14. Those men, therefore, when they saw the miracle which Jesus had performed, said, This is truly the Prophet who is to come into the world.15. And when Jesus knew that they would come and take him by force, to make him a king, he again withdrew alone into a mountain.16. And when it was evening, his disciples went down to the sea.17. And having entered into a ship, they came across the sea into Capernaum; and it was now dark, and Jesus had not come to them.18. And the sea arose by means of a great wind that blew.19. When therefore they had rowed about five-and-twenty or thirty furlongs, they see Jesus walking on the sea; and when he approached the ship, they were terrified.20. But he saith to them, It is I, be not terrified.21. They were willing, therefore, to receive him into the ship; and immediately the ship reached the place to which they were going.
14. Those men, therefore. The miracle appears to have been attended by some advantage, that they acknowledge the author of it to be the Messiah; for Christ had no other object in view. But immediately they apply to a different and improper purpose the knowledge which they have obtained concerning Christ. And it is a fault extremely common among men, to corrupt and pervert his truth by their falsehoods, as soon as he has revealed himself to them; and even when they appear to have entered into the right path, they immediately fall away.
15. To make him a king. When those men intended to give to Christ the title and honor of king, there was some ground for what they did. But they erred egregiously in taking upon themselves the liberty of making a king; for Scripture ascribes this as peculiar to God alone, as it is said,
I have appointed my king on my holy hill of Zion,
Again, what sort of kingdom do they contrive for him? An earthly one, which is utterly inconsistent with his person. Hence let us learn how dangerous it is, in the things of God, to neglect His word, and to contrive anything of our own opinion; for there is nothing which the foolish subtlety of our understanding does not corrupt. And what avails the pretense of zeal, when by our disorderly worship we offer a greater insult to God than if a person were expressly and deliberately to make an attack on his glory?
We know how furious were the efforts of adversaries to extinguish the glory of Christ. That violence, indeed, reached its extreme point when he was crucified. But by means of his crucifixion salvation was obtained for the world, and Christ himself obtained a splendid triumph over death and Satan. If he had permitted himself to be now made a king, his spiritual kingdom would have been ruined, the Gospel would have been stamped with everlasting infamy, and the hope of salvation would have been utterly destroyed. Modes of worship regulated according to our own fancy, and honors rashly contrived by men, have no other advantage than this, that they rob God of his true honor, and pour upon him nothing but reproach.
And take him by force. We must also observe the phrase, take by force They wished to take Christ by force, the Evangelist says; that is, with impetuous violence they wished to make him a king, though against his will. If we desire, therefore, that he should approve of the honor which we confer upon him, we ought always to consider what he requires. And, indeed, they who venture to offer to God honors invented by themselves are chargeable with using some sort of force and violence towards him; for obedience is the foundation of true worship. Let us also learn from it with what reverence we ought to abide by the pure and simple word of God; for as soon as we turn aside in the smallest degree, the truth is poisoned by our leaven, so that it is no longer like itself. They learned from the word of God that he who was promised to be the Redeemer would be a king; but out of their own head they contrive an earthly kingdom, and they assign to him a kingdom contrary to the word of God. Thus, whenever we mix up our own opinions with the word of God, faith degenerates into frivolous conjectures. Let believers, therefore, cultivate habitual modesty, lest Satan hurry them into an ardor of inconsiderate and rash zeal, so that, like the Giants, they shall rush violently against God, who is never worshipped aright but when we receive him as he presents himself to us.
It is astonishing that five thousand men should have been seized with such daring presumption, that they did not hesitate, by making a new king, to provoke against themselves Pilate's army and the vast power of the Roman empire; and it is certain that they would never have gone so far, if they had not, relying on the predictions of the Prophets, hoped that God would be on their side, and, consequently, that they would overcome. But still they went wrong in contriving a kingdom of which the Prophets had never spoken. So far are they from having the hand of God favorable to aid their undertaking that, on the contrary, Christ withdraws. That was also the reason why wretched men under Popery wandered so long in gross darkness -- while God was, as it were, absent -- because they had dared to pollute the whole of his worship by their foolish inventions.
