Below are my notes for this week’s portion of John 6 (Jesus’ 5th sign – walking on water). I did not abbreviate them this week because they weren’t very long.
6:16-18 When evening came, his disciples went down to the sea,  got into a boat, and started across the sea to Capernaum. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them.  The sea became rough because a strong wind was blowing.
In Mark’s Gospel, we learn that they had rowed well into the 4th watch of the night – that is, between 3am and 6am – so almost to dawn. They would have been tired of rowing by this time. Not only was it late, but the wind was against them, and even though several of them were experienced fishermen, the Sea of Galilee was known for its extremely dangerous winds and storms which would arise suddenly. Sproul remarks, “It sits six hundred feet below sea level, and it is situated, as it were, in a wind tunnel – gales blow off the Mediterranean and through the mountains, stirring up the lake without warning.”
Ryle notes how strange the transition would have been for the disciples. Just a few hours before, they had witnessed and helped administer the miraculous feeding of over 15,000 people. Now, they find themselves in the middle of a near death experience. But as Ryle reminds us, “But Christ knew it, and Christ appointed it, and it was working for their good. Trial, we must distinctly understand, is part of the diet which all true Christians must expect.”
6:19 When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were frightened.
They were probably already afraid because of the nature of the storm. The violence of the waves, and the wind would have made even the most experienced sailor tremble – not to mention those in the boat who were not used to being on the water.
But we see here something of a fear that is deeper than what the storm had caused. They saw Jesus walking toward them on the sea. Sproul says, “You would be nervous because of the storm, but then you would look up and see the Master walking across the sea toward you Suddenly it would hit you that Jesus could do this because He is the One who made the sea and ruled the sea. The One who is very human is also very divine. How would you react? You would react just like the disciples did. Instead of feeling relieved and saying ‘I’m glad to see you’, you would be terrified. Any human being would feel that way while watching Jesus walk across an angery sea without sinking.”
Ryle says, “That which is contrary to all natural reason was perfectly possible to Christ.”
Even though John’s gospel doesn’t record the miracle of Jesus calming the sea, Boice points out that that miracle would have already taken place by now, so they would have already seen Jesus’ power over nature in action. This made me stop and think about how these men, who had already witnessed a similar command of nature, could be so frightened once again. Mark’s gospel records that the disciples at first thought they had seen a ghost, but once they realized it was Jesus, they cried out for help.
Calvin addresses the fright of the men at a possible ghost as an example of how men, allowed to themselves and no Word from God, will come up with all sorts of imaginings! “For if he (Christ) present a simple demonstration of his divinity, we immediately fall into our imaginations, and every person forms an idol for himself instead of Christ. After we have thus wandered in our understanding, this is immediately followed by trembling and a confused terror of heart. But when he begins to speak, we then obtain from his voice clear and solid knowledge, and then also joy and delightful peace dawn upon our minds.”
Mark also records something instructive that John doesn’t mention, and that is that “He meant to pass by them,” (Mark 6:48). The ESV Study Notes say this was not so that they wouldn’t see Him, but that His deity would be made manifest to them in a similar way that Moses mentions in Exodus 33:19. There are also elusions to Job according to the ESV, “…it also echoes Job 9, where Job says that it is God who “trampled the waves of the sea” (Job 9:8; the Septuagint has peripatōn … epi thalassēs, “walking on the sea,” using the same words as Mark 6:48, peripatōn epi tēs thalassēs) and then also says, “he passes by me” (Job 9:11, Gk. parerchomai). There is an implicit claim to divinity in Jesus’ actions.
Boice points out something interesting as well. He says that it was likely that the disciples didn’t discard all of that left over bread from the feeding of the five thousand – since they had gone to such trouble to pick up the leftovers. “And in that case evidence of Jesus’ supernatural ability and power would have been under their very noses as they rowed through the tempest.” When I read this it made me think that the same is true for us. When we go through difficult times do we take a moment to look around at all the blessings of home and family? Do we thank God for the overwhelming goodness that we see in our lives?
6:20 But he said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.”
When Jesus says “it is I” here, He is using the phrase (in the Greek) that literally says, “I am, I am” – almost sounding repetitive. There are two words being used, ego and eimi, both of them can mean “I am” – eimi is the Greek “to be.”
This is important to note, because Jesus is saying something more here than just repeating Himself. As Sproul deftly explains:
In order to understand what Jesus was doing, we need to look at the Greek translation of the Old Testament, where we see that the ineffable name of God, Yahweh, was translated into the Greek language by this same strange construction, ego eimi, which can be translated “I AM WHO I AM” (Ex. 3:14). Therefore, almost every commentator recognizes that when Jesus said, “I am the door,” “I am the bread of life,” and other “I am” sayings, He was using the divine name for Himself. However, when scholars enumerate the “I am” sayings in the Gospel of John, they don’t include Jesus’ statement here: “It is I; do not be afraid.” I’m not sure why, because its exactly the same structure, ego eimi. Jesus said to His disciples, “Don’t be afraid. It is I AM WHO I AM.”
It is significant to me that when Christ reassures them, He does so by first declaring to them who He is and that He is with them. In Matthew 28:20 Jesus promises to be with us always, and because we have His Spirit, we have the inner testimony of God within us reassuring us (Rom. 8:16) that He will work all things to our good (Rom. 8:28). This is quite a comfort.
Calvin notes, “We learn from them (these words) that it is in Christ’s presence alone that we have abundant grounds of confidence, so as to be calm and at ease. But this belongs exclusively to the disciples of Christ; for we shall afterwards see that wicked men were struck down by the same words, “it is I” (John 18:6). The reason of the distinction is, that he is sent as a Judge to the reprobate and unbelievers for their destruction; and, therefore, they cannot bear his presence without being immediately overwhelmed.”
I love Calvin’s distinction here. John 18:6 is that moment in the Garden of Gethsemane when Christ is about to be overtaken by Judas’ mob. But when they ask who “Jesus of Nazareth” is, and He replies “I am he”, immediately they are shaken to the core and forced to their face. This is a picture of what is to come when He returns again!
6:21 Then they were glad to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat was at the land to which they were going.
Mark’s account says, “And he got into the boat with them, and the wind ceased. And they were utterly astounded” (Mark 6:51). I absolutely love this because it gives a little more insight into the reaction of the disciples. It also tells us that the wind completely ceased…coincidence? I think not. The holy Son of God has absolute control over all nature.
I guess there is some dispute as to whether the reference to “immediately the boat was at the land to which they were going” was describing another miracle. No one seems to say for sure whether or not the boat “immediately” being at the other shore means that it happened instantly, or whether “immediately” means that because of the fact that Christ was with them, and because of His power over the sea, they were able to get there in no time at all. To me, it seems easier to understand it as the former, that Jesus in His power simply go them instantly to the other side. However, I’m not sure it matters.
What does seem to matter though, is the change from their condition with Christ and their condition without Him. He saved them from the waves and perhaps death on the high seas. When He comes into our lives our souls become instantly secure – we reach heaven when we die, but in the meantime our souls are written in that Book of Life and can never be etched out! We are “seated with Him in the heavenly places” (Eph. 2:6) and no one will snatch us out of His hand (John 10:28) once He had jumped in our boat!