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Bible Commentaries
Matthew 14

Dr. Constable's Expository NotesConstable's Expository Notes

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1. The opposition of the Nazarenes and Romans Matthew 13:54 to Matthew 14:12

The theme of opposition continues from the Parables about the Kingdom. Jesus’ reaction to opposition by Israel’s leaders was to withdraw (cf. Matthew 10:23). Matthew recorded Him doing this twice in this section. The first instance of opposition came from the people among whom Jesus had grown up in Nazareth (Matthew 13:54-58). The second came from the Roman leadership of the area in which Jesus was ministering (Matthew 14:1-12). Both sections show that opposition to Jesus was intense, from the Jewish common people to the Roman nobility.

Verses 1-2

"At that time" is again a loose connective not intended to communicate chronological sequence necessarily. Herod Antipas lived primarily at Tiberias on the west shore of Lake Galilee. [Note: Carson, "Matthew," p. 337.] However if all the events described in this story happened on one day, as seems likely, they must have taken place at Herod’s residence at the Machaerus fortress, in southern Perea east of the Jordan River. [Note: See Harold W. Hoehner, Herod Antipas, pp. 146-48.] Antipas ruled over Galilee and Perea from 4 B.C. to A.D. 39, namely, during Jesus’ entire earthly life. Word about Jesus’ ministry reached him easily there (cf. Luke 8:3). Herod had previously beheaded John for criticizing his morality (Matthew 14:3-12). Herod could do this because John had ministered within Herod’s jurisdiction of Perea (John 1:28). Public opinion evidently encouraged Herod to conclude that Jesus was John who had come back to life (cf. Mark 6:14; Luke 9:7). He attributed Jesus’ miracles to the supposedly resurrected John.

"The idea of a ghostly or even physical return of someone who has had a special influence, especially if that influence has been prematurely cut off by violent death, is found in various cultures (think of Elijah, Nero, King Arthur, Elvis)." [Note: France, The Gospel . . ., p. 553.]

Verses 1-12

The opposition of Herod and his friends 14:1-12 (cf. Mark 6:14-29; Luke 9:7-9)

Verses 3-5

The Synoptic writers ascribed moral and religious motives to Herod for executing John (cf. Mark 6:16-29; Luke 3:19-20). Josephus wrote that Herod beheaded John for political reasons. [Note: Josephus, Antiquities of . . ., 18:5:2.] Probably both reasons led Herod to act as he did. [Note: Hoehner, Herod Antipas, pp. 124-49.]

Herod Antipas had two brothers named Philip. The one Matthew referred to here was Herod Philip I. The other brother named Philip was Herod Philip II, tetrarch of Iturea and Trachonitis. Philip I was Herod Antipas’ half-brother. Therefore Antipas’ marriage to Philip’s wife Herodias was incestuous (cf. Leviticus 18:16; Leviticus 20:21). Evidently John had repeatedly rebuked Antipas since the verb in Matthew 14:4 can read, "he used to say [repeatedly]." Herodias was also Antipas’ niece, but this would have been no problem for John since the law did not forbid uncles marrying their nieces. Combining the Synoptic accounts, Antipas appears to have been a weak man controlled by a wicked and ruthless wife, Herodias. Interestingly John, the latter day Elijah, faced the modern counterparts of King Ahab and Queen Jezebel in Antipas and Herodias. Unfortunately Herodias succeeded where Jezebel had failed.

Verses 6-8

The day of celebration may have been Herod’s birthday or the anniversary of his accession to the throne (Gr. genesia). [Note: Edersheim, 1:672.] Herodias’ daughter, by her previous marriage to Philip I, was Salome who was then between 12 and 14 years old. [Note: Hoehner, Herod Antipas, pp. 151-56.] The popular idea that her dance was sensuous does not come from the text but from the reputation of the Herodians for low morals and from the low status of dancing girls. [Note: Carson, "Matthew," p. 338.] Antipas was only a petty monarch, but he acted like one of the powerful Persian kings (cf. Esther 5:3; Esther 5:6; Esther 7:2).

Verses 9-11

Antipas was wrong to give his oath, which he evidently repeated more than once (Matthew 14:7), and he was wrong to keep it. He feared losing face with his guests. The Romans practiced decapitation. That form of execution was not Jewish. Likewise the Romans executed certain prisoners without a trial whereas Jewish law required one. [Note: Ibid., p. 339.] The gore of this scene testifies to the hardhearted condition of the Roman royal family and their courtiers. As the last of the Old Testament prophets, John suffered a martyr’s death, as did many of his predecessors.

