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Matthew 14:13-21

After the death of John the Baptist, John’s disciples made their way from Perea to Galilee, to let Jesus know
what had happened to him. In Matthew’s gospel, what follows next is recorded as a direct response on the
part of Jesus to this news. We’ll begin back in verse 12.

14:12-13 Remember that Jesus had at this time been traveling from village to village, teaching (Mk 6:6),
most likely in the area near Capernaum. This was within the region ruled by Herod Antipas.

Luke indicates that now Herod was desiring to see Jesus (Lk 9:9). And, just as Jesus had withdrawn when
Herod had John arrested (Mt 4:12), now Jesus again withdraws after receiving the news of John’s
execution, by Herod.

We have noted before that Jesus did not seek out unnecessary confrontations with the authorities, but
instead avoided them when possible. Besides, Herod might well have perceived Jesus, like John, to be a
threat to the stability of his domain - a threat it was best to eliminate. The death of Jesus would only occur
at the hour appointed by the Father - in order to fulfill all righteousness.

We will learn that this time, Jesus withdrew completely out of the jurisdiction of Herod, for a while. But
Matthew also seems to convey the sense in verse 13 that the withdrawal of Jesus is in part because of the
impact John’s death had on Him. This is borne out later in Matthew’s gospel.

Turn to Matthew chapter 17. The disciples of Jesus were questioning Him about a point that they had heard
the scribes make: that Elijah must come before He, the Son of Man, comes to set up His kingdom. Jesus
confirms that this is so, as foretold by the prophet Malachi (3:1, 4:5). But then Jesus says that Elijah had
indeed already come.

[Matthew 17:11-13] Jesus was saying that John fulfilled the role of Elijah - to prepare the way for Him, the
Son of Man. But the Jews did not recognize John fulfilling that role, and they did to John whatever they

John had a popular, sensational following among the Jews - for a time - but the nation as a whole did not
repent and receive their Messiah. And meanwhile, worldly rulers had John put to death. Notice how Jesus
is aware by now that His ministry will follow a similar course, to that of John.

[Return to Matthew 14]

It would seem, based on Matthew’s wording, that Jesus was all alone. He must have felt that way, in a
sense, after hearing of John’s death - which would certainly have grieved Him.

But Mark and Luke bring out that the twelve apostles returned to Jesus at this time, having just completed a
circuit of ministry, of their own. They told Jesus what they had done and what they had taught. And Jesus
invited them to come with Him to the isolated spot mentioned by Matthew, and to rest a while - for there
were many people coming and going, and they didn’t even have time to eat (Mk 6:30-32, Lk 9:10).

They took a fishing boat, and crossed from the northwest part of the Sea of Galilee, to a deserted spot on
the northeastern coast, near the fishing village of Bethsaida, according to Luke’s account (Lk 9:10). This
area was used primarily to pasture flocks.
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Incidentally, this put Jesus and His disciples just outside of the jurisdiction of Herod Antipas.
But the people saw them leave by boat, and pursued them on foot around the lake, gathering more of a
crowd from the towns, as they went along - until it was a great multitude. Of course, they’re following
Jesus - but why? John says because they saw the miracles that Jesus did, with the sick (Jn 6:2). They’re
looking for healing - or looking for a show.

Remarkably, the people arrived at the destination of Jesus and His disciples, first. Now, can you just
picture that? Jesus and His disciples would have been sailing fairly close to the shore, since their
destination was no more than 10 miles away. So the people periodically had sight of them; and they, of the

That must have been hard, on the twelve apostles. They were no doubt looking forward to that time of rest,
that Jesus suggested to them - in that deserted place, alone with Him - and as they arrived, it was ever so
plain that they would not be alone with Jesus, nor would they have rest. They were surely disappointed.

But it would seem that Jesus had a different response.

14:14 Now Jesus had wanted to get away, too; to have a private time of rest, with His disciples. But then
Jesus got out of the boat, and saw that multitude. And what was His response? He was moved with
compassion for them.

In the Greek, this indicates a deep, visceral reaction; we might say, His heart went out, to them. Heavy as
the heart of Jesus must have been - with the news of John and the needs of His disciples - He did not
hesitate to respond to the surpassing need, of this multitude.

Was this simply because of their physical needs? - for we read that He healed their sick. No, certainly it
was because of their far greater spiritual need - to be healed from sin-sickness - a need that only Jesus
could meet.

Mark comments that Jesus was moved because they were like sheep not having a shepherd (Mk 6:34).
Their teachers, the scribes and the Pharisees, were false shepherds. They had misled the people concerning
the way of salvation - through trying to keep the Law.

So, Luke indicates, Jesus began to teach the people, speaking to them about the kingdom of God (Lk 9:11) -
the Good Shepherd, seeking to lead the sheep in the way of salvation - through putting their trust in Him.

