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Bible Commentaries
John 21

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Verses 1-25


John 21:1-25

3. The epilogue, answering to the prologue. The post-resurrection life corresponds with the pre-incarnate energy of the Logos.

1. Long and sustained controversy has prevailed on the question of the authenticity and apostolic authorship of this chapter even among those who admit the Johannine authorship of the rest of the Gospel.

2. Among those who accept to the full the authenticity, there are many critics who urge that it is not an integral portion of the Gospel, but a later appendix, that the document terminated, on its first composition, with John 20:30, John 20:31, and that the chapter before us is dictated from a different motive—that whereas the first twenty chapters formed a collection of notable "signs" of the Messiahship and Divine Sonship of Jesus, adapted to produce true faith and thereby confer eternal life on the believer, the present chapter is structurally disposed on different lines, with a diverse motive, and has its own conclusion.

3. The purpose is variously conceived by those who agree to regard it as an appendix.

(1) There are no rational external grounds for attributing any portion of John 21:1-25. to any other hand than to that of the author of the previous portion of the Gospel. Manuscript authority is entirely unanimous in assuming the integrity of the Gospel in this respect. There could not have been any period when the first twenty chapters were published without the accompaniment of this "appendix." If any appreciable time had elapsed when this was the ease, the fact would have been testified by the discrepancy of the codices, or references, or versions of antiquity. It seems that there is some dubiety in the original form of Codex א as to the twenty-fifth verse, though the doubt of its editor did not extend to John 21:24. Critics are divided, however, on purely subjective and internal considerations. Even Hengstenberg, who urgently maintains that the chapter is an original and integral portion of the Gospel, yet feels the contrast so great in its general tone that, apart from the spiritual and allegorical interpretation to which he resorted, he would "have preferred to pass the whole chapter by." Doubtless there are details which are to some extent staggering; but the burden of argument is strongly in favor of its Johannine origin, whatever may be its precise meaning. John 21:14-15 are without question eminently and luminously Johannine, and the reference to the second advent is in entire harmony with John 14:3 and other passages of the valedictory discourse. The use of a few words and phrases like πρωίας γινομένης for πρωΐ́, and of τολμᾶν and ἐξετάζειν, is so trifling that similar deviations from customary phrase might really be found in almost every other chapter. The whole chapter forms a complete paragraph, well compacted, and it cannot be torn to pieces. So that we conclude, both on internal and external grounds, that all difficulties are surmounted by the supposition that the author, after making a formal close to his Gospel as a whole, with John 14:30 and John 14:31 of the previous chapter, did, before publication, either contemporaneously or shortly afterwards, produce an appendix, which was closely connected with the preceding, yet with a different but highly significant intention.

(2) Critics have differed upon the intention. Some have urged that it is simply a continuation and completion of the narrative, with the object of revealing the personality of the author and affording the means of identification. Ewald, with Grotius and Keim, suggests, indeed, that it was written by John the presbyter, or some friend of the apostle under his sanction, with no intention of concealing his part in the composition. Others have supposed that the motive was to explain the origin of the legend that had arisen with reference to the prolongation of the apostle's life, by linking it to the veritable words of the Master himself. The view of Dr. Westcott is that the conviction of Thomas (John 20:24-29) is the key to the method of this continuative narrative; that the writer proceeds to give other and analogous illustrations of the method in which obstacles to faith may be overcome. I think, with Dr. Salmond, in an article in the Monthly Interpreter, April, 1885, that all the incidents proceed on the supposition that the disciples had all come to a clear understanding that the Lord had risen. They were beginning to estimate the new light that this would cast on human life, and a believer's duty in the world. The great majority of modern critics see in it the representation, by the aid of one of the numerous manifestations of the forty days before the Ascension, of the nature of our Lord's continuous presence with his disciples to the end of time; his participation and enjoyment in the work which he had assigned to them; the special commission he gave to the two conspicuous and beloved disciples, with indications of the meaning of apostolic work, the perils it might encounter, and the principles of holy service till he should come again in his glory. Those who regard the Gospel as a pious romance treat the chapter as a spiritualization of the Acts of the Apostles written by a theologian of the second century. Thus Thorns. Very many of these have called attention to the obvious references in this narrative to the Galilaean ministry and service of the fishermen as given in the synoptic records, with the points of special contrast between the first and the latest draught of fishes. Some, in an adverse sense, have supposed that the evangelist simply transfers, from the commencement of the Galilaean ministry, the whole incident, and modifies the details to suit his different ideas concerning the Lord and his apostles. This is contradictory of the entire theory that we have urged with reference to the Gospel itself. Those who are not strongly prejudiced against the idea of harmonizing the four narratives rightly show that John here blends the twofold traditions, preserved in Matthew and Luke, of the scenes of our Lord's post-resurrection self-manifestations. Matthew lays all his emphasis on our Lord's appearance in Galilee, for which he had prepared the disciples on the night of the Passion (Matthew 26:32), and again by the message of the angels (Matthew 28:10); and this he sets forth in great majesty, corresponding probably with St. Paul's assurance that it was made or accompanied by an appearance to more than five hundred brethren at once. Luke, on the other hand, fails to refer to an Galilaean appearance, and confines his record to the self-manifestations in the neighborhood of Jerusalem, or on the Mount of Olives. John, with characteristic differences, shows that he well remembers special appearances to the disciples in Jerusalem, and also on the familiar shores of the Lake of Tiberias, confirming, therefore, the value of each of the groups of facts recorded in the synoptic Gospels.

