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Bible Commentaries
John 21

Barnes' Notes on the Whole BibleBarnes' Notes

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Verse 1

The sea of Tiberias - Called also the Sea of Galilee, being situated in Galilee. See the notes at Matthew 4:18. In this place Jesus had promised to meet them, Mark 14:28; Mark 16:7; Matthew 26:32; Matthew 28:10. This interview of Jesus is but just mentioned by Matthew Matthew 28:16, and is omitted by both Mark and Luke. This is the reason why John relates so particularly what occurred there. Galilee was a retired place where they would be free from danger, and was therefore a safe and convenient situation for Jesus to meet them, in order to give them his last instructions.

On this wise - Thus. In this manner.

Verse 2

There were together - Probably residing in the same place. While they were waiting for the promise of the Holy Spirit, they still found it proper to be usefully employed. Their Master had been taken away by death, and the promised Spirit had not descended on them. In the interval - before the promised Spirit was poured upon them - they chose not to be idle, and therefore returned to their former employment. It is to be remarked, also, that they had no other means of support. While with Jesus, they were commonly supplied by the kindness of the people; but now, when the Saviour had died, they were cut off from this means of support, and returned to the honest labor of their early lives. Moreover, they had been directed by the Saviour to repair to a mountain in Galilee, where he would meet them, Matthew 28:10. This was probably not far from Lake Galilee, so that, until he came to them, they would naturally be engaged in their old employment. Ministers of the gospel should be willing to labor, if necessary, for their own support, and should not esteem such labor dishonorable. God has made employment indispensable to man, and if the field of labor is not open in one way, they should seek it in another. If at any time the people withhold the supply of their needs, they should be able and willing to seek support in some other honest occupation.

Verse 3

That night they caught nothing - This was so ordered in the providence of God that the miracle which was performed might appear more remarkable.

Verse 4

Knew not that it was Jesus - Probably it was yet twilight, and in the distance they could not distinctly recognize him.

Verse 5

Children - A term of affection and friendship, 1 John 2:18.

Any meat - This word (Greek) means anything eaten with bread. It was used by the Greeks especially to denote fish (Schleusner).

Verse 6

On the right side - Why the right side is mentioned is not known. Grotius supposes that it was the side nearest the shore, where there was less probability of taking fish. It does not appear that they yet recognized the Lord Jesus, but from some cause they had sufficient confidence in him to make another trial. Perhaps they judged that he was one skilled in that employment, and knew where there was the greatest probability of success.

Verse 7

Therefore that disciple whom Jesus loved - John, John 13:23.

It is the Lord - He was convinced, perhaps, by the apparent miracle, and by looking more attentively on the person of one who had been the means of such unexpected and remarkable success.

His fisher’s coat - His upper or outer garment or tunic, in distinction from the inner garment or tunic which was worn next the skin. In the case of Peter it may have been made of coarse materials such as fishermen commonly wore, or such as Peter usually wore when he was engaged in this employment. Such garments are common with men of this occupation. This outer garment he probably had laid aside.

He was naked - He was undressed, with nothing on but the undergarment or tunic. The word does not require us to suppose a greater degree of nakedness than this. See the Mark 14:51 note; also 1 Samuel 19:24 note.

Did cast himself into the sea - With characteristic ardor, desirous of meeting again his Lord, and showing his affection for him.

Verse 8

Two hundred cubits - About 350 feet, or a little more than 20 rods.

Verse 9

They saw a fire ... - We have no knowledge whence this was produced - whether it was, as Grotius supposes, by a miracle, or whether it was a place occupied by other fishermen, where they also might cook the fish which they had caught. As no miracle is mentioned, however, there is no reason for supposing that any existed in the case.

Verse 11

An hundred and fifty and three - The number is mentioned because it seems to have been a very unusual draught, and it was particularly gratifying and striking to them after they had spent the whole night and had caught nothing. This convinced them that it was no other than the same Saviour who had so often worked wonders before them that was now with them.

Verse 12

Come and dine - The word in the original means the meal which is taken in the morning, or breakfast.

