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‘At that time (season) Herod the tetrarch heard the report concerning Jesus.’
John had stirred the people in Peraea, another part of Herod’s territory east of Jordan. But his ministry had been restricted to preaching. He had performed no miracles. Now, however, came news to Herod of great crowds gathering to hear a prophet who performed amazing miracles, who was right here in Galilee. To a man like Herod, who bore a heavy burden of guilt this news was disturbing. As far as he was concerned there could only be one explanation (it was after all unusual that two such prophets should arise one after the other). This must be John the Baptist returned with heavenly power.
Jesus Is Unable To Do Many Mighty Works In His Home Town, But His Mighty Works Impress Herod Who Thinks That He May Be John The Baptist Raised From The Dead (13:58-14:2).
The mighty works of Jesus, which they have heard of through the tales spreading from elsewhere (Luke 4:23), have not impressed His own home town. They refuse to believe that He can do them and so do not bring their sick to be healed. But Herod is impressed and sees Him as John the Baptist raised from the dead.
a And he did not perform many mighty works there because of their unbelief (Matthew 13:58).
b At that time (season) Herod the tetrarch heard the report concerning Jesus, and he said to his servants, “This is John the Baptist. He is risen from the dead” (Matthew 14:1-2 a).
a “Therefore do these powers work in him (Matthew 14:2). p
Note that while His home town do not believe in His mighty works, in the parallel Herod does so. Centrally we have the conclusion that he comes to. It must be John the Baptist who is risen from the dead.
Jesus Is Confirmed As The Son of God, Begins To Establish His New Congregation, Reaches Out To Gentiles, Is Acknowledged As Messiah By His Disciples, and Reveals His Inherent Glory (13:53-17:27).
The advance of the Kingly Rule of Heaven leading up to the final consummation having been made clear by His parables Jesus is now confirmed as the Son of God (Matthew 14:33; Matthew 16:16; Matthew 18:26) and begins to establish a new open community (Matthew 14:13-21; Matthew 15:32-39; Matthew 16:18; compare Matthew 12:25; Matthew 12:50; Matthew 5-7; Matthew 9:15-17). This idea of commencing a new open community was not in itself a novelty among the Jews. The Pharisees had formed their own open community, the Essenes had formed an open community, Qumran had formed a closed community, the disciples of John the Baptist had formed their own open community. The difference was that all of those communities were preparatory, each in its own way awaiting the coming of God’s future Kingly Rule. But as we have seen, Jesus was now establishing God’s Kingly Rule among men (Matthew 6:10; Matthew 6:33; Matthew 11:12; Matthew 13:38; Matthew 13:41). Those who came to Him therefore entered under God’s Kingly Rule.
And as He does so a new vision opens before Him, and His outreach goes out to the Gentiles as well as the Jews (Matthew 15:21-28; Matthew 15:31; Matthew 16:13). His acceptance of this comes out in His feeding of both Jews and Gentiles with the bread of heaven (Matthew 15:32-39). It is thus on mixed Jewish and Gentile territory that He is revealed to be the Messiah (Matthew 16:13-20). The section closes with a clear demonstration of His Sonship and authority over the Temple (Matthew 17:24-27).
But all this is built on the fact of rejection by His own home town (Matthew 13:53-58) and by the civil authorities, the ‘powers that be’, in Galilee (Matthew 14:1-13), followed by the continuing hostility of the most religious and respected men of the day, in combination with the teachers from Jerusalem (Matthew 15:1-14; Matthew 16:1-4). Those who ‘hear’ do not hear, those who ‘see’ do not see, and their hearts are hardened. But those who follow Him will both hear and see (Matthew 16:17; compare Matthew 11:25; Matthew 13:7), even though their faith is small (Matthew 14:31 (compare Matthew 6:30); Matthew 17:20). We can thus understand why He found it necessary to move north. The way was not to be easy.
One theme of this section is feeding. The food of the godless authorities is the head of John the Baptist on a platter (Matthew 14:11) while in contrast those who seek Him feed on the bread of Heaven (Matthew 14:13-21). The Gentiles who seek Him may ‘eat of the children’s food’ (Matthew 15:27-28). They too thus eat of the bread of Heaven (Matthew 15:32-39). The leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees is false teaching (Matthew 16:5-12). That is not to be partaken of.
Note how, following the ministry of chapter 10, mention had been made of the imprisonment of John (Matthew 11:2), followed by the approach of the Scribes and Pharisees to ‘attack’ Jesus (Matthew 12:1-14). Now those ideas are repeated and intensified. The imprisoned John is martyred (Matthew 14:1-12) and the aggressive Pharisees and Scribes are now ‘from Jerusalem’ (Matthew 15:1).
Analysis of the Section Matthew 13:53 to Matthew 17:27
a Jesus comes to His home country. A prophet is without honour in His own country (Matthew 13:53-57).
b He did not many mighty works in His home town because of their unbelief, but because of His mighty works Herod thinks that Jesus is John raised from the dead (Matthew 13:58 to Matthew 14:2).
c Herod arranges for the execution of John and does to him whatever he will (Matthew 14:3-12).
d Jesus reveals His glory, and that He has brought food from Heaven, by feeding five thousand at one time. Then He is alone in the Mountain (Matthew 14:13-21).
e Jesus walks on the water in a stiff and contrary wind and Peter is called on to walk the way of faith in the face of the tempest (Matthew 14:22-31).
f They proclaim Him as the Son of God (Matthew 14:32-36).
g The Scribes and Pharisees challenge Jesus about ritual washing (Matthew 15:1-9).
h Jesus shows that the Pharisees are rejected because they have not been planted by the Father and are blind guides (Matthew 15:10-20).
i The Canaanite woman may, as a Gentile ‘puppy’, eat of the children’s food (Matthew 15:21-28).
j The crowds throng to Jesus, and the dumb, the maimed, the lame, and the blind are healed and ‘they glorified the God of Israel’ (Matthew 15:29-31).
i The feeding of four thousand on Gentile territory. They eat of the children’s food (Matthew 15:32-39).
h The Pharisees and Sadducees seek a sign and are refused one, apart from that of Jonah, and are described as evil and adulterous for doing so (Matthew 16:1-4)
g The disciples are to beware of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees (Matthew 16:5-12).
f Jesus is confessed as the Son of the living God (Matthew 16:13-20).
e The Son of Man must suffer, and His disciples are called on to walk the way of suffering (Matthew 16:21-28).
d Jesus’ glory is revealed to His three chosen disciples in the high mountain. Then they see no man but Jesus only (Matthew 17:1-8).
c Elijah has come but ‘they have done to him whatever they would’ and they realise that He means John the Baptist and is referring to what happened to him (Matthew 17:9-13).
b The disciples fail to heal the paralytic boy because of their unbelief, but faith will move mountains, thus although Jesus will be tried and executed He will be raised from the dead (Matthew 17:14-23).
a Jesus is not recognised in His own country as the Son and therefore pays the Tribute, but He does it from His Father’s treasury (Matthew 17:24-27).
