The Sea of Galilee: A Silent Witness
In the northeastern area of Palestine, there is a rather ordinary body of water. The dimensional features are unimpressive. It is approximately thirteen miles in length (north to south) and some seven miles in breadth (east to west). It is in a depression, 695 feet below sea level, and it has a maximum depth of 165 feet.
In the Scriptures, it is designated as the sea of Chinnereth (Num. 34:11), the lake of Gennesaret (Lk. 5:1), or just “the lake” (Lk. 8:22), the sea of Tiberias (Jn. 6:1), the sea of Galilee (Mt. 4:18), or simply “the sea” (Jn. 6:17-25).
The setting is attractive at certain times of the year. One writer described blooming oleanders at the head of the lake that were twenty feet high and 100 feet in circumference (Thompson 1863, 351). From personal experience, this writer knows how breath-taking a sunrise can be on shimmering Galilee.
However, this little “sea” is not nearly as spectacular as many other bodies of water of far lesser fame. Neither is Galilee known for any significant commercial importance on an international scale, though it provides sustenance for the locals. In short, it lacks all of those qualities which would seem to be required to thrust it into world-wide prominence.
How, then, does one account for the fact that this obscure body of water is so well-known throughout the entire world?
The association of Jesus Christ with the sea of Galilee is the only explanation for its fame. A respected scholar, William Christie, has noted:
“Before the time of the Lord Jesus the Sea of Galilee was to the world an unknown, neglected, and almost unnamed distant inland lake; but He changed all this. He has rendered it immortal” (Hastings 1909, 594).
It is important, however, to ask this question: What connection with this body of water did Christ have that has so endeared it to millions of people over the past two millennia? What did Jesus do — that immortalized this lake? There can be but one answer.
Fishers of Men
By the sea, Jesus called some of his disciples, and performed the miracle of the great catch of fish (Mt. 4:18-22; Mk. 1:16-20; Lk. 5:1-11), after which he promised to make them fishers of men.
Many taught and healed
It was a frequently visited teaching site used by the Lord, and multitudes were miraculously healed near those waters (Mt. 15:29-31; Mk. 7:31-37; Jn. 6:1-2).
“Peace, be still”
On one occasion, the Savior instantly calmed a raging storm on the lake (Mt. 8:18,23-27; Mk. 4:35-41; Lk. 8:23-25).
Demons Cast Out
When Christ cast the demons out of the two unfortunate men of the Gerasene area (east of the sea of Galilee), the unclean spirits entered into a herd of pigs that rushed down a steep embankment and drowned in the sea (Mt. 8:28-34; Mk. 5:1-20; Lk. 8:26-39). The report of this event spread rapidly.
Walking on the Water
The Lord actually walked upon the rolling waves of Galilee (Mt. 14:22-36; Mk. 6:45-56; Jn. 6:16-21), an event which generated deep devotion in the hearts of his disciples (cf. Mt. 14:33).
Fishing for the Temple Tax
On a certain occasion, some of the Jews interrogated the apostle Peter as to whether or not his Master paid the annual temple tax. Though Christ technically was exempt (because he was the Son of Him to whom the temple belonged), in order to prevent stumbling, the Lord sent Peter to the nearby lake.
According to the Lord’s instruction, the apostle cast a hook into the sea, and brought up a fish. In the fish’s mouth was the precise coinage for the temple revenue — for both Jesus and his disciple! A truly astonishing miracle was this (see Mt. 17:24-27).
Jesus and Peter
In a period of discouragement after the death of their Lord, the disciples, led by Peter, had gone fishing. All night they labored but took nothing. At dawn, Jesus appeared on the beach; he spoke out and asked his men (who did not yet recognize him at the moment) if they had caught anything.
They responded in the negative. He then instructed them to cast their net on the opposite side of the boat. When they obeyed his directive, the net was bulging with 153 large fish.
Peter immediately recognized the stranger as Jesus; he threw himself into the water and swam to shore. The others presently followed in the boat, enjoying a precious moment with the risen Savior (Jn. 21:1ff).
A consideration of the references listed above manifestly reveals that the recorded associations of Jesus Christ with the sea of Galilee had to do with his miracles. It was those supernatural “signs” that bequeathed to Galilee’s little lake its undying renown.
Those miracles, though, represented the sort of power which authenticated his message, namely, that he was the One whom he claimed to be — the Christ of Old Testament prophetic fame, the very Son of God (Jn. 20:30-31; Acts 2:22).
And so, that insignificant, minuscule lake, so seemingly silent, is, in a way, a most eloquent witness to the deity of the Man from Nazareth.
- Hastings, James (Ed.). 1909. “Sea of Galilee.” A Dictionary of Christ and the Gospels. Vol. II. Edinburgh, Scotland: T. & T. Clark.
- W. M. Thompson, W. M. 1863. The Land and the Book. London, England: Nelson & Sons.