The Death of John the Baptist, 1-12
14:1 At that time Herod the tetrarch heard reports about Jesus, 14:2 and he said to his servants, “This is John the Baptist. He has been raised from the dead! And because of this, miraculous powers are at work in him.” 14:3 For Herod had arrested John, bound him, and put him in prison on account of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, 14:4 because John had repeatedly told him, “It is not lawful for you to have her.” 14:5 Although Herod wanted to kill John, he feared the crowd because they accepted John as a prophet. 14:6 But on Herod’s birthday, the daughter of Herodias danced before them and pleased Herod, 14:7 so much that he promised with an oath to give her whatever she asked. 14:8 Instructed by her mother, she said, “Give me the head of John the Baptist here on a platter.” 14:9 Although it grieved the king, because of his oath and the dinner guests he commanded it to be given. 14:10 So he sent and had John beheaded in the prison. 14:11 His head was brought on a platter and given to the girl, and she brought it to her mother. 14:12 Then John’s disciples came and took the body and buried it and went and told Jesus.
Herod the tetrarch – Herod Antipas, who ruled from 4 B.C. to A.D. 39, son of Herod the Great and brother of Archelaus (see Mt 2:1, 22).
He said to his attendants –
Undesigned coincidence. ‘Herod spoke to his servants about Jesus (Matt 14:1) because he had servants more intimately related to Jesus: Joanna the wife of Chuza, Herod’s steward (Lk 8:3) and Manaen who had been brought up with Herod (Acts 13:1). These also explain how Matthew knew what Herod said in private in various situations.’ (Source). ‘Neither Mark (Mark 6:14) nor Luke (Luke 9:7-9) includes any reference to Herod’s servants in their account of Herod’s saying. This is clearly an authentic record of a real event.’ (Source)
“This is John the Baptist” – Peter J. Williams has observed that John was a common name in 1st-century Palestine, and so although the narrator can refer to him merely as John (his readers would know who was meant), the speakers routinely ‘disambiguate’ the name, in order to distinguish him from others with the same name. This, says Williams, is incidental evidence that what is reported is what the characters actually said.
Because of Herodias – She was the former wife of Herod’s half brother Philip, her uncle. By Philip she had had a daughter, Salome. She had been persuaded to leave her husband and marry Herod Antipas, thus committing incest. (Lev 18:16) John condemned him for this, and Antipas knew that John spoke the truth. (see Mk 6:20)
The daughter of Herodias – This was Salome, according to Josephus.
v9 Because of his oaths – an honourable man, indeed!
The girl – The diminutive is used. She was probably not much older than twelve.
Concerning this grisly story:-
(a) John was a prophet – indeed, the greatest of prophets (Mt 11:11) – and suffered the common fate of prophets (cf. Mt 23:31–35). A godless, Christless worlds is not neutral: it will always resist the truth and persecute those who speak it.
(b) God might have rescued John from this horrendous end, but he did not. Nor did he rescue Stephen or thousands of other martyrs. He did did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all. If we are to believe in the love and power of God, then we must look to something of greater value than our own personal safety, and to a life more enduring than this present life.
The Feeding of the Five Thousand, 13-21
14:13 Now when Jesus heard this he went away from there privately in a boat to an isolated place. But when the crowd heard about it, they followed him on foot from the towns. 14:14 As he got out he saw the large crowd, and he had compassion on them and healed their sick. 14:15 When evening arrived, his disciples came to him saying, “This is an isolated place and the hour is already late. Send the crowds away so that they can go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” 14:16 But he replied, “They don’t need to go. You give them something to eat.” 14:17 They said to him, “We have here only five loaves and two fish.” 14:18 “Bring them here to me,” he replied. 14:19 Then he instructed the crowds to sit down on the grass. He took the five loaves and two fish, and looking up to heaven he gave thanks and broke the loaves. He gave them to the disciples, who in turn gave them to the crowds. 14:20 They all ate and were satisfied, and they picked up the broken pieces left over, twelve baskets full. 14:21 Not counting women and children, there were about five thousand men who ate.
