The Gospel of John, Jesus' fifth sign, part 1
Nov 25, 2019
The fifth sign in John’s gospel is found in John 6:16-21. Jesus had just fed the 5,000 men plus women and children, and the people were so enthusiastic that they wanted to take Him by force and proclaim Him their king. After all, He had just performed one of the main signs that they were expecting from the coming Messiah.
However, they did not understand that the multiplied bread was a type of His own body, and that eating this true Bread required believing His words. The fourth sign was a Passover sign, wherein His body was to be broken for them, as He would later tell His disciples at The Last Supper.
The fifth sign, as we will see, was fundamentally different, for it was a sign of the feast of Tabernacles and His second coming.
The interim between the fourth and fifth sign was spent on the mountain top (John 6:15), which represented His ascension to heaven to intercede for us prior to His descent to join the disciples in the middle of the stormy lake.
John 6:16, 17 says,
16 Now when evening came, His disciples went down to the sea, 17 and after getting into a boat, they started to cross the sea to Capernaum. And it had already become dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them.
Mark 6:45 tells the same story with different details.
45 And immediately He made His disciples get into the boat and go ahead of Him to the other side to Bethsaida, while He Himself was sending the crowd away.
It appears that Jesus told His disciples to go to Bethsaida, but later they were supernaturally transported to Capernaum.
John 6:18, 19 continues,
18 The sea began to be stirred up because a strong wind was blowing. 19 Then, when they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and drawing near to the boat; and they were frightened.
Here the NASB renders the distance in miles. The KJV reads “twenty-five or thirty furlongs. The actual Greek text uses the term, stadia. A stadia is about 202 yards, or just over 600 feet. A distance of 25-30 stadia is about 15,000-18000 feet, or 3 or 3½ miles. The point is that they were close to the middle of the lake, as the journey was about 6-7 miles total.
The disciples then saw Jesus walking on the sea toward them, “and they were frightened.” John 6:20, 21 finishes the story, saying,
20 But He said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.” 21 So they were willing to receive Him into the boat; and immediately the boat was at the land to which they were going.
John 6:24 later tells us that the people came to Capernaum looking for Jesus. It appears that He bypassed Bethsaida altogether.
John’s account is very brief, probably because the other gospels had already recorded this incident, and because John’s gospel was meant as a supplement to what they had already written. Mark 6:47, 48 says,
47 When it was evening, the boat was in the middle of the sea, and He was alone on the land. 48 Seeing them straining at the oars, for the wind was against them, at about the fourth watch of the night, He came to them, walking on the sea; and He intended to pass by them.
In verse 47 Jesus was “alone on the land” that evening. Perhaps six hours later, He stepped upon the water and began walking toward the disciples. As He neared the boat, He saw them “straining at the oars,” and yet we read that He would have walked right past them! When the disciples saw Jesus, they thought He was a ghost
It was the darkest part of the night. We are not told if the storm included clouds and rain, so we do not know if the moon gave them any light. Neither do we know how the disciples could see Jesus coming toward them. We must assume that they carried lamps, as they were used to fishing at night.
Whatever the case, the storm represents tribulation. “The waters … are peoples and multitudes and nations and tongues” (Revelation 17:15). Jesus had sent the disciples into the midst of a storm. So in John 16:33 Jesus told His disciples,
33 These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.”
Peter Walks on Water
Both John and Mark say nothing of Peter walking on the water to meet Jesus. Luke omits the story altogether (Luke 9). However, Matthew 14:27-32 gives us a fuller account.
27 But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.” 28 Peter answered Him and said, “Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water. 29 And He said, “Come!” And Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came toward Jesus. 30 But seeing the wind, he became afraid, and beginning to sink, he cried out saying, “Lord, save me!” 31 And immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and took hold of him, and said to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” 32 And when they got into the boat, the wind stopped.
Critics and skeptics tell us that Mark’s simple account was written first and is therefore more accurate. They say that Matthew later embellished the story, casting doubt on the veracity of this miracle. But as we will see, it is a vital part of the fifth sign in John—even though John omitted any mention of Peter going out to meet Jesus.
Only when we put all the pieces together from the three gospels can we understand that this sign prophesies about the second coming of Christ. When Peter went out to meet Jesus, he became a prophetic type of those who will yet go out to meet Christ at the time of His second coming. Paul speaks of this in another context, saying in 1 Thessalonians 4:17,
17 Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and so we shall always be with the Lord.
Paul uses the term apantesis, translated “to meet.” Meeting the Lord “in the air,” in this case does not mean in the sky but above ground. In the parable of the ten virgins waiting for the Bridegroom to arrive, Matthew 25:1 says “to meet the bridegroom,” and 6 says, “Come out to meet Him.” In both cases, the Greek word translated “to meet” is apantesis, which refers to going out to meet an important person who is expected, with the purpose of escorting them officially to where they had been waiting. Dr. Bullinger’s notes tell us:
To meet = for the meeting (of two parties from opposite directions); i.e., the meeting and returning with.
In all of these cases, meeting the Lord or meeting the bridegroom did not mean that they would return to His place of origin but that they would escort Him to where they had been waiting. In other words, apantesis does not picture a “rapture” in the way most people think. When Peter went out to meet Jesus on the water, he did not expect Jesus to turn around and take him back to the high mountain from which He had come. No, Peter went out to escort Jesus to the boat.
Likewise, the wise virgins went out to meet the bridegroom as a welcoming delegation. They were not expecting the bridegroom to escort them back to his father’s house.
The Disciples and Peter
In this prophetic type, everyone played their part to illustrate what will happen at the time of Christ’s second coming. The disciples, for the moment, represented all of the believers, while Peter distinguished himself. So while the entire church will benefit from Christ’s coming, Peter represents the overcomers who will actually go out to meet Him.
Though Peter’s faith was weak, it was strong enough for him to get out of the boat. And though he faltered through fear of the raging sea, Jesus did not allow him to be lost at sea. Thus, many have taught the people that Jesus was more pleased with Peter’s imperfect faith than with the fearful disciples who remained safely in the boat. In other words, faith is required to meet the Lord in the air, even if such faith is the size of a mustard seed (Matthew 17:20).
Transcending Time and Space
John 6:21 concludes,
21 So they were willing therefore to receive him into the boat; and immediately the boat was at the land to which they were going.
From the midst of the lake to the shore at Capernaum took only a moment of time to travel, whereas it had taken the disciples many hours just to get to the middle of the lake. Such miraculous transportation was experienced by Elijah (1 Kings 18:46) and again by Philip after the day of Pentecost (Acts 8:39, 40).
Matthew 14:32 says that “when they got into the boat, the wind stopped.” Mark 6:51 adds, “and they were utterly astonished,” showing the miracle of timing. What are the odds that the wind would cease as soon as Jesus reached the boat? We are not told if Jesus commanded the wind to cease, or if it knew what to do without such a command.
John 6:22 the concludes,
22 The next day the crowd that stood on the other side of the sea saw that there was no other small boat there, except one, and that Jesus had not entered with His disciples into the boat, but that His disciples had gone away alone.
They eventually found Jesus at Capernaum (John 6:24). Capernaum is a compound Hebrew word. Kaphar is “to cover,” and nahum is “comforter.” In the fifth sign in John’s gospel, Capernaum represents the covering of the Comforter, which, as we will see later, pictures being filled with the Holy Spirit.
This becomes clear in the commentary on this fifth sign, which is found in the seventh chapter of John. As we will see, this was not a Pentecostal chapter but an account of the feast of Tabernacles (John 7:2).
This is part 1 of a series titled "Jesus' Fifth Sign" To view all parts, click the link below.