After these things Jesus shewed himself again to the disciples at the sea of Tiberias; and on this wise shewed he himself. 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. 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. But when the morning was now come, Jesus stood on the shore: but the disciples knew not that it was Jesus. Then Jesus saith unto them, Children, have ye any meat? They answered him, No. And he said unto them, Cast the net on the right side of the ship, and ye shall find. They cast therefore, and now they were not able to draw it for the multitude of fishes. Therefore that disciple whom Jesus loved saith unto Peter, It is the Lord. 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. And the other disciples came in a little ship; (for they were not far from land, but as it were two hundred cubits,) dragging the net with fishes. As soon then as they were come to land, they saw a fire of coals there, and fish laid thereon, and bread. Jesus saith unto them, Bring of the fish which ye have now caught. Simon Peter went up, and drew the net to land full of great fishes, and hundred and fifty and three: and for all there were so many, yet was not the net broken. Jesus saith unto them, Come and dine. And none of the disciples durst ask him, Who art thou? knowing that it was the Lord. Jesus then cometh, and taketh bread, and giveth them, and fish likewise. This is now the third time that Jesus shewed himself to his disciples, after that he was risen from the dead. So when they had dined, Jesus saith to Simon Peter, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my lambs. He saith to him again the second time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my sheep. He saith unto him the third time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? Peter was grieved because he said unto him the third time, Lovest thou me? And he said unto him, Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee. Jesus saith unto him, Feed my sheep. Verily, verily, I say unto thee, When thou wast young, thou girdedst thyself, and walkedst whither thou wouidest: but when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, and carry thee whither thou wouidest not. This spake he, signifying by what death he should glorify God. And when he had spoken this, he saith unto him, Follow me. 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? Peter seeing him saith to Jesus, Lord, and what shall this man do? Jesus saith unto him, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? follow thou me. 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? 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.
With these words we come to the close of the gospel of John, the book in which we have been reveling for so long. I trust that our souls have been blessed as we have followed the pathway of our Lord Jesus Christ all the way from the past eternity, as the One who dwelt in the bosom of the Father, down to Bethlehem’s manger, through the valleys and over the hills of Galilee, Samaria and Judea, at last to the Garden of Gethsemane, the judgment hall and cross, to the borrowed tomb, and now, in resurrection life.
The outstanding theme of this chapter is the public restoration of the apostle Peter. He who had failed the Lord so sadly in the hour of need might have thought he would never again be recognized as one of the apostles. But he was just as tenderly loved by the Lord after his failure as before. I wish we could take that in. I contact so many people who tell me more or less the same story. In some way or other they failed to stand the test and are conscious of having sinned against the Lord. Though truly penitent, they feel that it is all over with them, that the Lord has given them up and that they are hopelessly lost. Some say, “I wonder if I have committed the unpardonable sin? I cannot get the witness of the spirit anymore. I have prayed and prayed but do not get peace.” Such souls forget that the witness is the testimony of Holy Scripture and that the Word of God has told us that “if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). That is the witness of the Spirit given through the Word of God. No matter who the sinner is, when he comes to God confessing his failure, acknowledging and judging it, he may be absolutely certain that God will never go back on His declaration that the sin is put away, that the failing believer who has confessed his sins is cleansed from all unrighteousness, and that communion is restored. Happy is the soul who enters into that by faith and goes on rejoicing in fellowship with his Savior.
Now I have no doubt that the Lord had actually restored Peter’s soul before this public event took place. We are told that when those disciples came from Emmaus on that first Lord’s Day evening they found the disciples gathered together, saying, “The Lord is risen indeed, and hath appeared to Simon” (Luke 24:34). Just where that appearance took place we do not know, but there had been a secret meeting between Peter and the Lord he had denied. As a result of this, I am sure Peter’s soul had been restored. But you see it was one thing for a man like him to be personally restored to the Lord and another thing to be confirmed for public service, and in such a way as would be in harmony with the consciences of his brethren. Many a servant of Christ has failed and brought grave distress upon himself and others. He has been, in the secret of his own room, restored to communion, but so far as launching out in public testimony again, his brethren do not have the confidence to accredit him or extend their fellowship for they do not know what has taken place in his heart.
The Lord Jesus dealt in this public way with Peter in order that the others might realize that Christ had confidence in His servant and sent him forth again in obedience to the Word to feed the sheep and lambs of the flock. The instance is said to be the third occasion on which the Lord appeared to the apostles.
