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The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah
THE ASCENT: FROM THE RIVER JORDAN TO THE MOUNT OF
THE SECOND VISIT TO CANA
CURE OF THE 'NOBLEMAN'S' SON AT CAPERNAUM.
(St. Matthew 4:12; St. Mark 1:14; St. Luke
4:14,15; St. John 4:43-54.)
THE brief harvest in Samaria was, as Jesus had indicated to His
disciples, in another sense also the beginning of sowing-time, or at least that
when the green blade first appeared above ground. It formed the introduction to
that Galilean ministry, when 'the Galileans received Him, having seen all the
things that He did at Jerusalem at the Feast.'1
Nay, in some respects, it was the real beginning of His Work also, which,
viewed as separate and distinct, commenced when the Baptist was cast into
Accordingly, this circumstance is specially marked by St. Matthew,3
and by St. Mark,4
while St. Luke, as if to give greater emphasis to it, abruptly connects this
beginning of Christ's sole and separate Work with the history of the
All that intervened seems to him but introductory, that 'beginning' which might
be summed up by the words, 'in the power of the Spirit,' with which he
describes His return to Galilee. In accordance with this view, Christ is
presented as taking up the message of His Forerunner,6
only with wider sweep, since, instead of adding to His announcement of the
Kingdom of Heaven and call to repentance that to a Baptism of preparation, He
called those who heard Him to 'believe the Gospel' which He brought them.7
1. St. John iv. 45.
2. The history of the Baptist's imprisonment will be given in the sequel.
3. St. Matt. iv. 12.
4. St. Mark i. 14.
5. St. Luke iv. 11.
6. St. Matt. iv. 17.
7. St. Mark i. 15.
But here also - as Eusebius had already noted8
- the Fourth Gospel, in its more comprehensive presentation of the Christ, as
adding, not merely in the external succession of events, but in their internal
connection, feature to feature in the portraiture of the Divine Redeemer,
supplies the gap in the Synoptic narratives, which so often read only like
brief historical summaries, with here and there special episodes or reports of
teaching inserted. For St. John not only tells us of that early Ministry, which
the Synoptists designedly pass over, but while, like them, referring to the
captivity of John as the occasion of Christ's withdrawal from the machinations
of the Pharisaic party in Judæa, he joins this departure from Judæa with the
return to Galilee by supplying, as connecting link, the brief stay in Samaria
with its eventful results. St. John, also, alone supplies the first-recorded
event of this Galilean ministry.9
We therefore follow his guidance, simply noting that the various stages of this
Galilean residence should be grouped as follows: Cana,10
Capernaum, with general itineration from that centre.12
The period occupied, by what is thus briefly indicated in the Gospels, was from
early summer, say, the beginning of June, to the unnamed 'feast of the Jews.'13
If it is objected, that the events seem too few for a period of about three
months, the obvious answer is, that, during most of this time, Jesus was in
great measure unattended, since the call of the Apostles14
only took place after the 'unnamed feast;' that, indeed, they had
probably returned to their homes and ordinary occupations when Jesus went to
Nazareth,15 and that
therefore, not having themselves been eye-witnesses of what had passed, they
confined themselves to a general summary. At the same time, St. Luke expressly
marks that Jesus taught in the various Synagogues of Galilee,16
and also that He made a longer stay in Capernaum.17
8. The origin, authorship, and occasion of the Synoptic Gospels and of that by St. John, as well as their interrelation, is discussed in Euseb. Hist.
Eccles. iii. 24, the discussion being the more important that Eusebius
throughout appeals for his statements to 'the testimony of the ancients.'