Once more, it is contended by many who admit the composition of the twenty-first chapter to be by St. John, that he was here producing a striking epilogue to the whole, which answers in many ways to the prologue in the first chapter; that as the prologue illustrates

(a) the pre-incarnation energy and presence of the Loges (John 1:1-5), so we have hero the idea of the post-resurrection energy and presence of the "Son of God" in the work of the Church, watching, waiting, guiding, helping, co-operating with his own, "who received him, and to whom he gave power to become sons of God;"

(b) that as in John 1:6 we have the various methods by which the οἱ ἴδιοι receive and bear witness to the archetypal light, from John the Baptist to the company of the regenerated, so here from John 1:14-19 we have a representation of the principle of witness, the powers and ends of holy love, the methods and law of Divine pleasing; and

(c) that as in John 1:14-18 the prologue sets forth his first coming in the flesh full of grace and truth, in John 1:20-23 the risen Lord predicts and to a certain extent defines the second coming. This is a very attractive, if somewhat conjectural, series of comparisons. It cannot be said that these analogies do not exist. The correspondence consists in the two sets of facts rather than in the art of the writer. The true representation of the efficacy of the Lord's resurrection-life and ascended majesty is contained historically in the "Acts," which are far more certainly "Acts of the Risen Lord" than "Acts of the Apostles," and are contained prophetically in the Revelation of St. John. We have in this appendix or epilogue to the Gospel, indications and specimens of the kind of intercourse which prevailed between Jesus and his disciples during the forty days, and a specimen which, after the manner of John, made the deepest and most ineffaceable impression upon his own mind. It was, indeed, the third appearance to the apostles after his resurrection, but not the last. M'Clellan, in his special dissertation on the subject, treats with great warmth and vigorous denunciation the theory of the Gospel being concluded with John 20:1-31., and of the subsequent addition by the apostle of John 21:1-25. His arguments are little better than assertions, based upon the translation or paraphrase which he gives of the πολλὰ μὲν οὖν, etc., of John 20:30. This is as follows: "' Accordingly (οὖν), whilst it is true (μὲν) that Christ wrought many other miracles in the presence of his disciples, besides (καὶ) those which are written in the Holy Scriptures of this book, yet (δὲ) these which are recorded, are recorded with this special object, that ye may believe in Christ [though ye have not seen him], and that believing, ye might have life in his Name.'

"The appropriateness of the position and language of the comment in reference only to this one particular incident is obvious; and the conclusion theory tumbles to the ground. With it," he adds with characteristic impetuosity, "deservedly perishes the dangerous appendix theory concerning John 21:1-25." After enumerating numerous theories with derogatory comment, he adds, "But for the hypothesis that the Gospel originally ended with John 20:1-31., the theory (of its being an appendix) would never have been heard of, and with the utter collapse of that hypothesis, it is shattered to atoms! So perish, we may firmly believe, one after another, the conceits of ' modern criticism.'" Of course, the two ideas stand and fall together. No words are needed to vindicate one of these positions without the ether. It is unfortunate that, in paraphrasing the clause on which the conclusion rests, Mr. M'Clellan should have begged the question at issue by introducing a phrase which gives the apostolic comment a specific reference to the words of Jesus as addressed to Thomas, and omitted the weighty reference to the whole of the proof which demonstrates that "Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God." This able commentator often forces on his reader the contradictory of his own conclusions.

John 21:1-14

(1) The manifestation of himself in the work of life.

