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John 21

Dr. Constable's Expository NotesConstable's Expository Notes

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This Gospel began with a theological prologue (John 1:1-18), and it ends with a practical epilogue. John concluded his narrative designed to bring unbelievers to faith in Jesus Christ in chapter 20. Chapter 21 contains instruction for those who have come to faith in Him and explains how they are to serve Him as they carry out their mission (John 20:21-23). Many of the prominent themes in the rest of the Gospel recur here.

"Some critics have argued that this chapter is anticlimactic after the great conclusion in chapter 20, and therefore was written by another (anonymous) writer. But the linguistic evidence does not support this notion. In addition, other great books of Scripture have appendixes after reaching a grand climax (cf. e.g., Romans 16 following Romans 15:33). Thus John 21 is neither without value nor out of harmony with other Bible books." [Note: Blum, p. 344. Cf. Carson, The Gospel . . ., pp. 665-68.]

The structure of this chapter is similar to the rest of the Gospel. John first narrated an event (John 21:1-14) and then related Jesus’ teaching based on that event (John 21:15-23). Finally he concluded his Gospel (John 21:24-25).

Verse 1

John recorded still another post-resurrection appearance of Jesus to His disciples. It undoubtedly occurred during the 32-day period between Thomas’ confession (John 20:28) and Jesus’ ascension (Acts 1:9). Exactly when is unimportant. John was the only New Testament writer to refer to the Sea of Galilee as the Sea of Tiberias (cf. John 6:1). Evidently most of his original readers would have known it by this Roman name. John stressed the fact that Jesus revealed Himself throughout this Gospel (cf. John 1:31; John 2:11; John 9:3; John 17:6; John 21:14; et al.; 1 John 1:2; 1 John 2:28; 1 John 3:2; 1 John 3:5; 1 John 3:8; 1 John 4:9). Now Jesus gave another revelation of Himself to these disciples. They were to learn something new about Him from this revelation.

Verses 1-14

A. Jesus’ appearance to seven disciples in Galilee 21:1-14

Verse 2

John evidently identified all the disciples who were present on this occasion, five of them by name or patronym and two others anonymously. Simon Peter was the disciples’ leader even after his denial of Jesus. Thomas was obviously a believer (John 20:28) perhaps suggesting that what follows has special importance for believing disciples. John mentioned Nathanael earlier (John 1:45-51), but here alone he identified this disciple as from Cana in Galilee. Perhaps he did so to remind the reader of Jesus’ early signs that happened in Cana (John 2:1-11; John 4:46-54) since Jesus was about to perform another miracle. Zebedee’s sons were James and John, though John did not identify them this way before. Perhaps this was John’s way of hinting at his own presence as an eyewitness of what follows without drawing too much attention to himself. The two unnamed disciples brought the total to seven.

The exact number may be another detail designed to add credibility to the account, or John may have been hinting that a complete number of disciples was present. Seven was a number that symbolized completeness to the Jews (cf. Genesis 2:2-3; et al.). He may have been implying that the lesson that Jesus taught here was applicable to the full complement of disciples.

Verse 3

Some expositors have interpreted Peter’s words as a renunciation of his calling as Jesus’ disciple. They believe he meant that he intended to return to his former occupation as a fisherman permanently. [Note: E.g., Hoskyns, p. 552.] However there is no basis for this conclusion in the text. Indeed when Peter learned that Jesus was standing on the shore he jumped into the water to get to Jesus as quickly as he could (John 21:7).

Peter’s words simply expressed his intention to do some fishing, not to change his vocation. [Note: Bruce, p. 399.] He probably found it very difficult to sit around doing nothing while he and his friends waited for Jesus to appear. Jesus had instructed the disciples to return to Galilee and to wait for him there (cf. Matthew 28:7; Mark 14:28; Mark 16:7). So Peter did something that he probably enjoyed doing and presumably did well. Alternatively he may have been returning to his former vocation temporarily only to earn some money so he could feed his family. [Note: Beasley-Murray, p. 399.]

This was not the first time that Peter had met Jesus after the Crucifixion. Jesus had appeared to Peter evidently on Easter morning (1 Corinthians 15:5) and undoubtedly on Easter evening (John 20:19-23; cf. Mark 16:14). Peter had also seen Jesus the following Sunday when Thomas made his profession of faith (John 20:26-29). Therefore we should not conclude that Peter would have been reluctant to see Jesus now because of his denial in the high priest’s courtyard. Peter’s moment of reconciliation with Jesus had already passed.

