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Bible Commentaries
John 21

Kretzmann's Popular Commentary of the BibleKretzmann's Commentary

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Verses 1-3

The Appearance of Christ at the Sea of Tiberius.

The fishing expedition:

v. 1. After these things Jesus showed Himself again to the disciples at the Sea of Tiberius; and on this wise showed He Himself.

v. 2. 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.

v. 3. 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.

Jesus had told His disciples that He would see them at a designated place in Galilee after His resurrection, Matthew 26:32; Matthew 28:7; Mark 16:7. Some time, therefore, after the second appearance to the assembled disciples a week after Easter, the latter made the journey to the northern province, traveling by way of the road along the Sea of Galilee, and probably visiting their old homes. Thus it was that they found themselves, on a late afternoon, on the shores of the lake which some of them had so often traversed in their calling as fishermen. It was a party of seven that was together here: Simon Peter, Thomas Didymus, Nathanael of Cana, James and John, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples whose names the evangelist does not record. The interval between the resurrection of Jesus and the miracle of Pentecost must have been unusually trying for the disciples. They were without a leader, they had not yet received the extraordinary communication of the Spirit which would enable each one to strike out for himself. In this mood of uncertainty they were standing on the shore of the sea, when Peter suddenly exclaimed: I go off to fish. Probably the sight of the boats leaving for the night's fishing had awakened the old love for his former occupation. And the others, rightly considering his words an invitation to join him, responded with great alacrity that they would accompany him. The excursion promised some diversion and might yield an income. So they embarked in a boat and launched forth. But their efforts were not crowned with success. As on a former occasion, they worked all night and caught nothing. Note: In any calling, trade, occupation, or profession the blessing must be given by the Lord; without Him the most assiduous efforts and apparent success are without value.

Verses 4-8

A second miraculous draught:

v. 4. But when the morning was now come, Jesus stood on the shore; but the disciples knew not that it was Jesus.

v. 5. Then Jesus saith unto them, Children, have ye any meat? They answered Him, No.

v. 6. 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.

v. 7. 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.

v. 8. And the other disciples came in a little ship; (for they were not far from the land, but as it were two hundred cubits,) dragging the net with fishes.

The dawn of the morning after a night of such toil may well have found the disciples discouraged, and they turned more closely inshore. And there was Jesus standing on the shore, although the men in the boat did not recognize Him. It was another revelation of His spiritual body, which had the faculty of becoming invisible and changing its characteristics. The old familiar form and appearance was often not there to guide the disciples after the resurrection, as in the case of the appearance to Mary Magdalene and to the Emmaus pilgrims. Jesus did not reveal His identity at once. He merely called to them, as any man might have addressed a company of fishermen: Lads, have you any fish? that is: Have you had any luck in your work? Did you catch any fish? The word used by the Lord indicates anything that was eaten in addition to the regular meal of bread, the German Zukost. Since, in those countries, this was almost invariably fish, the question is very simple in its meaning. Upon their answering in the negative, the Lord bids them cast forth their net on the right side of the boat, for there they would find fish. And the result was such an immense catch of fish that the combined efforts of the men did not succeed in drawing the net into the boat. The number and the consequent weight of the fish were too great for their strength. The first man among the disciples to draw the proper conclusion from this obvious miracle was John. He told Peter: It is the Lord. This explanation immediately appealed to Peter, and, with his usual impetuous ardor, he quickly threw about him his fisherman's coat, or blouse, and plunged into the sea to swim to the shore. As an old commentator has it: "John had the keener insight, Peter the greater ardor. " Peter had very likely been rowing with probably only a loin-cloth on, and the small garment, or coat, could be girded on most quickly over his naked body. The other disciples came more slowly than Peter, in the little boat or skiff, with the net full of fishes in tow. This was done all the more easily, since they had been a matter of only two hundred cubits, about one hundred yards, from the shore. All the disciples present knew by this time that they had again witnessed a miracle, had, in fact, been instruments of the Lord in performing this miracle, and the narrative pictures them as filled with awe and relevance at this new manifestation of divine power on the part of Jesus.

Verses 9-14

The meal on the beach:

v. 9. As soon, then, as they were come to land, they saw a fire of coals there, and fish laid thereon and bread.

v. 10. Jesus saith unto them, Bring of the fish which ye have now caught.

v. 11. Simon Peter went up, and drew the net to land full of great fishes, an hundred and fifty and three; and for all there were so many, yet was not the net broken.

v. 12. Jesus saith unto them, Come and dine. And none of the disciples durst ask Him, Who art Thou? knowing that it was the Lord.

v. 13. Jesus then cometh and taketh bread, and giveth them, and fish likewise.

v. 14. This is now the third time that Jesus showed Himself to His disciples after that He was risen from the dead.

