Christ appears to his disciples. (1-14) His discourse with Peter. (15-19) Christ's declaration concerning John. (20-24) The conclusion. (25)
Verses 1-14 Christ makes himself known to his people, usually in his ordinances; but sometimes by his Spirit he visits them when employed in their business. It is good for the disciples of Christ to be together in common conversation, and common business. The hour for their entering upon action was not come. They would help to maintain themselves, and not be burdensome to any. Christ's time of making himself known to his people, is when they are most at a loss. He knows the temporal wants of his people, and has promised them not only grace sufficient, but food convenient. Divine Providence extends itself to things most minute, and those are happy who acknowledge God in all their ways. Those who are humble, diligent, and patient, though their labours may be crossed, shall be crowned; they sometimes live to see their affairs take a happy turn, after many struggles. And there is nothing lost by observing Christ's orders; it is casting the net on the right side of the ship. Jesus manifests himself to his people by doing that for them which none else can do, and things which they looked not for. He would take care that those who left all for him, should not want any good thing. And latter favours are to bring to mind former favours, that eaten bread may not be forgotten. He whom Jesus loved was the first that said, It is the Lord. John had cleaved most closely to his Master in his sufferings, and knew him soonest. Peter was the most zealous, and reached Christ the first. How variously God dispenses his gifts, and what difference there may be between some believers and others in the way of their honouring Christ, yet they all may be accepted of him! Others continue in the ship, drag the net, and bring the fish to shore, and such persons ought not to be blamed as worldly; for they, in their places, are as truly serving Christ as the others. The Lord Jesus had provision ready for them. We need not be curious in inquiring whence this came; but we may be comforted at Christ's care for his disciples. Although there were so many, and such great fishes, yet they lost none, nor damaged their net. The net of the gospel has enclosed multitudes, yet it is as strong as ever to bring souls to God.
Verses 15-19 Our Lord addressed Peter by his original name, as if he had forfeited that of Peter through his denying him. He now answered, Thou knowest that I love thee; but without professing to love Jesus more than others. We must not be surprised to have our sincerity called into question, when we ourselves have done that which makes it doubtful. Every remembrance of past sins, even pardoned sins, renews the sorrow of a true penitent. Conscious of integrity, Peter solemnly appealed to Christ, as knowing all things, even the secrets of his heart. It is well when our falls and mistakes make us more humble and watchful. The sincerity of our love to God must be brought to the test; and it behoves us to inquire with earnest, preserving prayer to the heart-searching God, to examine and prove us, whether we are able to stand this test. No one can be qualified to feed the sheep and lambs of Christ, who does not love the good Shepherd more than any earthly advantage or object. It is the great concern of every good man, whatever death he dies, to glorify God in it; for what is our chief end but this, to die to the Lord, at the word of the Lord?
Verses 20-24 Sufferings, pains, and death, will appear formidable even to the experienced Christian; but in the hope to glorify God, to leave a sinful world, and to be present with his Lord, he becomes ready to obey the Redeemer's call, and to follow Him through death to glory. It is the will of Christ that his disciples should mind their own duty, and not be curious about future events, either as to themselves or others. Many things we are apt to be anxious about, which are nothing to us. Other people's affairs are nothing to us, to intermeddle in; we must quietly work, and mind our own business. Many curious questions are put about the counsels of God, and the state of the unseen world, as to which we may say, What is this to us? And if we attend to the duty of following Christ, we shall find neither heart nor time to meddle with that which does not belong to us. How little are any unwritten traditions to be relied upon! Let the Scripture be its own interpreter, and explain itself; as it is, in a great measure, its own evidence, and proves itself, for it is light. See the easy setting right such mistakes by the word of Christ. Scripture language is the safest channel for Scripture truth; the words which the Holy Ghost teaches, 1Co. 2:13 . Those who cannot agree in the same terms of art, and the application of them, may yet agree in the same Scripture terms, and to love one another.
Verse 25 Only a small part of the actions of Jesus had been written. But let us bless God for all that is in the Scriptures, and be thankful that there is so much in so small a space. Enough is recorded to direct our faith, and regulate our practice; more would have been unnecessary. Much of what is written is overlooked, much forgotten, and much made the matter of doubtful disputes. We may, however, look forward to the joy we shall receive in heaven, from a more complete knowledge of all Jesus did and said, as well as of the conduct of his providence and grace in his dealings with each of us. May this be our happiness. These are written that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name, ch. 20:31 .
John 21:1-23 . SUPPLEMENTARY PARTICULARS.
(That this chapter was added by another hand has been asserted, against clear evidence to the contrary, by some late critics, chiefly because the Evangelist had concluded his part of the work with John 20:30 John 20:31 . But neither in the Epistles of the New Testament, nor in other good authors, is it unusual to insert supplementary matter, and so have more than one conclusion).
1, 2. Jesus showed himself again--manifested himself again.
and on this wise he manifested himself--This way of speaking shows that after His resurrection He appeared to them but occasionally, unexpectedly, and in a way quite unearthly, though yet really and corporeally.
