Notes Matthew chapter 14
© copyright 1997 drs Gijs van den Brink
The Death of John the Baptist 14:1-12
14:1. This Herod is Herod Antipas, a son of Herod the Great’s fourth marriage. He ruled Galilee and Perea as tetrarch (one of four joint rulers, a kind of governor of a small district) from 4 B.C. to 39 A.D. He founded the city of Tiberias (named after the Emperor Tiberius) on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee as the capital of his tetrarchate (quarter district ; the country was divided into four parts).
At that time, refers to the time when rumours of Jesus’ miracles reached Herod. This was after the death of John the Baptist (see v. 2).
2. He said to his attendants. The Greek word for ‘attendant’ (pais) literally means ‘servant, slave’, but at court ‘courtier’ (cf. Gen 41:10,37).
This is John the Baptist; he has risen from the dead! Jesus’ works awakened Herod’s conscience on the murder of John. For political reasons (tolerance towards Roman authority) he wanted to belong to the Sadducees, who denied the resurrection, but now that the rumour about Jesus reaches his ears, he believes that John has risen from the dead! (cf. Matt 16:14; Luke 9:7). A bodily resurrection before the arrival of the Day of the Lord was held possible (SB I, 679), but we must rather think of the superstition that the spirits of the dead returned as demons in living people, a kind of belief in reïncarnation (Josephus, Bellum Iudaicum I, xxx,7; xxxi,2; VII,vi,3). John had performed no miracles during his life (John 10:41), but it was popularly believed that a risen man could perform miracles.
3. Herod Antipas repudiated his wife, daughter of the Arabian king Aretas IV of Nabatea (2 Cor 11:32), in favour of Herodias, the wife of his half-brother Herod Philip (not Philip the tetrarch, Luke 3:1). Philip and Herod lived in Rome, but after a visit there from Herod Antipas, they moved to join him. Herodias was a daughter of Aristobulus, a son of Herod the Great by his first marriage. In Jewish law it was forbidden for both Herod Philip and Herod Antipas to marry her (cf. Lev 18:6-18), for both were her uncles. In addition Antipas broke two other Jewish laws in what he did: divorcing without a valid reason (cf. Deut 24:1) and marrying a sister-in-law (Lev 18:16; 20:21).
4. John condemned both the theft of Philip’s wife and the incest (see v.3) and possibly did so on many occasions (the verbal form elegen -had been saying- indicates this). That John reproved the tetrach does not necessarily mean that they must have met. He may have done so in a public declaration.
5. Doubtless Heriodias encouraged her husband to have John killed (cf.v.8). But Herod was afraid of the people, who considered John to be a prophet (cf. Matt 21:26). In addition to that he stood in awe of John the Baptist (Mark 6:20).
6. On Herod’s birthday the daughter of Herodias danced. Birthday celebrations were a heathen custom (cf. Pharaoh, Gen 40:20) which were condemned by the Jews (SB I, 680-681). In Israel dances were carried out principally by men, and by women only on particular occasions (Exod 15:20; Judges 11:34; 1 Sam 18:7), and then only in round or processional dances (SB I, 682). For this reason the princess’ performance was something unheard-of, and Herod and his guests (Mark 6:22) were regaled with a dance that was both sensuous and lascivious.
The girl was called Salome and was the daughter of Herodias (Mark 6:22) and Herod Philip. She first married her uncle, a half-brother of her father’s, Philip the tetrarch (Luke 3:1), and later her cousin Aristobulus, a son of Herod II of Chalkis. She was therefore first a sister-in-law and of a niece of her mother. She is only one of the examples of the complicated family relationship among the Herodians (cf. commentary on v.3).
7. He promised with an oath. Perhaps Herod made this promise more to impress his guests with his power than the girl (see v.9). Oaths like this were forbidden in Jewish law (Lev 5:4).
8. Incited by her mother the girl asked for John the Baptist’s death, that is, for his head to be brought into the banqueting hall on a charger, so that the whole affair could not be postponed or brought into question.