We read, “After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples at the sea of Tiberias; and on this wise showed he himself. 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 21:1-2). And so they were in the will of the Lord in having made their way back from Judea to Galilee. But it is very evident they were restless. They were still not quite clear as to the meaning of the events of the past few days, such as those appearances of the Lord down there in the Upper Room in Jerusalem, and to the women, and so on. They haven’t sensed the place that is to be theirs in the evangelization of the world and the carrying to all men the story of the risen Christ.
Peter, in his restlessness, thinks of his old occupation. There was nothing sinful about fishing, but it does seem as though going fishing at this time, when they should have been waiting for the manifestation of the Lord, implies the activity of the flesh. It is so much easier to go fishing than to give yourself to prayer! You know how that is. When the Spirit of God would call you to a season of waiting on the Lord, it is so much easier to get up and do something. We would rather do almost anything than wait quietly on God. That is the flesh. And so it was the flesh here that led Peter to say, “I go a-fishing” (v. 3). It is a long time since he had an opportunity to visit the old haunts, perhaps not since he was called to become a fisher of men. And perhaps he thought, “There is not much chance of that now. It might have been different if I had proved true when the time of testing came. I can hardly expect Him to trust me now to fish for men, so I had better go back to my old occupation.”
The others spoke up and said, “Well, we will go with you.” And they toiled all night and caught nothing. That must have reminded Peter of another occasion-that time, over three years before, when the Lord had called him from his boat. Their labor was fruitless. There were no results. “But when the morning was now come, Jesus stood on the shore: but the disciples knew not that it was Jesus” (v. 4). They were drawing near the shore with their empty nets and suddenly they saw a strange figure emerging from the mists. They did not recognize Him. He called to them as they were still some little way from land. “Children, have ye any meat? They answered him, No” (v. 5). He would make them confess how utterly empty they really were and how the night’s fishing had gone for nothing.
He called to them again, “Cast the net on the right side of the ship, and ye shall find” (v. 6a). I think that must have electrified Peter. He remembered when that same voice said, “Let down your nets for a draught” (Luke 5:4), on the other occasion when he had toiled all the night, and had taken nothing. In obedience to the stranger’s command, “They cast therefore, and now they were not able to draw it for the multitude of fishes” (21:6b).
“Therefore that disciple whom Jesus loved saith unto Peter, It is the Lord” (v. 7a). John knew He was the only One who could call the treasure of the deep into their nets. He was the Creator of the fish that they had taken in accordance with His Word.
“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” (v. 7b). Nothing could hold him back now from the feet of Jesus, the Savior whom he had denied. The other disciples came in the little ship after that, dragging the net with fishes.
“As soon as they were come to land, they saw a fire of coals there, and fish laid thereon, and bread” (v. 9). They saw a fire of coals. I think there was something significant about that. Where had Peter denied his Lord? We read, “ [They] made a fire of coals; … and Peter stood [by the fire]” (18:18). That fire of coals was the world’s fire. Peter was in the wrong place. He put himself in the place of temptation. But this was the fire that the Lord had kindled. Think of it!
Think of the grace of Christ, the Son of God, cooking Peter’s breakfast that morning! There was never anything that the Lord Jesus thought too humiliating for Him to do for those He loved. Jesus loved to serve. Do you love to serve? You who say you belong to Him. Do you love to serve, or do you like to be served? Do you love to obey or to command? The flesh likes to be served. But the one who is walking in fellowship with the Lord Jesus Christ delights to obey and delights to serve.
So the Lord cooked Peter’s breakfast. And He said, “Bring of the fish which ye have now caught” (v. 10). In addition to what He provided He would use what they had brought. Must it not have been a lovely sight? Just think of it, the fire of coals, the mist rising from the lake, and Jesus in the midst-and the disciples enjoying the fish that He Himself had prepared. What a picture!
Afterward, when they had all enjoyed the repast that He made for them, they were wondering still. You see Jesus must have looked different in resurrection than what He did before. He had been “a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief (Isaiah 53:3), but now He was in that resurrection body that would never have a sign of pain or weariness again?
Could it be Him? Were they making a mistake? But no one dared ask, for deep in their hearts they knew it was the Lord.
