A Bible Lesson on John 21

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version.  Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

Chapter 21 of John amounts to a kind of epilogue to the book.  It is the account of a post-resurrection appearance of Jesus to some of the disciples beside the Sea of Galilee.

John 21:1 After this Jesus revealed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias, and he revealed himself in this way. 

2 Simon Peter, Thomas (called the Twin), Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples were together. 

3 Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.

“The” boat is perhaps Peter’s boat.  It seems as if that’s what’s being said.  They’re going to go out and use Peter’s gear.  It’s an interesting point that the disciples, in the whole of the Gospels never manage to catch one fish without the express work of Jesus.  Here again, the efforts of the disciples on their own are completely futile.  So are ours.

Night fishing on the Sea of Galilee is widely believed to be better than daytime fishing.  Besides, if they were thinking commercially, fish caught at night could be sold fresh during the day.

4 Just as day was breaking, Jesus stood on the shore; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. 

5 Jesus said to them, “Children, do you have any fish?” They answered him, “No.”

6 He said to them, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in, because of the quantity of fish. 

7 That disciple whom Jesus loved therefore said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his outer garment, for he was stripped for work, and threw himself into the sea. 

Why does it come to John that this is Jesus at this point?  See Luke 5:1-11.  The circumstances were similar when Jesus called James, John, Peter and Andrew.

Peter is always Peter.  He can’t wait for the boat to get to shore.  He gets properly dressed to greet Jesus and jumps overboard.

8 The other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, but about a hundred yards off.

9 When they got out on land, they saw a charcoal fire in place, with fish laid out on it, and bread. 

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

11 So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, 153 of them. And although there were so many, the net was not torn. 

This, of course, has its literal meaning.  Most commentators also see it having a figurative meaning parallel to the meaning of fishing given at the calling of the disciples.  There seems to be a picture here of a great catch of human souls, so large that the disciples could barely handle it.

12 Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. 

Once again, by saying “They knew it was the Lord” John is implying that there was some reason that they might have not been sure.  Jesus’s appearance may have been somewhat different from before His death and resurrection.

13 Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and so with the fish.

Throughout the Gospels, Jesus is recognized in the breaking of bread.  He is seen most clearly in the breaking of bread in the Lord’s Supper.  But before that, He’s revealed as the Son of God as He breaks bread and feeds the multitudes.  The disciples on the road to Emmaus recognize Him in the breaking of bread.

14 This was now the third time that Jesus was revealed to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.

John is evidently counting those appearances to the majority of the apostles at once.

15 When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.”

Jesus asks “more than these?”  It seems there are 3 possible meanings  1) “more than these other guys do?” 2) “more than you love the rest of these guys?” and 3) “more than you love this fishing gear?”  It seems pretty that the intention is the first, although some people have argued otherwise.

The question is ironic in that Peter has, at the last supper blustered that even if everyone else fails Jesus, he will not.  See Mark 14:29.  In fact, although they all failed Jesus, Peter did so most spectacularly.

But note now that Peter is not blustering, or promising more than he can deliver.  He’s simply appealing to Jesus on the basis of what Jesus knows to be true about him.  Here, instead of working from his ability or resolve, he’s pointing to Jesus’ supernatural knowledge and more or less throwing himself on the care of Jesus.

People have made a lot of the fact that in the Greek there are two different words for love being used in this conversation.  Jesus asks the first two times about agape love.  All three times Peter replies in terms of phileo love and Jesus’ last question is phrased in term of phileo.  Considering that the distinction between these is not present in either Aramaic or Hebrew, I don’t see much sense in trying to read meanings into the different uses.  The conversation was not carried out in Greek, and there is no hint on the part of Peter that the distinction is part of his meaning or what he’s picking up from Jesus.  It seems more likely that John is simply making use of literary variation, trying to avoid being repetitious in word choice.  Both terms are used of God’s love towards us, so it’s not really correct to think of one as inferior to the other anyway.

Jesus says, “Feed my lambs.”  See to it that the tender ones in the church are nourished and brought along in the Faith.  The measure of Peter’s devotion to Jesus is to be how he cares for the young church.

16 He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” 

17 He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. 

Jesus goes through this quizzing 3 times.  Do you love me?  This is painful, but it’s grace.  Peter had denied Jesus 3 times.  Here he’s getting a chance to symbolically wipe the slate clean, to wipe out the memory of his most miserable failure of the Lord.

3 times he’s told to care for the Master’s sheep.   Ryle said this “was meant to teach Peter and the whole Church the mighty lesson, that usefulness to others is the grand test of love, and working for Christ is the great proof of really loving Christ.  It is not loud talk and high profession; it is not even impetuous, spasmodic zeal and readiness to draw the sword and fight, — it is steady, patient, laborious effort to do good to Christ’s sheep scattered throughout this sinful world, which is the best evidence of being a true-hearted disciple. … Let us aim at a loving, doing, useful, hard-working, unselfish, kind, unpretentious religion.  Let it be our daily desire to think of others, care for others, do good to others, and to lessen the sorrow, and increase the joy of this sinful world.”

Again notice Peter’s attitude here in comparison to his attitude before the denial.  There he was full of himself.  Here all he can do is rely upon the perfect knowledge of Jesus, that as sincerely as he knows how, he does indeed love Jesus.

18 Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” 

19 (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me.”

Some people see here an explicit prophecy that Peter will be crucified as was Jesus.  Whether the meaning was intended to be that explicit or not isn’t clear.  And it is not really important.  In any case Jesus is clearly telling Peter that he’s to feed the flock and follow his Master.  And that in the end, it is not going to be easy.  Nevertheless, he (Peter) has been so called.  Peter wasn’t up to the task the night of the arrest when he acted in his pride and self-sufficiency.  His outlook is different now and in dependence upon Christ, he will face persecution much differently.

20 Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them, the one who also had leaned back against him during the supper and had said, “Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?”

21 When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, “Lord, what about this man?”

Peter, like the rest of us is so human.  He’s just been told that in following Christ and carrying out His will, hard things will be endured.  Immediately Peter wants to know what about John.  Clearly, that’s not Peter’s business.  That’s between John and his Master.  Jesus tells him so.

22 Jesus said to him, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!”

Mind your own business Peter.

23 So the saying spread abroad among the brothers that this disciple was not to die; yet Jesus did not say to him that he was not to die, but, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?”

John is correcting a rumor that was apparently rampant in his time.  According to tradition, he was the last of the Apostles to die.  Some thought that Jesus was going to return before his death.  John says that that was not what Jesus said.

24 This is the disciple who is bearing witness about these things, and who has written these things, and we know that his testimony is true.

John is saying that it was he who wrote this down and appealing to the fact that the truth of his testimony was well known.  His testimony is true in two ways.  Factually, what he has said is accurate.  And what he has said concerns the very origin of all truth, Jesus Himself.

25 Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.

John ends his letter with a disclaimer that not all possible things were recorded.  But while His account is not exhaustive, it is sufficient to show an honest heart the way to Christ.

Here is a .pdf of this lesson.

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version.  Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

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