Matthew 14:22-33

Jesus sitting in boat with three disciples during storm.
 "Jesus sitting in boat with three disciples during storm." 
Reprinted from Icon: Visual Images for Every Sunday, copywrite© 2000 Augsburg Fortress. Used by permission.


The parallels to this account are found at Mark 6:45-52 and John 6:16-21. The account is not found in Luke. In fact, the intervening events recounted in Mark 6:45 to 8:27 are not found in Luke.

Fahling: The fact that Luke does not relate intervening events certainly proves a great stumbling block to the theory of his dependence on Mark. The proponents of the dependence theory are usually quite silent at this point.

True. Their theories won't stand up.

From John 6:14.15 we learn that the 5,000 who were fed wanted to use force to make Jesus their king.

Fahling: The effect of this miracle upon the minds of those present was overwhelming. Surely here was a Messiah after their own heart! They began to whisper to one another that this must undoubtedly be 'that Prophet that should come into the world' and 'the beginning of that reign of earthly abundance which in their carnal desires and in a false interpretation of Messianic promises they thought the prophets had foretold'. So great was their enthusiasm that they proposed among themselves to take Him by force, if necessary, and make Him a king. What a king who could effect cures, supply food, and provide prosperity for all! Thus the effect of the miracle just performed was to confirm them in their false Messianic hopes. Here was the time for instant action. Jesus Himself was not deceived by the brief blaze of a falsely founded popularity. He was aware of the danger of mob passion and instantly made His decision. First of all, and for their own good, the disciples, who were only too prone to share the popular conception, had to be removed. He ordered them, well-nigh compelled them, to go down to the beach and sail in the direction of Capernaum (John) or the western Bethsaida (Mark)

By the way, from Mark 6:52 we learn that the miracle of the feeding of the 5,000 had little or no effect on the disciples. And just one more thing. At Matthew 8:23-27 we read of Jesus' stilling the storm. Matthew, Mark, and Luke are unanimous in reporting that this miracle merely filled them with wonder. All of this will become important at the end of this pericope.

Matthew 14:22 Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd.

"Immediately Jesus made" indicates that Jesus gave the disciples no choice. They were in danger both because of the mob (John 6:14.15) and from their own lack of faith (Mark 6:52). "Go on ahead" implies that He promised to join them later. At the moment they were at the southwestern shore of the sea of Galilee. John tells us that they were headed to Capernaum. Mark says that they were headed to Bethsaida, a suburb of Capernaum. From John we know that Jesus addressed at least a remnant of the 5,000 the next day at a synagogue in Capernaum. That will become important later.

Jesus dispersed the 5,000. From John 6:22 we learn that not all left. Some stayed and followed Jesus to Capernaum the next day.

Lenski: That multitude wanting to make him king was one of Satan's temptations to Jesus, and the sending these crowds away shows the temptation overcome.

Matthew 14:23 After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone,

The first four words in Greek, a repetition from the previous verse, shows how important this dispersion was for Jesus. He had to overcome the temptation which they presented. From John 6:3 we know that Jesus had been on the mountain with His disciples in the morning. He returns there alone to pray.

In verse 15 "evening" denotes early evening, perhaps about 5 pm Here it denotes late evening, perhaps about 7 pm. All alone with His Father. Jesus must have spent at least eight hours in prayer. What did He pray about? Suggestions:

  1. The news of the Baptist's death (verse 12) must have filled Him with foreboding of His own death, a year hence (John 6:4);

  2. As pointed out above He had just overcome the temptation to be proclaimed an earthly king;

  3. Likely He foresaw that the remnants of the 5,000 would totally reject Him, the Living Bread from Heaven, the next day (John 6:60-66);

  4. As pointed out above the Twelve were in danger for a number of reasons and needed to pass a severe test the next day (John 6:67-69). By God's grace, they did pass;

  5. Last, but not least, the betrayal of Judas was on His mind (John 6:70-71 ).

He was alone, humanly speaking, midst so much rejection, misrepresentation and unbelief. He must have prayed for the multitude, the disciples and for Himself. The God-man, Who had multiplied loaves and fishes, prays! Who can comprehend the mysteries of the incarnate Christ?

