The Spirit of Prophecy, vol. 2


Chapter 21—Walking on the Water

Meanwhile, the disciples were in trouble. A storm had arisen, and the lake was lashed into fury. Hour after hour they labored at the oars, being driven hither and thither by the resistless force of the waves. All night they were tossed upon the raging billows, feeling liable at any moment to be engulfed beneath them. It was but a few hours’ work, in ordinary weather, to reach the opposite shore, from the place they had left; but their frail bark was driven farther and farther from the port they sought, the plaything of the angry tempest. They had left Jesus with dissatisfied hearts. They had set out, murmuring among themselves because their wishes had not been gratified in the matter of exalting their Lord to be the King of Israel. They had blamed themselves for being so easily turned from their purpose, and yielding so readily to the commands of Jesus. They reasoned that if they had remained and persisted in their intention, they might have finally gained the point. 2SP 267.1

When the storm arose they still more deeply regretted having left Jesus. Had they remained this peril would have been avoided. This was a severe trial of their faith. In the darkness and tempest they sought to gain the point where he had promised to meet them, but the driving wind forced them from their course and made all their efforts futile. They were strong men and accustomed to the water, but now their hearts failed them with terror; they longed for the calm commanding presence of the Master, and felt that were he with them they would be secure. But Jesus had not forgotten his disciples. From the distant shore, his eye pierced the darkness, saw their danger, and read their thoughts. He would not suffer one of them to perish. As a fond mother watches the child she has in kindness corrected, so the compassionate Master watched his disciples; and when their hearts were subdued, their unholy ambition quelled, and they humbly prayed for help, it was given them. At the very moment they believed themselves lost, a flash of lightning revealed the figure of a man walking toward them upon the water. An unspeakable terror seized them. The hands that had grasped the oars with muscle like iron, relaxed their hold, and fell powerless by their sides. The boat rocked at the will of the waves, while their eyes were riveted upon this vision of a man stepping firmly upon the white-capped billows. 2SP 267.2

They thought it must be a spirit, which omened their immediate destruction. Jesus calmly advanced as though he would pass them, but they recognize his form, and feel that he will not leave them in their distress. They cry out, supplicating his help! The figure turns! It is their beloved Master, whose well-known voice speaks, silencing their fear, “Be of good cheer. It is I, be not afraid.” Were ever words so welcome, so reassuring as these! The disciples are speechless with joy. Their apprehensions are gone. The storm is forgotten. They hail Jesus as their Deliverer! 2SP 268.1

Ardent Peter is nearly beside himself with delight. He sees his Master boldly treading the foam-wreathed waves, coming to save his followers, and he loves his Lord as never before. He yearns to embrace and worship him. He longs to meet him and walk by his side upon the stormy water. He cries, “Lord, if it be thou, bid me come unto thee on the water.” Jesus granted his request; but Peter had taken only a step upon the surface of the boiling deep, when he looked back proudly toward his companions to see if they were watching his movements, and admiring the ease with which he trod upon the yielding water. 2SP 269.1

In taking his eyes from Jesus, they fell upon the boisterous waves that seemed greedily threatening to swallow him; their roaring filled his ears, his head swam, his heart failed him with fear. As he is sinking, he recovers presence of mind sufficient to remember that there is One near who can rescue him. He stretches out his arms toward Jesus, crying, “Lord, save me, or I perish!” The pitying Saviour grasps the trembling hands that are reached toward him, and lifts the sinking form beside his own. Never does that kindly face and that arm of strength turn from the supplicating hands that are stretched out for mercy. Peter clings to his Lord with humble trust, while Jesus mildly reproaches him: “O thou of little faith! wherefore didst thou doubt?” 2SP 269.2

The trembling disciple now clings firmly to the hand of the Master till they are both safely seated in the boat among their joyful companions. But Peter was subdued and silent; he had no reason to boast over his fellows, for he had very nearly lost his life through exaltation and unbelief. When he took his eyes from Jesus in order to note the admiration of others, he lost guidance, and doubt and fear seized upon him. So it is in the Christian life; nothing but an eye firmly fixed upon the Saviour will enable us to tread the stormy billows of the world. Immediately upon Jesus taking his place in the boat they were at the land. The tempest had ceased, and the night of horror was succeeded by the light of dawn. The disciples, and others who were also on board, bowed at the feet of Jesus with thankful hearts, saying, “Of a truth thou art the Son of God!” 2SP 270.1