Verse 13

Jesus then cometh, and taketh bread ... - It is not said that Jesus himself ate with them, but he gave them food. The design of this interview seems to have been to convince them that he had truly risen from the dead. Hence, he performed a miracle before they suspected that it was he, that there might be no room to say that they had ascribed to him the power of the miracle through friendship and collusion with him. The miracle was such as to satisfy them of its truth, and was, in accordance with all his works, not for mere display, but for utility. He remained with them, was with them at their meal, conversed with them, and thus convinced them that he was the same Friend who had died.

Verse 14

The third time - See the “Harmony of the Accounts of the Resurrection of Jesus.”

Verse 15

Lovest thou me more than these? - There is a slight ambiguity here in the original, as there is in our translation. The word these may be in the neuter gender, and refer to these things his boat, his fishing utensils, and his employments; or it may be in the masculine, and refer to the apostles. In the former sense it would mean, “Lovest thou me more than thou lovest these objects? Art thou now willing, from love to me, to forsake all these, and go and preach my gospel to the nations of the earth?” In the other sense, which is probably the true sense, it would mean, “Lovest thou me more than these other apostles love me?” In this question Jesus refers to the profession of superior attachment to him which Peter had made before his death Matthew 26:33; “Though all men shall be offended because of thee, yet will I never be offended.” Compare John 13:37. Jesus here slightly reproves him for that confident assertion, reminds him of his sad and painful denial, and now puts this direct and pointed question to him to know what was the present state of his feelings. After all that Peter had had to humble him, the Saviour inquired of him what had been the effect on his mind, and whether it had tended to prepare him for the arduous toils in which he was about to engage. This question we should all put to ourselves. It is a matter of much importance that we should ourselves know what is the effect of the dealings of divine Providence on our hearts, and what is our present state of feeling toward the Lord Jesus Christ.

Thou knowest that I love thee - Peter now made no pretensions to love superior to his brethren. His sad denial had convinced him of the folly of that claim; but still he could appeal to the Searcher of the heart, and say that he knew that he loved him. Here is the expression of a humbled soul - soul made sensible of its weakness and need of strength, yet with evidence of true attachment to the Saviour. It is not the most confident pretensions that constitute the highest proof of love to Christ; and the happiest and best state of feeling is when we can with humility, yet with confidence, look to the Lord Jesus and say, “Thou knowest that I love thee.”

Feed my lambs - The word here rendered “feed” means the care afforded by furnishing nutriment for the flock. In the next verse there is a change in the Greek, and the word rendered feed denotes rather the care, guidance, and protection which a shepherd extends to his flock. By the use of both these words, it is supposed that our Saviour intended that a shepherd was both to offer the proper food for his flock and to govern it; or, as we express it, to exercise the office of a pastor. The expression is taken from the office of a shepherd, with which the office of a minister of the gospel is frequently compared. It means, as a good shepherd provides for the wants of his flock, so the pastor in the church is to furnish food for the soul, or so to exhibit truth that the faith of believers may be strengthened and their hope confirmed.

My lambs - The church is often compared to a flock. See John 10:1-16. Here the expression my lambs undoubtedly refers to the tender and the young in the Christian church; to those who are young in years and in Christian experience. The Lord Jesus saw, what has been confirmed in the experience of the church, that the success of the gospel among men depended on the care which the ministry would extend to those in early life. It is in obedience to this command that Sunday schools have been established, and no means of fulfilling this command of the Saviour have been found so effectual as to extend patronage to those schools. It is not merely, therefore, the privilege, it is the solemn duty of ministers of the gospel to countenance and patronize those schools.

Verse 16

Feed my sheep - The word here rendered “feed,” as has been remarked, is different from the word in the previous verse. It has the sense of governing, caring for, guiding, protecting - the kind of faithful vigilance which a shepherd uses to guide his flock, and to make provision against their wants and dangers. It may be implied here that the care needed for the young in the church is to instruct them, and for those in advanced years both to instruct and govern them.

My sheep - This term commonly denotes the church in general, without respect to age, John 10:0.