Matthew 14:24 but the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it.

Because of a variant reading and the translation of words we list three versions:
  1. NKJV: But the boat was now in the middle of the sea, tossed by the waves, for the wind was contrary .(variant underlined)

  2. NASB: But the boat was already many stadia away from the land, battered by the waves; for the wind was contrary.

  3. AAT: The boat, now many hundred yards from the shore, was troubled by the waves because the wind was against them.

We make several observations concerning this verse:
  1. From John 6:19 we know that the disciples had come only 3-4 miles in no less than eight hours.

  2. A small boat, under ordinary circumstances, moves at no less than three miles per hour. The point from which they started to Bethsaida (Capernaum) is 6-7 miles. They should have reached Capernaum by about 9 pm

  3. Why didn't the disciples head for land in this sudden storm? Evidently because the shoreline was rocky. Therefore, to land in a storm might have been disastrous.

From Mark 6:48 we know that the disciples were having great difficulty rowing. Obviously they were not using sails in a headwind. The strong headwind and waves made it very difficult even to row.

Matthew 14:25 During the fourth watch of the night Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake.

Though they were far from shore, Mark 6:48 clearly indicates that Jesus, in His omniscience, knew their plight. The fourth watch of the night denotes the time 3-6 am LB reads "about four o'clock,"  AAT  "toward morning,"  TEV and NEB  "between three and six o'clock." By the way, imagine how weary the disciples must have been the next day when Jesus preached the sermon found in John 6!

Bengel: He departed to help His disciples, walking ,though the wind blew strong.
Fahling: Jesus was neither ignorant of, nor indifferent to, the plight of His disciples. It was He who had directed them into the boat. From the mountain He had perceived their distress. Even now He was probably on the road running along the shore. But leaving the road, He turned down to the surf, walked out on the sea, and contrary to the laws of nature, was walking on the sea.
Lenski: One might inquire whether he had walked all the way out from the shore through the storm in the dark, or had suddenly transported himself to the spot where the disciples saw him. Curious questions deserve no answer, and in Holy Writ receive none.

What Fahling and Lenski are wrestling with is the question:  "At which point did the human nature begin to use (though He always had) the divine ability to act contrary to the laws of nature?"  We simply don't know. But, from John 6:19, we definitely know that Matthew 14:25 must mean "on the sea" not "toward the sea."

From Mark 6:48 we know that Jesus  "was wishing to pass them by." Surely not because He did not care, but, similar to Luke 24:28, He did not force His help on them. Though they were in deep trouble, He did not foist Himself onto them.

Matthew 14:26 When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified.  "It's a ghost,"  they said, and cried out in fear.

Mark 6:50 adds the word "all" which is important. All witnessed this miracle. From this verse it is clear that Jesus was walking  "on the sea." The versions variously translate "troubled, terrified, frightened. "Their inner terror evidenced itself in words. Here we have in Greek something like our quotation marks. They said: "It's a ghost!"  This is plainly a superstitious remark. Obviously they don't mean "a ghost of Jesus" because He identifies Himself in the next verse. The superstitious thought of a disembodied spirit is frightening to mankind. Because of their fear they shrieked.

Matthew 14:27 But Jesus immediately said to them:  "Take courage! It is I. Don't be afraid." 

Jesus never permits the frightened, penitent sinner to flounder.  "Jesus spoke to them by saying." The phrase here likely denotes Jesus' own characteristic, recognizable way of speaking. In other words, He spoke in His usual, comforting way. It's like a frightened child who hears the voice of mother or father with the result that fears dissolve.

With "It is I" He identifies Himself.  "Cease being afraid." In the Scriptures, whenever the Lord says:  "Fear not"  He also gives the reason for not fearing.

Matthew 14:28  "Lord, if it's you,"  Peter replied,  "tell me to come to you on the water." 

