John 6:16-21 - It Was Now Dark and Jesus Had Not Yet Come

Our Diving Deeper lesson title comes from Jesus’ words in verse 17 – “It was now dark and Jesus had not yet come to them”.
• I see these words as deeply symbolic of the nature of Jesus’ relationship with us and His attempts to grow us spiritually and emotionally – heart, mind and will.
• We will explore how our text today makes this apparent.

A couple of observations before we get started:
(1) There are, when surveying Matthew, Mark & John’s accounts of this story, actually 4 miracles to be found.
• Jesus walks on water – John 6:19
• Peter walks on water – Matthew 14:29
• Jesus stops the storm – Matthew 14:32 & Mark 6:51
• Jesus immediately brings the boat to its destination – John 6:21
(2) It is also worth pointing out the time frame of this trip
• The boat trip started “when evening came” (John 6:16), that is between 6:00 and 9:00 p.m.
• And from John 6:18 it appears the wind was already blowing at their departure time.
• And we learn from Matthew 14:25 and Mark 6:48 that as late as the “fourth watch of the night” they were still fighting the wind and waves, that is from 3:00 to 6:00 a.m.
• They had only managed to row “about three or four miles” (John 6:19) during this 6+ hour ordeal.

A quick word about this boat filled with 12 men (ESV Study Bible).
• The “Jesus Boat” was about 26.5 feet long, 7.5 feet wide and 4.5 feet high
• The Sea of Galilee is about 13 miles long and 8 miles wide
• They were a little fish in a big pond and in the dark

Taking into account these observations, let’s see if we can learn a few valuable lessons from our text today.


John 6:16–17 (ESV) — 16 When evening came, his disciples went down to the sea, 17 got into a boat, and started across the sea to Capernaum. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them. 18 The sea became rough because a strong wind was blowing.

At the risk of stating the obvious, Jesus sent His disciples off to Capernaum in the dark.
• But, symbolically speaking, the darkness they faced was a lot more than a setting sun.
From the disciples’ perspective, what did the “darkness” consist of?
    o A rough sea and strong wind – John 6:18
    o “The wind was against them” – Mark 6:48
    o They were “beaten by the waves” – Matthew 14:24
    o They were making “headway painfully” – Mark 6:48
    o And on top of all that, they were ultimately “terrified” at the sight of Jesus – Mark 6:50

In Acts 16 we see another example that “darkness” is not uncommon in the life of the believer.
• Acts 16:19 – Paul and Silas were seized and dragged to marketplace.
• Acts 16:22 – their clothes were stripped off.
• Acts 16:22 – they were attacked by the mob.
• Acts 16:22 – they were beaten with rods.
• Acts 16:23 – after many blows, they were thrown into prison.
• Acts 16:24 – they were put in stocks that spread their legs to induce additional pain.

Laura Hillenbrand’s latest book, Unbroken, tells us about the “darkness” faced by Louis Zamperini:
• In 1943, Louis crashed in the Pacific while on a rescue mission during WWII
• He and 2 survivors were adrift for 47 days
• He was attacked by sharks
• He was shot at by Japanese dive bombers
• Eventually he was rescued by the Japanese
• He was held as a POW for 2 years
• While a prisoner he was severely mistreated and tortured – starved, beaten, humiliated
• In 1945, he was freed
• When freed, he became an alcoholic trying to cope with the trauma he endured
• His marriage was falling apart
• He was filled with anger and nightmares (woke up to realize he was strangling his wife)
• He was obsessed with revenge and killing “The Bird” one of his notorious guards

A harmonization of our text today, teaches us a profound truth about the “darkness” faced by the disciples.
• In John 6:15 we see that after Jesus sent the disciples off, He “withdrew again to the mountain by himself”.
During the hours that the disciples were struggling Jesus was on the mountain doing what?
    o I would suggest He was certainly praying and, among other things, probably praying for the maturation of His disciples
• In fact, we are told in Mark 6:48 that “he saw that they were making headway painfully”.
• So, profoundly, Jesus was “watching” them struggle.
• And in this sense He was with them.
But why was he “watching” them for 6+ hours and not saving them?
    o In some ways it almost seems sadistic.
    o We will get to that in a minute.

First, we need to resolve the story.


John 6:19–21 (ESV) — 19 When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were frightened. 20 But he said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.” 21 Then they were glad to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat was at the land to which they were going.

So 6+ hours later, Jesus finally chose to come to the rescue of the disciples and He did so in a miraculous way.
• Matthew, Mark and John all tell us that the disciples were terrified by the sight of Jesus walking on the water.
• Given the fact that it was dark, perhaps Jesus was somehow illuminated so that they might see Him thereby making the scene eerie.
• But upon speaking, “It is I”, the disciples recognized Jesus and in so doing Jesus’ presence immediately brought peace to the disciples and to the sea.
• And as one more display of Jesus’ power, “immediately the boat was at the land to which they were going”.
• This fourth miracle suggests that the “darkness” the disciples faced had a specific purpose and figuratively led them to a place they needed to be.
• Let’s see what that purpose or reason may have been.