Verse 17

The third time - It is probable that Jesus proposed this question three times because Peter had thrice denied him. Thus he tenderly admonished him of his fault and reminded him of his sin, while he solemnly charged him to be faithful and vigilant in the discharge of the duties of the pastoral office. The reason why the Saviour addressed Peter in this manner was doubtless because he had just denied him - had given a most melancholy instance of the instability and weakness of his faith, and of his liability to fall. As he had thus been prominent in forsaking him, he took this occasion to give to him a special charge, and to secure his future obedience. Hence, he so administered the charge as to remind him of his fault; and he made him so prominent as to show the solicitude of the Saviour that, henceforward, he might not be left to dishonor his high calling. This same charge, in substance, he had on other occasions given to the apostles Matthew 18:18, and there is not the slightest evidence here that Christ intended, as the Papists pretend, to give Peter any special primacy or eminence in the church. The charge to Peter arose, manifestly, from his prominent and melancholy act in denying him, and was the kind and tender means used by a faithful Saviour to keep him from similar acts in the future dangers and trials of life. It is worthy of remark that the admonition was effectual. Henceforward, Peter was one of the most firm and unwavering of all the apostles, and thus fully justified the appellation of a rock, which the Saviour by anticipation had given him. See the notes at John 1:42.

Verse 18

When thou wast young - When in early life thou didst gird thyself, etc. The Jews, in walking or running, girded their outer garments around them, that they might not be impeded. See the notes at Matthew 5:38-41.

Thou girdedst - The expression here denotes freedom. He did as he pleased - he girded himself or not he went or remained, as he chose. Perhaps the expression refers rather to that time than to the previous period of Peter’s life. “Thou being now young or in the vigor of life, hast just girded thyself and come freely to the shore.” In either case the Saviour intimates that at the end of his life he would not be thus free.

When thou shalt be old - Ancient writers say that Peter was put to death about thirty-four years after this. His precise age at that time is not known.

Thou shalt stretch forth thy hands - When Peter was put to death, we are told that he requested that he might be crucified with his head downward, saying that he who had denied his Lord as he had done was not worthy to die as he did. This expression of Christ may intimate the readiness of Peter thus to die. Though he was not at liberty as when he was young, though bound by others, yet he freely stretched out his hands on the cross, and was ready to give up his life.

Another shall gird thee - Another shall bind thee. The limbs of persons crucified were often bound instead of being nailed, and even the body was sometimes girded to the cross. See the notes at Matthew 27:35.

Carry thee ... - Shall bear thee, or shall compel thee to go to prison and to death. This is not said to intimate that Peter would be unwilling to suffer martyrdom, but it stands opposed to the freedom of his early life. Though willing when compelled to do it, yet he would not seek it; and though he would not needlessly expose himself to it, yet he would not shrink from it when it was the will of God.

Verse 19

By what death ... - In these words two things are implied:

1.That Peter would die a violent death; and,

2.That his death would be such as to honor God.

The ancients say that Peter was crucified at Rome, about 34 years after this, with his head downward. Clemens says that he was led to the crucifixion with his wife, and sustained her in her sufferings by exhorting her to remember the example of her Lord. He also adds that he died, not as the philosophers did, but with a firm hope of heaven, and patiently endured the pangs of the cross (Strom. vii.). This declaration of the Saviour was doubtless continually before the mind of Peter, and to the hour of his death he maintained the utmost constancy and fidelity in his cause, thus justifying the appellation which the Lord Jesus gave him - a rock.

Verse 20

Which also leaned ... - See John 13:24-25.

Verse 21

What shall this man do? - This question probably means, “What death shall he die?” But it is impossible to ascertain certainly why Peter asked this question. John was a favorite disciple, and perhaps Peter suspected that he would have a happier lot, and not be put to death in this manner. Peter was grieved at the question of Jesus; he was probably deeply affected with the account of his own approaching sufferings; and, with perhaps a mixture of grief and envy, he asked what would be his lot. But it is possible, also, that it was from kindness to John - a deep solicitude about him, and a wish that he might not die in the same manner as one who had denied his Lord. Whatever the motive was, it was a curiosity which the Lord Jesus did not choose to gratify.

Verse 22

That he tarry - That he live. The same word is used to express life in Phi 1:24-25; 1 Corinthians 15:6.

Till I come - Some have supposed this to refer to the destruction of Jerusalem; others to the day of judgment; others to signify that he would not die a violent death; but the plain meaning is, “If I will that he should not die at all, it is nothing to thee.” In this way the apostles evidently understood it, and hence raised a report that he would not die. It is remarkable that John was the last of the apostles; that he lived to nearly the close of the first century, and then died a peaceful death at Ephesus, being the only one, as is supposed, of the apostles who did not suffer martyrdom. The testimony of antiquity is clear on this point; and though there have been many idle conjectures about this passage and about the fate of John, yet no fact of history is better attested than that John died and was buried at Ephesus.