The multitude that had been fed the preceding day had left Jesus on the barren shore, and they knew that there was no boat left by which he could depart. They therefore on the following morning returned to the spot where they had last seen him watching their departure with compassionate eyes. The news of his wonderful miracle of feeding the multitude had spread far and near, and at an early hour they began to arrive, by land and water, in large numbers. But they searched in vain for the great Teacher, and finally returned to Capernaum, still seeking him. 2SP 270.2

Meanwhile, the Master, with his disciples, had found the seclusion they sought the previous day. Jesus felt that it was necessary to give his disciples some special instruction, but he was followed so closely by the crowds that it was extremely difficult to secure such seasons of retirement. He could not obtain the time for prayer in the day-time, but frequently devoted the entire night to communion with his Heavenly Father, wrestling in supplication for the erring children of men. The Saviour, oppressed by the unbelief of humanity, bearing the burden of the world's iniquity, was indeed a Man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief. 2SP 270.3

Jesus made use of the few hours of seclusion with his disciples in praying with them, and teaching them more definitely concerning the nature of his kingdom. He saw that, in their human weakness, they were inclined to desire that his reign should be a temporal one. Their earthly ambition had caused them to become confused as to the real mission of Christ. He now reproved them for their misconception, and taught them that instead of worldly honor it was shame that awaited him, and instead of a throne, the pitiless cross. He taught them that for his sake, and to win salvation, they must also be willing to endure reproach and contumely. 2SP 271.1

The time drew near when Jesus was to die, and leave his disciples to face the cold and cruel world alone. He knew how bitter hate and unbelief would persecute them, and he wished to encourage and strengthen them for their trials. He accordingly went away by himself and prayed for them, interceding with the Father, that in the time of that fearful test which awaited them, their faith would prove steadfast, and his sufferings and death might not utterly overwhelm them with despair. What tender love was this, that, in view of his own approaching agony, reached forward to shield his companions from danger! 2SP 271.2

When he again joined his disciples, he asked them: “Whom do men say that I, the Son of Man, am? And they said, Some say that thou art John the Baptist; some, Elias; and others, Jeremias, or one of the prophets.” Questioning still closer, he inquired, “But whom say ye that I am?” Peter, ever ready to speak, answered for himself and his brethren: “Thou art Christ, the Son of the living God. And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona; for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in Heaven.” 2SP 272.1

Notwithstanding the faith of many had utterly failed, and the power of the priests and rulers was mighty against them, the brave disciple thus boldly declared his belief. Jesus saw, in this acknowledgment, the living principle that would animate the hearts of his believers in coming ages. It is the mysterious working of God's Spirit upon the human heart, that elevates the humblest mind to a knowledge above all earthly wisdom, an acquaintance with the sacred truths of God. Ah, indeed, “blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona, for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee.” 2SP 272.2

Jesus continued: “And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” The word Peter signifies rolling stone. Christ did not refer to Peter as being the rock upon which he would found his church. His expression, “this rock,” applied to himself as the foundation of the Christian church. In Isaiah 28:16, the same reference is made: “Therefore thus saith the Lord God, Behold, I lay in Zion, for a foundation, a stone, a tried stone, a precious corner stone, a sure foundation.” It is the same stone to which reference is made in Luke 20:17, 18: “And he beheld them, and said, What is this then that is written, The stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner? Whosoever shall fall upon that stone shall be broken; but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder.” Also in Mark 12:10, 11: “And have ye not read this scripture, The stone which the builders rejected is become the head of the corner. This was the Lord's doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes?” 2SP 272.3

These texts prove conclusively that Christ is the rock upon which the church is built, and, in his address to Peter, he referred to himself as the rock which is the foundation of the church. He continues:— 2SP 273.1

“And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of Heaven; and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in Heaven; and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in Heaven.” The Roman church makes a wrong application of these words of Christ. They claim that he addressed them specially to Peter. Hence he is represented in works of art as carrying a bunch of keys, which is a symbol of trust and authority given to ambassadors and others in high positions. The words of Christ: “I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of Heaven,” were not addressed to Peter alone, but to the disciples, including those who compose the Christian church in all ages. Peter was given no preference nor power above that of the other disciples. Had Jesus delegated any special authority to one of them, we would not find them so frequently contending among themselves as to who should be greatest. They would have at once submitted to the wish of their Master, and paid honor to the one whom he had selected as their head. 2SP 273.2

But the Roman Catholic church claims that Christ invested Peter with supreme power over the Christian church, and that his successors are divinely authorized to rule the Christian world. In still another place Jesus acknowledges the same power to exist in all the church that is claimed to have been given to Peter alone, upon the authority of the text previously quoted: “Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in Heaven; and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in Heaven.” 2SP 274.1