Immersed in Imagery, Walking on Water

John 6:12-21

And when they were filled, He said to His disciples, ‘Gather up the leftover fragments that nothing may be lost.’ And so they gathered them up, and filled twelve baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves, which were left over by those who had eaten. When therefore the people saw the sign which He had performed, they said, ‘This is of a truth the Prophet who is to come into the world.’ Jesus therefore perceiving that they were intending to come and take Him by force, to make Him king, withdrew again to the mountain by Himself alone. Now when evening came, His disciples went down to the sea, 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. And the sea began to be stirred up because a strong wind was blowing. When therefore they had rowed about three or four miles, they beheld Jesus walking on the sea and drawing near to the boat; and they were frightened. But He said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.’ They were willing therefore to receive Him into the boat; and immediately the boat was at the land to which they were going.”

I was asked by a smart, young man, who is smarter and already a better writer than I, if Jesus teleported the disciples to the shore. My response didn’t impress him much because an argument ensued afterwards. A good argument– a discussion where each person articulated their understandings. Nevertheless it could have been a bad argument, one with harsh words and hurt feelings. By the young man’s own admission, anger often interrupts his insightful extrapolations. More often than not, he would lash out with words, or worse, when his intelligence was questioned. He would confess to this on many occasions. But his anger was merely an amplifier and a camouflage of his frustrations. Even with an over abundance of articulation, it is not easy to convince people to change their minds. There is no mystery to his anger, it is difficult to be the smartest person in the room, attempting to persuade people. Nevertheless knowledge and reasoning is not wisdom and immaturity interrupts intelligence. His anger superceded his intelligence which obliterated and obfuscated his argument– as we have seen with Capitol protesters– it matters less if one speaks truth than one’s tone. It’s why writing is a difficult venture but much less difficult than an oral argument.

Nevertheless on this day his patience prevailed, not by me agreeing with him on teleporting but that he didn’t descend into an obtuse argument. He remained calm and delivered his discourse delicately. It’s specifically the reason that everytime I read today’s text, I remember our conversation about an alleged teleportation of Jesus and his disciples. Did Jesus teleport his disciples from the middle of the Sea of Galilee to the shore? Perhaps but the focus was on the walking on the water, the disciples fear and struggles and Jesus delivering them– and this betwixt the feeding of five thousand and the people present seeking Jesus. We’ll come back to this.

In an oral argument anger often ensues, as is apparent in almost every exchange between the Pharisees and Jesus. But what about the signs? Surely no one would ever get angry about a miraculous healing, would they? I know what you are thinking, “really Russell P, rhetorical reasoning?” We all know and have recently read, how Jesus angered the religious right (yes I wrote it), by healing a man 38 years in sickness on the Sabbath. The miracle was more than intentional and one of the intentions was to provoke the Jewish leaders into a divine discourse, in which Jesus elicited anger from them. People hold tightly to taught traditions. But what was the aspiration of Jesus in walking on a stormy sea to only his disciples, in the midst of the surrounding context? In the same manner, what was John’s aspiration to his audience in his narrative?

For review and to those readers who are here for the first time, the mission of these missives is to support and promote self-study of the Bible, using a careful, correct and consistent hermeneutic, with a tool such as the CAGED method of Biblical hermeneutics, where; Context is King, Author’s Aspirations to his Audience are Apex, Genre is the General, Expository Exegesis of Examples Enlightens and Dividing Rightly the Word of Truth either confirms or cancels our preconceived notions and presuppositions. We don’t want Joel Osteen translating the Bible for us, we want to let the Bible interpret the Bible. We want to mine for gold and read the Bible as the authors intended and not scrape pyrite off the surface, ripping verses out of context, like the mega-church pastors do. They keep the Bible caged by their presuppositions and preconceived notions, thoughts and taught traditions. A consistent and careful consideration of the context is the key to unlocking the Scripture that unfounded traditions and false teachings have locked up. Dubious dogmas truly cage the Scripture because they create a mold into which the Bible must then fit.

The best example I have, beating the proverbial dead horse that actually will not die, is dogmatic dispensationalism. Placing much of prophecy in our times, misses the full and glorious coming of Jesus. In order for dogmatic dispensationalism to be true, God must have a distinction between Jew and Greek. Paul writes, “For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek;” case closed, yet it is not. Be weary of those explaining away rather than giving an exegetical explanation. In the midst of overwhelming evidence the dogmatic always double down and explain away the literal, plain and obvious texts, preferring rather to take imagery and metaphors literally.

