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Christ appearing again to his disciples, is known to them by the great draught of fishes: he dineth with them; earnestly commandeth Peter to feed his lambs and sheep; foretelleth him of his death; rebuketh his curiosity touching John. The conclusion.
Anno Domini 33.
John 21:1. After these things Jesus, &c.— As all the males among the Jews were, by the law of Moses, to repair thrice every year to Jerusalem, on the passover or feast of unleavened bread, the pentecost, and the feast of tabernacles; so the apostles and disciples who had come up to Jerusalem from Galilee, chiefly to attend upon their Master, continued, in obedience to the law, as they were obliged to do, at Jerusalem, till the end of the festival. There Jesus appeared to them a second time, eight days after his former appearance, St. Thomas being with them, Ch. John 20:26. The next appearance was at the sea of Tiberias, called also the sea of Galilee; and this is expressly said, Joh 21:14 to be the third time that Jesus shewed himself; whence it is evident, that the appearance on a mountain in Galilee, mentioned by St. Matthew 28:16; Mat 28:20 was subsequent to this spoken of by St. John; and was also in a different place, on a mountain; whereas the latter was by the sea of Tiberias. Three reasons may be assigned for our Saviour's meeting his disciples in Galilee. Galilee was the country in which he had resided above thirty years, where he first began to preach the kingdom of God, and to declare and evidence his divine mission by miracles; so that he must necessarily bemore known, and have had more followers in that country than in any other region of Judea. And therefore one reason for his shewing himself in Galilee after he was risen from the dead, seems to have been, that where he was personally known to somany people, he might have the greater number of competent witnesses to his resurrection. Secondly, Galilee was also the native country of the greatest part, if not all, of his apostles, &c. There they supported themselves and their families, some of them at least, by mean and laborious occupations. So strait and so necessitous a condition of life must have rendered a long absence from thence highly inconvenient at the time of barley harvest, which always fell about the time of the passover. As soon as the paschal solemnity was over, which detained them at Jerusalem a whole week, it is natural to suppose they would return into Galilee; upon which supposition our Saviour promised that he would go before them into Galilee, which remarkable expression was again made use of by the angel, Mat 28:7 and by Jesus himself, John 21:10. The command in the latter passage ought to be taken as a confirmation of his promise of meeting them in Galilee, Mar 16:7 and a strong encouragement to them to depend on the performance of it. To prepare them therefore by degrees for that affliction and mortification which would attend their preaching the gospel, and to give them an opportunity of seeing and providing for their families, to whom, in general, perhaps they were soon to bid adieu for ever; their gracious Lord not only permitted them to return into Galilee; but promised to meet them there, and did in fact meet them there, notonly once, but several times; since the reasons that required the apostles' return thither, were as strong for their continuing there, till the approach of the feast of weeks, or pentecost, should call them thence. Another reason for meeting his disciples in Galilee may be deduced from what St. Luke tells us of the subjects which our Lord dwelt upon on these occasions, viz. "the things pertaining to the kingdom of God." It was necessary that they should be fully instructed in the doctrines they were to preach; have some view of the hopes and encouragements that were to support them under those dangers which they were to expect; have many inveterate prejudices rooted out, and be fortified with courage and constancy, and a disregard and contempt of hardships, perils, pains, and death. To these purposes nothing could more conduce than frequent visits from their Lord; and it will evidently appear, that no place could be more proper for these meetings than Galilee, if we consider that the apostles, having their habitations in that country, might reside there without suspicion, and assemble without any fear of the persecutors of their Master; for Galilee was under the jurisdiction of Herod. Whereas, had they remained at Jerusalem, and continued frequently to assemble together, the chief priests and elders, whose hatred or apprehensions of Jesus were not extinguished by his death, would undoubtedly have given such interruptions to those meetings, and thrown such obstacles in the way, as must have necessitated our Lord to interpose his miraculous power to prevent or remove them. Now as all theseinconveniences might be avoided by our Saviour's meeting his disciples in Galilee, it is more agreeable to the wisdom of God to suppose these frequent meetings to have been in Galilee, and more analogous to the proceedings of our Lord himself, who, being in danger from the scribes and Pharisees, would not walk in Jewry, ch. John 7:1. See the notes on John 21:14; John 21:24.
John 21:2. Nathanael of Cana— There seems to be no doubt that this Nathanael is the person mentioned ch. John 1:45. It is uncertain who the other two disciples were: Dr. Lightfoot conjectures that they were Andrew and Philip; which is not improbable, as they were both inhabitants of Bethsaida, near the sea of Tiberias. See ch. John 1:44.
