Category Archives: JOHN 21

The appearance of the Lord Jesus to the disciples at the Sea of Galilee after His resurrection

JOHN 21

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NOTES ON JOHN 21

John tells us in verse 14 that he is recording three manifestations of the Lord Jesus to His disciples after His resurrection. He also tells us of the manifestation to Mary Magdalene, but that was to her alone. Each of the four gospel writers is selective in telling us of these post-resurrection appearances, and in each case they serve the purpose for which the particular gospel is written. It is the apostle Paul who gives us the complete list in 1 Corinthians 15:5-8. Complete, that is, as to men, because the context is about the preaching of the gospel, which is the task of the brothers. The sisters often excel at bearing witness privately, as Mary Magdalene and others did in connection with the resurrection, for it was these who were chosen to bring the news of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus to the disciples. But it is not their role to publicly preach the gospel, hence their exclusion from Paul’s list.

John is a true evangelist, and wrote his gospel so that men might believe, 20:30,31. But a reading of those two verses will show that they are in a rather strange place. They represent a summary of the motive John had in writing the gospel, but do not come at the end of the gospel, where we might expect to find them. This suggests that they may form a link between what goes before and after them. In the previous verses, the Lord has manifested Himself to His disciples, breathed on them with the words, “Receive ye the Holy Spirit”, and has sent them forth “as My Father hath sent Me”, verse21. So this is the official commission of the apostles to go into the world as the Lord had gone into the world. But Thomas was not present at that meeting, and this serves to introduce a further manifestation of the Lord eight days later. He so deals with Thomas that he is constrained to confess, “My Lord and My God”. The lesson is clear, that those sent forth by the Lord do so with a view to testifying of His authority and His Deity.

John then inserts his reason for writing, which also becomes the basis of the preaching of the apostles when they went forth.

When we come to chapter 21, we find four further truths are emphasised, as follows:

1. Verses 1-14 The Lord’s complete control over the gospel preaching and its results.
2. Verses 15-17 The need for love to the Lord to motivate those who care for those who are saved by their efforts.
3. Verses 18-23 The life’s work of each servant is under the control of the Lord.
4. Verses 24,25 The gospel is so full and wonderful that all the books in the world could not exhaust it.


THE WORDS OF THE BIBLE, THE CHRISTIAN SCRIPTURES, AS FOUND IN THE GOSPEL OF JOHN, CHAPTER 21, VERSES 1 TO 17:

21:1 After these things Jesus shewed Himself again to the disciples at the sea of Tiberias; and on this wise shewed He Himself.

21:2 There were together Simon Peter, and Thomas called Didymus, and Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, and the sons of Zebedee, and two other of his disciples.

21:3 Simon Peter saith unto them, I go a fishing. They say unto him, We also go with thee. They went forth, and entered into a ship immediately; and that night they caught nothing.

21:4 But when the morning was now come, Jesus stood on the shore: but the disciples knew not that it was Jesus.

21:5 Then Jesus saith unto them, Children, have ye any meat? They answered Him, No.

21:6 And He said unto them, Cast the net on the right side of the ship, and ye shall find. They cast therefore, and now they were not able to draw it for the multitude of fishes.

21:7 Therefore that disciple whom Jesus loved saith unto Peter, It is the Lord. Now when Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he girt his fisher’s coat unto him, (for he was naked,) and did cast himself into the sea.

21:8 And the other disciples came in a little ship; (for they were not far from land, but as it were two hundred cubits,) dragging the net with fishes.

21:9 As soon then as they were come to land, they saw a fire of coals there, and fish laid thereon, and bread.

21:10 Jesus saith unto them, Bring of the fish which ye have now caught.

21:11 Simon Peter went up, and drew the net to land full of great fishes, an hundred and fifty and three: and for all there were so many, yet was not the net broken.

21:12 Jesus saith unto them, Come and dine. And none of the disciples durst ask Him, Who art Thou? knowing that it was the Lord.

21:13 Jesus then cometh, and taketh bread, and giveth them, and fish likewise.

21:14 This is now the third time that Jesus shewed Himself to His disciples, after that He was risen from the dead.

21:15 So when they had dined, Jesus saith to Simon Peter, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou Me more than these? He saith unto Him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed My lambs.

21:16 He saith to him again the second time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou Me? He saith unto Him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love Thee. He saith unto him, Feed My sheep.

21:17 He saith unto him the third time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? Peter was grieved because He said unto him the third time, Lovest thou Me? And he said unto Him, Lord, Thou knowest all things; Thou knowest that I love thee. Jesus saith unto him, Feed my sheep.

 

Part 1. Verses 1-14 The Lord’s complete control over the gospel preaching and its results.

21:1 After these things Jesus shewed Himself again to the disciples at the sea of Tiberias; and on this wise shewed He Himself.

After these things Jesus shewed Himself again to the disciples- He is going to manifest some further feature of Himself that will encourage them as they go forth into the world for Him.

At the sea of Tiberias- John tells us in 6:1 that the sea of Galilee is the sea of Tiberias. He does not mention Galilee here, to emphasise the word Tiberias. Tiberias the town was founded by Herod Antipas in about AD 20, and named in honour of Tiberius Caesar. It was a very Gentile place.

Subsequently, the Sea of Galilee became known as the Sea of Tiberias. The name is therefore one that has strong suggestions of Gentile culture, power, and influence, and no doubt John chooses this name to emphasise the contrast between the power of the world and the power of Christ. The disciples have been sent into a world opposed to God, and they need superior power on their side. The incident that follows shows them that they do have Divine power on their side, but only when they come to an end of their own power.

And on this wise shewed He Himself- to shew means to make apparent, so there is some feature of the Lord Jesus that has been present all along, but which is going to be highlighted. It is His Lordship, and the word “Lord” occurs seven times in the chapter.

The section revolves around fishing, feeding sheep, and following. All must be done under His Lordship if it is to be glorifying to Him.

21:2 There were together Simon Peter, and Thomas called Didymus, and Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, and the sons of Zebedee, and two other of his disciples.

