Famous Jesus Miracles: Walking on Water, Raising the Dead and Water to Wine

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At the wedding at Cana Jesus changes water Into wine

Jesus performed his first miracle at a wedding feast in Cana of Galilee. These feasts sometimes went on for over a week. At one point the wine ran out and Jesus saved the day by turning water into wine. He was reluctant at first to perform the miracle but his mother insisted he do it. From that day forward, according to the Book of John, "his disciples believed in him." The water-to-wine miracle took place just after he selected his disciples and was establishing a reputation as a divine figure and was under some pressure to prove his divinity.

Michael Symmons Roberts wrote for the BBC: “Jesus and his mother Mary are invited to a wedding in the Galilean town of Cana. Jewish wedding feasts lasted all week and everyone in the village was invited, so it's not surprising that the hosts' wine is said to run out. Jesus asks one of the servants to fill the large water jars with water, and soon there is plenty of wine again. [Source: Michael Symmons Roberts, BBC, September 18, 2009. Roberts is author the book“The Miracles of Jesus”. |::|]

“The miracle would have carried many messages. When the Jewish scriptures looked forward to the kingdom of God, they used a number of metaphors to describe it. One of the most frequently used images is that of a marriage. The Book of Isaiah says: ‘Do not be afraid; you will not suffer shame... For your Maker is your husband... The Lord will call you back as if you were a wife deserted and distressed in spirit - a wife who married young, only to be rejected.’ — Isaiah 54:4-8. |::|

“Another key image is that of a banquet overflowing with a superabundance of wine. ‘On this mountain the Lord Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine - the best of meats and the finest of wines. — Isaiah 25:6. “Amos says: "The days are coming," declares the Lord, "when ... new wine will drip from the mountains and flow from all the hills. I will bring back my exiled people Israel; they will rebuild the ruined cities and live in them. They will plant vineyards and drink their wine." — Amos 9:13-14 |::|

In December 2004, Israeli archaeologists announced they had found the site of Jesus's first miracle: turning water into wine. Among olive trees in the modern town of Cana they found what they believe is the site of ancient Cana and there found pieces of stone vessels like those used to serve wine in Jesus's time. It is quite a stretch to say the vessels found were the vessels used in the wedding party. Stone vessels were used for all all kinds of things — but they do provide some insight to what that party might have been like. The actual location of Cana is still a matter of debate. American archaeologists working a few hundred meters from the Israeli-excavated site found similar vessels and claim their site is the site of the first miracle.

Websites and Resources: Jesus and the Historical Jesus Britannica on Jesus britannica.com Jesus-Christ ; PBS Frontline From Jesus to Christ pbs.org ; Life and Ministry of Jesus Christ bible.org ; Jesus Central jesuscentral.com ; Catholic Encyclopedia: Jesus Christ newadvent.org ; Complete Works of Josephus at Christian Classics Ethereal Library (CCEL) ccel.org ; Christianity BBC on Christianity bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/christianity ; Sacred Texts website sacred-texts.com ; Candida Moss at the Daily Beast Daily Beast Christian Answers christiananswers.net ; Bible: Bible Gateway and the New International Version (NIV) of The Bible biblegateway.com ; King James Version of the Bible gutenberg.org/ebooks Biblical History: Bible History Online bible-history.com ; Biblical Archaeology Society biblicalarchaeology.org

Jesus Raises the Widow's Son from the Dead

Jesus heals the widow's son

The miracle of the raising of the widow's son takes place in the village of Nain in Galilee. Jesus arrives in the town — accompanied by his disciples and a large crowd — during a funeral and sees a dead person being carried out of the gate. The dead man was the only son of a widow. She is surrounded by a large crowd from the town. When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her and he said, "Don't cry." “Then he went up and touched the coffin, and those carrying it stood still. He said "Young man, I say to you, get up!" The dead man sat up and began to talk, and Jesus gave him back to his mother. [Source: Michael Symmons Roberts, BBC, September 18, 2009. Roberts is author the book“The Miracles of Jesus”|::|]