Jesus walked on water during a storm. Of all the miracles Jesus could have done and did do, John records only seven major miracles, one of which is Jesus walking on water with the only witnesses being his disciples– we should wonder, why? What was John’s aspiration to his audience? To whom or to what was John pointing? What was John’s intention in recording this miracle but not the feeding of four thousand, the Transfiguration, the lepers or many other miracles? Many pastors and preachers, theologians and teachers believe it is because John didn’t want to be redundant, as these miracles were recorded elsewhere. While there is probably an insignificant element of truth to this, John still chose seven specific signs and I wonder if there is a method and intention in these seven signs. Rather than form a hypothesis or begin with this as a presupposition, we will consider the context and explore examples to see if we can ascertain the author’s aspirations to his audience.

Context is king, figuratively speaking but ultimately we are attempting to ascertain the author’s aspirations to his audience. We use examples and consider the context and genre so that we are able to understand the author’s aspirations to his audience and then divide rightly, letting Scripture interpret Scripture. Like most Scripture, we find two types of audience relevance in today’s text. First is Jesus to his disciples and the second is John to his audience. Starting with the former we ask, what was the intention of Jesus in walking on the water?

It seems strange– John’s account of this miracle that is. He doesn’t delve into details like the other gospel writers– that is Matthew and Mark, Luke doesn’t record this miracle. Matthew reports of Peter attempting to walk on the water, Mark and Matthew report that the disciples thought that Jesus was a ghost. Mark also includes that the disciples had hard hearts and “gained no insight” from the feeding of five thousand.

That’s right, it was a test. Yet unlike Mark, John doesn’t focus on the failure. Mark’s aspiration is completely different than John’s. Jesus had multiple aspirations for his disciples, yet we don’t have time to see everything at once. We will hit highlights but ultimately we are trying to ascertain John’s aspiration to his audience. We have to look at the continuing context. Jesus fed the multitude by multiplying two small fish and five loaves of bread. After the multiplication and after everyone had eaten until they were full, the twelve disciples gathered twelve baskets full of the leftover loaves. All accounts have the miracle of walking on water following immediately after the feeding of the 5,000. Yes it was historically chronological but with reason. Jesus set the stage intentionality– the continuing context corresponds.

Notice the example in Mark; “And immediately He made His disciples get into the boat…” John isn’t as forceful in his narrative, nevertheless we see the intentionality. “Now when evening came, His disciples went down to the sea, and after getting into a boat, they started to cross the sea to Capernaum.”

Problem; Mark wrote, “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 multitude away.” Luke writes, “And taking them with Him, He withdrew by Himself to a city called Bethsaida” in reference to where the feeding of the five thousand took place. Many pastors and preachers, theologians and teachers and even my smart, young friend read a little too much into the texts. I prefer to keep it simple, exercising exegesis and not eisegesis.

I prefer to consider the context before explaining the examples. John wrote; “they gathered them up, and filled twelve baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves, which were left over by those who had eaten. When therefore the people saw the sign which He had performed, they said, ‘This is of a truth the Prophet who is to come into the world.’ Jesus therefore perceiving that they were intending to come and take Him by force, to make Him king, withdrew again to the mountain by Himself alone. Now when evening came, His disciples went down to the sea, and after getting into a boat, they started to cross the sea to Capernaum.”

Wait, what? Forget about Bethsaida and Capernaum for now, we have a rapture sighting.

“Jesus therefore perceiving that they were intending to come and take Him by force, to make Him king, withdrew again to the mountain by Himself alone.” The dogmatic dispensationalists should translate this verse in the following way: “Jesus therefore perceiving that they were intending to come and rapture him, to make Him king, withdrew again to the mountain by Himself alone.”

That’s right, the Greek word the prophecy pundits translate as “rapture” is found in today’s text. Teleporting is a lot like the alleged rapture. Prophecy pundits proclaim that Enoch was raptured, Elijah was raptured, Philip the evangelist was raptured, Paul was raptured and John was raptured, why then don’t they see a rapture in today’s text? Especially considering that John wrote that they were immediately on shore. Think about it, even more than I write against a pretribulational rapture, the prophecy pundits persistently point to every aspect of a rapture that they can sink their teeth into in an attempt to defend their presuppositions. Why don’t they point to today’s text. Maybe some do but the huge handful of prophecy pundits, to whom I listen, never touch today’s text.