John 21:3-43.21.4. Simon Peter saith—I go a fishing.— I am going a fishing. Heylin. Our Lord having, first by the angels, and then in person, ordered his disciples to go home to Galilee, with a promise that they should see him there, it is reasonable to think that they would depart as soon as possible; (see the second reason assigned in the note on John 21:1.) wherefore, when they were come to their respective homes, they followed their occupations as usual, and particularly the apostles, who pursued their old trade of fishing on the lake. Here, as they were plying their nets, one morning early, Jesus shewed himself to them.
John 21:6. Cast the net on the right side of the ship,— The disciples, not knowing Jesus, but imagining that he might be a person acquainted with the places proper for fishing, did as he directed, and caught a multitude of fishes. This was not merely a demonstration of the power of our Lord, but a kind of providential supply for his disciples and their families, which might be of service to them when they waited afterwards in Jerusalem, according to his order. See Luke 24:49. And it was likewise a sort of emblematical representation of the great success which should attend their endeavours to catch men in the net of the gospel. See Luk 5:9-10 and the Inferences on that chapter.
John 21:7. (For he was naked,)— That is, had only his under-garment on. See the note on 1 Samuel 19:24. Dr Heylin reads, He put on his upper coat, for he was stripped.
John 21:8. Two hundred cubits,)— About one hundred yards.
John 21:9-43.21.12. As soon—as they were come to land,— When the disciples came ashore, they found a fire burning, which Jesus had miraculously prepared, and fish laid thereon, and bread. But neither being sufficient for the company, or perhaps to shew them the reality of the miracle, by making them attend to the number and size of the fishes they had caught, and to the net's not being broken, Jesus ordered them to bring some of their own. It will not be judged, I hope, too minute to observe, after some writers of the first credit, that it appears from the best natural historians, that 153 (John 21:11.) is the exact number of the different species of fishes; and it is inferred from this passage, that persons of all nations and conditions should enter into the Christian church.
John 21:13. Jesus then cometh, and taketh bread,— It is not said that Jesus now ate with them; but his invitation to them, Joh 21:12 implies it; besides St. Peter testifies, Act 10:41 that his apostles did eat and drink with him after he arose from the dead; meaning to tell Cornelius, that that was one of the many infallible proofs by which he shewed himself alive after his passion. It is reasonable, therefore, to think that he did eat with his apostles on this occasion, thus proving anew to his disciples the reality of his resurrection, as well as by working a miracle like that which, at the beginning of his ministry, had made such an impression upon them, as disposed them to be his constant followers.
John 21:14. This is now the third time— The evangelist does not say that this was the third time that Jesus appeared, but the third time that he appeared to his disciples; that is, to his apostles in a body; for, in reality, it was his seventh appearance. Besides, St. John himself has taken notice of three appearances before this. Grotius explains it of the third day of his appearance; for he had first appeared to several on the day of his resurrection; then on a second day,—after eight days, he came to his disciples, when Thomas was present; and now again, for the third day, he shewed himself at the sea of Tiberias.
John 21:15. Lovest thou me more than these?— The original words, πλειον τουτων are ambiguous, and may either signify, "Dost thou love me more than any of thy brethren, as thou didst once profess?" (See Matthew 26:33.) Or, "Dost thou love me more than thou lovest these nets, and other instruments of thy trade, so as to prefer my service to any worldly advantages?" Whitby explains them in this latter sense. Peter only answers, Yea, Lord, or, assuredly, Lord, thou knowest that I love thee; but does not add, more than these: and this beautiful circumstance in the answer shews, how much he was humbled and improved by the remembrance of his fall; and possibly our Lord's question might be intended to remind him of that fall, and of the cause of it. Upon Peter's reply, Jesus said to him, feed my lambs: "As I shall favour thee so far as still to employ thee as one of my apostles, remember, that the most acceptable way of expressing thy love to me, will be by taking care even of the feeblest of my flock."
