In our last lesson we learned about how John the Baptist was killed and how Jesus and His disciples got back together after their limited commission. They went out in a boat to get a little rest just to find the people waiting for them to dock. We then see Jesus use some fish and loaves to feed 5000 men, which did not include the number of women and children that could have been there. The people wanted to force Jesus to be a king, but Jesus sent His disciples back out onto the water, while Jesus went up on the mountain alone.


Next we read:


John 6:16 Now when evening came, His disciples went down to the sea,  17 got into the boat, and went over the sea toward Capernaum. And it was already dark, and Jesus had not come to them.  18 Then the sea arose because a great wind was blowing.  19 So when they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and drawing near the boat; and they were afraid.


These events are also recorded in Matthew and Mark, and they offer additional information to John’s abbreviated account. I will put these events in the most logical order that makes sense to me. Jesus has sent His disciples away and apparently He told them He would meet them later. As they were on their way, a great wind came across the lake that was making it difficult for them to make headway. At that point, they were halfway across the lake somewhere around 3 ½ miles (Mt. 14:24; Mk. 6:47).


Mark’s account says Jesus saw them straining at rowing because of the strong wind (Mk. 6:48). Since Jesus was on the shore and His disciples were halfway across the lake, how did Jesus see His disciples straining at rowing on a stormy night? One of the difficulties in answering this question comes from examining the meaning of the word “saw” from the Greek because it can mean to see something with the eyes and it can mean to perceive by any of the senses (Strongs).


For instance, when the wise men did not come back to Herod to tell him where Jesus was, “He saw that he was deceived by the wise men” (Mat. 2:16). In this instance, Herod did not literally see these men deceive him, but he observed they did not come back and perceived that they had deceived him.


Another example comes from Jesus’ death on the cross. “So when the centurion and those with him, who were guarding Jesus, saw the earthquake and the things that had happened, they feared greatly, saying, "Truly this was the Son of God” (Mt. 27:54)!


When these people observed the things that happened at Jesus’ death, it caused them to perceive that Jesus was the Son of God. So, Jesus could have either literally seen His disciples straining at rowing, or He could have perceived they were straining at rowing by observation. Let take a look a few possibilities of how Jesus could have perceived they were straining at rowing at this time.


Someone might say that Jesus saw their lamp on their boat and observed that it was not moving. On a calm night, a person can see a light from a great distance away, but this was a stormy night, which would make it more difficult to see the small amount of light the first century lamps were capable of producing. Even if He could see the light, it would be difficult to judge whether the boat was having trouble moving forward based on the movement of the light from that far away. Since they were rowing, it means they were traveling at a low speed, which adds to the difficulty of judging their progress from that distance. It is doubtful they would be able to keep their lamp lit during this hard wind they were fighting against. Another factor is the size of their boat.


ISBE says:

The boats were probably of a size and build similar to the few employed on the Lake today, which are between 20 and 30 ft. in length and 7 ft. in breadth (Ships and Boats).


This is backed up by archeology:

An ancient fishing boat, dating to the New Testament period, was found in the mud just north of Magdala in 1986. It was 26.5 feet long, 7.5 feet wide, and 4.5 feet deep, and was made of cedar and oak (Nelsons New Illustrated Bible Manners & Customs p. 457).


 Since these boats were not that deep, they would be splashed with water multiple times, which adds another difficulty in keeping the lamp lit. Based on this information, it does not seem likely that Jesus used their lamp, if they even had one, to perceive they were straining at their rowing.


Since Jesus perceived His disciples straining at rowing, I believe the most logical way He did this was by observing the storm and the effect it was having on the water. Just about anyone could perceive this, especially if they had some experience of being on the water when a storm came through. While this is a possibility based on the word “saw”, I want to point out that the word “saw” is only used a couple of times where someone perceives something from observation. Most of time it used to describe someone literally seeing something.