When Jesus brought the man back to life the crowd was astonished, but what delights them more than this triumph over death is the meaning of the miracle.“They were all filled with awe and praised God. "A great prophet has appeared among us," they said. "God has come to help his people." This news about Jesus spread throughout Judea and the surrounding country — Luke 7:11-17 |::|

Michael Symmons Roberts wrote for the BBC: “T“It's a captivating story - Jesus interrupting a funeral cortège to bring the deceased back to life. It isn't hard to picture the scene: the distraught mother weeping and wailing, supported by friends on either side; the confusion and unease as this stranger Jesus approaches the coffin, telling the mother not to cry; the shock and sheer incredulity of the crowd as the boy sits up in his coffin and talks; the boy himself, blinking in the daylight.” |::|

Meaning of the Raising of the Dead Story

Roberts wrote for the BBC: “But what are we to make of it? Maybe Jesus really did bring the boy back from the dead. Or perhaps the boy wasn't dead in the first place, merely in a coma. There will never be an answer to satisfy everyone. To those people who saw it happen there was no doubt - Jesus had brought the widow's son back to life. A pretty astonishing thing to witness. No wonder they were 'filled with awe'.

“The miracle reminds them of the great Jewish prophet Elijah who, eight centuries earlier, had also raised the only son of a widow in a town in Galilee. Elijah was famous as a miracle worker and as a prophet who rebuked those Jews who under the influence of pagan idolatry had strayed from devotion to God. Elijah never died - he was transported to heaven in a chariot of fire. The parallels between Jesus and Elijah were hugely significant. At the time the Jews were longing for an end to Roman oppression and the return of the kingdom of God - a new age in which peace, freedom, righteousness, faithfulness and the rule of God would prevail. The first stage in that road to salvation was the arrival of a prophet who - like Elijah - would rail against sin. Maybe Jesus was that prophet - maybe even a reincarnation of Elijah? |::|

another take on Jesus healing the widow's son

“The Gospels repeatedly make the link between Jesus and Elijah: “When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, "Who do people say the Son of Man is?" They replied, "Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets." - Matthew 16:13-14 |::|

“Clearly though, the Gospel writers believed Jesus was more than a prophet. In Matthew 17:10-13 (and Mark 9:12-13), just after the transfiguration: “The disciples asked him, "Why then do the teachers of the law say that Elijah must come first?" Jesus replied, "To be sure, Elijah comes and will restore all things. But I tell you, Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but have done to him everything they wished. In the same way the Son of Man is going to suffer at their hands." Then the disciples understood that he was talking to them about John the Baptist. -Matthew 17:10-13 |::|

“The resonances between Jesus and Elijah would have been striking to first century Jews and to Christians familiar with the Old Testament. But as Christianity spread into the Roman Empire, the miracle of the raising of the widow's son acquired other meanings. The most important is that it prefigured Jesus' own resurrection. In fact the miracle in Nain is one of three times when Jesus raises the dead. He also raises Jairus' daughter (Matthew 9:18-25, Mark 5:22-42, Luke 8:41-56) and his friend Lazarus (John 11:1-44). But there was a key difference between these miracles and the resurrection of Jesus. The widow's son, Jairus' daughter and Lazarus were resuscitated or revived: they would eventually die again. Jesus on the other hand would live forever. His resurrection entailed a complete transformation in his body and spirit, a complete victory over death.” |::|

Elijah Raises the Widow's Son from the Dead

The Prophet Elijah was one of the holiest men in Jewish history. His story of raising a widow’s son from the dead is quite similar to the story of Jesus doing the same. Roberts wrote for the BBC: “The story - as told in the book of Kings - goes that Elijah was staying with a widow in a small town when her son fell ill. The woman - though poor - had been generous in her hospitality to Elijah, so he was distressed to see her son grow worse and worse, and finally stop breathing. The widow was desperate, consumed by grief. She said to Elijah, "What do you have against me, man of God? Did you come to remind me of my sin and kill my son?" "Give me your son," Elijah replied. He took him from her arms, carried him to the upper room where he was staying, and laid him on his bed. Then he cried out to the Lord, "O Lord my God, have you brought tragedy also upon this widow I am staying with, by causing her son to die?" Then he stretched himself out on the boy three times and cried to the Lord, "O Lord my God, let this boy's life return to him!" [Source: Michael Symmons Roberts. BBC, September 18, 2009, |::|]