What is that to thee? - From this passage we learn:

1.That our main business is to follow the Lord Jesus Christ.

2.That there are many subjects of religion on which a vain and impertinent curiosity is exercised. All such curiosity Jesus here reproves.

3.That Jesus will take care of all his true disciples, and that we should not be unduly solicitous about them.

4.That we should go forward to whatever he calls us to persecution or death - not envying the lot of any other man, and anxious only to do the will of God.

Verse 23

Then went this saying ... - This mistake arose very naturally:

  1. From the words of Jesus, which might be easily misunderstood to mean that he should not die; and,
  2. It was probably confirmed when it was seen that John survived all the other apostles, had escaped all the dangers of persecution, and was leading a peaceful life at Ephesus. This mistake John deemed it proper to correct before he died, and has thus left on record what Jesus said and what he meant.

Verse 24

This is the disciple ... - This proves that the beloved disciple was John.

We know - That is, it is known; it is universally admitted. It was so decidedly his character that he always declared the truth, that it had become known and was unquestioned, so that he himself might appeal to the universal testimony in his behalf. In this case, therefore, we have the testimony of a man whose character for nearly a century was that of a man of truth - so much so that it had become, in a manner, proverbial, and was put beyond a doubt. It is impossible to believe that such a man would sit down deliberately to impose on mankind, or to write a book which was false; and if not, then this book is true, and that is the same as saying that Christianity is a religion from heaven.

Verse 25

Many other things - Many miracles, John 20:30. Many discourses delivered, etc.

I suppose ... - This is evidently the figure of speech called a hyperbole. It is a mode of speech where the words express more or less than is literally true. It is common among all writers; and as the sacred writers, in recording a revelation to men, used human language, it was proper that they should express themselves as men ordinarily do if they wished to be understood. This figure of speech is commonly the effect of surprise, or having the mind full of some object, and not having words to express the ideas: at the same time, the words convey no falsehood. The statement is to be taken as it would be understood among the persons to whom it is addressed; and as no one supposes that the author means to be understood literally, so there is no deception in the case, and consequently no impeachment of his veracity or inspiration. Thus, when Longinus said of a man that “he was the owner of a piece of ground not larger than a Lacedaemonian letter,” no one understood him literally. He meant, evidently, a very small piece of land, and no one would be deceived. So Virgil says of a man, “he was so tall as to reach the stars,” and means only that he was very tall. So when John says that the world could not contain the books that would be written if all the deeds and sayings of Jesus were recorded, he clearly intends nothing more than that a great many books would be required, or that it would be extremely difficult to record them all; intimating that his life was active, that his discourses were numerous, and that he had not pretended to give them all, but only such as would go to establish the main point for which he wrote that he was the Messiah, John 20:30-31. The figure which John uses here is not uncommon in the Scriptures, Genesis 11:4; Genesis 15:5; Numbers 13:33; Daniel 4:20.

This gospel contains in itself the clearest proof of inspiration. It is the work of a fisherman of Galilee, without any proof that he had any unusual advantages. It is a connected, clear, and satisfactory argument to establish the great truth that Jesus was the Messiah. It was written many years after the ascension of Jesus. It contains the record of the Saviour’s profoundest discourses, of his most convincing arguments with the Jews, and of his declarations respecting himself and God. It contains the purest and most elevated views of God to be found anywhere, as far exceeding all the speculations of philosophers as the sun does the blaze of a taper. It is in the highest degree absurd to suppose that an unlettered fisherman could have originated this book. Anyone may be convinced of this by comparing it with what would be the production of a man in that rank of life now. But if John has preserved the record of what has occurred so many years before, then it shows that he was under the divine guidance, and is himself a proof, a full and standing proof, of the fulfillment of the promise which he has recorded that the Holy Spirit would guide the apostles into all truth, John 14:26. Of this book we may, in conclusion, apply the words spoken by John respecting his vision of the future events of the church: “Blessed is he that readeth and they that hear the words of this” book, “and keep those things which are written therein, for the time is at hand,” Revelation 1:3.

Bibliographical Information
Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on John 21". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bnn/john-21.html. 1870.
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