Jesus walks on the water. 6:45-56


This incident follows immediately on from the feeding of the 5000. The language is tied closely to the feeding and exhibits the heightened emotions of an eye witness. Like the feeding, this story is full of theological imagery. As in Psalm 107:23-32, where the Lord carries his people to their haven of rest, so Jesus miraculously reveals himself as one who can take his people across the sea to their haven of rest. The story images Israel's crossing of the Reed Sea and the River Jordan. Yet, as with the feeding, the disciples do not understand the significance of the miracle and therefore do not come to faith.

The passage

v45-46. Mark gives no hint as to why Jesus hurriedly sends his disciples away by boat. John tells us that the people saw in Jesus a political messiah and so tried to make him their king, Jn.6:14f. Jesus was certainly tempted to become a king "like unto the nations", but Mark simply says that Jesus sends his disciples away and goes off by himself for a time of prayer.

v47-50. Jesus was still in prayer when he saw the disciples sailing into a stiff breeze and getting nowhere. About dawn, he came to them walking on the water. The phrase, "he was about to pass by them" is alluding to Exodus 33:19 and 1 Kings 19:11. The disciples are actually witnessing a theophany, a manifestation of the divine. The disciples are filled with fear because they thought Jesus was a water spirit, the one who comes "with a white fringe of fire at its crest" and sinks the boat. Jesus reassures them with a friendly greeting. Interestingly, the Greek can be translated "I am." We well remember that God addressed himself as "I am" when he spoke with Moses.

v51. Once Jesus was in the boat, the wind died down and they were all on their way again. With Jesus beside them, they move toward their "rest", although not quite where they were heading.

v52. Sadly, the response of the disciples was one of amazement, for they didn't understand the significance of "the loaves", and so they didn't understand the point of Jesus walking on water. They were still thinking in the square and so failed to recognize Israel's wilderness motifs in the signs, and therefore, failed to recognize Jesus as the promised messiah. Only when the disciples trust Jesus as the messiah can they then share in the journey of God's children to their haven of rest.

v53. Back on shore, the subduing of dark powers continues in Gennesaret.

v54-55. Jesus is confronted with great excitement and a string of miracles follow. Mark is continuing to use exodus images; faithful Israel has passed through the wilderness and has crossed the sea (River Jordan), and so now the walls of Jericho fall down.

v56. There is no mention of Jesus teaching the people. The crowds certainly have faith in his power to heal, even to touch his clothing is enough, yet his words seem stilled before the frenzied mob.

The Lord of the sea

The Hawkesbury river in Australia has its fair share of ghosts. The locals tell the story of the river maiden. On a misty night she walks the river, the ghost of a girl drowned nearly a hundred years ago. It's a great story and certainly serves to keep children indoors and away from the river on a dark misty night, which was probably the reason why it was told in the first place.

Jesus' disciples knew all about sea spirits. They were as superstitious as any old salt. They probably knew well the story of a wave, with its white fringe of fire, just waiting to strike the unwary sailor. So, when they saw Jesus they had every reason to be afraid, and afraid they were, screaming in terror. Yet, when Jesus hopped into the boat and they felt the wind die down, their only response was amazement. It was as if they had no framework with which to rationalize the experience; it was beyond their comprehension.

Mark explains why they were filled with fear and amazement. They could not understand their situation because their thinking was callused, or as we would say, they were unable to think outside the square. It's not at all easy to understand the significance of Jesus walking on water, yet had the disciples understood the significance of "the loaves" (by this Mark means the feeding of the five thousand, a far clearer sign which reveals the unique character of Jesus' person and work), then they would have recognized Jesus as the messianic leader about to guide his people across the surging waters to their haven of rest. Such a recognition would have dispelled their fear and amazement and prompted rejoicing. Yet, they were blind to it.

The process of coming to faith is an interesting one and it's quite clear that Mark takes time to explore the process. He obviously wants the reader to move from wonder to faith and he uses numerous literary devises to prompt this move. He even ends his gospel with a group of women walking from the empty tomb "trembling", "bewildered", and "afraid." There is a sense where the reader is asked to consider their own response. Do we leave the gospel "bewildered", or with faith?

The point Mark makes in our present passage is that the disciples fail to move toward faith because they fail to make an important step in what is a progressive revelation. A person comes to faith in Christ through a personal understanding of the person and work of Jesus, the incarnate God with us. Although not a complex revelation, it is of a whole, truth upon truth. Faith either rests on these truths, or founders. Sadly, many people don't even get past the most basic of truths, namely, that God exists. So, let us not find ourselves bewildered and without faith.


1. Discuss the Old Testament imagery related to this story.

2. What are the foundational truths necessary for a saving faith?

[Printer icon]   Print-friendly: Sermon Notes. and Technical Notes

Index of studies: Resource library
[Pumpkin Cottage]
Pumpkin Cottage Ministry Resources
Lectionary Bible Studies and Sermons