9. The king was distressed: this corresponds with Mark 6:20, where we read that he liked to listen to John. First he did not kill John out of fear for the people (v.5), now he does have him killed because of his oath taken in the presence of his nobles. Herod’s life was run by others, as is often the case with weak people.
10. Not one of the distinguished people who were Herod’s guests stood up for the prisoner. John was executed without trial or sentence. That was murder. It took place in the castle of Machaerus (see Matt 11:2), four days’ journey from Tiberias, where the birthday feast was apparently being held (see Mark 6:21).
11. His head was … given to the girl. The Greek word for ‘girl’ (korasion) means a young, unmarried woman. She was perhaps nineteen or twenty. The girl must have had the same sort of character as her mother to be capable of this deed. The first Elijah had his Jezebel, the second had his Herodias.
12. Whether the trunk was thrown over the wall without thought of burial or whether John’s disciples obtained the body is not known. Then they went and told Jesus. It went without saying for the disciples to tell Jesus what had happened. This proves that they believed in Him. The answer Jesus gave John to his question from prison (Matt 11:2-6), must have satisfied John and his disciples and strengthened the bond between both men of God. It is also possible that these disciples wanted to warn Jesus against Herod Antipas.
Some of John the Baptist’s disciples continued his work after his death (Acts 18:25) but apparently most of them had followed Jesus.
The Five Thousand Fed 14:13-21
13. The time at which the news reached Jesus coincided with the end of the missionary journey of the Twelve through Israel (Mark 6:30-32). Jesus now went to the district to the east of the Sea of Galilee. The district was thinly populated, in contrast to the western side, where it was very difficult to find a spot in which to be alone. They arrived in Bethsaida-Julias (Luke 9:10), a small town on the north-east side of the lake.
He withdrew by boat privately. Jesus began His public ministry in Galilee when John was imprisoned (Matt 4:12). Now that John has been killed He retired from public appearance (‘he withdrew’, cf. 15:21; ‘privately’ -Gk. kat’ idian-, 14:23; 17:1,19; 20:17) to devote Himself completely to teaching His disciples (16:5,13,21,24; 17:22,25; 18:1,21; 19:10,23). In the second place this withdrawal meant removing Himself from Capernaum and Galilee (14:13; 15:21; 16:21), which is the beginning of His journey to Jerusalem.
14. Jesus had looked for privacy and peace (13a) but instead of these He found Himself among thousands of people. Yet He was not irritated, but He inwardly had mercy on them and healed the sick (cf. 9:36).
15. As evening approached. The Jews recognised two evenings. The first began at twilight, the second when it was completely dark. We read in the OT the expression ‘between the evenings’ (Exod 12:6; 29:39,41, etc.). Later the rabbis said that the first began at 3 p.m. and the second at 6 p.m. This knowledge enables us to understand what happens in vv. 15 and 23.
It is noteworthy that Jesus’ disciples draw attention to the fact that it is a meal-time.
16. You give them something to eat. Jesus rejects their proposal that the people should buy food in the villages and says: ‘You give them something to eat.’ We are reminded of Elisha’s words who asked his servant to do this impossible task in the same way (2 Kings 4:42-44).
Jesus would perform the miracle and the disciples might help in carrying it out. They gave what they received from Jesus. One does not know how much one has until one begins to give it away.
17. We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish. The impossibility of the request is apparent in the disciples’ answer. The gospel of John emphasises that they were barley loaves such as the poor people ate (John 6:9). They were small round cakes, which as a rule were not cut. The fish were eaten between the loaves as in a modern sandwich. From one boy’s packed lunch (John 6:9) Jesus fed the whole crowd.
18. Bring them here to me. The disciples’ part in the miracle is described in detail. Obviously they had something to learn. First they had to bring the loaves and the fishes to Jesus to receive them back again from Him and distribute them among the people. We cannot fill the needs of others unless Jesus has first filled our hands.
19. He gave thanks and broke the loaves. The people must first sit down comfortably and then were given food. Jesus here acts as host. It was a Jewish custom to take the bread, give thanks, break it and share it out. The prayer normally used before a meal was as follows: ‘Praised be Thou, O Lord our God, King of the World, Who hast made bread to come out of the earth.’ After the meal a longer prayer was used.
