14:1 Herod Antipas was the son of Herod the Great and ruled as tetrarch of Galilee and Perea from about 4 BC until he was banished for seeking the kingship in AD 39 (Josephus, Ant. 18.252-54). In general, a tetrarch was one step below an ethnarch, which was in turn a step below king.
14:2-5 The explanatory conjunction for (Gk gar) shows that Herod’s belief that John had been resurrected and possessed supernatural powers was a product of paranoia fed by his guilty conscience. John was arrested because he criticized Herod’s illicit marriage to his brother’s wife.
14:6-12 Herodias’s daughter Salome danced erotically for her uncle Herod. This seems to have enticed a drunken Herod to make an oath he would later regret. Herodias preferred beheading as the means of execution so she could display John’s head as a trophy. The Gospel accounts of this event were probably dependent on an informant in Herod’s court, possibly Joanna or Manaen (Lk 8:3; 24:10; Ac 13:1).
14:15-17 Loaves of bread and small fish were staple foods in Galilee. The loaves were the size of dinner rolls. John’s description of the fish (Gk opsarion) indicates that they were either dried or pickled (Jn 6:9). He also identified the loaves as made of barley, the food of the poor. He implied that the loaves and fish were small since they were sufficient for only one boy’s lunch.
14:18-21 This is the only miracle of Jesus recorded by all four Gospels. A true miracle is clearly expressed by the words everyone ate and was satisfied. Normally, a few small loaves and fish divided among so many people would provide each person with only a very tiny crumb. However, everyone ate to satisfaction and the disciples collected in leftovers more food than was originally available. Collecting these baskets full of leftover pieces served as a powerful reminder of Jesus’s ability to provide abundance for his disciples (6:11,25-33). John’s Gospel shows that many bystanders compared Jesus’s miracles to God’s provision of manna in the wilderness (Jn 6:22-33). The miracle also closely resembles a miracle of Elisha (2Kg 4:42-44). Although the miracle is referred to as the “Feeding of the Five Thousand,” the five thousand men, besides women and children might equal a total of fifteen thousand people. Thus Jesus’s miracle was far greater than that performed by Elisha.
14:22-24 The boat was already some distance from land. The Greek is literally “many stadia”—a stadia equaling about six hundred feet (see Jn 6:19). The Sea of Galilee is about eight miles wide at its widest point.
14:25 Very early in the morning is literally “during the fourth watch of the night.” The Romans divided the period from 6:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. into four watches of three hours each. Thus the fourth watch lasted from 3:00 a.m. to 6:00 a.m.
14:26 The word ghost (Gk phantasma) was used in Greek literature to describe dream visions or spirit apparitions. In the OT a closely related term referred to a dream or vision in which one saw something that was not real (Is 28:7; Jb 20:8 [LXX]). Matthew’s usage may imply that the disciples thought their eyes were deceiving them. The language of the text does not imply that the Bible supports the belief that spirits of the dead roam the earth.
14:28-33 Truly you are the Son of God. Their awe of Jesus reached a new level as he exercised mastery over the created order—something God alone could do (Jb 9:8; Ps 77:19). The disciples’ confession of Jesus as Son of God is not surprising in light of close connections between this miracle and important OT parallels. The title “Son of God” often serves as a messianic title in the NT (see note at 3:17), but here it also implies Jesus’s deity. The disciples likely interpreted the miracle in light of Jb 9:8 (LXX) which states that the Lord walked on the sea as if it were dry land. Their worship of Jesus also confirmed their growing recognition of his divine nature (see note at Mt 4:10-11).
14:34 Gennesaret was located on the northwestern shore of the Sea of Galilee about five miles south of Capernaum.
14:35-36 The people of Gennesaret appeared to be aware of the healing of the woman in Mt 9:20. This miracle occurred in nearby Capernaum and set a precedent for healing by touching the end of his robe.