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Bible Commentaries
John 21

Gann's Commentary on the BibleGann on the Bible

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Verse 1

John 21:1

After these things -- With the weeklong festival of Unleavened Bread past the disciples have left Jerusalem and returned to Galilee where Jesus had promised to meet them. ( John 20:26; Luke 2:43 )

John seems to write this epilogue to tie up several loose ends, Peter’s restoration and service, and a rumor about himself.

Sea of Tiberias -- Sea of Galilee (John 6:1) cf Luke 5:1;

Tiberias was the Roman administrative capital of Galilee. This body of water is also known as the “Sea of Galilee” (cf. John 6:1) or Lake of Gennesaret (cf. Matthew 14:34; Mark 6:35; Luke 5:1) and in the OT as “Lake of Chinnereth” (cf. Numbers 34:11; Deuteronomy 3:17; Joshua 11:2; Joshua 12:3; Joshua 13:27; Joshua 19:35; 1 Kings 15:20).

Verse 2

John 21:2

sons of Zebedee -- James and John; Luke mentions that they were "partners with Simon" in fishing before being called by jesus , Matthew 4:21; Luke 5:10; five are identified and two are unidentified. It seems likely that these two men unnamed are two who are never mentioned elsewhere in John’s gospel and were not apostles.

Verse 3

John 21:3

I go a fishing ... Ὑπάγω ἁλιεύειν. "I go to fish"

While waiting for Jesus to meet them in Galilee (as instructed Matthew 28:7; Matthew 28:16) Peter takes the lead ,as often, and returns to his usual employment.

Was this occasion to go fishing, done: 1) as casually waiting according to Jesus’ instructions, or 2) done in despair and giving up on their ministry. Most like just #1.

night -- This was the preferred time of day for fishing in ancient times ( Luke 5:5) Fish caught during the night would be sold fresh in the morning. ESVSB.

Verse 4

John 21:4

did not know it was Jesus -- Remember it was early morning, probably dusky dark, and there is a distance of 100 yards vs 8. Who can identify anyone definitely unde this condition.

Some think this was another instance of Jesus keeping them from recognizing Him until after the miracle, Luke 24:16

Verse 5

John 21:5

Children -- Metaphorically. Just a mere term of friendly address paidia, not the affectionate term teknia.

have any fish -- Sounds almost like today when one fisherman meets another out on the water and casually asks, "Have you caught anything?"

Verse 6

John 21:6

cast the net -- Perhaps they thought from his angle he could see a "dense mass" in the lake, such as could often be seen. Plummer CBSC

Verse 7

John 21:7

that disciple whom Jesus loved -- John’s way of identifying himself throughout the book. One of the sons of Zebedee, v.2, and author of this Gospel account.

outer garment -- fisher’s coat, The Greek word (ependutes) occurs here only. It was his upper garment, which he gathered round him “with instinctive reverence for the presence of his Master” (Westcott). ‘Naked’ need not mean more than ‘stripped’ of the upper garment. “No one but an eye-witness would have thought of the touch in v. 7, which exactly inverts the natural action of one about to swim, and yet is quite accounted for by the circumstances.” - Plummer, CBSC

Verse 8

John 21:8

two hundred cubits -- "a hundred yards" (approx. 100 yards or 92 meters based on an a cubit of 18 inches).

Verse 9

John 21:9

charcoal fire -- We see an early morning breakfast for fellowship and spiritual reflection. John’s description refuted the heresy of gnosticism which denied true humanity to Jesus, but our Lord ate with them.

With fish on it -- The singular “fish” (opsarion) here may suggest there is just one large fish being cooked. But then Jesus encourages the disciples to bring some of the fish they just caught (John 21:10). - ZIBBCNT2

The same word for fish is used in v.10 but in the plural.

"There are two different terms for fish in this paragraph: (1) in vv. 9, 10, & 13 the term is opsarion, which meant small fish and (2) in vv. 6, 8 & 11 the term is ichthus, which meant large fish. They seem to be used interchangeably in this context." - Utley

Verse 10

John 21:10

fish -- In v. 9 the word is singular, here the same word is in the plural.

Verse 11

John 21:11

went up -- went up therefore, the meaning probably is "went on board" the vessel, now in shallow water.