There were together Simon Peter- they were not together as a company of disciples expecting the Lord to be in the midst. They are together because they have the common interest of fishing. Peter is always mentioned first in the lists of the apostles, but here he is first in that he takes the initiative to go fishing. He is the one who needs to learn a lesson from the incident that follows. The fact that he instigated the fishing expedition makes it even more a lesson for Peter.

And Thomas called Didymus- usually the list of disciples begins with Peter, and then follows Andrew his brother, and then James and John, as in Matthew 10:2, or Peter, then James and John, and then Andrew, as in Mark 3:16-18. This is the only place where Thomas is mentioned next to Peter. It serves to highlight the fact that just a little while before Thomas had confessed Christ to be his Lord and his God, whereas Peter had denied Him. That failure is about to be dealt with publicly. It has already been dealt with privately, Mark 16:7; 1 Corinthians 15:5.

And Nathanael of Cana in Galilee- how striking that Peter is associated with the two disciples that are noted for their bold confession of Christ, for Nathanael had exclaimed, “Thou art the Son of God; Thou art the King of Israel, John 1:49, and he had done this before he had seen a miracle or heard a discourse. Peter must have felt that his own denial was all the more appalling, for he had been privileged to see the miracles and hear the doctrine.

And the sons of Zebedee- John does not list the twelve apostles, so he did not have to mention his own name in that connection. Here he disguises himself as one of the sons of Zebedee, who was the owner of a fishing business, and James and John were with him in it, Mark 1:19,20. Later on he will be described as usual in the gospel, as the “disciple whom Jesus loved”, verses 7 and 20. The leading thought here is that he is a fisherman.

And two other of his disciples- if these had been apostles they surely would have been named. Their common bond with the others was their faith in Christ on one level, and their vocation as fishermen on a lower level. It does serve to remind us that though the initial preaching of the gospel was entrusted to the apostles, it was not long before others were engaged in it. It also serves to show that the ongoing work of evangelisation does not depend on any supposed apostolic succession.

21:3 Simon Peter saith unto them, I go a fishing. They say unto him, We also go with thee. They went forth, and entered into a ship immediately; and that night they caught nothing.

Simon Peter saith unto them, I go a fishing- some have criticised Peter for this, suggesting that it shows that he was disillusioned, and wanted to go back to his old ways. But we should remember that there is no rebuke from the Lord when He meets them later, and in fact He uses the incident to teach them a much-needed lesson. We should remember that fishing was not a hobby with these men, but their means of livelihood.

They say unto him, We also go with thee- they respond to Peter’s leadership. His leadership in better things will be established in this incident.

They went forth, and entered into a ship immediately- the Lord will skilfully turn this readiness to work into service for Him. It is good if there is a willingness to serve the Lord, and immediate response to His commands.

And that night they caught nothing- this is the critical thing, for they are being taught that if they act independently of Christ they will fail. They had had this experience before, and they knew how the Lord had stepped in then, and they caught a great haul of fishes, see Luke 5:4-11. That incident had been the means of them being commissioned to be with Him, and go forth to preach the gospel of the kingdom. Now they have been sent forth to preach the gospel of God’s grace.

21:4 But when the morning was now come, Jesus stood on the shore: but the disciples knew not that it was Jesus.

But when the morning was now come- if fish are not caught during the night they will probably not be caught during the day. Their failure is total, as it needed to be, so that the lesson they are about to be taught will impress them permanently.

Jesus stood on the shore- He will show them that He can do from the shore what they totally fail to do as experienced fishermen from their boat.

But the disciples knew not that it was Jesus- this was literally true, but they are going to find that as He manifests Himself, they will know Him in a better way spiritually.

21:5 Then Jesus saith unto them, Children, have ye any meat? They answered Him, No.

Then Jesus saith unto them, Children- this word is translated like this three times in the New Testament. The second time is in Hebrews 2:13, where we hear the Lord Jesus say, “Behold I and the children whom God hath given Me”. This is a quotation from Isaiah 8:18. Isaiah had the task of warning the wicked king Ahaz of impending captivity at the hands of the Assyrians. As a sign to Israel, Isaiah was instructed by God to name his two sons in a particular way. One was to be Shear-jashub, a name which means “A remnant shall return”, and the other, Maher-shalal-hash-baz, which means “In making haste to the spoil he hasteneth the prey”. So when Isaiah said to the nation, “Behold, I and the children which God hath given me”, they were a “sign and a wonder” to Israel. Maher-shalal-hash-baz was testimony that the Assyrian would indeed hasten to invade the land, and take them as a prey. The other son, however, was God’s promise that even though that happened, a remnant would return from captivity. So the idea is of successful outcome after seeming disaster. If the disciples thought on these lines, they would see that the one who stood on the shore was able to bring triumph out of disaster, whether the trivial matter of a night of fruitless fishing, or the very important matter of successful evangelism after the one who is preached had been rejected and crucified.

The third time the word “children” is found as a translation of this word is in Hebrews 2:13, where we read, “Forasmuch as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, He also Himself likewise took part of the same”. This tells of the complete authority of Christ over the Devil, who had the power of death. Both references to children therefore are an assurance of the complete control of the one to whom they are related spiritually.

The word children expresses the vulnerability of the disciples in the face of disaster. Indeed, the particular Greek word used here is also used of the Lord Jesus when He was eight days old, Luke 21. It is also distinguished from ‘men’ in Matthew 14:21, showing that the thought in John 21 is of their vulnerability. But their relationship with Christ in resurrection would bring them through.

Whether the disciples realised these truths at the time is doubtful, but as they thought about them afterwards they would have been greatly encouraged, especially in times when they seemed to not be very successful in their role as fishers of men.

Have ye any meat? The question is prefaced with a Greek word which shows that the answer is going to be more or less in the negative. He gently indicates that He knows their situation. It is a genuine question in that He wants them to declare what the situation is, and enable them to confess the full extent of their failure.