16. His disciples went down. Christ undoubtedly intended to conceal himself until the crowd should disperse. We know how difficult it is to allay a popular tumult. Now, if they had openly attempted to do what they had intended, it would have been no easy matter afterwards to wipe off the stain which had once been fixed upon him. Meanwhile, he spent all that time in prayer, as the other Evangelists (Matthew 14:23; Mark 6:46) relate; probably, that God the Father might repress that folly of the people. As to his crossing the lake in a miraculous manner, it is intended to profit his disciples by again confirming their faith. The advantage extended still farther; for next day all the people would easily see that he had not been brought thither by a boat or ship, but that he had come by his own power; for they blockaded the shore from which he had to set out, and would scarcely have been drawn away from it, if they had not seen the disciples cross to a different place.
17. It was now dark. John passes by many circumstances which the other Evangelists introduce; such as, that for several hours they struggled with a contrary wind; for it is probable that the storm arose immediately after the night began to come on; and they tell us that Christ did not appear to his disciples till about the fourth watch of the night, (Matthew 14:28; Mark 6:48.) Those who conjecture that they were still about the middle of the lake when Christ appeared to them, because John says that they had then advanced about twenty-five or thirty furlongs, are led into a mistake by supposing that they had sailed to the farther or opposite bank; for Bethsaida, near which town, Luke tells us, the miracle was performed, (Luke 9:10,) and Capernaum, which the ship reached, (John 6:16,) were situated on the same coast.
Pliny, in his fifth book, states that this lake was six miles in breadth, and sixteen in length. Josephus (in the third book of the Wars of the Jews) assigns to it one hundred furlongs in length, and forty in breadth; and as eight furlongs make one mile, we may easily infer how little the one description differs from the other. So far as relates to the present sailing, my opinion is, that they did not go over so great a space by direct sailing, but through being driven about by the tempest. However that may be, the Evangelist intended to show that, when Christ presented himself to them, they were in the utmost danger. It may be thought strange that the disciples should be tormented in this manner, while others had nothing to disturb them in sailing; but in this manner the Lord often makes his people fall into alarming dangers, that they may more plainly and familiarly recognize him in their deliverance.
19. They were terrified. The other Evangelists explain the cause of that fear to have been, that they thought that it was an apparition, (Matthew 14:26; Mark 6:49.) Now it is impossible not to be seized with consternation and dread, when an apparition is presented before our eyes; for we conclude that it is either some imposture of Satan, or some bad omen which God sends us. Besides, John here holds out to us, as in a mirror, what kind of knowledge of Christ we may obtain without the word, and what advantage may be reaped from that knowledge. For if he present a simple demonstration of his divinity, we immediately fall into our imaginations, and every person forms an idol for himself instead of Christ. After we have thus wandered in our understanding, this is immediately followed by trembling and a confused terror of heart. But when he begins to speak, we then obtain from his voice clear and solid knowledge, and then also joy and delightful peace dawn upon our minds. For there is great weight in these words:
20. It is I: be not terrified We learn from them that it is in Christ's presence alone that we have abundant grounds of confidence, so as to be calm and at ease. But this belongs exclusively to the disciples of Christ; for we shall afterwards see that wicked men were struck down by the same words, It is I, (John 18:6.) The reason of the distinction is, that he is sent as a Judge to the reprobate and unbelievers for their destruction; and, therefore, they cannot bear his presence without being immediately overwhelmed. But believers, who know that he is given to them to make propitiation, as soon as they hear his name, which is a sure pledge to them both of the love of God and of their salvation, take courage as if they had been raised from death to life, calmly look at the clear sky, dwell quietly on earth, and, victorious over every calamity, take him for their shield against all dangers. Nor does he only comfort and encourage them by his word, but actually removes also the cause of the terror by allaying the tempest.