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Exposition of the Gospel of John
Christ by the Sea of Tiberias
The following is an Analysis of our present passage:
1. Christ’s third appearing to the apostles, verses 1, 14.
2. The seven on the sea, verses 2, 3.
3. Their dulness and emptiness, verses 4, 5.
4. The miracle of the fishes, verse 6.
5. John’s recognition and Peter’s response, verse 7.
6. The landing of the six, verses 8, 9.
7. Christ’s welcome, verses 10-13.
The opening verses of this Gospel are in the nature of a Prologue, so the closing chapter is more or less an Epilogue. In the former, the Holy Spirit has set forth what Christ was before He came forth from the Father; in the latter He has shown, in mystical guise, how He now rules the world after His return to the Father. "The prologue is intended to exhibit the external life of Christ as it preceded His manifestation in the world; the epilogue appears to have for its scope, to exhibit His spiritual sway in the world as it would continue after He had left it" (Lange). All here has a profound significance. The disciples are on the sea; the Lord, no longer with them, directs from the shore, manifesting His power by working with them in their seemingly lonesome toil, and exhibiting His love in providing food for them. Then the charge is left to "feed his sheep." His final word was a reference to His coming again.
The varied details of chapter 21 supply a most instructive and marvelously complete lesson on service. In the previous chapter we have seen the Savior establishing the hearts of the apostles by His word of "Peace," endowing them with the Holy Spirit, and then commissioning them to proclaim remission of sins. Here we have, in symbolic form, the apostles engaged in active ministry. The order is most suggestive. What we receive from the Lord Jesus is to be used for the good of others. Freely we have received, freely we are now to give. The key to the practical significance of the scene here portrayed lies in the almost identical circumstances when the apostles received their first ministerial call Luke 5:0 .
The chapter as a whole falls into seven parts as we analyze it from the viewpoint of its teaching on service. First, we see men serving in the energy of the flesh (John 21:2 , John 21:3 ). Peter says, "I go a fishing." He had received no call from God to do so. His action illustrates self-will, and the response of the other six men acting under human leadership. Second, we are shown the barrenness of such efforts (John 21:3-5 ). They toiled all night, but caught nothing, and when the Lord asked if they had any meat, they had to answer, No. Third, the Lord now directs their energies, telling them where to work (John 21:6 ): the result was that the net was filled with fishes. Fourth, we learn of the Lord’s gracious provision for His servants (John 21:12 , John 21:13 ): He had provided for them, and invites them to eat. Fifth, we are taught what is the only acceptable motive for service love to Christ (John 21:15 , John 21:17 ). Sixth, the Lord makes known how that He appoints the time and manner of the death of those of His servants who die (John 21:18 , John 21:19 ). Seventh, the Lord concludes by leaving with them the prospect of His return; not for death, but for Himself they should look (John 21:20 , John 21:24 ).
The miracle in John 21:0 stands alone: it is the only recorded one which Christ wrought after His resurrection, and most fittingly is it the last narrated in this Gospel. Its striking resemblance to the first miracle which some of these disciples had witnessed (Luke 5:1-11 ) must have brought to their remembrance the very similar circumstances under which they had been called by Christ to leave their occupation as fishermen and become fishers of men. Thus they would be led to interpret this present "sign" by the past one, and see in it a renewed summons to their work of catching men, and a renewed assurance that their labor in the Lord would not be in vain. Suitably was it the last miracle which they witnessed at the hands of their Master, for it supplied a symbol which would continually animate them to and in their service for Him. It was designed to assure them that just as He had prospered their efforts while He was with them in the flesh, so they could count on His guidance, power, and blessing when He was absent from them.
This final miracle of the Savior was performed in Galilee, so also was His first (i.e., the turning of the water into wine), and it seems clear that the Holy Spirit would have us use the law of comparison and contrast again. The author of "The Companion Bible" has called attention to quite a number of striking correspondences between the two miracles: we mention a few, leaving the interested reader to work out the others for himself. In both miracles there is a striking background: in the one we have the confession of Nathanael (John 1:49 ); in the other, the confession of Thomas (John 20:28 ). The first miracle was on "the third day" (John 2:1 ); the latter was "the third time" the Lord showed Himself to the apostles (John 21:14 ). The one was occasioned by them having "no wine" (John 2:3 ); the other, by them having no fish (John 21:3 , John 21:5 ). In both the Lord uttered a command: "Fill the waterpots" (John 2:7 ); "Cast the net" (John 21:6 ). In both Christ furnished a bountiful supply: the water pots were "filled to the brim (John 2:7 ); the net full of great fishes (John 21:11 ). In both a number is mentioned: "six waterpots" (John 2:6 ); "one hundred and fifty and three fishes" (John 21:11 ). In both Christ manifested His Deity (John 2:11 ; John 21:12 , John 21:14 ). How much we lose by not carefully comparing scripture with scripture!
"After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples at the sea of Tiber, as; and on this wise showed he" (John 21:1 ). "After these things" always marks off a distinct section in John’s writings. The earlier appearances of the risen Savior were in view of the then condition and need of the apostles to establish their faith and assure their hearts. But here, what the Lord did and said, had a prophetic significance, anticipating and picturing His future relations to them.
"Jesus showed himself," not presenting Himself, but manifested His presence, power, and glory. It was not simply that the disciples saw him, but that he revealed Himself. "His body after the resurrection was only visible by a distinct act of His will. From that time the disciples did not, as before, see Jesus, but He appeared unto them. It is not for nothing that the language is changed. Henceforth, He was to be recognized not by the flesh, but by the spirit; not by human faculties, but by Divine perceptions: His disciples were to walk by faith, and not by sight" (Chrysostom). When we are told in Acts 1:3 that the Lord Jesus was "seen of them forty days," it does not mean that the Lord was corporeally present with them throughout this period, nor that He was seen by them each day. He was visible and invisible, appeared in one form or another, according to His own pleasure.
"At the sea of Tiberias." In John 6:1 we read, "The sea of Galilee, which is the sea of Tiberias," the latter being its Roman name. In Matthew 28:10 we learn that the risen Savior had said to the women at the sepulcher, "Go tell my brethren that they go into Galilee, and there shall they see me." This, then, explains the presence of the seven disciples here in Galilee. Where the other four were, and why they had not yet arrived, we do not know. But it seems clear that these seven had no business there at the sea, for Matthew 28:16 distinctly says, "The eleven disciples went away into Galilee, into a mountain where Jesus had appointed them." It looks very much as though Peter was restless, and while waiting the coming of the other apostles he said, "I go a fishing" to the last we see his energetic nature at work. Others have suggested that the reason they went a fishing was in order that they might obtain food for a meal, and possibly this did supply an additional motive cf. John 21:12 .
