Signs and Miracles

Photo by mohamad azaam on Unsplash

Gospel of John 4:46-5:13

46 Once more he visited Cana in Galilee, where he had turned the water into wine. And there was a certain royal official whose son lay sick at Capernaum. 47 When this man heard that Jesus had arrived in Galilee from Judea, he went to him and begged him to come and heal his son, who was close to death. NIV

You’ll remember from last week that as Jesus entered Galilee, people mobbed around him because they had seen and heard all he had done while in and near Jerusalem. They probably asked, ‘Where are you going?’ If so, he told them Cana. In a land with no other means of communication, word-of-mouth can be amazingly quick. The royal official likely heard the news before Jesus arrived in Cana.

The unnamed man would have been serving Tetrarch Herod Antipas. He was one of the sons of King Herod the Great. The Romans insisted that the three boys split up the kingdom when the old Herod died. Not long after that, the Romans moved Phillip out and brought in Roman governors, with Pilate in charge during Jesus’ ministry.

The Tetrarch’s capital was the town of Tiberias, located on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee, about halfway to the southern end. Capernaum is about ten miles to the north. This official would have been the power in the northern part of the Sea of Galilee. Note; Tiberius served for a thousand years as the major city in the north for Jews and is still a vital city of eighty thousand today, and still called Tiberius.

You will recall that the walk between Capernaum and Cana is about sixteen miles, an easy day’s walk. Of course, the royal official had to walk uphill, about eleven hundred feet. The official would have had considerable power in his domain, but now he begged Jesus for help. That often happens when we think we may lose a child.

48 So Jesus said to him, “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.” 49 The official said to him, “Sir, come down before my child dies.” 50 Jesus said to him, “Go; your son will live.” ESV

Why did Jesus have the little outburst about signs? Remember that John stresses signs in place of the Synoptics miracles. In our study, they are almost interchangeable, except that a sign points to something else. Miracles are signs of God at work in the world, and Jesus, the conduit for the miracles.

It is tempting to say that wonder is just another word for miracles. That is, like signs, partly true. The Greek word is teras, meaning prodigy, omen, wonder. It seems that any of those words could fit here, but I agree with most English translations that wonder is the best choice.

The official is a powerful man and used to giving orders, but not in this situation. He calls Jesus basiilkos kurios, literally noble lord. Earlier, he was said to beg; now, he bluntly says ‘come.’ It could be an additional effort to curry favor, but it is more likely the typical speech of a politician, at least when he wants something.

In answer, Jesus says go. No comment about the man’s faith, but that may be because he was not fully Jewish. The family of Herod was Edomites from Arab roots. They lived in southeastern Juda and took the religion of Judaism. But Hebrews never accepted them as ‘real’ Jews.

Faith is implied in that if Jesus touched the child, healing would happen.

50 Jesus said to him, “Go; your son will live.” The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and went on his way. 51 As he was going down, his servants met him and told him that his son was recovering. 52 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.” 53 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. 54 This was now the second sign that Jesus did when he had come from Judea to Galilee. ESV

The man believed and went. Understand that the official had no way of knowing if Jesus would carry through or not, but he started walking home. Jesus would have known the man’s state of faith, but he did not comment on it.

Some have taken this story to be the same as the Centurion in Matthew. It seems unlikely to me. Over three years, there could have been dozens of similar healings by long distance. In an age when the local herbalist was the best doctor around, people were always asking Jesus for his well-known healing touch.

The proof that Jesus healed the boy came as the official was a few miles down the road where he met some of his servants coming with the good news. When they compared times, it became clear that the boy was at once out of danger. Because the official lived in Capernaum, it would have been natural for him to tell Jesus, or at least his disciples, about the servants’ message when next they were in town.

Looking back at verse 45, some Galileans saw Jesus do signs in Judea, especially cleansing the Temple court. But the specific number of two signs would seem to refer to this healing and making water into wine; so two signs in Galilee. John has Jesus giving Nicodemus the Good News, then the sign of the wine, followed by the Good News for the Samaritan woman, capped with a healing sign.