Note that in ‘a’ Jesus is unrecognised for what He is because He is known too well as the son of the carpenter, and in the parallel He is unrecognised even though He is the Son of God. In ‘b’ Jesus is unable to heal in His own country because in their unbelief they do not bring their sick, although His mighty works connect Him with the resurrection, and in the parallel the disciples fail to heal because their faith is insufficient, and Jesus reveals His faith by assuring His disciples of His resurrection. In ‘c’ Herod does to John the Baptist whatever He wills, and in the parallel John the Baptist is declared by Jesus to be the coming Elijah, to whom men did what they willed. In ‘d’ Jesus displays His glory be feeding five thousand and more from five loaves and two fishes, and in the parallel He displays His glory on the Mount of Transfiguration. In ‘e’ Jesus walks on water in a stiff and contrary wind, and Peter stumbles, and in the parallel Jesus reveals He must walk the way of suffering, as must His disciples, and Peter again stumbles. In ‘f’ He is proclaimed to be the Son of God, and in the parallel He is proclaimed by Peter as the Son of the Living God. In ‘g’ the Scribes and Pharisees dispute about ritual washing, and in the parallel Jesus warns against the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees. In ‘h’ the Pharisees are declared not to have been planted by His Father, and to be blind guides, and in the parallel the Pharisees and Sadducees are refused the kind of sign that they want and are declared to be evil and spiritually adulterous. In ‘i’ the Canaanite woman is allowed to eat of the children’s food (that of Israel), and in the parallel the four thousand ‘eat of the children’s food’. Centrally in ‘j’ the crowds in Gentile areas throng to Jesus; the dumb, the maimed, the lame, and the blind are healed (His Messianic work is done among them) and ‘they glorify the God of Israel’.
‘And he said to his servants, “This is John the Baptist. He is risen from the dead, and therefore do these powers work in him.”
Surely the only explanation for this new figure with these amazing powers was that it was John, come back from the dead. That alone explained the source of His unusual powers. This could only bode ill for Herod because of his previous treatment of John. And when a Herod was disturbed, no one knew quite what he would do.
There is a deliberate irony in that Herod is here seen as believing in the resurrection of the dead, but only as a kind of tool that God can use against him to punish him. Later Israel would have the same kind of experience through the resurrection of Jesus. Because of their unbelief His resurrection could only bring them harm as God reached out to judge them, for He was raised not only as Saviour but as judge. But there is in this belief of Herod a hint of what will actually happen to Jesus, and this is expanded on in the parallel incident in the chiasmus of the section, where we will learn that Jesus will rise from the dead (Matthew 17:23).
‘For Herod had laid hold on John, and bound him, and put him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife.’
We are now told why Herod was upset at the idea of John coming back from the grave. It was because of the way that he himself had treated him. Herod had gone on a visit to see his brother Philip (not the tetrarch Herod Philip) and had fallen in love with Philip’s wife, Herodias, who spotting the opportunity of greater prestige and influence had yielded to Herod’s entreaties and had divorced her husband and married him. But such behaviour was forbidden by Jewish Law. A man could not marry the wife of his brother while his brother was still alive.
The Forerunner Is Rejected By The Civil Authorities And Put To Death (14:3-12).
A warning of what lies ahead for Jesus in the future is now introduced. For John, His forerunner has been put to death by Herod the Tetrarch in a most shameful way, and suspicion is now falling on Jesus because, as a result of His ‘mighty works’, He is being seen as John risen from the dead and thus manifesting heavenly powers. Herod’s view was probably that he had come back to haunt him. For he was superstitiously afraid. There is an irony here in that Herod believes in ‘the resurrection’ but from a totally false viewpoint. Instead of it being man’s friend it is seen as his enemy, as God’s way of getting back at man. Such is the blindness of man.
So what Jesus stands for is now being opposed by the powers that be. These words of Herod are an indication of how far he was from really knowing what was going on in the country that he ruled. His ruling was all done by hearsay and speculation and ‘report’, as so often with such monarchs. And the sense of his opposition is such that Jesus will withdraw from the vicinity (Matthew 14:13), recognising the dangers inherent in the situation, for His hour had not yet come. (Among Jesus’ disciples were those from Herod’s household (Luke 8:2) who probably received news of what was happening at court).
While the prime purpose of the narrative here is to explain why Jesus is wary of Herod, the detailed account that follows indicates that Matthew has also another further message to get over, which is why he describes it in some detail. When Matthew goes into detail we can be sure that he always has a purpose for it, and here he is bringing out that this is an ‘evil and adulterous generation’ (Matthew 12:39; Matthew 16:4). For he brings out here that at all levels of Palestinian society there is disobedience, spiritual blindness, adultery, lasciviousness, rebellion against God’s known will and a hatred of the prophets, and that Israel’s society was controlled, not by men who read and loved God’s word (Deuteronomy 17:19-20), but by those who were swayed only by a love of the world and its pleasures. If the Scribes and Pharisees revealed the spiritual destitution of Israel, Herod and his court revealed its total corruption The story sums up Israel. Easy divorce (contrast Matthew 5:27-32; Matthew 19:3-12), murder (contrast Matthew 5:21-26), ‘lawlessness’ (it is not lawful) and retribution on the godly (contrast Matthew 5:10-12; and see Matthew 22:33-41; Matthew 23:34-36), casual oaths (contrast Matthew 5:33-37), an eye for an eye (see Matthew 5:38-42); and pure heartlessness (contrast Matthew 5:43-48). Here was an example of ‘the kingly rule of earth’ set over against what we have seen of the Kingly Rule of Heaven.
Josephus tells us that Herod’s fear of John had partly arisen from his fear that John would start an insurrection against men whom he saw as evil, (Herod’s views of John may well have been influenced by what he knew from his spies about the teachings of the community at Qumran with its expectations of one day rising up and crushing the ungodly). And he may have seen as central to this purpose John’s continual public accusation of him as doing ‘what was not lawful’. Such a charge of ‘lawlessness’ was usually a preliminary to retributive action. Thus the picture of John’s attitude against Herod here ties in with Josephus’ view of him that Herod (who would tend to think politically) saw him as a possible reactionary and revolutionary.
Note On Herod The Tetrarch.
Herod the Tetrarch was a son of Herod the Great, and after his father’s death was made tetrarch of Galilee and Peraea, and was popularly though inaccurately termed ‘king’. Herod was previously married and his first wife was the daughter of Aretas, king of the Nabateans, and he divorced her in order to marry Herodias who was his half-brother Philip’s wife. This in itself was politically explosive causing a deep rift and warfare with the Nabateans, which resulted in his defeat, from which he was only saved by the intervention of Rome. Philip (not the tetrarch) was a son of Herod the Great and Mariamne II and thus his half-brother. Thus to marry his divorced wife was to break Jewish Law (Leviticus 18:16; Leviticus 20:21). But Herodias was an adventuress, and happily divorced her husband in order to gain the great prize of being married to a tetrarch. She was in fact the daughter of Herod’s half brother Aristobulus, and was totally unscrupulous. It was in the end her ever increasing desire for status that led to Herod losing his tetrarchy and being banished to Gaul. But it was then that she revealed that even she was not all bad. When the emperor was prepared to exempt her from the banishment, she chose rather to endure it with her husband.
End of note.
a For Herod had laid hold on John, and bound him (Matthew 14:3 a).
b And put him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, for John said to him, “It is not lawful for you to have her” (Matthew 14:3-4).
c And when he would have put him to death, he feared the populace, because they counted him as a prophet (Matthew 14:5).
d But when Herod’s birthday came, the daughter of Herodias danced among the people gathered (‘in the midst’), and pleased Herod (Matthew 14:6).
e Whereupon he promised with an oath to give her whatever she should ask (Matthew 14:7).
d And she, being put forward by her mother, says, “Give me here on a large dish the head of John the Baptist” (Matthew 14:8).
c And the king was grieved, but for the sake of his oaths, and of those who sat at meat with him, (he was afraid of them) he commanded it to be given, and he sent and beheaded John in the prison (Matthew 14:9-10).
b And his head was brought on a large dish, and given to the damsel, and she brought it to her mother,
a And his disciples came, and took up the corpse, and buried him, and they went and told Jesus (Matthew 14:11-12).
Note that in ‘a’ Herod lays hold of John and binds him, and in the parallel John’s disciples lay hold of his body and bury him. In ‘b’ Herod puts John in prison for Herodias’ sake, and in the parallel John’s head, cut off for her sake, is given to Herodias. In ‘c’ Herod wanted to put John to death but feared the people, and in the parallel he puts him to death because he fears his contemporaries. In ‘d’ Herod is seduced by Salome’s dancing, and in the parallel she asks for the head of John on a dish (continuing the party atmosphere) in response. In ‘e’ is the foolish oath made by a drunken Herod, a proof of his unworthiness.
