Under the assault of wind and waves, it seemed the small fishing boat might break up. All night the ship pitched about. By the fourth watch of the night, those dark hours between 3:00 in the morning and the break of dawn, “they had rowed about three or four miles” (John 6:19).
Their eyes searched the pre-dawn darkness for the familiar shape of the Capernaum shoreline. They saw only the heads of the waves lifting and falling. Then they saw something else—a man in the water—not in the water—on the water.
Something in the shape of a man, illuminated only by the light of the moon, came walking over the tops of the waves, striding over the waves like a man might step over crags and stones. The water seemed solid beneath His feet, and He did not sink. “He came to them, walking on the sea; and He intended to pass by them” (Mark 6:48).
The disciples assumed that the eerie water-walker must be the phantasm of a disembodied spirit, and they cried out in terror, “It is a ghost!” (Matthew 14:26). The scene foreshadowed the future. They were destined to harbor the same suspicion when they saw the resurrected Yeshua.
The Master said to them, “Take courage. Do not be afraid. It is I.”
The significance of Yeshua striding on the back of the sea can be understood in several ways, but He was not merely showing off. He trampled down the waves of the sea and made a path through the mighty waters. His way was in the sea, His paths in mighty waters, that His footprints may not be known (Job 9:8; Isaiah 43:16; Psalm 77:19). His footprints on the water may not be known because a foot upon the water leaves no print.
The miracle recalls the miracles of Elisha and Elijah. Both prophets split the Jordan and crossed through the middle of it, and Elisha once caused an axe head to float. Moreover, the miracle falls into the category of signs like those performed by Moses. Moses demonstrated power over the water when he split the Red Sea and led Israel through the midst. Chasidic discourse teaches that the Spirit of Messiah is more exalted than that of Moses because the Torah depicts Moses drawn out from the water and dividing the sea and walking through the water, but it depicts the Spirit of the Messiah hovering above the water, as the Torah says, “The Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.” In the ancient world, the waters of the sea symbolized the forces of chaos. God’s Spirit moves above the chaos. So, too, the Messiah strode over the waves.