John 21:16-43.21.17. He saith to him again— From our Lord's asking Peter if he loved him, before he renewed his commission to feed his lambs and his sheep, it is justly inferred, that, to render men duly qualified for the ministerial function, they must prefer the interest and honour of Christ to every other consideration. This is the great qualification by which alone a minister can be animated to go through the labours and difficulties of his office, and be fortified against the dangers which may attend it. Moreover, Christ's exhortation to St. Peter, to feed his lambs and sheep, being the reply which he made to Peter's declaration that he loved him, shews us that ministers best shew their love to Christ by their singular care and diligence in feeding his flock. Our Lord's threefold repetition of his commission to Peter, most probably was in allusion to Peter's three denials; and as it contains an oblique intimation that his repentance should bear some proportion to his crime, so it seems to have been intended by our Lord, to convince the rest of the disciples of the sincerity of St. Peter's conversion, and to prevent any slight which he might be exposed to from their suspecting the contrary. However, we are told that Peter was grieved at this repeated application to him for it seemed to him an intimation that Christ perhaps did not consider his repentance to be sincere; and to a person of his sanguine temper, nothing could have afforded a more sensible anguish than such a suggestion. It recalled his crime, with all its aggravated circumstances, into his mind, and renewed his grief for having offended. One would wonder that, from circumstances so evidently humiliating to the mind of St. Peter, the Papists could have inferred a grant of his supreme dominion over the church. The passage has evidently a quite different meaning; for Peter, by his late cowardice and perfidy, having, as it were, abdicated the apostleship, was hereby no more than formally restored to his office through the indulgence of his kind and merciful Master, and not raised to any new dignity above his brethre
John 21:18-43.21.19. When thou wast young, &c.— St. Peter being thus restored to his apostolic office and dignity, Jesus proceeded to forewarn him of the persecutions, to which he, in particular, would be exposed in the execution of his office, intending thereby to inspire him with courage and constancy; but we do not read a word of that spiritual dignity and authoritywhich his pretended successors have arrogated. When thou wast young, thou girdedst thyself, &c. alluding perhaps to the strength and activitywhich he had now shown in swimming to shore after he had girded his fisher's coat upon him: but, when thou shalt be old, &c. "Instead of that liberty which in youth thou enjoyedst, thou shalt in thine old agebe a prisoner; for thou shalt be bound and carried whither thou wouldest not naturally incline to go, even to those sufferings to which flesh and blood have the strongest aversion." Some have thought, that the words thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, &c. allude to the manner of his death on the cross, and which indeed seems probable from the next words, which the historian delivers as explanatory of those of our Lord, This spake he, signifying by what death he should glorify God. However, the next words of our Lord must plainly be understood to signify, that Peter was to follow him in the kind of his death: "Follow me, and shew that thou art willing to conform to my example, and to follow meeven to the death of the cross." Agreeably hereto, the unanimous voice of antiquity assures us, that St. Peter was crucified, and, as some say, about forty years after this; but the exact time is not known.
John 21:20. Then Peter, turning about,— "There is a spirit and tenderness in this plain passage, which I can never read (says Dr. Doddridge,) without the most sensible emotion. Christ orders Peter to follow him, in token of his readiness to be crucified in his cause. John stays not for the call; he rises and follows too; but he says not one word of his love and his zeal; he chose that the action should speak that; and, when he records this circumstance, he tells us not what that action meant, but with great simplicity relates the fact only. If here and there a generous heart, glowing, like his own, with love to Christ, sees and emulates it, be it so; but he is not solicitous that men should admire it: it was addressed to his Master, and it was enough that he understood it. And can any man be base or absurd enough to imagine, that such a man could spend his life in promoting a notorious falsehood, and, at last, in his old age, when his relish for everything but goodness and immortality was gone, would so solemnly attestit as he does in the conclusion of his gospel?—May God deliver every one that reads this from a head so fatally beclouded by the corruptions of the heart!"
John 21:21. And what shall this man do?— And what shall become of him?
John 21:22-43.21.23. If I will that he tarry, &c.— "If it is my pleasure that he should live till my coming [in judgment upon Jerusalem], what is that to thee?" So the word μενειν signifies, being elliptical for the words μενειν εν τη σαρκι, to abide in the flesh. We have both the elliptical and complete phrase, Philippians 1:24-50.1.25. The brethren, it seems, understood, by Christ's coming, his coming to future judgment; and upon this foundation they grounded their notion that John should not die: and that there was such a notion and tradition among the ancients, learned writers have particularly shewn; and among the rest, Fabricius, in his Codex Apocal. Nov. Test. vol. 2: p. 533. This prophetic suggestion of the longevity of St. John was verified by the event; for he lived till Trajan's time, or thereabouts, which was near one hundred years after Christ's birth, and thirty years after the destruction of Jerusalem; so that he did abide in the flesh till his Lord came to take signal vengeance on that devoted city. Our Lord's reply to St. Peter seems very strongly to discourage a curiosity ofinquiring into other men's affairs, and into doctrines which are of no importance in religion.