‘Given the parenthetical nature of verses 3-12 it appears that verse 13 connects most naturally with verse 2, and thus Jesus’ withdrawal is primarily precipitated by Herod’s assessment of his ministry.’ (College Press)
‘This narrative teaches us about the host sponsoring the messianic banquet it foreshadows. (Mt 5:6 22:2) In the context of other attempted signs workers in the wilderness in Jesus’ day, Jesus’ sign in the wilderness involves a clear messianic statement (Witherington 1990:91, 100). But the narrative especially instructs us concerning God’s caring provision for his people in this age (6:11; 7:9-10; 15:25-28, 29-39). It also stands in deliberate contrast to the drunken feast of the evil ruler Herod Antipas in 14:6-11 (Lane 1974:227); had we titled the former “Herod’s party,” we might have titled this passage “God’s party.”‘ (IVP Commentary)
He had compassion on them and healed their sick – The account of Jesus’ temptations (Mt 4) has already demonstrated that Jesus must not be thought of merely as a magician. A magician seeks to gain control over nature for personal benefit or for effect. Jesus performed miracles out of compassion, because they were needed. This is the case not only with his miracles of healing, but also with the miracle of feeding the crowd which now follows.
Jesus not only had compassion on the crowd, but also helped them. As we are bombarded with stories and images of poverty and suffering, we may feel pity, and yet also feel totally helpless. The miracle which will now be related teaches us to give to Jesus what little we have, and he will multiply it and use it.
“You give them something to eat” – ‘The Lord is for the body; it is the work of his hands, it is part of his purchase; he was himself clothed with a body, that he might encourage us to depend upon him for the supply of our bodily wants. But he takes a particular care of the body, when it is employed to serve the soul in his more immediate service. If we seek first the kingdom of God, and make that our chief care, we may depend upon God to add other things to us, as far as he sees fit, and may cast all care of them upon him. These followed Christ but for a trial, in a present fit of zeal, and yet Christ took this care of them; much more will he provide for those who follow him fully.’ (MHC)
‘Jesus still has compassion on the hungry multitudes, and he still says to his church: “Give them something to eat.” How easy it is for us to send people away, to make excuses, to plead a lack of resources. Jesus asks that we give him all that we have and let him use it as he sees fit. A hungry world is feeding on empty substitutes while we deprive them of the Bread of Life. When we give Christ what we have, we never lose. We always end up with more blessing than when we started.’ (Wiersbe)
This soon after the disciples had been given authority to drive out demons and cure diseases, v1. The disciples were all too ready for Jesus to send the crowd away. Cf. Mt 15:23; Lk 18:15. But he will not let them take their responsibility so lightly. It is not God’s way to send needy people away empty-handed, Mt 5:43-48; 11:25-30; Lk 6:27-38; Jn 3:16. Christians are taught to offer generous hospitality, 1 Pet 4:9. So, Jesus sets his disciples a challenge; for his command invites the response, “Yes, but how?” They need to realise that he who could supply wine when their was a shortage could also supply food, Jn 2:1-11. How often do we accept that God is ‘able to do’ one thing, but doubt his ability (or willingness) to do another?
‘Jesus challenges the disciples to return the favor of hospitality which has recently been extended to them while on their mission, but they do not know how to.’ (WBC, on Luke)
In view of the spiritual meaning of this miracle we are warranted in applying this predicament to the ministers of the gospel: they see a crowd which is spiritually starving, and knowing they are totally lacking in resources, are tempted to send them away. But Jesus’ response is ever, “You give them something to eat,” – and they will be thrown back on the limitless resources of God.
