John 6:16-25

Walking on Water

Be not faithless, but believing.—John 20:27

Robert Goodman

Walking on water was one of our Lord’s most dramatic and profound miracles. As we consider the circumstances surrounding it, we see a much deeper significance to the events. We are told in the Scriptures that Jesus and his disciples left Bethsaida in a boat to withdraw from the crowds and go to a solitary place. Jesus had been teaching and performing miracles and he and the disciples were weary. As they sat on a mountain on the eastern edge of the Sea of Galilee, they realized their seclusion would be short lived as they saw the multitude approaching. It was just before Passover and the crowds were seeking Jesus. Our Lord had compassion on them and instructed his disciples to obtain food that they might be fed. Jesus blessed the five loaves, broke them, and fed five thousand men plus women and children with those loaves and two fish. This was a miracle for the masses; every person was filled and there were twelve baskets left over.

The multitude wanted to make Jesus their king. Not only could he heal the sick and afflicted, he could feed thousands. Our Lord, realizing it was not yet his time, desired solitude to meditate and pray so he instructed his disciples to get into a boat and row to Capernaum. Then he sent the multitude away and departed. When evening came, Jesus was alone on the mountain praying. Doubtless he was regaining his strength and enjoying communion with the heavenly Father.


The disciples were alone in the middle of the Sea of Galilee. They undoubtedly assumed Jesus would walk to Capernaum along the shore. A great storm arose and the waves tossed their ship about. They rowed with all their strength to get to safety but the wind opposed them.

We are told in John 6:19 that they had only rowed 25 or 30 furlongs (a little more than three miles). Mark 6:47 states that the ship was in the midst of the sea. The Greek word for midst (mesos, Strong’s 3319) has the idea of being in the middle, as in halfway between two shores. The Sea of Galilee is about 13 miles long and more than seven miles wide. Rowing from a point north of Gergesa on a northwesterly course to Capernaum would be a distance of just over six miles; the halfway point would be three miles. They probably rowed directly across the sea toward Caper­naum, otherwise they would have rowed toward the shore when the storm arose.

Jesus sent the disciples on their way in late afternoon. They expected their journey would take a few hours, but they were still rowing as night fell. When a great storm overtook them, they turned the bow of the boat into the wind and fought the storm.


Sleepless and exhausted, they were startled during the fourth watch (between three and six a.m.) when they saw a figure approach them on the storm-tossed sea. They had been rowing for more than nine hours. The Scriptures state they thought they saw a spirit and were afraid. It appeared as though the figure would pass them by. Thinking Jesus was a spirit, they cried out. Over the roar of the storm, Jesus heard their cries and immediately said, “Be of good cheer, it is I; be not afraid” (Mark 6:50). Still doubtful that it was our Lord, ­Peter said, “Lord if it be thou, bid me come unto thee on the water. And he said, Come” (Matthew 14:28, 29). For a few steps Peter walked on water, but as he looked to the wind and waves, he was afraid and began to sink. He cried out to Jesus and said, “Save me!” ­Jesus stretched out his hand, Peter came out of the water, and Jesus replied, “O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?” (Matthew 14:31). Even though Jesus told them to not be afraid, when Peter used his natural eyes, he was afraid. His faith was not strong enough, but Jesus extended his hand and gave him strength when he needed it.


We are told that the other disciples received them into the ship and when they entered it, the wind and waves ceased. More than this, we are told “and immediately the ship was at the land wither they went” (John 6:21). This is to say that immediately when Jesus entered the ship, they were at the shore at Capernaum. Doubtless this incident reminded the disciples of an earlier incident when Jesus slept in the boat during a storm. They woke him and he said to the sea, “peace be still” (Mark 4:39). The wind and the waves obeyed his command.

As we think about this experience, we realize there was not one but several distinct miracles: 1) Jesus walked on water; 2) Peter, bidden by Jesus, also walked on water; 3) Jesus silenced the wind and waves; 4) the ship was immediately transported to its destination. These miracles provide a beautiful picture of the necessity of faith in Jesus’ footstep followers.