The word meat was used in former times for any sort of food, so, for instance, the offering of Leviticus 2 was called a meat offering, even though there was no animal flesh involved. Here, the question is about fish. It shows that the Lord recognised that their fishing expedition was not a money-making venture, but was prompted by the very real need to support their families. If Peter and Andrew had really wanted to return to their old life, they could have rejoined their father in his fishing business.

They answered Him, No- what else could they say? It is true that they were far enough from the shore to prevent someone seeing their boat was empty, but they answer honestly. They confess the situation with their own mouths. We cannot hide anything from the Lord, even if we try.

21:6 And He said unto them, Cast the net on the right side of the ship, and ye shall find. They cast therefore, and now they were not able to draw it for the multitude of fishes.

And He said unto them, Cast the net on the right side of the ship, and ye shall find- there must have been something in the tone of voice of the stranger on the shore which assured them that He was to be obeyed. In a previous and similar incident as recorded in Luke 5:4-11, Peter had protested that they had caught nothing all night, and implied that to try again was useless. We have nothing of that here.

They might well have reasoned that the right side of the ship was only a few feet from the left side of the ship, so wherein lay the difference? They will come to realise that the difference lays in obedience to Him. To cast the net in response to His command, is always to cast on the right side.

They cast therefore, and now they were not able to draw it for the multitude of fishes- the “now” of this sentence is the same “now” of verse 10, “the fish ye have now caught”; it is His intervention that makes the difference between the toiling all night and the ‘now’ of instant success.

In Luke 5 the net brake, for the simple reason that the Lord had told them to cast nets, and they only cast one. Here, the Lord knows exactly what they will catch, and that one net will hold them all.

In this verse, and in verse 11, the word used for ‘draw’ is the same as is used in John 6:44, where the Lord says, “no man can come unto Me except the Father which hath sent Me draw him”. He went on to say, “It is written in the prophets ‘And they shall all be taught of God’, Every man therefore that hath heard, and hath learned of the Father, cometh unto Me”. This suggests that the “net” which draws men to Christ, the Father’s appointed means, is the word of God. This is why the net did not break in this incident, for the Lord said, “The Scripture cannot be broken”. The word of God is the sure way of bringing sinners to Christ. We are not expected to devise clever schemes and strategies to present the gospel. All that is needed is the setting forth of the truth of God as found in the word of God in the power of the Spirit of God. Divine resources like these cannot fail.

The disciples were not able to draw the net, meaning they were not able to pull the fish out of the water into the boat. It was the net that caught the fish; they were only the agents used to land the fish in the boat. But this they could not do, another example of their powerlessness. Their empty net during the night showed their failure, and so did their empty boat now. In the other incident in Luke 5, they were able to bring a large catch into the boat, but not here. Their failure is manifest.

21:7 Therefore that disciple whom Jesus loved saith unto Peter, It is the Lord. Now when Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he girt his fisher’s coat unto him, (for he was naked,) and did cast himself into the sea.

Therefore that disciple whom Jesus loved saith unto Peter, It is the Lord- ever the man of insight, John realises from what has happened, (and no doubt helped by his experience in Luke 5 with the draught of fishes there), that the stranger can only be the Lord. He has knowledge beyond theirs, (even though they are experienced fishermen), and also has control over the fish of the sea in their movements. It is not too much to say that He had prevented the fish from entering their net during the night, and now He had commanded them to do so.

Now when Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he girt his fisher’s coat unto him, (for he was naked,) and did cast himself into the sea- it seems strange to put clothes on to prepare to swim, but there is an over-riding consideration. He is about to stand before the Lord, and he knows that he must be dressed suitably for His presence. This incident teaches us that there is a dress code that is suitable for coming together. Those who are spiritual will realise that. Those who are carnal and do not realise it need to be instructed. Decorum should mark us as we meet together. And there is no reason to make weekday meetings the exception. The Lord is the same in the week as He is on Sunday.

Notice that Peter does not attempt to walk on the water here. He has denied his Lord since he did that, and perhaps is not quite confident that he deserves to be upheld on the water as before.

And the other disciples came in a little ship; (for they were not far from land, but as it were two hundred cubits,) As is common practice, a small vessel is used to row out from the shore to reach the bigger vessel that cannot come near to the water-line. It would be towed behind the larger ship, to be available when needed.

This is why John adds, as an aside, the distance from the shore. Because it was only a short distance, the water would be shallow and the larger vessel could not approach.

Dragging the net with fishes- the disciples are presented with a problem. They cannot draw the fishes over the side of the vessel, there are so many, (and Peter is not now in the boat so there is one less to help), and they cannot pull the net with the larger vessel because the water is too shallow, so they drag the net full of fishes through the water by means of the smaller boat, until they reach the shore. Perhaps we could see in this that there is room for enterprise in the making known of the gospel; but there is no room for gimmicks- the little ship was perfectly orthodox.

21:9 As soon then as they were come to land, they saw a fire of coals there, and fish laid thereon, and bread.

As soon then as they were come to land- the meal was ready for them as soon as the reached the shore, showing that the Lord had not needed them in order to provide a meal. He is the Last Adam, and the fish of the sea are under His control, Psalm 8:8.

They saw a fire of coals there, and fish laid thereon, and bread- He knows they will be depressed, cold and hungry, and He, as ever, has the answer. It almost seems as if they are still in the little boat when they see the fire. The boat had grounded on the beach, but they had not yet disembarked.

Of course the fire is going to bring back memories for Peter, for he had warmed himself at the fire in the High Priest’s Palace, and then denied the Lord, Luke 22:55. He will soon be given the opportunity to publicly reverse that public denial.

21:10 Jesus saith unto them, Bring of the fish which ye have now caught.

Jesus saith unto them, Bring of the fish which ye have now caught- how gracious of the Lord to allow them to associate their fish with His fish. It symbolises His willingness to share in the great work of evangelism. “We are labourers together with God”, 1 Corinthians 3:9. Isaiah said, “Lord, who hath believed our report?”, Romans 10:16. Peter brought the Word of God on the Day of Pentecost, but we read that the three thousand converts “gladly received his word”, Acts 2:41. The Lord prayed for those who would believe “through their word”, John 17:20.

