The account of Jesus walking on the water is recorded three times in the scriptures. It’s significant to note that Matthew, Mark, and John, three of Jesus' disciples, are who recount the story.
Luke was not a disciple of Jesus during his earthly ministry and his gospel doesn’t mention Jesus walking on water. This means the story of Jesus walking on water is recorded in three reports by eyewitnesses, which authenticates its veracity. This is significant because walking on water is a miracle.
Why did Jesus walk on the water? What does it mean?
Some scholars find parallels in this story to Moses in the Old Testament leading the children of Israel through the Red Sea during Passover. Here, we won’t dive as deep into symbolism. Instead, we’ll look at the three recordings of the story, all of which took place immediately after Jesus fed the crowd of five thousand, to find the meaning for us today.
Jesus Walks on Water in Mark 6
Take note of Mark’s tone at the beginning and how it changes at the end.
The number of the men who had eaten was five thousand.
Immediately he made his disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. And after he had taken leave of them, he went up on the mountain to pray.
And when evening came, the boat was out on the sea, and he was alone on the land. And he saw that they were making headway painfully, for the wind was against them. And about the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. He meant to pass by them, but when they saw him walking on the sea they thought it was a ghost, and cried out, for they all saw him and were terrified.
But immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” And he got into the boat with them, and the wind ceased. And they were utterly astounded, for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened (Mark 6:44-52).
Mark begins with a tone that is matter-of-fact but ends with astonishment. As Jesus got into the boat, the wind ceased, and they were amazed. The danger was over. They didn’t understand. Their lack of understanding and “hardened hearts” didn’t keep Jesus from helping them.
Mark’s account can encourage us to invite Jesus into our crazy, chaos-filled circumstances to bring calm even when we don’t understand how.
Jesus Walks on Water in John 6
John (known as the disciple whom Jesus loves) was Jesus' closest friend. He noticed and recorded many things the others didn’t. What do you see here?
After the people saw the sign Jesus performed, they began to say, “Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.” Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself.
When evening came, his disciples went down to the sea, got into a boat, and started across the sea to Capernaum. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them. The sea became rough because a strong wind was blowing. When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were frightened. But he said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.” Then they were glad to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat was at the land to which they were going (John 6:14-21).
John understood the feeding of the five thousand was a sign. He also took note of what the people had to say about it and how Jesus responded. Differing from Mark, John doesn’t record instructions from Jesus to cross the lake but attributes initiative to the disciples to do what they know. Then when they found themselves in trouble, they were happy to accept Jesus into the boat and they immediately arrived where they were going.
John’s account can encourage us to notice Jesus at work in our lives. Also, when we don’t get immediate instructions, to continue with what we have previously been told. And finally, to have faith in Jesus when we find ourselves in trouble because he’ll get us where we need to be.
Jesus Walks on Water in Matthew 14
Matthew’s account elaborates further on the situation from the other two.
They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. The number of those who ate was about five thousand men, besides women and children.
Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but the boat by this time was a long way from the land, beaten by the waves, for the wind was against them.
And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” and they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.”
And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.”
He said, “Come.”
So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.”
Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”
And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God” (Matthew 14:20-33).
Like Mark, Matthew records Jesus giving instructions and the situation as if reporting it for the news. However, Matthew is the only one who records Peter’s response to the situation, and their subsequent declaration of the deity of Jesus.
Matthew’s account can encourage us that no matter how we start, we can finish well with Jesus. When Jesus got in the boat the wind ceased. But first Peter walked on the water at the command of Jesus, demonstrating his power as the Word of God. This is seen again when Jesus calmed the storm another time with just his word.
Meaning of Jesus Walking on Water
The miraculous feat of Jesus walking on the water, written in three of the Gospels, came right after His wondrous feeding of the 5,000 with only five loaves of bread and two fish (Matthew 14:17). But it was the revelation of Jesus walking on the water that, more than any other, convinced Jesus’ disciples that He was surely the Son of God.
Jesus demonstrated Himself to be in command of the natural elements, something only God can do. He showed this truth to the disciples who witnessed His divinity and responded with a confession of faith in Jesus as God: "And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, "Truly you are the Son of God." (Matthew 14:32–33).
No matter where you are in your walk with Jesus, keep your eyes and ears on him and you’ll be ok.
Let us look only to Jesus, the One who began our faith and who makes it perfect (Hebrews 12:2).
Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/MajaArgakijeva
Danielle Bernock is an international, award-winning author, coach, and speaker who helps people embrace their value and heal their souls through the power of the love of God. She’s written Emerging With Wings, A Bird Named Payn, Love’s Manifesto, Because You Matter, and hosts the Victorious Souls Podcast. A long-time follower of Christ, Danielle lives with her husband in Michigan near her adult children and grandchildren. For more information or to connect with Danielle https://www.daniellebernock.com/