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Wednesday, May 29th, 2024
the Week of Proper 3 / Ordinary 8
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Bible Commentaries
John 21

Grant's Commentary on the BibleGrant's Commentary

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Verses 1-25



The scene now changes from Jerusalem to Galilee. We have seen in chapter 20:19-25 the picture of the gathering of the Church of God, and in the remaining verses that of the re-gathering of Israel, which is still future. These verses of chapter 21 furnish a picture of the bringing in of Gentile nations, for the sea speaks of the nations (Revelation 17:15) and the fish, of individuals in the nations. All of this blessing is founded upon the work of the Lord Jesus in His death and resurrection.

He had told the women who came to the grave to tell His brethren to go into Galilee to meet Him (Matthew 28:10), and this takes place over a week later than His resurrection, this being only the third time He appeared to His disciples (apart from personal appearances to individuals). See verse 13.

Seven of His disciples were together (v.2), no doubt waiting for the Lord to appear to them. Peter however was not inclined to have a waiting disposition, and he decided to occupy the time with fishing. The others follow his lead, and though working all night, they caught nothing, as in the case of a similar incident earlier (Luke 5:5). Though Christ is the Head of a new creation in resurrection, His own have no more power in service than when connected with the first creation, apart from His own direction. Such a lesson must be learned by experience, it seems.

In the morning the Lord was standing on the shore, not recognized by the disciples. This is surely intended to teach us that if we are occupied with our own plans and purposes, it is unlikely that we shall quickly discern what is the actual interposition of the Lord.

He addresses them as "children," a gentle, endearing word, in asking if they have caught anything. But their tempers were short; they miss the significance of this, and curtly answer "No." Then He gives them instruction simply to cast the net on the right side of the boat, with the positive words, "you will find" (v.6). This also should have awakened interest as to who this Stranger might be to speak as He did, for fishermen generally would not take advice from a total stranger. But they act, possibly because tired and frustrated, and their catch of fish was so great that seven men were not able to draw the net into the boat! It is interesting that. because of the number of the fish, the net was not drawn into the boat, but to shore. This is to be compared with Matthew 13:47-48, where the net was also drawn to shore, for it speaks of the great number of Gentiles who will be drawn by God at the end of the tribulation period, the wicked being separated from the just and cast away, while the good (the just) are gathered into vessels for blessing in the millennium.

Yet its principle is just as important for us today. In fishing for people we shall have no results unless dependent on the leading of the Lord. Yet simple, real subjection to Him will bear much fruit, which we shall then see to be altogether His own workmanship. John immediately realizes that this One can be none other that the Lord Jesus, and so he tells Peter. Impetuous as usual, Peter clothes himself and swims to shore, leaving others to drag the net behind the boat (v.7). (Naked does not necessarily mean totally nude, but not properly dressed, perhaps only with an undergarment.)

On the shore they find a fire, with fish and bread prepared for them. Their breakfast has nothing to do with their own work: it is the Lord Himself who prepared and served it. We must be reminded continually of our dependence upon His grace. Yet how could Peter forget the fire of coals in the high priest's house? How much better to be warmed at the Lord's fire that at that of the world!

At His word to bring of the fish they had caught, Peter, imbued with strength of affection for the Lord, draws the net to land. It is a hint of the great blessing through his preaching later on the day of Pentecost, with about 3,000 converted (Acts 2:41). The 153 great fish here have been said to correspond with the actual number of the nations existent at that time, which would be interesting if it could be verified. In contrast toLuke 5:6; Luke 5:6, the net was not broken in spite of the great catch. It speaks of the power of God involved in Christ raised from the dead, that power available to His disciples by the indwelling Spirit of God, so that testimony may be maintained without breaking down.

Now the Lord invites them to breakfast, both the bread and the fish speaking of Him as the true food of life. After the toil of labor, it is necessary to have food, and even more important spiritually than naturally. But also the grace of the Lord Jesus is first shown in kind consideration of need, before He does the serious work of probing Peter before all the disciples. In all of this how good it is to see that even in resurrection the blessed Lord of glory is Servant still!



While the Lord appeared personally to Peter the very day of His resurrection, by which the personal restoration of Peter was surely fully accomplished without a word of this known to the other disciples, yet the Lord has allowed further time to pass before now dealing with Peter in relation to the other disciples. It is precious to see that the Lord Jesus would allow no passage of time after His resurrection before seeking out His conscience-stricken sheep to restore him to personal communion with Himself. But public restoration always takes a little longer, that the Lord may reach deeper still into the soul in order that His servant may be more properly fitted for public service in true humility of faith. More than this, He has the object also of reaching the hearts and consciences of the other disciples, who must learn to judge themselves rather than have any remaining feeling of criticism of their fellow-servant, and thus to wholeheartedly rejoice in his restoration.

Gently the Lord asks, "Simon, son of Jonas, do you love Me more than these?" For Simon had before compared himself with others, saying that, though all forsook the Lord, yet he would not, thereby implying that he loved the Lord more than they did. The Greek word for love here is "agape," a word of strong import, used as to God's love for His Son and toward the world, a pure concern for the greatest good of its object. But in response Peter declines to use this word, but uses the word, "phileo" instead, a word that denotes tender affection: "You know that I have affection for You." In other words, he can no longer trust the strength of his love, but he is honestly attached to the Lord. Nor can he think of saying, "More than these," after his experience of failure when tested.