The Significance of This Miracle

By examining the Matthew, Mark, and John accounts we can understand the full import of this miracle. We realize Jesus’ miracles pictured his kingdom. Raising the dead, healing the sick, and feeding the masses pictured greater things to come. The miracle of walking on water focuses on the faith of the footstep followers at this end of the age.

The miracle of the feeding of the five thousand with five loaves and two fishes was a miracle for the masses, those who were more interested in food than the spiritual aspects of life. Jesus ministered to the world at his first advent, but the food he dispensed was short-lived (because of their hard hearts) and it did not endure. Even though they had tasted the pure bread of life, they went on to seek other food.

The people wanted to make Jesus their king at his first advent, but our Lord fed his followers and the world and sent them on their way. He retired to be in communion with the heavenly Father. This corresponds to Jesus’ resurrection when he left his earthly estate to be with his Father.

The miracle of walking on water was ­directed at a spiritual class. Only they were involved in this experience and only they witnessed the outcome. It is reasonable therefore, to conclude that the footstep followers throughout the Gospel age, not the world of mankind, are those to whom this lesson is directed. “Blessed are your eyes, for they see: and your ears, for they hear” (Matthew 13:16). The lessons of these miracles are for those who walk by faith.

It is no mistake that Jesus left his disciples to be on his own and pray to (commune with) his Father. At the close of our Lord’s first advent he told his disciples, “I go to prepare a place for you” (John 14:2). After his resurrection, his followers had to stand in their own faith.

His followers found themselves on a perilous journey on a dark, storm-tossed sea. The darkness that covers the world of mankind is aptly described by Isaiah: “For, behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the people” (Isaiah 60:2). Ever since the fall, mankind has been in a nighttime of darkness, separated from God. The stormy sea is a picture of the restless sea of humanity. In Genesis 22:17 the world of mankind is described as “the sand which is upon the sea shore.” We know that the world is tossed about by perverse doctrines and teachings. As we are told in James 1:6, “For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed.” Thus we see a beautiful picture of followers of Jesus struggling in the sea of humanity in a world of darkness.

The followers of Jesus must wage a mighty struggle to stay afloat despite desperate conditions. They are buffeted by the social, political, economic, and religious winds. Yet they are safe in the ship on the sea as long as the sea is not in the ship. What a beautiful picture of the Christian walk. It is a constant struggle to keep the “restless sea” from engulfing our lives. Christians huddle and toil together to keep out the sea and fight the wind so they can complete their perilous journey to a distant shore. They must work together diligently to complete their journey. Their very lives are at risk. The more they toil, the harder the winds blow until seemingly there is no escape. What a beautiful illustration of the struggle against the flesh. Only when we move from the arm of flesh to a life of faith can we overcome.

Like Peter, when we lean upon our own strength and depend upon our own eyes and not the eyes of faith, we fail. Paul writes, “For my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (2 Corinthians 12:9). By leaning on the arm of the Lord, we receive strength in every time of need.


Our Lord said, “I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee” (Hebrews 13:5). He offers us his hand, symbolic of the power of the holy spirit, that our faith might be strengthened so we can complete our journey. Only when we welcome him into our hearts will he calm our storms. He is able to command the sea and the wind, he can control everything. When the eyes of flesh observe difficult situations, faith subsides and fear abounds.


There is a desire to believe him, to follow him, to walk in his footsteps, and this is indeed possible. The Lord demands a faith that can move mountains, but we need the power of his hand to stand in that faith. Only then can we enter into the safety of the ship. Only then will the wind and the waves subside. Only then will we receive immediate deliverance. “And when these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh” (Luke 21:28).


Footstep followers are delivered from the storm once they submit to the Lord and walk with him. They are invited to come into his ship where they are under his protection. Only then can they have true peace and be delivered from the storm. At the end of this age, all of the church class are invited to remain in the ship where Jesus joins them. It is then that they are delivered. It is then that collectively they find themselves at the promised city. Then the world will understand the meaning of the words “peace be still.”

These miracles wonderfully illustrate the lessons of faith necessary for the Master’s footstep followers to grow and develop in grace. They beautifully illustrate the role of the church in bringing deliverance from this sin- sick world. What a beautiful picture! What a wonderful assurance of The Faith in which we stand!