"There were together Simon Peter, and Thomas called Didymus, and Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, and the sons of Zebedee, and two other of his disciples" (John 21:2 ). Peter being mentioned first intimates that the enumeration here is the order of grace. "Thomas" occupying the second place in the list is a further indication of this. The removal of his doubts had restored the Eleven to unity of faith, and prepared them for mutual fellowship again. "There were together Simon Peter and Thomas," which is a beautiful contrast from John 20:24 "But Thomas was not with them!" Thomas is named next to Peter, as if he now kept closer to the meetings of the apostles than ever. "It is well if losses by our neglect make us more careful afterwards not to let opportunities slip" (Matthew Henry). Of "Nathanael" we read elsewhere only in John 1:45-51 : probably he is the "Bartholomew" of Matthew 10:3 . Next come the "sons of Zebedee," emphasizing their fishermen-character. This is the only place where John does not refer to himself as "the disciple whom Jesus loved": the absence of this expression here being in full accord with the fact that it is the order of grace which is before us. Who the other two disciples were we are not told.
"Simon Peter saith unto them, I go a fishing. They say unto him, We also go with thee. They went forth and entered into a ship immediately; and that night they caught nothing" (John 21:3 ). That Peter is here seen taking the lead is in full accord with what we read elsewhere of his impulsive and impetuous nature. Most of the commentators consider that the disciples were fully justified in acting as they did on this occasion. But the Lord had not given them orders to fish for any but men. It seems to us, therefore, that they were acting according to the promptings of nature. The fact that it was night-time also suggests that they were not walking as children of light. Nor did the Lord appear to them during that night: they were left to themselves! The further fact that they "caught nothing" is at least a warning hint that servants of the Lord cannot count on His blessing when they choose the time and place of their labors, and when they run, unsent. These beloved disciples had to be taught in their own experience, as we all have to be, the truth which the Lord had enunciated just before His death "Without me, ye can do nothing" (John 15:5 ); not, a little, but nothing! The further fact that we are told, "They went forth, and entered into a ship immediately" as soon as Peter had said, "I go a fishing," instead of first looking to God for guidance, or weighing what Peter had said, supplies further evidence that the whole company was acting in the energy of the flesh a solemn warning for each of God’s servants to wait on the Lord for their instructions instead of taking them from a human leader!
"But when the morning was now come, Jesus stood on the shore: but the disciples knew not that it was Jesus" (John 21:4 ). The "But" here adds further confirmation to what we have said above on John 21:3 . That these disciples now failed to recognize the Savior indicates that their spiritual faculties were not then in exercise. It seems evident that they were not expecting Him. And how often He draws near to us and we know it not! And how often our acting in the energy of the flesh and following the example of human leaders is the cause of this! In the Greek, the dosing words of this verse are identical with those found at the end of John 20:14 : "and [Mary] knew not that it was Jesus." She was immersed in sorrow, occupied with death, and she recognized not the Savior. These men had returned to their worldly calling, and were occupied with their bodily needs and recognized Him not. Surely these things are written for our learning!
"Then Jesus saith unto them, Children, have ye any meat? They answered him, No" (John 21:5 ). Our Lord’s form of address here is also searchingly suggestive. He did not use the term of endearment employed in John 13:33 , "Little children," but employed the more general form of salutation, which the margin renders "Sirs." He spoke not according to the intimacies of love, but as from a distance a further hint from the Spirit as to how we are to interpret John 21:2 , John 21:3 . But why did He ask: "Have ye any meat?" He knew, of course, that they had none; what, then, was the purpose of His enquiry? Was it not designed to draw from them a confession of their failure, ere He met their need? And is not this ever His way with His own? Before He furnishes the abundant supply, we must first be made conscious of our emptiness. Before He gives strength, we must be made to feel our weakness. Slow, painfully slow, are we to learn this lesson; and slower still to own our nothingness and take the place of helplessness before the Mighty One. The disciples on the sea picture us, here in this world; the Savior on the shore (whither we are bound) Christ in Heaven. How blessed, then, to behold Him occupied with us below, and speaking to us from "the shore!" It was not the disciples who addressed the Lord, but He who spoke to them!
"And He said unto them, Cast the net on the right side of the ship, and ye shall find" (John 21:6 ). How this evidences the Deity of the One here speaking to these disciples! He knew on which side of the ship the net should be cast. But more, did it not show them, and us, that He is sovereign of the sea? These men had fished all their lives, yet had they toiled throughout that night and taken nothing. But here was the Lord telling them to cast their net but once, and assuring them they should find. Was it not He, by His invisible power, that drew the fishes into their net! And what a striking line is this picture of Christian service. How He tells the servants that success in their ministry is due not to their eloquence, their power of persuasion, or their any thing, but due alone to His sovereign drawing-power. A most blessed foreshadowment did the Savior here give the apostles of the Divine blessing which should rest upon their labors for Him. In full and striking accord with this was the fact that the Lord bade them "Cast the net on the right side of the ship" cf. Matthew 25:34 : "Then shall the king say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world!"
"They cast, therefore, and now they were not able to draw it for the multitude of fishes" (John 21:6 ). This is very striking. The Lord was a hundred yards away from them (John 21:8 ), yet they heard plainly what He said. Again: He was, so far as their recognition of Him at the moment, an entire stranger to them. Moreover, notwithstanding the fact that they had fished all night and caught nothing, and had already drawn up the net into the boat, as being useless to prolong their efforts; nevertheless, they now promptly cast it into the sea again. How strikingly this demonstrated once more the power of the Word in making them hear His voice, in overcoming whatever scruples they may have had, in moving their hearts to prompt obedience. Verily, "all power in heaven and in earth" is His. In the abundant intake the disciples were taught that in "keeping his commandments there is great reward" (Psalms 19:11 ). And what a lesson for those who seek to serve: His it is to issue orders, ours to obey unmurmuringly, unquestioningly, promptly.
"Therefore that disciple whom Jesus loved saith unto Peter, It is the Lord" (John 21:7 ). This is in perfect keeping with what we read elsewhere about John the most devoted of the apostles, he possessed the most spiritual discernment. He was the one who leaned on the Master’s breast at the supper, and to whom the Lord communicated the secret of the betrayer’s identity (John 13:23-26 ). He was the one that was nearest to the cross, and to whose care the Savior committed His mother (John 19:26 , John 19:27 ). He it was who was the first of the Eleven to perceive that the Lord had risen from the dead (John 20:8 ). So here, he was the first of the seven to identify the One on the shore. How perfectly harmonious are the Scriptures! "The tenderest love has the first and surest instincts of the object beloved" (Stier). And what a lesson is here again for the Lord’s servants: when He grants success to our labors, when the Gospel-net in our hands gathers fishes, let us not forget to own "It is the Lord!" To how much more may and should this principle be applied. As we admire the beauties of nature, as we observe the orderliness of her laws, as we receive countless mercies and blessings every day, let us say "It is the Lord!" So, too, when our plans go awry, when disappointment, affliction, persecution comes our way, still let us own "It is the Lord!" It is not blind chance which rules our lives, but the One who died for us on the cross.
