What does John 6:16 mean?
ESV: When evening came, his disciples went down to the sea,
NIV: When evening came, his disciples went down to the lake,
NASB: Now when evening came, His disciples went down to the sea,
CSB: When evening came, his disciples went down to the sea,
NLT: That evening Jesus’ disciples went down to the shore to wait for him.
KJV: And when even was now come, his disciples went down unto the sea,
NKJV: Now when evening came, His disciples went down to the sea,
Verse Commentary:
Jesus sends His disciples away from the crowd for several reasons. The crowd is apparently willing to use violence to accomplish their goals (John 6:15). Involving the disciples in political unrest would put them in the crosshairs of the Roman Empire (John 11:48). More than anything else, however, Jesus probably doesn't want them to let the crowd's adoration feed their egos (Matthew 20:20–28; Luke 22:24). All of Christ's miracles are attached to a spiritual lesson, and this one will be no different. Removing His disciples from the situation solves all three of these problems at the same time (Matthew 14:22).

Jesus' feeding of more than five thousand people (John 6:9-14) is the only miracle recorded in all four Gospels. That provides additional context for the incident described here in the gospel of John. The disciples are sailing to the other side of the Sea of Galilee specifically according to the instructions of Jesus (Mark 6:45). They are not disobeying Him, nor are they making an unwise assumption about His will. Jesus told them to get into a boat and head across the water. This is an important lesson about the nature of trials and hardships: not all suffering is the result of disobedience. In fact, sometimes obedience leads us directly into a storm.

Likewise, according to the gospel of Mark, Christ is watching them during their struggle (Mark 6:45–48). John writes his entire gospel under the assumption that the reader is familiar with the accounts of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. This is why the next verse (John 6:17) will simply state that Jesus "had not yet come" out on the water. Even while the men were afraid, and agonizing over their situation, they were under His watchful eyes.
Verse Context:
John 6:16–21 contains the fifth of John's seven miraculous ''signs'' proving that Jesus Christ is God: Christ walking on the water. This passage also describes a ''hidden'' miracle, not part of the main seven, involving the disciples and their boat. This incident is important for what it teaches about difficulty and suffering. The disciples found themselves in rough seas, after Jesus told them specifically to sail across the Sea of Galilee. Their hard time was not the result of disobedience; rather, their hard time came because they obeyed. Not all struggles are punishments, and not all storms come due to rebellion. At times, obedience to God means heading into a storm.
Chapter Summary:
In chapter 6, Jesus feeds thousands of people who had been following Him. He does this by miraculously dividing the contents of a small lunch, leaving more left over than He had to begin with. At first, the crowd is amazed and they enthusiastically praise Jesus. After sending the disciples across the Sea of Galilee, and rescuing them from a storm by walking on the water, Jesus once again addresses the crowd. This time, He emphasizes the spiritual lesson behind His prior miracle. In response, most of those who had been praising Jesus turn away from Him in disappointment.
Chapter Context:
John chapter 6 occurs some months after the events of chapter 5, bringing the narrative to about one year prior to Jesus' crucifixion. As with the rest of the Gospel of John, the purpose is not to repeat information from the other three Gospels, but to focus on Jesus' status as God incarnate. This chapter continues to expand the list of Jesus' miraculous signs and the witnesses to His divine nature. Here, Jesus also gives the first of seven ''I AM'' statements found in this Gospel. Chapter 7 will once again skip ahead to a major public step in Jesus' path to the cross.
Book Summary:
The disciple John wrote the gospel of John decades after the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke were written. The author assumes that a reader is already familiar with the content of these other works. So, John presents a different perspective, with a greater emphasis on meaning. John uses seven miracles—which he calls "signs"— to prove that Jesus is, in fact, God incarnate. Some of the most well-known verses in the Bible are found here. None is more famous than the one-sentence summary of the gospel found in John 3:16.
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