Part 8 – John Chapter 21, verses 1-25

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Jesus appears and causes a miraculous catch of fish

John Chapter 21, verses 1-3

Afterward Jesus appeared again to his disciples, by the Sea of Tiberias. It happened this way: Simon Peter, Thomas (called Didymus), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples were together. “I’m going out to fish,” Simon Peter told them, and they said, “We’ll go with you.” So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.

Commentary

Having shown himself alive to the disciples, Jesus came and went a number of times during the 40 days until his ascension. He used the opportunities to prepare the disciples to carry on his work following the ascension.

John tells of one more appearance, an important postscript to the denial by Simon Peter, before closing this gospel. During this time the disciples returned in part to some of their earlier pursuits.

On this occasion, seven of the disciples went fishing on the Sea of Tiberias (Galilee). Peter had the idea, and the others didn’t need any coaxing to join him. They set out by boat for a customary night of fishing. But they caught nothing. The scene was similar to the time at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry when Jesus called Peter (along with James and John) to follow him (Luke 5:1-11). Jesus would supply the fish and use that as an opportunity to turn the disciples’ attention to him and his ministry.

John Chapter 21, verses 4-7

Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus.

He called out to them, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?”

“No,” they answered.

He said, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.” When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish.

Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!”

Commentary

Early in the morning Jesus came and stood on the shore. Once again, he was not immediately recognized, but that might have been because of the misty dawning light and the distance between him and the disciples.

Jesus called out to them much like one fisherman to another, “Hey, boys, you haven’t caught anything to eat, have you?” “No,” they answered, but they didn’t catch on yet that it was Jesus.

When Jesus told them to cast their net on the right side of the boat, they did it without much thought of who was telling them to do so. But when the catch was so big they couldn’t haul the net into the boat, their attention turned back to Jesus. John, perhaps remembering that earlier catch of fish when they began to follow Jesus (Luke 5:1-11), said to Peter, “It is the Lord!”

John Chapter 21, verses 7-14

As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, “It is the Lord,” he wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water. The other disciples followed in the boat, towing the net full of fish, for they were not far from shore, about a hundred yards. When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread.

Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish you have just caught.”

Simon Peter climbed aboard and dragged the net ashore. It was full of large fish, 153, but even with so many the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” None of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. This was now the third time Jesus appeared to his disciples after he was raised from the dead.

Commentary

As usual, Peter took the lead and acted immediately and impetuously when he heard it was Jesus. He wrapped his outer garment around him so he’d have it when he reached Jesus. Then he abandoned the boat and fish and dove into the lake to swim to the beach ahead of the rest. The others followed in the boat, dragging the net full of fish with them about a hundred yards to shore.

When the seven disciples reached the shore, they saw breakfast was already cooking, fish on a bed of coals and bread to go with it. It appears they were surprised to see the fish cooking, although no one asked where Jesus got it. Instead, Jesus told them to bring some of the fish they had just caught.

Peter, ever quick to oblige the Lord, climbed into the boat to get the net full of fish. Although the net had been too heavy to lift into the boat, he managed with the help of the others to drag it onto the beach. It was loaded with 153 large fish but didn’t tear, unlike the net from the miraculous catch early in Jesus’ ministry (Luke 5:6). The number of fish appears not to have any special significance other than underscoring the size of the catch as witnessed (counted!) by the writer of this gospel.

Imagine how the disciples must have felt as Jesus invited them to have breakfast with him. They knew it was Jesus, but this was only his third appearance to them as a group since he died. How could they not be apprehensive, wanting to ask, “Is it really you, Jesus?” But they held their tongues because they knew.

Then Jesus served them bread and fish for breakfast.

Jesus reinstates Peter

John Chapter 21, verses 15-17

When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?”

“Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”

Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me?”

He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”

The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.

Commentary

At this appearance, Jesus had a plan in mind for Simon Peter. Peter had sworn an allegiance to Jesus that was bigger than life itself (13:37; Luke 22:33). Peter had boasted a love so deep that if he were the only disciple left with Jesus, he would never abandon him and fall away (Matthew 26:33; Mark 14:29). Then, that same night, Peter proceeded to deny his Lord three times, each successively more emphatic.

It was time to restore Peter and give him direction. Jesus spoke three times to Peter, paralleling the three denials. He addressed Peter as Simon son of John, not as Peter (“rock,” see 1:42). The disciple’s rocklike characteristics were not the focus here.

The first time, Jesus asked Simon Peter, “Do you love me more than these?” That was the test. What would Peter say now about his love for Jesus? Jesus used the Greek word for love that we encountered in God when Jesus spoke to Nicodemus (agape, 3:16). The NIV text reflects that sacrificial, purposeful love with the word “truly.” “Do you truly love me?”

The phrase “more than these” can have at least three meanings as follows:

1. “Do you love me more than these other disciples love me?”

2. “Do you love me more than you love these other men?”

3. “Do you love me more than you love these other things [that is, fishing and all that goes with it]?”

In view of Peter’s earlier boasts that all others might fall away but he wouldn’t, the first meaning seems most likely.

But this time Peter was a much humbler man and not so bold in his claim of love for the Lord. He merely responded, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” He would not, could not compare himself to the others. His word for love was not the same as Jesus used, but one that meant something like “I hold you as a dear and trusted friend.” And he did not make the claim on his own, but appealed to what Jesus must know was in his heart.

Jesus responded, “Feed my lambs.” He gave Peter a standing order to be about the business of feeding the lambs. In the Greek the word “feed” can be translated “continue to feed.”

As John’s gospel records, Jesus often used everyday commonalties to illustrate spiritual truths. This feeding meant to give spiritual nourishment, to lead the lambs to Jesus’ Word and sacraments. That way, they would grow in faith for eternal life.