‘For John said to him, “It is not lawful for you to have her.” ’
Thus John had boldly approached Herod and told him that what he was doing was against the Law of God. Herod’s immediate response had been to imprison him. ‘John said to him continually’ (imperfect tense) that what he was doing was ‘unlawful’ (against the Law of God). The continual charge of doing what ‘was not lawful’ would have aroused fears in Herod that John was planning an insurrection against him, especially in view of John’s increasing popularity and his fierce declarations of judgment. Like his father he was no doubt somewhat paranoid.
‘And when he would have put him to death, he feared the populace, because they counted him as a prophet.’
But although he would have liked to have John put to death, he dared not do so, for he was afraid of the disturbance that it would cause among the people. He knew that they believed that John was a prophet, so that to execute him would be looked on by them as sacrilege. And disturbances among the people would not be smiled on by his Roman masters.
Herod both feared and hated John. He wanted him alive, and he wanted him dead. But had he not superstitiously feared him John would no doubt have been dead already. Herod was clearly a weak man filled with conflicting emotions.
‘As a prophet.’ Jesus has just referred to Himself indirectly as a prophet (Matthew 13:57). Perhaps there is an intended hint here of what happens to popular prophets in Israel.
‘But when Herod’s birthday came, the daughter of Herodias danced among the people gathered (‘in the midst’), and pleased Herod.’
And then there had been an unfortunate occurrence for a man whose life was ruled by pleasure, drink and lust, and who ignored the Law of God. It had been his birthday. And at the gathering of those who came together to do him honour (a Hellenistic, not a Jewish custom) there was public dancing. And Salome, the daughter of Herodias, (probably about fourteen years of age), who was seemingly a slut at heart, had danced, no doubt suggestively (most such dancing was suggestive. That was a main purpose of it) and certainly effectively, in front of the gathering, and had stirred the drunken king’s desires. Such behaviour was not what would be expected of a Tetrarch’s daughter in Jewry, and the fact that he allowed it shows the depths to which he had sunk. But he had little regard for Jewish Law or Jewish feelings. Her dance had stirred him up emotionally, to such an extent that he wanted to please her. She was after all his daughter-in-law. He would not therefore feel that any request, made by someone with whom he probably had much familiarity, was likely to be a threat to his position.
‘Whereupon he promised with an oath to give her whatever she should ask.’
So he swore on oath that he would give her anything that she asked. To be fair to him he little dreamed what the consequences would be. Even he did not realise the insane jealousy and fury of his wife, and her cruel determination to gain revenge against the fearless prophet who had dared to rebuke her publicly, making her appear to be what she was.
‘And she, being put forward by her mother, says, “Give me here on a large dish the head of John the Baptist.” ’
So Herodias stepped in and impressed on her daughter that she should ask for the head of John the Baptist. It tells us all that we need to know about Salome, whose anger and bitterness must have been stirred up by her mother, that instead of protesting at such a thought, she fell in line with it. Both must have known what even the worst of their ‘friends’ would think about such a move, but they were filled with such intense bitterness against John that it overcame everything else. Salome, therefore, made her request to Herod, “Give me here on a large dish the head of John the Baptist.” This was to be her birthday dish. The idea was probably that it suited birthday celebrations, and the hope may have been that it would be seen as a grotesque joke, deserving a laugh at such an assembly as her ‘meal’ was served up. The very grotesqueness of the request demonstrates to what depths of depravity Salome had sunk, helped on by her mother. She was worthy of the house of Herod.
‘And the king was grieved, but for the sake of his oaths, and of those who sat at meat with him, he commanded it to be given.’
The king was ‘grieved’. He might hate John but he respected him and was even afraid of him. This was the last request that he had expected. But because of the strength of his oath, which he no doubt now regretted, and in order to maintain face in front of all the great and prominent men who had heard his oath, he commanded that it should be done as she said. Legally he could have withdrawn from his oath under Jewish Law, but his guests were not Jewish, and to them a prophet would not have been worth bothering about, so that Herod may well have recognised that they might well despise someone who counted an odd prophet as being worth more than a man’s oath.
‘The king.’ An honorary title (see above). Matthew may well have intended it to be sardonic. This man wanted to be king, and yet he behaved like this.
‘And he sent and beheaded John in the prison.’
Thus he sent and arranged for John, lying in prison at Machaerus, to be beheaded. This was strictly illegal without a trial, but he would do it on the basis that he was an insurrectionist. Perhaps Pilate was present and gave him the nod. His soldiers entered the dark and dreary dungeon where John was still waiting in hope of Messianic deliverance (Matthew 11:3-4), made him kneel, and smote off his head. It was another reminder to all of the destiny of prophets, and that the way of Jesus was the way of the cross.
‘And his head was brought on a large dish, and given to the damsel, and she brought it to her mother.’
Then John’s head was placed on a large serving dish, and ceremoniously handed over to the waiting teenage slut, who took it in to her mother. So hardened were they both that this grisly behaviour seems not to have worried them a jot. There appears to have been no hesitation on Salome’s part.
The presenting of John’s head on a meat dish, coming as it does before the feeding of the five thousand, may well have been meant by Matthew to be seen as in direct contrast. The ungodly partake of the blood of the prophets (Matthew 23:30). The righteous partake of the food of God, (and spiritually of the body and blood of Christ - John 6:53-57).
‘And his disciples came, and took up the corpse, and buried him, and they went and told Jesus.’
Then the faithful disciples of John came, no doubt devastated by the news, and took up John’s corpse, and gave it a decent burial. We are probably to see in this an indication that God had not forgotten him even after death (compare Matthew 27:57-60). It was a brave act, and probably prevented the body being publicly humiliated, for the public exposure of the body of an executed criminal was common practise. (It may, however, have been publicly humiliated before they obtained it). Then they went and informed Jesus of what had happened. This may suggest that they would now offer their allegiance to Him. That it came as a warning to Him is suggested by what follows.
‘Now when Jesus heard, he withdrew from there in a boat, to a wilderness place apart, and when the crowds heard of it, they followed him on foot from the cities.’
‘When Jesus heard.’ What did Jesus hear? Was it the news of the death of John as in Matthew 14:12. Or was it the news of what Herod was saying about Him in Matthew 14:2? Matthew quite possibly intends us to understand by it the whole scenario. He learned of the death of John and He heard the rumours that were flying around about the way that Herod was thinking. But whichever way it was He noted the danger that it involved. Herod in this mood was not to be trusted. So He ‘withdrew’ across the water into a wilderness place, in the same way as Israel had done from Pharaoh. Compare, ‘Out of Egypt have I called My Son’ (Matthew 2:15). This was why He had come. For withdrawal as a result of hearing of danger see also Matthew 2:22; Matthew 4:12.
And ‘when the crowds heard of it they followed Him on foot from the cities’. There is probably significance to be read into the fact that ‘they followed Jesus’. Here were those who would not desert Him as others had but would follow Him wherever He went (compare Matthew 8:19). They are the beginnings of the new community, which is why the disciples have a duty to feed them. ‘On foot.’ It was ‘on foot’ that the people originally set off on the Exodus (Exodus 12:37), to ‘a wilderness’ place. The wilderness in Psalms 78:19 is also anarthrous. They have left the cities (as they left the cities of Egypt) and sought Him in the wilderness, leaving the cities behind. Cities are regularly the sign of rebellion against God in the Scriptures (e.g. Genesis 4:17; Genesis 11:1-9; and often). So, in a few brief words, every one of which counts, Matthew has skilfully depicted a new Exodus.
Jesus Provides A Messianic Fellowship Meal In The Wilderness For His Symbolic New Community (14:13-21).
