IX. Epilogue (John 21:1-25)
IX. Epilogue (21:1-25)
21:1-3 In the final chapter, John describes how Jesus revealed himself again to his disciples by the Sea of Tiberias (21:1), another name for the Sea of Galilee. Seven of the disciples were together: Simon Peter, Thomas, Nathanael, Zebedee’s sons (James and John), and two others (21:2). Simon Peter told them, I’m going fishing. He had a family to support, and he was still reeling from his denial of the Lord. They joined him for an all-night fishing expedition but caught nothing (21:3). Before Jesus had called them, Peter and the Zebedee brothers had been fishermen. With Jesus gone, Peter returned to his old line of work. But he was proving to be unsuccessful.
21:4-6 Jesus was standing on the shore, but they didn’t recognize him because it was only daybreak and they were still some distance away. He called to them to cast the net on the right side of the boat, and they caught so many fish that they were unable to haul them (21:4-6).
Peter had been a fisherman all his life. Nevertheless, he had failed without the Lord’s enablement—something that Jesus had shown him previously (see Luke 5:4-11). Peter was not ultimately self-sufficient but entirely dependent on God, even to accomplish work that had been his whole life. As Jesus told his disciples, “You can do nothing without me” (15:5).
21:7-8 This miraculous catch of fish opened the eyes of John, the disciple whom Jesus loved. When he said, It is the Lord!, Peter plunged into the sea and headed for shore (21:7). The impetuous disciple couldn’t wait. Then the rest of the disciples followed, dragging the net full of fish behind them (21:8).
21:9-11 When they arrived on the beach, they saw that Jesus had cooked a breakfast of fish and bread on a charcoal fire (21:9). The Greek word for “charcoal fire” appears two times in John’s Gospel: here and at 18:18, when Peter was warming himself by another such blaze. On that occasion, Peter had denied three times that he knew Jesus. Thus, the Lord was reminding Peter of his recent past. We can be certain of this because of the conversation that follows in 21:15-19. Peter never forgot this meal; he even mentioned it in his preaching (see Acts 10:41).
21:12-14 Jesus invited them to join him for breakfast. John tells us that the disciples didn’t ask, Who are you? They all recognized that this was their risen Lord (21:12). This was now the third time Jesus appeared to his disciples after he was raised from the dead (21:14). John describes the first time in 20:19-23 and the second in 20:24-29. The resurrection of Jesus Christ was neither a fairytale nor a hallucination. He “presented himself alive to [his disciples] by many convincing proofs . . . over a period of forty days” (Acts 1:3). As Jesus himself told them, “It is I myself! Touch me and see, because a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you can see I have” (Luke 24:39).
21:15 After breakfast, Jesus had a talk with Simon Peter. He asked him, Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?—that is, “more than these other disciples do?” Why would Jesus ask this? Because when he had predicted that the disciples would fall away, Peter had vowed, “Even if everyone falls away because of you, I will never fall away” (Matt 26:31-33). Peter had wanted Jesus to know that though the devotion of the other disciples might waver, he could count on Peter remaining steadfast. He would be the one disciple that Jesus could trust. But here, after Peter had shamefully denied Jesus three times, Jesus basically asked Peter, “Are you still the most committed disciple?”
Yes, Lord . . . you know that I love you. When Jesus asked Peter if he loved him, the Greek verb used is agapao, often used to describe self-sacrificial love. But when Peter affirmed his love for Jesus, the Greek verb is phileo, a brotherly kind of love and affection—a love between good friends. Previously, Peter had claimed that his love for and commitment to Jesus was superior to that of the others. But after his failure and denial, he wasn’t willing to arrogantly say that he loved Jesus with a sacrificial love. In light of this humble response, Jesus told him, Feed my lambs. In other words, “Since you’re not thinking so highly of yourself anymore, I can use you to lead and care for my people.”