Many readers assume “lambs” here means “children.” It’s a fair assumption, since Jesus chooses his words deliberately and follows next, as if by contrast, with tending the “sheep.” Lambs mean children; sheep mean adults.

“Lambs” might also be a way of speaking of all Christians, and in particular of those who are new in the faith. John, for example, in his first letter refers to his readers repeatedly as his “dear children.”

The second time, Jesus asked the identical question of Peter but omitted the comparison “more than these. ”Peter also answered the same way. He didn’t boast. He didn’t object. He simply depended on Jesus’ knowing Peter held him dear.

This time Jesus replied, “Take care of my sheep.” If the word “sheep” was to add meaning beyond the word “lambs,” the command to “take care of” clearly took on broader meaning than the command to “feed.” Not only was Peter to feed the flock, but he was to watch over the flock, to be a shepherd to it. Besides feeding, that implied guiding, protecting, comforting; and it has become the directive not just for Peter but for all pastors (that is, “shepherds”) and teachers of the flock since then.

When Jesus questioned Peter the third time, he changed the Greek word for “love” (agape) to match the one Peter was using. It’s as if he was saying, “Okay, Simon, I won’t insist on a full-blown, godlike, sacrificial love. Do you hold me as a dear friend, as you claim?”

It grieved Peter to hear Jesus ask yet another time. We can only guess at what Peter was thinking. He could hardly avoid recalling his denial of Jesus, and some of his hurt now was likely sorrow for his sin. Then too it must have hurt to be questioned about his love for Jesus, as if it possibly wasn’t genuine.

Still, Peter remained humble and faithful. He didn’t boast of his own integrity and imply he could pass any test of love. Rather, he appealed to Jesus’ knowledge as his God and Lord. Jesus, Peter insisted, already knew the answer to his own question.

Once again, Jesus commanded, “Feed [‘keep on feeding’] my sheep [‘my little sheep’].”

Imagine what any of us might have said to Peter in similar circumstances, something like, “I can’t believe your love, nor can I trust you to work for me again after the way you denied me.” Instead Jesus, in forgiveness and love, directed the abject, but repentant, sinner to become a leader of his people.

So Jesus uses us today.

John Chapter 21, verses 18-19

I tell you the truth, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!”

Commentary

One last time in this gospel, we hear Jesus insist on the solemn truth of his words: “I tell you the truth [‘amen, amen’].” Jesus had accomplished his purpose with Peter and restored him to his position as shepherd of Jesus’ flock. Now Peter was ready to hear what would happen to him while doing Jesus’ bidding.

Using picture language, Jesus told Peter that he would reach old age but then would be taken by force, have his arms stretched out, and be carried away against his will. He was telling Peter how he would die for his faith. The description is commonly understood as foretelling a martyr’s death by crucifixion, just like Jesus. According to tradition, Peter was crucified upside down.

Although it sounds gruesome and depressing to imagine, it would be Peter’s final act of glorifying God. In faith, Peter had eternal life. In faith, Peter would carry God’s Word to the people and, as God’s shepherd, care for them. In faith, Peter would give the grandest of all testimonies to God’s glory by dying as a martyr and entering the Father’s house of glory.

Having fulfilled his purpose, Jesus said to Peter, “Follow me!” Jesus had used those same words with Peter at the beginning of his earthly ministry (Matthew 4:19). That time Peter literally walked with Jesus and learned from him day after day. But Jesus now was risen from the dead and only appeared among his disciples on occasion. Soon he would ascend to heaven.

“Follow me!” had additional meaning this time. It meant to stay true to the Word of Jesus and continue to teach it, to remain faithful even to the martyr’s death in glory to God. “Follow me!” meant the sure hope of reuniting with Jesus again in heaven.

John Chapter 21, verses 20-23

Peter turned and saw that the disciple whom Jesus loved
was following them. (This was the one who had leaned back
against Jesus at the supper and had said, “Lord, who is going to
betray you?”) When Peter saw him, he asked, “Lord, what
about him?”

Jesus answered, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.” Because of this, the rumor spread among the brothers that this disciple would not die. But Jesus did not say that he would not die; he only said, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you?”

Commentary

Apparently Jesus and Peter walked away from the group to have their conversation. Now Peter looked around and saw John was following them. Peter and John were close friends and had, with James, shared a closeknit leadership role among the disciples. So Peter asked Jesus if John too would glorify God in martyrdom: “Lord, what about him?”

Peter didn’t get the answer he expected. Instead, Jesus directed him not to be concerned about John’s future, just his own. If Jesus planned to have John remain alive until Jesus’ second coming, that wouldn’t affect Peter. Peter had to answer only for himself. He was to keep on following Jesus to the end.

When Jesus’ words were reported to others, they misunderstood Jesus to say John would not die until Jesus returned. But Jesus said only, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you?”

Each disciple does the most good by faithfully carrying out his own service to Jesus, not by watching out for what others are supposed to be doing.

John Chapter 21, verses 25-25

This is the disciple who testifies to these things and who wrote them down. We know that his testimony is true.

Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.

Commentary

As we have intimated, the disciple whom Jesus loved and whom we identified as John is the one who wrote this gospel. We can depend on his witness.

The expression “we know that his testimony is true” leads us to believe that people other than John wrote this ending. Maybe they were contemporaries and friends who helped John publish his gospel. We cannot rule out, however, that John, who referred to himself in the third person whenever he appeared in the narrative, might also at the end have slipped into a majestic plural (also called the “editorial ‘we’ ”).

Finally, the person writing these last verses underscored what John had said earlier (20:30), that only a part, a small part, of what Jesus did has been recorded for us. John told what God wanted us to know, everything we need for our salvation.

We believe and live.

End of John

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