In this next section we see the urgency and danger of the disciples’ mission. Jesus had been warning the that they would face times where his teachings would threaten their lives and that the depth to which they had pursued his truth would yield its reward, defining them as true disciples and protecting them from falling away. We hear of the terrible death of John the Baptist and the frightening interest of King Herod in the work of Jesus. The name Elijah comes up who, with his successor Elisha, is renowned for calling down judgement on evil Kings and multiplying meagre provisions.
In the story that follows, of the multiplying of the loaves and fishes, Jesus echoes the miracle of Elisha in multiplying bread (2 Kings 4:42-44), even down to directing his disciples to feed the multitude and in the gathering of what’s left. Some may say Jesus is the reincarnation of John, Elijah come back or the Prophet, but in Jesus’ act of feeding the great crowd on the green grass of the wilderness, Jesus shows himself to be greater than these.
This is confirmed by his walking on the water. Echoing Job 9, Jesus tramples on the waves of chaos, walking across the water. In a demonstration of his deity he means to pass them by, an act which signifies the presence of God. But just as he had compassion on the people who needed feeding, he has compassion on the disciples, calming their terror at seeing him, and he enters the boat. And they were, “…utterly astounded, for they did not understand about the loaves but their hearts were hardened.” The writer, reflecting on this with Jesus, is well acquainted with the feelings of those on the boat and adds the authentic retrospective detail that they were utterly astounded and their hearts were hardened to the truth of God’s revelation of himself.
The miracles now seem to redouble and the touching of Jesus’ garment by the crowd builds the tension. This act of faith, first shown by the woman in chapter 5 shows the crowd’s growing conviction that this is the Messiah!