John 21:24. This is the disciple which testifieth, &c.— Though the inspired writer of this gospel is here spoken of in the third person, it is agreeable to St. John's manner. See ch. Joh 19:35. 1Jn 1:1-5 and ch. John 5:18-43.5.20.
John 21:25. I suppose that even the world, &c.— According to most commentators, this is an hyperbole; a figure in which the Asiatics are known to have dealt greatly, and which they carried far higher than is allowable in the European languages; and the word I suppose naturally leads to this exposition: thus understood, the clause means that Jesus performed a prodigious number of miracles. Dr. Doddridge understands the passage differently, as if the evangelist had said, "I am persuaded, Οιμαι,— that if all the to things which Jesus did, were written, the work would amount to so vast a bulk that the world itself would not be able to receive the books that should be written; but the very size of the volumes would necessarily prevent the generality of mankind fromprocuring or reading them." Perhaps it may be a most delightful part of the entertainment of the heavenly world, to learn from our blessed Lord himself, or from those who conversed with him upon earth, a multitude of such particulars of his life, as will be well worthy our everlasting admiration. In the mean time, the pious and attentive study of what is recorded by the evangelists, may most happily prepare us for such discoveries, and add an unutterable relish to them: for they were written that we might believe that Jesus was the Christ; and that, believing, we may have life through his name. Amen! blessed Lord.
Inferences on our Lord's resurrection, drawn from ch. Joh 19:38 to ch. John 20:29. Grace does not always make much show, where it is; though it always burns for doing good. There is much secret riches, both in the earth and sea, which no eye ever saw. We never heard any news till now of Joseph of Arimathea; yet was he eminently rich, and wise, and good. True faith may be sometimes reserved, but will not be cowardly. Now he puts forth himself, and dares to beg the body of Jesus.
Death is wont to quell all quarrels. Pilate's heart tells him that he has done too much already, in sentencing an innocent person to death: the request is granted; the body is yielded, and taken down; and now, that which hung naked, is wrapped in fine linen; that which was soiled with sweat and blood, is curiously washed and embalmed. Now even Nicodemus comes in for his share: he fears not the envy of a good profession, but boldly flies forth, and will now be as liberal in his orders, as he was before niggardly in his nightly confession.
All this while the devout Marys retire, and silently spend their sabbath in a mixture of grief and hope; but now they gladly agree, in the dawn of the Sunday morning, to visit the sacred sepulchre; nor will they go empty-handed. She that had bestowed that costly alabaster-box of ointment upon her Saviour alive, has prepared no less precious odours for him dead.
Of all the women, Mary Magdalene is first named: she is noted above her fellows. None of them were so much obliged,—none so zealously thankful. Seven devils were cast out of her by the command of Christ. The heart thus powerfully dispossessed, was now filled with gratitude to her great Deliverer. Where there is a true sense of favour, there cannot but be a fervent desire of retribution. O blessed Lord! could we feel the danger of sin, like her, and the malignity of those spiritual possessions from which thou hast freed us, how should we pour out our souls in thankfulness for thy bounty!
Every thing here had horror; the place both solitary, and a sepulchre; nature abhors, as the visage, so the region of death and corruption:—the time, night; only the moon perhaps gave them some faint glimmering:—their business, the visitation of a dead corpse: and yet their zealous love has easily overcome all these. They had followed him in his sufferings, when the timid disciples had left him. They attended him to his cross, weeping; they followed him to his grave; nay, and even there they leave him not; but, ere it be day-light, they return to pay him the sad tribute of their duty.—How much stronger is love than death or fear.
How well it succeeds when we go faithfully and conscientiously about our work, and leave the issue to God! Lo, God has removed the cares of these holy women, together with the grave-stone. The obstacle is removed; the seal broken; the watch fled. What a scorn does the Almighty God make of the impotent designs of men! He sends an angel from above;—the earth quakes beneath;—the stone rolls away;—the soldiers stand like carcases, and when they have got heart enough to run away, think themselves valiant. The tomb is opened, Christ rises, and they are confounded. O the vain project of silly mortals! as if, with such a shovelful of mire; they could dam up the sea; or keep the sun from shining, by holding up their hands. Indeed, what creature is so base, that the Omnipotent cannot arm against us to our confusion? Lice and frogs shall be too strong for Pharaoh, and worms for Herod! There is no wisdom nor counsel against the Lord.
