The Life of the Lord Jesus Christ

By Johann Peter Lange

Edited by Rev. Marcus Dods







the nobleman of Capernaum

(Joh 4:45-54)

When Jesus, under these circumstances, after His expulsion from Nazareth, came to Upper Galilee, the Galileans received Him, having seen all that He did in Jerusalem at the feast. Especially Jesus met with a favourable reception at Cana, where the miracle by which that place had been distinguished was held in lively remembrance. In Cana He appears to have remained some time; long enough, at least, for His coming to be known at Capernaum, and for Him to be sought out by one who needed His help in that place. This person was a royal officer (τις βασιλικός), and therefore in the service of Herod Antipas.1 Anxiety for his son, who was dangerously ill, made him hasten into the hill country; and as soon as he came to Jesus, he besought Him urgently that He would come down to Capernaum in order to heal his son. There was need for the utmost expedition, for his son was at the point of death. But it was totally out of character with the vocation of Jesus, that He should be a bodily helper or physician for any one till a spiritual relation had been developed between the person needing help and Himself; least of all could He be at the bidding of persons of rank, who possibly might believe that they might venture to make use of Him, on an emergency, as a wonder-working physician, without declaring themselves as His adherents, and resigning themselves to His agency. In addition, this royal officer expected that the Lord would leave His fixed circle of operation to effect this cure. But what most of all trenched on the dignity of Jesus, was the importunity of an excitement which would have taken Him away as perforce, or, at least, wished Him to make a hurried journey to Capernaum. But Christ met all excitement of this sort with the greatest placidity and composure; He met it with His strong peace in God, which taught Him that God does not rule over men with confusion and excitement, and that hence man, even under the strongest movements of the soul, ought to preserve the clearness, repose, and dignity of his spirit. The waves of agony must break their force on the rock of his elevated rest in God. In this spirit He answers the father calling for help, in order to put him on the track of confidence: ‘If ye do not see signs and astounding miracles,2 ye will not believe!’ This reply has been thought a hard saying; and it has been said, that the man’s trustful coming to Jesus makes it appear unreasonable.3 But it is not borne in mind, that, in general, the dispositions of the persons to whom Jesus was about to render aid, required to be prepared for a genuine corresponding reception of it; and, indeed, often by a conversation which led them to self-knowledge by taking a humiliating turn. But here it was in the highest degree necessary to set the excited royal officer in a right spiritual relation to Jesus. Had Jesus not purified his request, and had He hastened immediately with him over the mountains, He would have made Himself more intelligible to modern criticism; but He would not then have appeared as the chief of men divinely commissioned, but rather as a submissive retainer of the nobleman. Therefore the sharp word of Jesus, which asks the man whether he belonged to the great multitude of those who sought in the divine covenant earthly help and demoniac terror, must test and stimulate his capability of faith. But now Jesus cannot separate his faith from his anxiety for his son, and feels that his persistent supplication is an expression of his faith. ‘Sir,’ he exclaims, ‘come down ere my child die!’ The father’s call for help evinces how close he stood in spirit to his suffering son, and how close at the same time to the helpful spirit of Christ. Now Jesus calls to him in His impressive manner: ‘Go thy way!’ Probably there was a pause here which for a moment sunk the man into the abyss, and by the pain of denial and hopelessness made him ripe for the highest exertion of miraculous power which he was to witness. In his own thoughts he must already have gone home unaccompanied by Jesus as a helper. ‘Go thy way!’ was said first of all; but then, in his dejection, the heavenly words were heard—‘Thy son liveth!’

And in the very same moment in which this life-ray of deliverance darted into the father’s heart, it darted to the heart of his distant son. But how near this father was to his son in his internal relation was known to Jesus alone.

‘And the man’—the Evangelist writes with an admiration which is felt in the text— the man believed the word that Jesus had spoken unto him, and he went his way.’