3-6. Peter saith unto them, I go a
that night . . . caught nothing--as at the first miraculous draught strike them the more by contrast. The same principle is seen in operation throughout much of Christ's ministry, and is indeed a great law of God's spiritual procedure with His people.
4. Jesus stood--(Compare John 20:19 John 20:26 ).
but the disciples knew not it was Jesus--Perhaps there had been some considerable interval since the last manifestation, and having agreed to betake themselves to their secular employment, they would be unprepared to expect Him.
5. Children--This term would not necessarily identify Him, being not unusual from any superior; but when they did recognize Him, they would feel it sweetly like Himself.
have ye any meat?--provisions, supplies, meaning fish.
They answered . . . No--This was in His wonted style, making them tell their case, and so the better prepare them for what was coming.
6. he said unto them, Cast the net on the right side of the ship--no doubt, by this very specific direction, intending to reveal to them His knowledge of the deep and power over it.
7-11. that disciple whom Jesus loved, said, It is the Lord--again having the advantage of his brother in quickness of recognition all his own.
he was naked--his vest only on, worn next the body.
cast himself into the sea--the shallow part, not more than a hundred yards from the water's edge ( John 21:8 ), not meaning therefore to swim, but to get sooner to Jesus than in the full boat which they could hardly draw to shore.
8. the other disciples came in a little ship--by ship.
9. they saw--"see."
a fire of coals, and fish laid thereon, and bread--By comparing this with 1 Kings 19:6 , and similar passages, the unseen agency by which Jesus made this provision will appear evident.
10. Jesus saith unto them, Bring of the fish ye have now caught--Observe the double supply thus provided--His and theirs. The meaning of this will perhaps appear presently.
11. Peter went up--into the boat; went aboard.
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--The manifest reference here to the former miraculous draught ( Luke 5:1-11 ) furnishes the key to this scene. There the draught was symbolical of the success of their future ministry: While "Peter and all that were with him were astonished at the draught of the fishes which they had taken, Jesus said unto him, Fear not, from henceforth thou shalt catch men." Nay, when first called, in the act of "casting their net into the sea, for they were fishers," the same symbolic reference was made to their secular occupation: "Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men" ( Matthew 4:18 Matthew 4:19 ). Here, then, if but the same symbolic reference be kept in view, the design of the whole scene will, we think, be clear. The multitude and the size of the fishes they caught symbolically foreshadowed the vast success of their now fast approaching ministry, and this only as a beginning of successive draughts, through the agency of a Christian ministry, till, "as the waters cover the sea, the earth should be full of the knowledge of the Lord." And whereas, at the first miraculous draught, the net "was breaking" through the weight of what it contained--expressive of the difficulty with which, after they had 'caught men,' they would be able to retain, or keep them from escaping back into the world--while here, "for all they were so many, yet was not the net broken," are we not reminded of such sayings as these ( John 10:28 ): "I give unto My sheep eternal life, and they shall never perish, neither shall any pluck them out of My hand" [LUTHARDT]? But it is not through the agency of a Christian ministry that all true disciples are gathered. Jesus Himself, by unseen methods, gathers some, who afterwards are recognized by the constituted fishers of men, and mingle with the fruit of their labors. And are not these symbolized by that portion of our Galilean repast which the fishers found, in some unseen way, made ready to their hand?
12-14. none . . . durst ask him, Who art thou, knowing it was the Lord--implying that they would have liked Him just to say, "It is I"; but having such convincing evidence they were afraid of being "upbraided for their unbelief and hardness of heart" if they ventured to put the question.
13. Jesus . . . taketh bread--the bread.
and giveth them, and the fish
14. This is the third time that Jesus showed himself--was manifested.
to his disciples--His assembled disciples; for if we reckon His appearances to individual disciples, they were more.
15-17. when they had dined, Jesus saith--Silence appears to have reigned during the meal; unbroken on His part, that by their mute observation of Him they might have their assurance of His identity the more confirmed; and on theirs, from reverential shrinking to speak till He did.
Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these?--referring lovingly to those sad words of Peter, shortly before denying his Lord, "Though all men shall be offended because of Thee, yet will I never be offended" ( Matthew 26:33 ), and intending by this allusion to bring the whole scene vividly before his mind and put him to shame.
Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee--He adds not, "more than these," but prefixes a touching appeal to the Saviour's own omniscience for the truth of his protestation, which makes it a totally different kind of speech from his former.
He saith unto him, Feed my lambs--It is surely wrong to view this term as a mere diminutive of affection, and as meaning the same thing as "the sheep" [WEBSTER and WILKINSON]. It is much more according to usage to understand by the "lambs," young and tender disciples, whether in age or Christian standing ( Isaiah 40:11 , 1 John 2:12 1 John 2:13 ), and by the "sheep" the more mature. Shall we say (with many) that Peter was here reinstated in office? Not exactly, since he was not actually excluded from it. But after such conduct as his, the deep wound which the honor of Christ had received, the stain brought on his office, the damage done to his high standing among his brethren, and even his own comfort, in prospect of the great work before him, required some such renewal of his call and re-establishment of his position as this.
