Jesus walks on water – Peter’s faith is tested (Matthew 14:22 – 14:33)
After feeding the 5,000, Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and travel to the other side of the Sea of Galilee while he dismissed the crowd. After dismissing the crowd, Jesus went up onto a mountainside by himself and prayed. Later that night, Jesus was on the mountainside alone and the boat was already a considerable distance from the shore being pounded by waves because the wind had grown fierce. Shortly before dawn, Jesus went out to them, walking on the water.
When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they cried out in fear.
“Take courage! It is I. Do not be afraid.”
Peter was skeptical. “Lord,” he said, “if it is really you, tell me to come to you on the water.”
“Come,” Jesus said.
Peter got down out of the boat and walked on the water toward Jesus. But when he saw the waves driven by the wind, he was afraid and began to sink. He cried out, “Lord, save me!”
Jesus quickly reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”
When they climbed onto the boat, the wind died down. Those on the boat worshipped Jesus saying,
“Truly you are the Son of God.”
What the story means to us today
No greater story in the Bible demonstrates the profound power, and requirement, of faith. But how do we maintain faith?
Faith is hard to maintain. Given their unearthly power, believing in God and Jesus is hard when you have not witnessed them in the flesh. It was even hard for the disciples to maintain faith and they personally witnessed many of Jesus’ miracles.
Scripture tells us that Peter walked on the water, just like Jesus. Prior verses demonstrated that the disciples had the power to do miracles just as Jesus did. Like Peter, they were able to muster faith – for a while. Peter was attempting to demonstrate his faith by doing the impossible and he succeeded. He had enough faith in Jesus to climb from the boat and walk on the water but his faith waivered when he saw the approaching storm.
The same wavering of faith can happen to us today. We maintain faith in God until something bad happens or something else draws our attention away. Then we lose faith at a time when we need it the most.
Maintaining faith requires discipline. You can maintain faith by reading your Bible, praying regularly, attending church, committing to adhere to the word of God, and taking time to reinforce your faith via appreciation when you recognize a blessing from God. Maintaining faith is a battle that every Christian must endure.
Additional thoughts and considerations
Jesus tells the disciples to go ahead of him – but to where?
Jesus tells (not asks) the disciples to go ahead of him to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. There is a perceived discrepancy between the three synoptic gospels with regard to Jesus’ command. In the prior verses, we trace Jesus’ travel from Capernaum (northwest shore) to Bethsaida (northeast shore). The “other side” mentioned by Jesus would likely be a directive to turn back toward Capernaum, the western shore. Indeed, Matthew later tells us that they landed at Gennesaret, a town on the northwestern side of Galilee. Thus, according to Matthew, Jesus and the disciples left the northwest shore, travelled to the northeast shore, and then back to the northwest shore. But Mark tells us that Jesus sent the disciples to Bethsaida.
The discrepancy is minor but occasionally pointed out by detractors when attempting to prove the Bible contains errors. Indeed, the differing location of one leg of the disciples’ trip could be an error or misrecollection of their direction of travel. However, if it is erroneous, it shows the true beauty of the Bible’s historical record and its honesty when telling the ancient story of God’s plan for mankind. Each disciple tells his version of the story, likely from recollection and notes (or a diary) about their travels. It’s easy to imagine a writer making an innocuous geographic slight in their recollection of the events. Or possibly the scripture is correct after all. Scholars have recently found evidence that there were two distinct “Bethsaida” locations on the northern side of Galilee – “Bethsaida” and “Bethsaida Julius”.
Was there are specific reason for Jesus’ praying alone?
Jesus sent the disciples ahead, likely so he could be alone and pray. Jesus probably spent much time talking to God. In this instance however, we may have a clue from the gospel of John as to why Jesus needed time with God. John 6:15 tells us that Jesus left the crowds because he knew they were coming to declare him king (without Jesus’ consent). Jesus may have needed to speak to God about the impending dilemma.
