There’s one more crucial observation. Notice the father’s reaction when he met the servants on his way home. John, our gospel writer, was very clear that the man did not actually “believe” in Jesus until after receiving word about his son’s recovery. Wait a minute! If he didn’t even believe until then, what was going on when he “took Jesus at his word and departed” ?
Now is the time to forget what we already know about what happened. We know (because we’ve seen the movie) that Jesus healed the boy long-distance. The royal official did not know that. Jesus did not say, “You may go; I will heal your son long-distance.” All Jesus said was, “Your son will live”.
How would the royal official have understood what Jesus meant? In the same way you understand a doctor who comes into the waiting room after performing critical surgery on your loved one. He walks in, you put down your magazine and lean in for his report, and he says, “You can all rest easy. The surgery went fine. Your dad is doing well. You can see him in a couple of hours.”
In that moment, you are not hearing him claim to have performed a miracle. You’re hearing a report from someone who you believe has the necessary experience and knowledge to give you accurate and authoritative information. He knows what he’s talking about. That’s what puts you at ease. You take his word and depart for some supper in the hospital cafeteria.
That explains the father’s reaction to Jesus’ words. Jesus, widely hailed as a prophet-healer, informed the royal official that his son would live. The father was hearing a prediction from someone who he believed had the authority to give accurate information about the future.
“Wow! I thought for sure my son was going to die. Everything pointed in that direction, but Jesus said he will live. That’s great news! I can relax. I’ll wait till morning to head home.”
But then on his way, somewhere along the dusty road from Cana to Capernaum, he saw through the shimmering heat the wavy images of figures coming toward him. He was genuinely surprised when he drew close enough to recognize his own servants coming his way.
Now, things begin to make sense. We modern readers have seen the movie. We know Jesus healed the boy when He pronounced the words, “Your son will live.” But the royal official had no reason to think that. He’d thought the words were prophetic, but he knew then that they were power. It was then, and only then, that this royal official with a Jewish upbringing believed. Why then? Because for any Jew with even nominal faith, one distinguishing characteristic set the true God apart from all other pretenders to the universal throne: our God causes things to happen by the power of His words.
I can almost hear the father putting two and two together. “The true God said ‘Let there be light’ and there was light. Yesterday at one o’clock Jesus said, ‘Your son will live,’ and my son lived.” At that moment—and it could not have been until that moment—the father realized Jesus’ identity as the Son of God not just a prophet of God, and he believed.