“Ye have now caught” highlights their previous failure on their own, and their success when instructed by Him.

He asks them to bring little fish, such is the meaning of the word, as it is in the previous verse. It would not be suitable for the disciples to bring large fish, (for they had caught many large fish), and to place them beside His small fish. The little fish in question were considered a delicacy, and were eaten with bread. The Lord will see to it that His guests feel welcome. It will also be a test of obedience and a sign of humility if only little fishes are selected and brought from amongst the large fishes they had caught.

21:11 Simon Peter went up, and drew the net to land full of great fishes, an hundred and fifty and three: and for all there were so many, yet was not the net broken.

Simon Peter went up- was he still standing in the water, hesitating to come out now that he realised that John was right, and the stranger on the shore was in fact the Lord? It seems as if the six disciples were also hesitant, and were still in the boat, for only Peter lands the fish.

And drew the net to land full of great fishes- the net was full of great fishes, but there were enough small fishes to fulfil the request of the Lord. It would be a comparatively easy job to pull the net onto the shore now that it had been brought to shallow water.

An hundred and fifty and three- no doubt Peter did not stop to count them at first, but they must have done afterwards. He must minister to the Lord rather than be occupied with their success. Much has been written about this number, but perhaps its very strangeness is an indication that it is the fish that matter, and not their number. A single soul is worth more than the gain of the whole world, Matthew 16:26.

And for all there were so many, yet was not the net broken- as already noticed, the net did not break because the Lord only required them to cast one net. In Luke 5 the Lord had said nets, in the plural, and the disciples only cast one, so it is no surprise the net broke, to demonstrate that if we only obey partially, we must only expect partial success.

21:12 Jesus saith unto them, Come and dine. And none of the disciples durst ask Him, Who art Thou? knowing that it was the Lord.

Jesus saith unto them, Come and dine- if they were still standing in the boat, then the call is to come closer and share with Him in His expression of authority and power, the loaves and the fishes.

And none of the disciples durst ask Him, Who art Thou? They did not dare to ask Him for He had made it so obvious by His words and actions that it was He. It would have been an insult to ask who He was, when what He had done was purposely designed to bring to their mind former incidents. The word “durst” is based on the verb “to dare”. It was not that they were afraid of the Lord, but they did not want to repeat the mistake Philip had made when, in the upper room, he was mildly rebuked for not knowing the Lord as he should have done, John 14:9.

21:13 Jesus then cometh, and taketh bread, and giveth them, and fish likewise.

Jesus then cometh, and taketh bread, and giveth them, and fish likewise- we should remember that the Lord has taken the form of a servant for ever. It is part of His nature as a man, and He expresses this by these actions. He had said during His ministry that “Blessed are those servants, whom the Lord when He cometh shall find watching: verily I say unto you, that He shall gird Himself, and make them to sit down to meat, and will come forth and serve them”, Luke 37.

It is also a lesson to the disciples, for they are called to be servants too. Not only are they to catch fish in evangelism, but they are to provide comfort of soul and nourishment for those saved through their ministry.

21:14 This is now the third time that Jesus shewed Himself to His disciples, after that He was risen from the dead.

This is now the third time that Jesus shewed Himself to His disciples, after that He was risen from the dead- that is, the third time John records in his gospel that He manifested Himself to disciples, as opposed to individuals, like Mary Magdalene.

The first time, 20:19-23, was to grant them peace, to give them the Holy Spirit, and to send them forth, as He had been sent forth of His Father.

The second time, 20:24-29, was to dispel unbelief, and to produce the testimony of Thomas, “My Lord and my God”, the attitude of heart that true evangelists should display.

The third time, 21:1-13, is to show His complete control over the fishing for men; that it must not be done in our own strength, and that those who serve Him well will know His reward.

 

2. Verses 15-17 The need for love to the Lord to motivate those who care for those who are saved by their efforts.

We now come to the reinstatement of the apostle Peter to his prominent position amongst the twelve. He had been met by the Lord at some point on the day of Christ’s resurrection, but this had been a private meeting, 1 Corinthians 15:5. (See also Mark 16:7, where the angel specifically mentions Peter, so that he would have an early indication that he was not totally rejected). Now he is to be given the opportunity to reaffirm what he no doubt said on that occasion, that he did truly love the Lord.

It would be helpful if we considered the context of Peter’s statements about his loyalty to the Lord, and the subsequent prophecy of his three denials. The four gospels present the matter as follows:

Matthew 26:31-35. “Then saith Jesus unto them, ‘All ye shall be offended because of Me this night: for it is written, I will smite the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock shall be scattered abroad. But after I am risen again, I will go before you into Galilee’. Peter answered and said unto Him, ‘Though all men shall be offended because of Thee, yet will I never be offended’. Jesus said unto him, ‘Verily I say unto thee, That this night, before the cock crow, thou shalt deny Me thrice’. Peter said unto him, ‘Though I should die with Thee, yet will I not deny Thee. Likewise also said all the disciples.”

Key points:

1. The disciples are like sheep, and they will be scattered.

2. They will all be offended, meaning that they will be led into a trap by Satan.

3. Peter states he is prepared to die with the Lord. All the disciples say the same.

Mark 14:27-31. “And Jesus saith unto them, ‘All ye shall be offended because of Me this night: for it is written, I will smite the shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered. But after that I am risen, I will go before you into Galilee’. But Peter said unto Him, ‘Although all shall be offended, yet will not I’. And Jesus saith unto him, ‘Verily I say unto thee, That this day, even in this night, before the cock crow twice, thou shalt deny Me thrice’. But he spake the more vehemently, ‘If I should die with Thee, I will not deny Thee in any wise. Likewise also said they all.”

Key point:

1. Peter asserts vehemently that he will not deny Him. With this we may compare his cursing and swearing when he did in fact deny His Lord, Mark 14:71.