Jesus, having been rejected by His home country and by the powers that be, has compassion on those who do follow Him into ‘a wilderness place’ and feeds them with bread from Heaven. There may here be a deliberate connection with the Exodus. (Note that Psalms 77:19 LXX (Psalms 78:19 MT) with the Exodus in mind also has no article on ‘wilderness’). In the words of Psalms 78:0 (already in mind in Matthew 13:35), ‘They said, “Can God prepare a table in the wilderness? -- Can He give bread also?” -- He commanded the skies above and opened the doors of Heaven, and He rained down manna on them to eat, and gave them of the corn of Heaven. Man did eat the bread of the mighty. He sent them food to the full’ (Psalms 78:19-25). Note the parallel connections, firstly with the wilderness (Matthew 14:15; Psalms 78:19), secondly with the provision from Heaven (Matthew 14:19; Psalms 78:24), and thirdly the fact that they received food to the full (Matthew 14:20; Psalms 78:25). So the One Who had enlightened them with parables in ‘fulfilment’ of Psalms 78:2 (see Matthew 13:35), now fed them with a full sufficiency of bread in the terms of that Psalm.
We are reminded again of Matthew 2:15 where God ‘brought His Son out of Egypt’, and here He now was, feeding His people in a wilderness place, as He had done originally. Here was the new congregation of Israel in embryo, fleeing in the face of the cruel king (Herod), and being fed with the bread of Heaven in the wilderness. Here was the greater than Elisha feeding the crowds by a miracle (2 Kings 4:42-44). That feeding followed the re-entry into the land via the crossing of the Jordan, Jericho and Bethel (2 Kings 2:13-23), thus repeating the Exodus. Here was the prelude to the coming Messianic feast (Isaiah 25:6; Isaiah 55:2 ff) fulfilling the expectation that when the Messiah came He would feed His people with the manna (see Revelation 2:17, and compare 2 Baruch 29:8 for the Jewish tradition). Here was the One Who was providing ‘bread for the eater’ (as He had provided seed for the sower) in terms of His word going forth to do His will (Isaiah 55:10). Here was One Who was Himself the Bread of Life symbolically feeding His people on Himself through their coming and believing (John 6:32-35; John 6:47-51). Note that in fact John 6:31 quotes from Psalms 78:24 demonstrating that Jesus had that Psalm in mind. But in a sense this idea of the bread of life was not new. Isaiah 55:2 very much brings out the significance of bread as symbolising what is good and life-giving in the spiritual sphere.
The connection with Elisha is strengthened by Jesus words, ‘YOU give them to eat’ for in 2 Kings 4:42 we read that Elisha said, ‘Give to the people that they may eat’, and the final conclusion is also significant, ‘thus says the LORD, they will eat and will leave thereof’ (2 Kings 4:43). And ‘they did eat and left thereof according to the word of the LORD’ (2 Kings 4:44). The connection with Elisha is significant, for Elisha followed Elijah, and now Jesus, revealing Himself as a greater than Elisha, is following John, the new Elijah. It is not accidental that this incident follows immediately on the description of the death of John. Were it not for Elisha the death of Elijah would have been a huge body blow to the righteous in Israel, especially the ‘sons of the prophets’ (2 Kings 2:3), but Elisha had successfully replaced Elijah and triumphantly entered Israel in his place (Crossing the Jordan - Jericho - Bethel (2 Kings 2:13-23)). Now in the same way on the death of John, the new Deliverer, as One on Whom John’s followers can fix their hopes, is revealed in the wilderness, just as John had appeared in the wilderness before Him (Matthew 3:1), and the crowds flock to Him as they had flocked to John (Matthew 3:5).
We should note also the emphasis that there is in Matthew 14:19 on the fact that this is a family meal with the master of the feast dispensing the bread and fishes. This clearly stresses the oneness of the community.
We should note further that the initial feeding with manna in the wilderness was closely connected with the glory of God. ‘As Aaron spoke to the whole congregation of the people of Israel, and they looked towards the wilderness, and behold the glory of the Lord appeared in the cloud, and the Lord said to Moses, -- say to them -- in the morning you will be filled with bread, then you will know that I am YHWH your God’ (Exodus 16:10-12). So by feeding the people Jesus was calling on them to recognise that the glory of God was there.
That Jesus intended this feeding of the people to be highly significant comes out in that, along with His walking on the water, it is the only miracle that Jesus performed that was not ‘forced on Him’, (for in those days people were used to fending for themselves so that His feeding of them was a ‘voluntary’ act), either as a result of having compassion on someone who needed something extraordinary doing, responding to an appeal, or being forced by circumstances. Here it was totally and deliberately a self-revelation which no one expected from Him. As we see above, it demonstrated that a new Deliverance had begun, and that these were His new Messianic people. (Indeed it got so close to the mark that some of the people, catching the point, even if wrongly interpreting it, began to plan to make him king (John 6:15), and He had quickly to withdraw from the scene, but the Synoptics are not interested in that. They want it to have a positive message about His Messiahship, and ignore the adverse happenings. Incidentally this is strong evidence of how miraculous it was. Men do not get so stirred up by sharing a picnic, or partaking of a symbolic meal).
a Now when Jesus heard it, He withdrew from there in a boat, to a wilderness place apart, and when the crowds heard of it, they followed Him on foot from the cities, and he came forth, and saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them, and healed their sick (Matthew 14:13-14)
b And when even was come, the disciples came to him, saying, “The place is wilderness, and the time is already past. Send the crowds away, that they may go into the villages, and buy themselves food” (Matthew 14:15).
c But Jesus said to them, “They have no need to go away. You give them to eat” (Matthew 14:16).
d And they say to him, “We have here but five loaves, and two fishes” (Matthew 14:17).
e And he said, “Bring them here to me”, and he commanded the crowds to sit down on the grass
d And he took the five loaves, and the two fishes (Matthew 14:19 a)
c And looking up to heaven, he blessed, and broke and gave the loaves to the disciples, and the disciples to the crowds (Matthew 14:19 b).
b And they all ate, and were filled, and they took up what remained over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full (Matthew 14:20).
a And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children (Matthew 14:21).
Note that in ‘a’ the crowds gathered to Jesus and He had compassion on them, and in the parallel all the crowds who are fed by Him are five thousand plus women and children. In ‘b’ the disciples want the crowd sent away because they are in the wilderness, so that they may find something to eat, and in the parallel they all ate and were filled in the wilderness without departing, with plenty to spare. In ‘c’ Jesus says that they have no need to go away and that the disciples are to feed them, and in the parallel he commits the bread that He has to God and the disciples are thus able to feed them. In ‘d’ they declare that they have only five loaves and two fishes, and in the parallel Jesus commandeers the five loaves and the two fishes. Centrally in ‘e’ what is available is to be brought to Jesus, and He commands the crowds to sit down.
‘And he came forth, and saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them, and healed their sick.’
And when Jesus left the boat, He saw the great crowd and had compassion on them. Compare here Matthew 9:36. ‘Because they were as sheep without a shepherd’ has therefore to be read in, as it is expressly in Mark 6:34. He knew that He was their Shepherd, and ‘He healed their sick’. Compare ‘those who are whole have no need of a physician, but those who are sick’ (Matthew 9:12), and ‘Himself bore our afflictions and carried our diseases’ (Matthew 8:17). He was thus as the Servant bearing the burdens of these crowds, and as a physician was making them whole. Mark says that ‘He taught them many things’, and Luke has it that ‘He welcomed them and spoke to them of the Kingly Rule of God’ and healed (Luke 9:11). Matthew intends his description therefore to be all encompassing. Here are the new people of God being tended by the Shepherd.
