A Commentary on John 6:16-21
Posted by Dim Bulb on April 2, 2016
The following is excerpted from a Protestant word, THE PULPIT COMMENTARY.
Joh_6:16, Joh_6:17 Now when it became evening. This must have been the “second evening;” for the miracle itself was said to he wrought when the day began to decline (Mat_14:15; Luk_9:12). The first evening (ὀψία) lasted from three to six p.m., the “second evening” stretched from sundown to darkness (σκοτία). The night was drawing on. His disciples went down from the higher ground or grassy slopes to the sea (ἐπὶ τὴν θάλασσαν), and having embarked in a ship, they were making for the other side of the sea to Capernaum; or as Mark (Mar_6:45) says, “towards Bethsaida.” This occasions no difficulty to those who remember that there were two Bethsaidas—one, “Bethsaida Julias,” on the northeastern end of the lake; and the other near to Capernaum, called “Bethsaida of Galilee.”” The two towns were so near that the latter Bethsaida might reasonably he regarded as the port of Capernaum.
Joh_6:17, Joh_6:18 And darkness had already come on, and Jesus had not yet come to them. This thrilling touch in John’s narrative makes it more than evident that the beloved disciple was on board. He had been expecting the Master to make his appearance in some form. He had looked long and eagerly to that point on the mountainside whither he knew that Jesus had retired. The dreary and disappointed expectation, the long and weary waiting, left an indelible impression. Their natural course towards Capernaum would have been almost parallel with the shore of the lake; but it was dark and tempestuous, they could not steer. And the sea was being roused from its slumber by reason of a high wind which was blowing. If the wind came from the north, it would drift them out into the darkness and the middle of the lake, which is there, at its widest, about five miles broad, i.e. forty stadia, or furlongs. The statement of the next verse comes then into undesigned coincidence with Mar_6:47, which shows that they were “in the midst of the sea,” i.e. halfway from shore to shore. This would exactly correspond with the following statement.
Joh_6:19 When they had rowed about twenty-five or thirty stadia; or, furlongs. When they had rowed with a northwest wind, one “contrary to them,” about three miles and a half, they would be in the midst of the broadest portion of the lake, and exposed to the force of those gales which often sweep down with astonishing fury upon lakes similarly guarded on all sides by high hills. While the wind was tossing the little lake into angry waves, it was not silent on the mountain side or summit, and Jesus “saw them toiling in rowing.” He loved them to the uttermost. Now, Jesus never went out of his way to work a miracle, but he never went out of his way to avoid one. It seems as natural to him to make his will the cause of events as to submit to the arbitrament of circumstances. The miracle, however, was always for the benefit of others, not for his own advantage and comfort. They beheld Jesus walking on the sea, and drawing near to the ship. Paulus, Gfrorer, and Baumgarten-Crusius suppose that Jesus was walking “along the shore”, and that they had miscalculated their distance, and that there was no manifestation of special power on the occasion, nothing less than one of the most ordinary of all coincidences. The three narrators, each in his own manner, convey a profoundly different impression. The discovery of their Lord thus in near proximity would not have made them “cry out for fear,” and say, “It is a phantasm,” an apparition, a herald of immediate destruction. The loud cry (ἀνέκραξαν) is the especial note of Mark. John simply says, They were affrighted (ἐφοβήθησαν). They might have eagerly longed for his presence, remembering his recent display of power when “the winds and sea obeyed him.” But when the deliverance came, the manner of it was unexpected, and the symbolism ineffably sublime. They could not have been ignorant of the Psalms which spoke of Jehovah walking on the sea, and mightier than its waves (see also Job_9:8, “He alone spreadeth out the heavens, and treadeth on the heights of the sea”). This visible nearness to them of the mighty power of God is enough to have startled them into cries of fear; but it is quite incompatible with the rationalistic interpretation of the event. Matthew and Mark both relate that the Lord came to them at or about the fourth watch (i.e. between three and six a.m.), when the first gleams of light were breaking over the eastern hills. Consequently, their peril had been prolonged and perplexing. The whole of the narrative lends itself to symbol, and suggests the impressive analogy of the calamities to which the ship of God’s Church has been exposed in its long history. Often has the Church been chastised for its secular tastes and worldly passions, buffeted with the storms of the world and tormented by the waves; but in the direst extremity it has seen the deliverer approach, and at first cried out for fear, trembling at his nearness. Individual believers have often seen, in this picture of the storm and the Saviour, an image of the sore travail and victory of their faith. The disposition on the part of numerous expositors to press these analogies has strengthened the hands of the critical and rationalistic expositors. We can grant that the idea which is so fertile is more important than the narrative per se, but apart from the historic fact itself, who can say that the idea would ever have dawned on human minds? We make no further attempt to think out the modus operandi of the miracle, nor can we with that view accept the docetic conception of the body of Christ, which some have attributed most unfairly to John’s Gospel. It is enough that the will of Christ thus faced the forces of nature, and prophesied the ultimate victory which the will of glorified humanity will likewise win. The great ἔργα of Christ include his power over nature, in its physical elements and forces, in the regions of both animal and vegetable life, over human nature, diseased, crippled, devil ridden, and dead. The highest realm over which he reigned was his own Divine-human Person, as recorded:
(1) in this event,
(2) in his transfiguration,
(3) in his resurrection and ascension.