And Jesus kept teaching the multitude, until the day was far spent. With evening closing in, the disciples
then came to Jesus, to speak with Him.

14:15 Hmmm. Now, it might seem to us that the disciples were just being practical, here. After all, what
they said was true. It was late; soon, it would be dark. The place was deserted, there was nothing to eat
there, and the people, having spontaneously decided to follow Jesus, did not bring any significant
provisions with them.

We might even be inclined to go so far as to think they were being considerate, of the people. But were
they? What gives them away is the fact that they are telling Jesus what to do - their teacher; their Master;
their Lord. And that is certainly out of order.

But - maybe that’s just Matthew’s recollection. No, wait a minute - when we look at Mark’s gospel, it says
virtually the same thing (Mk 6:35-36); and so does Luke (Lk 9:12). John also records this episode, but
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graciously omits this demand on the part of the twelve apostles - of which John was one, of course.
The demand makes it apparent that the disciples have a will about this. They want the multitude sent away.
They were tired, even before Jesus began to teach and to heal the people. Now, they are spent. They just
want the people to go home. They’re thinking about themselves; but they find a way of saying it, to make it
appear that they were thinking about the people.

But Jesus isn’t fooled by appearances, is He? And He turns their demand right back in their direction.

14:16 They do not need to go away; what does that mean? That means the people are staying. And more
than that - Jesus commands His twelve disciples to feed the people.

But this is a large multitude - really large! We learn at the end of the account that there were five thousand
men; and women and children, besides. That could be upwards of fifteen thousand people. The disciples
didn’t have anywhere near enough food, to feed that many people. Matthew records in the next verse
exactly what they did have.

14:17-18 Matthew has given us the shorthand version; let’s turn to John chapter 6 for a little more detail.

[John 6:3-9]

v. 3-6 It is likely that Jesus went up the side of the hill, in order for His teaching to be heard by all the
people. John points out that the feast of Passover-Unleavened Bread was approaching; it’s springtime.
When Jesus addresses the people later, He will tie what He says to this feast.

Jesus was surveying this huge crowd, which was pressing toward Him - some to be healed. John proceeds
to the response of Jesus to the disciples’ demand, to send the people away; here we see Jesus question just
one of His disciples - Philip - as to where to buy bread, to feed the crowd.

Now, why Philip? Maybe because Philip was from the nearby village of Bethsaida, and would know what
the village could - and couldn’t - supply. John discloses that this was a test of Philip, on the part of Jesus.
Jesus already had in His own heart what He was planning to do. Jesus wanted Philip - and the other
disciples - to see what was in their hearts, first.

v. 7 Jesus had asked Philip “Where?”, but Philip didn’t answer that question; he had a different question in
his mind: “How?” - “How could we buy enough bread, in order to feed all these people?”

They didn’t have nearly enough money. Philip pointed out that even if they had half a year’s wages,
everyone would get just a mouthful. Because Philip never looked to Jesus, he never even got around to
seeing the “Where”; he was hung up in unbelief on the “How”.

v. 8-9 Mark brings out that Jesus directed the disciples to go and see how many loaves they had (Mk 6:38).
Apparently, they found none; but they found a young boy - not more than twelve years old - who had, not
only five loaves, but two fish, besides.

This was a common meal, for people living by the sea. The fish would already have been cooked, and
salted for flavor and preservation. John indicates these fish were small. And “loaves” were barley loaves -
which were about the size of small pita breads. So Andrew states his carefully calculated, logistical
conclusion - what are they, among so many?
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Without faith, they were a meal for a boy - and no more. But with faith, they were exceedingly abundantly
more than Andrew could ask or think. Andrew’s math was off - he forgot to factor in Jesus.

So the twelve disciples concluded that what Jesus requested of them was impossible. And based on their
own resources, the disciples were utterly correct. But all along, they had forgotten about the One who had
unlimited resources, who was right there, in their midst.

So now Jesus, who had always known what He Himself would do, set about to do it - and He requests the
five loaves and two fish, from His disciples (Mt 14:18). And no doubt they requested it from the young

I’m sure they told the boy that Jesus was asking for his food. Did the boy give it, thinking Jesus was
hungry? Maybe the boy thought he would be feeding Jesus! Don’t you think he must have gone along
with the disciples - maybe even given it to Jesus, himself? This little boy is about to have a front row
center seat for the most astounding thing he has ever seen.

By this time, Jesus would have had His disciples’ attention; His words made them realize that Jesus was
intending to do something, to feed the crowd - and under the circumstances, it had to be something
miraculous. Now the disciples were focused on Jesus, expectantly - trusting in their Master, and in what He
would do.

We see that Jesus had readied them to participate, in the work - by bringing about a change of heart. They
were no longer looking at themselves, but now they were looking to Jesus - to Him, alone.