We should note here the supreme patience and compassion of Jesus. He had headed off across the water in order to seek solitude and safety. Yet here the crowds had come together, disturbing His solitude, and drawing attention to His presence. But there is not even the hint of impatient concern in His behaviour. He accepts them for what they are, and welcomes them, patiently teaching and healing. The tenacity of the crowds comes out in that they had clearly watched the progress of the boat on the small Lake as it bore Him off, and had recognised that by going round the northern end of the Lake they could head Him off, which was what they had done.
‘And when even was come, the disciples came to him, saying, “The place is a wilderness, and the time is already past. Send the crowds away, that they may go into the villages, and buy themselves food.’
The crowds spent the day listening to Jesus, and as evening approached, the disciples became concerned. The crowds had come a long way and would be hungry. And they were a long way from home. The usual mealtime had already passed. So they were going to need provision, and here they were in ‘a wilderness’. The only hope for them therefore was to scatter among the surrounding villages in order to buy some food, however little. So they called on Jesus to dismiss the crowds for this purpose. It was an act of compassion towards the crowds, being carried out by men who could see no other option.
Note the reference to villages. They are well away from the larger cities and towns. It was to avoid them that Jesus had come here.
‘But Jesus said to them, “They have no need to go away. You give them to eat.”
Then Jesus quietly turned to the disciples and said, ‘There is no need for them to go away. You give them to eat.’ (The ‘you’ is emphatic). It is difficult to avoid the impression that Jesus has 2 Kings 4:42 in mind, where Elisha says to his followers, ‘Give to the people that they may eat’, at a time when there was patently too little food for everyone. There it was followed by the insufficient becoming sufficient and to spare. Was Jesus then testing out His disciples to see what they would do, and how they would respond, as He will shortly test out Peter (Matthew 14:29)? After all they had claimed that they had ‘understood’ about the coming of the Kingly Rule of Heaven (Matthew 13:51). Did they have sufficient understanding for this moment? There may have been a slight hope at the back of His mind that it would be so, but the more probable significance in what He is doing is that He wants His disciples to recognise that in following Him and being His Apostles they must take responsibility for believers, not leave them to themselves.
( In LXX Elisha says, ‘dote tow laow’ - ‘give to the people’. Here Jesus says ‘dote autois’ - ‘give to them’. LXX then uses esthio while Jesus uses phagein, but it should be noted that LXX then has phagomai in verse 43 where ‘the Lord’ says they shall eat. Matthew’s source may well have been distinguishing Jesus from Elisha by deliberately using the verb ‘the Lord’ used).
‘And they say to him, “We have here but five loaves, and two fishes.” ’
Their reply was simple. ‘All we have available are five loaves and two fishes’. We learn from elsewhere (John 6:8-9) that these were contributed by a young boy who had probably preserved them by having the foresight to keep his own packed lunch untouched, ready for his homeward journey, meanwhile no doubt benefiting from the generosity of others (he would think that being grown ups they probably had plenty).
In the light of the mention later of ‘five thousand men’, and the later ‘seven loaves’ of the parallel story, the numbers are probably seen by Matthew as significant. The ‘five’ would represent the covenant, as five regularly does, and this was therefore covenant food. The two fishes would then make up the seven to indicate a divinely complete and perfect meal. It was thus ideal provision for a divine covenant meal. But it did not seem so to the disciples. To them it was just not enough.
‘And he said, “Bring them here to me.”
Then the command was given which made all the difference. Jesus commanded that they be brought to Him. In His hands they would prove totally sufficient. No one present could have even imagined what was about to happen. It had been one thing for Elisha to feed a hundred men, but here were well over five thousand people, and Jesus had far less than Elisha had to start with.
‘And he commanded the crowds to recline on the grass, and he took the five loaves, and the two fishes, and looking up to heaven, he blessed, and broke and gave the loaves to the disciples, and the disciples to the crowds.” ’
‘He commanded the crowds to recline on the grass.’ Reclining was the attitude taken up for a banquet. This was to be no symbolic meal, but genuine provision. This day they were to be fed to the full.
Then Jesus took the five loaves and two fishes and looking up to Heaven blessed them and broke them, and gave them to His disciples. And the disciples gave them to the crowds. No explanation is given. It is written as though this was just another ordinary meal. The miraculous is simply assumed as though, with Jesus there, what else could people expect.
The description ‘looking up to Heaven He blessed and broke the loaves and the fishes’ is a typical statement of what would actually happen at a Jewish meal table. It would certainly remind Matthew’s readers of their own later covenant meal, which followed the same pattern, but it would only do so as a reminder of God as the great Provider. For the inclusion of the fishes, when they could so easily have been quietly dropped, demonstrates that ‘the Lord’s Table’ is not in mind. The point of the full repetition of the detail, by a Matthew who usually abbreviates, indicates rather the source of what followed. It indicates that the answer is coming from Heaven, as the manna once did. ‘He gave them bread from Heaven to eat’ (John 6:31 citing Psalms 78:24) as the were beginning the new Exodus. It was bread that was without money and without price’ which gave life to the soul (Isaiah 55:2), ‘bread for the eater’ symbolic of the fruitfulness of His powerful word (Isaiah 55:10). And all these as pictures of the good things that God has for those who love Him, the bread of life received by coming to Him and believing on Him (John 6:35), life-giving bread for the soul received freely from God (Isaiah 55:2-3), bread for the eater because it accomplishes what He pleases (Isaiah 55:11). A further emphasis is on the fact that this is a ‘family’ meal. They are come together with Jesus as the head of the family. They are His mother, His brothers and His sisters (Matthew 12:50). They are now one community looking to Jesus as their head.
‘He blessed.’ This is the normal word for the giving of thanks at a meal. The ‘blessing’ is of God, (‘Blessed are You’), not of the food. The breaking of the food was for distribution.
‘And they all ate, and were filled, and they took up what remained over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full.’
We may compare here Psalms 78:25, ‘He sent them food to the full’; and 2 Kings 4:44, ‘they ate and left thereof, according to the word of the Lord’. For these people ate to the full of the Lord’s provision, so much so that of what remained the disciples were able to gather twelve wicker basketfuls, that is, sufficient for ‘the twelve tribes of Israel’. This last was the guarantee of their future provision at His hands. He not only fed them now, He would continue to feed them in the future.
‘And were filled.’ Compare ‘blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they will be filled’ (Matthew 5:6). It is not only their physical hunger that is to be satisfied. They are also to be satiated with righteousness and salvation. See also Isaiah 55:2
So that day the needs of His people were met, and both their spirits and their bodies had been satisfied. His own countrymen might turn against Him (Matthew 13:53-58), the authorities and Herod could do their worst (Matthew 14:1-12), but nothing could hinder the forward movement of God’s purposes through His Deliverer as He led them forward in a new Exodus, feeding them upon Himself as the bread of life received by coming to Him and believing on Him (John 6:35).
‘And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.’
Finally we are supplied with an enumeration of the crowds, or rather, of those ‘who ate’. There were five thousand men, besides women and children. The idea is probably that ten men were required in order to establish a synagogue. Thus five thousand represented a covenant community, for five is ever the number of covenant (five fingers to the hand that seals the covenant, the commandments in sets of five, the measurements of the Tabernacle and Temple in multiples of five, the covenant altar was five by five, five shekels was the price of deliverance from Tabernacle service, and so on).
However reference to Exodus 12:37 may also serve to confirm that a new Exodus is in mind for there we read of ‘men on foot besides children’. However, here, under the new covenant, women also are now to be seen as important.
We must not multiply up too much from the number of men. The trek round the Lake would probably have resulted in many women and children being left to make their way home. And furthermore they would have been needed at home to milk the animals. The fact that only the men are numbered probably indicates their predominance in the crowd.
To sum up there are a number of lessons to be learned from this incident.