"Death, the temporary end of physical life, is not the worst enemy of humanity. Alienation from God is. And thus those who murdered John are far more pitiable than is John himself." [Note: Donald A. Hagner, Matthew 14-28, p. 413.]

Verse 12

Matthew’s notation that Jesus heard about John’s death unites John and Jesus against this political enemy. It also suggests that John’s disciples still had high regard for Jesus (cf. Matthew 11:2-6). As Herod had heard the news about Jesus (Matthew 14:1), now Jesus heard the news about John.

Herod’s testimony to the supernatural character of Jesus’ miracles is important in Matthew’s unfolding theme of people’s perceptions of the King. Likewise the forerunner’s unjust execution at the hands of hardhearted Roman officials foreshadows the fate of the King. [Note: Plummer, p. 201.] Matthew evidently recorded these verses to show how Roman political leaders viewed the King and His forerunner. Opposition against Him was intense, mainly for religious and moral reasons.

"Matthew so connected the ministries of these two men that what happened to one was viewed as having a direct effect on the other. Herod, by rejecting the King’s forerunner, was rejecting the King who followed him." [Note: Barbieri, p. 53.]

Verses 13-14

Since Matthew 14:3-12 are an excursus, the opening words of this pericope must refer to Herod’s response to Jesus’ ministry. When Jesus heard that, He withdrew from Herod’s territory and his animosity (cf. Matthew 12:15). Evidently Jesus believed Herod Antipas would oppose Him as he had opposed His forerunner. As previously (Matthew 12:15) and later (Matthew 15:21), Jesus withdrew from a place of danger and confrontation.

However, Jesus could not escape the crowds that followed Him wherever He went. The lonely place where Jesus retreated was evidently near Bethsaida Julias on Galilee’s northeast shore (Luke 9:10). Jesus traveled there from Capernaum by boat, but the crowds beat Him there on foot having learned where He was going. They walked east along the northern coast of the Sea of Galilee. Matthew again noted the great compassion of the King (cf. Matthew 9:36).

Verses 13-21

Jesus’ feeding of the 5,000 14:13-21 (cf. Mark 6:30-44; Luke 9:10-17; John 6:1-13)

Matthew’s record of this miracle, which all four Gospels contain, stresses Jesus’ power to create, His compassion, and the disciples’ responsibility to minister to multitudes as Jesus’ representatives. It also previews the kingdom banquet (cf. Matthew 8:11). The simple meal that Jesus provided on this occasion in a wholesome setting contrasts with Herod’s lavish feast in a degenerate setting just described. [Note: See Edersheim, 1:677.]

Verses 13-33

2. The withdrawal to Bethsaida 14:13-33

Having experienced strong rejection from the common people and from the nation’s political leaders, Jesus withdrew to train His disciples further. In view of the coming conflict, they needed stronger faith in Him. Jesus cultivated their faith with two miracles.

Verses 15-17

In view of the context (Matthew 14:23) and the meaning of "evening" (Gr. opsios), the time must have been late afternoon. [Note: See ibid., 1:681.] There were several small towns within walking distance of this region where the people could have bought their own suppers.

Jesus directions (Matthew 14:16) turned the disciples’ attention to their own resources. By urging them to consider these, Jesus was leading them to recognize their personal inadequacy and to appeal to Him as the only adequate resource (cf. John 2:1-11). There is nothing in the text or context that suggests the number of the loaves and fishes had symbolic significance, though many of the commentators have thought so.

Verses 18-21

Jesus’ acts of looking heavenward, thanking God, and then breaking the loaves were normal for the head of any Jewish household. [Note: Moore, 2:216-17.] Jesus then performed the miracle, namely, creating enough bread and fish to feed the assembled throng. With 5,000 men present, the total size of the crowd may have been 10,000 to 20,000. Counting only the males had Old Testament precedent (cf. Exodus 12:37). Everyone had enough to eat and felt satisfied (Matthew 14:20). Jesus’ provision was so abundant that there were 12 large wicker baskets of scraps left over, even after many thousands had eaten all they wanted. Evidently each of the 12 disciples had a large basket (Gr. kophinos) and circulated among the crowd until his basket was full (cf. John 6:12-13).

"This sign was very important to three groups-the disciples, the believing remnant, and the wonder-watching unbelievers. From now on the miracles are primarily for the benefit of the disciples in that they are designed to instruct them. But in addition they confirm the faith of those who believe and the unbelief of the unbelieving masses. That they are for the disciples’ training is seen in the fact that the rejection of the Lord is evident. The cities in which He had performed most of His mighty works had already indicated their apathy and opposition. He had left the masses so that He could be apart with the disciples." [Note: Toussaint, Behold the . . ., p. 190.]