Looking up to heaven. Looking up to heaven was unusual for the Jews. Jesus did this only a few times, but each time with exceptional consequences (Mark 7:34; John 11:41).
The words are strongly reminiscent of those at the institution of the Lord’s Supper (Matt 26:26). We conclude from this (and the continued silence about the fishes) that the miracle of the loaves, in which we learn that Jesus is empowered to satisfy the peoples’ bodily needs, is a picture of the Lord’s Supper in the church and in the coming Kingdom (Matt 26:29), which is not only spiritual blessing but also contains a material blessing, i.e., food for the hungry, the poor (Acts 2:42-47; cf. Matt 5:6; 6:11).
20. Twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. All ate as much as they were able. Gathering the left-overs was compulsory at a Jewish meal, which was carefully formulated (SB IV, 2, 625-627). Much more was left over than was available at the start. This shows that Jesus does not just take care of the needs of the moment, but also cares for the future. Each of the 12 disciples, who had been so concerned, had a basket-ful over. The baskets (Gk. kophinoi) were woven baskets which were carried. They were used for instance as a soldier’s knapsack and for carrying food and other necessities for a journey. When Jesus fed the 4,000 (15:37) another sort of basket was used (spuris), a much larger one, which is also mentioned in Acts 9:25.
21. The number of those who ate was about five thousand men. About 5,000 men had eaten. Mark relates how they could be counted (6:39-40): the people sat in groups of 50 and 100.
We hear nothing about the reaction of the people. This miraculous feeding was not so much intended for the people as a lesson for the disciples. The disciples had to know in the first place that Jesus is the Son of God (Matt 14:33; Mark 6:52), because God does through Jesus what He did through Moses (Exod 16; Num 11) and Elisha (2 Kings 4:42-44) in the Old Covenant. In the second place they had to learn to feed the hungry, even when they lacked the natural means to do so.
Jesus Walks on the Water 14:22-33
22. Jesus made the disciples get into the boat … while he dismissed the crowd.After this miraculous meal, the people wanted to make Jesus king (John 6:14-15). For this reason Jesus makes His disciples enter the boat and go to the other side (about 7 km.) and sends the people home, to make a distinction between the people and the disciples, on whom He will concentrate in the future (cf. 14:13). He wants to teach His disciples something in the coming night. Moreover, Jesus wants to be alone for a moment (v.23). That was why He had originally come to this spot (14:13). He had not been able to find peace and quiet during the day, so He kept the night free for them.
23. He went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. We do not know why or for whom Jesus prayed on this occasion. Perhaps in general terms for the disciples and the crowd. Apparently also for strength to endure the suffering to come with which he had been strongly confronted on hearing of John’s death (v.13). It is further possible that from the mountain He saw that the ship was soon to be sailing into the wind and that He prayed specially for the disciples.
When evening came, i.e., the second evening, nightfall, while the first evening, twilight, had fallen in v.15.
24. A considerable distance from land. When the ship was in the middle of the lake (about 6 km. off the coast), it was swept by a storm. Another reading has: ‘many stadia distant from the land’ (a stadium is 185 metres). Because Jesus did not come immediately when there was an emergency (see v.25), He must have wanted to teach them something. Storms may come even though Jesus Himself has instructed us to go somewhere (see v.22). But He teaches His disciples here that He is always near them in their need, that He watches them and comes to their aid.
25. The fourth watch of the night: in ancient times the Jews divided the night into three watches, the first, the middle and the morning watch (Exod 14:24; Judges 7:19). But later they adopted the Roman system, of four watches: the evening (6 to 9 p.m.), midnight (9 p.m. to midnight), cock-crow (midnight to 3 a.m.) and morning (3 to 6 a.m.). See Mark 13:35.
Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. The disciples could not go to Jesus, but He could go to them and so he did, even over the water of the lake. In this early morning Jesus trod on the waves of the sea as God had done in the Old Testament (cf.Job 9:8). Even the elements, of which we are so afraid because they can mean our death, were used by Him as a path for His feet.
