A Storm out at Sea

Written by Prof Johan Malan.

In Matthew 14 we read of a difficult situation in which the Lord Jesus had put His disciples. While a contrary wind was rising and a storm brewing, they were made to cross the Sea of Galilee towards evening time in a small rowing boat:

“Immediately Jesus made His disciples get into the boat and go before Him to the other side … And when He had sent the multitudes away, He went up on a mountain by Himself to pray. And when evening had come, He was alone there. But the boat was now in the middle of the sea, tossed by the waves, for the wind was against it. Now in the fourth watch of the night Jesus went to them, walking on the sea. And when the disciples saw Him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying: It is a ghost! And they cried out for fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, Be of good cheer! It is I; do not be afraid. And Peter answered Him and said, Lord, if it is You, command me to come to you on the water. So He said, Come. And when Peter had come down out of the boat, he walked on the water to go to Jesus. But when he saw that the wind was boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink he cried out, saying, Lord, save me! And immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and caught him, and said to him, O you of little faith, why did you doubt? And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. Then those who were in the boat came and worshipped him, saying, Truly You are the Son of God. When they had crossed over, they came to the land of Gennesaret. And when the men of the place recognized Him, they sent out into all that surrounding region, brought to Him all who were sick, and begged Him that they might only touch the hem of His garment. And as many as touched it were made perfectly well” (Matt. 14:22-36).

This is a typological depiction of the entire church of Christ in its nightly voyage across the sea of life. The meeting between Jesus and His disciples in the fourth night watch reflects on the future meeting between Christ and His church at the rapture, when the storms of life will finally come to an end for believers in Jesus.

At the onset of the disciple’s journey they were separated from Jesus. It was late in the afternoon and they were afraid to embark on the voyage alone, but Jesus had commanded them to get on board the boat and depart to the other side. The disciple’s attitude was reminiscent of the fear which would grip them before the crucifixion and ascension of Jesus. On that occasion He said to them, “Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. In my Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also” (John 14:1-3). The fact that Jesus was about to depart from His disciples, leaving them alone in the midst of a hostile world, explains their troubled and fearful hearts. They despaired at the thought of Him leaving them all by themselves.

The same situation prevailed here at the seashore. The disciples were afraid of attempting a voyage across the stormy sea alone at night. Yet Jesus had commanded them to get into the boat without Him and commence the journey to the other side.

Shortly before the onset of this difficult voyage Jesus parted from His disciples and went to pray alone on a high mountain. This action prophetically alludes to His ascension and the fulfilment of His High Priestly ministry to intercede for His disciples at His Father’s throne in heaven.

The nightly voyage of the disciples across a stormy sea with the wind against them is typical of the life which all Christians can expect during the church dispensation on earth. Spiritually speaking, we are in a dark world where we have to shine as lights in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation (Phil. 2:15). The wind is consistently against us. This is indicative of the fact that we are always in conflict with the direction and principles of a depraved world. We should be prepared for this situation since Jesus warned us: “In the world you will have tribulation” (John 16:33). In our vulnerability, caught up in the fierceness of the storm, we should trust completely in God. Paul said:

“For we do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, of our trouble which came to us in Asia: that we were burdened beyond measure, above strength, so that we despaired even of life. Yes, we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves but in God who raises the dead, who delivered us from so great a death, and does deliver us; in whom we trust that He will still deliver us” (2 Cor. 1:8-10). He further elaborates on this:

“From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep; in journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fasting often, in cold and nakedness – besides the other things, what comes upon me daily: my deep concern for all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to stumble, and I do not burn with indignation? If I must boast, I will boast in the things which concern my infirmity” (2 Cor. 11:24-30).

In the next chapter, Paul explains his rather strange disposition of joy towards all his hardships against which he as man is defenceless: “Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor. 12:9-10). When the storms of life threaten to overcome and destroy us, we will find spiritual strength in the Lord and also the necessary motivation to continue with the fight.

It is good to know that the storms of life are often unleashed against us by the adversary of our souls, because of Christ who dwells in us. He said to His disciples, “If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you” (John 15:18). When we are persecuted and rejected because we belong to Christ it is always an honour and something that we should be expecting:

“Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy. If you are reproached for the name of Christ, blessed are you, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you… If anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in this matter” (1 Pet. 4:12-14,16).