"Now when Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he girt his fisher’s coat unto him (for he was naked) and did cast himself into the sea" (John 21:7 ). This was in full keeping with Peter’s character: if John was the first to recognize Christ, Peter was the first to act! Nor do we believe that it was mere impulsiveness which prompted him his collectedness in first girding himself with the outer garment makes decisively against such a superficial conclusion. Peter, too, was devoted to Christ, deeply so, and it was love which here made him impatient to reach Christ. Peter’s action makes us recall that night on the stormy sea when the Savior walked on the waves toward the ship in which the disciples were. Peter it was, then, who said unto the Lord, "Bid me come unto thee on the water" (Matthew 14:28 ), for he could not wait for his Beloved to reach him. Beautiful it is now to observe that there was no reserve about Peter. In the interval between Matthew 14:0 and John 21:0 , he had basely denied his Master; but in the interval, too, and after the denial, he had heard His "Peace be unto you," and, plainly, this reassuring word had been treasured up in his heart. Observe that Peter left the net full of fishes for Christ, like the Samaritan woman who left her waterpot. The "girding" of himself evidences the deep reverence in which he held the Savior!
"And the other disciples came in a little ship (for they were not far from the land, but as it were two hundred cubits) dragging the net with fishes" (John 21:8 ). Love does not act uniformly; it expresses itself differently, through various temperaments. John did not jump out of the ship, though he was equally devoted as Peter, nor did the other five. The six remained in the skiff or punt which usually accompanied the large fishing vessels, so as to draw the net full of fishes safely to land; illustrating the fact that faithful evangelists will not desert those who have been saved under their preaching, but will labor with them, care for them, and do all in their power to ensure their safely reaching the shore. The parenthetical remark seems to be brought in here to emphasize the miraculous character of this catch of fish, and to teach us that sometimes converts to Christ will be found in the most unlikely places the net was cast close in to the shore!
"As soon then as they were come to land, they saw a fire of coals there, and fish laid thereon, and bread" (John 21:9 ). This is most blessed. It illustrates once more the precious truth that Jesus Christ is "the same yesterday, and to-day and forever." Even in His resurrection-glory He was not unmindful of their physical needs. Ever thoughtful, ever compassionate for His own, the Savior here showed His toiling disciples that He cared for their bodies as well as their souls: "For he knoweth our frame; he remembereth that we are dust" (Psalms 103:14 ). We doubt not that this provision of His was miraculously produced: the fire, the fish on it, and the bread by its side, were the creations of Him who has but to will a thing and it is done. It is surely significant that the food which Christ here provided for the disciples was of the same variety as that with which He had fed the hungry multitude close by the same sea. The fish and the bread would doubtless recall the earlier miracle to the minds of the apostles.
"They saw a fire of coals there, and fish laid thereon, and bread." What is the deeper significance of this? First, it tells us of the Lord’s care for His servants, and is the concrete pledge that He will supply all their need. Second, the Lord has left us an example to follow: if the Son of God condescended to spread this table for His children after their night of toil, let us not think it beneath us to take loving forethought whenever we have the opportunity of ministering to the physical comfort of His servants: even a cup of water given in His name will yet be rewarded. Third, it signifies that in the midst of laboring for others, our own souls need warming and feeding a lesson which many a servant of God has failed to heed. Fourth, the fact that there were fish already on the fire before the disciples drew their full net to land, intimates that the Lord is not restricted to the labors of His servants, but that He can and does save souls altogether apart from human instrumentality another thing we need to take to heart these days when man is so much magnified. Finally, does not this gracious provision of Christ forecast the refreshment and satisfaction which will be ours when our toiling on the troublous sea of this world shall be ended, and we are safely landed on the Heavenly shore!
"Jesus saith unto them, Bring of the fish which ye have now caught" (John 21:10 ). "In this verse our Lord calls on the disciples to bring proof that, in casting the net at His command, they had not labored in vain. It was the second word that He spake to them, we must remember, on this occasion. The first saying was, ‘Cast the net on the right side of the ship, and ye shall find.’ The second saying was, ‘Bring of the fish which ye have now caught,’ with a strong emphasis on the word ‘now.’ I believe our Lord’s object was to show the disciples that the secret of success was to work at His command, and to act with implicit obedience to His word. It is as though He had said, ‘Draw up the net, and see for yourselves how profitable it is to do what I tell you.’ Fish for food they did not want now, for it was provided for them. Proof of the power of Christ’s blessing, and the importance of working under Him was the lesson to be taught, and as they drew up the net they would learn it" (Bishop Ryle). This also is in full accord with the fact that the practical teaching of this chapter is instruction upon service.
"Bring of the fish which ye have now caught." Is there not also a spiritual hint in this verse? The "fish" symbolize the souls which the Lord enables His servants to gather in. In bidding them bring of the fish to Him, He intimated they would have fellowship together, not only in laboring, but also in enjoying the fruits of it! It reminds us of His words in John 4:36 : "He that reapeth receiveth wages, and gathereth fruit unto life eternal: that both he that soweth and he that reapeth may rejoice together." The Lord delights in sharing His joy with us. Beautifully is this brought out again in Luke 15:6 : "When he cometh home, he calleth together his friends and neighbors, saying unto them, Rejoice with me; for I have found my sheep which was lost." How marvelous the grace which here said to the disciples: "Bring of the fish which ye have now caught?
"Simon Peter went up 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" (John 21:11 ). Peter drew the net to land: how remarkable is this in view of what is said in John 21:6 : "They were not able to draw it for the multitude of fishes." Surely this points another important lesson in connection with service. What six men had been unable to do in their own strength, one man now did when he went to his work from the feet of Christ! Peter was weaker than gossamer thread when he followed his Lord afar off; but in His presence, a sevenfold power came upon him! A similar example is found in Judges 6:14 : "The Lord looked upon him [Gideon] and said, Go in this thy might." The place of strength is still at the feet of the Savior, and strength will be imparted exactly in proportion as we are in conscious fellowship with Him and drawing from His infinite fullness. "He giveth power to the faint; and to them that have no might he increaseth strength. Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fail; but they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint" (Isaiah 40:29-31 ). How much each of us need to heed that word, "Wait on the Lord, be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart; wait, I say, on the Lord" (Psalms 27:14 ). How lamentable, and how humbling, that we are so slow to avail ourselves of the unfailing strength which is to be found in Him; found for the feeblest who will wait on Him in simple faith and earnest entreaty.