That His disciples were to see their own future in terms of meeting the needs of men and women. They must ‘give them to eat’. Having initially opened their ministry in their recent mission, it would continue to be the responsibility of the disciples to provide both physical and spiritual sustenance to the people, in the same way as He Himself provided it to them (compareJohn 21:15-17; John 21:15-17). With regard to the physical side they would in fact seek to carry this out literally in Acts (see Acts 2:44-47; Acts 4:32-37). And the church has rightly continued to see one of its functions as providing for the physical needs of the needy. But the equal importance of their ministering to the spiritual side also soon came home to them. They later knew that they were not to allow ‘serving tables’ to prevent their preaching of the word (Acts 6:1-3).
That He wanted them to see that He was now here as the Messiah to spread a table before those who looked to Him (compareIsaiah 25:6; Isaiah 25:6; Isaiah 55:1-3; and extra-testamental literature). He wanted them to see Him as the source of true provision for all men’s needs, the Bread of Life to their souls (John 6:35). And this would in the end be ministered through His Apostles and those whom they appointed.
He wanted them to appreciate that He was here among them as the Representative of Israel (Matthew 2:15), leading them in a second Exodus, in a way as a second Moses (although this latter is never emphasised), the one who gave them bread from Heaven to eat. Moses had been with the multitude in the wilderness, and had fed them ‘from Heaven’. Jesus was now here among them in the wilderness to give better bread than Moses gave them, the true Bread which has come down from Heaven to give life to the world (John 6:33). A greater than Moses was here, and a greater Exodus was taking place (Matthew 2:15), establishing a new Israel. (In Matthew the emphasis is on the new Exodus rather than a new Moses).
He wanted them to recognise that He was here among men in order to establish a new covenant and a new covenant community, something symbolised by this covenant meal. A new covenant community was thus in process of formation, and this is what this meal symbolised (compareExodus 24:9-11; Exodus 24:9-11). Such a community has already been indicated by His description of believers as His mother, His sisters and His brothers (Matthew 12:50), and assumed in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:13-16; Matthew 5:45-48; Matthew 6:9-13), and He will emphasise this again shortly (Matthew 16:18). It would be composed of all those who came in faith to Him for provision, expressing their need, including this crowd who had been willing to go so far out of their way to be here, which in itself expressed their faith. In Matthew 26:26 the breaking of the bread would expand to symbolise His body. Here He was symbolising the fact that He could feed their souls as they responded to Him (John 6:35). From this meal therefore all were to learn that if they would be spiritually fed it must be through Jesus Christ, and that He had sufficient and to spare in order to do this.
He wanted them to know that He was among men in order to feed their inner beings (see John 6:32-40, and compare Isaiah 55:1-3), something which in the end only He could do, and he would shortly make clear that this would be through His death (John 6:51-58). But His main aim was that this physical provision might be seen by them as an acted out parable similar to those of the prophets whereby they would recognise that He was offering to feed their souls. It was a display of quiet power that evidenced His limitless resources.
He wanted them to learn their lesson from this incident that never again should they, the Apostles, or the other disciples, see any situation as impossible for Him to deal with.
Note on Other Explanations.
Necessarily Atheists and Agnostics and those who deny the possibility of miracles cannot accept that it happened like this, and yet often have to admit that it must have some basis in truth. So they have to think of a way round it. But we should note that by doing so they go against the evidence. Rather than accept the truth they weave ‘fairy stories’. For in order to give an explanation that is what they have to do, ignore the evidence and what is written, and spin their own threads of gold. For the sake of completeness and to assist those who are troubled by such things we will consider one or two of these explanations.
1). The first is that what happened was that a young boy brought his dinner and gave it to Jesus who then told the disciples to share it with the crowds, and that all those in the crowds were so moved by His action and the action of the little boy that they all shared their food that they had brought with them with others (or something similar). It is a nice idea. But it clearly goes contrary to what the four accounts say. It is not likely that the disciples would have said what they did about dispersing and buying food without having first checked that the people were without food. Furthermore it destroys the symbolism and at the same time ignores how long the crowds had already been away from home. They were not out on a picnic, and had not anticipated this extra journey. Nor can we understand why if this was what happened a hint of the fact is not supplied by at least one of the eyewitnesses, as a wonderful picture of the influence of Jesus. And certainly it would be strange that such a trivial happening as it would then have become should be treated as so important by all four Gospel writers. Nor would it have stirred the crowds to make Him a king (John 6:15). The idea trivialises all that the story points to, and every detail is against it.
2). That what happened was that Jesus divided up the loaves into minute amounts which were then given to the crowds as a ‘token Messianic meal’ and that this gave them such an uplift that their hearts were satisfied and they were ‘filled’ and therefore did not for a while notice their hunger. It is a beautiful picture, but it would not have served them well during the night, or next morning when they awoke hungry. And it still requires us to drastically reduce the numbers involved, or alternately increase the food available. It is also to assume that the ‘meal’ had a significance not made apparent in the first three Gospels. If this was what happened it is strange that the lesson to be drawn from it was totally ignored and that it was interpreted as just physical, without further explanation. It would also leave everyone still hungry and as much in danger of fainting as before. Thus Jesus would have failed to fulfil what He promised to the Apostles, that they would be able to feed the crowds.
3). That the story is simply an invention based on what Elisha did in 2 Kings 4:42-44. But if this were the case its importance as revealed by its presence in all four Gospels, in different presentations, is inexplicable. There is no avoiding the fact that all four considered the event extremely important and on the whole gave basically the same picture. Nor does the incident then have the significance that it clearly had. Elisha’s was not a covenant meal.
End of note.
‘And immediately he constrained the disciples to enter into the boat, and to go before him to the other side, until he should send the crowds away.’
‘Immediately He constrained.’ The urgency behind these words would be difficult to understand had we not had the explanation in John’s Gospel. Some of the crowds were beginning to get ideas about proclaiming Him king (John 6:15). This was the last thing that He wanted, and He did not want His disciples involved in such ideas. So He packed them off hurriedly in their boat while He Himself despatched the crowds. Hid disciples were to go before Him to the other side, probably across the top North West corner of the Lake. Thus they might expect that, like the crowds had done previously, He Himself would make His way round on the shore.
Jesus Demonstrates His Mastery Of The Sea And Is Recognised As ‘The Son of God’ (14:22-33).
This is the second consecutive miracle in which Jesus take the initiative in order to demonstrate to the disciples Who He is and What He has come to do, and it results in their recognition that He is ‘the Son of God’. In context this concept goes well beyond Messiahship. He is Lord of wind and waves, a particularly awesome thing to Israelites who feared and respected the sea.
Jesus has just demonstrated that He can feed men and women and meet their most basic needs, now He demonstrates that He can protect His disciples in all the contrary winds of life. If the disciples are finally to feed the people both lessons are essential. But the lessons go farther than that, for both demonstrate that He is the Lord of creation, and thus truly the Son of God. Both are therefore a necessary build up towards Peter’s confession in Matthew 16:16 and to His declaration of the founding of the new ‘congregation’ of Israel in Matthew 16:18.
a And immediately He constrained the disciples to enter into the boat, and to go before Him to the other side, until He should send the crowds away (Matthew 14:22).
b And after He had sent the crowds away, He went up into the mountain apart to pray, and when evening was come, He was there alone (Matthew 14:23).
c But the boat was now in the middle of the sea, distressed by the waves, for the wind was contrary (Matthew 14:24).
d And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea (Matthew 14:25).
e And when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, “It is a ghost,” and they cried out for fear (Matthew 14:26).
f But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Be of good cheer; it is I; don’t be afraid” (Matthew 14:27).
g And Peter answered him and said, “Lord, if it is you, bid me come to you on the waters” (Matthew 14:28).
f And he said, “Come.” And Peter went down from the boat, and walked on the waters to come to Jesus (Matthew 14:29).
e But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink, he cried out, saying, “Lord, save me” (Matthew 14:30).
d And immediately Jesus stretched out his hand, and took hold of him, and says to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” (Matthew 14:31).
c And when they were gone up into the boat, the wind ceased (Matthew 14:32).
b And those who were in the boat worshipped him, saying, “Of a truth you are the Son of God” (Matthew 14:33).
a And when they had crossed over, they came to the land, to Gennesaret (Matthew 14:34).
