Why Does Jesus Walk on Water?
When a storm arises while the disciples are on the sea of Galilee, Jesus resolves to meet them exactly where they are: “Seeing them tormented in [their] rowing—for the wind was against them—at about the fourth watch of the night he went to them, walking on the sea” (Mark 6:48).
At first glance, it’s not clear why Jesus feels the need to traverse the stormy waters. Not long before this night, Jesus had calmed the raging sea with no more than a word (see Mk 4:35-41)—why not do the same again? In this case, the Gospel highlights Jesus’ choice to walk on the waves as a deliberate recollection of what God did at creation.
Mark’s Gospel states that Jesus “went (ἔρχομαι; ἔρχεται) to them, walking upon the sea (περιπατῶν ἐπὶ τῆς θαλάσσης; peripaton epì tes thálassa)” (6:48). Each of the highlighted Greek terms also appears when God questions Job as to what he knows about the cosmos. The Lord alludes to divine activity at creation, asking, “Have you went upon (ἦλθες… ἐπὶ) the springs of the sea (θαλάσσης; thalásses) or walked (περιεπάτησας; periepátesas) in the recesses of the deep?” (Job 38:16 LXX). The narrative earlier in Job affirms that God had traversed the oceans before humans were created, saying of God, “You alone stretched out the heavens and trampled on the waves of the sea” (Job 9:8).
Every description of Jesus’ life in the Gospels has theological meaning that is related to the story of the God and people portrayed in Israel’s Scriptures. Jesus decides to walk on water because this is what God did at the creation of the world.
The disciples, of course, do not make the connection—to the contrary, they’re terrified because they think they’ve seen a ghost (Mk 6:49).
However, the attuned Bible reader can know what the disciples missed in the moment; namely, that the Lord has conferred the authority over creation to Jesus the Son of God.