John 21:1

After these things Jesus manifested himself again to the disciples at the sea of Tiberias. The opening formula is one often adopted by John (see particularly John 2:12; John 5:1, John 5:14; John 6:1); considerable periods of time and cycles of ministry are frequently covered by it. Another chapter is opened, another series of events to be recorded which had left undying impression on the apostle's mind, and, in full view of numerous other traditions, was chosen by himself as especially worthy of record. "Jesus manifested himself." In John 2:11 we hear that "he manifested his glory;" now he manifested his Person, as an act of his own will. He was "manifested in the flesh" (1 Timothy 3:16), but now that flesh was itself more directly under the control of his personality, and the mere sensuous eye and carnal understanding could not without his special permission realize that wondrous presence. The passive form of the verb is used in Mark 16:12, Mark 16:14. The touch of feeling involved in the active voice must not be overlooked. The "again" clearly points back to the previous manifestations described in John 20:14, John 20:19, John 20:26. On each occasion his coming, though in a recognizable human body, was a body (a μορφή, not a σχῆμα) which had the qualities of spirit. "The disciples" are afterwards mentioned by name. It was to disciples only that he "appeared." Believers in him were those alone who could see this spiritual body. The effect produced upon them was that of objective reality, but this was made to prepared spirits. Such a proceeding is akin to all the grander operations of nature, and the most august manifestations of God. "At the sea of Tiberias." This is the only place where the "sea of Galilee," or of "Gennesareth," is called the "sea of Tiberias." That it was identical with the familiar lake is evident from the known site of Tiberias (now represented by the modern town Tubarieh), a city which is mentioned by Josephus ('Ant.,' 18.2.3; 'Bell. Jud.,' 2.9. 1; 'Vit.,' §§ 12, 13, 64), and which, from its schools of learned men, had a great place in later Jewish history. Moreover, in John 6:1, John 6:23, if the Greek be accurately rendered, the writer spoke of "the sea of Galilee, of Tiberias," interpreting the name well known by the Jews, through another name by which it would be better recognized by Gentiles (see note on John 6:1). Dr. Farrar, 'Message of the Books,' sees in the nomenclature a hint of the later origin of the Fourth Gospel than the date assigned to the synoptic narrative. 'Er; is used because the shore where they saw him was a raised beach or cliff" above" the sea. It must be observed that the same phrase is used in John 6:19 and Matthew 14:25 for Christ's walking "upon the sea;" but the ἐπὶ is itself explained here by the αἰγιαλόν of Matthew 14:4, just as the preposition receives elsewhere more literally another meaning from the context. And he manifested himself thus; "on this wise," i.e. after the manner to be described. This is the commencement of our Lord's discourses on the kingdom of God (Acts 1:3). This was the beginning of the great fulfillment of his own predictions (Matthew 26:32; Matthew 28:10), and of the angel's words to the women. The narrative gives the deep heart-tones and genuine teaching of the risen Lord.

John 21:2

There were together. Not the whole company of the eleven apostles; five are especially mentioned, and two are left unnamed. The five, of whom the Gospel knows much, are Simon Peter, whose twofold name denotes that, notwithstanding his grievous failure, he had not lost his faith, and still stood at the head of the company, the man of rock and the man of impetuous energy. Thomas called Didymus, whose incredulity had vanished, and whose devoted love had emerged from the depths of despondency to the loftiest faith, who had come to feel and say that the risen Christ was both Lord and God. Thomas, who had shrunk from the society of his fellow-apostles, was now closely united with them, more than he had ever previously seemed to have been. Thomas is the apostle last mentioned by the evangelist. Elsewhere he is associated with Philip of Bethsaida, and this town may have been his home. Nathanael of Cana in Galilee is mentioned by way of recalling the two miracles recorded by John as having taken place in this "Cana of Galilee" (John 2:1-12; John 4:16). The former of the miracles followed immediately on the mention of the calling of Nathanael (John 1:45). The reference to the little place in Galilee where the glory of Christ had been first of all seen and had led to the faith of the disciples, calls attention to the place and province of this manifestation, and to what was contained in the memory of one of the witnesses. And the (sons £) of Zebedee—a phrase used for James and John in Matthew 20:20; Matthew 26:37; Matthew 27:56. This is the only time that Zebedee is mentioned in this Gospel; but the reason for his sons being thus designated points unmistakably to the first call of these two men to discipleship by the side of this very lake, after they had witnessed the draught of fishes, becoming from that time forward "fishers of men". That they should here be mentioned after Thomas and after Nathanael corresponds with the reticence and modesty of the evangelist. This is still more probable if the two other disciples were μαθηταί in the broader sense. The simple fact that they are mentioned after the five apostles has been thought by some to imply that, whosoever these were, they were not of the number of the eleven. No one writing the story in the second century would, in an enumeration like this, have placed the proto-martyr James and the intimate friend of Peter, the great "light of Asia," the admitted author of the Apocalypse, and the spiritual father of Polycarp and Papias, after Thomas and Nathanael. After his manner, he (the author) here prepared for the implicit subsequent identification of the "disciple whom Jesus loved," and also the author of the Gospel, with one of the sons of Zebedee. The supposition that Andrew and Philip are meant by the "two other disciples" is not without verisimilitude, from their mention in John 1:1-51. If this were the case, both of them are practically discriminated from the "disciple whom Jesus loved" by the obvious references to them elsewhere by name, while "John" never thus signalizes himself. The mention of seven disciples reveals the love of the writer for the number "seven," with its division into two groups of three and four. And it is remarkable that, if Andrew and Philip are the unnamed ones, the seven would correspond with the first seven apostles mentioned in Matthew's enumeration (Matthew 10:2-4). Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus, Judas the brother of James, or Thaddaeus, and Simon the Zealot were not present. This, of course, rests on the hypothesis that Nathanael and Bartholomew are identical (John 1:45, note).