21:16-17 A second time, Jesus asked, Simon, son of John, do you love me? (using agapao). Peter responded again, Yes, Lord . . . you know that I love you (using phileo). And again Jesus commanded him to look after his people: Shepherd my sheep (21:16). Then, for a third time, Jesus asked, Simon, son of John, do you love me? This time the verb is phileo. So, seeing Peter humbled, Jesus came down to Peter’s level and met him where he was. Peter was grieved. His three denials of his Lord had now been matched by a question from his Lord repeated three times: “Do you love me?” It broke Peter’s heart. All he could do was say, Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you (21:17).
When Peter was proudly self-assured about his ability to stand fast at a critical moment, Jesus knew that he would actually crack under pressure (see 13:37-38). He knew Peter’s heart better than Peter did. The grieving disciple understood that now. And since Jesus knew all things, Peter was convinced that Jesus also knew that Peter loved him in spite of his prior failure.
Again, Jesus told him, Feed my sheep. Thus, Jesus was restoring his humbled disciple to ministry. Peter’s repentance allowed for restoration. Though Peter had previously thought highly of himself, he had come to adopt Jesus’s view of leadership in ministry. Peter understood that being a leader of God’s people is not about arrogantly exercising power. Therefore, he could later write to other church leaders, “Shepherd God’s flock among you . . . not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock” (1 Pet 5:2-3). Peter had taken to heart Jesus’s command, “Shepherd my sheep.” Sometimes God lets his people fail in order to develop them spiritually and prepare them for greater usefulness (see Luke 22:31-32).
21:18-19 After this restoration, Jesus prophesied about Peter’s future: When you grow old, you will stretch out your hands and someone else will tie you and carry you where you don’t want to go (21:18). John explains Jesus’s mysterious prophecy: He said this to indicate by what kind of death Peter would glorify God. According to tradition passed down in the early church, Peter was martyred in Rome under Emperor Nero for his faith in Jesus Christ: he was crucified upside down. In spite of what was to come, Jesus urged Peter, Follow me (21:19). And the New Testament shows that Peter did indeed humbly follow his Lord and devote himself to gospel ministry. Are you prepared to follow Jesus in good times and bad, at whatever the cost?
21:20-22 Peter turned around and saw John, the disciple Jesus loved (see the introduction) following them (21:20). So Peter asked Jesus, What about him? (21:21). Peter accepted that he had a martyr’s death awaiting him, but he wanted to know what Jesus’s plans were for John. Jesus’s response was short and to the point: If I want him to remain until I come . . . what is that to you? As for you, follow me (21:22). So in essence, Jesus said, “That’s none of your business, Peter. If I want him to remain alive until my second coming, what difference does that make to you? You worry about yourself, and follow me.”
God has a general will for all of his people. This is expressed in his biblical commands for all of his followers. But he also has a specific will for each individual Christian. Jesus graciously revealed to Peter his will for him. But he wasn’t about to tell Peter his specific will for John.
We are called to follow Jesus corporately as the church and personally as individuals. Each of us is to have a personal relationship with God through Jesus and seek to discern how he wants us to serve and glorify him. You are not to use God’s specific will for you to measure anyone else, nor are you to take his specific will for another and use it to measure your own circumstances. We are not to sit as judges regarding how God chooses to use other believers.
21:23 As a result of Jesus saying this, rumor spread . . . that this disciple would not die. But this was a misinterpretation. Jesus was being hyperbolic in order to make a point. He wasn’t saying that John would remain alive until his second coming. He was simply saying, “Whatever my specific will is for John, it doesn’t concern you.” We must read and interpret the Bible carefully. Poor interpretation leads to erroneous conclusions!
21:24-25 This disciple—the one Jesus loved—is the one who testifies to these things and who wrote them down. The Gospel of the apostle John, then, is based on his eyewitness testimony. And we know that his testimony is true (21:24). But this Gospel contains only a small sample of what Jesus did and taught. There are also many other things that could have been written. If every one of them were written down, I suppose not even the world itself could contain the books that would be written (21:25).
The apostle John has only given us a highlight reel! But God providentially determined that what we have in Scripture is enough. You don’t need to know everything that Jesus did and said. But, John says, you do need to “believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (20:31). Amen.