If our text is saying the Jesus literally saw them, I believe He used the same ability He used to see Nathanael from a long way off as we read in:


John 1:48 Nathanael said to Him, "How do You know me?" Jesus answered and said to him, "Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you."


Jesus was not limited to what He could see with His human eyes. Over and over again we see how He was able to know what people were thinking before they said anything. He was able to know about events that would soon take place before they happened. So, it should not surprise us that He would be able to see His disciples in the middle of a stormy night straining at their rowing.


Next, Jesus starts walking on the water toward His disciples at the fourth watch, which is between 3 and 6 A.M. Mark’s account says that Jesus would have kept on walking past His disciples, but they saw Him and were afraid. At first, they thought He was a ghost (Mt. 14:26). If you were out in a small boat in a storm and saw someone walking on the water you might think the same thing. John writes


John 6:20 But He said to them, "It is I; do not be afraid."


Jesus calls out to them to let them know it is Him. Matthew gives us more information of what happens at this moment.


Matthew 14:27 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."


Here is where Peter’s character shines through. He is seen many times in Scripture as acting quickly with good intentions, but many times his faithfulness does not hold out (Mt. 26:35, 69-75; Acts 15:6-11; Gal. 2:11ff). At first, Peter’s faith is strong and he is able to walk on the sea like Jesus, but he began to notice the wind and he took his focus off Jesus. This caused him to start to sink, but Jesus was there to lend him a helping hand as he cried out for the Lord to save him. This can happen to us when we lose our focus on Jesus. When we allow the world to distract us, it can cause us to lose our faith and we can sink deep in sin. But just like Peter, Jesus is ready to lend us a helping hand so we do not become overwhelmed by the world and our sin.


When Jesus gets into the boat, the storm stops, and His disciples are amazed. They worship Him saying, “Truly You are the Son of God.” Mark’s account adds the following:


Mark 6:51 Then He went up into the boat to them, and the wind ceased. And they were greatly amazed in themselves beyond measure, and marveled.  52 For they had not understood about the loaves, because their heart was hardened.


Jesus’ disciples should have understood that He could override nature when He produced all that bread and fish from the small amount that was given to Him, but they did not. There are many instances like these that show how slow Jesus’ disciples were at perceiving the things He did.


John 6:21 Then they willingly received Him into the boat, and immediately the boat was at the land where they were going.


When Jesus stepped in the boat, immediately it was on the other side of the sea where they were going. This is possibly another miracle since the boat was somewhere around the middle of the sea (Jn. 6:19) and immediately they traveled around three miles from where they were to the other side.


Next, we learn the following from Matthew’s and Mark’s account:


Matthew 14:34  When they had crossed over, they came to the land of Gennesaret.  35 And when the men of that place recognized Him, they sent out into all that surrounding region, brought to Him all who were sick,  36 and begged Him that they might only touch the hem of His garment. And as many as touched it were made perfectly well.  (See Mk. 6:53-56)


Both Matthew and Mark teach that they went to Gennesaret, which is the same city identified as Chinnereth in the Old Testament (Jos. 19:35). The term “land of Gennesaret” does not necessarily mean that they anchored at the city itself because this term can include the plains of Gennesaret. As Nelson’s Dictionary explains:


This district was a plain extending two kilometers (one mile) from the Sea of Galilee along a 5 kilometer (three mile) section of Galilee’s north shore (Nelson’s New Illustrated Dictionary p.487).


When He arrived, the people recognized Him and spread the word that He was there. Everyone that was capable came to Him just to touch the hem of His garment. Mark adds that this was happening everywhere Jesus went. John’s account gives us more information than the others.


John 6:22 On the following day, when the people who were standing on the other side of the sea saw that there was no other boat there, except that one which His disciples had entered, and that Jesus had not entered the boat with His disciples, but His disciples had gone away alone --  23 however, other boats came from Tiberias, near the place where they ate bread after the Lord had given thanks --  24 when the people therefore saw that Jesus was not there, nor His disciples, they also got into boats and came to Capernaum, seeking Jesus.


