Our first task is to reconstruct this miracle’s timeline. So let’s hunt for time references in the story. Here’s what we find: “When he [the royal official] inquired as to the time when his son got better, they said to him, ‘Yesterday, at one in the afternoon’” (John 4:52).
Notice there are two key reference points. The word yesterday tells us the story spans two days. The first day—let’s call it Monday—is the day the royal official found Jesus and asked Him to come heal his son. That happened at what Jews of that day would have called the “seventh hour,” which is equivalent to our 1:00 p.m. At that moment, Jesus said to the man, “Go,… your son will live” (v. 50). Then sometime on the second day (Tuesday) “while he was still on the way, his servants met him with the news that his boy was living” (v. 51).
Simple enough. However, if we make a couple reasonable assumptions consistent with the facts of the story, you’ll be surprised at what we discover.
We need to ask the following two questions: When did the man leave home to go find Jesus? And when did the man head back home after meeting with Jesus? The first question is the most important to our fresh insight. When did the man leave home?
Let’s assume he felt a sense of urgency and left home early in the morning on Monday, the same day he found Jesus. Why? This is the second of only seven miracles John reported, and he elevated love throughout his gospel. So maybe John was moved by this desperate love for a son, a man not wanting to leave his child’s bedside any longer than necessary.
I remember the day my mother died. All the signs pointed to death within just a few hours. So, my wife and I simply waited by her bedside. She was not conscious and most likely never would regain consciousness. Nevertheless, there was no way either of us was going to leave her bedside. What if she did rouse and we weren’t there for her?
Now transport that fact into this story, along with the more compelling reality that the key persons are a young boy and a father who would do anything to save his son. For the father, the idea of leaving his son’s side, of not being there in case he roused for a few minutes, would have been unthinkable. Unless … there was a slight possibility … a last hope?
Put yourself in the father’s place. He heard that Jesus—who many people assumed was some kind of prophet with healing powers—was in Cana. You’re going to leave your suffering son, and make the trip as quickly as you can to try to bring help. But you would do everything in your power to return as quickly as you could. That’s what the father must have had in mind. So when did he leave for Cana to find Jesus? It’s reasonable to assume he did not leave until Monday morning. The facts located in both the text and in the geography of the area support that theory.
Capernaum, where the boy lay dying, was eighteen miles from Cana, where Jesus was. Walking at a steady pace, the father could be in Cana in about six hours.
If we assume he left Monday morning, a six-hour trip would put him in Cana—you guessed it—right around the “seventh hour” (adding a little time for him to locate Jesus once he got into town). Fits the text, doesn’t it?