Jesus And His Strange Movements Around The Sea Of Galilee (john 6.16-23)

16 When evening came, his disciples went down to the sea, 17 got into a boat, and started across the sea to Capernaum.

Part of the problem is that we can only know with limited certainty where the miracle of feeding 5000 was performed. The most likely location is at the place where the travel of Jesus shown in color would have taken him from Jerusalem to the Sea of Galilee. He therefore, probably, performed the miracles of feeding of the large crowd not far from the southern shore of the lake (shown by the arrow).

It is not easy to track the movements of Jesus, disciples and the crowds in this intense story full of faith, actions, miracles and unexplained behavior and teachings. But if we walk slowly and carefully through the text, we should be able to trace with some clarity almost all the movements described here. So, let us begin. We begin (vs.16) with the place where the feeding of 5000 took place (probably the southern point of the sea of Galilee), when Jesus hid himself on the mountainside, disciples boarded the boat and began to make their short journey to the other side of the lake – the city of Kfar Nahum – literally the village of Nahum (we know it as Latinized Capernaum as it comes to us in the Gospel of John written in Greek).


It sounds strange that disciples left the place without waiting for Jesus long enough for the crowds to leave and him to return. It is likely that he gave instructions to his disciples to meet him in Capernaum, his northern headquarters, where Peter’s family had a large house. Jesus popularity there was so huge. We can see that even when he spoke to the worshipers and followers in the town’s synagogue about “drinking his blood and eating of his flesh,” he did not seem to have been hassled in any violent way. The story simply ends with the words “Jesus said these things in the synagogue, as he taught at Capernaum” (Jn.6.59).

17 It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them.

Though this statement is somewhat strange, it is possible that Jesus agreement with the disciples was that he would come on a separate boat and will catch up to them mid-way through the lake. We find out from what unfolds that his disciples were up for a very big surprise.

18 The sea became rough because a strong wind was blowing.

The lake of Kinneret (Sea of Galilee) is situated between the mountains where during certain seasons a rather violent storm can occur easily overthrowing a small boat. This is true up until now. As a matter of fact I personally know someone who once fished there (he is not professional finisherman, but quite experienced nevertheless), when a storm like the one described in vs.18 and on occurred. Israeli urgent help cervices were called and the man was airlifted to safety. (He carefully checks the weather now, before going out to finish there again).

19 When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were frightened.

Just to give you some perspective, the pear-shaped lake is about 23 kilometers (14 miles) long from north to south, with a maximum width of 13 kilometers (8 miles) in the north, covering 166 square kilometers (64 square miles), so it is not all that large, but is nevertheless sizeable. We are told that the boat with the disciples had just made it to about 3-4 miles mark which is roughly a quarter of the entire distance. It was night and the lights of the coastal cities were still glimmering rather far. As was mentioned the reason for them leaving without Jesus is not clear, but to have a figure moving on the water was threatening.

20 But he said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.” 21 Then they were glad to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat was at the land to which they were going.

Jesus’ did not make them wait and responded with the comforting assurance quickly. They were astounded and excited to see their rabbi exercising his lordship over the fiercest force of nature (water) by walking upon it with ease. But there was no time to think at all and a very curious thing happened. Although the distance was still sizable around 20 kilometers (or 10 miles) left to Kfar Nahum (Capernaum) the boat safely touched the stony beach. This may sound like an unconnected to anything incident, but we will be at theological fault no to know that the distance and time is under lordship of God himself and him only. He alone lives outside of time and outside of distance as such, being eternal and omnipresent. Therefore, this curious occurrence is actually very important because it shows that when the God-Man (Logos of God) Jesus is in the boat with the disciples, the boat is able to disappear at once place on the map and reaper in another. In the previous post we discussed another curiosity like that that makes a careful reader wonder. Jesus was in Jerusalem in John 5, but by the time he finishes his talk with hoi Ioudaioi by the very beginning of chapter 6 we find that he was already on one of the shores of Galilean Sea, ready to boat his boat and to cross over. John is full of Jesus’ miraculous activity, but he concentrates on the miracles activity that does not simply characterize him as a man of God, but as God himself, even though being also a real human being in every way, except sin.

22 On the next day the crowd that remained on the other side of the sea saw that there had been only one boat there, and that Jesus had not entered the boat with his disciples, but that his disciples had gone away alone.

The crowd wondered about what happened. Disciples could not have left Jesus on the shore behind. The crowd watched the place where he could have boarded another boat carefully. Jesus was not to be found anywhere after his escape to the mountains as he disappeared after a near crowning attempt of the misguided crowd to make him king. Disciples left without waiting for Jesus. Math simply did not work. Where was he? He is made of flesh and blood, he had to be somewhere. The crowds reasoned, perhaps, he went to Capernaum. How? They did not know.

23 Other boats from Tiberias came near the place where they had eaten the bread after the Lord had given thanks. 24 So when the crowd saw that Jesus was not there, nor his disciples, they themselves got into the boats and went to Capernaum, seeking Jesus.

