posted on Mar, 20 2015 @ 06:01 PM
The story of Jesus “walking on the water” in the Sea of Galilee is the immediate sequel to the feeding of the five thousand.
They go together in Matthew ch14, Mark ch6 and John ch6. Luke doesn’t have the second story at all.
But only John’s gospel really explains the connection between the two stories, so I’ll be focussing mainly on that version.
The gospels agree that Jesus withdrew from Galilee to the other side of the Sea, and that the people followed him.
John reports his conversation with two of the disciples about finding food for them.
The gospels agree that the people were fed from five loaves and two fish, and that a large quantity of food was then left over.
“Immediately” afterwards, according to the other two gospels, Jesus “made the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side,
to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd.
And after he had taken leave of them, he went up on the mountain to pray”- Mark ch6 vv45-46
John’s gospel describes the sequel from a different angle;
“Perceiving that [the people] were about to come, and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself.
When evening came, the disciples went down to the sea, got into a boat, and started across the sea to Capernaum”- John ch6 vv15-16
If we combine the two stories together, I think we can see the connection between “they wanted to make him king” and “he made the disciples get
into the boat”.
There was a previous occasion when a crowd had attempted to impose their will by force.
Luke records that when he spoke in the synagogue at Nazareth, and drew attention to the fact that their God was willing to bless the Gentiles, the
people were filled with wrath.
“And they rose up and put him out of the city, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their city was built, that they might throw him down
But Jesus found it easy to escape their power; “Passing through the midst of them, he went away” (Luke ch4 vv29-30).
Luke doesn’t explain exactly how he did this, but the implication is that he was able in some way to “veil himself” from their sight.
John may be describing something similar in a later incident;
“So they took up stones to throw at him; but Jesus hid himself, and went out of the Temple”- John ch8 v59
If Jesus really did have the capacity to escape a crowd of people by “passing through the midst of them”, then this was the time to use it.
The catch was this; if he “removed himself” from the crowd while the disciples were still on the scene, the crowd would simply transfer their
attention to the disciples and hold them hostage, as it were.
Therefore, before he did anything else, Jesus sent the disciples away with some urgency (“immediately”).
He would have waited until they were at the boat or well on the way there, before dismissing the crowd, and perhaps “passing through the midst of
John’s version of the story also explains why Jesus needed to go away by himself to pray, at that particular moment.
The “kingship” episode would have given him much to think and pray about.
When he had finished praying, he came back down to the shore.
Meanwhile, the disciples were finding it hard to make headway against the strong winds.
“The boat by this time was many furlongs distant from the land, beaten by the waves” (Matthew ch14 v24).
“In the middle of the sea [EN MESO THALLASES]” says Mark.
John’s estimate is that they had progressed three or four miles. This puts them right in the middle of the lake, which is about six miles broad, and
agrees with the other statements.
The other two gospels give us a snapshot of Jesus standing alone on the shore and observing the trouble they were in.
This was evidently the reason for his decision to go to them directly.
One important factor in the situation is the fear which the disciples experienced.
On a previous occasion (when Jesus had been asleep in the boat) they had been afraid of the storm.
They may well have been afraid of the storm this time round, but now they were (also) afraid of the sight of someone walking on the water.
The purpose of Jesus was to calm their fear; “It is I; do not be afraid”.
“Fear not” is a running theme in contacts with the Biblical God. Daniel hears it in one of his visions, and it’s heard again in the first vision
The implication here is “Fear nothing- trust me in all things”.
The message is re-enforced by the incident in Matthew, when Peter tries walking on the water himself, and succeeds until he ceases to trust and begins
Then Jesus was brought into the boat, and the wind ceased.
Some people try to explain the episode by suggesting that Jesus was walking on the shore, in the shallows or on some kind of underwater bank.
This ignores the point on which all three accounts agree, that Jesus managed to reach a boat which was well into the middle of the lake, about three
It would be an astonishing coincidence if a convenient sand-bar were to run out from the shore, about three miles in a straight-ish line, almost
exactly to the point where the disciples’ boat was struggling.
But such a bar would have been a serious and well-known hazard to navigation, because no boat could cross it.
Everybody around the lake would know that the only way to get a boat from an onshore point half a mile south of the bank to an onshore point half a
mile north would be to go three miles out, round the end of the bank, and go back along it on the northern side.
And the disciples were well acquainted with the Sea Of Galilee. So if they had spotted Jesus walking along this familiar feature, they would have
recognised the fact instead of jumping to the conclusion that he was walking on the water.
I hope I have said enough to make the point that the rationalising explanation of this episode does not work.
The real options are that it happened by miracle or it did not happen at all.
The middle option, that it might have happened in a non-miraculous way, is unsustainable.
The final statement in John’s account is that the disciples “willingly” took him into the boat, “and immediately the boat was at the land to
which they were going”.
This detail will have inspired the suggestion that the whole episode took place close to the shore.
But in that case there would have been no need for Jesus to get out there and climb aboard.
What John is really describing is an abrupt transition.
BEFORE Jesus joins them, in the previous verses, they are in the middle of the sea, three miles away from the shore..
AFTER Jesus joins them, they suddenly (“immediately”) find themselves at the place where they want to go.
John intends us to understand this as another miracle, revolving around the act of bringing Jesus into the boat.
An important clue is that word “willingly” (ETHELON). This was a deliberate act of reception.
They are struggling, a long way from home, which seems out of reach.
Then they “take Jesus on board”, literally and metaphorically.
And the instant result is that they arrive at their destination.
This can only be because Jesus IS their destination, and that must be the intended message.
Different parts of this story are showing different aspects of Jesus.
The feeding of the people shows him as the giver of life.
The calming of the storm and the calming of the fears of the disciples show him as the protector of life.
And the “miracle of the instant arrival” portrays him as the destination of life.