Peter’s companions followed his lead and joined him. Apparently they launched out on the lake just before or during the night, a popular time to fish. John identified their boat specifically as "the boat." Probably this was Simon’s boat that he had formerly used when he was a professional fisherman (cf. Luke 5:3). The disciples’ failure to catch anything set the stage for Jesus’ miracle that followed.

"They are coming to grips with the resurrection, but they still have not learned the profound truth that apart from Christ they can do nothing (John 15:5) . . ." [Note: Carson, The Gospel . . ., p. 670.]

In view of Jesus’ commission, these disciples’ activity seems inappropriate even if it was not rebellious. It contrasts with their behavior following Pentecost when they began to carry out their mission zealously and joyfully. Therefore John’s reference to nighttime may have symbolic overtones again (cf. John 13:30).

Verse 4

Likewise the breaking of this new day is perhaps symbolic of the new era that was opening up for them as Jesus’ disciples, though they did not realize that yet. Jesus’ instruction would change the course of their lives forever.

The disciples could not identify Jesus as He stood on the shore within shouting distance from where they fished (John 21:8). This may have been due to the twilight, the distance, Jesus’ altered appearance, or some other reason (cf. Luke 24:16).

Verse 5

Jesus addressed the disciples with an affectionate masculine greeting (Gr. paidia). The translation "boys" captures the spirit of His word. The form of Jesus’ question in the Greek text assumed a negative answer; He expected that they had caught nothing. One can sense the discouragement and mild embarrassment in the disciples’ "no." Jesus was in the process of teaching these men their personal inadequacy even in the type of work they knew best and had most experience with. It was important that they articulate their failure.

Verse 6

Their nets had been hanging over the left-hand side of their fishing boat. The unknown authority on the shore now promised that if they would cast their net on the right-hand side they would catch some fish. Such a suggestion must have seemed ludicrous to these seasoned fishermen. The idea that such an insignificant change would accomplish anything was laughable. Yet amazingly the disciples followed Jesus’ orders.

Why did they do so? Perhaps they remembered another night of unsuccessful fishing when Jesus had told Peter, James, and John to lower their nets. They had encountered such a large school of fish that their nets began to break (Luke 5:1-11). That had been the time when Jesus first called those disciples to follow Him. They had responded by leaving their fishing trade to follow Jesus full-time as His disciples. Nevertheless it seems clear that even after they obeyed the unknown armchair fisherman on the shore this dark morning they still did not realize that He was Jesus.

The reason for the disciples’ obedience is not as important as the fact of it. Had they not obeyed Jesus’ command they would have failed to catch any fish. However because they obeyed, they experienced overwhelming success, success far exceeding their natural ability. They even had trouble managing the results of their success because it was so great.

These men would reflect on this experience and realize that Jesus had been teaching them how important it was to obey His word. Obedience to Jesus was the key to supernatural success. Indeed obedience to His word, even though they did not know it was His word, yielded an unbelievable reward.

Verse 7

The reader has already suspected that "the disciple whom Jesus loved" was John himself. This identification fits because John was one of the disciples in the boat (John 21:2). Again John realized something about Jesus before Peter did (cf. John 20:8). Probably he sensed that a miracle had happened, and he remembered that a few years earlier Jesus had performed a similar miracle (Luke 5:1-11). True to the pictures we have of them in the New Testament, John exhibited quick insight and Peter quick action.

Peter had learned that John’s instincts about these things were better than his. He accepted John’s conclusion and jumped into the water. Apparently he wanted to get to Jesus faster than his boat and net, now full of fish, would allow. He showed no concern for the fish; he willingly let them go. His only desire was to get to Jesus.

Fishermen usually worked in their light undergarments (Gr. chiton, long shirts, not underwear). Peter evidently put his outer garment (Gr. ependytes) on so when he reached land he would be properly clothed albeit soaking wet. Normally people take unnecessary clothing off before going swimming. Peter’s somewhat irrational behavior seems to be another indication of his strong desire to get to Jesus quickly. He was again demonstrating his characteristic extravagant loyalty to his Lord (cf. John 20:6).