"Simon Peter went up, 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." There are two details here upon which the ingenuity of many have been freely exercised: the number of the fish, and the not breaking of the net. There is little room to doubt that Peter would recall the miraculous draught of fishes on a former occasion, when the net did break (Luke 5:0 ). On that occasion the miracle was followed by the Lord saying unto Simon, "From henceforth thou shalt catch men." There it is the work of the evangelist which is in view, and therefore there is no numbering, tot it is impossible for him to count up those who are saved under his Gospel message. Following this second miraculous draught, the Lord said unto Simon, "Feed my sheep." Here it is the work of the pastor or teacher which is in view, and hence there is numbering, for he ought to be able to determine which are sheep and which are goats. In the former the net breaks, for though many profess to believe the Gospel, yet few really do so to the saving of their souls. In the latter, the net breaks not, for none of the elect (the "right" side of the ship) shall perish. As for the spiritual meaning of the numbering of the fish here, observe that they were not counted till the end, not in John 21:6 , but in John 21:11 ; not while in the ship, but after "the land" is reached! Not till we come to Heaven shall we know the number of God’s elect!
"Jesus saith unto them, Come and dine" (John 21:12 ). How beautifully this evidenced the fact that He was still the same loving, gracious, condescending One as in the days of His humiliation! The disciples were not kept at a distance. They were invited to draw near, and partake of the provision which His own compassion had supplied. So He still says to the one who responds to His knocking, "I will come in to him and sup with him, and he with me" (Revelation 3:20 ). Here for the last time we hear His blessed and familiar "Come." "Come" not "Go." He did not send them away, but invited them to Himself.
"And none of the disciples durst ask him, Who art thou? knowing that it was the Lord" (John 21:12 ). "This statement is by no means to be understood as implying any doubt, but on the contrary a full persuasion that it was Christ Himself. Yet may we infer from it the change which had passed upon Him, and the awe which possessed them, after His resurrection. He was the same, and yet not the same. There was so much of His former appearance as to preclude doubtfulness; there was so much of change as to prevent all curious and carnal questioning. They sat down to the meal in silence, wondering at, while at the same time they well knew, Him Who was thus their Host" (Mr. G. Brown). It was reverence for Him which suppressed their inquiries.
"Jesus then cometh, and taketh bread, and giveth them, and fish likewise" (John 21:13 ). As Master of the feast, as Head of the family he now dispensed His mercies. But we may observe that no longer does the Lord give thanks before meat with His guests, as formerly He did (John 6:11 ). Then, it was as the perfect Man, the Servant ministering, that He gave thanks to God, with and for and before them all, for what God had given them: but now, as God, He Himself gives, and requires them to recognize Him as the Lord. There, it was His humanity which was the more prominent; here, His Deity. Yet how unspeakably blessed to observe that this One who is now "crowned with glory and honor" was still their Minister, caring for them! Not only was this the emblem of that spiritual fellowship which it is our unspeakable privilege to enjoy with Christ even now, but also the pledge of the future relations which will exist. Even in a coming day "He will ‘gird’ Himself, and make them to sit down to meat, and will come forth and serve them" (Luke 12:37 ). He will yet give us to "eat of the tree of life" (Revelation 2:7 ), and of the "hidden manna" (Revelation 2:17 ).
"This is now the third time that Jesus showed himself to his disciples, after that he was risen from the dead" (John 21:14 ). This does not mean that the Lord made but three appearances in all, but the third that John was led to record: the other two he mentions, are found in chapter 20. It should be remembered that during the "forty days" of Acts 1:0 , which intervened between His resurrection and ascension, Christ did not consort with His disciples as before, but only showed Himself to them occasionally.
It is deeply interesting to compare the record found in Luke 5:0 of the earlier miraculous draught of fishes; there are a number of comparisons and contrasts. Both took place at the sea of Galilee; both were preceded by a night of fruitless toil; both evidenced the supernatural power of Christ; both were followed by a commission to Peter. But in the former, the Lord was in the ship; here, on the shore: in the one the net broke, in the other it did not: the one was at the beginning of Christ’s public ministry; the latter, after His resurrection: in the former, Peter’s commission was to fish for "men"; in the latter, to feed Christ’s "sheep"; in the one the number of fishes is not given; in the latter it is.
The following questions are to aid the student on our final section:
1. Why after "they had dined" did Christ speak, verse 15?
2. Why did Christ ask Peter verse 15?
3. What is the difference between Peter’s three commissions, verses 15, 16, 17?
4. What is meant by grieved, verse 17?
5. Why did Peter turn around, verse 20?
6. What should Christ’s rebuke teach us, verse 22?
7. What is the force of verse 25?
Exposition of the Gospel of John
Christ and Peter
The following is an Analysis of our final section:
1. The threefold question, verses. 15, 17.
2. The threefold reply, verses 15, 17.
3. The threefold commission, verses 15, 17.
4. Christ’s prophecy concerning Peter’s death, verses 18, 19.
5. Peter’s question concerning John, verses 20, 21.
6. Christ’s reply, verses 22, 23.
7. John’s final testimony, verses 24, 25.
The final section of this truly wondrous and most blessed Gospel contains teaching greatly needed by our fickle and feeble hearts. The central figures are the Lord and Simon Peter, and what we have here is the sequel to what was before us in chapter thirteen, the Lord washing the feet of His disciples. There, too, Peter was to the fore, and that because he occupies the position of a representative believer; that is, his fall and the cause of it, his restoration and the means employed for it, illustrate the experiences of the Christian and the provisions which Divine grace has made for him. Before we take this up in detail let us add that, just as in the first part of John 21:0 we have, in symbol, the confirmation of the calling of the Apostles to be fishers of men, so in this second section we have the final establishment of the one to whom the keys of the kingdom were entrusted.
The first thing recorded in connection with Peter’s fall is our Lord’s words to him before it took place: "Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren" (Luke 22:31 , Luke 22:32 ). This is very solemn and very blessed. Solemn is it to observe that the Lord prayed not to keep Peter from failing. In suffering His apostle to fall, the Lord’s mercy comes out most signally, for that fall was necessary in order to reveal to Peter the condition of his heart, to show him the worthlessness of self-confidence, and to humble his proud spirit. The need for Satan’s "sifting" was at once made manifest by the Apostle’s reply, "And he said unto him, Lord, I am ready to go with thee, both into prison, and to death" (Luke 22:33 ). "This is a condition which not only exposes one to a fall, but from which the fall itself may be the only remedy. We have to learn that when we are weak only are we strong; and that Christ’s strength is made perfect in our weakness. Peter’s case is a typical one; and thus it is so valuable for us.