26. It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear. The problem is not that they believed in apparitions but that they thought so little about Jesus. They absolutely did not expect Him to intervene. They might have hoped for a miracle, but now that they do not believe there is only room for them to scream from fear. They think that a demonic apparition is coming on them (SB I, 691).
27. The disciples’ need was the occasion for all these remarkable happenings. Emergencies (they cried out for fear) are not always the worst of our experiences. They are also an occasion for the Lord’s intervention.
Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid. Jesus spoke above the storm and uttered two words which are a self-revelation of God: ‘It is I’, litt. ‘I am’, Exod 3:14. When Jesus says ‘Take courage’ … ‘don’t be afraid’ these are not just calming words but an absolute assurance to feel secure. He has the situation under control.
28. Lord, if it’s you, … tell me to come to you. When Peter hears these words of Jesus (v.27), he immediately alters. Just now he had feared for his life, now he wants to walk to Jesus on the water. The stress is on ‘you’: ‘If it is You, tell me to come to you.’ His words are not doubting. They are rather believing : ‘If it is you, everything is possible.’ Peter wanted to go to Jesus straightway (cf. John 21:7), and would have gone directly on the water. But because of the impossibility of walking on water he waits for Jesus’ order and at His word Peter too can walk on water.
29. “Come,” he said. Jesus never refuses anyone to come to Him in faith. Further, He wants to teach the disciples a lesson at this time too, i.e., what the Lord can do, the disciple can do too, if he has faith (Matt 17:20; 21:22).
30. He was afraid and, beginning to sink. But standing on the waves in the heart of a storm is something quite different from standing on the deck of a boat. And Peter was afraid. He was in no danger, but fear overcame him (panic!). We learn here that in faith a disciple of Jesus can perform miracles and even control nature. But whenever there is a question of fear or of the slightest doubt, he fails.
“Lord, save me!” Yet Peter was saved, for he could pray while he was sinking. He could not say much, but a short prayer is long enough, when it comes from the heart.
31. The disciples’ faith can waver, but Christ never wavers: immediately Jesus reached out His hand and caught him. Jesus first saves and then rebukes: you of little faith!
Why did you doubt? The Greek word for ‘doubt’ (distaz) is composed of di (double) and stasis (that which stands). It is a standing before two paths, intending to do two things, being uncertain. It only occurs here and in Matt 28:17.
You of little faith: see Matt 6:30;8:26;16:8.
32. The wind died down. This too is a revelation of the omnipotence of the Lord Jesus. The storm is quieted when the lesson is over, i.e., not while they were walking on the water!
33. Truly you are the Son of God. While they had not come to any insight during the miraculous feeding (Mark 6:52), they now make a confession of faith. ‘Those who were in the boat’ are the disciples (see v.22). Until now, only God Himself, the devil and the demons had called Jesus the ‘Son of God’ (Matt 3:17; 4:3,6; 8:29). The confession is a prelude to Matt 16:16 and confirms what Jesus testified concerning Himself, see Matt 11:25-27. Nevertheless, the term ‘Son of God’ is here primarily an expression of an overwhelming impression due to the superterrestrial power and only in the second place due to (implicitly) an acknowledgment of the Messiah (as contrasted with Matt 16:16).
Healings in Gennesaret 14:34-36
34. Gennesaret meant the plain of Gennesar(et). This is the fertile plain of El-Guwêr, between Capernaum and Tiberias, which at that time was densely populated.
35. According to the gospel account, Jesus had not previously been in this district south of Capernaum. Those who recognise Jesus had apparently seen him before in Capernaum. Note their activity and faith.
36. Touch the edge of his cloak. Usually the hem and fringe of a garment worn by highly-placed people were touched, but here it occurs quite clearly to obtain healing (cf. Matt 9:20-22). From the fact that sick people begged to touch the hem of His garment and that only those who did so were healed, we conclude that Jesus did not intend to stay in this district and come nearer to the people. Here too it appears that Jesus was beginning to withdraw at this time (cf. Matt 14:13).