Jesus had managed to get away from these Jews during the middle of the night. They saw Jesus’ disciples leave in their boat, which was the only boat there, but they knew Jesus did not go with them. The next day, they began looking for Jesus, but they could not find Him. That same day some boats came from Tiberias.


Mr. Coffman makes the following observation about these boats: “John's mention of the boats from Tiberius in this place is a reference to taxi boats which, after the storm subsided, had gone to Bethsaida Julius in search of fares” (Commentary on John).


This idea is also backed up by the ISBE, “Bethsaida at the northern end of the Lake and Tarichea (ta-rich-e-ah) at the southern end were great centers of the trade” (Ships and Boats).


Since Bethsaida was a popular trading place it makes sense that boats would come in and out of that place regularly. Whether these boats from Tiberias were taxi boats or not, these Jews used them to go find Jesus at Capernaum.


John 6:25 And when they found Him on the other side of the sea, they said to Him, "Rabbi, when did You come here?"


Eventually they found Jesus in the Synagogue in Capernaum (Jn. 6:59), and the first thing they wanted to know was when Jesus got there. They did not know how Jesus had left without them knowing or how He left so they hoped Jesus would satisfy their curiosity. Instead, Jesus is going to rebuke them because their motive to seek Him out was wrong.


John 6:26 Jesus answered them and said, "Most assuredly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw the signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled.  27 "Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to everlasting life, which the Son of Man will give you, because God the Father has set His seal on Him."


These Jews had missed the spiritual message of Jesus’ miracle of the fish and loves. All they could understand was their physical needs had been met, and they were seeking after Jesus to continue to take care of their physical needs. If Jesus wanted to, He could have kept feeding people and increased His following, but He was not interested in huge crowds. He just wanted people who were willing to open their hearts to the truth and understand that He was primarily there to provide for their spiritual needs.


We see this attitude in the religious world and even sometimes in the church today. Some will only go to a place of worship as long as it fulfills their needs. If they do not like the singing or if the preacher steps on their toes one too many times, then they go and find another place to worship. Many today have forgotten that the purpose for assembling is twofold. First, it is time for mutual edification. As Paul taught the Corinthians:


1 Corinthians 14:26  How is it then, brethren? Whenever you come together, each of you has a psalm, has a teaching, has a tongue, has a revelation, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification.


According to Strongs, edification means this:


1) (the act of) building, building up 2) metaph. edifying, edification 2a) the act of one who promotes another's growth in Christian wisdom, piety, happiness, holiness


We are to give and take edification when we assemble. It not just about what you can get out of it, but what you can give. As Paul said:


Philippians 2:3 Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself.  4 Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.  5 Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus,


Second, we assemble we are collectively worshiping God. As Jesus explained to the Samaritan woman at the well:

John 4:23 "But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him.  24 "God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth."


Again, this shows we do not assemble with the saints just for ourselves because it is also a time of worship to God. There are many details that could be included in both these ideas of mutual edification and worship to God, but notice what Paul says about our singing:


Ephesians 5:19 speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord,

Colossians 3:16  Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.


Even our singing has this same dual purpose. It is used to teach and admonish one another and at the same time we sing these same words of the song as praise to God.


If the truth is being taught from the Word of God and it steps on our toes, we should not run away from the message. Instead, we should take it to heart and make a change in our lives. As Christians, we have to look at the spiritual benefits and not major on the physical ones.


Let’s look at our text again:


John 6:26 Jesus answered them and said, "Most assuredly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw the signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled.  27 "Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to everlasting life, which the Son of Man will give you, because God the Father has set His seal on Him."