"The Lord Himself, in such a case as this, cannot pray ("cannot" morally do so A.W.P.) that Peter may not fall, but that he may be ‘converted’ by it, turned from that dangerous self-confidence to consciousness of his inability to trust himself, even for a moment. Here Satan is foiled and made to serve the purpose of that grace which he hates and resists. He can overpower this self-sufficient Peter; but only to fling him for relief upon his omnipotent Lord. Just as the ‘messenger of Satan to buffet’ Paul (2 Corinthians 12:0 ), only works for what he in nowise desires, to repress the pride so ready to spring up in us, and which the lifting up to the third heaven might tend to foster. Here there had been no fall, and all was over-ruled for fullest blessing; in Peter’s case, on the other hand, Satan’s effort would be to assail the fallen disciple with suggestions of a sin too great to be forgiven or, at least, for restoration to that eminent place from which it would be torture to remember he had fallen. What he needed to meet this with was faith; and this, therefore, the Lord prays, might not fail him.
"How careful is He to revive and strengthen in the humbled man the practical confidence so needful! The knowledge of it all given him beforehand of the prayer made for him of the exhortation addressed to him when restored, to ‘strengthen his brethren’ all this would be balm indeed for his wounded soul; but even this was not enough for his compassionate Lord. The first message of His resurrection had to be addressed specially ‘to Peter’ (Mark 16:7 ), and to ‘Cephas’ himself He appears, before the Twelve (1 Corinthians 15:5 ). Thus He will not shrink back when they are all seen together. When we find him at the sea of Tiberias, it is easy to realize that all this has done its work. Told that it is the Lord who is there on the shore, he girds on his outer garment, and casts himself into the sea, impatient to meet his Lord. But now he is ready, and only now, for that so necessary dealing with his conscience, when his heart is fully assured" (Numerical Bible).
When the Savior washed the feet of Peter, he said, "What I do thou knowest not now, but thou shalt know hereafter" (John 13:7 ). This cleansing, as we saw, has to do with the maintenance of a "part with" Christ (John 13:8 ). It tells of the Lord’s gracious work in restoring a soul which has become defiled and out of communion with Him; the "water" figuring the means which He uses, the Word. Now, at that time Peter had not fallen, and therefore he perceived not the significance of the Savior’s (anticipatory) act. But now he is to learn in his conscience the holy requirements of Christ, and experience the purifying power of the Word and the recovering grace of our great High Priest.
In John 21:9 we learn that the first thing which confronted the Apostle when he joined the Lord on the shore was "a fire of coals," an expression found again in John’s Gospel only in John 18:18 . There we read of "a fire of coals" in the priest’s palace, and that Peter stood by its side with Christ’s enemies "warming himself." It was there that he had denied his Master. How this "fire of coals" by the sea of Tiberias would prick his conscience: a silent preacher, but a powerful one, nevertheless! Christ did not point to it, nor say anything about it; that was unnecessary. Next we read of the seven disciples partaking of the food which the Savior had provided, showing that the Lord’s attitude toward Peter had not changed. The meal being over, He now turned and addressed Simon. It was there by the side of this "fire of coals" that the Lord entered into this colloquy with him, the purpose of which was to bring the Apostle to judge himself, for "fire" ever speaks of judgment.
"So when they had dined, Jesus saith to Simon Peter, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these?" (John 21:15 ). Mark carefully how the Lord began: not with a reproach, still less a word of condemnation, nor even with a "Why did you deny Me?" but "Lovest thou me more than these?" Yet, observe that the Lord did not now address him as "Peter," but "Simon son of Jonas." This is not without its significance. "Simon" was his original name, and stands in contrast from the new name which the Lord had given him: "And when Jesus beheld him, he said, thou art Simon the son of Jonas: that shalt be called Cephas (Peter), which is by interpretation, A stone" (John 1:42 ). The way in which the Lord now addressed His disciple intentionally called into question the "Peter." Mark how that in Luke 22:31 the Lord said, "Simon, Simon, behold Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat." Christ would here remind him of his entire past as a natural man, and especially that his fall had originated in "Simon" and not "Peter!" On only one other occasion did the Lord address him as "Simon son of Jonah," and that was in Matthew 16:17 , "Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon son of Jonah: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven." But note that the Lord is quick to add, "And I say also unto thee, that thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church: and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom." Thus this first word of the Lord to His disciple in John 21:15 was designed to pointedly remind him of his glorious confession, which would serve to make him the more sensitive of his late and awful denial.
"Lovest thou me more than these?" This was still more searching than the name by which Christ had addressed His Apostle. He would not heal Peter’s wound slightly, but would work a perfect cure; therefore, does He as it were, open it afresh. The Savior would not have him lose the lesson of his fall, nor in the forgiveness forget his sin. Consequently He now delicately retraces for him the sad history of his denial, or rather by His awakening question brings it before his conscience. Peter had boasted, "Though all shall be offended, yet will not I": he not only trusted in his own loyalty, but congratulated himself that his love to Christ surpassed that of the other Apostles. Therefore did the Lord now ask, "Lovest thou me more than these?" i.e., more than these apostles love Me?
"He said unto him, Yea Lord; thou knowest that I love thee" (John 21:15 ). An opportunity had graciously been given Peter to retract his former boast, and gladly did he now avail himself of it. First, he began with a frank and heartfelt confession "thou knowest." He leaves it to the Searcher of hearts to determine. He could not appeal to his ways, for they had reflected upon his love; he would not trust his own heart any longer; so he appeals to Christ Himself to decide. Yet observe, he did not say "thou knowest if (or whether) I love thee," but "thou knowest that I love thee" he rested on the Lord’s knowledge of his love; thus there was both humility and confidence united. "It was as though he said, ‘Thou hast known me from the beginning as son of Jonah; drawn me to Thee, hast kindled love in my soul, hast called me Peter; Thou didst warn of my blindness, and pray for my faith, and hast since forgiven me; Thou hast looked, both before and since Thy death, into my heart, with eyes of grace, so Thou knowest all! What I feel concerning my love is this, that I am far from loving Thee as I ought and as Thou art worthy of being loved; but Thou, O Lord, knowest that in spite of my awful failure, and notwithstanding my present weakness and deficiency, I do love Thee’" (Stier).
