Structure of the passage
Herod the Tetrarch, Jesus, and the Death of John the Baptist (Mt. 14:1–12)
Herod’s explanation of Jesus’s miracles (Mt. 14:1–2)
Herod’s previous execution of John (Mt. 14:3–12)
John’s imprisonment (Mt. 14:3–5)
John’s execution (Mt. 14:6–11)
John’s burial (Mt. 14:12)
Jesus Feeds the Five Thousand (Mt. 14:13–21)
The setting (Mt. 14:13–14)
The conversation between Jesus and the disciples (Mt. 14:15–18)
The miraculous meal (Mt. 14:19–21)
Jesus Walks on the Water (Mt. 14:22–33)
The setting of the miracle (Mt. 14:22–23)
Jesus meets the disciples on the sea (Mt. 14:24–27)
Jesus and Peter (Mt. 14:28–31)
Conclusion to the miracle (Mt. 14:32–33)
Jesus Heals Many at Gennesaret (Mt. 14:34–36)
The parables of chapter 13 break with a historical account of John’s the Baptist’s end, and immediately another preparation of Christ’s death becomes evident. This chapter is full of Christ’s compassion for the crowd, and the contrast of Christ’s power to that of the disciples.
The disciples want to send the crowd away, Jesus embraces them. The disciples doubt God’s provision, but Christ shows He is God. The disciples doubt God’s strength, Jesus calms the storm and proves His majesty as God. This chapter is a sharp illustration of Jesus’ humanity and His divinity. He grieves over John, He is compassionate, yet is full of power and strength.
Thesis for 15-21: Through an outstanding and climactic miracle, emerging upon the death of John, Jesus proves His divinity by supplying the people with bread in order to show the full measure of the new age has come giving evidence to answer the Messianic question about to be posed.
Exposition of the passage
Herod the Tetrarch, Jesus, and the Death of John the Baptist (14:1–12)
A tetrarch originally ruled one-fourth of a kingdom, but this term now applies to princes who ruled with Rome’s permission. Antipas ruled over Galilee and Perea, the area east of the Jordan, from 4 BCE to 39 CE (cf. Mark 8:15; Luke 3:1, 19–20; 8:3; 9:7; 13:31–32; 23:7–12, 15; Acts 4:27; 12:1). He was of minor importance compared to his father, Herod the Great (Matt. 2:1). And apparently this man’s conscience is speaking to him. Knowing that he handled John the Baptist unjustly, he feared that John had returned, and he was not the only one (see Mt. 16:14).
Verse 3-12 Herod’s Previous Execution of John
Here, the author looks back on John’s execution. Antipas had divorced his first wife in order to marry Herodias, who was formerly married to his half brother Philip. John had persistently pointed out that this was illegal according to Mosaic law (Lev. 18:16; 20:21). The way Antipas feared to execute John, though later he did through his wife, so the Pharisees feared to execute Jesus, both due to the love of the crowd for these men. Yet Herodias, who has a grudge towards John disapproval, persuades her husband to kill John the Baptist after the dance of her daughter. The word here for daughter is κοράσιον, little girl. This girl was Salome, the daughter of Heriodias’ former marriage. The death of John must haunt Herod, yet prepares for Jesus death, in a similar shameful manner, by the weak consent of a ruler. John disciples, who came to Jesus on his behalf (9:14), took away his body. Permission was likely granted by the court of Antipas, for to leave a body unburied was not done. Jesus had been so affected by this death, that He withdrew Himself. One day, the king will have to give account for killing the forerunner of the King. This story lies so close to Jesus’ life, that some call this a christological parable.
Jesus Feeds the Five Thousand (Mt. 14:13–21)
The story of the 5000 is found in all the Gospels (Mark 6:32–44; Luke 9:10–17; John 6:1–13). Jesus ministry had begun after John’s imprisonment, and now John’s death makes Jesus withdraw. Perhaps to grieve and pray, to avoid Antipas’ plans (taking the boat to the other side of the Jordan inflow would take Him out of Antipas’ territory and into the tetrarchy of Philip), or to speak to His disciples. Yet Jesus’ compassion for the crowd is so great, that He starts ministering to them.