Jesus may have walked on water simply because he needed to reach the boat. But he may have been providing an extraordinary miracle in order to secure the disciples’ faith. Some believe the feeding of the 5,000 (that occurred just prior to Jesus walking on water) was intended to strengthen the faith of the disciples. Jesus walking on water may have served the same purpose. Jesus is rapidly approaching the end of this life. After he is gone, it will be up to the disciples to carry on God’s plan. Their task will be difficult and will require much faith to complete. We see here, for the first time, the disciples acknowledge Jesus is the Son of God. In fact, Satan has already acknowledged Jesus’ true identity (Matthew 8:29). Sadly, it may have taken a profound miracle such as walking on water to shake the disciples and allow them to truly believe.
How did Jesus walk on water? Could it have been a hoax?
It’s a question that graces many people’s minds – could Jesus’ act of walking on water been a hoax? Detractors especially find it difficult to believe the story of Jesus walking on water. They offer earthly explanations for Jesus’ miracle in an attempt to discredit the Bible.
The Sea of Galilee as a shallow body of water
Detractors will claim that the Sea of Galilee is a shallow body of water that can easily be walked across. Relative to the ocean, the Sea of Galilee is indeed shallow. But its depth still reaches more than a hundred feet deep. This is not shallow by any means.
Jesus walking on water near the shoreline
Detractors will claim that Jesus walked on water near the shoreline. However, there are multiple facts that discount this proposition. Firstly, Peter was unable to duplicate Jesus’ feat. Because he lacked faith, Peter sank while Jesus remained standing, and the water was deep enough that when Peter panicked, Jesus had to pull him from the water’s depths.
In addition, the stories tell us that the boat was “a considerable distance from the land”. But they had to be far enough from shore that a boat could travel without becoming grounded and far enough that Jesus had to walk, not swim, to reach it. The original text said the boat was “many stadia” from land which would put the boat at a considerable distance from shore. John 6:19 specifically says the boat was 3 to 4 miles from shore.
And finally, close to the shoreline, the depth of the Sea of Galilee drops quickly to more than 30 feet. Even if the event took place close to the shoreline, the water was likely very deep.
The waves against the boat
Furthermore, the verses tell us that the waves were “against” the boat. Travelling in the direction Matthew tells us, indeed the prevailing winds would be blowing from the west, a regular feature of the Sea of Galilee during the rainy season. The scriptures tell us twice that the waves were large enough to strike fear in the disciples. Waves would not exist in shallow waters nor near the shoreline but only in the Sea of Galilee’s open water.
The science and history behind the story
In 2006, scientists claimed that Jesus walked on ice, not water. Their claim for an icy surface resulted from sea core samples which showed the water 2,000 years ago was several degrees colder than it is today. However, as scientist who distrust faith often do, they stretched many facts to reach their conclusion.
Firstly, the scientists admit that the water was still very warm – too warm to freeze by most accounts. Secondly, they attempted to fortify their theory by suggesting that the ice formed from river inflows, not from the Sea of Galilee’s salty sea water. Thirdly, they could not pinpoint the exact year the water was colder – only that it was sometime around 2,000 years ago. Finally, scientists admit that the ice core samples showed the water was at a colder temperature for only a few days, not enough time to freeze solid.
Ghosts in the Bible
The disciples initially thought Jesus was a ghost. The belief in ghostly spirits is not common with Jewish people who view the afterlife as either an existence in heaven or hell. However, Gentiles of the day commonly believed in ghosts and their legends influenced even the Jews. More to the point, Gentiles believed that those who died at sea hovered over the water at the place they perished.
Notes on Biblical translation
Jesus “made” the disciples get into the boat
Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go ahead of him to Bethsaida. The original Greek text uses the forced “made” command. Jesus didn’t ask the disciples to get into the boat and travel to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. He demanded they do so. This is probably so he could pray alone. As we will soon see, the end for Jesus is drawing near and he has little time to waste.
The “fourth watch of the night”
Some versions translate the time of the event as “later that night”. The more accurate translation says the event took place “in the fourth watch of the night”. The Romans divided the night, from 6:00 PM to 6:00 AM, into four watches. Each watch had three hours. The fourth watch would have been between 3:00 Am and 6:00 AM.
22 Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. 23 After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. Later that night, he was there alone, 24 and the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it.
25 Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. 26 When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear.
27 But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”
28 “Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”
29 “Come,” he said.
Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. 30 But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”
31 Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”
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.”