But O the marvellous pomp and magnificence of our Lord's resurrection! (See Matthew 28:1-40.28.4.) The earth quakes, the angel appears, that it may be plainly seen that this divine Person, now rising, has the command both of heaven and earth. Good cause had the earth to quake, when the God who made her, powerfully calls for his own flesh from the usurpation of her bowels. Good cause had she to open her graves, and eject her dead, in attendance to the Lord of life, whom she had thus detained in that cell of darkness. What seeming impotence was here! but now what a demonstration of omnipotence bursts forth in this glorious resurrection! The rocks rend; the graves open; the dead rise and appear; the soldiers flee and tremble: saints and angels attend thy rising, O Saviour! Thou liedst down in weakness, thou risest in power and glory: thou liedst down as a man, thou risest like a God.
What a lively image hast thou herein given me of the dreadful majesty of that general resurrection on thy second appearance! Then not the earth only, but the powers of heaven also shall be shaken; not some few graves shall be open, and some saints appear, but all the bars of death shall be broken, and all that sleep in the dust shall awake, and stand up from the dead before thee. Not some one angel shall descend; but Thou, the great angel of the covenant, attended with thousand thousands of those mighty spirits: and if these stout soldiers were so filled with terror at the feeling of an earthquake, and the sight of an angel, where shall thine enemies appear, O Lord, in the day of thy terrible vengeance, when the earth shall reel and vanish, when the elements shall be on a flame around them, and the heavens shall be parched up as a scroll, in that awful, that inexorable day!
Where, where, for shelter shall the guilty fly, When consternation turns the good man pale?
Thou didst raise thyself, O blessed Jesus! thy angels removed the stone. They, who could have no hand in thy resurrection, shall yet have their part in removing outward impediments; not because thou neededst, but because thou wouldest: just so thyself alone didst raise Lazarus; thou badest others to loose him, and let him go. Works of omnipotency thou reservest to thine own immediate performance; ordinary actions thou consignest to means subordinate.
How great must have been the joy of angels on this stupendous event! But how transcendent their joy whom thou raisedst with thee from the dead! O death, where is now thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?
But how am I conformable to thee, O Saviour, if, when thou art risen, I am still lying in the grave of my corruptions? How am I a member of thy body, if, while thou hast that perfect dominion over death, death has dominion over me?—How am I thine, if I be not risen?—and if I be risen with thee, why do I not seek the things above, where thou, O Christ, sittest at the right hand of God?—For where the treasure is, there must the heart be also.
I marvel not at your speed, blessed disciples, if, upon the report of these good women, ye ran, yea, flew upon the wings of zeal, to see what was become of your Master. Your desire was noble, was equal; but John is the younger, his limbs are more nimble, and breath more free. He looks first into the sepulchre; but Peter more boldly goes down the first. Happy competition, where the only strife is, who shall be most zealous in the inquiry after Christ!
They saw enough to amaze their senses; not enough, however, to settle their faith. O blessed Jesus, how dost thou pardon our errors! and how should we pardon and pity the errors of each other on lesser occasions, when as yet thy chief and dearest disciples, after so much divine instruction from thine own lips, knew not the scriptures, that thou must rise again from the dead. They went away more astonished than confident; more full of wonder than of belief.
There is more tenderness, where it takes in the weaker sex; those holy women, as they came first, so they stayed last. Especially devout Mary Magdalene stands still by the cave weeping. Well might those tears have been spared, if her knowledge had been answerable to her affection, or her faith to her fervour.
As our eye will ever be where our love is, she stoops, and looks down into that dear sepulchre. The angels appear in glorious apparel; their splendor shewed them to be no mortal creatures; not to mention that Peter and John had but just come out of the sepulchre, and both found and left it empty in her sight. Yet do we not find the good woman aught appalled with the unexpected glory. So deeply was her heart absorbed with the thoughts of her Saviour, that she seems insensible of every other object. The tears which she let drop into the sepulchre, sent up back to her the voice of the angels; Woman, why weepest thou?
The sudden wonder has not dried her eye, nor charmed her tongue. She freely confesses the cause of her grief to be the missing of her Saviour, and simply complains, They have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid him. Alas, good Mary, of whom dost thou complain? Who can have removed thy Lord but himself? Neither is he now laid any more; he stands by thee, whose removal thou now lamentest.—Thus many a tender soul afflicts itself with the want of that Saviour, who is near, yea, present to bless.
