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Matthew 14:1-21; Mark 6:14-44     Listen Podcast
Luke 9:7-17; John 6:1-14


In these passages, we see the following events in Jesus' ministry:



Background: John the Baptist beheaded (Matthew 14:1-12; Mark 6:14-29; Luke 9:7-9)

Matthew 14
Mark 6
Luke 9
1 At that time Herod the tetrarch heard the report about Jesus
2 and said to his servants, “This is John the Baptist; he is risen from the dead, and therefore these powers are at work in him.”
3 For Herod had laid hold of John and bound him, and put him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife.
4 Because John had said to him, “It is not lawful for you to have her.”
5 And although he wanted to put him to death, he feared the multitude, because they counted him as a prophet.
6 ¶ But when Herod’s birthday was celebrated, the daughter of Herodias danced before them and pleased Herod.
7 Therefore he promised with an oath to give her whatever she might ask.
8 ¶ So she, having been prompted by her mother, said, “Give me John the Baptist’s head here on a platter.”
9 ¶ And the king was sorry; nevertheless, because of the oaths and because of those who sat with him, he commanded it to be given to her.
10 So he sent and had John beheaded in prison.
11 And his head was brought on a platter and given to the girl, and she brought it to her mother.
12 Then his disciples came and took away the body and buried it, and went and told Jesus.

14 ¶ Now King Herod heard of Him, for His name had become well known. And he said, “John the Baptist is risen from the dead, and therefore these powers are at work in him.”
15 ¶ Others said, “It is Elijah.” ¶ And others said, “It is the Prophet, or like one of the prophets.”
16 ¶ But when Herod heard, he said, “This is John, whom I beheaded; he has been raised from the dead!”
17 For Herod himself had sent and laid hold of John, and bound him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife; for he had married her.
18 Because John had said to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.”
19 ¶ Therefore Herodias held it against him and wanted to kill him, but she could not;
20 for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a just and holy man, and he protected him. And when he heard him, he did many things, and heard him gladly.
21 ¶ Then an opportune day came when Herod on his birthday gave a feast for his nobles, the high officers, and the chief men of Galilee.
22 And when Herodias’ daughter herself came in and danced, and pleased Herod and those who sat with him, the king said to the girl, “Ask me whatever you want, and I will give it to you.”
23 He also swore to her, “Whatever you ask me, I will give you, up to half my kingdom.”
24 ¶ So she went out and said to her mother, “What shall I ask?” ¶ And she said, “The head of John the Baptist!”
25 ¶ Immediately she came in with haste to the king and asked, saying, “I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.”
26 ¶ And the king was exceedingly sorry; yet, because of the oaths and because of those who sat with him, he did not want to refuse her.
27 Immediately the king sent an executioner and commanded his head to be brought. And he went and beheaded him in prison,
28 brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the girl; and the girl gave it to her mother.
29 When his disciples heard of it, they came and took away his corpse and laid it in a tomb.

7 ¶ Now Herod the tetrarch heard of all that was done by Him; and he was perplexed, because it was said by some that John had risen from the dead,
8 and by some that Elijah had appeared, and by others that one of the old prophets had risen again.
9 Herod said, “John I have beheaded, but who is this of whom I hear such things?” So he sought to see Him.

These actions regarding John the Baptist are history with regard to this passage. That story is told in this passage to explain Herod's thinking at the time when he hears about the works of Jesus. He naturally thinks of John the Baptist, but at the same time he recognizes that he had already beheaded him. Herod concludes that perhaps John the Baptist is resurrected.

Luke simply states the speculations regarding Jesus in relation to the belief that he might be John the Baptist, but Matthew and Mark go into great detail about the previous death of John the Baptist. These retrospective passages contain the only record we have on John's death.

This is Herod Antipas, the son of Herod the Great (King Herod when Jesus was born). Herod Antipas was ruler over the region in Northern Israel that included Galilee. This is the same Herod that declined to intercede in the trial of Jesus. Herod's brother (Herod Philip), to whom Herodias had been married, was not a ruler.

Here's what we know from first-century Jewish historian, Josephus: After meeting Herodias on a trip to Rome, Herod Antipas divorced his wife, and Herodias divorced her husband (Philip, Herod Antipas' brother); the two subsequently married.

