In Matthew's Gospel the beheading of John the Baptist marks a turning point in Jesus' ministry. When Jesus heard the news, he needed time to pray alone (14:13-23). It was also the time when Herod the Tetrarch began to be concerned about the crowds that followed Jesus (14:1). Soon the Messiah would tell his disciples that his crucifixion and resurrection were already on the horizon (16:21).
14:1 Herod the Tetrarch is distinguished from his father Herod who was the king at the time of Jesus birth (2:1). He had arrested John the Baptist just before Jesus moved from Nazareth to Capernaum (4:12-13).
14:2-11 Matthew goes back to the original reason for John's arrest probably less than a year before. As was done by other Old Testament prophets (see 11:11; 2 Samuel 12:1-7), John had announced in public that by taking his brother's wife Herodias the king was not only guilty of divorce but was committing incest (Mark 6:18; Leviticus 18:16).
Matthew notes Herod's strange mixture of superstition, political fears, infatuation with his step-daughter's dance, rash promises before his guests, and regretting too late (14:5-9). Mark adds the fact that Herod knew that John the Baptist was "a righteous and holy man" and used to send for John out of his dungeon to hear him (Mark 6:20).
14:12 After John's death, Herodias disposed of his head (14:8, 11) but John's disciples took his body and buried it (Mark 6:29). They continued to revere him as their teacher. Paul found twelve of John's baptized disciples in Ephesus and rebaptized them to begin learning about the Holy Spirit according to Jesus' good news (Acts 19:1-7; compare Matthew 3:11; 11:1-2, 18-19).
14:13 Jesus' need to go away to pray alone arises from hearing the news of John's death, and the superstition of Herod that Jesus was John the Baptist (14:2; see 16:13-14). Meanwhile he also wanted to give his exhausted disciples a holiday after a successful healing and teaching mission (Mark 6:30-31).
14:13-14 Jesus had to wait till that night to pray alone (14:22-23) as the crowd had walked round the lake and were there with their sick waiting for the boat to arrive.
One of the expectations that people had of the coming Messiah was that he would feed his flock like a shepherd. He would usher in a period in which food would be in abundance (Psalm 65:9; 72:16; 111:5; 132:15; Isaiah 51:14). Moses provided bread in the wilderness like manna. There was also the idea of the Messianic banquet (Isaiah 25:6).
14:15-16 After a busy day of healing the sick, the disciples asked Jesus to send the crowd away to buy food, but instead he told them to feed the hungry people.
14:17-21 All four of the Gospel writers decided to include this astonishing account of what is obviously a Messianic banquet. Satan knew that the Son of God had the power to turn stones to bread (4:3). Jesus refused to use such a miracle to demand the allegiance of people. But for this particular occasion John's Gospel shows how Jesus used the feeding of the five thousand (John 6:1-13) as a sign of the Son of God as the living bread from heaven (John 6:51) which will be offered in every communion service (John 6:52-55).
Matthew makes the connection with the communion service by the sequence of people sitting in order, taking the bread, giving thanks, breaking the bread (see the expression "breaking of bread" in Luke 24:35; Acts 4:42), giving it for distribution, and all being more than satisfied (14:19-20; as in Psalm 63:5).
So far Jesus had mainly made himself known as the Son of Man who was empowered by the Holy Spirit. He came to see he was the Son of God at his baptism (3:17), and this was recognized by Satan (4:3, 6). The disciples heard him pray to the Father (11:25-26), and he had given a clear hint of his eternal sonship (11:27). That sonship will now be recognized (14:33) and Peter would finally confess that Jesus was both Messiah and Son of God (16:16).
14:22-23 It took time to dismiss the crowd, and the disciples were told to cross over by boat to the west side of the Lake of Galilee. Now Jesus was able to climb a mountain to pray alone. We can imagine he needed clarity and empowering of the Spirit for the new direction of ministry that was opening up.
14:24-26 By morning the boat was making little headway against a strong wind and big waves, and the disciples saw Jesus walking towards them on the water. They could only conclude it was his ghost.
14:27-32 When Jesus told them not to be afraid, Peter asked if he could come to Jesus on the water. He managed this without difficulty till he looked away from Jesus and began to sink. As in the story of another crossing (8:23-26) Jesus wonders why his disciple lacks the faith to believe the Messiah is in control of wind and waves.
14:33 The disciples now declare that the one who has kept calling himself the Son of Man is also the Son of God (see 3:17; 4:3, 6; 11:27). But it seems that the full implications of this will not sink in till Peter's confession (16:13-16).
14:34-35 The boat came to land at Gennesaret about half way between Tiberias and Capernaum. This may be where a kibbutz hotel named Nof Ginosar is now located. As soon as they arrived the crowds again brought their sick for healing as they had done from the area to the north of the lake (14:13-14).
14:36 Faith was often expressed by touching "the fringe of his cloak" (as in 9:20) or by seeking to be touched (as in 8:3, 15; 9:29; perhaps 12:13; 20:34). It is interesting that the Gospels never speak of people who are possessed by evil spirits being touched. In their case the demon has to be commanded to leave (as in 8:31-32; 9:33; 10:8; 12:28; 15:22 and 28; 17:18). Based on this fact, and from personal experience, those who are involved in any kind of exorcism are careful not to touch a possessed person.