John 21:3

Simon Peter saith unto them, I go a-fishing. The abruptness of the language addressed to six (μαθηταί) disciples, who seemed to be living as in one family, suggests a lengthened waiting, and some disappointment as to the effect upon their daffy life of the great revelation. They are summoned by the most commanding spirit among them to resume what was, for some of them at least, their customary calling. He would seek in humble fashion, along the lines of ordinary duty to his family and himself, the supply of daily wants. According to some writers, Peter felt a presentiment of the coming of his Lord under scenes identical with those of his first call (Luke 5:1-11). According to others, Peter exhibited some of the heart-sickness of deferred hope. On either supposition we see a new illustration of, dud testimony to, the character of the man who was so conspicuous an initiator. They say to him, We also come (or, go) with thee. They do not "follow" him, as they had been summoned once to follow their Lord; but they are willing, even eager, to accompany the strong-hearted man, and ready to take his lead. They share at once either in his presentiment or in the expression of his delayed hope. They went forth; i.e. from the home which they had made for themselves on this well-remembered spot—from Capernaum, which was most probably the early home of Peter, and a spot to which he would naturally revert. And entered into the ship; £ the veritable vessel that had often served them on that lake of storms. Though Peter and Andrew, James and John, had left their boats and nets and hired servants, it is not unlikely that members of their two families had retained them. And that night they took nothing. Let the unusual word be noticed. Πιάζειν occurs three times in this brief narrative and six times in the Gospel, in the sense of "laying hold," "taking possession of," but nowhere in the synoptists. It occurs, however, in Acts 12:4; 2 Corinthians 11:32; Ec 23. 21; and, what is more remarkable, in the sense of "taking animals" in Revelation 19:20 (ἐπιάσθη τὸ θηρίον); so the LXX. for זחַאָ (So Revelation 2:15). The night was then, as now, the most convenient time for fishing, and the fruitless effort must have reminded them of the night described in Luke 5:1-39. Some critics have supposed this failure to be parabolic or symbolic of the comparatively barren results of the apostolic ministry to the Jews, while what followed was prophetic of the great success which should accompany their appeal to the Gentiles. But Peter's wonderful success on the Day of Pentecost and on subsequent occasions in dealing with Jews, contradicts this interpretation. The only analogy which offers itself to our minds is the limited success of all their endeavors until the apostles were veritably endowed with power from on high.

John 21:4

When the day was now breaking, £ Jesus stood onf3 the beach. If the εἰς be the true reading, it would imply that he stood forth, as having come from some unperceived region. If the ἐπὶ remain, the idea is that the morning light, as it was breaking over them through the curtain of dense mist which hung before sunrise on the eastern hills, discovered Jesus standing upon the beach. There is obvious reference, in the manner of his approach, to that "standing" in the midst of them, with which they had become familiar (see John 20:14, John 20:19, John 20:26). Howbeit (μέντοι suggests something unusual, John 4:27; John 12:42) the disciples knew £ not that it was Jesus. He is not walking on the waters as of old, but standing on the solid ground. Just as Mary of Magdala, and as the disciples on the way to Emmaus, and as even the disciples themselves on the Easter night, were in doubt, at first, who and what this manifestation might mean, so now the chosen seven fail to understand that which was before their very eyes. The morning mist and shadows adding to the obscurity produced by some hundred yards of distance, together with wearied and toilsome effort and a sleepless night, may suggest some explanation of the marvel; but the mystery is baffling. Two or three remarks may be made.

(1) These various appearances seem at first to confuse their perceptions by reason of the ordinary human characteristics that accompanied them. Mary for a moment mistook him for the owner or worker in the garden; the "two disciples" imagined that he was "a stranger in Jerusalem;" and these disciples think him, for the moment, to have been a stray wanderer by the lake-side. Their presupposition concerning the reappearance of their risen Lord would probably have involved some strange and awe-striking fulguration of his power; but the true "spiritual body" does, when it pleases, take on forms far more familiar.

(2) The slowness of the process by which the apostles became finally convinced, against their prejudices and sense-bound views, that he had risen into a new form of living, and into new conditions of existence.

John 21:5, John 21:6

Jesus therefore saith unto them. They failed to recognize his first appearance, so he permits them to hear the voice which had often poured such music into their ears. Children; not τεκνία, the phrase used in John 13:33, but παιδία, "young people," "lads"—a term of less intimate familiarity, though the apostle himself used it in 1 John 2:13, 1 John 2:18 (in 1 John 2:1 and 1 John 2:12 τρεκνία is used, apparently in interchange with it). The μή τι suggests a negative answer. Προσφάγιον is that which is eaten with bread, and is commonly ὄψον or ὀψάριον, something roasted for the purpose of eating with bread. Since fish was very frequently used for the purpose, the word was often used for "fish" itself (LXX., Numbers 11:22; John 6:1-71.John 6:9, John 6:11. Other equivalent words are found in Attic Greek, προσφάγημα, προσόψημα). Children (lads, young men yonder), you have nothing, I suppose, to eat? They answered him, No. In all this scene the risen Lord showed himself interested and co-operating with them in their daily toil, as engaged in the same work with them. Their listless manner showed that they had toiled in vain, and, perhaps with tone or gesture of unwillingness to confess their failure, they replied in the negative. Then he said £ to them, Cast the net on the right side of the ship; the side opposite to that on which they were dragging it along. Moreover, the "right hand," the "right eye," the "right ear," the "right side," are proverbially the more useful, fruitful, or honorable. The imagery is preserved throughout Scripture. And ye shall find. Therefore they cast it. And in order to do this they would probably have had to haul a considerable portion of it into the boat for the necessary transference from left to right. They at once obeyed the summons, remembering what they had previously found to have been their experience (Luke 5:1-39.), and no longer were they able, or had they strength, to draw it into the boat. Ἐλκύσαι, is here quite a different process from the σύροντες of 1 John 2:8, which describes the hauling, tugging, of the net to shore. The difficulty arose from (or, because of) the multitude of the fishes. The miracle here is a simple indication of the higher knowledge which the Lord possessed. This huge shoal may, humanly speaking, have been perceived in its approach; so that the event is more impressive in its analogical force than in its supernatural machinery. It suggests the surprising results that would accompany their labor when they should under the Lord's own injunction and inspiration, become veritable fishers of men. The parabolic teaching of this miracle is unusually obvious.