Turn back thine eye, O mourning soul, and see Jesus standing by thee, though thou knowest not that it is he. His habit was one that he had then assumed.—And thus sometimes it pleases our Saviour to appear to his disciples in some sense unlike himself. Sometimes he offers himself to us in the shape of a poor man, and sometimes of a distressed captive. (See Matthew 25:34; Matthew 25:46.) Happy he or she who can discern the Saviour in all his forms! Mary now took him for the gardener. O blessed Lord! be thou to me such as thou appearedst to this holy woman: break up the fallows of my nature; implant in me thy grace; prune me with meet corrections; bedew me with the former and latter rain of thy counsels;—do what thou wilt with me, so thou but make me fruitful!
Joseph could no longer contain himself in the house of Pharaoh from the notice of his brethren; and thus thy compassion, O Saviour, causes thee to break forth into clear discovery: the very sound of his name bringeth Mary to herself. Thou spakest to her before, but in the tone of a stranger: now it is the compellation of a friend. O speak to every reader's heart in the same affectionate and powerful manner!
No sooner had Mary heard this familiar sound, than she turned herself, and saith unto him, Rabboni! which is to say, Master. Before, her face was toward the angels; the call of her Saviour instantly averts all inferior regards; nor do we rightly apprehend the Son of God, if any creature in heaven or earth can withhold our eyes or estrange our hearts from him. Let Mary be our example: the moment she hears his voice, her whole attention is riveted on her Lord. She salutes him with a Rabboni, in acknowledgment of his authority over her; she falls down before him, in a desire humbly to embrace those sacred feet, which she now rejoices to behold, past the use of odours and unguents.
Jesus however is pleased to wave the acceptance of her zealous intentions, (touch me not, &c.) possibly by way of gentle reproof, for a joy which perhaps betrayed worldly exultation. Even our well-meant zeal in seeking and enjoying the Saviour, may be faulty. May we, blessed Lord, be taught with Mary, from thy remonstrance, if we have known thee heretofore after the flesh, yet henceforth to know thee so no more. Should we so fasten our thoughts on the corporeal or terrestrial circumstances attending thee, as not to look higher, even to the spiritual part of thine atchievements,—the power and the issues of the resurrection;—what could it profit our immortal souls?
But to whom then dost thou send her?—Go, and tell my brethren. Blessed Jesus, who are those? Were not they thy followers,—rather, were not they thy forsakers?—Yet still thou stylest them thy brethren. O admirable humility! infinite mercy! abundant grace! How dost thou raise their titles with thyself? At first they were thy servants; then disciples: a little before thy death thou vouchsafedst to call them thy friends; now, after thy resurrection, thou dignifiest them with the endearing appellation of brethren. O why do we stand so proudly upon the terms of our poor distinctions and inequality, when the incarnate Son of the most high God stoops so low as to call us his brethren;—his Father our Father; and his God our God!
With what joy must Mary have received this errand! With what joy must the disciples have welcomed both it and the bearer! Here were good tidings indeed from a far country, even as far as the utmost regions of the shadow of death.
While their thoughts and conversation are employed on so grateful a subject; the Saviour makes his miraculous and sudden appearance among them, bids their senses be witnesses of his revival, and of their happiness, stands in the midst of them, and saith, Peace be unto you. Instantly all the mists of doubting are dispelled; the sun breaks forth clear. They were glad when they saw the Lord. His approved Deity gave them confidence; his gracious presence inspired their hearts with joy.
But where wert thou, O Thomas, when the rest of this sacred family were met together? Alas! we cannot but be losers by our absence from holy assemblies; for God standeth in the congregation of his saints. Now, for this time, thou missest that divine breath, which so powerfully inspired the rest; and fallest into that weak and rash distrust, which thy presence there would probably have prevented. Suspicious man, who is the worse for thy scepticism? Whose the loss, if thou wilt not believe? Is there no certainty but in thine own senses? Is any thing beyond the sphere of divine Omnipotence? Go then, O simple and unwise, and please thyself in thy bold incredulity, while thy fellows are happy in believing.
For a whole week Thomas rests in his infidelity. Notwithstanding the conduct and the testimony of others; notwithstanding the report of the two travellers to Emmaus, whose hearts burning within them, had set their tongues on fire to relate the happy occurrence of their walk;—still he struggles with his own distrust; still he combats that truth, whereof he can hardly deny himself to be unanswerably convinced.
O condescending Lord, how shall we enough admire thy tenderness and forbearance! Justly mightest thou have left this man to his own pertinacious heart; and of whom could he have complained, had he perished in his unbelief? But thou art infinite in compassion, and willest not the death of a sinner. This straggler shall be indulged with the desired evidences of thy resurrection; he shall once more see thee to his shame, and to his joy; and he will hear thy voice, and taste thy love.