Note that in ‘a’ He sends the disciples before Him to the other side, and in the parallel they arrive in Gennesaret. In ‘b’ He spends much time alone praying in the mountain and in the parallel recognition comes to the disciples that He is the Son of God. In ‘c’ the wind was contrary, and in the parallel the wind ceased. In ‘d’ Jesus comes to them walking on the sea in total confidence, and in the parallel is the contrast of the one who has little faith and fails. In ‘e’ the disciples are afraid thinking that they are seeing a ghost, and in the parallel Peter is afraid, seeing the wind. In ‘f’ Jesus encourages the disciples, and in the parallel He encourages Peter. Centrally in ‘g’ comes Peter’s request that Jesus bid him come to Him on the waters.
‘And after he had sent the crowds away, he went up into the mountain apart to pray, and when evening was come, he was there alone.’
Then once He had been able to disperse the crowds He ‘went up into the mountain apart to pray.’ He had much to pray about and spent the remainder of the evening and most of the night in prayer ‘alone’. This aloneness is in contrast to His disciples who are struggling at Sea. Without Him they too are alone. Note how in the major chiasmus of the section this ‘aloneness’ parallels His final ‘aloneness’ with the three disciples on the mount of Transfiguration.
We may possibly see that He had gone alone to pray for three major reasons:
1). The disturbing development of the intentions of the crowds towards Him, especially in the light of Herod’s unease, and what it might mean for the future.
2). His clear intention to walk across the Sea in order to meet His disciples in the middle, which could only possibly be seen as a deliberate self-manifestation.
3). His purpose in 2) that, following on the miracle of the loaves and fishes, it might bring home to His disciples Who He is, ‘the Son of God’.
Jesus going into the Mountain always has great significance, and in all other case it has to do with imparting important information to the disciples. While His disciples are not with Him here note the clear interconnection between His being in the mountain praying, with the intention of coming to them (Matthew 14:25), and their being at sea in difficulties (Matthew 14:23-24).
Note On ‘The Mountain’.
In each of the other three times that Matthew indicates that Jesus went up into ‘the mountain’ he is drawing attention to a significant happening that deeply affects His disciples.
1). In Matthew 5:1 Jesus went up into the mountain in order to get away from the crowds, and the He taught the Sermon on the Mount to His disciples.
2). Here in Matthew 14:23 Jesus goes into the mountain to pray alone, prior to His great self-manifestation in walking on the Sea. The result will be that they worship and say, ‘Truly You are the Son of God’ (Matthew 14:33).
3). In Matthew 15:29 Jesus makes a ‘Messianic’ appearance on the mountain as evidenced by His mighty works, and feeds four thousand by a miracle and ‘they glorified the God of Israel’ (Matthew 15:31).
4). In Matthew 28:16 Jesus appeared to them on the mountain as the Risen Lord and gave them their commission to make disciples of all nations, promising His continuing presence with them.
It will be noted that in the first two cases the mountain is seen as a haven from the crowds. In the third case it does not at first appear to be a haven from the crowds, but we should note that this is a special crowd. They are all included in the partaking of the covenant meal and have been with Him in that isolated place listening to His words for three days. They are therefore almost, if not completely disciples, and not just the normal ‘crowds’. It is thus a haven from the world. The fourth case fits into the pattern of the other three. It is where He meets with His disciples to give them their commission for the future.
Furthermore the first and the last examples are places where Jesus specifically charges the disciples with their responsibilities, while the two middle ones are connected with the revelation of His power over creation, and end with the glorifying, in the one case of ‘the Son of God’, and in the other of ‘the God of Israel’. We are probably therefore justified in seeing mention of ‘the mountain’ as pointing to what we might call ‘mountain top’ experiences, times of special closeness with God.
End of Note.
‘But the boat was now in the middle of the sea, distressed by the waves, for the wind was contrary.’
Note the close interconnection between Jesus being in the mountain praying alone, and the boat being now in the middle of the Sea distressed (literally ‘tormented’) by the waves, with a contrary wind. Without Jesus they were making little headway. Indeed we are probably to see that they had been driven off course towards the middle of the Lake, which would help to explain the length of time the voyage was taking. (Without an engine voyage lengths can vary hugely depending on the weather, especially against prevailing winds).
‘And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea.’
The fourth watch of the night was 3:00 am to 6:00 am (The Roman night watch was divided into four). It was daybreak, after a night of toil. And it was at this stage that He came to them, walking on the Sea.
His people had good cause to remember God’s power over the sea (Exodus 15:8; Exodus 15:10; Exodus 15:19), for in the Exodus they had escaped through the Sea which had swallowed up their antagonists (just as it would have swallowed up Peter without Jesus’ help). Then they could say of Him ‘Your way was in the sea and Your paths in the great waters’ at the time when He ‘led His people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron’ (Psalms 77:19-20 compare Isaiah 43:16). The sea was always an unknown force, the control of which by God was looked on with awe (Psalms 74:13; Psalms 89:9). Thus Jesus may well here have expected them to remember the Exodus experience, especially when Peter was almost overwhelmed by the Sea, and would have been without His assistance.
‘And when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, “It is a ghost,” and they cried out for fear.’
Quite naturally when the disciples saw this eerie figure (in the first light of day) walking on the Sea some distance away, they cried out in fear, ‘Its a ghost’. This is no doubt intended to be contrasted with their later words, ‘You are the Son of God’. What a difference it made once He was with them in the boat.
‘But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Be of good cheer; it is I; don’t be afraid.” ’
Jesus immediately sought to remove their fears saying, ‘Take courage, it is I, don’t be afraid’. ‘It is I’ is ego eimi. In LXX this was also the Name of God revealed to Moses (Exodus 3:14). While it was not Jesus’ intention Matthew does, in a context like this, probably intend his readers to take the hint. Compare ‘the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit’ (Matthew 28:19).
‘And Peter answered him and said, “Lord, if it is you, bid me come to you on the waters.” ’
On hearing Jesus’ words, and no doubt recognising His voice, Peter, with his usual mixture of impetuosity and faith, called out to Him and said, “Lord, if it is you, bid me come to you on the waters.” His confidence in Jesus was such that He had no doubt that the One Who had given him the power to heal the sick and cast out devils could also enable him to walk on the waters that lay between Him and Jesus (in Hebrew ‘waters’ is always plural). But he would only do it once he had the Lord’s assurance that the ability would be given to him. Here was a remarkable indication of both understanding and faith, even if it did not last for long because his faith was insufficient.
‘The waters.’ Peter was probably indicating by this the short stretch of water between the boat and Jesus.
‘And he said, “Come.” And Peter went down from the boat, and walked on the waters to come to Jesus.’
Jesus’ response was to invite him to ‘Come’. So Peter let himself down from the side of the boat and walked on the waters to come to Jesus. And while he kept his eyes on Jesus all went well.
‘But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink, he cried out, saying, “Lord, save me.” ’
However, having bold faith while standing in the boat was one thing, maintaining it in the face of a strong wind stirring up the waves was another. And he was suddenly seized with fear and began to sink. As usual he had taken on more than he could cope with. We are left to surmise that if there had been no wind, there would have been no problem. The description ‘saw the wind’ (i.e. the effect that it was having) indicates that he took his eyes of Jesus, and that that was when his problems began. Up to that point he had only seen Jesus.
Then Peter called out, “Lord, save me.” But note that there was still faith there. He might not be able to trust himself, but He still knew that the Lord could save him. He knew that the Lord had no fear of the wind.