John 21:7

Therefore, as a distinct consequence of the vivid reminiscence of the past; with sudden intuition given to him by the event, and a fresh realization of the identity of the risen Lord with the Master Jesus, that disciple therefore whom Jesus loved—who must have been either one of the sons of Zebedee or one of the two unnamed disciples. The latter supposition is inapposite from the intimacy between Peter and John, which the synoptic narrative, and references in the Acts and Galatians it., have recorded; that disciple and no other, the one so often referred to, one of the seven, saith unto Peter, It is the Lord. Had he not again and again done wondrous things of power, wisdom, and love on this very spot, in these very waters? So John comes intuitively and with true insight to the sacred truth and reality, and his conduct is again contrasted wonderfully with the energetic and impulsive Peter (John 20:5, John 20:6). The same relative characteristics of the two apostles have been preserved throughout the fivefold narrative. Such a contrast so delicately and persistently sustained lends certainty to the objective reality. Accordingly Simon Peter, when he heard, It is the Lord—for the words flashed conviction into him—hurried at once to put his new idea to practical proof. The word of John satisfied him, and, not seeing for himself what John saw with mental eye, he accepted the joyful news, and was the first to spring into the sea, and, with his usual energy, to cast himself at his Master's feet. He girt his coat about him (for he was naked). The word γυνός does not mean perfectly nude. A man who had simply the χιτών or tunic upon him was practically thus regarded. The word γυμνός occurs in Isaiah 20:2; 1 Samuel 19:24; Job 24:10 in the same sense. The proper name for the tunic, or garment next the skin, was ὑποδύτης, and that which was put over the tunic was ἐπενδύτης and ἐπένδυμα (Meyer and Wettstein, in loc.). The Talmud has Aramaized the word, calling it אתדגף) (ependetha), and used it for the workman's frock or blouse, often without sleeves, and fastened with a girdle. Dr. Salmond truly says that this reference to an act which to ordinary men would have suggested a different arrangement of dress, reveals the eye-witness. Hengstenberg suggests that Peter simply girded his upper garment for the purpose of swimming more easily; but, as Luthardt observes, with this ἐπενδύτης already upon him, he would not have been "naked" And he cast himself into the sea, intending, whatever might be the fate of the laden net, to be the first to greet and worship the Lord. Of the reception he met with John says nothing: he knew nothing. The Lord had some special instruction for him a little later. It is not in harmony with the words, as Gerhard supposed, that Peter walked triumphantly upon the waters. Not a hint of it occurs. The hundred yards were rapidly covered, either by swimming or wading to the shore meanwhile.

John 21:8

But the other disciples came in the little boat. Either what was first described as τὸ πλοῖον is now more minutely described as πλοιάριον, "the (same) little boat," or else they had transferred themselves from the more cumbrous fishing-smack to the smaller craft which was tethered to the larger one. The reason why the other disciples came in the boat is given in the parenthesis: (for they were not far from the land, but as it were two hundred cubits off); i.e. about three hundred feet, half a stadium, a hundred yards. Ἀπὸ to denote distance from, is used in this Gospel (see note, John 11:18) and the Revelation (Revelation 14:20). The disciples came in the boat over this distance, dragging the net (full) of fishes. The net was not broken, though filled. They did not further attempt to lift it; they hauled it to the shore as it was. Strauss, who tries to show that we have a glorifying myth framed out of an amalgam of the narratives of the first miraculous draught and that of Peter walking on the water, is singularly unfortunate; for there is less of the supernatural in the story than in either of the two narratives to which he refers.

John 21:9

So when they were come to land (literally, with Revised version, got out of the boat upon the land; א reads ἀνέβησαν instead of ἀπέβησαν), they see a fire of coals there. The word ἀνθρακία occurs only in John 18:18 and in this place. It is derived from ἄνθραξ, a "coal of fire," or burning charcoal. Observe the form κειμένην (of John 2:6), which implies that the burning brazier was placed there for a purpose. And fish laid thereon, and a loaf. £ (Ὀψάριον and ὀψάρια, used both in the singular and the plural for the roast relish eaten with bread, and, by reason of the customary food of the people, is often used for "fish" or "fishes.") Our Lord was regarding the whole of this proceeding from the standing of one who would meet their hunger, and was conscious of power to feed the world in its utmost need. So the provision which was thus made in advance for the need of the disciples becomes symbolic of Christ's power to meet all the wants of the dying world. Numerous speculations have been hazarded about the method employed by our Lord to prepare this meal. The early Fathers, Chrysostom, Theophylact, with Grotius, have appealed to Christ's creative power. Luthardt thinks of the ministry of angels. Some have suggested that Peter prepared the hasty repast during the interval that elapsed between his landing on the shore and the approach of the boat. Our Lord, who knew how to arrange for the last supper with his disciples, and who had all the resources of Providence, and hosts of disciples along the shore, would, with superlative ease, and without revealing himself to strangers, have made this simple meal; and, with his knowledge of the ease, would have still delighted to act towards his beloved ones as at once their Host and their Minister. He simply prepared for his own what he has been doing ever since.

