John 6:16 – 21

[New to our exegesis of John’s Gospel? Try starting at The Beginning John 1:1-2].

When evening came, his disciples went down to the sea, 17 got into a boat, and started across the sea to Capernaum. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them. 18 The sea became rough because a strong wind was blowing. 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 terrified. 20 But he said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.” 21 Then they wanted to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the land toward which they were going.

 Ὡς δὲ ὀψία ἐγένετο κατέβησαν οἱ μαθηταὶ αὐτοῦ ἐπὶ τὴν θάλασσαν, 17 καὶ ἐμβάντες εἰς πλοῖον ἤρχοντο πέραν τῆς θαλάσσης εἰς Καφαρναούμ. καὶ σκοτία ἤδη ἐγεγόνει καὶ οὔπω ἐληλύθει πρὸς αὐτοὺς ὁ Ἰησοῦς, 18 ἥ τε θάλασσα ἀνέμου μεγάλου πνέοντος διεγείρετο. 19 ἐληλακότες οὖν ὡς σταδίους εἴκοσι πέντε ἢ τριάκοντα θεωροῦσιν τὸν Ἰησοῦν περιπατοῦντα ἐπὶ τῆς θαλάσσης καὶ ἐγγὺς τοῦ πλοίου γινόμενον, καὶ ἐφοβήθησαν. 20 ὁ δὲ λέγει αὐτοῖς· Ἐγώ εἰμι, μὴ φοβεῖσθε. 21 ἤθελον οὖν λαβεῖν αὐτὸν εἰς τὸ πλοῖον, καὶ εὐθέως ἐγένετο τὸ πλοῖον ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς εἰς ἣν ὑπῆγον.

The Food and the Sea

Well, we have a curious situation here! The feeding of the five thousand is followed by Jesus walking on the sea in Matthew and Mark, and that’s true here as well, but the way John describes the incident is different. On the one hand, they use a lot of the same language which would indicate they were working off a common source. But John’s account is simpler and has a different focus.

Matthew and Mark seem to emphasize the miracle of Jesus walking on water and calming the storm. But John’s account — which scholars consider more “primitive” — seems to indicate that he viewed the incident as continuing the theme of Jesus as a kind of uber-Moses: a redeemer and victor. However, Jesus is reluctant to be declared that.

At the end of the last scene, the crowd wanted to make Jesus a king but Jesus escaped from them. In this scene, Jesus indicates that he is far greater than simply a political redeemer — he is God!

In verse 20, Jesus says Ἐγώ εἰμι (I Am): the phrase used often in John as the divine name. The sea incident for John is not so much a nautical miracle as an occasion for Jesus to identify himself as God who is doing this provision of divine food. It confirms that, in Jesus, God is present just as the Lord was present during the Mossaic Exodus, only a bigger Exodus is going on here.

There are several Old Testament scriptures that seem relevant to this interpretation Here are some related verses from Psalm 107:

O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good,
    for his steadfast love endures forever.
Let the redeemed of the Lord say so,
    those he redeemed from trouble…

Some wandered in desert wastes,
    finding no way to an inhabited town;
hungry and thirsty,
    their soul fainted within them.
Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,
    and he delivered them from their distress…
For he satisfies the thirsty,
    and the hungry he fills with good things.

23 Some went down to the sea in ships,
    doing business on the mighty waters;
24 they saw the deeds of the Lord,
    his wondrous works in the deep.
25 For he commanded and raised the stormy wind,
    which lifted up the waves of the sea.
26 They mounted up to heaven; they went down to the depths;
    their courage melted away in their calamity;
27 they reeled and staggered like drunkards
    and were at their wits’ end.
28 Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,
    and he brought them out from their distress;
29 he made the storm be still,
    and the waves of the sea were hushed.

Food (v. 9) and the stormy sea (v. 29) are linked together. Jesus is God, the I AM, who is the same One who provided the bread of the Exodus and who calms the seas, and is present now to do even more.

At Passover, the angel of death passed over the houses of those marked with the blood of the lamb and spared them. But in Jesus, there is Someone greater. Those marked with the blood of this Lamb receive eternal Life!

And he is present now to satisfy your deepest hunger, and calm the raging seas in your life!