Miracles of Jesus: Walking on Water

Bible Story: Jesus Shows Peter How to Walk on Water and Overcome Fear With Faith

Jesus Christ miracle walk on water
Jesus Christ showed his disciple Peter how to walk on water as a lesson in faith, the Bible says in the books of Matthew, Mark, and John. The painting "Walking on Water" by Ivan Aivazovsky, circa 1890, public domain

The Bible records the famous miracle of Jesus Christ walking on water (and helping his disciple Peter, do the same) in three books of the Gospels: Matthew 14:22-36, Mark 6:45-52, and John 6:16-21. While crossing the Sea of Galilee (a large lake in Israel) on a boat at night, Jesus' disciples become alarmed when they see what looks like a ghost approaching their boat during a storm. But then they discover that it's actually Jesus, and one of them -- Saint Peter -- gets out of the boat to try to walk on water himself.

In the process, Jesus shows how to overcome fear with faith. Here's the story, with commentary:

Nighttime Prayer

Jesus had just finished performing another miracle (which has come to be known as "feeding the 5,000") when evening came and he sent his disciples to cross the lake to a place where he planned to join them later. Then Jesus went to spend some time in prayer by himself during the night.

Meanwhile, a storm was starting to kick up the wind and waves on the lake. Mark 14:22-24 records: "Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. Later that night, he was there alone, and the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it."

Is It a Ghost?

The disciples had expressed plenty of fear when they were caught out on the same lake in the middle of another storm, until they witnessed Jesus miraculously calming the storm.

This time, they seem to not be concerned about the storm. But when they catch sight of a figure approaching their boat while walking on the water, they react with fear, guessing that they're seeing a ghost.

Mark 6:47-50 says: "Later that night, the boat was in the middle of the lake, and he was alone on land.

He saw the disciples straining at the oars, because the wind was against them. Shortly before dawn he went out to them, walking on the lake. He was about to pass by them, but when they saw him walking on the lake, they thought he was a ghost. They cried out, because they all saw him and were terrified."

Jesus may have been glowing with light (as many painters have depicted him in their portrayals of this event) when he walked across the water, since the disciples apparently see a figure who looks like a spirit. It's possible that they didn't recognize Jesus because his appearance changed to a spiritually glorified state while he spent time in concentrated prayer just prior to entering the lake, and it's also possible that the water blowing around them during the storm distorted their vision.

Don't Be Afraid

Immediately, Jesus reveals his identity, and Peter decides to verify the information by seeing if the figure claiming to be Jesus will miraculously empower him to walk on water, too. Matthew 14:27-31 records:

"But Jesus immediately said to them: 'Take courage! It is I. Don't be afraid.'

'Lord, if it's you,' Peter replied, 'tell me to come to you on the water.'

'Come,' he said.

Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus.

But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, 'Lord, save me!'

Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. 'You of little faith,' he said, 'why did you doubt?'

Peter was able to accomplish something miraculous -- walking on water -- when he kept his focus on Jesus. But when Peter shifted his attention to his circumstances (the dangerous storm that was blowing a strong wind around him), fear crept into his mind and he began to sink. Peter's experience illustrates the choices that people who are facing difficult circumstances can make when approaching God: choosing either fear or faith, either insecurity or confidence, and either doubt or trust.

The Son of God

The story ends when Jesus and Peter get into the boat with the rest of the disciples, and the disciples react to the miracle they've just witnessed.

Both Matthew and Mark record that after Jesus and Peter enter the boat, the wind dies down. John 6:21 adds that "immediately the boat reached the shore where they were heading." Then the disciples worship Jesus as the Son of God, and Jesus proceeds to perform yet another miracle when the boat reaches shore -- healing sick people.

Matthew 14:33-36 records: "Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, 'Truly you are the Son of God.'

When they had crossed over, they landed at Gennesaret. And when the men of that place recognized Jesus, they sent word to all the surrounding country. People brought all their sick to him and begged him to let the sick just touch the edge of his cloak, and all who touched it were healed."