9. St. John iv. 43-54.
10. St. John iv. 45-54.
11. St. Luke iv. 16-30.
12. St. Matt. iv. 13-17; St. Mark i. 14, 15; St. Luke iv. 31, 32.
13. St. John v. 1.
14. St. Matt. iv.18-22 &c.
15. St. Luke iv. 16.
16. St. Luke iv. 15.
17. St. Luke iv. 31; comp. St. Matt. iv. 13-16.
When Jesus returned to Galilee, it was in circumstances
entirely different from those under which He had left it. As He Himself said,18
there had, perhaps naturally, been prejudices connected with the humbleness of
His upbringing, and the familiarity engendered by knowledge19
of His home-surroundings. These were overcome, when the Galileans had witnessed
at the feast in Jerusalem, what He had done. Accordingly, they were now
prepared to receive Him with the reverent attention which His Word claimed. We
may conjecture, that it was partially for reasons such as these that He first
bent His steps to Cana. The miracle, which had there been wrought,20
would still further prepare the people for His preaching. Besides, this was the
home of Nathanael, who had probably followed Him to Jerusalem, and in whose
house a gladsome homage of welcome would now await Him. It was here that the
second recorded miracle of His Galilean ministry was wrought, with what effect
upon the whole district, may be judged from the expectancies which the fame of
it excited even in Nazareth, the city of His early upbringing21
18. St. John iv. 44.
19. I cannot believe that the expression 'His own country,' refers to Judæa. Such an explanation is not only unnatural, but contrary to the usage of the expression idioV ('his own'). Comp. St. Matt. ix.
1; also St. John vii. 40-42. Strauss's arguments (Leben Jesu, i. p. 659)
seem here conclusive.
20. St. John ii. 1-11.
21. St. Luke iv. 23.
It appears that the son of one of Herod Antipas' officers,
either civil or military,22
was sick, and at the point of death. When tidings reached the father that the
Prophet, or more than Prophet, Whose fame had preceded Him to Galilee, had come
to Cana, he resolved, in his despair of other means, to apply to Him for the
cure of His child. Nothing can be gained for the spiritual interest of this or
any other Biblical narrative, by exaggeration; but much is lost, when the
historical demands of the case are overlooked. It is not from any disbelief in
the supernatural agency at work, that we insist on the natural and rational
sequence of events. And having done so, we can all the more clearly mark, by
the side of the natural, the distinctively higher elements at work.
Accordingly, we do not assume that this 'court-officer' was actuated by
spiritual belief in the Son of God, when applying to Him for help. Rather would
we go to almost the opposite extreme, and regard him as simply actuated by
what, in the circumstances, might be the views of a devout Jew. Instances are
recorded in the Talmud, which may here serve as our guide. Various cases are
related in which those seriously ill, and even at the point of death, were
restored by the prayers of celebrated Rabbis. One instance is specially
We read that, when the son of Rabban Gamaliel was dangerously ill, he sent two
of his disciples to one Chanina ben Dosa to entreat his prayers for the
restoration of his son. On this, Chanina is said to have gone up to the Aliyah
(upper chamber) to pray. On his return, he assured the messengers that the
young man was restored, grounding his confidence, not on the possession of any
prophetic gift, but on the circumstance that he knew his request was answered
from the freedom he had in prayer. The messengers noted down the hour, and on
their arrival at the house of Gamaliel found, that at that very hour 'the fever
left him, and he asked for water.' Thus far the Rabbinic story. Even supposing
that it was either invented or coloured in imitation of the New Testament, it
shows, at least, what a devout Jew might deem lawful to expect from a
celebrated Rabbi, who was regarded as having power in prayer.
22. basilikoV, used by Josephus in the
general sense of officers in the service of Herod Antipas. Comp. Krebs, Obs. in N. Test. e Fl. Josepho, pp. 144, 145, who notes that the expression occurs 600 times in the writings of Josephus.