Luke 22:31-34. “And the Lord said, ‘Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat: But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren’. And he said unto Him, ‘Lord, I am ready to go with thee, both into prison, and to death’. And He said, ‘I tell thee, Peter, the cock shall not crow this day, before that thou shalt thrice deny that thou knowest Me'”.

Key points:

1. Peter and the others will be sifted as wheat. Not winnowed as those who might be chaff, but sifted or sieved as wheat which needs foreign matter separated from it; the foreign matter in this instance being the denial of the Lord. Despite the sifting, their faith will not fail, for the Lord had already interceded for them. Peter did not deny His person, as if he went back on his confession that He was the Son of God, so his faith did not fail, but his courage did.

2. When he is converted, (so the Lord has confidence that he will be recovered from his denial), he is to strengthen his brethren, so that they do not make the same mistake as he did.

3. Peter declares he is prepared to go to prison as well as death.

John 13:33-36. “‘Little children, yet a little while I am with you. Ye shall seek Me: and as I said unto the Jews, Whither I go, ye cannot come; so now I say to you. A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are My disciples, if ye have love one to another’. Simon Peter said unto Him, ‘Lord, whither goest thou?’ Jesus answered him, ‘Whither I go, thou canst not follow Me now; but thou shalt follow Me afterwards’. Peter said unto Him, ‘Lord, why cannot I follow thee now? I will lay down my life for thy sake’. Jesus answered him, ‘Wilt thou lay down thy life for My sake? Verily, verily, I say unto thee, The cock shall not crow, till thou hast denied Me thrice'”.

Key points:

1. The warning of denial follows the command to love one another. Peter ignores this, and concentrates on the fact the Lord is going away. He needs a lesson about love to his brethren.

2. He affirms his willingness to follow the Lord, but in the event he followed afar off, Luke 22:54.

These nine points are the background for the incident we are now to consider.

Peter’s denial reversed

21:15 So when they had dined, Jesus saith to Simon Peter, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou Me more than these? He saith unto Him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love Thee. He saith unto him, Feed My lambs.

So when they had dined- the Lord had prepared a fire and food for His cold and hungry disciples, and now they have enjoyed His company around the fire. This would have memories for Peter, for he had dined with the Lord in the upper room, but then had gone out and stood beside the world’s fire in the High Priest’s Palace, with those who were hostile to the Christ of God.

Jesus saith to Simon Peter- the combination of the name given to him by his father, and the name given to him by Christ, John 1:42, (Cephas being the equivalent to Peter). All believers have that which has come from our father, a sinful nature, and that which has come from Christ, the new nature. We are to put off the one and put on the other, in practical terms. Sadly, the “Simon” part of Peter had come to the fore in his denial.

Simon, son of Jonas- this is the name the Lord addressed Him by when He renamed him, John 1:42, showing that He knew who he was and what he was like, and that he eventually would be a stalwart of the faith, rock-like in his stand for Christ. It was also the name by which the Lord addressed him when he confessed that He was the Christ, the Son of the living God, Matthew 16:16,17. Again, this was an evidence of his steadfastness. But he had not been like this when a servant maid confronted him in the palace court of the High Priest. He needs to be brought back to his resolute stand for Christ, for he will confront the crowds on the Day of Pentecost, and the nation’s leaders subsequently.

Lovest thou Me more than these? There are two words for love used in these verses, but they are not different enough to warrant being distinguished in translation. Experts agree there is little difference between them, which shows that the Authorised Version is, as ever correct. They are both used of the love between the Father and the Son, (John 5:20 uses “phileo”, whereas John 3:35 uses “agapeo”. The latter is love for love’s sake, whereas the former is love because of some relationship). The one is not higher than the other, but they stand side by side.

When the Lord had exhorted His own to love one another in view of the fact that He would soon go where they could not follow, John 13:33,34, Peter was so taken up by the idea of them not being able to follow, (he thinking he was able), that he ignored the command to love one another. This oversight is now being corrected by the Lord with His questions about love.

Peter had said, “Although all shall be offended, yet will not I”, thus setting himself above the others in devotion to Christ, even though they all said they would die with Him. John has deliberately listed the disciples at the beginning of the chapter in the order “Peter, Thomas, Nathanael”, thus linking the three together. The other two had confessed the Lord, as Peter had, but they had not denied Him. Peter must humble himself to recognise that he has failed in the matter of confessing the Lord before men.

How grateful Peter must have been that just as there was provision in the trespass offering for one who had made a rash vow, so the sacrifice of Christ safeguarded him from judgement, Leviticus 5:4, where “pronounce with an oath” has the idea of speaking unadvisedly, which Peter certainly did.

He saith unto Him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love Thee- the first sign of Peter’s recovery is that he calls the Lord by His rightful name. When the Lord and Master had stooped to wash the disciples’ feet, Peter had protested, thinking that this was not fitting for one who is Lord. Christ teaches him otherwise. Peter is learning to take the low place. As he himself wrote later, “Yea, all of you, be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace unto the humble. Humble yourselves under the mighty had of God, that He may exalt you in due time”, 1 Peter 5:5,6. “Clothed with humility” reminds us of the Lord taking a towel and girding Himself to serve His disciples.

Peter had not stopped believing in Christ, for He had prayed for him that his faith would not fail, Luke 22:31, 32. However, he did deny that he knew Him, and this was hurtful to Christ as He stood above in the Palace. Here he is being brought back to a confession of Christ as Lord, which is the theme of the whole chapter. He must say “Yea, Lord”, three times, to show his denial was not a final repudiation, but a temporary lapse.

He saith unto him, Feed My lambs- when the Lord had foretold that the disciples would forsake Him, He quoted from Zechariah 13:7, “Smite the shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered: and I will turn My hand upon the little ones”. First of all He would be smitten, and the sheep would be scattered. As Peter stood below where Christ was being interrogated by Annas, he very possibly would hear Him being smitten by the palms of the hands of the high priest’s officials, Matthew 26:47. Each blow would remind Peter of the prophecy Christ had given, and the connection He made between that smiting and the disciples being offended.

