Bible Study: John 6:16-21

Bible Study

John 6:16-21

St. Mary of the Angels

July 30, 2021

John 6:16: “And when the even was now come, His disciples went down unto the sea.”

Compare with Genesis 1:2: “And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.”

In the Old Testament, the unpredictable sea is a symbol of cosmic disorder. Recall that Genesis is not only an account of creation ex nihilo. It is an account of God Himself creating order out of disorder. In Genesis, the first indication of order created out of disorder happens before there is light, which is to say before the first dawn. In John 6:16, the disciples go to the sea “when the even was now come,” or after the setting of the sun. In terms of time, we are seeing the mirror opposite. By themselves, the disciples are about to experience disorder created out from order, which is to say that everything they have known about their lives and about the world in which they live is about to be challenged and put in disarray.

John 6:17: “And entered into a ship, and went over the sea toward Capernaum. And it was now dark, and Jesus was not come to them.”

Compare with Genesis 7:15: “And they went in unto Noah into the ark, two and two of all flesh, wherein is the breath of life.”

In the account of the Great Flood, the paradigm of the unpredictable sea, those who have been ordained by God to be saved walk two by two behind Noah into their refuge. Notice that this is an orderly march, a procession, which suggests that stepping onto the ark is liturgical, or an act of worship in keeping with God’s instructions. Inside the ark is “the breath of life,” or the “Spirit of God [that] moved upon the face of the waters,” so we see that the ark is the Tabernacle, and God is inviting His chosen literally to reside with Him in His most intimate space. But in order to enter into the Tabernacle, liturgically and worshipfully, they must do so behind the One chosen to lead them, their Shepherd and their Advocate, Noah, who is a prefiguration of Christ. In John 6:17, the One chosen to lead the disciples, their Shepherd and their Advocate, is not with them. Therefore, whereas in the account of the Great Flood, the ark will provide stability for all those inside, while the unpredictable sea rages outside, in the storm about to occur the disciples will find no more refuge in their ship than if they had been cast into the sea.

John 6:18: “And the sea arose by reason of a great wind that blew.”

Compare with Psalm 107:25: “For He spoke, and the winds rose, stirring up the waves.”

The wind is the breath of God, His Spirit in the world. He is present in the world because God so commands, so the Spirit is the Eternal Word (God says, and it is so) in the world (see the Nicene Creed: “which proceedeth from the Father and the Son”). So, we see that the Spirit of God here is “stirring up the waves” as an expression of God’s command (“For He spoke”). God’s Word, or His imminence and His self-revelation, stirs up the waves, which is to say upsets our apple carts, or expectations about the fundamental precepts of our lives, and tests our faith in Him when all the world as we know it seems to be shattering around us. On the surface, this divine action can be viewed as stirring up disorder out of order, but in truth it is replacing the old order with the new order, the old Kingdom of sin and death with the new Kingdom of salvation and life. If we have faith, then we can weather this storm easily enough, for we shall be already accustomed to the life of the new Kingdom and less tied to the customs and the norms of the old. If we lack faith, then God’s creative and salvific action in this world will be a tempest and a horror for us.

John 6:19: “…they see Jesus walking on the sea…and they were afraid.”

Compare with Isaiah 27:1: “In that day the Lord with His strong sword will punish Leviathan the twisting serpent, Leviathan the crooked serpent, and He will slay the dragon that is in the sea.”

“The day of the Lord” is an apocalyptic reference, so it refers to the time when God completes all things (the Seventh Day), or when His imminence and His transcendence will be realized as one and the same, transformative divine power requiring from everyone then a final choice to be for or to be against Him. He will be revealed as “the Lord,” for He alone will command and subdue the sea (wields “the strong sword”) and the source of all that is disordered in the sea (“Leviathan, the twisting serpent”). When Christ Jesus walks on the sea, He shows not only that He alone is the Lord who commands and subdues the sea. He shows also that this is the “day of the Lord.” The Kingdom of God is at hand, and people must respond to Him one way or another for the time for indifference and procrastination has passed. Christ Jesus is the God Man, so we must bend the knee to Him, or we must fear and hate Him, for as C.S. Lewis tells us He does not allow for the middle position of conceiving of Him as a “good teacher” among so many others.

How did the disciples respond to the coming of Christ Jesus? They were afraid. Note that they are not afraid of the storm so much as of Him walking on the sea. They remain more familiar with sin and death than with the imminence of the God who subdues sin and death. They are closer still in spirit to this world than to the Father’s Kingdom. They lack faith, and so they are troubled by their predicament and given over to their despair.

John 6:20: “…It is I; be not afraid.”

Compare with Isaiah 43:1: “O Israel, fear not, for I have redeemed you. I have called you by name. You are mine.”

When Adam names the creatures in the Garden of Eden, he is imparting his legacy unto them, which is why the creatures do not sin, but nevertheless suffer the wage of sin. When God here names His own, He is saying thus that they are caught up into His legacy which is eternal life. If we have faith, then we are choosing this new life over the old sin and death. If we have faith, it is impossible for us anymore to be afraid.

John 6:21: “Then they willingly received Him into the ship; and immediately the ship was at the land wither they went.”

Compare with Daniel 7:1-14: Daniel envisions the “end of days,” which is also to say “the day of the Lord,” and he sees four beasts coming out of the storm-tossed sea. The four beasts are each symbolic of chaos, sin, damnation, and death. God’s heavenly court descends from on high and sentences the beasts to death, and “the Son of Man” then “immediately” arrives to receive the Kingdom of God. When God acts, He is absolute and complete, and so His action is “immediate” in the sense that no more time is needed for more to be done. There is no lag between Him, His action, and the result of His action.

Because the disciples receive Christ Jesus “willingly,” which is to say lovingly and faithfully, He is “immediately” with them. There is no lag in time and in space between them and Him. The ship is no longer without its Master. The ship is now the Tabernacle, and the disciples are protected. The result is absolute and complete, and so “immediately” the ship is off the unpredictable sea and is resting on firm land.

See Psalm 107:25-30: Foretells John 6:16-21. “For He spoke, and the winds rose, stirring up the waves…so He bringeth them unto their desired haven.”

See Revelation 20:3: In the day of the Lord, when God subdues sin and death, and heaven and earth pass away for his New Jerusalem, “the sea was no more.” Christ Jesus walking on water is a sign that He is God who alone subdues sin and death, and in walking on water He shows that the day of the Lord described in the Book of Revelation will come to pass.

16 And when even was now come, his disciples went down unto the sea,

17 And entered into a ship, and went over the sea toward Capernaum. And it was now dark, and Jesus was not come to them.

18 And the sea arose by reason of a great wind that blew.

19 So when they had rowed about five and twenty or thirty furlongs, they see Jesus walking on the sea, and drawing nigh unto the ship: and they were afraid.

20 But he saith unto them, It is I; be not afraid.

21 Then they willingly received him into the ship: and immediately the ship was at the land whither they went.

Published by Michael Sean Erickson

I write, act, and produce films in Los Angeles. Everything else is conjecture.

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