Jesus’ training of the disciples is evident in His questioning them and His using them as His agents.

"The significance of this miracle was intended primarily for the disciples. Jesus was illustrating the kind of ministry they would have after His departure. They would be involved in feeding people, but with spiritual food. The source for their feeding would be the Lord Himself. When their supply ran out, as with the bread and fish, they would need to return to the Lord for more. He would supply them, but the feeding would be done through them." [Note: Barbieri, p. 54.]

The Jews had a tradition that when Messiah came He would feed the people with bread from heaven as Moses had done (Deuteronomy 18:15). [Note: Plummer, p. 206.] Elisha also had miraculously fed 100 men (2 Kings 4:42-44). This miracle proved Jesus’ ability to provide for Israel as her King. It probably reminded the spiritually perceptive in the crowd of the messianic banquet that the Old Testament predicted Messiah would provide (Psalms 132:15; cf. Matthew 6:11).

Verse 22

As soon as the people had finished eating, Jesus "immediately compelled" (Gr. eutheos enagkasen) His disciples to enter a boat and depart for the other side of the lake. There appear to have been several reasons for His unusual action. First, this miracle appears to have refueled the enthusiasm of some in the crowd to draft Jesus and to force Him to lead the nation (cf. John 6:15). Perhaps Jesus wanted to spare His disciples from this attractive temptation. [Note: Lenski, p. 568.] Second, Jesus wanted to get away to pray (Matthew 14:23). Third, He wanted to prepare to get some rest (Mark 6:31-32). Fourth, He had an important lesson to teach them.

". . . there are two kinds of storms: storms of correction, when God disciplines us; and storms of perfection, when God helps us to grow. Jonah was in a storm because he disobeyed God and had to be corrected. The disciples were in a storm because they obeyed Christ and had to be perfected." [Note: Wiersbe, 1:51.]

Evidently Jesus sent the disciples up the eastern Galilee coast toward Bethsaida Julias with orders to wait for Him but not beyond a certain time (John 6:17). [Note: B. F. Westcott, The Gospel According to St. John , 1:218; Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John, pp. 348-49.] He planned to travel north by foot. They proceeded west across the lake by boat when He did not appear by the prearranged deadline.

Verses 22-33

Jesus’ walking on the water 14:22-33 (cf. Mark 6:45-52; John 6:14-21)

Jesus proceeded to do a second miracle to deepen His disciples’ faith in Him even more.

Verses 23-24

After dismissing the crowd, Jesus walked up the mountainside (NIV) to pray. There are no real mountains in this part of the Galilee coastline, but there are hills that slope down to the lake. He evidently stayed there longer than He had led the disciples to conclude that He would. Perhaps He prayed about the crowd’s attempts to make Him king (John 6:15) among other things.

The word "evening," as the Jews used it, covers a period from late afternoon to shortly after sunset (cf. Matthew 14:15). Obviously it was now late in that evening period. By this time the boat the disciples were in was out quite a distance from the shore (Matthew 14:24). A storm had arisen and the winds were blowing from the west and evidently forcing them away from the northern shore, impeding their progress to the west.

Verses 25-27

The Jews divided the night, from sunset to sunrise, into three watches (Judges 7:19; Lamentations 2:19). The Romans, however, divided it into four. Matthew used the Roman division of watches. The fourth watch was between 3:00 and 6:00 a.m. Jesus had spent most of the night praying, and the disciples had spent most of the night rowing.

Some translators rendered the Greek word phantasma as "ghost," but it means an apparition (cf. Mark 6:49). The disciples saw Jesus, but to them His appearance resembled that of a ghost. Perhaps rain or fog was responsible as well as poor light. They may have believed the popular superstition that evil spirits lived in the sea and that those who had drowned haunted the water. [Note: France, The Gospel . . ., p. 569.]

Jesus’ response centered on, "It is I." Note the chiasm of His response. The disciples could take courage and not fear because Jesus was there. The words, "I am," were a term Jesus used to claim deity (cf. Exodus 3:14; Isaiah 43:10; Isaiah 51:12). The fourth Gospel stressed Jesus’ use of this term especially. The disciples may not have realized this claim in the terror of the moment, but later they undoubtedly saw the significance of what He had said more clearly.

"Fear is unwarranted where Jesus is present [cf. Matthew 1:23; Matthew 28:20]." [Note: Hagner, Matthew 14-28, p. 425.]

God had ordained that man rule over the sea before the Fall (Genesis 1:28). Here Jesus was doing precisely that; He was fulfilling God’s purpose for humankind. This action gave testimony to His being the Second Adam (cf. Matthew 8:27; Romans 5:12-17), the man who succeeded where Adam had failed. The Old Testament speaks of God walking on or through the sea (Job 9:8; Psalms 77:19; Isaiah 43:16; cf. Psalms 18:16; Psalms 144:7).