Then the Lord tells him, "Feed My lambs" (v.15). For such precious work there can be no comparing ourselves with others, no feeling higher than they, but having genuine, true affection that comes down to the level of the little ones. Yet it is a work with which we should feel deeply honored to be entrusted.

But a second time the Lord ask the question, only this time leaving out the words, "more than these," but still using His former word for love, "agape." It is really questioning whether, if the comparison is dropped, Peter could now use the strong word for love. But not so: he does not trust himself to go that far, but answers just as before. This time the Lord tells him, "Shepherd My sheep." Peter's sad experience has actually prepared him in measure for such work, and the Lord's words are his authority for it. This work is that of guiding, preserving, helping, strengthening, restoring the sheep. Also, lest any would suppose that Peter's failure would disqualify him from such work, the Lord speaks this way before all the disciples.

For the third time the Lord questions Peter, for Peter had denied Him three times, and the Lord is probing to reach the root of the matter. This time however he no longer uses the strong word, "agape," but "phileo" (which Peter had used), as He asks, "Do you have affection for Me?" This grieves Peter (and perhaps he would remember too of the Lord's grief when Peter denied Him three times); and he goes further than before, by saying, "Lord, You know all things; You know that I have affection for You" (v.17). His heart is laid fully bare before his Lord in confession of His great omniscience, and this has become a deeply wrought conviction in Peter's heart not simply a doctrine to be acknowledged.

This time the Lord tells him, "Feed My sheep." How clear it is then that true restoration has in it the power of not only bringing back to a state of precious communion with the Lord Himself, but of making one more useful in the blessing of others. The results in Peter's case are certainly seen. Who can doubt that he remembered these words of His Lord when he penned his first epistle, and especially chapter 5:1-6?

But the Lord adds that which contrasts Peter's youth with his old age. In youth independent and self-sufficient, he had done much as he pleased. But God's ways, disciplining indeed, yet in pure love, would lead to his being girded by another, that is, restrained by the will of another, and forced to go where he did not want to (v.18).

While Peter was to be greatly used by the Lord, yet all for Peter was not be great conquest. He would suffer; then die a death of crucifixion, evidently, but this would glorify God. It is claimed that Peter was crucified head downward, by request, for he felt himself unworthy to die in the same position as his Master

Though Peter is to care for the lambs and sheep of Christ, yet it is not them he is to follow: the Lord tells him directly, "Follow Me" (v.19). Indeed, a true, unfeigned following of Christ will give far more true concern for the blessing of others.



Peter was evidently a little disturbed that the Lord had singled him out of all the disciples to speak to him in this way; and instead of showing a thoroughly submissive spirit, he turns to observe John, who in fact was following, and asks, "Lord, what about this man?" But the Lord did not allow him to slip out of the spotlight in this way. What a lesson for us all! The flesh in us will twist and turn every way to avoid direct personal facing of responsibility, but the Lord's work with us will lead to our honest, stern self- judgment. He firmly tells Peter, "If I will that he remain till I come, what its that to you? You follow Me" (vs.21-22). Whatever is the Lord's will for another should not in any degree influence my thoughts in regard to His will for me. Whatever others may do, I am simply, undividedly to follow the Lord. "You follow Me," He says to each of us individually.

Yet the disciples so miss the point that they speculate as to John, assuming that the Lord meant that John would not die. How careful we should be to observe precisely what the Lord does say, rather than making inferences from His words. Inference may be correct if it is supported clearly (not ambiguously) by other scriptures; but let us be guided by scripture, not by inference. In answering this misconception, John does not elaborate at all, but simply repeats what the Lord had said. Yet there is no doubt a reason for His words. John did live longer that the other disciples, and his book of Revelation deals with the coming and glory of the Lord Jesus. In this sense it would seem he remained long enough to see the coming of the Lord, at least in the form of a vision.

Verse 24 is decisive as to the many references to the unnamed disciple: it is of course John himself. He speaks solemnly of the absolute truth of what he has written, also using the plural "we" in this regard: "we know." Just as believers know the Father, Son and Holy Spirit (John 14:4-7; John 17:1-26), so we know the truth of the word of God. Let that knowledge then have constant, vital power in our lives.

Verse 25 shows that only a small part of the Lord's history has been recorded. Yet it is enough to engage the whole time of the people of God while they are on earth, and their fullest interest and delight. The number of books written in reference to Him has already gone practically beyond count. But if all He has done were recorded, with its significance and connections explained, John supposes that the world could not contain the books that would be written. For Christ is an infinite person. Therefore what He has done has infinite value, the extent of which we cannot limit. Faith however recognizes the great wisdom of God in giving us His word in so brief a form, a living word, the riches of which can never be exhausted. But the record of the person of the Son of God in this Gospel alone bows the heart of every Christian with adoring worship.

Bibliographical Information
Grant, L. M. "Commentary on John 21". Grant's Commentary on the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lmg/john-21.html. 1897-1910.
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