"He saith unto him, Feed my lambs" (John 21:15 ). What marvelous grace was this! Not only does the Lord accept Peter’s appeal to His omniscience, but He gives here a blessed commission. Christ was so well satifised with Peter’s reply that He does not even confirm it with, "Verily, I do know it." Instead, He responds by honoring and rewarding his love. Christ was about to leave this world, so He now appoints others to minister to His people. "Feed my lambs." The change of figure here from fishing to shepherding is striking: the one suggests the evangelist, the other the pastor and teacher. The order is most instructive. Those who have been saved need shepherding caring for, feeding, defending. And those whom Christ first commends to Peter were not the "sheep" but the "lambs" the weak and feeble of the flock; and these are the ones who have the first claim on us! Note Christ calls them "my lambs," denoting His authority to appoint the under-shepherds.
"He saith to him again the second time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me?" (John 21:16 ). The Lord now drops the comparative "more than these" and confines Himself to love itself. This question is one which He is still asking of each of those who profess to believe in Him. "‘Lovest thou me?’ is, in reality, a very searching question. We may know much, and do much, and talk much, and give much, and go through much, and make much show in our religion, and yet be dead before God for want of love, and at last go down to the Pit. Do we love Christ? That is the great question. Without this there is no vitality about our Christianity. We are no better than painted wax-figures: there is no life where there is no love" (Bishop Ryle).
"He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; Thou knowest that I love thee" (John 21:16 ). In this passage there are two distinct words in the Greek which are translated by the one English word "love," and it is most instructive to follow their occurrences here. The one is a much stronger term than the other. To preserve the distinction the one might be rendered "love" and the other "affection" or "attachment." When the Lord asked Peter, "Lovest thou me?" He used, both in John 21:15 and 16, the stronger word. But when Peter answered, what he really said, each time, was "thou knowest that I have affection for thee." So far was he now from boasting of the superiority of his love, he would not own it as the deepest kind of love at all! Once more the response of Divine grace is what Peter receives: "He saith unto him, Feed my sheep" (John 21:16 ). The word for "feed" here is more comprehensive than the one which the Lord had used in the previous verse, referring primarily to rule and discipline. Observe the Lord again calls them "my sheep," not "thy sheep" thus anticipating and refuting the pretensions of the Pope!
"He saith unto him the third time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me?" (John 21:17 ). Here the Lord Himself uses the weaker term "Hast thou affection for me? Grace reigns through righteousness" (Romans 5:21 ). Three times had Peter denied his Master; three times, then, did the Lord challenge his love. This was according to "righteousness." But in thus challenging Peter, the Lord gave him the opportunity of now thrice confessing Him. This was according to "grace." In His first question the Lord challenged the superiority of Peter’s love. In His second question the Lord challenged whether Peter had any love at all. Here, in His third question the Lord now challenges even his affection! Most searching was this! But it had the desired effect. The Lord wounds only that He may heal.
"Peter was grieved because he said unto him the third time, Lovest thou me?" (John 21:17 ). Here we are shown once more the power of the Word. This was indeed the sequel to John 13:0 . That Peter was "grieved" does not mean that he was offended at the Lord because He repeated His question, but it signifies that he was touched to the quick, was deeply sorrowful, as he re- called his threefold denial. It is parallel with his "weeping bitterly" in Luke 22:62 . This being "grieved" evidenced his perfect contrition! But if it was grievous for the disciple to be thus probed and have called to remembrance his sad fall, how much more grievous must it have been to the Master Himself to be denied?
"And he said unto him, Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee" (John 21:17 ). Beautiful is it to behold here the transforming effects of Divine grace. He would not now boast that his love was superior to that of others; he would not even allow that he had any love; nay more, he is at last brought to the place where he now declines to avow even his affection. He therefore casts himself on Christ’s omniscience. "Lord," he says, "thou knowest all things." Men could see no signs of any love or affection when I denied Thee; but Thou canst read my very heart; I appeal therefore to Thine all-seeing eye. That Christ knew all things comforted this disciple, as it should us. Peter realized that the Lord knew the depths as well as the surfaces of things, and therefore, that He saw what was in his poor servant’s heart, though his lips had so transgressed. Thus did he once more own the absolute Deity of the Savior. Thus, too, did he rebuke those who would now talk and sing of their love for Christ! "His self-judgment is complete. Searched out under the Divine eye, he is found and owns himself, not better but worse than others; so self-emptied that he cannot claim quality for his love at all. The needed point is reached: the strong man converted to weakness is now fit to strengthen his brethren; and, as Peter descends step by step the ladder of humiliation, step by step the Lord follows him with assurance of the work for which he is destined" (Numerical Bible).
"Jesus saith unto him, Feed my sheep" (John 21:17 ). Does this, after all, warrant, or even favor, the pretensions of the Pope? No, indeed. "The Evangelist relates in what manner Peter was restored to that rank of honor from which he had fallen. The treacherous denial, which had been formerly described, had undoubtedly rendered him unworthy of the Apostleship; for how could he be capable of instructing others in the faith, who had basely revolted from it? He had been made an Apostle, but from the time that he had acted the part of a coward, he had been deprived of the honor of Apostleship. Now, therefore, the liberty, as well as the authority of teaching, is restored to him, both of which he had lost through his own fault. That the disgrace of his apostasy might not stand in the way, Christ blots it out and fully restores the erring one. Such a restoration was needed both for Peter and his hearers; for Peter, that he might the more boldly exercise himself, being assured of the calling with which Christ had again invested him; for his hearers, that the stain which attached to him might not be the occasion of despising the Gospel" (John Calvin). We may add that this searching conversation between Christ and Peter took place in the presence of six of the other Apostles: his sin was a public one, so also must be his repudiation of it! Note that in Acts 20:28 all the "elders" are exhorted to feed the flock!
"Jesus saith unto him, Feed my sheep." If you love Me, here is the way to manifest it. It is only those who truly love Christ that are fitted to minister to His flock! The work is so laborious, the appreciation is often so small, the response so discouraging, the criticisms so harsh, the attacks of Satan so fierce, that only the "love of Christ" His for us and ours for Him can "constrain" to such work. "Hirelings" will feed the goats, but only those who love Christ can feed His sheep. Unto this work the Lord now calls Peter. Not only had Christ restored the disciple’s soul (Psalms 23:3 ), but also his official ministry; another was not to take his bishopric contrast Judas (Acts 1:20 )!