The details in this verse are strong evidence of the writer having been an eye-witness: he had helped to count these ‘great fishes’ and gives the number, not because there is anything mystical in it, but because he remembers it. - Plummer.

Various attempts have been made to interpret the number 153 symbolically, but more likely it simply represents the number of fish counted. - ESVSB

“a hundred and fifty-three” -- In context there seems to be no symbolic significance to this number; it is simply an eye-witness detail. However, the inappropriate tendency of the early church to allegorize all numbers and details forced this verse to mean:

(1) Cyril stated that 100 stood for Gentiles and 50 stood for Jews and 3 for the Trinity;

(2) Augustine asserted that this number refers to the Ten Commandments and the seven gifts of the Spirit, which equals the number seventy. If you add up each number 1, 2, 3, 4 through 17 you get 153. Augustine said this was the total number who came to Christ through the law and grace; or

(3) Jerome said there are 153 different kinds of fish; therefore, this is symbolic of all nations coming to Christ.

This allegorical method of interpretation speaks of the cleverness of the interpreter and not the intent of the original, inspired author! - Utley

Verse 12

John 21:12

Come and have breakfast -- First-century Jews normally ate two meals a day (cf. Luke 14:12), with “breakfast” (ariston) being the first of these. It was generally eaten before starting a day’s work (though it could be an early lunch as well; cf. Luke 11:37-38). - Arnold, C. E. (2002). Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds

none durst ask … knowing -- A mixture of perplexity, awe, and conviction. They are convinced that He is the Lord, yet feel that He is changed, and reverence restrains them from curious questions. Comp. Matthew 2:8, Matthew 10:11. The writer knows the inmost feelings of Apostles (comp. John 2:11; John 2:17; John 2:22; John 4:27; John 4:33; John 6:21; John 9:2; John 20:20) - Plummer CBSC

Verse 13

John 21:13

Jesus came, took the bread -- Jesus here performs the act of the Jewish host, pronouncing the blessing at a meal (cf. John 6:11; John 6:23). - ZIBBC

Verse 14

John 21:14

the third time -- John refers only to the first two appearance mentioned in his Gospel; John 20:19-23; John 20:26-29. John doen’t count the appearances to others (ie Mary Magdalene John 20:11-18, the two on the road to Emmaus, Luke 24:13 ff etc.) but those "to His disciples (apostles)"

We have not sufficient knowledge to arrange the different appearances in chronological order. cf 1 Corinthians 15:4-8, etc.

Verse 15

John 21:15

Simon, son of John ...

"Note that the writer himself calls him Simon Peter, but represents the Lord as calling him ‘Simon son of John.’ This is not only in harmony with the rest of this Gospel, but with the Gospels as a whole. Although Jesus gave Simon the name of Peter, yet, with one remarkable exception (see on Luke 22:34), He never addresses him as Peter, but always as Simon. Matthew 16:17, Matthew 17:25; Mark 14:37; Luke 22:31. The Synoptists generally call him Simon, sometimes adding his surname. S. John always gives both names, excepting in 1:41, where the surname just about to be given would be obviously out of place." CBSC

more than these ... 1) Do you love Me more than you love these other disciples? 2) Do you love Me more than these other disciples love me? 3) Do you love Me more than you love fishing (your profession)?

Was Jesus asking Peter if he loved him more than the other disciples did; or did he love Him more than the loved fishing for a living? Jesus had a mission for Peter, and this mission must come before his love for his job!

Most commentaries seem to think Jesus was talking about the other disciples love, but others think Jesus was speaking of Peter’s profession.

Jesus wanted Peter to love Him so supremely as to forsake all that he was familiar with and be exclusively devoted to being a fisher of men (Matthew 4:19). The phrase may refer to the other disciples, since Peter had claimed he would be more devoted than all the others (Matthew 26:33). MASB

Peter uses the same verb for “love” all three times (Gk. phileō), but Jesus uses a different verb for “love” in the first two questions (Gk. agapaō) and then switches to Peter’s word phileō in the third question. There may be a slight difference in nuance between the verbs (Peter seems to see a difference in the related nouns in 2 Peter 1:7), - ESVSB

Verse 16

John 21:16

lovest thou me? -- Jesus drops the ‘more than these."