John 21:10

Jesus saith to them, Bring of the fish (ὀψάρια) which ye have now taken (see note on John 21:3). It is not exactly said what was done with this fish. The implication is that to the scanty meal already provided, the new supply was added, and that the Lord permitted his disciples to join his repast, and to rejoice with him at the success of their labor. They and he shared in the travail, and were satisfied therewith. The circumstance is highly parabolic of the common joy which would fill his heart and theirs when the fullness of the Gentiles should be brought in, and all Israel be saved.

John 21:11

Then Simon Peter went up. £ Here again Simon is first in action, as John is the more rapid and real in his mental processes. The other disciples may have aided him, following his lead; but the singular verbs are used on both occasions (ἀνέβη and εἴλκυσε). In like manner, though the twelve apostles took part in the transactions of Pentecost, Peter opened his mouth to speak. On other occasions, while John spake by the eloquent glances of his eye, and the rest of the disciples joined their leader in testimony and prayer, Peter's voice was that which conveyed the mighty exultation of their common heart (Acts 3:12, etc.; Acts 4:8, etc.; Acts 8:20, etc.; 10:34-11:30; Acts 15:7-11). The word ἀνέβη, "went up," must be explained by the fact that ἀναβαινεῖν is used of embarking in a vessel, though in each case there is some difference in the manuscripts, with reference to the text, as there is also here. If the vessel was drawn up on the shore, with the net attached to it, the form of expression is explicable. Peter went up into the boat for the lines of the net, and, having secured it, he drew the net to the land, £ full of great fishes, a hundred and fifty and three. Various efforts have been made from early times to give some symbolic meaning to this enumeration. Canon Westcott has detailed several of these strange guesses. Cyril of Alexandria set the example, and was followed by Ammonius the presbyter, who both in different ways regarded the 3 as representative of the Trinity, the 100 + 50 representing, in different proportions, the success of the apostolic ministry among Gentiles and Jews. Augustine observes that 10 is the number of the Law, and 7 the number of the Spirit, 10 + 7 = 17; and the numbers from 1 + 2 + 3 + 17 = 153; so that the number represents all who are brought to God under every dispensation of grace. Gregory the Great reaches the value 17 in the same fashion as Augustine, but, says he, it is only by faith in the Trinity that either Jew or Gentile ever reaches the fullness of salvation; 17 is therefore multiplied by 3 = 3 x 17, which produces 51, which is the number of true rest; multiplied again by 3, which completes the glory of the perfected, it is 153. Hengstenberg, following Grotius, supposes a reference to the 153,600 Canaanitish proselytes who were received into the kingdom in Solomon's day (2 Chronicles 2:17)! though the odd 600 certainly confuse the reckoning. Jerome refers to the opinion of a learned naturalist of the second century, Oppian, who is said to have ascertained that there were 153 different kinds of fish in the seas, and that the apostles took of every kind, revealing the ultimate success of the fishers of souls with every kind of man—an allegory based on false science and insecure data, and involving a stupendous miracle, if it be meant for an historical fact. Several of the modern Tübingen school, in various but unsatisfactory ways, see in the number one made up by the letters composing the name of Simeon (71) bar (22) Jonah (31) Kephas (29); and here even Keim follows suit. Thoma finds the number in the mystic ΙΧΘΥΣ, "Jesus Christ the Son of God, Savior." Reuss discourages mystical or occult meaning. The remark of Baumgarten-Crusius, that the number is simply an index of the authenticity of the narrative, and of the fact that the fishes were counted on the occasion, is eminently sensible (so Godet and Meyer). The fact that it is not a round number adds to the probability of this statement, and enters a caveat against allegorical interpretation. And for all they were so many, the net was not rent. This is obviously a point of contrast with the first miraculous draught of fishes, when the nets brake and the boats began to sink. This does form a probable allegory of the success with which the final ingathering of souls shall be effected.