Best we are able to see the chronology of the story. When the boats from neighboring Tiberias came to the southern point of the sea (the last place Jesus was seen – same place where Jesus fed the 5000), the crowds thought, “Jesus must have boarded the boat in Tiberias where his disciples must have gone too”. It was night, remember, the crowds could not see that disciples did not go NW towards Tiberias, but simply North toward Capernaum. Therefore, in vs. 24 we read that when the crowds figured out that neither Jesus, not disciples were in the boats that came from Tiberias, some of them got into those boats and set out North for Kfar Nahum (Capernaum) a known place of Jesus’ abode.  They wanted to see Jesus and nothing was going to stop them.

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© By Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg, Ph.D.

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  1. Marie Devine

    We are made in the image of God; God is Spirit. When we are baptized, buried with Christ, we are born again of Spirit and water. We have missed the vital point that we are Spirit, not really under the laws of sin, death and nature. Whatsoever we ask in Jesus’s name, we receive.

    This story may help us know that that Spirit power Jesus had on the Sea of Galilee is for us now: A man escaped from Vietnam prison and as he walked he came to a great chasm and river, and he signed, O Lord, how am I going to get over that? Immediately he found himself on the other side. It was verified by the time of escape and time of arrival at rescue that he could not have made the trip otherwise than he testified. Glory to God. This is the “supernatural” that God wants us to know is natural for believers. We are called to live in the Spirit and not in the flesh… this gives greater understanding. Thank You.

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Just by the way of declaimer. I distrust most reports of miracles today :-). When there is a clear proof, however, I believe them. The key is to see them not as miracles, but as signs. That was Jesus’ issue. Thank you, Marie, for your contribution. Dr. Eli

      1. Peter Carter

        I have read these words from you in a number of places at a number of times . . . But the penny has just dropped.

        This is not the first time I have seen the miracle of the translocation of the boat btw. I have also read a commentary pointing it out. This is one of the stories I make my students read to show them that they are reading what they expect to read rather than what is in the bible.

        1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

          It is often like it, isn’t it. You can read or see something many times and then…. suddenly… the penny drops :-).

          1. Peter Carter

            Just reading m comment I did not even say what the ah
            Ha moment was. It is when you talk about signs verses miracles. Although some may say there is not much difference I find it to be a significant one.

            I intend researching it a bit more and then using that when talking with my students.


          2. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

            Peter, where are you teaching? Blessings, Dr. Eli

  2. gustavo vargas angel

    Althought time and space seems just one in this gospel, we can see in Facts of Apostles, who Phillip was transported suddenly, from a place to other, then, this movement with the 12, was possible in that moment, near Kineret, however none else makes quotation about(excepting Luke, who came very after).Could that have happened?

  3. […] read prior section “Jesus and his strange movements around the Sea of Galilee” (Click, here). Jesus puts off the excitement and zeal of the crowds once again, strongly letting them know they […]

  4. gustavo vargas angel

    Dr. Eli: I see, from my poor point of view, who God Almighty makes miracles each day, at each moment, i.e.: the sun comes everyday, like moon each nite, no matter if we can see it; the single of breathing for each of us, is also a miracle, perhaps the big one. The matter, about miracles, as I think, is believe in miracles from the hand of God. Nothing more, nothing less. Best regards.

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      In the next section of the commentary we will read that jesus wanted the people see the signs and not miracles. There is a big difference.

  5. Mª Ruth Gomez

    אןי שאלו שלום ירושלים
    While Reading the text I was realy surprised that most of us look at the story as the miracle of Jesús walking upon the sea, and it was a miracle indeed; but…. what would the people think when they saw the boat arriving safelly out of the storm ?? I myself have been there and just can imagine how wondered it would be because the storm should be dreadful.
    Thanks for all your explanations.
    תודה רבה

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Dear friend, you are most welcome. So glad you are participating in our study. Blessings and peace, Dr. Eli

  6. Drs, Charles van den Berg

    Thank you Eli! This is really a wonderful analysis. It makes my understanding of the Gospel and even my faith more concrete. Distance traveled in time. Therefore, the time was stopped. There is a strong similarity with the work of the Spirit in the story of Philip in Act. 8,26-40. Philip was in a single moment form the road between Jerusalem and Gaza in Asdod

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      yes! I think that this is so because Philip was now part of the body of the resurrected Christ and as such was in this very special period of time (full of miracles) was able to do the kind of things that just do not happen much any more, if ever.