23. Ber. 34 b; Jer. Ber. 9 d.
Having indicated the illustrated part of this story, we may now
mark the contrast between it and the event in the Gospels. There restoration is
not merely asked, but expected, and that, not in answer to prayer, but by
Christ's Personal presence. But the great and vital contrast lies, alike in
what was thought of Him Who was instrumental in the cure - performed it - and
in the moral effects which it wrought. The history just quoted from the Talmud
is immediately followed by another of similar import, when a celebrated Rabbi
accounts on this wise for his inability to do that in which Chanina had
succeeded, that Chanina was like 'a servant of the King,' who went in and out
familiarly, and so might beg favours; while he (the failing Rabbi) was 'like a
lord before the King,' who would not be accorded mere favours, but discussed
matters on a footing of equality. This profane representation of the relation
between God and His servants, the utterly unspiritual view of prayer which it
displays, and the daring self-exaltation of the Rabbi, surely mark sufficiently
an absolute contrast in spirit between the Jewish view and that which underlies
the Evangelic narrative.
Enough has been said to show, that the application to Jesus on
the part of the 'royal officer' did not, in the peculiar circumstances, lie
absolutely beyond the range of Jewish ideas. What the 'court-officer' exactly
expected to be done, is a question secondary to that of his state of receptiveness,
as it may be called, which was the moral condition alike of the outward help,
and of the inward blessing which he received. One thing, however, it is of
importance to notice. We must not suppose, that when, to the request that Jesus
would come down to Capernaum to perform the cure, the Master replied, that
unless they saw24
signs and wonders they would not believe, He meant thereby to convey that his
Jewish hearers, in opposition to the Samaritans, required 'signs and wonders'
in order to believe. For the application of 'the officer' was itself an
expression of faith, although imperfect. Besides, the cure, which was the
object of the application, could not have been performed without a miracle.
What the Saviour reproved was not the request for a miracle, which was
necessary, but the urgent plea that He should come down to Capernaum for that
purpose, which the father afterwards so earnestly repeated.25
That request argued ignorance of the real character of the Christ, as if He
were either merely a Rabbi endowed with special power, or else a
miracle-monger. What He intended to teach this man was, that He, Who had life
in Himself, could restore life at a distance as easily as by His Presence; by
the word of his Power as readily as by personal application. A lesson this of
the deepest importance, as regarded the Person of Christ; a lesson, also, of
the widest application to us and for all circumstances, temporal and spiritual.
When the 'court-officer' had learned this lesson, he became 'obedient unto the faith,'
and 'went his way,'26
presently to find his faith both crowned and perfected.27
And when both 'he and his house' had learned that lesson, they would never
afterwards think of the Christ either as the Jews did, who simply witnessed His
miracles, or unspiritually. It was the completion of that teaching which had
first come to Nathanael, the first believer of Cana.28
So, also, is it when we have learned that lesson, that we come to know alike
the meaning and the blessedness of believing in Jesus.
24. The emphasis must lie on the word 'see,' yet not exclusively. Lücke's objections to this (Ev. Joh. i. p. 622) are not well founded.
25. ver. 49.
26. ver. 50.
27. ver. 53.
28. St. John i. vi. 50, 51.
Indeed, so far as its moral import is concerned, the whole
history turns upon this point. It also marks the fundamental difference between
this and the somewhat similar history of the healing of the Centurion's servant
Critics have noticed marked divergences in almost every detail of the two
which some - both orthodox and negative interpreters - have so strangely
represented as only different presentations of one and the same event.31
But, besides these marked differences of detail, there is also fundamental
difference in the substance of the narratives, and in the spirit of the two
applicants, which made the Saviour in the one instance reprove as the
requirement of sight, which by itself could only produce a transitory faith,
that which in the other He marvelled at as greatness of faith, for which He had
in vain looked in Israel. The great point in the history of the 'court-officer'
is Israel's mistaken view of the Person and Work of the Christ. That in the
narrative of the Centurion is the preparedness of a simple faith, unencumbered
by Jewish realism, although the outcome of Jewish teaching. The carnal realism
of the one, which looks for signs and wonders, is contrasted with the
simplicity and straightforwardness of the other. Lastly, the point in the
history of the Syro-Phoenician woman, which is sometimes confounded with it,32
is the intensity of the same faith which, despite discouragements, nay, seeming
improbabilities, holds fast by the conviction which her spiritual instinct had
grasped - that such an One as Jesus must be not only the Messiah of the Jews,
but the Saviour of the world.