The Lord often allows trials and chastening in our lives to deliver us from worldly lusts so we can become more holy and be of service to Him. We should learn to accept trials and to trust the Lord that these experiences will work together for our good and strengthen us for the battle:

“Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but grievous; nevertheless, afterwards it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. Therefore strengthen the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be dislocated, but rather be healed. Pursue peace will all men, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord” (Heb. 12:11-14).

We must realise that no tribulation or distress or problems can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus, as we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us (Rom. 8:35-39). We should commit ourselves to the everlasting and caring arms of the Lord. Whenever we have allowed fear, doubt or self-pity to cause us to sink spiritually, as happened to Peter when he looked away from the Lord Jesus in the midst of the storm, we should remember to stretch out the arm of faith to Jesus. He is mighty to save us as He is forever mightier than the storms that endanger His disciples. He is the conqueror and we need to keep our eyes fixed upon Him. When our focus shifts to the problems surrounding us, the rising dark waves may drive us to despair. It is only when we keep our eyes upon Jesus that our faith and courage will not forsake us during the onslaughts. The presence of the Lord Jesus should always be consciously experienced through the Holy Spirit.

A secret meeting followed by a public appearance

In the fourth night watch Jesus suddenly appeared, walking on the sea, to His disciples in the boat. The fourth night watch is between 3 and 6 o’clock in the morning, which includes the coldest and darkest part of the night. That is the time when the bright morning star appears above a dark horizon. The Lord Jesus says that He is the Bright and Morning Star (Rev. 22:16), and this symbolism refers to the secret meeting with His bridal congregation at the rapture when the rest of the world is still asleep. Only those who are spiritually awake will see the appearance of the Bright and Morning Star.

It was a supernatural and unexpected experience to the disciples on the boat when Jesus suddenly approached them on the stormy sea, walking on the water. This meeting had wonderful results as the wind ceased and the storm immediately subsided. Together with Jesus they travelled the last part of the journey to the other side. The storms of life will be over for all true disciples of the Lord Jesus when they meet Him in the air (1 Thess. 4:16-17).

To those remaining on earth, however, the biggest storm of all time will be raging around them during the seven years of the tribulation. Jesus had warned them: “For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be” (Matt. 24:21). During this time all true Christians will be with the Lord as they are not destined for God’s judgements upon a Christ-rejecting world (Luke 21:36).

Jesus Christ will return to earth after the tribulation period. That will be His public appearance when every eye shall see Him, and He will be accompanied by His glorified church (Zech. 14:4-5; Col. 3:4). The coming of the King will introduce the thousand-year reign of peace when righteousness, harmony and prosperity will prevail on earth, and all the ailments of the past will be healed. This dramatic change is depicted by the arrival of Jesus and His disciples on the shore. The dark, stormy night was over and the sun had just arisen to give light to the world. God promised that “to you who fear my Name the Sun of Righteousness shall arise with healing in his wings” (Mal. 4:2).

The rising of the sun in Gennesaret prophetically refers to the public coming of Jesus after the tribulation period, when every eye shall see Him. “And when they came out of the boat, immediately the people recognized Him” (Mark. 6:54). The people of the land “sent out into all that surrounding region, brought to Him all who were sick, and begged Him that they might only touch the hem of His garment. And as many as touched it were made perfectly well” (Matt. 14:35-36). In the coming millennium, Jesus Christ will be universally recognized, worshipped, and approached by all people to solve their problems. Isaiah says, “The earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea” (Isa. 11:9).

Christians are, at this moment, very close to the end of their nightly voyage through the sea of life. Very soon, the Lord Jesus will appear to His disciples and snatch them away to heavenly places. That will be the beginning of the hour of darkness and tribulation on earth. At the end of this period the King of kings will make His triumphant public appearance on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem to establish His thousand-year reign of peace.

A wonderful future awaits this world after having passed through a time of tribulation because of all its rebelliousness, apostasy and evil, when all the hardened and unrepentant sinners will be destroyed. The new era will dawn during the coming of the great Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ:

“Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory” (Matt. 24:29-30).

There will be no peace until the Lord Jesus comes. Earthly leaders will, at the most, succeed in establishing a temporary, false peace by way of compromise between conflicting ideologies, but lasting peace and prosperity will keep on eluding them until the coming of the One who has all power in heaven and on earth. He will first meet His disciples secretly and then return with them after seven years to rule the world.