Behold, the mercy no less than the power of the Son of God hath melted the stony heart of this unbelieving disciple: Then Thomas answered and said unto him, My Lord, and my God. I do not read that, when it came to the issue, Thomas fulfilled his resolution, and employed his hands in trial of the fact. His eyes are perhaps now a sufficient assurance; the sense of his Master's Omniscience supersedes all further hesitation.
It was well for us, Thomas, that thou didst thus disbelieve; else the world had not received this striking evidence of that resurrection whereon all our salvation depends. Blessed be thou, O God, whose great prerogative it is to bring good out of evil, and to make a glorious advantage of every incident, for the promotion of the salvation of thy faithful people, the confirmation of thy church, and the glory of thy name! Amen.
REFLECTIONS.—1st, The disciples being appointed to meet their Lord in Galilee, returned thither, and, till the time came, employed themselves in their former occupations. Christ's servants must not be idlers.
1. Christ appears to them at the sea of Tiberias, where Simon Peter, Thomas, Nathanael, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples, were fishing. They were unsuccessful all night, and toiled in vain: in the morning Jesus stood on the shore, and at the distance they were off, the disciples knew him not. Note; (1.) God's ministers sometimes labour long, and see little fruit; but they must not be weary, nor faint in their minds: patient perseverance shall at last be crowned with success. (2.) They who are diligent in their honest calling, are in Christ's way, and may expect his blessing.
2. Christ addresses them in his familiar manner, Children, have ye any meat? They answered him, No. He said unto them, Cast the net on the right side of the ship, and ye shall find. Rather than return empty, they resolved to make the trial, and, to their astonishment, found the net so full, that they were not able to draw it up into the boat for the multitude of fishes. Note; (1.) Christ takes cognizance of his disciples' wants; he will see that they have meat to eat. (2.) They who go to minister under a divine call, shall find at last that their labour is not in vain in the Lord.
3. John hereupon suggests, that this must needs be the Lord. Peter instantly caught the hint, and, fired with zeal and love, girt up his coat, and plunged into the sea, impatient to be at his dear Master's feet; while the other disciples, who were but a little way from shore, about a hundred yards, hasted to land, dragging the net with them. Simon joined them, and assisted them in their labour; and, to their astonishment, they counted one hundred and fifty-three large fishes, and yet the net remained unbroken, which still increased the miracle. Note; Different disciples excel in different gifts and graces: some are more quick to discern, others more intrepid to execute; some move slowly, but steadily; others blaze with zeal, though not equally uniform; and each especially serviceable in his place.
4. Their Master, who had given them this miraculous draught of fishes, had provided also for their refreshment on shore. They found a fire, and fish laid thereon, and bread, to which he bids them add some of those they had caught, and then kindly and familiarly, as formerly, invites them to come and refresh themselves; while they, in sacred awe at his presence and miracle, kept at a respectful distance, nor durst ask him, Who art thou? which would have implied unbelief, when indeed they were fully satisfied that it was the Lord. Note; (1.) They who act under the command of Jesus, and go forth in his name, shall not want a provision: Verily they shall be fed. (2.) In the ordinances a rich repast is provided for believers, and the Master in them will break the bread of life to our souls. (3.) The gospel word is, COME; Christ's arms are open to believers; they will be welcome to all the rich provision of his grace.
5. Christ, as the master of the feast, distributes the bread and fish to them, and did eat and drink with them, to shew himself truly alive, and to confirm them in the certainty of his resurrection. (Acts 10:41.) And still he is the same gracious Lord: they who hunger and thirst after righteousness, shall be filled, and all the wants of their souls relieved by the abundance of his grace.
6. The evangelist remarks, that this was the third public appearance of Jesus to any considerable number of his disciples together, whose faith would hereby be more confirmed: or this was the third time he appeared to them: the first day of his resurrection he appeared five several times, one the week after, and now again for the third time; and every repeated visit brought new tokens of his love.
2nd, When dinner was ended, Christ addressed himself to Peter. He knew that Peter's conscious heart upbraided him bitterly for his past conduct; and now, to silence his fears, while he tacitly reproves his unfaithfulness, he confirms him in his office, as fully restored to his favour and love.
1. The question thrice put to Peter, Lovest thou me? and the first time Christ adds, more than these? more than he loved his dearest relatives or friends who were present; or more than the ship, and nets, and fish, and all comforts and gain; or more than these love me; because he had once so boldly and forwardly intimated his superior attachment to him, that though all men should be offended, yet will not I; and then it implied a tacit rebuke for this vain-glorious boast? But now that he was restored to favour again, this new obligation conferred upon him required an especial return of love. Note; (1.) When we do amiss, we must not be displeased to have our sincerity questioned. (2.) True love to Christ will make us count every thing trivial in comparison with him.