16. He saith to him . . . the second time . . . lovest thou me, &c.--In this repetition of the question, though the wound was meant to be reopened, the words "more than these" are not repeated; for Christ is a tender as well as skilful Physician, and Peter's silence on that point was confession enough of his sin and folly. On Peter's repeating his protestation in the same words, our Lord rises higher in the manifestation of His restoring grace.
my sheep--It has been observed that the word here is studiously changed, from one signifying simply to feed, to one signifying to tend as a shepherd, denoting the abiding exercise of that vocation, and in its highest functions.
17. He saith unto him the third time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? Peter was grieved because he said the third time, &c.--This was the Physician's deepest incision into the wound, while yet smarting under the two former probings. Not till now would Peter discern the object of this succession of thrusts. The third time reveals it all, bringing up such a rush of dreadful recollections before his view, of his "thrice denying that he knew Him," that he feels it to the quick. It was fitting that he should; it was meant that he should. But this accomplished, the painful dialogue concludes with a delightful "Feed My sheep"; as if He should say, "Now, Simon, the last speck of the cloud which overhung thee since that night of nights is dispelled: Henceforth thou art to Me and to My work as if no such scene had ever happened."
18, 19. When thou wast young--embracing the whole period of life to the verge of old age.
thou girdedst thyself, and walkedst whither thou wouldest--wast thine own master.
when . . . old thou shalt stretch forth thine hands--to be bound for execution, though not necessarily meaning on a cross. There is no reason, however, to doubt the very early tradition that Peter's death was by crucifixion.
19. This spake he, signifying by what death he should glorify God--not, therefore, a mere prediction of the manner of his death, but of the honor to be conferred upon him by dying for his Master. And, indeed, beyond doubt, this prediction was intended to follow up his triple restoration:--"Yes, Simon, thou shall not only feed My lambs, and feed My sheep, but after a long career of such service, shalt be counted worthy to die for the name of the Lord Jesus."
And when he had spoken this, he saith unto him, Follow me--By thus connecting the utterance of this prediction with the invitation to follow Him, the Evangelist would indicate the deeper sense in which the call was understood, not merely to go along with Him at that moment, but to come after Him, "taking up his cross."
20, 21. Peter, turning about--showing that he followed immediately as directed.
seeth the disciple whom Jesus loved following; which also leaned on Jesus' breast at supper, and said, Lord, which is he that betrayeth thee?--The Evangelist makes these allusions to the peculiar familiarity to which he had been admitted on the most memorable of all occasions, perhaps lovingly to account for Peter's somewhat forward question about him to Jesus; which is the rather probable, as it was at Peter's suggestion that he put the question about the traitor which he here recalls ( John 13:24 John 13:25 ).
21. Peter . . . saith to Jesus, Lord, and what shall this man do?--What of this man? or, How shall it fare with him?
22, 23. Jesus saith to him, If I will that he tarry fill I come, what is that to thee? follow thou me--From the fact that John alone of the Twelve survived the destruction of Jerusalem, and so witnessed the commencement of that series of events which belongs to "the last days," many good interpreters think that this is a virtual prediction of fact, and not a mere supposition. But this is very doubtful, and it seems more natural to consider our Lord as intending to give no positive indication of John's fate at all, but to signify that this was a matter which belonged to the Master of both, who would disclose or conceal it as He thought proper, and that Peter's part was to mind his own affairs. Accordingly, in "follow thou Me," the word "thou" is emphatic. Observe the absolute disposal of human life which Christ claims: "If I will that he tarry till I come," &c.
23. Then went this saying abroad among the brethren, that that disciple should not die--into which they the more easily fell from the prevalent expectation that Christ's second coming was then near at hand.
yet Jesus said not unto him, He shall not die--The Evangelist is jealous for His Master's honor, which his death might be thought to compromise if such a misunderstanding should not be corrected.
John 21:24, 25 John 25 . FINAL CLOSE OF THIS GOSPEL.
24. This is the disciple which testifieth of these things, and wrote these things--thus identifying the author of this book with all that it says of this disciple.
we know that his testimony is true--(Compare John 19:35 ).
25. And there are many other things which Jesus did--(Compare John 20:30 John 20:31 ).
if . . . written every one, I suppose--an expression used to show that what follows is not to be pressed too far.
even the world itself would not hold the books, &c.--not a mere hyperbolical expression, unlike the sublime simplicity of this writer, but intended to let his reader know that, even now that he had done, he felt his materials so far from being exhausted, that he was still running over, and could multiply "Gospels" to almost any extent within the strict limits of what "Jesus did." But in the limitation of these matchless histories, in point of number, there is as much of that divine wisdom which has presided over and pervades the living oracles, as in their variety and fulness.