The contrast between the disciples and Jesus here is great. Being annoyed, they try to send the crowd away while Jesus’ compassion had moved Him to stay. Instead He tells them that He will supply the needs, and five loafs of bread and two fishes were found, common food in Galilea (Matt. 7:9–10; John 21:9–10).
Jesus takes the bread and blesses it, as He always does (Matt. 26:26; cf. Luke 24:30; 1 Cor. 14:16). A common Jewish prayer was the “hamotzi,” “Blessed art thou, O Lord our God, King of the world, who brings forth הַמּוֹצִיא bread from the earth.” Jesus’ power here has fed 5000 men, plus the women and children, and there was left more than what they started with. Jesus shows His authority and power here.
On the one hand there is the reminder of the feeding of mannah in the wilderness (Exod. 16; Deut. 8:3, 16; Neh. 9:20; Ps. 78:24; John 6:30–59). It also relates to the eschatological banquet (Matt. 8:11 and 26:29), and the way in which God suits the needs of His people ((Matt. 26:29; 1 Cor. 11:26).
The numbers here are somewhat significant. The five loaves and two fishes do not point to the five books of Moses and the prophets, but to the inadequacy of the disciples’ resources (Matt. 16:9–10). Yet the twelve baskets may have more significance (see Mt. 10:1, 19:28; Rev. 7:4–8; 21:12–14, 16–17). 12 is a number of fullness, and so the point is that in Jesus the Messiah there is abundant shalom, full blessings for Israel.
Verse 22-33 Jesus Walks on the Water
The following story is omitted by Luke. Jesus, who attempted to withdrew earlier, now sends the crowd away and also His disciples. He stays on the eastside of the lake to find a mountain to pray (Matt. 5:1–2; 17:1–8). Other references to be alone with God in a desolate place are Luke 6:12; Exod. 24:2; 32:30–34. Jesus is finally alone.
Probably 1-2 miles from the shore, the disciples are struggling with a heavy wind, common to the Sea of Galilee. “The fourth watch” refers to the way in which the night was divided, from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m., every watch lasting three hours. Jesus comes walking over the water, and the disciples fear to see a ghost. The word here is φάντασµα and refers to the spirit of a dead person, an angel, or a demon (see Job 20:8). Matthew likely intends that his readers recall the biblical texts where God is the ruler of the sea (Ps. 77:19; Job 9:8; Isa. 43:16; 51:9–10; Hab. 3:15) and where prayers for deliverance from trials are put in terms of storms on the sea (Pss. 69:1–3, 13–15; 107:23–32; Exod. 14:10–15:21; Jon. 1:1–16.). Jesus tells His disciples to take courage, and to not fear.
Peter’s reaction is understandable. Though some say he is testing God, an impulsive passion could have driven him towards the arms of Christ. His love of Christ on the one hand, and the fear for circumstances on the other hand, make many believers identify with him. His attempt is successful all the way to Jesus, but when he realizes his circumstances, he sinks immediately. Christ asks why Peter doubts Him, after all the miracles he has seen, and the words he has heard (Matt. 6:30; 8:26; 16:8; 28:17). The disciples, seeing Christ’s power in stilling the storm, worship Him. There are many Scriptural references of God’s power over the elements (Job 26:11–12; Pss. 65:7; 89:9–10; 107:29; Jon. 1:15). We see here that Peter’s fait is weak, but through Christ’s power, Peter becomes the rock on which the church is built, and the disciples are used in the advancement of God’s Kingdom.
Verse 34-36 Jesus Heals Many at Gennesaret
The previous chapters were dominated by unbelief. Yet here, Christ has shown that He is God, for walking on the sea and calming a storm are prerogatives belonging to God alone (Job 26:11–12; Pss. 65:7; 89:9–10; 107:29). Christ represents God, and He gives rest (Matt. 11:25–27). Now, the boat has drifted likely through the storm to the other side of the lake, three miles southwest of Capernaum. More healing takes place, more compassion, and more signs of the Kingdom of God.
In Matthew, Jesus is “worshiped” by the magi, a leper, a synagogue official, a Canaanite woman, the mother of Zebedee’s sons, and the disciples (Mt. 2:2, 8, 11; 8:2; 9:18; 15:25; 20:20; 28:9, 17). More faith is needed, stronger faith is needed. Turner notes, “This second storm miracle, just like the first (Mt. 8:23–27), should be read as a picture of discipleship in the midst of life’s trials.”