The New International Version. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011. Print.
The NET Bible
14:22 Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go ahead of him to the other side, while he dispersed the crowds. 14:23 And after he sent the crowds away, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone. 14:24 Meanwhile the boat, already far from land, was taking a beating from the waves because the wind was against it. 14:25 As the night was ending, Jesus came to them walking on the sea. 14:26 When the disciples saw him walking on the water they were terrified and said, “It’s a ghost!” and cried out with fear. 14:27 But immediately Jesus spoke to them: “Have courage! It is I. Do not be afraid.” 14:28 Peter said to him, “Lord, if it is you, order me to come to you on the water.” 14:29 So he said, “Come.” Peter got out of the boat, walked on the water, and came toward Jesus. 14:30 But when he saw the strong wind he became afraid. And starting to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” 14:31 Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” 14:32 When they went up into the boat, the wind ceased. 14:33 Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”
Biblical Studies Press. The NET Bible First Edition; Bible. English. NET Bible.; The NET Bible. Biblical Studies Press, 2006. Print.
22 Immediately Jesus made His disciples get into the boat and go before Him to the other side, while He sent the multitudes away. 23 And when He had sent the multitudes away, He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray. Now when evening came, He was alone there. 24 But the boat was now in the middle of the sea, tossed by the waves, for the wind was contrary.
25 Now in the fourth watch of the night Jesus went to them, walking on the sea. 26 And when the disciples saw Him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out for fear.
27 But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Be of good cheer! It is I; do not be afraid.”
28 And Peter answered Him and said, “Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.”
29 So He said, “Come.” And when Peter had come down out of the boat, he walked on the water to go to Jesus. 30 But when he saw that the wind was boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink he cried out, saying, “Lord, save me!”
31 And immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and caught him, and said to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” 32 And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased.
33 Then those who were in the boat came and worshiped Him, saying, “Truly You are the Son of God.”
The New King James Version. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982. Print.
22–23 As soon as the meal was finished, he insisted that the disciples get in the boat and go on ahead to the other side while he dismissed the people. With the crowd dispersed, he climbed the mountain so he could be by himself and pray. He stayed there alone, late into the night.
24–26 Meanwhile, the boat was far out to sea when the wind came up against them and they were battered by the waves. At about four o’clock in the morning, Jesus came toward them walking on the water. They were scared out of their wits. “A ghost!” they said, crying out in terror.
27 But Jesus was quick to comfort them. “Courage, it’s me. Don’t be afraid.”
28 Peter, suddenly bold, said, “Master, if it’s really you, call me to come to you on the water.”
29–30 He said, “Come ahead.”
Jumping out of the boat, Peter walked on the water to Jesus. But when he looked down at the waves churning beneath his feet, he lost his nerve and started to sink. He cried, “Master, save me!”
31 Jesus didn’t hesitate. He reached down and grabbed his hand. Then he said, “Faint-heart, what got into you?”
32–33 The two of them climbed into the boat, and the wind died down. The disciples in the boat, having watched the whole thing, worshiped Jesus, saying, “This is it! You are God’s Son for sure!”
Peterson, Eugene H. The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2005. Print.
King James Version
22 And straightway Jesus constrained his disciples to get into a ship, and to go before him unto the other side, while he sent the multitudes away. 23 And when he had sent the multitudes away, he went up into a mountain apart to pray: and when the evening was come, he was there alone. 24 But the ship was now in the midst of the sea, tossed with waves: for the wind was contrary. 25 And in the fourth watch of the night Jesus went unto them, walking on the sea. 26 And when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, It is a spirit; and they cried out for fear. 27 But straightway Jesus spake unto them, saying, Be of good cheer; it is I; be not afraid. 28 And Peter answered him and said, Lord, if it be thou, bid me come unto thee on the water. 29 And he said, Come. And when Peter was come down out of the ship, he walked on the water, to go to Jesus. 30 But when he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me. 31 And immediately Jesus stretched forth his hand, and caught him, and said unto him, O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt? 32 And when they were come into the ship, the wind ceased. 33 Then they that were in the ship came and worshipped him, saying, Of a truth thou art the Son of God.
The Holy Bible: King James Version. Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version. Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2009. Print.