That Peter recognized Him is clear from the word "Lord." Does the protasis mean: "If it is really you"  implying that Peter is not sure, or does it mean:  "If, as I know, it is you?"  Furthermore, was Peter's request foolhardy and presumptuous (Fahling) or was it true boldness of faith on Peter's part (Lenski)? In any case we shall have to agree with Bengel who says that Peter's words and actions denote a remarkable exercise of faith.

Matthew 14:29  "Come,"  he said. Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus.

Only Matthew records the episode of Peter's request, Jesus' command and Peter's action. The single word "come" is the almighty Word of God. It enabled Peter to walk on the water.

Matthew 14:30 But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out,  "Lord, save me!" 

"Saw" is more than "seeing."

Bengel: Peter both FELT the wind, and SAW it on the waves. The wind had been strong before that, but had not been so much observed by Peter.

AV and NKJV translate the questioned word with the word  "boisterous." JB renders:  "As soon as he felt the force of the wind." NEB has:  "When he saw the strength of the gale."

"He became afraid " He is doing the very thing Jesus told them not to do. That Jesus approved of Peter's walking on the water is surely indicated by His command. Read Hebrews 12:1-3 at this point, especially verse 2:  "Looking only to Jesus, the author and completer of our faith." If and when a believer, in his difficulties, looks away from Jesus only at his difficulties he begins to falter and sink. Read James 1:5-8 at this point.

Faith dare not be unsteady like a falling and rising wave but steady as calm water. Doubt is the beginning of unbelief. The doubter begins to sink, here literally, otherwise metaphorically.

Peter shrieked as the disciples had before. Again he says "Lord," but this time he does not add:  "If it is you." He knows it is Jesus. And as he commanded in verse 28, so he here commands:  "Save me!"  From John 21:7 we know that Peter was a good swimmer. But when faith wanes, even that which the believer can do well, under ordinary circumstances, fails. Commentaries sometimes criticize Peter for impetuosity but he at least must be commended for crying  "Save me!"  We all are very like Peter.

Matthew 14:31 Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him.  "You of little faith,"  he said,  "why did you doubt?" 

In all three instances (verses 22, 27, 31) the adverb "immediately" denotes the Lord's immediate concern or help. The Lord always uses forms of "you of little faith," not to put the disciples down, but rather to make them realize their own true condition. It is always addressed to believers. And, doesn't that include all of us?

"Why, to what purpose?"  Doubt is always in vain, dangerous and to no purpose in the life of a believer. It is even unreasonable in view of the many promises of God.

Matthew 14:32 And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down.

The genitive absolute is clearly temporal:  "While they were getting into the boat." That the wind suddenly ceased at this point is another miracle.

Matthew 14:33 Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying,  "Truly you are the Son of God." 

"Those in the boat"  surely includes Peter. The following words can mean:  "They worshipped Him by saying"  or  "They prostrated themselves before Him, saying." It makes little difference. The  sensus literalis  is crystal clear from what they said:  "Truly you are God's Son" which reminds us of Nathanael's confession (John 1:48) or that of the centurion (Matthew 27:54) and that of Peter the next day (John 6:69). In fact, we think that the Lord permitted all of this to happen to strengthen the disciples in view of their insensitivity to the miracle of the loaves and fishes (Mark 6:52) and also in view of the ordeal in Capernaum the next day (John 6) when, after all the others left Jesus, Peter, in the name of the disciples made such a wonderful confession.

John 6:21 adds another miracle:  "And immediately the boat came to the land to which they going." It's about six miles from where they started to where they were going. At this point they were a little over three miles from the starting point. The boat covered the remaining three miles  "immediately"  or "quickly." This is a total of four miracles:

  1. Jesus' walking on the water;

  2. Peter's walking on the water;

  3. The quieting of the wind;

  4. The rapid transportation of the boat to the land.

What a remarkable account!


Adapted from Exegetical Notes, Series A Matthew-John Sundays After Pentecost Gospel Texts, by Harold H. Buls, Concordia Theological Seminary Press: Ft Wayne IN, 1981, pp. 39-42. Used with permission.

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