29. St. Matt. viii. 5 &c.; St. Luke vii. 1 &c.
30. These will readily occur on comparison of the two narratives. Archdeacon Watkins
(ad loc.) has grouped these under eight distinct particulars. Comp. Lücke (Ev. Joh.) i. p. 626.
31. So partially and hesitatingly Origen, Chrysostom, and more decidedly
Theophilus, Euthymius, Irenus, and Eusebius. All
modern negative critics hold this view; but Gfrörer regards the narrative of St. John, Strauss and Weiss that of St. Matthew, as the original account. And yet Keim ventures to assert: 'Ohne allen Zweifel (!) ist das die selbe Geschichte.'
32. Alike Strauss and Keim discuss this at some length from the point of view of seeming contradiction between the reception of the heathen Centurion
and the first refusal of the Syro-Phoenician woman. Keim's treatment of the whole subject seems to me inconsistent with itself.
We may as well here complete our critical notices, at least as
concerns those views which have of late been propounded. The extreme school of
negative critics seems here involved in hopeless self-contradiction. For, if
this narrative of a Jewish courtier is really only another recension of that of
the heathen centurion, how comes it that the 'Jewish' Gospel of St. Matthew
makes a Gentile, while the so-called 'anti-Jewish,' 'Ephesian' Gospel of
St. John makes a Jew, the hero of the story? As signally does the
'mythical' theory break down. For, admittedly, there is no Rabbinic basis for
the invention of such a story; and by far the ablest representative of the
has conclusively shown, that it could not have originated in an imitation of
the Old Testament account of Naaman's cure by Elisha the prophet.34
But, if Christ had really spoken those words to the courtier, as this critic
seems to admit, there remains only, as he puts it, this 'trilemma:'
either He could really work the miracle in question; or, He spoke as a mere
fanatic; or else, He was simply a deceiver. It is a relief to find that the two
last hypotheses are discarded. But, as negative criticism - may we not say,
from the same spirit which Jesus reproved in the courtier - is unwilling to
admit that Jesus really wrought this miracle, it is suggested in explanation of
the cure, that the sick child, to whom the father had communicated his intended
application to Jesus, had been in a state of expectancy which, when the
courtier returned with the joyous assurance that the request was granted,
issued in actual recovery.35
To this there is the obvious answer, that the explanation wants the first requirement
- that of an historical basis. There is not a tittle of evidence that the child
expected a cure; while, on the other hand, the narrative expressly states that
he was cured before his father's return. And, if the narrative may be
altered at will to suit the necessities of a groundless hypothesis, it is
difficult to see which, or whether any, part of it should be retained. It is
not so that the origin of a faith, which has transformed the world, can be
explained. But we have here another evidence of the fact, that objections
which, when regarded as part of a connected system, seem so formidable to some,
utterly break down, when each narrative is carefully examined in detail.
33. Keim, Jesu v. Nazara, II. i. pp. 179-185. I regret to say, that the language of Keim at p. 181 is among the most painful in his book.
34. So Strauss, Leben Jesu, vol. ii. pp. 121, 122 (1st ed.).
35. At least I so understand Keim, unless he means that the faith of the child alone brought about the cure, in which case there was no need for the father's journey. Keim naively asks, what objections there can be to this view, unless for the 'wording of St. John'? But the whole narrative is derived from that 'wording.'