John the Baptist had been very outspoken at this blatant disregard for Jewish law. In this passage we see that after a night of birthday entertainment focused on the dancing of the daughter of his wife, he foolishly grants her a wish - a wish to include anything up to half his kingdom (he must have been drunk). After conferring with her mother, the daughter requests John's head. Matthew indicates that Herod would have executed John the Baptist early on had it not been for John's popularity with the Jewish people. According to Mark, however, Herod had warmed up somewhat to John and had a lot of respect for him. Obviously, Herodias had no tolerance whatsoever for John the Baptist. Immediately upon the request of the daughter of Herodias, Herod sorrowfully sends an executioner to the prison and delivers to her John's head.

Keep in mind, this story is told here in retrospect to explain Herod's thinking at the time when he became aware of the fame of Jesus. He thought that perhaps John the Baptist had risen from the dead. Matthew and Mark, therefore, include this account to explain the fact that John the Baptist is no longer alive.

The Apostles give a mission report (Matthew 14:13; Mark 6:30-32; Luke 9:10)

Matthew 14
Mark 6
Luke 9
13 ¶ When Jesus heard it, He departed from there by boat to a deserted place by Himself. But when the multitudes heard it, they followed Him on foot from the cities.
30 ¶ Then the apostles gathered to Jesus and told Him all things, both what they had done and what they had taught.
31 And He said to them, “Come aside by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.” For there were many coming and going, and they did not even have time to eat.
32 So they departed to a deserted place in the boat by themselves.
10 ¶ And the apostles, when they had returned, told Him all that they had done. Then He took them and went aside privately into a deserted place belonging to the city called Bethsaida.

Remember the mission trip Jesus had sent his Apostles on in Matthew 10:1-15, Mark 6:7-13 and Luke 9:1-6 (see notes)? Well...they're back. They report to Jesus what had taken place, and Jesus arranges for a little rest and relaxation after their tour; they depart by ship and reach shore on the north side of the Sea of Galilee near the town of Bethsaida. However, the fame of Jesus is too great at this point, and "a multitude" join them at their vacation spot.

Feeding the five thousand (Matthew 14:14-21; Mark 6:33-44; Luke 9:11-17; John 6:1-14)

Matthew 14
Mark 6
Luke 9
John 6
14 And when Jesus went out He saw a great multitude; and He was moved with compassion for them, and healed their sick.
15 When it was evening, His disciples came to Him, saying, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is already late. Send the multitudes away, that they may go into the villages and buy themselves food.”
16 ¶ But Jesus said to them, “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.”
17 ¶ And they said to Him, “We have here only five loaves and two fish.”
18 ¶ He said, “Bring them here to Me.”
19 Then He commanded the multitudes to sit down on the grass. And He took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, He blessed and broke and gave the loaves to the disciples; and the disciples gave to the multitudes.
20 So they all ate and were filled, and they took up twelve baskets full of the fragments that remained.
21 Now those who had eaten were about five thousand men, besides women and children.
33 ¶ But the multitudes saw them departing, and many knew Him and ran there on foot from all the cities. They arrived before them and came together to Him.
34 And Jesus, when He came out, saw a great multitude and was moved with compassion for them, because they were like sheep not having a shepherd. So He began to teach them many things.
35 When the day was now far spent, His disciples came to Him and said, “This is a deserted place, and already the hour is late.
36 Send them away, that they may go into the surrounding country and villages and buy themselves bread; for they have nothing to eat.”
37 ¶ But He answered and said to them, “You give them something to eat.” ¶ And they said to Him, “Shall we go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread and give them something to eat?”
38 ¶ But He said to them, “How many loaves do you have? Go and see.” ¶ And when they found out they said, “Five, and two fish.”
39 ¶ Then He commanded them to make them all sit down in groups on the green grass.
40 So they sat down in ranks, in hundreds and in fifties.
41 And when He had taken the five loaves and the two fish, He looked up to heaven, blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to His disciples to set before them; and the two fish He divided among them all.
42 So they all ate and were filled.
43 And they took up twelve baskets full of fragments and of the fish.
44 Now those who had eaten the loaves were about five thousand men.
11 But when the multitudes knew it, they followed Him; and He received them and spoke to them about the kingdom of God, and healed those who had need of healing.
12 When the day began to wear away, the twelve came and said to Him, “Send the multitude away, that they may go into the surrounding towns and country, and lodge and get provisions; for we are in a deserted place here.”
13 ¶ But He said to them, “You give them something to eat.” ¶ And they said, “We have no more than five loaves and two fish, unless we go and buy food for all these people.”
14 For there were about five thousand men. ¶ Then He said to His disciples, “Make them sit down in groups of fifty.”
15 And they did so, and made them all sit down.
16 ¶ Then He took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, He blessed and broke them, and gave them to the disciples to set before the multitude.
17 So they all ate and were filled, and twelve baskets of the leftover fragments were taken up by them.
1 After these things Jesus went over the Sea of Galilee, which is the Sea of Tiberias.
2 Then a great multitude followed Him, because they saw His signs which He performed on those who were diseased.
3 And Jesus went up on the mountain, and there He sat with His disciples.
4 ¶ Now the Passover, a feast of the Jews, was near.
5 Then Jesus lifted up His eyes, and seeing a great multitude coming toward Him, He said to Philip, “Where shall we buy bread, that these may eat?”
6 But this He said to test him, for He Himself knew what He would do.
7 ¶ Philip answered Him, “Two hundred denarii worth of bread is not sufficient for them, that every one of them may have a little.”
8 ¶ One of His disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to Him,
9 “There is a lad here who has five barley loaves and two small fish, but what are they among so many?”
10 ¶ Then Jesus said, “Make the people sit down.” Now there was much grass in the place. So the men sat down, in number about five thousand.
11 And Jesus took the loaves, and when He had given thanks He distributed them to the disciples, and the disciples to those sitting down; and likewise of the fish, as much as they wanted.
12 So when they were filled, He said to His disciples, “Gather up the fragments that remain, so that nothing is lost.”
13 Therefore they gathered them up, and filled twelve baskets with the fragments of the five barley loaves which were left over by those who had eaten.
14 Then those men, when they had seen the sign that Jesus did, said, “This is truly the Prophet who is to come into the world.”