Verse 8

The other disciples behaved more normally. John was one of these whom Peter left to struggle with the nets. His record of the distance and the labor involved in this task corroborates his claim to being an eyewitness of these events (John 21:24).

Verse 9

While the other disciples struggled to get their catch to shore, Jesus was preparing breakfast for them. John noted that it was a charcoal fire (Gr. anthrakia) that Jesus had laid. The reader may remember that it was specifically a charcoal fire at which Peter had stood when he denied Jesus (John 18:18). Jesus was setting the stage for a lesson He was about to teach the disciples and especially Peter. The traditional site of this event is Tabgha, on the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee between Capernaum and Gennesaret.

Bread and fish were common staples, but again they recall earlier miracles that Jesus had performed. He had miraculously provided meals for 5,000 and later 4,000 males plus women and children with bread and fish. Notice that He had already provided some fish for them before the disciples got out of their boat and pulled the fish they had caught to shore.

Before His crucifixion, Jesus had served His disciples by washing their feet (John 13:1-17). Now He continued to serve them as their risen Lord by providing them with a warm fire and breakfast (cf. John 21:13).

Verse 10

Even though there was already one fish (Gr. opsarion, singular) on the fire Jesus instructed the disciples to bring some of the fish (plural) that they had caught. He would not provide for their physical needs by multiplying the food miraculously as He had done in the past. Now He would use the product of their labor to satisfy their need. Nevertheless it was clear that their fish had been the result of His miraculous provision. Perhaps this was all symbolic of how Jesus would carry out His mission through His disciples in the future compared with how He had done it during His pre-cross ministry.

Verse 11

Peter did not leave his fellow disciples to struggle with the nets while he stood by. He helped them pull the huge catch of fish that Jesus had provided to land.

There have been many allegorical explanations of the meaning of the 153 fish. Most of these are much too involved to explain here. [Note: See the commentaries, or for a brief overview, Carson, The Gospel . . ., pp. 672-73.] Many of these involve gamatria. Gamatria is the discipline of deriving a word or words from the Hebrew, or in this case the Greek, letters that also represent numbers in their respective languages. One of the more credible explanations of the 153 fish is as follows. Jesus formerly told His disciples that they would become fishers of men, an obvious metaphor (Mark 1:17). If the fish here represent the converts that Jesus would miraculously provide for His disciples to "catch," perhaps their large number represents many converts (cf. Matthew 13:47-50). The fact that the net did not break may symbolize the capability of the gospel to "catch" many people without failing. [Note: Bruce, pp. 401-2.]

Perhaps John simply recorded the number as a detail to lend authenticity to his testimony (cf. John 2:6). He was, after all, a fisherman himself. Most fishermen know exactly how many fish they have caught whenever they catch some, and this was a very unusual catch. Probably the disciples divided the catch and so had to count the fish.

Verse 12

Jesus, as the host, invited the disciples to dine with Him. Perhaps He was reminding them of their last meal together in the upper room just before His arrest. In the ancient Near East a host who extended hospitality to others and provided food for them was implying that He would defend them from then on. Consequently Jesus’ invitation may have been a promise of commitment to them like the oriental covenant meal. Such a meal involved acceptance, forgiveness, and mutual commitment. By accepting His invitation the disciples were implying that they were committing themselves to Jesus afresh.

"Three ’invitations’ stand out in John’s Gospel: ’Come and see’ (John 1:39); ’Come and drink’ (John 7:37); and ’Come and dine’ (John 21:12). How loving of Jesus to feed Peter before He dealt with his spiritual needs. He gave Peter opportunity to dry off, get warm, satisfy his hunger, and enjoy personal fellowship. This is a good example for us to follow as we care for God’s people. Certainly the spiritual is more important than the physical, but caring for the physical can prepare the way for spiritual ministry. Our Lord does not so emphasize ’the soul’ that He neglects the body." [Note: Wiersbe, 1:397.]

Apparently these disciples longed to ask Jesus if the person standing with them was truly He, but they did not dare do so. This tension within them helps us understand that Jesus’ resurrection was a challenge to the faith of even those who knew Him best. Had the beatings and His crucifixion so marred His form that He scarcely resembled the Jesus they had known, or was His resurrection body so different? Probably we shall have to wait to see Him for ourselves to get answers to these questions. In spite of everything, the disciples could only conclude that the One who stood among them really was Jesus.