Feed my sheep -- Tend, or shepherd, My sheep. The word rendered ‘feed’ in vv. 15 and 17 (boskein) means ‘supply with food.’ Comp. Matthew 8:30; Matthew 8:33; Mark 5:11; Mark 5:14; Luke 8:32, Luke 8:34; Luke 15:15 (the only other passages where the word occurs in N.T.) of the feeding of the herd of swine.

Verse 17

John 21:17

the third time -- He had denied thrice, and must thrice affirm his love. This time Jesus makes a further concession: He not only ceases to urge the ‘more than these,’ but He adopts S. Peter’s own word, philein (love) . CBSC

Peter was grieved --

thou knowest all things; ..thou knowest -- Once more we have two words for ‘know’ in the original and only one in the KJV. (Comp. John 7:27, John 8:55, John 13:7, John 14:7.) The first ‘knowest’ (oidas) refers to Christ’s supernatural intuition, as in vv. John 21:15; John 21:16: the second ‘knowest’ (ginôskeis) to His experience and discernment; Thou recognisest, perceivest, seest, that I love Thee.

Feed my sheep -- It is doubtful whether we have or have not precisely the same word for ‘sheep’ here as in v. 16. The Greek word here according to the best authorities is undoubtedly a diminutive (probatia, not probata); in v. 16 the evidence is pretty evenly balanced between probatia and probata (‘little sheep’ and ‘sheep’). - CBSC

Verse 18

John 21:18

Verily, verily -- Twenty-five times in the Gospel of John, Jesus uses the expression Verily, verily to introduce a concept the hearer might have difficulty believing. This intensive expression emphasized that what was stated was true just as God is true. (In the Old Testament, a person who might be doubted would use such an expression to insist that he was telling the truth (Numbers 5:22).) KJVSB

“stretch out your hands” -- This may be a technical idiom used (1) in the early church and (2) in Greek literature for “crucifixion.” - Utley

stretch out your hands -- Crucifixion. dress … lead. The “stretching” of crucifixion sometimes occurred when a condemned prisoner was tied to the cross-member and forced to carry their “cross” to the place of execution (cf. 19:17) NIVASB

will dress you -- (literally bind you): Jesus alludes to captivity, bondage, and even crucifixion—victims were often tied to the cross. NLTSB

shall gird thee -- As a criminal. Plumber, CBSC

tie you up and carry you -- Jesus is referring to Peter’s death. According to church tradition, he was crucified upside down in Rome roughly 30 years after Jesus’ ministry (see note on 1 Peter 5:1). FSB

John 21:18 -- Truly, when you were young you dress tieing your own belt (a sash) and going where you wanted to go, but when old you will stretch out your hand and someone else will use you belt to tie you and lead you to away not under your own choice. WG

Verse 19

John 21:19

death -- It will depend on the interpretation of v. 18 whether we understand this to mean crucifixion or simply martyrdom. That S. Peter was crucified at Rome rests on sufficient evidence, beginning with Tertullian (Scorp. xv.), and that he requested to be crucified head downwards is stated by Eusebius (H. E. III. i. 2) on the authority of Origen. Plummer, CBSC

Follow me -- Perhaps the literal meaning is not altogether to be excluded; and it appears from S. Peter’s ‘turning about’ (v. 20), that he understood the words literally and began to follow. But no doubt this command here, as elsewhere in the Gospels, is to be understood figuratively, the precise shade of meaning being determined by the context. Comp. John 1:43; Matthew 8:22; Matthew 9:9; Matthew 19:21. In the present case there is probably a reference to John 13:36-37; and the ‘following’ includes following to a martyr’s death, and possibly the precise death of crucifixion. Plumber, CBSC

kind of death -- Jesus predicts Peter’s martyrdom (cf. John 12:33 John 18:32).

glorify God -- By following Jesus to suffering and death (cf. John 12:27-28; John 13:31-32; John 17:1; 1 Peter 4:14-16). Remarkably, Peter served for three decades with this prediction hanging over him; he most likely died in Rome under the emperor Nero. ZSB

Verse 20

John 21:20

turning around ... In this graphic detail of an eye witness John identifies himself, and indicates that he had overheard this conversation between Peter and Jesus. John 13:23

Verse 21

John 21:21

Peter seeing him -- Another intimacy between these two Apostles.

