John 21 Study Notes


21:1-25 This epilogue narrates Jesus’s third and final resurrection appearance recorded in this Gospel and contrasts the callings of Peter and “the disciple Jesus loved.”

21:1 With the weeklong Festival of Unleavened Bread now past, the disciples left Jerusalem and returned to Galilee (see note at 20:26; cp. Lk 2:43). On the Sea of Tiberias, see note at 6:1.

21:2 The names of Zebedee’s sons are given in the Synoptic Gospels as James and John (Mt 4:21). Luke mentions that they were “Simon’s partners” (Lk 5:10) in the fishing business before they were called to follow Jesus as disciples (see note at Jn 1:40).

21:3 Night was the preferred time for fishing in ancient times (Lk 5:5). This schedule allowed fish caught at night to be sold fresh in the morning market.

21:4-6 The disciples’ failure to recognize Jesus may have been supernatural (Lk 24:16,37).

21:7-8 The disciple . . . Jesus loved must be one of the seven mentioned in v. 2, which included Zebedee’s sons, and was almost certainly John the son of Zebedee, author of this Gospel (see note at v. 24).

21:9 On the charcoal fire, see note at 18:18.

21:10-11 Various attempts have been made to interpret the number 153 symbolically, but most likely it simply represents the actual number of fish. Large numbers elsewhere in John are meant literally as well (2:6; 12:3).

21:12-13 By taking the bread and fish and giving them to his disciples, Jesus acted as a Jewish host pronouncing the blessing at a meal (6:11,23).

21:14 This verse forms an inclusio with 21:1 and marks off 21:1-14 as a unit.

21:15 On Simon, son of John, see note at 1:42. Jesus’s question do you love me more than these? probably meant, “Do you love me more than these disciples do?” rather than, “Do you love me more than these fish [i.e., his profession]?” or “Do you love me more than you love these men?” though each of the three meanings is possible.

21:15-17 Peter had denied Jesus three times (18:15-18,25-27); now Jesus asked him three times to reaffirm his love for him before recommissioning him for gospel service.

21:18 Stretch out your hands refers to crucifixion, where a person’s hands and arms are spread out and nailed to the crossbeam. Tradition says Peter chose to be crucified upside down because he felt himself unworthy of dying in the same exact manner as Jesus.

21:19 The reference to indicate by what kind of death Peter would glorify God echoes the reference “to indicate what kind of death he [Jesus] was about to die” in 12:33. This verse therefore establishes a connection between the deaths of Jesus and Peter. As God’s Lamb, Jesus died for the sins of the world (1:29,36); Peter died a martyr’s death, giving his life as a witness to his faith in Jesus.

21:20 On the disciple Jesus loved, see note at 13:23.

21:21-23 Like the final chapter of Matthew, the closing verses of John’s Gospel dispel a rumor. Matthew denied that Jesus’s disciples stole his body (Mt 28:11-15; cp. Mt 27:62-66) while John sought to lay to rest the rumor that Christ had promised to return during John’s lifetime.


Greek pronunciation [fihl EH oh]
CSB translation love
Uses in John’s Gospel 13
Uses in the NT 25
Focus passage John 21:15-17

Although agapao (verb) and agapÄ“ (noun) are commonly known as the Greek words for love, the verb phileo can be used in the same way. The phileo word family has more than thirty terms in the NT, including philos (friend), philadelphia (brotherly love), and philÄ“ma (kiss). But phileo is also used to describe the Father’s love for the Son (Jn 5:20), the Father’s love for believers (Jn 16:27), Jesus’s love for believers (Jn 11:3; 20:2; Rv 3:19), and believers’ love for the Lord (1Co 16:22) and for each other (Ti 3:15). Both agapao (Jn 13:23; 19:26; 21:7,20) and phileo (Jn 20:2) are used to describe “the disciple Jesus loved,” and the meaning is the same. Thus it is better not to make a sharp distinction in Jn 21:15-17 between agapao (Jesus’s term in vv. 15-16) and phileo (Jesus’s term in v. 17 and all three times by Peter). Peter’s threefold confession of his love for Jesus, which corresponds to his earlier threefold denial of Jesus, should not be understood as a secondary form of love.

21:24 This is the disciple is a third-person authorial self-reference. Again, this is “the disciple Jesus loved” (cp. v. 7; see note at 13:23), one of the Twelve (cp. 21:20), John the son of Zebedee, the apostle John, who referred to himself by the epithet “the beloved disciple.” We know represents an instance of the authorial “we,” by which the author included himself along with his audience.

21:25 John acknowledges that he had to be selective, choosing from a vast amount of material about Jesus (specifically, the “signs”; cp. 20:30-31).