instruction, here is the way that it ought to be done”?

The response of the nobleman is described by John in the following words, “And the man believed the word that Jesus had spoken unto him, and he went his way.” R. C. Trench, in his well-known book on the miracles of our Lord, said, “The miracle, one might say, was a double one —on the body of the absent child, on the heart of the present father; on cured of his sickness, the other of his unbelief .”4

1 Morris, p. 285.

2 The Interpreter’s Bible, VIII, 534-35.

3 Augustus Hopkins Strong, Systematic Theology (Philadelphia: The Judson Press, 1970), p. 815.

4 Richard Chenevix Trench, Notes on the Miracles of our Lord (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1949 [reprinted]