Joh_6:20 But he saith to them, It is I (literally, I am); be not afraid. These Divine words, in a voice which reminded them of his entire personality, of all his previous beneficence, of all his knowledge of their weakness and fear, are sacredly symbolic. The Church has ever since regarded them as veritably sacramental. In the darkest hour of men and Churches, in the throes of persecution in the furnace of temptation, on a million death-beds, the same voice has been heard. tits Divine Personality, his infinite power and perfect sympathy, the conviction of his specialized regard and veritable nearness (as we count nearness), have scattered doubt and fear.
Joh_6:21 Then they were willing to receive him into the ship: and straightway the ship was at the land whither they were going. Some expositors, who find discrepancy between this statement and that of the synoptists, say, “they were willing, but did not do it,” because the vessel is said by some remarkable process to have been miraculously propelled to the shore (so Lucke, Meyer). There are many passages, however, where a similar expression is used, and where no doubt arises that that which the actors were willing to do they actually did. Chrysostom felt this difficulty, and actually proposed to read ἦλθον instead of ἤθελον, which would remove the difficulty; and א veritably contains this reading, but it has every appearance of an unauthorized correction. The imperfect tense implies a lengthened willingness supervening on fear and outcry—a willingness or wish increased by the sound of his voice, following his first action, his apparent resolve to pass by them; and, still more, by the incident described in Matthew’s Gospel, of Peter’s desire to display the strength of his faith and the eminence of his position among the twelve. This occupied time, during which the wind may have been bearing them briskly in their true direction. They willed, wished, to take him into the ship, and did so, and the calm supervened as described in Matthew and Mark. Their wish is not frustrated by the fact now mentioned, but accompanied by it. “Straightway,” etc. Most expositors confess this to be an additional miracle, that the twenty furlongs or thereabouts (two miles and a half) were suddenly traversed and miraculously abolished. There would be a greater miracle in this than in the two events which preceded. The annihilation of space and time is the obliteration of the very categories of thought, and would, if conveyed by the statement, suggest a stupendous and, so far as we can see, a useless portent. It would strongly tempt us to accept the rationalistic interpretation. Εὐθέως does not always mean “instantaneously,” but simply that the next thing to notice or observe was the fact described. Take Mar_1:21, Mar_1:29. It does not mean that any miraculous rapidity characterized the movement of Christ to the house of Simon and Andrew (Mar_4:17; Gal_1:16; 3Jn_1:14; Joh_13:32; and many other passages). The author of the “Christian Year” has consecrated in sweet lines the supposed addition to the miracle—
“Thou Framer of the light and dark,
Steer through the tempest thine own ark;
Amid the howling wintry sea,
We are in port, if we have thee.”
But there are so many ways in which this “straightway” may be reconciled with an ordinary disembarkation, that there is no necessity to regard it as implied in John’s narrative. John so often leaves gaps unfilled in his chronology and horology that no peat emphasis need be laid upon the annihilation (save in his adoring thought) of the hour before the dawn.