‘Jesus Christ has not only physic, but food, for all those that by faith apply themselves to him; he not only heals them that need healing, cures the diseases of the soul, but feeds them too that need feeding, supports the spiritual life, relieves the necessities of it, and satisfies the desires of it. Christ has provided not only to save the soul from perishing by its diseases, but to nourish the soul unto life eternal, and strengthen it for all spiritual exercises.’ (M. Henry)
In comparing the various versions of this miracle, we find that at first Jesus asked Philip where the could find enough food to feed such a crowd. Jn 6:6 explains that Jesus asked this in order to test Philip, but he himself already knew what he would do. When faced with life’s crises, it is good to remember that God already has the problem solved.
v17 Small prospect for a banquet, considering the size of the crowd and the amount of food on offer.
‘While their response reflects an accurate assessment of their limitations, they had failed to perceive that Jesus’ commands are always accompanied by sufficient resources and empowerment to accomplish that which he commands. The disciples must learn that he who calls them for service will also equip them for the task at hand.’ (College Press)
See 2 Kings 4:42-43 for a similar example of incredulity when Elisha tells his servant to distribute twenty barley loaves amongst 100 men. ‘both Elisha’s disciple and Jesus’ disciples should have been with their master long enough to expect that what the master said he had power from God to perform. The God of the exodus, who divided waters (Ex 14:21) and provided manna from heaven, (Ex 16:14-18) was at work in history again.’ (2 Kings 2:8-14 4:38-44 Mt 14:13-33) (IVP Commentary)
According to Jn 6:8f, these were donated by a boy whom Andrew had found. Jesus could, without a doubt, have created a feast out of nothing. But he chose to make use of what was already available. The trouble with the disciples is that they were focussing on the need of the crowd and the apparent paucity of their resources, and not on Jesus and his power and compassion (even though he had that very day been demonstrating both, v11b).
v18 ‘God often begins with what we have. Jesus often takes what we bring to him and multiplies it. (Mt 14:16-19) When Moses insisted that he needed a sign to take with him, God asked him what was already in his hand and then transformed it, (Ex 4:1-3) using what had been merely a shepherd’s rod even to part the sea. (Ex 14:16) When a widow needed financial help, Elisha asked what she had in her house; she responded that she had only a small amount of oil, so he commanded her to borrow jars into which to pour the oil and then multiplied it until all the jars were full. (2 Kings 4:1-7) Although God created the universe from nothing, he normally takes the ordinary things of our lives and transforms them for his honor (see, for example, Jud 6:14 15:15-19).’ (IVP Commentary)
‘It is hardly accidental that the verbs in v19 (‘take’, ‘give thanks’, ‘break’, ‘give’) are those used in the NT accounts of the Last Supper. The meal did, of course, satisfy hunger (v20), but Matthew apparently sees it also as a symbolic act of communion in the newly established kingdom of heaven.’ (NBC)
‘Jesus simply takes the provisions available and, in an astonishing move, prepares the crowd for a great banquet (lit., “to recline,” the normal posture at a banquet). Although the giving of thanks followed by the breaking of the loaves and the distribution of the food is quite typical of a Jewish meal, it is hard not to see some allusion or foreshadowing of the Last Supper (26:26-28). However, the distribution of the bread by means of the disciples is intended to remind them of their vital intermediary role in bringing heaven’s blessings to bear on the human predicament. They must learn from this event to be true shepherds, who minister to the flock by relying on divine resources to supply whatever is needed to “feed” the people of God.’ (College Press)
‘Christ commanded that the people should sit down in companies; and he did so, first, that by this arrangement of the ranks the miracle might be more manifest; secondly, that the number of the men might be more easily ascertained, and that, while they looked at each other, they might in their turn bear testimony to this heavenly favor. Thirdly, perceiving that his disciples were anxious, he intended to make trial of their obedience by giving them an injunction which at first sight appeared to be absurd; for, as no provisions were at hand, there was reason to wonder why Christ was making arrangements that resembled a feast. To the same purpose is what follows, that he gave them the loaves, in order that in their hands the astonishing increase might take place, and that they might thus be the ministers of Christ’s divine power; for as if it had been of small importance that they should be eye-witnesses, Christ determined that his power should be handled by them.’ (Calvin)
‘Everett Cook, a retired Pentecostal minister running a street mission, confronted an associate who had a growth on his nose but refused to see a doctor. “God will heal me,” the man insisted.