2. Three times Peter makes the same reply: Thou knowest that I love thee: he will not pretend any more to a superiority over his brethren, though conscious of the sincerity of his love. The third time, grieved at the repeated question, which seemed to intimate a suspicion of his sincerity, and reminded him of his threefold denial, he adds, Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee; and for this he can appeal to him as the Searcher of hearts. Note; They who are sincere in their attachment to Christ, can appeal for their simplicity to the Searcher of their hearts.
3. Thrice Jesus bids him prove the sincerity of his love by his diligence and labour in the ministry. Feed my lambs; feed my sheep. Since his iniquity is pardoned, his commission is renewed, and with more abundant diligence he is called upon to discharge his awful trust. He must feed the lambs, the young disciples, and those who are most weak and feeble; considering their weakness, and having compassion on their infirmities, as remembering his own. He must feed the sheep, the strong of the flock, willing to expose himself to any danger for their sake, and faithfully ministering to them the rich food of the gospel word for their nourishment and growth in grace.
4. Christ foretels the sufferings which awaited St. Peter in the discharge of his ministry. He must seal the truth that he preached, by enduring martyrdom. Verily, verily I say unto thee, When thou wast young, thou girdedst thyself, full of vigour, and walkedst whither thou wouldest: but when thou shalt be old, after a long life of labour, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, and carry thee whither thou wouldest not, even to prison and the cross; and this he spake, signifying by what death he should glorify God; and the concurring testimony of antiquity reports, that he suffered crucifixion. Note; (1.) Nature starts from death, as reluctant to go; but grace can enable us to meet it calmly in its most tremendous forms. (2.) Every saint of God desires to die, as he lives, to God's glory; patiently resigned to his will; commending with his dying breath the good ways of the Lord; and rejoicing in hope of the glory ready to be revealed in him.
5. He gives Peter a significant sign of what he required of him. Rising from table, he saith unto him, Follow me; copy my example; follow my instructions; and if he was called to the cross, he must remember, it would be no more than his Master for his sake had endured before. Whatever we suffer, we should never forget how much more our Master endured; and that this is the way to come to be with him in his glory. We must bear the cross before we wear the crown.
3rdly, Peter rising up to follow his Master, on looking back, beheld John the beloved disciple just behind him. Hereupon,
1. He begs Jesus to say, what should be John's lot and labour. Either he was curious to know, or tenderly concerned lest the same sufferings awaited his dear fellow-labourer. True Christian love will make us feel for our brethren as for ourselves.
2. Christ checks his curiosity, while he answers his question. If I will that he tarry till I come, in some peculiar glorious display of his power, such as the destruction of the Jewish nation would be, what is that to thee? Follow thou me. Note; It is the will of Jesus, that we should follow steadily the path of duty, without curiously desiring to pry into futurity, content to leave all our concerns in his hands.
3. From a mistake of Christ's meaning, a report spread among the brethren, as if that disciple should not die; whereas Christ said no such thing, but, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? meaning that he should live to see the destruction of the Jewish state and polity. Whence we may observe the uncertainty of all human traditions, and the great danger of submitting implicitly to human expositions of scripture, however supported by numbers, authority, or antiquity. We have the book of God before us; we have the Spirit of God promised to each of us; let us therefore, after all that others say, read, hear, and judge for ourselves.
4. The evangelist, now drawing to a conclusion, solemnly attests the truth of all that he had recorded, being an eye and ear witness of what he writes; and as he was himself absolutely certain of what he said, so were all his brethren; and the truths of the gospel are attended with such evidence as must convince every impartial inquirer. They who reject the scripture testimony, wilfully shut their eyes against the light, and, whatever they may pretend, have no cloak for their obstinate infidelity.
5. He closes with a declaration, that innumerable other miracles were performed by Jesus, besides those he had recorded; which, if they were all related with the circumstances severally attending them, not all the scribes in the world could have written them, nor the most retentive memory have contained them. Nor would the unbelieving world, who reject the present evidence, have received the truth, though innumerable volumes of Christ's had been written for their conviction. Hereto the evangelist sets his Amen! What he wrote was infallibly certain: let us add our Amen to his; perfectly satisfied in his testimony; by faith embracing the glorious truths which he records; and fervently praying for the accomplishment of all the inestimable blessings that are promised. Amen! Amen!
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Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on John 21". Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany