During the years between Jesus’ baptism and resurrection, the Son of God journeyed throughout Judea to preach the Good News. The Bible recounts many stories of His teachings, and how the crowds that gathered to listen to Him were astonished by the wisdom and authority in which He spoke. While Jesus’s ability to tell parables about the kingdom of God captivated the minds of thousands, undoubtedly, it was the rapidly spreading gossip of His power to perform miracles that caused people to travel great distances to see the Messiah in action. Perhaps the most famous miracle, and also the most highly debated among skeptics, was an account of Him walking across a lake to meet His disciples in the middle of a raging storm. This infamous story has led billions of people throughout the centuries to ask the question, “can Jesus walk on water?”
Yes, Jesus can walk on water, but the account in the Bible where Jesus walked across the Sea of Galilee in the middle of a torrential storm also illustrates Jesus’ divine authority over the wind and rain. It likewise shows that Jesus can meet us in the middle of our difficulties. In this article, we will examine the story of Jesus walking on the Sea of Galilee and the symbolism of this Biblical account.
Jesus walks on water
The Gospels of Matthew, John, and Mark provide three separate but generally consistent biblical accounts of Jesus’s walk across the Sea of Galilee. From these books, we learn that once Jesus was finished feeding a crowd of 5,000 people, He instructed His disciples to go on ahead of Him and to take a boat and travel to the other side of the lake. In the darkness of night, after the disciples’ boat was a considerable distance offshore and was in the middle of stormy weather, they saw Jesus walking on the waves approaching their boat. Here are snippets from the accounts of the Gospels regarding the disciples’ experience that night:
- Matthew 14:24-25, “And the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it. Shortly before dawn, Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake.”
- Mark 6:48, “He saw the disciples straining at the oars, because the wind was against them. Shortly before dawn he went out to them, walking on the lake. He was about to pass by them.”
- John 6:19, “When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus approaching the boat, walking on the water; and they were frightened.”
While these accounts tell a miraculous story of Jesus’s absolute authority over the weather, and saving His disciples in the middle of their adversity, there is also symbolism to many aspects of this story. Let’s explore them in more detail.
Significance of water in the Bible
Many of the Bible’s great stories are centered around the presence or absence of water. In the Old Testament, God instructed Noah to build an ark to save his family from the great flood of the earth. In the Book of Exodus, Moses needed to part the Red Sea to free the Israelites from Egyptian slavery. And throughout the history of Israel, God brought about great famines that devastated Judea’s socio-economic life for years at a time.
Though the presence water in the Bible can often be symbolic for troubled times for God’s children, water can also represent salvation. We find an example of this concept in Exodus 17: 5-6 when the Israelites were harassing Moses to provide water for them to drink in the desert.
5 Then the Lord told Moses, “Go over in front of the people and take some of the elders of Israel with you. Take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. 6 I’ll be standing there in front of you on the rock at Horeb. You are to strike the rock and water will come out of it, so the people can drink.” Moses did this in front of the elders of Israel.
Another example of this concept is present in John 4:13-14, where Jesus was sitting at a well explaining to a Samaritan woman that He could provide water that leads to eternal salvation:
13 Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
As we can see, biblical stories frequently use water, which often has a literal and symbolic meaning of giving life or taking it away. Three Gospel accounts proved that Jesus literally walked on water that night on the lake. However, what exactly was the symbolic meaning behind the event?
Significance of Jesus walking on water
When Jesus set out across the Lake of Galilee to meet His disciples in the boat, He likely knew that people around the world would be discussing this story for many generations. Here are some of the things we believe Jesus was communicating to His disciples and the rest of the world:
1) Jesus will purposely send us into the unknown
If we remember in the Gospel accounts, Jesus told His disciples to cross the lake without Him. It would not be difficult to imagine that this directive must have been shocking to His disciples because they likely wouldn’t have left Him alone for any reason. They had just watched Him feed over 5000 people supernaturally, and in their minds, they must not have understood why they were being sent away after such a miraculous event.
The symbolism of Jesus sending His disciples away tells us that during times of prosperity or recent success, Jesus may intentionally lead us into uncomfortable situations that we do not understand so that we are forced to grow spiritually. Jesus knew about the storm that His disciples would encounter on the lake. However, He sent them anyway.
2) Jesus will wait before intervening
The Bible not only says that Jesus sent His disciples into a perilous situation, but He also waited before intervening. Mark 6:48 tells us that:
“He saw the disciples straining at the oars, because the wind was against them. Shortly before dawn he went out to them, walking on the lake. He was about to pass by them.”
Jesus was teaching His disciples a vital lesson about maintaining faith, even when things look bleak. Mark mentioned that it was shortly before dawn when they saw Jesus. This means that the disciples were likely in the middle of a bad situation for most of the night. Many professional sailors will attest to the strenuous physical and mental fortitude required to battle a storm all night while in a relatively small vessel. The disciples were probably exhausted physically and spiritually by the time Jesus approached them and were in desperate need of a savior.
However, Jesus did not rush to save them. He waited until the night was the darkest, and all hope appeared to be lost before intervening on their behalf.
3) Jesus can arrive by walking on our fears
When Jesus walked on the surface of the water to meet His disciples in the boat, one interpretation could be that He came to them by walking on their fears, which were the rough seas they were encountering due to the torrential storm. By this time, the disciples were already desperate and terrified of their situation, but Jesus came to them calmly walking on the waves. This shows us that He wanted them to see that no matter how bad a situation can appear on the surface, He can overcome their problems in ways that aren’t explainable by human logic.
4) He wants to show us His glory in a remarkable way
Multiple accounts show us that the disciples were terrified when they saw Jesus walking towards them. This by itself is interesting because it is likely that they were also terrified of the storm. Under normal life circumstances, for most people, it is rare for one type of terrifying event to simultaneously overtake another. However, when the disciples saw Him walking on the water, they completely forgot about their initial problem, which was the storm, because they were enamored with the sight of Jesus.
That day on the lake, Jesus symbolically showed them that He has authority over nature, such as the wind and water, and therefore they should always keep their fears in the proper perspective. Matthew 14:32–33 recounts,
32 And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. 33 Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”
After this incident, the disciples’ faith in Jesus grew and transformed their previous view of Jesus, which was a man who had the ability to perform miracles to understanding that He was truly the Son of God.
Can Jesus walk on water?
As we have seen, the presence of water in the Bible can often signify troubling times or salvation. In the case of Jesus and His disciples that night on the Sea of Galilee, the water was symbolic of both. Even though the disciples were in the middle of a storm, it came as no surprise to Jesus. In fact, the event was destined so that He could grow their faith in a more profound way. So if you ever find yourself in the middle of a storm even though you feel you have been faithful to Jesus, don’t worry. Like the disciples, Jesus knows exactly where you are, He has a plan for you, and He will not let you drown.