After passing through Samaria, Jesus came again into Galilee. John tells us of Jesus testimony that a prophet has no honor in his own country. This statement comes as a surprise at this point, because John places the statement just before he remarks how the Galileans received Jesus, because they had witnessed the things he had done in Jerusalem at the Passover (John 4:44-45). How are we to understand this?
John is referring to Luke 4:24, which at this time was almost a year earlier. Jesus had begun his public ministry on the Feast of Trumpets, a Jewish Holy Day, in his hometown of Nazareth. He read from the book of Isaiah, saying “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me…” (Luke 4:18; cp. Isaiah 61:1). This is a Messianic Scripture, and Jesus, by saying it was fulfilled in their ears, was presenting himself as the Messiah (Luke 4:21). Nevertheless, not only was he rejected by his own countrymen, but they also tried to kill him (Luke 4:28-30). These very people are now presented in John 4 as receiving Jesus after seeing his works in Jerusalem! Could this be so? If this is what they are doing, then how should we understand John 2:23-24, which tells us that Jesus would not commit himself to them, because he knew men, meaning, he knew their hearts?
We are told that Jesus came into Cana where he changed water into wine (John 4:46). It seems he was passing through there, because he didn’t meet anyone requesting him to heal anyone until he arrived in Capernaum (Luke 7:1-2). The nobleman’s son, mentioned in John 4:46, lived in Capernaum as did the centurion (Luke 7:1-10) who requested the Jewish elders to intercede for him with Jesus, concerning his servant (Luke 7:3). It was these Jewish elders who came to Jesus, representing the Roman official, saying he was a worthy man, because he loved the Jewish nation and had built them a synagogue in Capernaum. The nobleman of John 4 was also there requesting Jesus to heal his son. He may have been a high official in Herod’s court. This is indicated by the Greek word basilikos (G937). This word is used five times in the New Testament four in reference to a person. It is used to describe the nobleman here in John 4:46, 49 and pertains to Herod Agrippa in Acts 12:20, 21. It makes perfect sense to consider the nobleman in John 4 to be connected with Herod Antipas, because almost immediately after this incident we find Chuza, Herod’s steward, connected with Jesus’ ministry. Joanna, Chuza’s wife, ministered to Jesus’ ministry out of their own substance (Luke 8:3). It seems their son may have served the centurion in Luke 7. We are not told in what capacity, but he was beloved by the centurion most likely because of his own friendship with Chuza.
According to a literal understanding of John 4:48, Jesus rebuked the father (Chuza) who was so worried over the condition of his son, but why would Jesus do this? Jesus was always tenderhearted toward grieving family members, unless they showed an undo lack of faith. Yet, there is nothing in the text that would indicate the nobleman evidenced a lack of faith in Jesus’ ability to heal his son. However, if we use Luke 7:1-10 and Matthew 8:5-13 to fill in the blanks of John 4, then we can understand what actually occurred and to whom Jesus’ words were directed.
Luke 7 tells us that Jesus agreed to go to the centurion’s home to heal his servant (the nobleman’s son), and this at the request of not only the nobleman, but also the Jewish elders acting on behalf of the centurion (Luke 7:3, 6). When the centurion realized that Jesus was actually coming to his home, he sent an entourage to discourage his actual visit, saying only his command to heal would be necessary. As a God-fearer, the centurion would have understood that Jesus’ visit to his home would not have been received well by many of the Jewish authorities, who believed the gentile home was ceremonially unclean. Out of respect for Jesus, he advised him to say but the word and Jesus’ authority over the condition of centurion’s beloved servant would be felt, and healing would occur. Jesus remarked that he had not seen such great faith in all of Israel (Luke 7:9) and told the centurion’s servants to return for the young man was healed (Matthew 8:13).
If we understand at this point that the Jewish elders, acting on behalf of the centurion, objected and wanted Jesus to continue to the centurion’s home, we would have an accurate understanding of John 4:48, for the words Jesus spoke here were directed to those who didn’t believe, not to the grieving nobleman who did (cp. John 4:49-50). Jesus addressed the problem of unbelief throughout his public ministry, and it was always directed toward those who should have believed him—the Jews, Jesus’ own people.
The only true honor Jesus received during this event came from gentiles, men not of Jesus’ own country! John places Jesus’ words in John 4:44 to prepare us to understand what follows is not to be taken at face value. But a little digging is needed to fully understand what actually took place. Otherwise the text contradicts not only itself but also Jesus words concerning the Jewish nation’s unbelief. The point of it all seems to be that Jesus is honored in our trust in his word, not merely in our praise of his deeds. Both are required, but my praise for Jesus great works would have no real meaning, if I don’t really trust Jesus’ words.