Jesus Goes Up Alone onto a Mountain to Pray by James TissotImmediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, (Matthew 14:22-23)
Verse 22 may seem puzzling at first. The word “immediately” connotes a sense of urgency (other translations of this particular Greek word include “straightway” and “forthwith”), but we see nothing in Matthew’s account that would hint at a reason for Jesus “immediately” sending the disciples away. Like the passage we looked at on Friday, John’s gospel gives us greater insight on what is going on: “Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself.” (Jn 6:15) The 15,000-20,000 people that Jesus fed with 5 loaves and 2 fish were so amazed by the miracle that they were going to try make Jesus king by force.
I think there are 2 questions that need to be asked in light of this fact:
1. If the purpose of Matthew’s gospel is to portray Jesus as King, why does he leave out the fact that the people tried to make him king?
I like what J. Vernon McGee has to say about this fact in his Thru the Bible commentary:
In view of the fact that Matthew is presenting that phase of the ministry of Jesus which has to do with His kingship, it may appear odd at first that he would ignore this attempt to make Jesus king. This is another evidence of the remarkable character of the claim of Jesus to be King. He is King by right and title. He will not become King by any democratic process. He is not “elected” King by the will of the people. He is King by the will of God. He will finally become King by force (see Ps. 2:8–9).
Matthew understood (at least by the time he wrote his gospel) that Jesus’ claim to the throne had nothing to do with whether man would have him as king. He understood that the crowd’s desire to make Jesus king was wrong because it conformed neither to God’s will nor God’s timing. Jesus would be made King by the will of God, not the will of man and in the timing of God, not the timing of fickle crowds.
2. If Jesus perceives the people will try and take him by force, why does he send the disciples, the 12 people on Earth he was closest to, away and handle the crowds on his own?
There is just no way to paint these verses is a way that makes the disciples look good. Previously in Matthew (especially in chapter 13 with Jesus’ parables about the Kingdom), we see how Israel’s expectation of the Kingdom differed from the reality of the Kingdom. I think the fact that Jesus sends the disciples away shows that they still didn’t get it, despite telling Jesus in Matthew 13:51 that they did.
I think Jesus understood that if the disciples had stuck around, they would have sided with the crowd. They still needed to learn more about who Jesus was so he put them in a situation where they could learn that instead of one where they would be swept up in the hysteria of the mob.
Because the disciples did not understand the will and timing of God, they were more of a hindrance to Jesus than a help. It was better for Jesus to face the situation alone in prayer than to lean on his 12 closest friends because he knew those 12 would not help him remain in God’s will.
Things to Reflect on in Light of this Passage:
1. Do I recognize Jesus’ claim to the throne of my life? Do I live as though he is my King?
2. Do I accept God’s will and God’s timing for my life, or do I try and force things to be my own way and in my own timing?
3. Do I help others remain in God’s will or do I encourage them to pursue convenience and expediency rather than waiting on the Lord?