Second, He would gather them together unto Him in resurrection, and because they were vulnerable would call them His little ones, meaning the lambs. Now Peter is entrusted with the same task of caring for the vulnerable. As the Lord had said to him, “when thou are converted, strengthen thy brethren”. As Peter emerges from his distressing experience, he is the stronger for it, and is in a good position to help those who are in danger of faltering in their faith.

21:16 He saith to him again the second time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou Me? He saith unto Him, Yea, Lord; Thou knowest that I love Thee. He saith unto him, Feed My sheep.

He saith to him again the second time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou Me? This is the same question, using the same word for love, the only difference being that there is no mention of “these”, the other disciples. Clearly the Lord, who reads the heart, (Thou knowest that I love Thee”), has discerned that Peter has learned his lesson about being better than the others.

Peter gives the same answer, again appealing to the fact that the Lord knows his heart, and affirming that he loves Him because there is a relationship between them.

He saith unto him, Feed My sheep- it is not now the vulnerable lambs, who need feeding and strengthening so that they do not deny their Lord. Here it is those who, like Peter, are the sheep of the Good Shepherd’s flock, (as the lambs are, of course), and He is entrusting them to one who loves Him, and therefore will love His sheep. The Good Shepherd feeds His sheep by leading them into the green pastures, so He exhorts Peter in verse 19 to follow Him. If Peter does that, and does not forsake Him and flee as he did at the arrest of Christ, he will be enabled to lead others in the paths of righteousness.

21:17 He saith unto him the third time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou Me? Peter was grieved because He said unto him the third time, Lovest thou Me? And he said unto him, Lord, Thou knowest all things; Thou knowest that I love Thee. Jesus saith unto him, Feed My sheep.

He saith unto him the third time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou Me? The three denials must be matched by three affirmations of loyalty and love. Is this not why He now uses the word “phileo”, the one that Peter had used in his previous two answers? He is encouraging him to use the same word again.

In the first question, it is agapeo, (the Lord)…phileo, (Peter) In the second question it is, agapeo, (the Lord)…phileo, (Peter). In the third question it is, phileo, (the Lord)…phileo, (Peter).

Peter was grieved because He said unto him the third time, Lovest thou Me? Some have thought that Peter is grieved because the Lord has descended to using Peter’s word, and this is love on a lower level. But this cannot be so, for as we have already noticed, it is used of the love of the Father for the Son, so cannot be an inferior love; they always love to perfection. As we have noted, the Lord uses Peter’s word to prompt him to use it again.

So why was Peter grieved? Not because of the Lord’s use of “his” word for love, but because it was the third time. The bitterness of his three-fold denial is being gently brought home to him by the Lord, not by outright and public rebuke, but by being given the opportunity to make amends by declaring his love, which springs from a very real relationship with the Lord.

And he said unto him, Lord, Thou knowest all things; Thou knowest that I love Thee if phileo is a lower word, why did Peter use it in his protest? Why did he not say, “Thou knowest that I love (agapeo) Thee?” This would have settled the matter once and for all, if agapeo was the best sort of love. Such was the genuineness of Peter’s first two assertions of love, that, even in a state of grief because he is being asked again, he does not feel the need to add to what he said before. Peter is making it clear by saying “Lord, Thou knowest all things”, that he is being genuine and sincere in his replies. He is fully aware that the Lord would know is he was being anything other than honest.

Jesus saith unto him, Feed My sheep- there is no rebuke here about using an “inferior” word for love, (since we have seen that Peter’s word was not inferior), nor is there a lesser task entrusted to him who has used it. Indeed, now that it has been used three times over, the Lord can entrust to Peter not just the feeding of sheep, but their general care as well. One who loves with that sort of intensity can be relied upon to love the flock deeply also, and minister to their every need. The third word for feed means to carry out the whole range of tasks that a shepherd would who cares for the flock.

THE WORDS OF THE BIBLE, THE CHRISTIAN SCRIPTURES, AS FOUND IN THE GOSPEL OF JOHN, CHAPTER 21, VERSES 18 TO 25:

21:18 Verily, verily, I say unto thee, When thou wast young, thou girdest thyself, and walkedst whither thou wouldest: but when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, and carry thee whither thou wouldest not.

21:19 This spake He, signifying by what death he should glorify God. And when He had spoken this, He saith unto him, Follow me.

21:20 Then Peter, turning about, seeth the disciple whom Jesus loved following; which also leaned on His breast at supper, and said, Lord, which is he that betrayeth Thee?

21:21 Peter seeing him saith to Jesus, Lord, and what shall this man do?

21:22 Jesus saith unto him, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? follow thou Me.

21:23 Then went this saying abroad among the brethren, that that disciple should not die: yet Jesus said not unto him, He shall not die; but, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee?

21:24 This is the disciple which testifieth of these things, and wrote these things: and we know that his testimony is true.

21:25 And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written. Amen.

 

3. Verses 18-23 The life’s work of each servant is under His control.

21:18 Verily, verily, I say unto thee, When thou wast young, thou girdest thyself, and walkedst whither thou wouldest: but when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, and carry thee whither thou wouldest not.

Verily, verily, I say unto thee- we might be startled by the occurrence of these words in this connection. They always introduce doctrine of prime importance in John’s gospel, so we are prepared by the use of this expression for some fresh revelation. Coming as they do before a prophecy about the manner of Peter’s death, and the long life of John, they suggest to us that there is important truth about to be imparted.

When thou wast young, thou girdest thyself, and walkedst whither thou wouldest- Peter is thought of first as having been young, and then in the next statement as going to be old, suggesting he was middle-aged at the time of this incident. He was marked by self-sufficiency, (girdest thyself), and determination, (where thou wouldest), in his youth, evidently. Even the word “girdest” would suggest energy and activity, for in the East a man girded up his loins for strenuous activity, tying up his flowing robes so that he could move freely. That energy and determination shows itself in Peter in the gospel records, and is one reason why he denied his Lord, for he was relying on his own strength to serve the Lord, which is always a disaster. The fact that the Lord knew this is a token of His omniscience, for it showed that He knew about Peter long before he was called to be an apostle.