As mentioned previously, Jesus “watched” the disciples endure the “darkness” for hours.
• I suggested that this could seem somewhat sadistic.

But it is even more troubling when we consider the following:
• The phrase “He made” in Matt 14:22 and Mark 6:45 literally means “to force or compel by authoritative command” – Zhodhiates.
• In other words, Jesus made the disciples depart knowing full well the “darkness” that was to come.
• It was not a surprise to Jesus and it was not an accident.
• And this leads us to the first of at least (2) reasons for the “darkness” and Jesus’ role in it.

Reasons for the “darkness”:
(1) “They were safer in the storm in God’s will than on land with the crowds out of God’s will. We must never judge our security on the basis of circumstances alone” – Warren Wiersbe.
• In John 6:15, we see that the crowd was going to take Jesus by force and make Him King.
• It is not out of bounds to consider that the disciples themselves would have been supportive of this action.
• Wiersbe observes that at this point in the disciples’ spiritual walk, “Their ideas of the kingdom were still too national and political”.
    o And shortly, we will see evidence of their immaturity.
• So remarkably, the takeaway here is that the “darkness” we face at any given time could very well be an expression of God’s grace.
    o In other words, the “darkness” we are in now is better for us than the “darkness” we would have faced had circumstances gone the way that makes sense to us.

So we get why Jesus sent them into the “darkness” of the storm.
• Now let’s discuss why Jesus watched and waited – “had not yet come to them” (John 6:17).

Matthew 14:33 tells us that after Jesus showed up, the disciples “worshiped him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God’”.
• Clearly a right response to the four miracles they just witnessed and an improvement.
• However, Mark 6:52 makes this statement, “for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened”.
• And this leads us to the 2nd reason for the “darkness”.

(2) “Darkness” or “storms” are sometimes necessary for hardened hearts.
Jesus put it plainly in Marks’s Gospel.
• Mark 8:17–21 (ESV) — 17 And Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why are you discussing the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? 18 Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear? And do you not remember? 19 When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?” They said to him, “Twelve.” 20 “And the seven for the four thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?” And they said to him, “Seven.” 21 And he said to them, “Do you not yet understand?
• So, from Mark 6:52 and the passages we just read, we see that a purpose of the storm was related directly to the disciples’ inability to rightly understand the power of Jesus.
• John 6:6 tells us the event with the hungry 5,000 was a test and Mark’s Gospel makes it clear that the disciples failed the test.

What is a hardened heart in this context?
• This word, “hardened” literally refers to “a small piece of stone broken off from a larger one”.
• Metaphorically, it denotes an inability to “sense” truth due to a hardness present in one’s heart.
So what was it that the disciples did not understand or “sense” (Mark 8:21)?
• Apparently the disciples did not rightly understand Jesus’ power and the significance of it.
• And this lack of right understanding, or hard heart as Mark and Jesus call it, manifested itself in actions that were contrary to a belief in Christ as Lord and Savior.
• And according to Mark 6:51 the action caused by the lack of a right understanding was to be “utterly astounded”!
    o BDAG defines this phrase as “astonishment mingled with fear, caused by events which are miraculous, extraordinary, or difficult to understand.”

What is wrong with being “utterly astounded” and unable to understand the significance of the power of Jesus?
• Perhaps it is wrong because proper worship begins with recognizing who God is and not simply what He does for us.
• In other words, Jesus is who He is not because of what He does, but because of who He is and because of whose authority He operates.
• So to only recognize Jesus’ power is not to understand its true source and significance.

James Boice makes the following observation:
• In John 6:12, we are told that the disciples gathered the leftovers from the feeding into 12 baskets at Jesus’ command, presumably for them, so that “nothing may be lost”.
• We also see later in Mark 8:14 that this was something that Jesus did with them more than once.
    o Mark 8:14 (ESV) — 14 Now they had forgotten to bring bread, and they had only one loaf with them in the boat.
Boice then asks the question, where was the bread?
In other words, evidence for the source and significance of Jesus’ power was “right under their noses”!
• And yet they were still “utterly astounded”.

Lessons for Us:
In one way, the hard hearted condition of the disciples is troubling because it reveals that believers are not immune to this devastating problem.
• But, this is something that I don’t think comes as a surprise to us.
• And so, because of this, the hard hearted condition of the disciples is oddly comforting.

And additionally, we should now have a better perspective on the “darkness” or “storms” we face as believers.
• They may very well be an expression of God’s grace.
• And they certainly are designed to grow us and soften our hearts.
• Warren Weirsbe puts it like this – the “darkness” or “storm” we are in is either
    o Storm of Correction
    o Storm of Perfection
• In either case, it does not mean that God has left the believer alone.
• It may seem as if “Jesus had not yet come”, but He is with us, praying for us, and waiting for us.

Remember Louis Zamperini’s 6 years of hell that we mentioned briefly.
• For 6 long years, “Jesus had not yet come”.
• But in 1949 Jesus did arrive in Louis’ life and he was saved at a Billy Graham crusade.
• And when he looked back with a born again heart at his life, he saw Jesus everywhere.