This well known account finds its place between the miraculous feeding of the multitude (vv. 1-15) and Jesus’ declaration that he is the Bread of Life (vv. 22-71). In the miraculous feeding Jesus demonstrates his divinity. In the lengthy Bread of Life discourse he explains his divinity. In the miraculous interlude of Jesus’ walking on the sea, there is both a powerful demonstration and clear confession of his divinity which would not have been missed by anyone with a knowledge of the Old Testament.
After Jesus went alone into the hills of upper Galilee, his disciples set off in a boat beading for the sea’s northeast shore. As they rowed, a storm blew across the water. Easterly winds are common on the Sea of Galilee and fishermen must watch the weather with caution. But whatever fear they experienced by the rocking of the waves was replaced by fear of seeing Jesus walk toward them across the surface of the sea.
Throughout the Old Testament, God is portrayed as creating, bringing order to, and directing the waters. In the days of Noah, God used water to judge the world. He corrupted Egypt’s water supply prior to the Exodus. And after delivering his people from Egypt, the Lord divided the waters of the Red Sea and led his people safely across. In the Scriptures, water is symbolic of life, cleansing from sin, the sign of the new covenant, and a means of judgment.
Jesus joined his disciples in the boat and spoke extraordinary words: “It is I; do not be afraid.” “It is I,” is a translation of the Greek to be verb (ego eimi). And since there is only the verb and no predicate, the more literal rendering of Jesus words is, “I am.” The Hebrew to be verb (Yahweh) is the name by which God identified himself to Moses (Exodus 3:14). Jesus connects his “I am,” with a call for his disciples to not fear. The awesome power of God over ever detail of his creation works comfort and peace in the hearts of those who know him. “Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress. He made the storm be still, and the waves of the sea were hushed” (Psalm 107:28-29).