“If you needed a miracle, God would give you one,” Everett retorted, “but right now he’s given you a doctor and medical insurance. You need to use what he’s given you.”
The next time they met the man’s growth was much bigger, but the man still insisted, “I am healed.” The third time they met the growth had spread further, and finally the man was thinking that perhaps he needed to see a doctor.
God performed a miracle when he created the world and set its laws in motion, and we are often wise to start with natural means when those are available. God performs miracles to meet our genuine needs, but he will not perform them merely to entertain us.’ (Keener, in IVP Commentary)
They all ate and were satisfied – Matthew is at pains to emphasise the scale of the miracle: ‘they all’ (not just some); ‘and were satisfied’ (not just a token morsel); there were ‘twelve basketfuls of broken pieces’ left over. ‘The abundant provisions are reminiscent of God’s care of his people in the wilderness when he provided manna in response to their physical needs.’ (cf. Ex 16 Ps 78:18-30 81:1-7 105:40) (College Press)
Twelve basketfuls – ‘One source reports that traveling Jews carried baskets with them; thus the twelve baskets may be the disciples’ own.’ (NT Background Cmty)
Although some have found symbolic reference to the twelve tribes of Israel here, perhaps the basis idea is simply that each disciple collects up one basketful. In any case, the message is clear both to them and to us: more was cleared up at the end than had been brought at the beginning!
‘We have no right, indeed, to expect that Christ will always follow this method of supplying the hungry and thirsty with food; but it is certain that he will never permit his own people to want the necessaries of life, but will stretch out his hand from heaven, whenever he shall see it to be necessary to relieve their necessities. Those who wish to have Christ for their provider, must first learn not to long for refined luxuries, but to be satisfied with barley-bread.’ (Calvin)
‘God is not intimidated by the magnitude of our problem. The disciples saw the size of the need and the littleness of the human resources available; Jesus saw the size of the need and the greatness of God’s resources available. Often God calls us to do tasks for him that are technically impossible-barring a miracle.
‘Jesus can take our inadequacy and make it more than adequate. Jesus multiplied five loaves and two fish to feed over five-thousand people. What he was originally given seemed insufficient, but in his hands it became more than enough. We often feel that our contribution to Jesus is meager, but he can use and multiply whatever we give him, whether it is talent, time, or treasure. It is when we give them to Jesus that our resources are multiplied.’ (HBA)
Not counting women and children, there were about five thousand men who ate – This number is also mentioned in Mk 6:44, Lk 9:14 and Jn 6:10. But how was this number ascertained? Mark’s and Luke’s accounts both mention that Jesus had them sit down in groups of hundreds and fifties. This would have facilitated both the distribution of the food and the counting of heads. Jn 6:10f tells us that it was the men who sat down.
Walking on Water, 22-36
14:22 Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go ahead of him to the other side, while he dispersed the crowds. 14:23 And after he sent the crowds away, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone. 14:24 Meanwhile the boat, already far from land, was taking a beating from the waves because the wind was against it. 14:25 As the night was ending, Jesus came to them walking on the sea. 14:26 When the disciples saw him walking on the water they were terrified and said, “It’s a ghost!” and cried out with fear. 14:27 But immediately Jesus spoke to them: “Have courage! It is I. Do not be afraid.” 14:28 Peter said to him, “Lord, if it is you, order me to come to you on the water.” 14:29 So he said, “Come.” Peter got out of the boat, walked on the water, and came toward Jesus. 14:30 But when he saw the strong wind he became afraid. And starting to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” 14:31 Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” 14:32 When they went up into the boat, the wind ceased. 14:33 Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”
Peter Lewis tells of an old painting in which the artist depicts in the foreground the disciples rowing furiously through huge waves which threatened to engulf them at any moment. The eye then sees, on a rocky hillside on the short, a figure praying. ‘Many artists had painted the later scene, Christ walking on the water “in the fourth watch of the night,” v25, but this artist had captured a reality just as profound when he depicted an earlier stage in the drama: Christ praying in the hills while his followers were battling in the storm. It is the story of the Church militant as she works and wars for the Christ triumphant. She is never alone, Mt 28:20.’ (The Glory of Christ, 388)
During the fourth watch…Jesus went out to them – Up to three hours before sunrise. But the storm had been raging since the evening, vv24f.