This account is found in all four Gospels. Of the four Gospel writers, Matthew and John would have likely been the only ones actually present that day since they were numbered among the twelve Apostles; they had inside, first-hand knowledge of the events. Though both were present, Matthew gives the shortest account while John goes into great detail. John even mentions the names and conversations of the Apostles working on this feeding project. Remember John's mission as presented in John 20:31 (see notes), "but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name." John apparently wants to make certain that we understand the magnitude of this miracle of the feeding by carefully detailing all the relevant facts. He does not want to generalize his account; details lend credibility.

Let's first of all get our bearings with regard to the time in Jesus' ministry when this event takes place. According to John 6:4, the Passover Feast is approaching. That Passover will be Jesus' last before his crucifixion on Passover day one year later. Therefore, this event takes place just days before Jesus' last year of earthly ministry before his crucifixion. You will notice that the venue here is a place near Bethsaida, but in order to secure some privacy, they take a ship to a deserted place near the town. Even though Jesus and his disciples go by ship, the people follow by foot.

The object here is the miracle, not the teaching that brought them to that spot that day. Since they were out and away from provisions, they were faced with the choice of sending the people away early or feeding them. Jesus feeds all 5,000+ people (5,000 men plus women and children) with five loaves of bread and two fish (small fish, according to John), and then ends up with leftovers - more than they started with. The significant verse of this occasion is found in John's account in John 6:14, "Then those men, when they had seen the sign that Jesus did, said, 'This is truly the Prophet who is to come into the world.'" Their expectation of a prophet was based upon the words of Moses in Deuteronomy 18:15-22 (see notes). So John uses this occasion to further validate that the people believed Jesus to be the Messiah.

Incidentally, three of the four accounts tell us that Jesus healed the sick in the multitude that day prior to the feeding. Only Mark's account skips that detail. While all four accounts mention that the 5,000 number consisted of men, Matthew wants to make certain we understand that there were additional women and/or children there that day being fed also in 14:21. The accounts of Mark and John go into some additional detail regarding the dynamics of this feeding project. Mark tells us that upon the command of Jesus to feed the multitude, the disciples ask if Jesus wants them to go buy food - 200 denarii (Greek: denarion). How much is a denarii? We see in Matthew 20:2 (see notes) that a laborer worked one full day for a denarii. Whoa! That food bill would be equivalent to a man's wages for 200 days! John then reports that it was time for a little test for Philip when Jesus asks Philip where the food should be purchased (John 6:5-6). Philip responds to Jesus by saying that 200 denarii won't buy enough food for the multitude. In John 6:8-9 we see that it was Andrew (Peter's brother) who suggests that enough food might be distributed from the two fish and five loaves. Only John mentions the lad who owned the meager food supply. All four accounts are very specific to say that everyone ate enough to be full.