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The Fifth Miracle: The Sign of Transcendence
16. And when even was now come, his disciples went down unto the sea,
17. And entered into a ship, and went over the sea toward Capernaum.
And it was now dark, and Jesus was not come to them.
18. And the sea arose by reason of a great wind that blew.
19. So when they had rowed about five and twenty or thirty furlongs, they
see Jesus walking on the sea, and drawing nigh unto the ship: and they were
20. But he saith unto them, It is I; be not afraid.
21. Then they willingly received him into the ship: and immediately the
ship was at the land whither they went. (John 6:16-21)
This is a miracle also recorded in Matthew 14:23-33 and Mark 6:47-52. In
Matthew, we are told of Peter’s request that he be made to walk on the water, of
the fearfulness that endangered his life, and of our Lord’s rescue of Peter. The
attention in John’s account focuses on our Lord’s total power over all natural
After the miraculous feeding, Jesus “went up into the mountain apart to
pray,” according to Matthew 14:23. At the same time, we are told in Matthew
14:22 that He “constrained” the disciples to enter the boat and sail to the other
side. Since the crowd would have expected Jesus to go with the disciples, it was
easier for our Lord to slip away from the people.
When the disciples were about half way across the sea, they saw Jesus coming
to them and were afraid, assuming it was an apparition, “and they cried out for
fear” (Matt. 14:26). The sea was subject to sudden storms and could be
dangerous. They may have feared that the ostensible apparition was a sign of
their near death.
The disciples were attempting to reach Bethsaida, according to Mark 6:45.
John tells us they were going “toward Capernaum” (John 6:17), which was close
The multitude had wanted to make Jesus their king, but He escaped from
them. His calling was neither to be a bread-king nor a miracle-king. In all that
He did, He called attention to His redemptive work, not to the bread which
passes away. Men can only know Christ on His terms, not on theirs. As Calvin
commented, “And what avails the pretense of zeal, when by our disorderly
worship we offer a greater insult to God then if a person were expressly and
deliberately to make an attack on his glory?” Calvin stated also, “obedience is the
foundation of true worship...” We must therefore abide by His word, “for as
soon as we turn aside in the smallest degree, the truth is poisoned by our leaven,
so that it is no longer like itself.”1
The Gospel of John
William Hendriksen called attention to the fact that this miracle is “really four
miracles in one.” First, Jesus walks on the waters of the sea. Second, Matthew tells
us that He caused Peter to walk on the sea also. Third, He causes the storm to
cease when He enters the boat (Matt. 14:32; Mark 6:51f). Fourth, when He enters
the boat, from a spot in the middle of the sea, they are suddenly on the shore.2
Clearly, Jesus transcended all human limitations and powers, and yet the
multitude and the disciples wanted Him to meet man’s expectations, in this case,
Judaean man. The people saw Jesus in terms of the miracles of the loaves and
fishes, not in terms of who and what He was and had, in one way or another,
declared Himself to be.
We know that even after the resurrection, and at the time of the ascension,
the disciples themselves had Judaic expectations and hoped that Jesus would
restore the kingdom to Israel (Acts 1:6). Our Lord told them that the coming of
the Holy Spirit would give them a world perspective (Acts 1:7-8). G. Campbell
Morgan was right in analyzing the disciples’ failure:
Now mark this carefully. None saw the sign (the miracle at sea) but His
own disciples. It was a sign for them only. Why? I can only answer
suggestively. It seems to me that when He sent them in that boat across the
sea, He knew the keenness of their disappointment, and their perplexity,
that He would not be made King. Perhaps they wondered and questioned
as to whether after all, He had Kingly power and authority. So He gave
them a demonstration of His present Kingship, and that in the realm of
Nature. It was as though He had said, “I have refused to be crowned King
upon the basis of bread, but make no mistake, I am King in every realm;
King in the realm of Nature, contrary winds cannot hinder Me; the tossing
sea cannot overwhelm Me. I am King.3
This sign, like the miraculous feeding, strikes at man’s expectation that God meet
man’s requirements and hopes. The source of all determination is God, not man.
The believer cannot play the unbeliever’s game. Fallen man wants to be his own
god and lawgiver. Redeemed man, because he now believes, cannot require God
to meet his terms. Our faith cannot command God. The meaning of man’s
salvation is that now God’s will, not ours, be done. Both signs require of us a
God-centered life. We cannot expect God to please us: we must please Him.
God is not man’s happy servant, ready to jump at man’s whims as soon as man
has supposedly said “yes” to Jesus. Such views place churchmen in the same
place as the scribes and Pharisees of old.
Raymond E. Brown was correct in saying that the multitude wanted a political
Messiah, and this Jesus refused to be. He was far more than the terms “the
1. John Calvin, Commentary on the Gospel According to St. John, vol. I (Grand Rapids, MI: Ee-
rdmans, 1949 reprint), 233-234.
2. William Hendriksen, The Gospel of John, vol. I (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House,
3. G. Campbell Morgan, The Gospel According to John (New York, NY: Fleming H. Revell.
The Fifth Miracle: The Sign of Transcendence (John 6:16-21)
Prophet” and “king” could imply, in that He interprets Himself, a sign that what
He is can be fully expressed only by the divine name “I am.”4
The hope of the people is in their nation, or self-realization, and it is, in their
eyes, God’s duty to bless their hopes. Far too many people reverse the
Westminster Shorter Catechism’s opening statement, asserting that “The chief end
of God should be to glorify man and to enjoy him forever.” All this and more is
expected for a simple, costless “yes” to Jesus. Perhaps one should not say costless.
A woman of wealth and beauty was, some years ago, very angry with me for my
theology and my post-millennial beliefs. How could God expect her to go
through the tribulation when she had given up her two great loves, smoking and
dancing, for His sake? When I reminded her that I was an Armenian, and my
people had undergone great tribulation, and asked her why she should be spared,
she dismissed my statement as irrelevant! This sums up the issue very clearly.
The goal of humanism in the church, as in Israel of old, is to make our group the
center, whereas Christ is alone the center.
Our Lord’s miracle here is the sign of transcendence. We cannot limit God in
terms of our vision and our hopes. He is the Lord, not man. Isaiah tells us of the
arrogance of all attempts to control God, and in summary he states:
13. Who hath directed the Spirit of the Lord, or being his counselor hath
14. With whom took he counsel, and who instructed him, and taught him
in the path of judgment, and taught him knowledge, and showed to him
the way of understanding?
15. Behold, the nations are as a drop of a bucket, and are counted as the
small dust of the balance: behold, he taketh up the isles as a very little thing.
16. And Lebanon is not sufficient to burn, nor the beasts thereof sufficient
for a burnt offering.
17. All nations before him are as nothing; and they are counted to him less
than nothing, and vanity. (Isaiah 40:13-17)
The arrogance of man in assuming his own supremacy over God is an amazing
fact. In this miracle, the sign of transcendence, Jesus compels us to see that our
lives must be God-centered, not fixed upon ourselves.
4. Raymond E. Brown, The Gospel According to John (i-xii), vol. I (Garden City, NY: Dou-
bleday, 1966), 225.
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