Peter…walked on the water – ‘There is a deep meaning in this part of our history. It shows us what great things our Lord can do for those that hear his voice, and follow him. He can enable them to do things which at one time they would have thought impossible. He can carry them through difficulties and trials, which without him they would never have dared to face. He can give them strength to walk through fire and water unharmed, and to get the better of every foe. Moses in Egypt, Daniel in Babylon, the saints in Nero’s household, are all examples of his mighty power. Let us fear nothing, if we are in the path of duty. The waters may seem deep. But if Jesus says, “Come,” we have no cause to be afraid. “He who believes in me, the works that I do he will do also, and greater works than these will he do.”.’ (Jn 14:12) (Ryle)
‘Peter soon began to pay for his rashness. Let his example teach believers to avoid too much haste. When the Lord calls, we should of course run. But anyone who overreaches himself will find out, from the unhappy consequences, what it means not to know one’s limit. Yet, it may be asked, why did Christ comply with Peter’s wish? For, in so doing, he seems to have approved of it. The answer is easy. God often helps us better by denying us what we ask of him; and at other times, he is indulgent with us, so that we may see our folly by experience. It happens every day that God, by giving his faithful people more than they need, trains them for sobriety and modesty in the future.’ (Calvin)
Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him – ‘Behold in this concluding part of the miracle, the exceeding “gentleness of Christ!” He can bear with much, and forgive much, when he sees true grace in a man’s heart. As a mother deals gently with her infant, and does not cast it away because of its little waywardness and frowardness, so does the Lord Jesus deal gently with his people. He loved and pitied them before conversion, and after conversion he loves and pities them still more. He knows their feebleness, and bears long with them. He would have us know that doubting does not prove that a man has no faith, but only that his faith is small. And even when our faith is small, the Lord is ready to help us. “When I said, my foot is slipping, your loving-kindness, O Lord, held me up..” (Ps 94:18)
How much there is in all this to encourage men to serve Christ! Where is the man that ought to be afraid to begin running the Christian race, with such a Savior as Jesus? If we fall, he will raise us again. If we err, he will bring us back. But his mercy shall never be altogether taken from us. He has said, “I will never leave you, nor forsake you,” and he will keep his word. May we only remember, that while we do not despise little faith, we must not sit down content with it. Our prayer must ever be, “Lord, increase our faith.”‘ (Ryle)
“You of little faith…why did you doubt?” –
According to Rob Bell, Peter isn’t doubting Jesus, but himself:-
‘He loses faith in himself that he can actually be like his rabbi. Jesus wouldn’t have called him if he didn’t think he could be like him, Jesus even reminds his disciples of this at one point he says to them, ‘You didn’t choose me, I chose you’ – the rabbi doesn’t choose you unless the rabbi thinks that you can do what he does, that you can be like him.
‘All my life I’ve heard of people talking about believing in God, but God believes in us, in you, in me, I mean faith in Jesus is important, but what about Jesus’ faith in us? He must have faith in us because he leaves it all in the hands of these disciples, what’s the last thing Jesus says to them, he says now you go and make more disciples.’
It’s a little difficult to know where to begin with this exegesis, except to say that it is entirely gratuitous and without warrant in this or any other text.
Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God” – This is a very different reaction to the one recorded in Mk 6:51f. But, as Blomberg points out, ‘a little bit of empathetic imagination suggests that most human beings would have a mixture of the two reactions.’ (The Historical Reliability of the New Testament)