"Jesus saith unto him, Feed my sheep." Marvelous grace was this. Not only is Peter freely forgiven, not only is he fully restored to his apostleship, but the Lord commends to him (though not to him alone) that which was dearest to Him on earth His sheep! There is nothing in all this world nearer the heart of Christ than those for whom He shed His precious blood, and therefore He could not give to Peter a more affecting proof of His confidence than by committing to his care the dearest objects of His wondrous love! It is to be noted that the Lord here returns to the same word for "feed" which He had used in John 21:15 . Whatever may be necessary in the way of rule and discipline (the force of "feed" in John 21:16 ), yet, the first (John 21:15 ) and the last (John 21:17 ) duty of the under-shepherd is to feed the flock nothing else can take the place of ministering spiritual nourishment to Christ’s people!
It is striking to observe that in connection with Peter’s restoration he received a threefold commission which exactly corresponds with our Lord’s threefold "Peace be unto you" with which He saluted the disciples in the previous chapter. "Feed my lambs" (John 21:15 ) answers to the first benediction in John 20:19 : it is Gospel-exposition needed by the young believer to establish him in the foundation truth of redemption. "Shepherd" or "discipline" My sheep (John 21:16 ) answers to the second "Peace be unto you in John 20:21 , which relates to service and walk. "Feed my sheep" (John 21:17 ) answers to the third "Peace be unto you" in John 20:26 , spoken for the special benefit of Thomas, and has to do with the work of restoring those who have gone astray. Compare also the threefold written ministry of the Apostle John unto the "fathers, young men, and "little children" (1 John 2:13 ).
"Verily, verily I say unto thee, When thou wast young, thou girdest thyself, and walkest whither thou wouldest: but when thou shalt be old thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, and carry thee whither thou wouldest not" (John 21:18 ). Here, too, the grace of Christ shines forth most blessedly. Not only had Peter been forgiven, restored, commissioned, but now the Lord takes him back to the fervent declaration which he had made in the energy of the flesh: "Lord, I am ready to go with thee, both into prison, and to death" (Luke 22:33 ), and assures him that this highest honor of all shall be granted him. "Peter might still feel the sorrow of having missed such an opportunity of confessing Christ at the critical moment. Jesus assures him now that if he had failed in doing that of his own will, he should be allowed to do it by the will of God: it should be given him to die for the Lord, as he had formerly declared himself ready to do in his own strength" (Mr. J. N. Darby).
"Verily, verily, I say unto thee, When thou wast young, thou girdest thyself and walkest whither thou wouldest: but when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands and another shall gird thee, and carry thee whither thou wouldest not" (John 21:18 ). The connection between this verse and those preceding is as follows: the Lord here warns Peter that his love to Him would be sorely tested, that caring for His sheep would ultimately involve a martyr’s death for thus do we understand His words here. A more direct link is found in that Peter had just said, "Lord, thou knowest all things": Christ now gave proof that He did indeed, for He speaks positively and in minute detail of that which was yet future, and could be known only to God. The beloved disciple again would be placed in such a position that he would have to choose between denying and confessing Christ. As the reward for his good confession here, and to supply an encouragement for the future, the Lord assures him that he shall confess Him even to death.
"This spake he, signifying by what death he should glorify God" (John 21:19 ). This is a parenthetic remark by John, made for the purpose of supplying a key to the meaning of the Lord’s words in the previous verse. When Christ said, "When thou wast young, thou girdest thyself, and walkest whither thou wouldest," He signified that during his earlier days Peter had enjoyed his natural freedom. When he said, "But when thou shalt be old thou shall stretch forth thy hands," He meant that Peter would do this at the command of another. When He added, "And another shall gird thee," He meant that Peter should be bound as a prisoner with cords cf. Acts 21:11 where Agabus took Paul’s girdle and bound his own hands and feet, to symbolize the fact that the Apostle would be "delivered into the hands of the Gentiles." In His final words, "and carry thee whither thou wouldest not," the Lord did not mean that Peter would resist or murmur ("what death he should glorify God" proves that), but that the death he should die would be contrary to nature, disagreeable to the flesh. Peter was to die a death of violence, by crucifixion. In the "thou wouldest not" the Lord further intimated that He does not expect His people to enjoy bodily pains, though we are to endure them without murmuring. "But the Pope (to whom Peter says in vain, Follow me, as I follow Christ!) is the reverse: the older he grows the more arbitrarily will he gird and lead others whither he will" (Stier).
"This spake he, signifying by what death he should glorify God." It is not only by acting, but chiefly by suffering, that the saints glorify God. Note how the Lord says to Ananias concerning Saul, "I will show him how great things he shall suffer [not "do"] for my name’s sake" (Acts 9:16 )! Note how that when the Apostle would strengthen the wavering Hebrews, instead of reminding them of their works, He said, "Call to remembrance the former days, in which, after ye were illumined, ye endured a great fight of afflictions" (Hebrews 10:32 ). But what sweet consolation to realize that our whole future has been fore-arranged by Christ by Him who is too wise to err and too loving to be unkind.
"This spake he, signifying by what death he should glorify God." What a lesson is there here for us. True, it is the Lord’s return, not death, for which we are to look and wait. Nevertheless, all who have gone before us have died, and we may do so before the Savior comes. Let us remember, then, that should this be the case, we may "glorify" God in death as well as in life. We may be patient sufferers as well as active workers. Like Samson, we may do more for God in our death than we did in our lives. The death of the martyrs had more effect on men than the lives they had lived. "We may glorify God in death by being ready for it when it comes... by patiently enduring its pains... by testifying to others of the comfort and support which we find in the grace of Christ" (Bishop Ryle). It is a blessed thing when a mortal man can say with David, "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me" (Psalms 23:4 ).
"And when he had spoken this, he saith unto him, Follow me" (verse 19). Here was the final word of grace to the fallen, and now recovered disciple. Now that Peter had discovered his weakness, now that he had judged the root from which his failure had proceeded, now that he had been fully restored in heart, conscience, and commission, the Lord says, "Follow me." This was what he had pretended to do (John 18:15 ), when the Lord had told him he could not (Luke 22:33 , Luke 22:34 ). But now Christ says, You may, you can, you shall. To "follow" Christ means to "deny self" and "take up the cross." In other words, it means to be "conformed to his death." This, in spirit; with Peter, in bodily experience, too. This word of Christ supplies one more link with what is found in chapter 13. There the Savior said to Peter, "Whither I go, thou canst not follow me now; but thou shalt follow me afterwards" (John 13:36 ). This is the sequel: "It was a call on him to follow the Lord, through death, up to the Father’s House. And upon saying these words to him, the Lord rises from the place where they had been eating, and Peter, thus bidden, rises to follow Him" (Mr. Bellett). The Lord evidently accompanied this final word with a symbolic movement of going on before.