‘And immediately Jesus stretched out his hand, and took hold of him, and says to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” ’
The impression we are given is that Peter had almost reached Jesus before he had taken his eyes off Him, for Jesus is able to reach out and take hold of him. And then He gently rebuked him. “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” It was a reminder that growing though the faith of the disciples was, it was still small compared with what it should be (compare Matthew 17:20).
We must remember, of course, that this description is comparative. The comparison is with the Master Himself. But when we can give evidence in ourselves of the huge faith that Peter had to begin with, we will have a right to point to his little faith. But then we will be too humble to do so. However, until then we can only recognise how much less our faith is than his. Nevertheless the point is made. Believing though the disciples were, they still had a long way to go.
‘And when they were gone up into the boat, the wind ceased.”
Then together they went up to the boat and clambered in, at which point ‘the wind ceased’. Once Jesus was with them in the boat all the problems of the disciples ceased.
‘And those who were in the boat worshipped him, saying, “Of a truth you are the Son of God.” ’
Filled with awe at what they had witnessed those in the boat (seemingly more than just the twelve) ‘worshipped’ Him. And they declared, ‘truly You are the Son of God’. They now had a deeper recognition of His status than ever before. They had broken through from His being a prophet, to His being something more. Truth was beginning to dawn. Yet it arose from the awe of the moment, it was not the more fully fledged faith that Peter would shortly declare in comparison with other great figures of salvation history (Matthew 16:16).
In Matthew such Sonship is more than Messiahship. Only the demons have previously called Jesus ‘the Son of God’ and they were thinking of One superior to themselves in the spiritual world. But God has called Him ‘My beloved Son’ (Matthew 3:17) and Jesus has related Himself as ‘the Son to ‘the Father’ (Matthew 11:27), as well as regularly distinguishing God as ‘My Father’ when having in mind His own authority (Matthew 7:21-22; Matthew 10:32-33).
Mark has here, ‘they were greatly amazed in themselves, for they did not understand concerning the loaves, but their heart was hardened.’ The point is that because their hearts were not receptive they had not realised the significance of the miracle of the loaves and were thus astonished by just such another proof of Jesus’ power over nature. Here we learn what that astonishment resulted in, a recognition of His uniqueness.
‘And when they had crossed over, they came to the land, to Gennesaret.’
We can only imagine the awe of the remainder of that voyage. They would never see Jesus in quite the same way again, for they now had a deeper awareness that He was, in some way that they did not understand, ‘on the divine side of reality’. But eventually they reached land, at Gennesaret, a plain on the north west shores of the Sea of Galilee, although there may have been a village which also bore the name. Up to this point, apart from Capernaum which had become Jesus’ home base, landing places after storms appear to be the only places that Matthew has identified during Jesus’ ministry (compare Matthew 8:28, see also Matthew 15:39). It is as though he remembered these places because he had felt grateful to be ashore again on firm ground. He was after all a tax-gatherer, not a sailor. For the whole see Mark 6:53-56.
Previously when He had ‘crossed over’ He had gone to ‘His own city’ (Matthew 9:1). Perhaps the implication is intended that Capernaum is now also no longer His home. He now has no home (Matthew 12:46-50; Matthew 13:53-58). People must come to Him where He is.
Note on Peter.
The picture given of Peter fits in with all that we know about him, Peter the impetuous, Peter the determined, Peter the expectant, Peter the bold, Peter the failing, Peter who never lets go. He stands out in the Gospel as a leading light among the Apostles, but as one who through his impetuosity often did or said the wrong thing, which is regularly why he is mentioned. Always he leads the way, and regularly he finishes up with egg on his face. (In most groups there is someone like that). Here he ventures to walk on the sea at his own suggestion and ends up half drowning. Elsewhere He boldly asserts that Jesus is the Son of the Living God, and then tries to tell the Son of the Living God what to do, with the result that he ends up by being likened in his behaviour to Satan (Matthew 16:16; Matthew 16:22-23). He is privileged to be on the Mount of Transfiguration, but, feeling that he has to do something, makes an inane suggestion (Matthew 17:4), and is left speechless and flat on his face (Matthew 17:6), with his suggestion simply ignored. He boldly declares that he will never fail Jesus (Matthew 26:33), and fails Him three times (Matthew 26:69-75). Yet no one else would have even thought of venturing on the sea, no one else at the time had the courage to react to what Jesus was saying at all, no one else (apart from the one known to the High Priestly family) ventured to follow Jesus into the High Priest’s courtyard. Once his faith was made stronger his impetuosity and boldness would serve the church well. In any group there is usually a character, and Peter was that character.
Along with James and John he is selected out for the purpose of beholding special incidents (the raising of Jairus’ daughter, the Transfiguration, the prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane), and he alone, as representative of all God’s true people, is conjoined with Jesus in being declared to be sons of God and therefore not due to be treated only as subjects liable to the Temple tax (Matthew 17:24-27).
Nevertheless he is never appointed their leader. Nor does he ever make such a claim. And while he is prominent in Acts, the Apostles are on the whole all seen to act together, while when Paul speaks of those ‘reputed to be pillars’ he lists them as ‘James (the Lord’s brother), Cephas (Peter) and John’ (Galatians 2:9) in that order. It was just that his character constantly brought him to the front, and resulted in him being chosen to make the first moves towards both Jews and Gentiles.
End of note.
‘And when the men of that place knew him, they sent into all that region round about, and brought to him all who were sick,’
On landing at Gennesaret Jesus was recognised by those who lived there, (it was not far from Capernaum) and immediate word was sent out to all the neighbourhood, to tell them that the prophet was here. And the result was that large numbers of people from the whole area flocked to Him. And all brought their sick to Jesus. This is Matthew’s way of indicating that while Israel as a whole might be rejecting Him or turning from Him, and especially the larger towns, those who were sick and needed a physician, whether for body or soul, came to Him. For that was why He had come, to make men whole.
The Messianic Signs Continue (14:35-36).
Having fed the new community with ‘bread from Heaven, and having revealed Himself as Lord of sea and storm, thus presenting Himself as their Provider and Protector, Jesus expands His ministry as the Servant Who ‘bore our afflictions and carried our diseases’ (Matthew 8:17), as our Healer. He makes whole all who seek Him. By it He indicates the final perfection available in the Kingly Rule of Heaven. For each healing is a physical indication of the spiritual wholeness that will finally be enjoyed by all who are His, and is available to all who reach out to Him. They will be presented holy, unblameable and unreproveable in His sight (Colossians 1:22).
Note how this summary connects back to those in Matthew 4:23-24; Matthew 8:16; Matthew 9:35-36; Matthew 14:14. Underlying all that is happening His basic Messianic ministry continues. While on the one hand He faces rejection by the leadership and by various town authorities, His spiritual outreach goes on apace. There are thus many who seek Him and believe on Him.
a When the men of that place knew him, they sent into all that region round about, and brought to him all who were sick (Matthew 14:35).
b And they asked him that they might only touch the border of his robe (Matthew 14:36 a).
a And as many as touched were made whole (Matthew 14:36 b).
Note that in ‘a’ they brought all who were sick, and in the parallel all were made whole by touching Him. Centrally in ‘b’ we find the Source of all their healing, which was theirs by ‘coming and believing’ to the bread of life (John 6:35).
‘And they asked him that they might only touch the border of his robe, and as many as touched were made whole.’
And just to touch the hem or tassel on His robe now proved sufficient. It was not that the robe had power, it was that to touch it brought them in touch with the wearer. Such was His power that He reached out through their act of faith and in all cases they were healed. Power went out of Him (Mark 5:30). It should be noted that permission was sought from Jesus. It was not impersonal. The Pharisees would have shrunk from the touch of common people lest they be rendered unclean. But such things mattered not to Jesus. Anyone who touched Him in faith was made clean. The message is that all who come to Him and believe in Him, however faint their touch, will find healing and restoration. This caps off the threefold picture of Him, He feeds, He protects, He makes whole.
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Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Matthew 14". "Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 9 / Ordinary 14