Verse 13

Jesus provided for the physical needs of His own as He had done before (cf. John 6:11-13). Hopefully the disciples recalled the significance of His feeding the multitudes earlier. Jesus could take meager human resources, multiply them, and so produce supernatural blessing. This was an important lesson for these believers to remember as they began to embark on the challenging mission that Jesus had given them.

Verse 14

John concluded the narration of this incident by identifying it as the third instance of Jesus’ self-manifestation to His disciples after His resurrection. This verse forms an inclusio with John 21:1 that sets this incident off as distinct.

John said that this was the third post-resurrection appearance "to the disciples" (i.e., the apostles, cf. John 20:19-23; John 20:26-29). Chronologically this was at least Jesus’ seventh post-resurrection appearance (cf. John 20:11-18; Matthew 28:8-10; 1 Corinthians 15:5; Luke 24:13-32; John 20:19-23; John 20:26-29). Nevertheless it was the third appearance to the disciples, and the third appearance to the disciples that John recorded.

John viewed this appearance as further proof of Jesus’ resurrection. Perhaps he viewed it as completing a full compliment of testimonies since he drew attention to its being the third appearance to the disciples. The number three in Scripture sometimes connotes fullness or completeness (e.g., the three Persons of the Trinity). However by calling this appearance a "manifestation" (Gr. ephanerothe, cf. John 21:1) John indicated that he also viewed it as a revelation of Jesus’ true character.

So far Jesus had reminded these disciples of lessons that He had taught them previously that were important for them to remember in view of their mission. He had also set the stage for an even more important lesson that would follow.

Verse 15

Education again followed eating, as it had often done before, for example, in the upper room (chs. 13-17). The following conversation may have taken place as Jesus and Peter walked along the shore, with John within earshot close behind (cf. John 21:20-21).

Jesus began by addressing Peter as Simon the son of Jonas. In the Gospels, Jesus addressed Peter this way on only the most important occasions. These were his call to follow Jesus (John 1:42), his confession of Jesus as the Son of God (Matthew 16:17), and as he slept in Gethsemane (Mark 14:37). When Jesus addressed Peter this way here, Peter probably realized that what Jesus was about to say to him was extremely important.

Jesus used a word for "love" (Gr. agapas) in His question that many scholars have understood to refer to total commitment to another person. [Note: E.g., Westcott, The Gospel . . . Greek Text . . ., 2:367.] Other equally competent scholars, however, do not believe it had this strong meaning. [Note: E.g., R. C. Trench, Synonyms of the New Testament, pp. 38-42.] Nevertheless most scholars recognize that agapao expresses a somewhat stronger love than phileo does. In his Gospel John did not usually make fine distinctions in meaning on the basis of synonym differences. [Note: Carson, The Gospel . . ., pp. 676-77; Tenney, "John," p. 201; Morris, p. 770.] Generally he treated synonyms as having essentially the same meaning. For example, John used both agapao and phileo to describe the Father’s love for the Son (John 3:35; John 10:17; John 5:20), Jesus’ love for Lazarus (John 11:5; John 11:3; John 11:36), and Jesus’ love for the beloved disciple (John 13:23; John 20:2). However many expositors have concluded that Jesus was making a distinction between the meanings of the synonyms for love that He used here. [Note: E.g., K. L. McKay, "Style and Significance in the Language of John 21:15-17," Novum Testamentum 27 (1985):319-33; Kenneth S. Wuest, Wuest’s Word Studies from the Greek New Testament, vol. 4: "Golden Nuggets from the Greek New Testament" (by the author, 1940; reprint ed., Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1966), pp. 60-63; and Robert L. Thomas, Evangelical Hermeneutics, p. 227.] Because of the debate over the meaning of agapao and its synonyms, it seems wise not to put too much emphasis on this distinction.

"His [Peter’s] actions had shown that Peter had not wanted a crucified Lord. But Jesus was crucified. How did Peter’s devotion stand in the light of this? Was he ready to love Jesus as he was, and not as Peter wished him to be?" [Note: Morris, p. 768.]