John 21:12

Jesus saith to them, Come and break your fast. A Word is used which does not denote the principal meal of the day (not δειπνέω, but ἀριστάω, from ἄριστον), but a slight refreshment that was taken in early morning, or at least before noon, and answers to our breakfast at the dawning of the day. £ He calls them to the repast. He becomes once more their Host and their Minister. Even still, metaphorically, he washes their feet. He attends to their requirements. He feeds them from this strangely bestowed supply. He joins them in their hunger for souls. He inspires their methods. He shares in their victory, after painful fruitless toil. Now £ not onei.e. not even Thomas—of the disciples durst inquire of him—put to him the interrogatory—Who art thou? knowing, each one of them that it was the Lord. The use of ἐξετάσαι instead of ἑρωτήσαι, John's own word, is not to be wondered at, as he does not think of a simple inquiry, but of such an examination as would furnish them with facts. These they possessed. A feeling of awe and reverence possessed them. They were of one mind about the marvelous revelation of himself to them. Some strange emotion sealed their lips. He had not manifested himself to the world, but to his disciples, and to them by "the interpretations they were putting upon their own experience" (Westcott). They knew it was the Lord. They looked into that other world. They were lost in silent amaze, and received the revelation once more of their risen Master and Lord.

John 21:13

Jesus cometh, £ and taketh the bread, and giveth them, and the fish likewise. It would seem that the specific bread and fish already referred to (John 21:9) was the material of at least the first part of this sacramental meal No benediction or prayer is mentioned. If this may not be presupposed, his presence made the feast, and was the blessing. Meyer says, however, that ἄρτον and ὀψάριον, as in earlier verses, are simply generic. On either supposition, it is clear from John 21:15 that more fish were prepared and used by the seven disciples than the solitary loaf and ὀψάριον which were first seen upon the fire. The Lord gave them symbolically the entire gift of his love by that which he came forward at this moment to supply.

John 21:14

This is now—or, as Meyer puts it, this time already is—the third time that Jesus was manifested (passive, not active, as in John 21:1) to the £ disciples, after that he was risen from the dead; or, when he had been raised from the dead. The implication is that there had up to this time been no other manifestation to groups of his disciples than those which John bad related. Therefore those other occurrences mentioned by Luke, Matthew, and Paul must be supposed to lie still in the future. That there were other manifestations is not obscurely hinted by the word ἤδη. The appearances to the women, to Cephas and James, are not of the class so carefully described by John. The εἶτα τοῖς δώδεκα of 1 Corinthians 15:5, etc., might be regarded as this third manifestation to the disciples (Luthardt). Godet agrees that the two appearances in Luke (Emmaus and Peter) are not reckoned by John, any more than that made to Mary Magdalene. The statement, "to the disciples," is clearly the explanation. Paul mentions the appearance

(1) to Simon Peter;

(2) then to the twelve (John 20:19, John 20:26);

(3) to the five hundred, at the head of whom may have been the eleven of Matthew 28:16-20;

(4) James;

(5) the twelve (the ascension not described by John).

Since Luke and Paul (Godet) omitted the narrative before us, John is here repairing the omissions of tradition. It seems quite as reasonable to place this third revelation to a group of apostles as the third of Paul's enumerations. John is explicit in recording appearances to the special, combined, and chosen witnesses, while he not only implies, but mentions, other manifestations. Paul recites the special manifestations of various kinds, and gives most important details dropped by other traditions. The apocryphal ' Gospel according to the Hebrews,' as related by Jerome ('Cat. Script. Eccl. "Jacobus"'), quotes the passage which refers to the interview between James and the risen Lord. Gregory of Tours ('Hist. Francorum,' 1.21) refers to the tradition as though he had taken it from some analogous but not identical source. If the previous manifestations of the risen Lord were made to love, to thought, to earnest though trembling inquiry, to spiritual vision only, so here we find that, amid the ordinary duties of life and the activities and disappointments of daily service, the Lord manifests himself. The eye of love and the heart of rock are made ready for special assurances of the Master's presence and power to help and guide disciples throughout that mysterious future in which they are to feel and realize his words, "Lo! I am with you always, even to the end of the world."

John 21:15-19

(2) The revelations to be made in the services dictated by love and issuing in martyrdom. The confession made by Simon Peter, and the charge given to him.

John 21:15

When therefore they had breakfasted, Jesus saith to Simon Peter. His full name and Christ-given appellation is in the mind of the evangelist; but he, with marked emphasis, shows that our Lord went back to his relations with Simon before the latter's first introduction to him (see John 1:42, etc.), and recalls the attitude Christ had taken to Simon on more than one memorable occasion (Matthew 16:17; Luke 22:31). On two of these occasions the simple humanity of the apostle was the basis on which the Lord proceeded to confer upon him the high official designation. The grace of God, in the first instance, selected Simon of Jonah to be a rock. In the second, "not flesh and blood," but the Father's grace, revealed the mystery of the Divine Sonship to him, and won the name of Peter. In the third, the utter weakness of Simon's own flesh reveals the power of the prayer of Jesus for him, so that he might ultimately convert his brethren; and now "Simon" is reinstated after his fall into his apostolic office. Simon, son of Jona—or, John £ (see John 1:42, note)—lovest thou me more than these? i.e. more than these other disciples love me? Thou hast seen more of my compassion, farther into my heart, deeper into my Person, my position, and my work, than they have done; thou hast dared again and again to ask for higher service and more conspicuous distinction. Thou hast made louder protestations than any of these of thine unworthiness to serve me, and in the deep consciousness of humiliation thou hast been more emphatic than any of them in refusing grace which thou thoughtest it might dishonor me to give. Thou didst indeed say, "Though all men should be offended at me or should deny me," thou wouldst never be offended and never deny me. "Dost thou love me more than they do?" There is no positive reference to the denial and fall of Peter; but the implication and suggestion cannot be hidden, though Hengstenberg and others fail to appreciate it. The circumstance that Peter was "grieved" because the Lord put this question to him a third time makes the reference very little less than explicit. The real significance of the narrative is the reinstitution of Peter in the position of importance he had filled throughout, and an indication of the nature and quality of that service. In Simon's reply, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee, three things are very noticeable.