      1. Drs, Charles van den Berg

        I am sure that this act was not made by Philip. It was an act of the Holy Spirit . I think it happened to Philip. Together I am sure that the Spirit was given at that moment a testimony of the fact of the resurrection Christ was a fact and to prove that Philip and others was part of it. At the same time , God could still do this also before the resurrection of Christ and even when Philip was not a part of the body of Christ. God is Omnipotent. For Him is everything possible. However, it is clear , in this context , the Holy Spirit was testifying here that the body the resurrection of Christ was a fact. But was this possible only in ‘this special period of time’? God is still the same, He is still and for ever the Omnipotent.
        Keep thinking about Eli ! We are both part of the body of the resurrected Christ. We could not do it. I believe that, when He wants to do it, we are at the same moment – when you are reading this – , staying with each other , Eli and Charles, form face to face . Even when you are this moment on t… and I am on the west coast of The Netherlands . He is still and for ever the Omnipotent. Eli , are you prepared ? Look around you ! Do you see me? I should say to you: Nice to meet you ! And speak with you about the fact that He is Omnipotent. Don ‘t you see me? It is because He is still the Omnipotent ! And we may still , also together , in word and acts be witnesses of the resurrection of Jesus Christ ! Some people say: such fullness of miracles are only for that special period of time.
        But when we say this, we say: He is not Omnipotent. People , who are saying this, often says too: the gifts of the Spirit were only for that special period of times. When this is true, I am a wicked one , because I have some of this. Or is this a testimony in this time that the resurrected Christ is still living, also in our time? I am sure that , when He wants it, we can still experience a time full of miracles. Eli, is He wants , and I am sure He shall only do it when He knows ‘ it’s a good case, I shall see and speak you at last from face to face !

        1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

          Charles, there is not question that if God wants something He can get it done. I do think miracles occurred in clusters during the key moments of redemptive history this is how I see it.

          1. Drs, Charles van den Berg

            Agree !

          2. Ramon Antonio

            Time and space are some of my favorite themes. And focused on Jesus the possibilities are endless.
            The reading of time jumps inserted into the Gospels regarding Jesus dealings with the disciples is indeed intriguing.
            However, why would the author insert that kind of events in a way that is not part of the primary narrative but has to be deduced by careful reading? And why then, after reading and deducing those signs in the text, we make another inference in the words of Jesus that may mean that he is in fact talking about those signs?
            If indeed this reading is correct the context of the Gospel is key to our understanding.

          3. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

            As always a good question. I think however our “careful” reading in the past was simply remedied by reading the Gospel through at the public gatherings. In other words these things are not at all hidden, they are in fact in our plain sight, if only we are to see the flow of the Gospel from Logos to Lordship over everything (including time) to death and ressurection… so that “you” (John 21) may believe. This how I see it.

  7. kostya

    It is wonderful to read your detailed account of John 6 against the geography of that special area in Galilee where so many miracles occurred and which I personally love, although I do not fish. Regarding the transition from the end of Chapter 5 to beginning of chapter 6, where Jesus moves from Jerusalem to Galilee,it seems to me to be more feasible to see it as a contraction of time by John rather than a transportation miracle which, I know, you did not specifically say occurred but left open to question. If it was a miracle would it not have to include the disciples who went with him from Jerusalem to Galilee? We have the same in the transition at the end of Chapter 4 to the first verse of Chapter 5 when Jesus went from Galilee to Jerusalem, again with His disciples one assumes. One does not on the face of it get the impression that John is speaking of any miracle at those times.

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      I am not sure. Because of what follows with the walking on water and the boat transplanting. But I am fully comfortable with what you are saying. There all kinds of possible things here. Thanks, Kostya!

  8. Bruce Greenough

    What about the connections with the crossing of the sea in the Exodus story? Maybe more clear in the description in Matthew’s Gospel. Some of the connections are clear between the stories themselves, some from Midrash and legend that the disciples would have known.
    Time of early morning is the same. Moses praying all night (rabbis taught), walking on water (Hebrew of Exodus 14 literally says they walked on “dryness” and in Ex 15, “congealed” or “solid” water. Fear – in Ex story it’s literally of “Egypt” (vowels are singular, so not so much “the Egyptians.” Rabbis taught it was the “prince of Egypt” they saw and feared. So Jesus thought to be a demon? Both Moses and Jesus say “Do not fear.” And the legend that God miraculously carried his people from Ramses to the shore of the sea and the instantaneous reaching of the shore when Jesus gets in the boat.

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Intriguing. Thanks, Bruce. Is there a good reason that your don’t comment more often? 🙂

  9. Angela Spiegel

    I love this. Who would have a thought. Especially if you don’t live in Israel how could you even know His movement was ‘strange’ or supernatural other than the obvious walking on water. Thank you!

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Well… its possible not to live in Israel to know that, but I would suppose you should study a lot and visit often :-). Which is what I am doing, I live 2 hours away from the Sea of Galilee and make it there at best once a year :-).

  10. Anna Dempsey

    This account helps you to picture the reality of your faith and brings the Word of God alive. Thank you

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Anna, thanks for your feedback! Dr. Eli

    2. Maria Eugenia Flores

      Me encanta este tema , muy interesante!

      1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

        Thank you, Maria. Keep in touch.