What about this man ... Peter wants to know about the future of his friend, perhaps wondering if he too would experience martyrdom.

Verse 22

John 21:22

until I return -- Jesus will come again (see Acts 1:11; 1 Corinthians 15:23-28; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11; Revelation 19:11-16).

till I come -- Literally, while I am coming. The words express rather the interval of waiting than the end of it. Comp. John 9:4; Mark 6:45. This at once seems to shew that it is unnecessary to enquire whether Pentecost, or the destruction of Jerusalem, or the apocalyptic visions recorded in the Revelation, or a natural death, or the Second Advent, is meant by Christ’s ‘coming’ in this verse. He is not giving an answer but refusing one. Plummer, CBSC

till I come -- Jesus’ hypothetical statement for emphasis was that, if John lived until His second coming, it was none of Peter’s concern. He needed to live his own life in faithfulness, not compare it with any other.

We must remember that we are to deal with out own gifts and ministries and not be concerned with what God has planned for others!

remain, abide -- One of John’s favorite words (1:32, 33, 39, 40, 2:12, 3:36, 4:40, &c., and twelve times in chap. 15)

What is that to you? .... A gentle lesson on "minding our own business"! 1 Corinthians 4:5 ; Romans 14:4 do not pass judgment on others. It seems a gentel rebuke.

Verse 23

John 21:23

the brethren -- This phrase, common in the Acts (Acts 9:30, Acts 11:1, Acts 11:29; Acts 15:1, act 15.3; Acts 15:22; Acts 15:23, &c.), is not used elsewhere in the Gospels for believers generally; but we see the way prepared for it in the Lord’s words to the disciples (Matthew 23:8), to S. Peter (Luke 22:32), and to Mary Magdalene (John 20:17). Plummer, CBSC

until I come -- Appaently there was a rumor that John was to live until the Second Coming, and John wants to report accurately what Jesus said.

Verse 24

John 21:24

wrote these things -- Does this refer to (1) vv. 20–23: (2) chapter 21; or (3) the whole Gospel? The answer is uncertain. - Utley

and has recorded -- John’s Gospel is anchored in his personal eye-witness experiences. It is not a story written from hearsay or speculation. The author typically refers to himself indirecly or in the third person (John 21:20) Other examples include: “the disciple whom Jesus loved” (cf. John 21:7; John 13:23),“one” of the Twelve John 21:20, and one of the “sons of Zebedee”

Plummer, CBSC "Again the question of authorship confronts us. Are these last two verses by the writer of the rest of the chapter? Are they both by the same hand? The external evidence, as in the case of the preceding verses, is in favour of their being both by the same hand, and that the writer of the first twenty-three verses, and therefore S. John. No MS. or version is extant without v. 24, and all except the Sinaitic, have v. 25 also; nor is there any evidence that a copy was ever in existence lacking either this last chapter or v. 24. "

Verse 25

John 21:25

John’s closing observation emphasizes the limitless magnitude of all that Jesus accomplished for mankind’s salvation.

John acknowledges that the story he has described is larger than anything he can imagine or fully communicate. While it is glorious for us to read, John’s account is pale in comparison to the glory of the person it describes.

- - - - - - -- - - - -

Notes from this book are often from:

Bernard, J. H. (1929). A critical and exegetical commentary on the Gospel according to St. John. (A. H. McNeile, Ed.). New York: C. Scribner’ Sons.

Barry, J. D., Mangum, D., Brown, D. R., Heiser, M. S., Custis, M., Ritzema, E., … Bomar, D. (2012, 2016). Faithlife Study Bible (Jn 15:16). Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

Crossway Bibles. (2008). The ESV Study Bible. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

King James Version study Bible . (1997). (electronic ed., Jn 15:26). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

MacArthur, J., Jr. (Ed.). (1997). The MacArthur Study Bible (electronic ed., p. 1616). Nashville, TN: Word Pub.

New Living Translation Study Bible. (2008). (Jn 15:18–27). Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.

NIV Zondervan Study Bible: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

Bibliographical Information
Gann, Windell. "Commentary on John 21". Gann's Commentary on the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/gbc/john-21.html. 2021.
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