But when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, and carry thee whither thou wouldest not- not only is the Lord omniscient about his past private life, but about the future, too, for He knows what will happen to Peter when he has grown old. He knows also the way in which he will die. He would do three things, stretch forth his hands, be girded by another, (in contrast to girding himself in his youth), and be taken where he did not wish to go, (in contrast to going where he wished to go). We are told the meaning of these words in the next verse.

21:19 This spake He, signifying by what death he should glorify God. And when He had spoken this, He saith unto him, Follow me.

This spake He, signifying by what death he should glorify God- in the Upper Room Peter said, “Lord, why cannot I follow Thee now? I will lay down my life for thy sake”, John 13:37. Peter here learns that his words are going to be fulfilled in a way he did not anticipate. Peter was thinking of the time then present; indeed, the very night he spoke the words. The Lord here informs him that he will be given the opportunity of making good his word, but not for many years.

If Peter had died trying to defend the Lord from His arrest, trial and crucifixion, that would not have been a death to the glory of God, but rather would have been to the glory of Peter, for men would have admired his heroism. He is going to die by crucifixion, as is indicated by the Lord’s words here. Tradition says that this indeed took place, with Peter insisting on being crucified upside down, so that there would be no comparison with the death of His Saviour, even in the physical sense.

But where did Peter get this idea? Was it from the order of the Lord’s words of verse 18? The victim of crucifixion is first taken to the place of execution, then has his hands stretched out on a cross, and then he is bound to the cross. But the prophecy of Christ about Peter gives the order almost in reverse, the stretching forth of the hands and the girding, and then the carrying where he was unwilling to go. There is to be no mistaking Peter’s crucifixion for Christ’s; in all things He must be distinct and superior. There is no mention of being nailed to a cross either, in the case of Peter. There is only one pierced victim to whom men should look, John 19:37.

Not only did Peter vow to die for the sake of His Lord, but also that he would go to prison for His sake. Is this the girding? He is to be arrested, and commanded to hold out his hands to be handcuffed, and then put in prison. Then he will be taken from his prison cell to his crucifixion. (The word gird does not mean to dress, but is derived from the word “belt”). Instead of walking where he wished, Peter is going to be carried by another to a place he would not wish to go naturally, even to the place of execution.

And when He had spoken this, He saith unto him, Follow Me- how significant this is! It was by the Sea of Galilee that Peter had first heard the Lord’s call to follow Him, Matthew 4:18-22. He had done so for three and a half years, and when the Lord Jesus foretold His death, Peter still wanted to follow Him. We read, “Simon Peter said unto Him, ‘Lord, whither goest Thou?’ Jesus answered him, ‘Whither I go, thou canst not follow me now: but thou shalt follow Me afterwards’. Peter said unto Him ‘Lord, why cannot I follow Thee now? I will lay down my life for Thy sake’. Jesus answered him, ‘Wilt thou lay down thy life for My sake? Verily, verily I say unto thee, The cock shall not crow, till thou hast denied Me thrice'”, John 13:36-38.

Peter learns from these words that the death of the Lord Jesus is unique, for there is that about it that cannot be imitated by another. But on the other hand, Peter learns that in a lesser sense it can be imitated in its martyr-character, and Peter is going to follow the Lord to death in that way. But he is in no fit state spiritually to do that yet. He must learn his own weakness by denying His Lord. He vowed to follow, but denied his Lord with oaths before the night was out. So by bidding him to follow Him here in John 21, he is reminding him of his former promise, and encouraging him to make good that promise. Peter had not only pledged to follow his Lord, but also to go into prison and death for Him. He is being exhorted to follow that pathway now, and re-dedicate himself to the Lord, even to that extent.

21:20 Then Peter, turning about, seeth the disciple whom Jesus loved following; which also leaned on His breast at supper, and said, Lord, which is he that betrayeth Thee?

Then Peter, turning about, seeth the disciple whom Jesus loved following- this is the final reference in the gospel to the expression “the disciple whom Jesus loved”, another name for John the apostle. He had a very real sense of the love of the Lord Jesus. It was not that the Lord did not love the others, for He had said, “as My Father hath loved Me, so have I loved you: continue ye in My love”, John 15:9. So He loved them all, but there were degrees to which each one continued in that love, enjoying it and returning it. John was one of those who appreciated the love of the Lord for him, and was confident that Jesus loved Him. It is not surprising then to note that John is said to be following; he does not need to be exhorted to follow Christ, as Peter does.

Which also leaned on His breast at supper, and said, Lord, which is he that betrayeth Thee? The second feature about John is that he was the one that Peter had asked to enquire of the Lord about the betrayer. Significantly, he is said here to have been on the breast of Jesus at the Passover Supper. As far as position at the table was concerned, he was leaning on the bosom of Christ. In other words, as they reclined on the floor surrounding the meal-table with their legs stretched out behind them, it was John who was next to Christ, leaning back towards Him. But in order to ask the Lord about the betrayer, he then leaned back further onto Christ, close to His heart, so to speak. So it is not his position at the table that describes him here, but the way in which he was able to ask a question of Him. These two features of John are very significant in this context, and are connected. Love to the Lord will be concerned about anything and anyone that betrays Him, for love and loyalty go together, and betrayal is the opposite of loyalty. This sets the scene for the conversation that follows here.

21:21 Peter seeing him saith to Jesus, Lord, and what shall this man do?

Peter seeing him saith to Jesus, Lord, and what shall this man do? We should not think of this as Peter being a busy-body, and making sure everyone is doing something. Rather, it is a concern lest the death which has just been predicted for Peter is the same as John shall suffer. It is as if he says, “Will this man be girded, and taken where he would not, also?” Already Peter is showing a concern for the sheep, even if in this instance the sheep is a fellow apostle. This gives the Lord the opportunity to foretell the personal future of John. This is the last of seven mentions of Christ as Lord in this chapter. John wrote twenty chapters to show us that Jesus, the historical man of the gospel records, is the Christ, the predicted Messiah of the Old Testament records, and also the Son of God, John 20:31. In chapter twenty-one he writes to show that this same one is also Lord.