While the disciples came to land, in one way or the other, the lord had kindled afire and provided both bread and fish for breakfast. Note the narration of details peculiar to an eye-witness. Note also that the providence of Jesus is well able to take care of all the needs of His disciples, whether they be small or great. Upon the order of Jesus that they should bring of the fish which they had caught and had now towed to the shore, Simon Peter went aboard the skiff, and, single-handed, drew the net up on the beach. His love for the Master and the excitement of the occasion gave him almost superhuman strength. Many a labor of love in the interest of Christ and the Church has seemed impossible from the standpoint of human reckoning, but has proved a comparatively easy matter when undertaken in the fear of the Lord and with the firm conviction that it was the Lord's will. Two items are emphasized by the evangelist at this point: the fact that the net contained a total of one hundred and fifty-three fishes, not small ones, but large and heavy; and that the net, in spite of the great weight, did not tear. All these details come together to make a picture of Christ's almighty power which cannot be gainsaid by the enemies. This miracle teaches the believers of all times that the Lord can and will take care of their physical needs; He will provide their daily bread for them. Theirs is but to work in their calling with all faithfulness and not to give way to idleness on the one hand, and to foolish anxiety on the other. The Lord, having now provided the meal, invited the disciples to breakfast. And the disciples were glad to come, although with some restraint. Whereas before His Passion they had been on a friendly basis with their Master, a new dignity and aloofness forced their awed respect. They all knew that it was the Lord, and did not dare ask questions. Jesus now came forward and assumed the role of host, distributing both bread and fish to them. Almost every action of the Lord reminded the disciples of some incident in the Lord's ministry, and made them raise their hearts in thankful prayer for the blessing of His presence. Incidentally, this third appearance to a larger body of disciples reminded them of the great calling which they were now soon to enter upon. The Lord did not get out of touch with His messengers; He did not permit their thoughts to get away entirely from the real life-work which was awaiting them.

Verses 15-17

The Test of Peter's Love.

The Lord's threefold question:

v. 15. 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.

v. 16. 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.

v. 17. 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.

When the disciples had finished their breakfast as guests of the Master, Jesus showed that He had a special reason for appearing at this time. He addressed Himself to Peter, probably taking this disciple aside from the rest. The Lord had appeared to Peter alone on Easter Day, Luke 24:34, and had undoubtedly at that time reinstated him in his position as His disciple. But here the Lord purposely speaks to Peter in the view of, if not in the presence of, six disciples that had been present on the evening before His death. In a most solemn and impressive manner Jesus asks Peter three times as to his love for Him. He puts the first question in such a way as to make a comparison between the love of Peter and that of the rest. Peter had professed and protested a more affectionate regard for Christ than the other disciples, Matthew 26:33, but had learned, to his great sorrow, how foolish it is to trust in one's own strength. Three times had he denied his Lord after that saying. It was not the object of Christ to work repentance at this time, for Peter's grief had been deep and genuine, and he had been received into grace before this. Nevertheless, the lesson which the Lord administered was necessary, in order to keep Peter in the humility which is demanded above any of the servant of the Lord. The use of his old name, Simon, and the addition of the explanation, "son of Jonas," made the question all the more searching: Lovest thou Me? Was Peter now ready to love His Lord and Savior with all his heart, with all his soul, and with all his mind? The threefold answer of Peter is significant of the change that had taken place in him since that night of the denial. At that time it had been his own self, his own person, that had been brought into the foreground. But now the first person is relegated to the background, while Peter appeals to the knowledge of Christ. When the question of the Lord came for the third time, Peter was deeply grieved. He felt the justness of the Lord's position; he knew that he had given cause for doubt. And the very tenderness of the reproof made the grief of Peter all the more poignant and his protestations of love all the more fervid. He finally appeals to the Lord's omniscience. He that knows all things, that searches hearts and minds, could and would read the feeling of his heart aright and know that the love he bore his Savior was genuine, based upon the faith in the redemption of the God-man. This is a mark of true faith, when Christians not only confess before men that they love their Lord, but when they challenge the omniscient God Himself to search their hearts in this respect. The love of the Christians may often be weak and in strong need of support, but it must be genuine just the same. The Lord recognized and rewarded the sincerity of Peter's love and faith. Three times He gives him the significant command to feed, to be a pastor to, His sheep, His lambs. The sheep of Jesus, as He Himself explains John 10:1-42, are those whom the Father has given Him, the believers. And the lambs are the little ones in the kingdom of God, especially the children, Matthew 18:1-35; Mark 10:1-52. Thus Peter received a special call and was reinstated in his office and ministry. Peter was to be one of those that have charge of the flock of Christ, that perform the work of pastors and shepherds. For to feed the sheep, as Luther says, is nothing but proclaiming to them the Word of God, that is, true faith. The commission of the Lord is in power even today. All true preachers of the Gospel, in this respect, have the same ministry as the apostles. The prime requisite for a person that has charge of a flock of Jesus is genuine and fervid love toward Christ, the great Shepherd of all. This love will then find its expression in true pastoral work, both public and private, the application of the wonderful message of salvation wherever this message can be proclaimed.