But one of the premier passages of the prophecy pundits is one to which I previously promised to return. “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me.”

The dogmatic dispensationalists argue that Jesus is speaking about the temporary holding tank of heaven to the raptured church. Seriously, I am not making this up. According to dogmatic dispensationalism, the church, not Israel (even though Paul insisted that they were one in the same), is raptured to spend seven or so years in absolute ecstacy and then return to an earth where sin is still in the picture. Yay? They point to this passage as a proof text. But what was the context and how does it relate to the continuing context?

“‘Let not your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way where I am going.’ Thomas said to Him, ‘Lord, we do not know where You are going, how do we know the way?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me.”

If Jesus was actually speaking to his disciples about a pretribulational rapture that happens 2000 years later, now would have been a great time to say it. Once again the dogmatic dispensationalists ignore the aspiration to the audience, in fact, they ignore the audience relevance completely. Jesus was speaking to his disciples, not a prophecy pundit. If Jesus was speaking about a rapture, and speaking to his disciples, Jesus lied. He had to have lied because we are told to read the Bible literally and Jesus literally said “you,” half a dozen times to his disciples. Yet here we are still rapture-less and they are long dead. Something has to give. Either Jesus struggles with pronouns or this is not about a rapture. The problem is that if this is not about the rapture, there probably is not a rapture rescue. Yet they reason- But since there is a rapture, this must be about a rapture. I have dubbed this ego-circular reasoning.

Harpazo; pronounced Harpodzo, translated into Latin and then into English as “rapture” is nowhere to be found in this text. However it is used by John in the text of which we are examining today. Yet I have not found one dogmatic dispensationalist mention today’s text in their dubious discourse. Speaking of dubious, why would Jesus snatch his church out of the imperfect world into paradise and then return with them into a world better but still imperfect and far from paradise? But I digress, somewhat. Let’s let the Bible interpret itself and do away with preconceived notions and presuppositions. Jesus had much more in mind than a temporary rescue from earth to seven or so years in heaven and then returning to an earth where there is still sin and death. Paul proclaimed that the last enemy to be dealt with is death. Quoting the most quoted Bible verse, Paul points out that Jesus remains and reigns in heaven until all enemies are crushed, death being the last. Yet a rapture rescue deals death the death blow first but only for the church.

Look again at today’s text. John, unlike Matthew and Mark kept it super short– the walking on water. John zooms out, probably because of attention spans, and doesn’t record the same details as Mark and Matthew. John uses this true, historical narrative (Jesus actually and factually walked on the waves), as a kind of conjunction between the feeding of the five thousand and another divine discourse. The walking on water is another proof of his deity. We derive at this by consulting our Old Testament tutor. In Job, it is God who walks on waves. Mark expounds on this and his aspiration is laid out in his detailed description. Nevertheless, John’s aspiration goes further than this. It’s why John leaves out details and moves through it quickly, I believe. I also believe that John intentionality left out details in avoidance of distraction– in this way John zooms in.

After they wanted to rapture Jesus and make him king, Jesus retreated to be alone on the mountain. Mark tells us it was to pray but John doesn’t. Again, John’s aspiration is for the reader to see the retreat of Jesus away from both the people and his disciples. Jesus was alone. Jesus was avoiding being raptured.

While Jesus was alone, we know from the context, that the disciples headed for Capernaum. Mark states Bethsaida and Luke writes that they came from Bethsaida. I believe that Bethsaida was the region and Capernaum was the specific town. Meaning that the disciples were not rowing from north to south but east to west in the northern part of Galilee. They were never too far from shore. John wrote, “they had rowed about three or four miles,” therefore they were certainly stranded but not in the exact middle of the Sea of Galilee. But because of the wind, they had made little progress. They were on the sea struggling, that’s an aspiration of John. I’ll write it again so that we will remember. One of John’s aspirations is that they were struggling on the sea– see the imagery.

Notice; “And the sea began to be stirred up because a strong wind was blowing. When therefore they had rowed about three or four miles, they beheld Jesus walking on the sea and drawing near to the boat; and they were frightened.”

The wind was strong and they were rowing, working hard, not sailing, into the strong wind, struggling. And when Jesus appeared, they were frightened. Even though Jesus calmed the sea before in their presence and even though they witnessed a myriad of miracles, they were still scared. Mark tells the reader that they thought Jesus was a ghost and that they had hard hearts. John doesn’t but he does tell us that they struggled with the wind and were scared on the sea and when they received Jesus, he stopped the storm and immediately they were safe on land.

Why don’t the dogmatic dispensationalists use this as imagery of the rapture, coupled with their alleged “proof text” of, “in my father’s house are many dwelling places?” It’s right there, teleported from the stormy sea to dry land by receiving Jesus.

Perhaps it’s because they distort imagery. Perhaps it’s because they take things too literally– they don’t. Locusts are attack helicopters and swords and shields are guns and tanks. Head, or chief prince is Russia– no, they pick and choose what to take literally to force the Bible to fit in their presuppositional mold.

Rather than jump to conclusions– I will not assume that simply because I have never heard dispensationalists argue about walking on water pointing to a rapture that they do not– I dug a little deeper. J. Vernon McGee makes a passing reference to rapture but it was from Mark’s account and not from the imagery. What better imagery of rescue is there than Jesus coming supernaturally and rescuing his followers from dangerous depths, immediately snatching them to safe, dry land?

Immediate rescue from struggling doesn’t have to mean a rapture, does it? Yet John is intentional in his gospel account and his aspiration to his audience. His retelling of the walking on water is short and sweet so that the reader will see the continuing context. Mark’s aspiration in telling of the walking on water was different. It was for the reader to not only see the deity of Jesus but his glory of which he intended to demonstrate for his disciples but they had hard hearts and superstitious fear. Notice; “He came to them, walking on the sea; and He intended to pass by them. But when they saw Him walking on the sea, they supposed that it was a ghost, and cried out; for they all saw Him and were frightened.”

“Intended to pass by,” what’s that all about? Jesus was taking a page out of his history and attempting to repeat it for his chosen twelve. They missed it but we don’t have to because we have the completed Scripture and the Holy Spirit helper. Also we utilize the CAGED method of Biblical hermeneutics and consult our Old Testament tutor.

“Then Moses said, ‘I pray Thee, show me Thy glory!’ And He said, ‘I Myself will make all My goodness pass before you, and will proclaim the name of the LORD before you; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show compassion on whom I will show compassion.’ But He said, ‘You cannot see My face, for no man can see Me and live!’ Then the LORD said, ‘Behold, there is a place by Me, and you shall stand there on the rock; and it will come about, while My glory is passing by, that I will put you in the cleft of the rock and cover you with My hand until I have passed by.'”

Mark’s metaphorical meaning and aspiration is clear but what about John’s? Jesus obviously has more in mind than his glory, his choice to whom he has compassion and John has already emphatically established the deity and even the glory of Jesus– it’s how he began his gospel. What more does the Lord want us to see by inspiring John to write the way in which he wrote? If it’s not a rapture, maybe it is salvation? I won’t dangle a carrot in front of you any longer. I assume that you understand that imagery.

Speaking of imagery, who wrote the book of Revelation? How much of Revelation is from the Old Testament tutor? Should we be looking for Old Testament imagery in John’s gospel account? Let’s let the Bible interpret the Bible and see the imagery from the feeding of five thousand, twelve baskets of bread leftover, gathered that none may be lost, the people wanting to rapture Jesus, Jesus alone on the mountain, the struggling disciples on the stormy sea, the Lord walking on water, the disciples arriving on the land and then the people finding Jesus and Jesus rebuking them and giving another divine discourse.

Let’s look at Revelation since it is mostly made up of Old Testament references. Scary sea represents a wicked world. Dry land represents the promise. Mountain represents God’s dwelling or his kingdom. 12 represents God’s people. But don’t take my word for it, read Revelation. Read the Psalms, Ezekiel or even Exodus and see the similarities and imagery.

John is using the story of Jesus walking on water as a conjunction between the feeding of five thousand and the divine discourse, demonstrating and highlighting his kingdom.

Watch; “He said to His disciples, ‘Gather up the leftover fragments that nothing may be lost…” Walking on water delivering the disciples to the “land to which they were going”…”this is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day.”

God is going to get us where we are going.

John kept it short, sweet, succinct and simple but sometimes we have to keep it simpler. But after we see the super simple, we have to zoom back out and understand all the imagery. Lord willing, we will continue to consider the continuing context next time, exploring more examples and identifying the imagery. We will see how the 12 represent God’s chosen people, past, present and future, made up of believing Israel and adopted Israel. We will see the assurance of salvation even through failure. But best of all, we will see Jesus as the king, in spite of his rejection of a rapture.

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