There are other circumstances in this history, which require at
least passing consideration. Of these the principal are the time when the
servants of the court-officer met him, on his return journey, with the joyful
tidings that his son lived; and, connected with it, the time when 'he began to
and, lastly, that when the 'court-official' applied to Jesus. The two latter
events were evidently contemporaneous.38
The exact time indicated by the servants as the commencement of the improvement
is, 'Yesterday, at the seventh hour.' Now, however the Jewish servants may originally
have expressed themselves, it seems impossible to assume, that St. John
intended any other than the Roman notation of the civil day, or that he meant
any other hour than 7 p.m. The
opposite view, that it marks Jewish notation of time, or 1 p.m., is beset by almost unsurmountable
For it must be borne in mind, that, as the distance between Capernaum and Cana
is about twenty-five miles, it would have been extremely difficult, if not
impossible, for the courtier, leaving his home that morning, not only to have
reached Cana, but to have had the interview with Jesus by 1 p.m. The difficulty is only increased,
when we are asked to believe, that after such a journey the courtier had
immediately set out on his return. But this is absolutely necessary for the
theory, since a Jew would not have set out on such a journey after dusk. But
farther, on the above supposition, the servants of the court official must have
taken the road immediately, or very soon after, the improvement commenced.
This is itself unlikely, and, indeed, counter-indicated by the terms of the
conversation between the courtier and the servants, which imply that they had
waited till they were sure that it was recovery, and not merely a temporary
Again, on the theory combated, the servants, meeting the 'courtier,' as we must
suppose, midway, if not near to Capernaum, would have said, 'Yesterday at the
seventh hour the fever left him,' meaning thereby, that, as they spoke in the
evening, when another Jewish day had begun, the fever had left him on the
afternoon of the same day, although, according to Jewish reckoning,
'yesterday,' since 1 P.M. would be reckoned as the previous day. But it may be
safely affirmed, that no Jew would have so expressed himself. If, on the evening
of a day, they had referred to what had taken place five or six hours
previously, at 1 P.M., they would have said: 'At the seventh hour the fever
left him;' and not 'Yesterday at the seventh hour.'
36. ver. 52.
37. So literally; the A.V. has: 'began to amend.'
38. ver. 53.
39. The Jewish servants may have expressed the time according to Jewish notation, though in such a house in Galilee such might not have been the usual practice. However this be, we contend that St. John's notation of time was according to the Roman civil day, or rather according to that of Asia Minor.
40. ver. 52.
It is needless to follow the matter further. We can understand
how, leaving Capernaum in the morning, the interview with Jesus and the
simultaneous cure of the child would have taken place about seven o'clock of
the evening. Its result was, not only the restoration of the child, but that,
no longer requiring to see signs and wonders, 'the man believed the word which
Jesus had spoken unto him.' In this joyous assurance, which needed no more
ocular demonstration, he 'went his way,' either to the hospitable home of a
friend, or to some near lodging-place on the way, to be next day met by the
gladsome tidings, that it had been to him according to his faith. As already
noted, the whole morale of the history lies in this very matter, and it
marks the spiritual receptiveness of the courtier, which, in turn, was the moral
condition of his desire being granted. Again, we learn how, by the very
granting of his desire, the spiritual object of Christ in the teaching of the
courtier was accomplished, how, under certain spiritual conditions in him and
upon him, the temporal benefit accomplished its spiritual object. And in this
also, as in other points which will occur to the devout reader, there are
lessons of deepest teaching to us, and for all times and circumstances.
Whether this 'royal officer' was Chuza, Herod's steward,
whose wife, under the abiding impression of this miracle to her child,
afterwards humbly, gratefully ministered to Jesus,41
must remain undermined on this side time. Suffice it, to mark the progress in
the 'royal officer' from belief in the power of Jesus to faith in His word,42
and thence to absolute faith in Him,43
with its blessed expansive effect on that whole household. And so are we ever
led faithfully and effectually, yet gently, by His benefits, upwards from the
lower stage of belief by what we see Him do, to that higher faith which
is absolute and unseeing trust, springing from experimental knowledge of what
41. St. Luke viii. 3.
42. ver. 50.
43. ver. 53.
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