Verse 28

This is the first of three occasions in which Matthew recorded that Peter received special treatment (cf. Matthew 16:13-23; Matthew 17:24-27).

"The Evangelist here presents Peter in all of his impetuosity mixed with his great devotion. In keeping with Matthew’s style of writing, these traits, which are first mentioned here, characterize Peter throughout the remainder of the Gospel. More significant is the fact that the place of preeminence among the apostles which Peter here assumes is never lost in the rest of Matthew’s Gospel." [Note: Toussaint, Behold the . . ., pp. 191-92.]

It seems almost incredible that Peter would have believed he could walk on water. However the disciples had already done many mighty miracles because Jesus had given them the power to do so (cf. Matthew 10:1). We could translate the first class condition rendered "if it is you" as "since it is you." Peter evidently wanted to be as close to Jesus as he could be as often as possible (cf. John 21:7).

Verses 29-31

With remarkable trust Peter climbed over the side of the boat and began walking on the water. He, too, in obedience to Jesus’ command, was able to fulfill man’s destiny by subduing the sea. He was doing well until he became more concerned about the waves than about Jesus. "Seeing the wind" is a figure of speech (synecdoche) for seeing the storm. His distressing circumstances distracted his attention and weakened his faith in Jesus. Jesus rebuked him for his weak faith even though it was stronger than that of the other disciples who remained in the boat. Jesus used this rebuke to help Peter and the other disciples see that consistent confidence in Himself was absolutely necessary. Peter became both a good example and a bad one. Jesus rescued him as God had rescued many others from watery graves (cf. Psalms 18:16; Psalms 69:1-3; Psalms 144:7; Jonah 2:10).

Verses 32-33

The stilling of the wind is not the climax of the story. The disciples’ worship of Jesus is. This is the first time they addressed Jesus with His full title (Matthew 16:16; Matthew 26:63; Matthew 27:40; Matthew 27:43; Matthew 27:54; cf. Matthew 3:17; Matthew 4:3; Matthew 4:6). This was a new high for the disciples in their appreciation of Jesus’ person.

"Retrospectively, the disciples, in making this confession, are giving answer to the earlier question they had raised in an equally perilous situation at sea: ’What sort of man is this, that even wind and sea obey him?’ (Matthew 8:27)." [Note: Kingsbury, Matthew as . . ., p. 74.]

In view of their later lapses, the disciples evidently understood this title in the Messianic sense, but their understanding was still not very mature (cf. Mark 6:52). Perhaps, too, their confession here arose from the drama of the moment, whereas later they may have forgotten what they had spoken so truly about Jesus.

"Several important lessons can be learned from this account. (a) Courage comes from knowing that Jesus is present. (b) The answer to fear is faith, and faith is best placed in the One who is identified as the ’I Am.’ (c) Doubt is an evidence of a divided mind. (d) Confessing Jesus’ divine sonship is evidence of faith." [Note: Bailey, in The New . . ., p. 31.]

Verses 34-36

3. The public ministry at Gennesaret 14:34-36 (cf. Mark 6:53-56)

This short section summarizes Jesus’ public ministry at this stage of His ministry. It shows that even though Jesus was withdrawing from unbelievers (Matthew 13:54 to Matthew 14:12) and giving special attention to the training of His disciples (Matthew 14:13-33), He still had time to minister to people who were in need.

Gennesaret was a plain on the northwest coast of the Sea of Galilee. There was also a village called Gennesaret on this coastal plain, probably very close to the modern town of Ginosar. The crowds recognized Jesus instantly when He got out of the boat, and they brought all types of needy people to Him for healing (cf. Matthew 3:5; Matthew 4:24). The woman with the hemorrhage had obtained healing from Jesus after touching the fringe of His cloak (Matthew 9:20-22). Now many others pressed on Him with similar faith and found healing (Matthew 14:36). The faith of these people contrasts with the faith of the disciples in the boat that was much greater.

These few verses do three things. They show the continuing broad appeal of Jesus’ ministry (cf. Matthew 4:23-25; Matthew 8:16; Matthew 9:35-36). They show that Jesus continued to minister to the multitudes even though He concentrated His ministry on His disciples. Third, Jesus showed no concern with becoming ritually unclean through his contacts with the common people. He made people clean rather than becoming unclean with these contacts. This last feature sets the stage for the confrontation over clean and unclean in the next section (Matthew 15:1-20).

Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Matthew 14". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/matthew-14.html. 2012.
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