1Some time later, Jesus went up to Jerusalem for one of the Jewish festivals. NIV

Some time could mean days, weeks, months, or a year. A year is doubtful because that would put us back to the spring Passover. The Greek is heorte, meaning a feast. If Passover is intended, it will read, he heorte, which is not the case here. Jewish men attended Passover, Shavuot—Feast of Weeks, and Sukkoth—Tabernacles. I vote for this heorte to be Shavuot because it is fifty days after Passover. [Not really, because the count begins on the first Sabbath after Passover—forty-nine days, the next day is Shavuot. If Passover falls on a Sabbath, they wait seven days before they start counting.] People commonly called it Pentecost. Passover, Shavuot, and Sukkoth make up the Pilgrim feasts. The High Holidays are Rosh Hashanna—New Year, and Yom Kippur—Day of Atonement.

Unlike the Synoptics, John records several trips ‘up’ to Jerusalem. He is an old man, probably around eighty, as he writes this Gospel. Unlike most Christians alive in that final decade of the first century, John could remember attending those holy days and attending them with Jesus. He also remembered their significance, especially that of Pentecost.

Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades. NIV

Neither the gate nor the pool locations are known for sure. The Sheep Gate is believed to have been used only to bring sheep into the Temple, but the location is unknown. The name of the pool is debated. The old manuscripts record Bethesda, Bethzatha, and Belzetha. Bethesda has been recognized for centuries as the best reading, and it is supported by recent archaeological work. But Bethzatha has many manuscripts and scholars supporting it. Only one script uses the third version, so it is not a contender.

Saint Anne’s Church, built by Christian Crusaders, seems to be the most likely site for the pool, though it does not sit on the pool. Archaeological digs have uncovered a double pool with five roofed colonnades near the church.

This one is longer with plenty of detail.

Here a great number of disabled people used to lie—the blind, the lame, the paralyzed. [4] 5 One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. NIV

Verse four is not found in the older manuscripts, so most modern translations do not include it, as here in the NIV. Here is how it reads in Phillips. (They used to wait there for the “moving of the water”, for at certain times an angel used to come down into the pool and disturb the water, and then the first person who stepped into the water after the disturbance would be healed of whatever he was suffering from.Phillips He did write it inside the parentheses.

The following verses have a good description of what people believed happened at the pool. The man waited all those years but could not move into the pool in time to be healed. Still, he kept coming back.

When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?” “Sir,” the invalid replied, “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.” NIV

If the man had been there every day for thirty-eight years, he surely saw at least some people healed, or he would have stopped coming. Perhaps I should add that he had help getting there and back home, likely relatives.

If the answer to the question was in doubt, I would think the thirty-eight years would explain a strong will to be whole again. Remember that Jesus already knows the faith level of the man. His daily helpers dumped him and left, so they were not there when the water stirred.

Then Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked. The day on which this took place was a Sabbath, 10 and so the Jewish leaders said to the man who had been healed, “It is the Sabbath; the law forbids you to carry your mat.” NIV

‘Do you want to get well? Get up.’ Jesus has not forgotten it is Sabbath. He walked down the steps to the pool level and approached the man the Spirit pointed out. ‘You are healed. Take your mat with you.’ Apparently, Jesus and his followers leave as well.

What were all the other people thinking? Why did he not heal at least some of them? We cannot know the mind of God, but there was a plan, and Jesus stuck to it.

The leaders threatened the man with violating the law about carrying loads on Sabbath. Did they know he had been there all those years? Were they suspicious something evil was going on?

11 But he replied, “The man who made me well said to me, ‘Pick up your mat and walk.’ ” 12 So they asked him, “Who is this fellow who told you to pick it up and walk?” 13 The man who was healed had no idea who it was, for Jesus had slipped away into the crowd that was there. NIV

‘Jesus had slipped away.’ We do not know how the man came to be unable to walk. What we can know is that he was in his place at the pool because God intended for Jesus to both heal the man and use the incident to confront the religious leaders. They would prefer to punish a healed man for doing what he had not done in years so they could collect a gold star on their report cards. By the time we finish the conflict with the leaders, I think it will be apparent that the healing is an excuse for a greater Godly agenda.

We will take up the struggle next week.

Be Righteous and do Good

Mike Lawrence

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