Jesus asked Peter if he had more love for Jesus than he had for "these things" (Gr. pleon touton). What did Jesus have in mind? Was it the fishing boats and nets that Peter had returned to, or was it the other disciples? The comparison seems more likely to have been with the love of the other disciples for Jesus since Peter had earlier professed complete devotion to Jesus in the upper room (cf. John 13:37; John 18:10). Peter had claimed that his love for and commitment to Jesus were so strong that even if all the other disciples forsook Him he would not (Matthew 26:33; Mark 14:29; Luke 22:33). Still Peter had denied that he was one of Jesus’ disciples and that he even knew Jesus three times. Thus Jesus’ question was reasonable. He wanted Peter to think about just how strong his love for Jesus really was.

Peter replied by professing his love for Jesus, but he used a different word for love than Jesus had used (Gr. philo). Expositors who believe that philo expresses weaker love than agapao think that Peter apparently could not bring himself to claim complete devotion to Jesus in view of his denials. Those who view philo and agapao as essentially synonymous understand Peter as professing that he did indeed love Jesus. Peter wisely appealed for proof of his love to Jesus’ knowledge, not to his own former behavior.

Jesus responded graciously by giving Peter a command, not criticism. He told Peter to tend (Gr. boske, feed) His lambs (Gr. arnia). Three more pairs of synonyms in addition to agapao and philo occur in this passage. Bosko (feed, John 21:15; John 21:17) and poimaino (tend, or take care of, John 21:16) may be significantly different, but they are probably not. Likewise arnia (lambs, John 21:15) and probata (sheep, John 21:16-17) create the same interpretive problem. The third pair is oidas (know intellectually, John 21:15-16) and ginoskeis (know experientially, John 21:17).

Previously Jesus had referred to Himself as the Good Shepherd (John 10:14). Now he was committing the care of His flock to this disciple who had failed Him miserably in the past. Jesus had formerly called Peter to be a fisher of men, an essentially evangelistic ministry (Matthew 4:19). Now he was broadening this calling to include being a shepherd of sheep, a pastoral ministry.

Verses 15-23

B. Jesus’ teachings about motivation for service 21:15-23

Jesus now proceeded to use the miracle that He had just performed as the background for important instruction. John presented Jesus doing this many times in this Gospel. The repetition of this pattern in the epilogue is evidence that the epilogue was an original part of the Gospel. Jesus focused His teaching on Peter, but clearly He wanted all disciples to view Peter as their representative.

Verses 16-17

Jesus proceeded to ask Peter essentially the same question two more times. Peter gave virtually the same answer each time. Peter felt grief after Jesus’ third question because Jesus asked the same question a third time, which is the reason for Peter’s grief that the text gives, not the use of His word for "love." Some commentators suggested that Peter was grieved too because this time Jesus used the word for love that Peter had used (Gr. philo). Morris noted that the original conversation between Jesus and Peter probably took place in Aramaic, so when John translated what they said into Greek he may have been using synonyms for variety rather than to express nuances of difference. [Note: Ibid., p. 770.]

Jesus probably intended that Peter’s threefold profession of love would correspond to, and in a sense counteract, his former threefold denial. Peter had denied his Lord in the presence of witnesses near a charcoal fire three times (John 18:17; John 18:25; John 18:27). Now he affirmed his love for his Lord in the presence of witnesses near a charcoal fire three times. The Great Physician was restoring Peter’s soul.

"There can be little doubt but that the whole scene is meant to show us Peter as completely restored to his position of leadership. . . . It is further worth noting that the one thing about which Jesus questioned Peter prior to commissioning him to tend the flock was love. This is the basic qualification for Christian service. Other qualities may be desirable, but love is completely indispensable (cf. 1 Corinthians 13:1-3)." [Note: Ibid., p. 772.]

Some failures in ministry may bar a believer from serving the Lord in particular ways from then on (cf. 1 Timothy 3:1-13; Titus 1:5-16). Other failures may only require temporary suspension from service until restoration is complete (cf. Acts 15:38; 2 Timothy 4:11). However regardless of one’s failures he or she can always serve the Lord in some capacity (cf. 2 Timothy 2:20-21).

Peter had learned not to make rash professions of great love. Therefore he did not compare his love for Jesus to the love of the other disciples as he had done before. He simply appealed to Jesus’ knowledge of his heart.

