Jesus Walks on Water
Durch New Christian Bible Study Staff
This is one of the Bible’s best-loved stories, and it’s not hard to see why. It’s easy for us to visualize the disciples struggling to get their small ship across the stormy Sea of Galilee, and their astonishment when Jesus comes to them, strolling atop the waves as if the water was a Roman road. We can sympathize with Peter, who in the flush of amazement goes onto the water himself, only to be struck with fear. And we can draw a clear spiritual message of trusting the Lord and believing in His power.
But is that all there is? Did Jesus walk on water just to amaze the disciples and to amaze the reader? Or did it have some deeper meaning?
According to the Writings, what the story illustrates the fact that the new church being launched by Jesus would bring spiritual life to the wide world, not just the narrow group of specific believers – and that the Lord works the same way in the world today.
One of the key symbols here is the sea, which represents those in the outskirts of the church. They have some spiritual knowledge and a great deal of natural knowledge, all of it fluid and turbulent. Another is the ship, which represents the specific beliefs held by the disciples, their doctrine. They sail that ship, alone, into the turbulence of the beliefs of the outskirts of the church. The waves show that they were attacked by arguments from natural ideas; the wind shows that their doctrine was not elevated enough to be truly aligned with the Lord’s power.
So Jesus comes to them at dawn – which means the beginning of His new church – walking on the water. This shows that in His perfect love and goodness He brings life even to those in external beliefs. At first the disciples don’t recognize Him and are afraid – the reaction of those in a lower spiritual state to the advance of a higher one. But Jesus reassures them, and Peter – who represents true ideas which spring from the desire for good – dares to walk on the water himself.
For a moment, buoyed by the belief in Jesus, it works. True ideas based on the desire for good can work without the support of a specific doctrinal system, even in the hurly-burly of natural thinking. But the disciples are not ready for this yet; Peter’s confidence fails him and Jesus has to deliver him back to the ship. The end result, though, is a spiritual advance for the disciples. The fact that the wind stops when Jesus boards the ship shows an elevation in their doctrinal ideas; they are more in accord with the Lord’s power (represented by the wind). And what is this difference? That’s illustrated by the fact that they bow and worship Jesus, calling him the Son of God.
So what does this mean to us? We are (hopefully, anyway) essentially disciples – people with some knowledge of the Lord and the desire to be good. What we can learn, then, is that the Lord’s love is not restricted to us or to those who believe as we do – it is for everyone, everywhere, in every reach of the sea. And we might want to work on trusting the Lord and believing in His power if we want to get out on the water and help the world.