“Unless You See Signs and Wonders You Will Not Believe”

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Every phrase from the lips of Jesus Christ is fascinating. Here, let us consider one such expression. In John 4:46-54, we read about Jesus’ healing of the Capernaum official’s son. Here is the first part of this account:

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. So Jesus said to him, “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.” The official said to him, “Sir, come down before my child dies.” Jesus said to him, “Go; your son will live.” The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and went on his way. As he was going down, his servants met him and told him that his son was recovering (4:46-51).

Notice Jesus’ initial response to the unnamed official: “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.” The “you” is plural in Greek, so Jesus referred to a group of people that included the official and presumably the people of that area. Why did Jesus issue this mild rebuke to the official and the people in Cana? After all, the purpose of Jesus’ miracles was to provide evidence of His divinity (John 3:2; 20:30-31; Acts 2:22). Furthermore, it may seem surprising that Jesus would criticize someone who was requesting that Jesus heal his son, since at other times Jesus was happy to assist people’s children miraculously (Matthew 15:28; 17:14-20; Mark 5:21-43; Luke 7:11-17).

Here are three factors to consider when trying to understand why Jesus rebuked the official:

  • Jesus knew the official’s heart, including his relationship with God at the very moment when he made the request (John 2:24-25).
  • The man evidently did not fully trust in Jesus at the time when he made the request (John 4:48). God hears with favor those requests that are made in faith (James 1:6; 1 Peter 3:12; Mark 11:24).
  • Jesus already had performed many miracles, testimony about which could have given the official ample evidence of His divinity (John 2:1-11, 23; 3:1-2). This evidence should have motivated the man to not only believe that Jesus was the Son of God, but to trust Him. In fact, Jesus had just encountered many in Samaria who readily believed based on reliable testimony (John 4:39-40).

Sometimes people today will suggest that God should miraculously appear to lead each person to faith. Jesus’ rebuke of the official from Capernaum reminds us that reliable testimony, such as the evidence recorded in the New Testament, is sufficient for knowledge of Jesus’ divinity.

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