"Then Peter, turning about, seeth the disciple whom Jesus loved following, which also leaned on his breast at supper, and said, Lord, which is he that betrayeth thee?" (John 21:20 ). What a line in the picture is this, and how true to life! How humbling! Here was a believer, fully restored to communion, there in the presence of Christ, bidden to follow Him; yet here we find him taking his eye off Christ, and turning round to look at John! There is only one explanation possible the flesh still remains in the believer, and ever lusts against the spirit! Though fully restored, the old Simon still remained. Christ had told him to "follow," not look around. Stier suggests that there was here "a side-glance once more of comparison with others," hardly that we think, rather the old tendency of taking his eye off Christ was manifested. In beautiful contrast from the fleshly turning of Peter, is the spiritual "following" of John. Christ had not commanded him to do so, nor had He even directly addressed him; but true love was ever occupied with its object, and here the Apostle of love could do no other than follow Christ. Blessed is it to mark how the Holy Spirit now refers to him, not only as "the disciple whom Jesus loved," but also as the one who "leaned on his breast at the supper." At the beginning of this Gospel (John 1:18 ) Christ is seen in the bosom of the Father, here at the end, a redeemed sinner is referred to as one who leaned on the bosom of the Savior!
"Peter seeing him saith to Jesus, Lord, and what shall this man do?" (John 21:21 ). This too, evidenced the flesh in Peter. Christ had announced what awaited him, now the apostle is anxious to know how John the one with whom he was most intimate and between whom there was a very close bond should fare. The same curiosity which made him beckon to John that he should "ask who it should be" that would betray Christ (John 13:24 ), now causes him to say, "what [of] this man?" "Peter seems more concerned for another than for himself. So apt are we to be busy in other men’s matters, but negligent in the concerns of our own souls quick-sighted abroad, but dim-sighted at home judging others and prognosticating what they will do, when we have enough to mind our own business. Peter seems more concerned about events than duties" (Matthew Henry).
"Jesus saith unto him, if I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? follow thou me" (John 21:22 ). The Lord rebukes Peter’s curiosity about John, and presses upon him his own duty. There is an old saying, Charity begins at home, and there is not a little truth in it. We are naturally creatures of extremes, and it is a hard matter to preserve the balance. On the one side is uncharitable selfishness, which makes us indifferent to the interests of others; on the other side is altruism carried to such an extent that we neglect the cultivation of our own souls. Both are wrong. Let us not be weary in well doing to others, but let us also heed that word of Paul’s to Timothy, "Take heed unto thyself" (1 Timothy 4:16 ). Unhappily there are not a few who have reason to say, "They made me the keeper of the vineyards; mine own vineyard have I not kept" (Song of Solomon 1:6 ). It was to correct this tendency in Peter that the Lord spoke. His business was to attend to his own duty, fulfill his own course, and leave the future of others in the hands of God cf. Luke 13:23 , Luke 13:24 . What good would it do Peter to know whether John was to live a long life or a short one, to die a violent death or a natural one? cf. Daniel 12:8 , Daniel 12:9 . A warning is this to us not to be curious about the decrees of God concerning others cf. Deuteronomy 29:29 . "Follow me" is also His word to us: we are to follow Him as Leader of His people, as Shepherd of His flock, as Exemplar for His saints, as Lord of all.
"Then went this saying abroad among the brethren, that that disciple should not die: yet Jesus said not unto him, He shall not die; but, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee?" (John 21:23 ). What plain proof does this afford that the Lord’s coming does not refer to the decease of His people. How strange that any should have supposed that it did! Death is the believer going to be with Christ, the Lord’s return is His coming to be with us. Yet how curious, that even from the beginning, the Lord’s word "I come again" in connection with John, was misunderstood and wrested. Another thing which these words of Christ made evident was that His return is an impending event, that is, one which may occur at any time, and one which we should be constantly expecting. Note the "If I will": a majestic declaration was this that Christ is now the Disposer of men’s lives: He did not say, if God, or if the Father, wills, but if I will. Mark how this verse furnishes us with a warning against following human traditions, even though they came from "the brethren": how blessed to have the unerring standard of God’s written Word!
"If I will that he tarry till I come." What was the deeper meaning in this word of Christ’s? First, are we not intended to see in Peter and John representatives of the Church in the early and latter days of this dispensation? Peter, who died a death of violence, points to the first centuries, when martyrdom was almost the common experience of believers. John, who is given the hope that he may (though not the promise that he shall) live on till the Lord’s return, points to this last century, when the truth of the Lord’s coming has been so widely made known among His people! But this is not all. The ministry of John actually goes on to the end, for in the Revelation he treats at length of those things which are to usher in the Lord’s return to the earth, aye, and beyond to the new heaven and the new earth!
It is most blessed to observe that there is no account given in this Gospel of the Lord’s ascension, and this is in most perfect keeping with the Spirit’s design here. The departure of Christ left the disciples behind on earth. But here it is the family, in which now in spirit, soon in the body there are to be no separations. The last sight we have of the Savior in John’s Gospel, the sons are with Him! So shall we be "forever with the Lord."
"This is the disciple which testifieth of these things, and wrote these things: and we know that his testimony is true. And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written. Amen" (John 21:24 , John 21:25 ). These verses call for little comment. The Gospel closes with the personal seal and attestation of its writer. John, without mentioning his name, vouches for the veracity of what he had recorded, and then adds an hyperbole (cf. Matthew 11:23 ; Hebrews 11:12 ; for others) to emphasize the fact that it was not possible for him to fully tell out the infinite glories of that One who is the central figure of his Gospel. The final "Amen" found at the end of each Gospel is the Holy Spirit’s imprimatur.
"The Apostle closes his Gospel with another reminder of the inadequacy of all human words to tell out His glory, of whom he has been speaking. If it were attempted to tell out all, the world would be unable to contain the books that would be written. It would be an impracticable load to lift, rather than a help to clearer apprehension. How thankful we may be for the moderation that has compressed what would be really blessing to us into such a moderate compass! which yet, as we all must know, develops into whatever largeness we may have capacity for. Our Bibles are thus the same, and quite manageable by any. On the other hand, are we burning to know more? We may go on without any limit, except that which our little faith or heart may impose. May God awaken our hearts to test for themselves the expansive power of Scripture, and whether we can find a limit anywhere! Like the inconceivable immensity of the heavens, ever increasing as the power of vision is lengthened, we go on to find that the further we go only the more does the thought of infinity rise upon us; but this infinity is filled with an Infinite Presence; in every leaf-blade, in every atom, yet transcending all His works; and ‘to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we for Him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ. by whom are all things, and we by Him’" (Numerical Bible).
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Pink, A.W. "Commentary on John 21". "Pink's Commentary on John and Hebrews". https://www.studylight.org/
the First Week of Advent