And as he was now going down, and therefore had not quite reached Capernanm, his servants met him, and brought him the news, Thy son liveth—he is restored! But now he wished not merely to indulge in the joy of the cure, but to be certain that he was indebted for it to Jesus.4 He therefore inquired of them the hour when his son began to amend ; they answered, ‘ Yesterday, at the seventh hour, the fever left him,’

Probably the nobleman had left Capernaum in the morning. If we assume that Cana el Jelil, situated in the north-east, was the place to which he travelled, we conceive that it must be late in the afternoon before his interview with Jesus came to a close. But then he could not reach Capernaum on the same day. It is also possible that he started at a different hour of the day. In this way, at all events, De Wette’s surprise that he should pass a night on the road is shown to be without reason. Probably his servants met him early in the morning of the following day.

The hour which the servants reported to the father on his way home as the joyful crisis of his son’s illness, was the very hour in which the Lord had given him the assurance, ‘ Thy son liveth’ This circumstance made him certain that he had received the miraculous aid of Jesus, and the faith now developed in him was so powerful that it communicated itself to his whole house.

And so it came to pass that Jesus a second time, immediately on His return from Judea to Galilee, performed a miracle.5



1, On the relation of this narrative to the history of the miraculous aid which the centurion at Capernaum obtained, see the first volume of this work, p. 173. By a more exact computation of dates, it is proved that the centurion of Capernaum belongs to a quite different period. ‘T’o this must be added the other points of difference (see Lücke on this passage, Commentary, i. 626). The leading difference is the great contrast between the mental states of the persons seeking help, especially between the spiritual physiognomies of the two figures, while the most dazzling likeness of the narratives for the juvenile eye of criticism, as we have already remarked, lies in the royal dress of the men. See Ebrard, p. 280.6

2. By an argument of Bauer's, in which he has almost outdone himself in his own style of demonstration, the following result is obtained in his Essay, p. 83:—‘Because σημεῖα and τέρατα are related negatively to faith, they lead not to true internal faith, but to an outward false faith” One needs to be convinced with one’s own eyes of the desperate contrivance by which this kind of criticism in such a way prolongs its existence. It is, moreover, false when Bauer maintains that Christ uttered so harsh an expression respecting faith in σημεῖα and τέρατα: according to the text, He rather rebuked that unbelief which is first disposed to turn to faith with the requirement of miracles, and which on that account desires to see the σημεῖον as much as possible in the definite form of τέρας. And that He rebukes this unbelief, and yet performs a miracle in His own great, unostentatious manner, perhaps invisibly, contains evidently no contradiction. Bauer finds also that there is in the narrative (of which the Evangelist must have taken the historical materials from the synoptic Gospels) no contradiction, for here the ground-idea of miracle has indeed risen to the greatest height ; but on this highest stage of its ascension, on which the miracle surpasses itself, it is at war with itself, it turns over into its opposite, it annuls itself. How far? Because here the performance of the miracle is believed before the miracle is seen, and without seeing it. But it is only necessary to be transported into the scene of any Gospel miracle at pleasure, in order to find that on every occasion faith in the word of Jesus precedes the miracle, and that the special miraculous operation is never seen. ‘The question, What value at all could miracles have, if they already presupposed the same faith in the person of Jesus which they must first of all produce ? we are willing to leave standing as a snow-mannikin of sophistry in our path, at the risk of those who are children in understanding being frightened at it.



1) [Not necessarily in the military service, as may be seen from the examples collected by Krebs (Observ. e Josepho, 144). ED.]

2) Τέρατα.

3) Lately Bauer.

4) See Tholuck on the passage, Commentary, p. 146.

5) The πάλιν δεύτερον is not to be referred entirely to σημεῖον, so that it must mean that this was the second miracle performed in Galilee generally, as Tholuck supposes (p. 146) ; but it plainly stands in relation to the whole clause, τοῦτο σημεῖον ἐποίησεν Ἰησοῦς ἐλθών. and has this meaning: it was the second time that Jesus on returning from Judea to Galilee performed a miracle. Origen s doubt, that Jesus did not per form that first miracle 011 returning from Judea, is settled, if we bring into account the high probability that Jesus then, as He came to the marriage at Cana, had stopped not only in Perea, but also in Judea.

6) [Ewall declares for the identity of the two incidents, but in favour of that opinion adds nothing which has not been again and again answered. It is quite in his style to dismiss the subject with the dictum that the differences, at first sight significant, disappear on closer investigation; and the essential similarities are so decided, that no one can doubt that they belong to one event. (Geschichtc Christus, und seiner Zeit, p. 277, 2d ed.) ED.]