Elijah raises the widow's son

“The Lord heard Elijah's cry, and the boy's life returned to him, and he lived. Elijah picked up the child and carried him down from the room into the house. He gave him back to his mother and said "Look, your son is alive!" Then the woman said to Elijah, "Now I know that you are a man of God and that the word of the Lord from your mouth is the truth." — 1 Kings 17:18-24 |::|

“The similarities between the two miracles are clear: a widow's only son, a premature death, a distraught mother met at the town's gate, a restoration of life by a holy man. Same circumstances, same outcome. Jesus' miracle, which looks at first glance like a spontaneous act of compassion towards a grieving mother, was at the same time the spitting image of Elijah's miracle. The original Greek phrase at the end of the story, in which Jesus 'gave him back to his mother' is identical with the phrase used of Elijah after his miracle. No wonder the crowds were astonished. Raised on the Jewish scriptures, taught to revere Elijah as the greatest of prophets, everyone who saw or heard about Jesus and the widow of Nain would make the link with Elijah. According to Luke's Gospel account, one of them even shouts, 'A great prophet has appeared among us.' |::|

“But what does it mean, this copycat miracle? If it was more than an outlandish coincidence, if Jesus was acting out a 'sign' in public, then what was the message of the sign? What was he trying to convey by drawing this parallel with Elijah? To answer that question, the focus has to shift from Jesus, the widow and her son, to the bystanders. Only by understanding the audience can we hope to understand the message they received when Jesus healed the widow's son at Nain.” |::|

Raising Lazarus from the Dead

John 11:14-44 describes Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead four days after he died: 11:14 Then said Jesus unto them plainly, Lazarus is dead. 11:15 And I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, to the intent ye may believe; nevertheless let us go unto him. 11:16 Then said Thomas, which is called Didymus, unto his fellow disciples, Let us also go, that we may die with him. 11:17 Then when Jesus came, he found that he had lain in the grave four days already. 11:18 Now Bethany was nigh unto Jerusalem, about fifteen furlongs off: 11:19 And many of the Jews came to Martha and Mary, to comfort them concerning their brother. 11:20 Then Martha, as soon as she heard that Jesus was coming, went and met him: but Mary sat still in the house. 11:21 Then said Martha unto Jesus, Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died. 11:22 But I know, that even now, whatsoever thou wilt ask of God, God will give it thee. [Source: King James Version of the Bible, gutenberg.org]

Lazarus Awakens by Rembrandt

11:23 Jesus saith unto her, Thy brother shall rise again. 11:24 Martha saith unto him, I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day. 11:25 Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: 11:26 And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Believest thou this? 11:27 She saith unto him, Yea, Lord: I believe that thou art the Christ, the Son of God, which should come into the world. 11:28 And when she had so said, she went her way, and called Mary her sister secretly, saying, The Master is come, and calleth for thee. 11:29 As soon as she heard that, she arose quickly, and came unto him.

11:30 Now Jesus was not yet come into the town, but was in that place where Martha met him. 11:31 The Jews then which were with her in the house, and comforted her, when they saw Mary, that she rose up hastily and went out, followed her, saying, She goeth unto the grave to weep there. 11:32 Then when Mary was come where Jesus was, and saw him, she fell down at his feet, saying unto him, Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died. 11:33 When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews also weeping which came with her, he groaned in the spirit, and was troubled. 11:34 And said, Where have ye laid him? They said unto him, Lord, come and see. 11:35 Jesus wept. 11:36 Then said the Jews, Behold how he loved him! 11:37 And some of them said, Could not this man, which opened the eyes of the blind, have caused that even this man should not have died?