[Return to Matthew 14]

We continue with the account, in verse 19.

v. 19-21 With His direct statement to them, Matthew is emphasizing the authority of Jesus, with the people.
But Mark and Luke bring out that Jesus commanded His disciples to instruct the people (Lk 9:14); and that
the people were organized into groups of 50 and 100, which would facilitate the distribution of the food
among so many people (Mk 6:39-40).

Jesus lifted up His eyes to heaven - indicating that His blessing was an act of praise to God, as the Provider
of the food. Jesus then broke the loaves and the fish, and the distribution began: Jesus, to the disciples; the
disciples, to the groups of people, who shared it one with another, within their groups. And I just keep
envisioning that little boy, watching Jesus sharing his little meal, with his jaw hanging down!

Now, Philip had indicated the disciples’ insufficiency, for every person to have even a little; but because of
the all-sufficiency of Jesus - who, as the Creator, could make something out of nothing at all - every person
had as much as they wanted to eat. They were completely satisfied.

And when the broken pieces that had not been touched were collected again, they filled twelve baskets with
the food. Even the leftovers represented far more than there was, in the beginning! They would be food,
for future days - and future meals.

Notice back in verse 19 that Matthew indicated the people were commanded to sit down on the grass.
Mark and John also bring out some detail concerning the grass - that it is green, for this was near Passover -
springtime (Mk 6:39); and that there was much grass there (Jn 6:10), for it was a place near Bethsaida
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where there was a large tract of rough, uncultivated country chiefly used to pasture flocks.
All the gospel writers indicate that the people were requested to sit down on the grass; but in the Greek, it’s
actually a reclining position, as done by people of the day, when eating a meal - in particular, a feast or

The gospel writers intended to emphasize the position of the people - reclining in the grass - because the
entire scene presents Jesus as Jehovah-rohi, the LORD My Shepherd.

Jesus is the Shepherd of His people - of every individual, personally. He is seeing to it that each one does
not want; He is making them to lie down in green pastures; He is leading them beside the waters of life
everlasting. All they need to do is to stoop down, and drink - submit to Jesus, and believe in Him - and
they will live (Ps 23:1-2).

The prophet Ezekiel was given to see the LORD, as the true Shepherd of His people - Jehovah-rohi. Turn to
Ezekiel chapter 34.

The LORD gave Ezekiel a word against the shepherds of Israel - these include rulers, priests, prophets,
teachers - who fed themselves, at the expense of the flock - the people - and didn’t care for the sheep. They
were misleading the people with lies, leading them into destruction.

The misleading of the people in Jesus’ day by the scribes and the Pharisees would result in them rejecting
their Messiah, and being dispersed by the LORD among the Gentile nations - where many still live, in our
day. The prophecy pertains to Israel’s misleading by her leaders through her generations.

In verse 10, the LORD pronounces His judgment upon these false shepherds.

[Ezekiel 34:10-16]

v. 10 The LORD will remove the false shepherds from their positions of leadership, over the people.

v. 11-12 This refers to the ingathering of Israel, from all the other nations among whom they are scattered.
When will this occur - still future to our day? When Jesus returns, at His Second Coming to the earth.

v. 13-14 The idea is that of protection and provision, that Jehovah-rohi will give to His people. There will
be material provision for Israel, brought by the Gentile nations. There will also be spiritual provision;
God’s people will be taught the truth, and nothing but the truth; they will feed on the Word of God.

v. 15-16 “I will make them to lie down” - the position of rest and peace. In that day, Israel will be at peace
from her enemies, all around - they will no longer be her enemies. For the nation, there will be unity and
healing; but the false shepherds who formerly misled the flock will incur God’s judgment.

[Return to Matthew 14]

This is how Jesus was presenting Himself to the Jews, this day: as He healed the people, and taught them,
and made them lie down, and He fed them - as Jehovah-rohi, the LORD their Shepherd. It is a familiar
motif, in the OT (Ps 23, 78:70-72; Is 40:10-11, 53:6; Jer 23:1-6). And the Jews, knowing their OT
Scriptures, should have therefore been able to recognize their Lord and Shepherd, in Jesus.

We’ll look at how the Jews did respond to Jesus, next time. It required Jesus to temporarily remove
Himself and His disciples, away from the people. But the next day, the multitude once again located Jesus,
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and He addressed them - on the basis of the food that He had miraculously provided for them, this day.
John recorded this address in his gospel - and the response of the people, to Jesus. We’ll just be looking at
parts of it. Turn once more to John chapter 6. First Jesus commented on why the people had sought Him
out, again.