“Jesus then cometh, and taketh bread, and giveth them, and fish likewise” (John 21:13). And they breakfasted with Him. “This is now the third time that Jesus showed himself to his disciples, after that he was risen from the dead. So when they had dined, Jesus saith to Simon Peter, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these?” (v. 15a). You remember what Simon had said on the night of the betrayal, before they went out to the Garden. “Master, though all men forsake You, yet will I not.” He was saying practically I love Him more than all the rest of them. How did he feel now? “Lovest thou me more than these?” I think He pointed to John and James and Thomas and the rest of them. And Peter answered, “Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed My lambs” (v. 15b).
There is something very interesting here. Greek scholars have often pointed out that there are two different words for “love” in this colloquy. One is used in 1 Corinthians 13:1, and it is the strongest word for love that we have in the Bible. It is the word for a love that is absolutely unselfish and is used throughout the New Testament for God Himself-“God is love”-for the love of God for this world, and for our love to God and for the people of the Lord. It is used even for the love of that which people sometimes put in the place of God, such as for money and the world. You can give these things the love that should go to God.
Then there is another word, and it is one that means affection such as exists between good friends. It is used for the love of one friend to another and for family affection. It suggests a lower quality of love than the first Word. When the Lord says to Peter, “Lovest thou me more than these?” He used the word translated “love” in 1 Corinthians 13. “Peter, have you an absolutely pure, unselfish love for Me, above what the others have?” That word challenged Peter, and he could not rise to it. And so he uses the other word. He says, “Yea, Lord; thou knowest I have affection for thee.” And the Lord says, “Very well Peter, if you have affection for Me, care for My lambs.”
Then He said to him again the second time, “Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me?” (v. 16a). And again He uses the stronger word, but Peter answers with the weaker one. He says, “Lord; thou knowest that I have affection for thee” (v. 16b). And Jesus says, “Very well, Peter, take care of My flock.” Then Jesus said to him the third time, “Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me?” (v. 17a). He now uses the lesser term: “Hast thou affection for me?” Peter was grieved that Jesus asked him for the third time. How many times had Peter denied Him? That is why the Lord asks him three times. Peter broke right down and said, “Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee” (v. 17b). (“Thou knowest that I have affection for thee.”) As much as to say, “O Lord, I do not deserve Your confidence. You know all about me. You know even in spite of my failure and denial, I love You still.” And Jesus said “Feed my sheep.”
So Peter was restored publicly to his special work as an apostle.
But you remember Peter said to Him, “Lord, I am ready to go with thee, both into prison, and death” (Luke 22:33). So the Lord Jesus said to him, “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, When thou wast young, thou girdedst thyself, and walkedst 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. This spake he, signifying by what death he should glorify God” (John 21:18-19).
You see what this really meant. “Peter, you said you were willing to go to prison and to death for Me, and you are going to do it. When you were young you went your own way, but when you are old you are going to be bound with chains and taken to prison and death for Me.” And if we can trust early church history, that is just what happened about the year A.D. 69 or 70, for Peter was in prison for Christ’s sake and was taken out to death. They were going to nail him to a cross, and Peter said, “No, no! My Lord died like that. I am not worthy to die as He did.” And he said, “Hang me on that cross head downward.” Oh, yes, Peter loved Christ. He really intended to be true to Him, but he forgot that the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak. But later he was given grace to do as he had promised.
When the Savior had spoken this, He said, “Follow me” (v. 19). And Peter took that literally, for the Lord began to walk along the lake and Peter followed. And that disciple whom Jesus loved was also following, and Peter said, “And what shall this man do? Jesus saith to him, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? follow thou me” (vv. 21-22). As much as to say, “Peter, it is not your responsibility as to what My other disciples do. I will order the path of each one. You are to die for Me. But if I choose that John live until I come back again, what is that to you? Follow Me.” Most Christians will die. Some will be living when He comes back again. The disciples understood the difference.
“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?” (v. 23). He says the same thing to each one of us, “If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee?” We are to serve in the place in which He has put us and leave everyone else to serve where He puts them. And if some of us should be living when He does come, we will rejoice together when we stand in His presence.
With this John concludes his wonderful gospel that has been well called the greatest book in the world. Speaking of himself, he says, “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” (vv. 24-25). John, guided by the Spirit of God, selected just eight miracles and a number of discourses of our Lord Jesus Christ and grouped them together in this book. These were only a few of the things that Jesus said and did. If everything He said and did were recorded, the libraries of the world could not contain all the books that would be written. Only the books of Eternity could tell all there is to be related of that wondrous life of the Word who became flesh to secure our redemption and make known the Father’s names
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Ironside, H. A. "Commentary on John 21". Ironside's Notes on Selected Books. https://www.studylight.org/
the First Week after Epiphany