Verses 18-19

A prophecy concerning Peter:

v. 18. 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.

v. 19. This spake He, signifying by what death he should glorify God. And when He had spoken this, He saith unto Him, Follow Me.

The interview with Peter affected also the Lord very deeply, because His love for His disciples was most cordial. Referring probably to the action of Peter in girding his coat about him when the Lord stood on the beach, Jesus tells him that these conditions are still obtaining. He still has his freedom to come and go as he wished. But the time is coming, in his old age, when Peter will be obliged to extend his hands, to be bound and manacled and to be led where he has no natural inclination to go. It was a prophecy of Peter's martyrdom. According to tradition which seems correct, Peter was put to death under the emperor Nero, by crucifixion, thus giving glory and honor and praise to God, even in his death. Only he must follow Christ, his Lord and Savior, at all times, whithersoever he was led. Note: The steadfast believer, sealing his faith with his life, gives glory to, and causes glory to come upon, the name of God and Jesus. Suffering for the sake of Christ belongs to the experiences of the average Christian, and especially of the servants of the Word.

Verses 20-23

The reference to John:

v. 20. 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?

v. 21. Peter, seeing him, Saith to Jesus, Lord, and what shall this man do?

v. 22. Jesus saith unto him, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? Follow thou Me.

v. 23. 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?

Peter was not yet altogether healed of his impetuousness. As he was walking along with Jesus, he could not refrain from turning back, and thus noticed that John, who here describes himself very exactly, was also coming their way. Peter at once asked: Lord, but this man, what of him? The Lord rebuked this lack of undivided attention on the part of Peter, telling him that it was entirely a matter for Him to decide whether John should remain until He would return. As soon as a person spends his time in musing upon what other people will do, he neglects some opportunities for service. The great Shepherd, Jesus Christ, has charge of His Church and will manage its affairs in such a way as to have them all redound to the salvation of them that are His and to the glory of God. Any interference with His government is foolish and sinful. Whether Jesus referred to His coming at the end of the world or to that coming which began in the judgment of Jerusalem, Matthew 16:28, is immaterial. But the saying of Jesus was understood falsely. Some of the disciples believed that John would never die. This notion, however, he himself corrects by emphasizing the words: If I will that he tarry. All things are in the power, under the government of Jesus, the Lord and King of the Kingdom of Grace. A simple trust in the wisdom of His guidance should always characterize the attitude of all believers. We must be sure that the risen Christ has the fortunes of those that are His in His hand and will always guide them in the way which is to their value and benefit.

Verses 24-25


v. 24. This is the disciple which testifieth of these things and wrote these things; and we know that his testimony is true.

v. 25. 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.

Here John, in a final note, defends the trustworthiness of the record which he has offered in his gospel. He has not written on the basis of questionable sources, but he knows that the witness which he hereby bears is true: Incidentally he affirms that if all the sayings and all the miracles and signs of Jesus had been recorded and described, it would be such a great mass, as one might say, that the world could not contain all the books, could not comprehend and grasp the wonders thus offered. But what John has recorded is fully sufficient for his purpose and that of the Spirit that spoke through him, namely, to teach the deity and the redemption of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world, that all that believe on Him might not perish, but have everlasting life.

Summary. Jesus appears to seven disciples at the Sea of Galilee, gives them another miraculous draught of fishes, and, in a searching interview, reinstates Peter into his discipleship.

Bibliographical Information
Kretzmann, Paul E. Ph. D., D. D. "Commentary on John 21". "Kretzmann's Popular Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/kpc/john-21.html. 1921-23.
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