Throughout this interchange Jesus consistently referred to the sheep as His sheep, not Peter’s sheep. Moreover Jesus described Peter’s ministry in terms of acts, not in terms of an office. Later Peter wrote to elders urging them to apply these same viewpoints to their pastoral ministry (1 Peter 5:1-4). [Note: C. K. Barrett, Essays on John, pp. 165-66.]

Some Roman Catholic scholars have used this passage to support their view that Peter was the first pope. Some of them do this mainly because in the Old Testament the shepherd was a figure for a kingly ruler (e.g., 2 Samuel 5:2). However other New Testament revelation does not exalt Peter to a place of authoritative rule over other under-shepherds (Acts 20:28; 1 Peter 5:1-4). Matthew 16:13-20 establishes Peter’s role in the founding of the church, but it does not assign him the role of ruling over the other apostles.

Verses 18-19

Jesus then gave the last of the many important statements that He introduced with a strong affirmation. It was a prediction of the type of death that Peter would die.

Jesus contrasted the freedom that Peter had enjoyed in his youth with the constraint that he would experience in later life. He was describing crucifixion. The phrase "stretch out your hands" (John 21:18) was a euphemistic reference to crucifixion in the Roman world. [Note: Ernst Haenchen, A Commentary on the Gospel of John , 2:226-27.] This stretching took place when the Roman soldiers fastened the condemned person’s arms to the crosspiece of his cross. This often happened before they led him to the place of crucifixion and crucified him. [Note: Beasley-Murray, pp. 408-9.]

Peter had been learning how his self-confidence led to failure and how he needed to depend on Jesus more (i.e., "You know . . ."; John 21:15-17). Jesus reminded Peter that as time passed he would become increasingly dependent on others even to the point of being unable to escape a martyr’s death. Therefore, Jesus implied, Peter should commit his future to God rather than trying to control it himself as he had formerly tried to do.

"The long painful history of the Church is the history of people ever and again tempted to choose power over love, control over the cross, being a leader over being led." [Note: Henri J. M. Nouwen, In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership, p. 60. This book deals with this episode in Peter’s life most helpfully, especially for Christian leaders.]

Peter later wrote that Christians who follow Jesus Christ faithfully to the point of dying for Him bring glory to God by their deaths (1 Peter 4:14-16). He lived with this prediction hanging over him for three decades (cf. 2 Peter 1:14). Clement of Rome (ca. A.D. 96) wrote that Peter died by martyrdom (1 Clement John 5:4; John 6:1). [Note: Ante-Nicene Christian Library: Translations of the Writings of the Fathers, 1:11.] According to church tradition, Peter asked for crucifixion upside down because he felt unworthy to suffer as Jesus had. [Note: The Ecclesiastical History of Eusebius Pamphilus, 2:25; 3:1.] There is little corroborating support for this tradition, however. Traditionally Peter died in Rome about A.D. 67 A.D.

Jesus then repeated His former command for Peter to follow Him (cf. Mark 1:17). This is a present imperative in the Greek text meaning "keep on following me."

"Obedience to Jesus’ command, Follow Me, is the key issue in every Christian’s life. As Jesus followed the Father’s will, so His disciples should follow their Lord whether the path leads to a cross or to some other difficult experience." [Note: Blum, p. 345.]

Was Jesus saying that the Rapture would not occur before Peter died? Other New Testament writers who wrote before Peter’s death wrote as though the Lord could return for the church at any moment (e.g., Philippians 3:11; Philippians 3:20-21; 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18; cf. 2 Thessalonians 2). Probably we should understand references to future events such as Peter’s death as being contingent on the larger purposes of God including the Rapture (cf. Acts 27:24). One writer believed that Peter and the early church did not understand Jesus’ words here as meaning that Peter would live a long life but only that he would die a martyr’s death. [Note: Gerald B. Stanton, Kept from the Hour, pp. 113-14.] If John wrote this Gospel late in the first century, as seems likely, Peter may already have died when the first readers read this story.

