“Unless you people see signs and wonders,” Jesus told him, “you will never believe.” (NIV)
An official from Capernaum had a son who was near death. He had heard that Jesus had returned to Galilee from Jerusalem since Jesus always attended each of the three annually feasts along with all the requirements of the Jews. Jesus was the only person who perfectly kept the Mosaic Law. The Law God gave at Sinai was His standard: So then, the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good (Rom.7.12 NIV). The actual function of the Law given to the people was to expose them to the realization of their need: We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do (Rom. 7.14-15 NIV). Having broken the Law, the people had the sacrifices at Jewish Temple to have their sin expiated. When God exposes people’s deepest need, He also provides the way of free reconciliation: For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one’s life (Lev.17.11 NIV).
This official traveled 15 miles one-way to Cana from Capernaum since this seemed to be a regular place where Jesus met. Cana was near Nazareth, where Jesus grew up, and home of Nathaniel. He also was invited to a wedding feast in this town and performed the notable miracle of turning water to wine. Jesus may have had relatives in Cana since he had four brothers and at least two sisters. It is quite possible the celebration was for one of Jesus’s siblings since His mother directed the servant to ask Jesus about the lack of wine for the occasion.
The official asks Jesus to heal his son, but Jesus addresses the crowd since the referent “you” is plural (twice). The general rebuke of “unless you see signs and miracles, you will never believe” characterized many insincere followers since they had seen the signs but had not taken them to heart to recognize the significance (see John 6.26). In fact, Jesus had been performing signs everywhere. His initial function was to witness to Jewish society the power of God authenticating both His person and mission. This is why he traveled to different towns so more individuals would see His arrival as the time of God revisiting Israel fulfilling the promises.
Even John the Baptist was puzzled by the first phase of Jesus’s ministry since, as part of the family of priests, John recognized the role of the Messiah as being a sin offering (probably also as supplanting the first priesthood with the superior Melchizedekian of Ps. 110). John’s first two descriptions of Jesus was: the lamb of God which takes away the sin of the world (see John 1.29, 36). So, when John the Baptist heard of signs such as Jesus raising the widow’s son from the dead in the town of Nain, he sent inquiring whether or not He was the Messiah. Though some have interpreted this incident differently (without warrant), the evidence points to John’s unfulfilled expectation of Jesus’s self sacrifice. However, The Messiah’s Advent was not uni-dimensional but multifaceted since Jesus had to accomplish many things before returning to His Father. Some of those functions were healings and teaching.
The Pharisees wanted to test Jesus by having Him perform a sign on demand. This is what Jesus was decrying: proof by their own standards. This is what many atheists today want: a sort of testing by the senses of sight, hearing, or otherwise. This is self-referential, acting like a god. If they cannot register the data by their own standards, they reject the presentation. However, would the Pharisees of Jesus’s day or the atheists today be satisfied by a sign on demand? Of course not! They would want more signs and testing ad infinitum. In the end however, these individuals will pass away, while Christ rules forever.
The message of Christ is a stumbling block to Jews in Paul’s day as during the time of Christ only a few years earlier. In 1Cor. 1.22, the unbelieving Jews are still demanding a sign, such as their wishful preconception of a Messiah who will conquer for them. In their minds, it’s all about themselves. Not withstanding some exceptions, historically, only a remnant of Jews were saved in each era as the O.T. accounts relate. So also today a remnant exists from the Jewish people, those who regard the so-called weakness of Christ in crucifixion as stronger than human strengths (1Cor. 1.25). The Gentiles too only have a remnant since most of them generally think it absurd for God to self sacrifice Himself for humans (notice how many people seek to do or be something as merit), and so too, only a few of them truly accept Christ. Most confessing Christians, though many across the globe, are a leavened lump of dough (see Mt. 13.33). It is impossible to know what percentage of Christians really know Christ; but perhaps, all Christians should examine themselves to see if they are in the faith (2Cor. 13.5). Jesus, in the sermon on the plain, urged His listeners: Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it (Mt.7.13-14 NIV).