The official says he believes Jesus, but he doesn’t believe in Jesus until later, not until after he sees his son healed. He says he believes in the words of Jesus – that he will keep his promise and that he’s not lying to him – but he doesn’t truly believe in Jesus himself until he sees the sign – his son is healed.
When Jesus first meets this official, he seems slightly annoyed with him. This might seem a bit harsh, as this man’s son was dying of disease and he was desperate for some help. But it is only because of his son’s near-death experience that this royal official even needs Jesus. He would have gotten along just fine without Jesus had his son not gotten so sick. Jesus is aware of this. This is why he says to the man, “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.”
And John reminds his readers that Jesus had said before that “only in his home town is a prophet not honored.” This event took place in Cana, a town that is very near to Jesus’ hometown of Nazareth. In both places, it seems, people knew who Jesus was his whole life. They were familiar with him and they didn’t have much faith in him because they had gotten used to having him around. They knew there was something special about him, but they didn’t really care about what he did or said unless it benefited them somehow personally.
They were a bit like the Pharisees. They wanted Jesus to perform signs and wonders in order to prove himself to them… or even for their own entertainment. They thought they could get Jesus to alter his purpose and ministry to suit their whims.
The royal official in this story is no different. He sees Jesus as someone who can meet his needs, in this case legitimate needs, but he doesn’t see him for who he really is or care about him personally. And Jesus calls him out on this. But Jesus also has compassion on the man and his son. He doesn’t turn them away. He heals the boy anyway. Even though the man may have not given Jesus a full embrace at this time, Jesus turns around and gives him a full embrace anyway. He heals his son… and he does so immediately.
And the man believes the words of Jesus when he says his son has been healed. And once he goes home and sees the proof, his belief begins to grow. He begins to realize who Jesus actually is, and what it means to have true faith in Jesus. Not just acknowledging his promises, but living those promises out in real life. Seeking out Jesus not only during the desperate times, but during the good times as well. Loving Jesus for who he is, and not just for what we can get out of him. And this new life becomes a reality not just for the official but for his son as well. And not just his son either, but John tells us that his whole household is saved. His whole family comes to love Jesus for who he is.