When Jesus said “Do not labor for the food which perishes,” He is not saying that we should not work for our physical food because God commands us to (2 Thes. 3:10). In this statement, He is teaching these Jews that the most important thing in life is not food or material things. Instead, it is taking care of your spiritual needs that lead to everlasting life. Jesus is the one who provides that spiritual food through the Word of God:


Matthew 4:4 But He answered and said, "It is written, 'Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.' " See also Job 23:12


He taught His disciples about this kind of spiritual food earlier when He was at the well:


John 4:32 But He said to them, "I have food to eat of which you do not know."  33 Therefore the disciples said to one another, "Has anyone brought Him anything to eat?"  34 Jesus said to them, "My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to finish His work.


Back in our text Jesus said He could offer eternal life because the Father has set His seal on Him. When a king would seal a document it showed that the document was authorized by the king and no one could change what it said. It also proved that the document came from the king. In a similar way, the Father put His seal on Jesus because He came from the Father and everything He spoke was authorized by the Father. Nothing can change the truth that Jesus spoke, which is why He is the only way we have access to the Father (Jn. 14:6).


Jesus said that we must labor for that spiritual food that brings about eternal life, which teaches against the false doctrine that we are saved by faith alone (Jas. 2: 17, 22, 24). The works being spoken of in our verse is not talking about works where we earn or deserve something. No, it is talking about obedient works. God has provided us with His Word and His plan of salvation, and we must accept it by obeying what He has told us to do.


John 6:28 Then they said to Him, "What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?"  29 Jesus answered and said to them, "This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent."


Now these Jews know that they must work for that food that brings about eternal salvation, which is why they want to know what they must do to obtain that salvation. Our text clearly shows the difference between the works of God and the works of man. We cannot be justified by the works of man, but the works of God are absolutely necessary.


Some in the religious world claim there is nothing we can do to be saved. These verses teach otherwise. Jesus clearly teaches that believing on Him is a work of God. If there are no works involved in our salvation, then we must conclude that it does not require belief to be saved. However, we know this is false because the Bible teaches over and over again that we must believe to be saved. Paul also refers to the work of our faith in 1 Thessalonians 1:2-3.


Usually the word “believe” or “faith” is used as a synecdoche. A synecdoche means “A figure of speech in which a part is used for the whole or the whole for a part…” ( In other words, belief and faith includes everything involved for someone to be saved, which includes repentance, confessing Jesus as Lord, and water baptism. James makes it clear that belief alone will not save a person, “You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only” (Jas. 2:24).


Many in the religious world who misunderstand the difference between works of merit and works of God will say that baptism cannot be a part of our salvation because it is a work of man. However, this is not true.


Colossians 2:11 In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ,  12 buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised withHim through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead.


When we submit ourselves to water baptism, we are simply obeying God’s command and doing what He said is necessary for our salvation. Paul teaches that when we go down into the watery grave of baptism, it is by our faith in the working of God that we are being buried with Christ for the forgiveness of our sins (Col. 2:13; Acts 2:38; 22:16). So, what happens to us at baptism is a work of God and not a work of man or a work of merit. Just as faith is a work of God, so is baptism.


We can take this a step further, but showing that every time when someone was baptized in the Book of Acts the word baptized is always in the passive tense, which means that everything that is being done to that person as they are lowered under the water is being done by someone else, which we know is God. As I already said, we put our faith in the working of God knowing that He is washing away our sins, uniting us with Christ, and raising up as a new creature in Christ who has been added to the church that Christ paid for with His blood.


There is much more to this conversation that Jesus has with these Jews, but what He is about to say is going to seem radical to those who are listening to Him and His popularity is going to decrease quickly, but we will have to wait until our next lesson to see what Jesus says next. I hope this lesson has shown you once again just how powerful Jesus was while He was on this earth and how He is not concerned about being popular, but is all about teaching God’s Word and we should have this same attitude. While being popular might feel good, popularity will never save you because in order to be popular with the world, you have to make all kinds of compromises to God’s Word. So, we should always make it our goal to be pleasing to God.