21:22 Jesus saith unto him, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? follow thou Me.

Jesus saith unto him, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? Peter is gently told here that the one he has called Lord is indeed in control of all things. In this context He is in control of the length of the life of His saints. The Lord does not say that John will survive until the rapture, and so be one of those that shall be “alive and remain”, 1 Thessalonians 4:17 at that moment. But He does propose it as a possibility. Whatever actually happens, this does not affect Peter’s personal position. That will not be altered by what happens to John. It is the extent of the life of John that is in view here.

Follow thou Me- far from being preoccupied, however sincerely, with John’s prospects, Peter should concentrate on doing as exhorted, follow the Lord, even though that means going to a martyr’s death.

21:23 Then went this saying abroad among the brethren, that that disciple should not die: yet Jesus said not unto him, He shall not die; but, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee?

Then went this saying abroad among the brethren, that that disciple should not die- a misunderstanding arose from the Lord’s word, “If I will that he tarry till I come”. It is simply a statement of possibility, not a prophecy of what will definitely happen. We should beware of jumping to conclusions in any circumstance, most of all in connection with the statements of Scripture.

Yet Jesus said not unto him, He shall not die; but, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? John repeats the words so that we may see that it was not the Lord’s statement was unclear, but that He was misunderstood.

It is true, however, that the possibility that the brethren turned into a certainty was indeed a possibility. If it had been the will of Christ, John could have survived until the Lord’s coming, if that coming had been within the span of a long lifetime. Now Peter is going to live until he is old, and then die, so John must surely be going to live until he is old also. But what purpose is to be served by this?

We noticed that the events we have looked at began with the words “Verily, verily”, and we have noted that these words always introduce important doctrine in John’s gospel. Doctrine, moreover, that is fresh and new. So what are the new truths that are being presented to us in these incidents, the first involving Peter, and then John? Remember that John’s gospel has as its theme the gift of eternal life. We learn here, however, that those who have eternal life may still die. Of course, in relation to that life they never die, as the Lord stated in John 8:52, “If a man keep My saying, he shall never see death”. Physical death to such an one is totally different, for the possession of eternal life over-rides all other considerations, making death an irrelevance in this context.

What do we learn from the word to John? Firstly that there is the possibility for all believers currently alive on the earth that they may not physically die, for the Lord Jesus is coming not only for “the dead in Christ”, but those who are “alive and remain at His coming”, 1 Thessalonians 4:16,17.

Secondly, as far as John personally was concerned, he was to be granted a long life. Now why should this be? For a very good reason. John lived on and on so that three things might happen. First, that errors about the person of Christ might arise, so that he might deal with them in his writings. Second, and connected with this, that John might condemn as heretical the writings of unbelieving men. Third, that he might be on hand to give his approval to inspired writings as they were produced and circulated.

This is a very valuable ministry, and merits the “Verily, verily” that introduces it. We may be sure that all that we receive as being the Word of God is indeed that, and does not contain anything that is spurious, for John was at hand to give it his approval. Furthermore anything that is produced after his death may be safely put to one side as being uninspired, whether written by unbeliever or believer.

4. Verses 24,25 The gospel is so full and wonderful that all the books in the world could not exhaust it.

21:24 This is the disciple which testifieth of these things, and wrote these things: and we know that his testimony is true.

This is the disciple which testifieth of these things, and wrote these things- there are very few who deny that “the disciple whom Jesus loved” is John. The idea of testimony is strong with him, for he emphasises the eyewitness character of his writings, both his gospel, 19:35, his first epistle, 1 John 1:1-3, and even the book of Revelation, which contains what he saw as he was permitted to see into the future.

And we know that his testimony is true- the plural pronoun may pose a difficulty here, and to solve the problem, (if there is one), some have suggested that these last two verses were written by someone other than John. But if that is the case, why did that person write “we?” Who did he join with himself as he wrote the postscript to John’s writing? If he does not tell us who he is, and who else joins with him, then the veracity of the whole gospel is imperilled, for John insists that he wrote as an eye-witness, John 19:35; 1 John 1:1-3, and if the one who is endorsing John’s testimony is not himself an eye-witness, nor the others who join with him, then that testimony is undermined. Furthermore, why did this unknown person revert to “I” in the next verse?

In John 19:35 John states “he knoweth that he saith true”, affirming his own conviction that his testimony was accurate. Here in this verse there is the same assertion, but this time it is “we”. In the Third Epistle of John, the apostle is commending Demetrius, writing, “he hath a good report of all men, and of the truth itself; yea, and we also bear record; and ye know that our record is true”, verse 12. Is it not the case that John is using the “we” of authority; in this case of apostolic authority. He knows what his fellow-apostles would have thought of Demetrius if they had known him, (and in fact, some of them may have known him), and therefore he is free to say “we” as one who is speaking for them all. After all, the Lord Jesus did pray that the apostles might be one, John 17:11, and this is one way in which His prayer was answered.

This is important in the light of the fact that John’s life was prolonged so that he could give his approval to the inspired writings. If he can do this with an apostolic “we” of authority, then by so much is his testimony strengthened, for it is the combined testimony of the apostolic band.

21:25 And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written. Amen.

And there are also many other things which Jesus did- this shows that the “these things” of verse 24 refers to the doings of the Lord Jesus when here on earth. “Did” would include His teaching. John has already written like this in 20:30, when he says “And many other signs truly did Jesus which are not written in this book”. He thus leaves room for the other inspired writings of Matthew, Mark and Luke.

The which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written. Amen- the Lord Jesus described His ministry as “so long time”, John 14:9, for compressed into those three and a half years was the whole of His work. Being a Divine person, to Him each day was a thousand years as to its opportunity and potential, 2 Peter 3:8, and whatever He did was capable of extensive comment. In fact, it will take all eternity to explore the wonders of what He did down here. No wonder John says the world would not be able to contain the books, for they would be infinite in number, enough to occupy believers for all eternity.