[John 6:26-35, 41-42, 48-52, 60-66]

v. 26-27 Here Jesus presents Himself as Jehovah-rohi, the Shepherd of His people, who will feed them
with the food that brings eternal life. And what is that food? It is Jesus Himself; He is the provider, and He
is the provision. The Father has set His seal of authority on Jesus, to be the Life-giver; the One who has
Life in Himself (Jn 5:26).

v. 28-29 Jesus had used the word “labor”, so the Jews that means they must work their way, into the
kingdom. But Jesus shows them the work of God - the only work He will accept - is believing - in the One
whom He sent - Jesus.

v. 30-31 Wow. Jesus just did the most astounding sign, in feeding the 5000. And one day later, they’re
demanding another sign. Unbelief always makes such demands. Notice their reference to the manna.
They want Jesus to give them bread daily - and then, they’ll believe Him.

Clearly, they won’t. But Jesus plays off their words, to make His next point.

v. 32-34 They liked that idea - bread from heaven, that will give them life. The “Lord” here is a term of
polite address; they do not acknowledge Jesus as their Lord and Master. They seek an everlasting provision
of this bread from heaven. At least, until Jesus identifies what it is.

v. 35 The idea is for the Jews to come to Jesus, believing, and they will be forever satisfied. But the Jews
stumble over this idea. Skip down to verse 41.

v. 41-42 Clearly, they do not know the Father of Jesus, who they think is Joseph. And they have never
really tried to know Jesus, or they would understand that He is indeed the bread from heaven - who came to
give Life, to the world.

But Jesus insists on this point, and defines it further. Skip down to verse 48.

v. 48-51 The promise is eternal life, to anyone who takes in Jesus by believing in Him as their Substitute,
as their Sin-Bearer, sent from God. This was not difficult to grasp; except for the Jews, who refused to lay
hold of it, by faith - as we see next.

v. 52 + 60 John is using the term “disciples” here in the more general sense, of those who have been
following Jesus; they did not necessarily believe in Him. Here we see that they refused to think through the
meaning of His words, and so it remained impossible for them to understand.

v. 61-62 Jesus had said He is the true bread that has come down from heaven, to give Life to the world. As
the Good Shepherd, He will soon lay down His life for the sheep; and then He will be returning to heaven.
What will they think then?

v. 63 Jesus was pointing out that His words are intended to convey spiritual realities - which must be
understood, to obtain eternal life. If they refuse to ponder these spiritual realities, they will reap no benefit
- and remain the men in the flesh that they are now.
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Then Jesus showed them what was holding them back.

v. 64-66 Unbelief kept most of the Jews from really considering the words of Jesus - words that would
have been spirit and Life to them. This was something always foreknown to God, and that Jesus knew
from the beginning - perhaps meaning the beginning of His ministry, here.

Many who were following Jesus before turned away from Him, at this time. It was a turning point, in His
ministry in Galilee to the Jews.

They were offended by the idea that this Man - who was, to all appearances, just like them - had been sent
from heaven to save them. They stumbled over the fact that they couldn’t be accepted based on their own
good works. And their unbelief caused them to remain in the dark to this one and only way into the
presence of the Father, in God’s kingdom.

It was too much for them to accept One who would be both their Shepherd and their Bread; provider and
provision. Most of the Jews disliked the thought of such dependency; they would rather take care of
themselves. Most men are the same, today.

If the Jews had been willing to submit to Jesus, and receive Him as their Messiah, the Good Shepherd
would have been able to gather them to Himself, and lead them into the Kingdom, right then. But as it
were, they only received His material provision and His physical healing.

They had all eaten - their bellies filled to the brim - but they would soon enough become empty again.
They had been healed of their illnesses - but their sin-sickness remained, along with its inexorable sentence
of death.

But for the twelve apostles, and for others who believed to see, there was much to be gained, from the
feeding of the five thousand. Let’s return to Matthew’s account and take another look at it.

[Return to Matthew 14]

For the twelve disciples, Jesus had shown them what would become a pattern for their ministry, in giving
out the gospel - the Bread of Life.

In themselves, they would find they were insufficient, for that ministry; in every respect, they lacked the
resources - in themselves.

But Jesus always knew what He would do; His greater work, through those who believe in Him (Jn 14:12),
through the Holy Spirit in them - so that the Word of God would go out from Jerusalem, to Judea and
Samaria, to the uttermost parts of the earth (Acts 1:8).

As the disciples learned to look to Jesus, bringing to Him their limited resources and abilities, Jesus in His
all-sufficiency would multiply them into what was needed to complete His work.

The Word would go out into all the world - shared throughout the assemblies that would come to be - the
gatherings of fifties, and hundreds, that would together partake of Jesus, the Bread of Life - and offer Him
to others.
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In the end, all who were willing to receive Him would be filled with the Spirit, and obtain soul-satisfaction.
And meanwhile, the apostles would find that in giving out, they were fuller than ever - like the twelve
baskets - ready to give out the Bread of Life, again and again.

Reading: Matthew 14:22-36; Mark 6:45-56; John 6:14-21