Verses 20-21

Why did John identify himself as he did in these verses? Perhaps he did so because this description highlights his intimacy with Jesus. That intimacy was evidently a factor in Jesus’ plans for John to which He proceeded to refer (John 21:22-24). These plans included his writing this Gospel (John 21:24). Therefore by presenting the writer as an intimate of Jesus, John was establishing his credentials as a reliable eyewitness of what he reported. A second reason may be that this description also reminds the reader of John’s intimacy with Peter. This helps us understand Peter’s question about Jesus’ will for John. Peter evidently wanted to know what would happen to his young friend if he himself was going to suffer crucifixion.

Peter was not the only Christian who wanted to know God’s will for another believer’s life. Many Christians since him have wanted the same information but not always for as altruistic reasons as Peter presumably had.

Verse 22

Jesus essentially told Peter that John’s future was none of his business. Rather than concerning himself with God’s will for other people, even those closest to him, he should concentrate on following Jesus faithfully himself. The "you" in the Greek text is emphatic. Even if it was Jesus’ will for John to remain alive until He returned, that was not to be Peter’s concern.

The reference to Jesus’ return is probably a reference to the Rapture rather than the Second Coming in view of what Jesus had promised these disciples in John 14:1-3.

Verse 23

Jesus’ statement here led to a rumor that John would not die before Jesus returned. This is one of the earliest instances of people setting a date for the Lord’s return. All such attempts to identify exactly when Jesus will return go beyond Scriptural revelation.

John clarified what Jesus really did say to squelch the rumor, which was evidently circulating when he wrote this Gospel. The clarification was important because when John died some people might have falsely concluded that Jesus had not been faithful to His promise to return. Others might conclude that John’s Gospel was not trustworthy. However, Jesus had spoken of a hypothetical possibility. He had not given a promise.

"In view of the fact that in this Gospel slight variations when statements are repeated are almost universal, it is noteworthy that here the statement is repeated exactly from John 21:22. The precise words used are significant, and the writer is at pains to be accurate." [Note: Morris, p. 775.]

"The author’s explanation of Jesus’ announcement may be taken as evidence that the disciple was still living at the time this Gospel was written and that he was the source of its content. Obviously, if he had died early, the rumor would have had no credence." [Note: Tenney, "John," p. 203.]

It is interesting and significant that the last words of Jesus that John recorded were about His return. This is the great hope of His believing disciples.

Verse 24

Most careful students of this Gospel have deduced from this and other oblique references in the book that the Apostle John is the writer in view. This description of the writer stresses the reliability of his witness. [Note: See Thomas D. Lea, "The Reliability of History in John’s Gospel," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 38:3 (September 1996):387-402.] "These things" probably refers to the whole Gospel, not just what immediately precedes. The statement is general, and it occurs at the end of the book.

The identity of the "we" is less clear. They could be writers who recorded John’s verbal witness as he dictated the material in this Gospel to them. They could be editors of the Gospel. Some scholars view these people as the elders of the Ephesian church where John traditionally served late in his life. [Note: E.g., Westcott, The Gospel . . . Greek Text . . ., 2:374.] Others believe that they were influential men in his church though not necessarily in Ephesus. [Note: E.g., Bultmann, pp. 717-18.] Another view is that this is an indefinite reference similar to "as is well known." [Note: C. H. Dodd, "Note on John 21, 24," Journal of Theological Studies NS4 (1953):212-13.] Probably John himself wrote this statement in the plural, as authoritative people sometimes do. It would then be an editorial "we" (cf. John 1:14; John 3:2; John 3:11; John 20:2; 1 John 1:2; 1 John 1:4-7; 3 John 1:12). Since the next verse returns to the first person, this option seems most probable to me.

Verses 24-25

C. The writer’s postscript 21:24-25

Some commentators refer to this ending as a colophon. A colophon is the finishing stroke and crowning touch to a document. It is an inscription placed at the end of a book or manuscript that contains basic information about it such as the title, writer’s name, and date and place of writing. However, it is more similar to a postscript because it contains only hints of the writer’s identity. Mainly it claims that this Gospel is a reliable though limited record of Jesus’ actions.

Verse 25

This final verse, along with the one preceding it, returns to the broad perspective with which this Gospel began in its prologue (John 1:1-18). The prologue presents the Word humbling Himself and entering the world in incarnation. This verse presents the world as not able to contain all the revelation that the Word made. John’s final word was that what he wrote, and what everyone else could write, would be only a small part of what could be written to bring honor to Jesus Christ.

Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on John 21". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/john-21.html. 2012.
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