“11:38 Jesus therefore again groaning in himself cometh to the grave. It was a cave, and a stone lay upon it. 11:39 Jesus said, Take ye away the stone. Martha, the sister of him that was dead, saith unto him, Lord, by this time he stinketh: for he hath been dead four days. 11:40 Jesus saith unto her, Said I not unto thee, that, if thou wouldest believe, thou shouldest see the glory of God? 11:41 Then they took away the stone from the place where the dead was laid. And Jesus lifted up his eyes, and said, Father, I thank thee that thou hast heard me.

11:42 And I knew that thou hearest me always: but because of the people which stand by I said it, that they may believe that thou hast sent me. 11:43 And when he thus had spoken, he cried with a loud voice, Lazarus, come forth. 11:44 And he that was dead came forth, bound hand and foot with graveclothes: and his face was bound about with a napkin. Jesus saith unto them, Loose him, and let him go.

Jesus Walks on Water

After the miracle of the loaves and fishes, Jesus tells the disciples to head back to the fishing village of Bethsaida whilst he retires to the mountain to pray on his own. Later that night, the disciples are crossing the sea of Galilee and making little progress against the strong wind when they suddenly see Jesus walking on the water. At first they think it's a ghost, but Jesus reassures them, telling them - 'Take heart, it is I! Do not be afraid!' Then Jesus joins the disciples on the boat. [Source: Michael Symmons Roberts, BBC, September 18, 2009. Roberts is author the book“The Miracles of Jesus”. |::|]

Michael Symmons Roberts wrote for the BBC: “Jews who knew the ancient scriptures would have been familiar with the idea that evil dwelt in a fiery hell. But the scriptures made it clear that evil had another home - the sea. One of the most evocative Jewish representations of evil was Leviathan, a monster who dwelt in the sea. And those ancient scriptures did more than locate the sea as a place inhabited by evil. They also set out who has power over that domain. The book of Job said of God, 'He alone stretches out the heavens and treads on the waves of the sea.' He alone? “When they saw Jesus acting as Joshua - crossing the River Jordan - close to their boat on the Sea of Galilee, it may have crossed their minds that this was a sign of something even greater. If by walking on the sea Jesus was symbolically trampling evil underfoot, then he was acting as God.” |::|

“This raises a major question. How conscious was Jesus that his miracles were acting as signs? What was going on in his mind? Did he see himself as a prophet - the new Elijah? As a military saviour like Moses and Joshua? Or did he see himself as God? How clear was his sense of his own role and identity? To answer that question, we need to understand the language of the healings and exorcisms. They too will need to be decoded by exploring the mindset of first-century Jews.” |::|

Carole Barthelemy from Wisconsin wrote me in an e-mail: “Jesus walked on water. I think my source was Max Dinmot's excellent book, Jews, God and History. I read that the ancient Jews wore wooden objects on their feet for walking on the water.”

Meaning of Jesus Walking on Water

Michael Symmons Roberts wrote for the BBC: “The miracle of the walking on water is best understood in the context of the previous miracle. The feeding of the 5000 would have reminded the disciples of Moses and the Exodus. The miracle of the walking on water would have reminded them of the climax to the Exodus - Joshua and the conquest of the land of Canaan. After wandering for 40 years in the wilderness Moses led the Israelites to the eastern shores of the river Jordan to prepare for the conquest. But Moses died on Mt Nebo before he could begin the invasion. His mission was accomplished by his right man Joshua. [Source: Michael Symmons Roberts, BBC, September 18, 2009 |::|]

“Jesus' miracle of the walking on water would have reminded the disciples of Joshua. Like Joshua, Jesus was crossing waters. Ahead of Joshua was the Ark of the Covenant with the Ten Commandments carried by twelve priests. That scene was inverted and echoed on the Sea of Galilee; ahead of Jesus was a different kind of ark - the wooden boat, carrying the twelve disciples. But the biggest similarity between the two was in their names: Jesus is the Latin for the Hebrew name Joshua. |::|

“In the Jewish mindset of the time, Joshua was another role model for the Messiah - the flipside of Moses. Whereas Moses had freed the Israelites from oppression, it was Joshua who had finished the job by conquering the Promised Land for them. At the time of Jesus, the Jews were looking for a Messiah would not only free them from foreign oppression (as Moses had done), but someone who would also reclaim Judea and Galilee and restore it to the rule of God. In both the miracles of the loaves and fishes and the walking on water, Jesus seemed to fit the bill perfectly. |::|

“But the miracle of the walking on water had many other meanings, especially in that difficult period from the middle of the first century onwards when early Christianity faced hostility and persecution from Imperial tyrants. The sea miracle functioned as a metaphor for the precarious situation in which Christian churches found themselves - especially in Rome. To many Christians the Church must have felt like the fishing boat on the sea of Galilee, buffeted by strong winds and rocked by the waves. They must also have felt that Jesus had left them alone on the boat to fend for themselves. At best he was a ghostly appearance. But the message of the miracle is that they should 'take heart' and not be 'afraid': Jesus had not abandoned them, he was with them. It was a message which helped Christians endure persecution through the centuries.” |::|

Jesus’s Resurrection as a Miracle

Michael Symmons Roberts wrote for the BBC: “The belief that Jesus had been raised from the dead became the foundation of the early Christian Church. What the early Christians made of the resurrection can be gleaned from the letters of St Paul, the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles. It is a complex picture: did the early Christians believe that Jesus had undergone a spiritual or physical resurrection? The earliest sources are the letters of St Paul. His belief in the resurrection of Jesus is based on a vision of the risen Jesus on the road to Damascus. Like the letters of St Paul, the Gospel writers also report appearances of Jesus to the disciples. But the evangelists also report the story of the empty tomb - the discovery of the disappearance of the corpse of Jesus from his tomb on the third day after his crucifixion. The clear implication from this account is that the early Christians took Jesus to have been physically raised from the dead. [Source: Michael Symmons Roberts, BBC, September 18, 2009 |::|]

Rembrandt's Resurrection

“That in itself would have been hailed as a miracle. But a series of religious experiences convinced the early Christians that the resurrection meant much more than that. First, Jesus was the divine son of God. The Acts of the Apostles reports that during the feast of Pentecost the disciples were gathered together when they heard a loud noise like a wind from heaven, and saw tongues of fire descend on them. The Bible says they were filled with the Holy Spirit - and they took that as a sign that Jesus had been resurrected by God. The experience brought about a sudden and powerful transformation in the disciples. Until then Jesus had been a memory. Now for the first time Jesus became the focus of something unprecedented. A new faith flickered into life, a faith that worshipped Jesus as the son of God. |::|

“Another meaning attached to the miracle of the resurrection is that it conferred eternal life to Christians. At the time Jews believed that there would be an after-life - but only at the very end of time. Some Jews believed that at the last judgement the dead would be resurrected, and that it would begin in the cemetery on the Mt of Olives, which overlooks Jerusalem. But the dead would have to wait an eternity before they could taste resurrection. The resurrection of Jesus changed everything. There was no need to wait for the last judgement. If Jesus could conquer death so could others. All one had to do is commit completely to Jesus and follow his path. This would be the new way to an eternal life. |::|

“This meaning gave the early Christians - and Christians throughout history - the strength to endure suffering. The Romans executed thousands of Christian martyrs but the resurrection of Jesus gave people renewed hope. If his resurrection signified victory over death - if it meant eternal life - then death could hold no terror. Because of what the resurrection symbolised, Christian martyrs like St Peter and St Paul were fearless in the face of such persecution.” |::|

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Christian Origins sourcebooks.fordham.edu “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File); “ Encyclopedia of the World’s Religions” edited by R.C. Zaehner (Barnes & Noble Books, 1959); King James Version of the Bible, gutenberg.org; New International Version (NIV) of The Bible, biblegateway.com; Christian Classics Ethereal Library (CCEL) ccel.org , Frontline, PBS, “Encyclopedia of the World Cultures” edited by David Levinson (G.K. Hall & Company, 1994); Wikipedia, BBC, National Geographic, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Live Science, Encyclopedia.com, Archaeology magazine, Reuters, Associated Press, Business Insider, AFP, Library of Congress, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated March 2024

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