(1) Peter says nothing of the superiority of his affection for his Lord over that of his colleagues. Had they not in outward act been more faithful than he? He could not arrogate any sweeter, dearer, more abounding affection than he was willing to believe that they felt for their Master. It is scarcely worth while to notice the miserable translation that some few commentators have suggested: "Lovest thou me more than (thou lovest) these fishing-smacks and this thriving business on the lake?" Observe

(2) Peter's admission that the Lord knew his inmost heart, concedes, therefore, that the question was merely intended to test his faithfulness, and force him to a more salutary and binding acknowledgment. Notice

(3) Peter's change of phraseology. The word used for "love" by the Lord is ἀγαπάω, but that which is used in response by the apostle is φιλῶ, the love of natural emotion, and even tender, intimate, personal affection. The Latin language, by rendering φιλῶ by amo rather than diligo, expresses the subtle shades of meaning between φιλεῖν and ἀγαπᾶν. There is, however, no English word but "love" for them both. The admirable remarks of Archbishop Trench ('Synonyms of New Testament,' § 12.) find special illustration in these verses. Many passages occur in which amo and φιλέω seem to mean more and have deeper intensity than diligo and ἀγαπάω. Amari is the affection which a friend may desire from a friend, even more than diligi; but the latter denotes choice, mental conviction, and self-recognition of the fact. Antony, in his funeral oration over Caesar (Dion Cassius, 41.48, quoted by Trench), says, Ἐφιλάσατε αὐτὸν ὡς πατέρα καὶ ἠγαπήσατε ὡς εὐεργέτην. Thus in the New Testament we are continually told of the ἀγαπᾶν τὸν Θεόν, but never of the φιλεῖν τὸν Θεόν. God is himself said to ἀγαπᾶν and φιλεῖν τὸν υἱόν. When, therefore, the Lord here asks Simon, Ἀγαπᾶς," Dost thou esteem me worthy of thy love?" Simon, with a burst of personal affection, says, yet with a certain humility, "I love thee"—meaning, "Such love as I can lavish upon thee, such as I may dare in my humility to offer thee, O my Master, Brother, Friend!" This being the case, Jesus saith, Feed my lambs. Love to Christ is the first, high, main condition of faithful service. The chief of the apostles will have this as his prime, chief, and most laudable service. Each of the terms of the commission, in its threefold repetition, resembles the other; and Meyer says the whole duty of the pastor of souls and earthly shepherd of the flock is involved in each of the three expressions. Our Lord commences, however, with providing true food, seasonable nourishment, for the "lambs" of the flock. The tender emotion involved in the term cannot be excluded, but it is a comprehensive and suggestive one, and embraces the young converts, the first believers, those who with impetuosity and gladness receive the Word; the little children who will literally crowd into the Church become the highest and sacredest care of the chiefest apostles and most honored of pastors. The first, the main thing they need, is the milk of the Word, and the sweetest pastures. This consideration of the next generation, and gracious care for the children and the childlike of every successive age, is one of the sacred signs of Divine revelation. Our Lord is represented in the synopties as "suffering the little children" to "come to" him, as "blessing them," and rejoicing in their hosannas. St. John preserves and glorifies the whole conception by recording this commission of the risen Lord to the greatest of the apostles. If the babes and sucklings had "held their peace, the stones would have cried out," is the pathetic approval of the rejected Lord. "Feed my lambs" is the gracious, unexpected summons of the triumphant Christ and Lord of all.

John 21:16

He saith to him again the second time, Simon, son of Jonas (John), lovest thou me? Here our Lord omits, as Peter had done, the "more than these," but he again, with perhaps deeper meaning, uses the word ἀγαπᾶς. Dost thou render me even more in one sense, though less in another, of thy heart's reverence? Dost thou treat me with the confidence and esteem, submission and admiration, which are my due? Again Peter, with his heart bursting with personal affection, feels that he can and must say, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee (φιλῶ ere; i.e. love thee dearly). The commission that follows is the second stage of pastoral office. He saith to him, Tend ("act the part of shepherd") my sheep. Christ is the "good Shepherd," and, as Peter puts it in 1 Peter 5:4, the "chief Shepherd." He has laid down his life with a view of taking it again, and ever after discharging the functions of the Shepherd. He means to bring all the "sheep" into one flock. They shall all hear his voice, and receive from him everlasting life. Meanwhile the leader of the apostles is made to appreciate that love is the condition of all healthy guidance. Faculty for rule is part of the very nature of the pastoral care. The sheep will need this even more than the "lambs;" the old disciples will require, even more than the young converts, both direction and command In this respect the subsequent career of Peter was more conspicuous than that of the rest of the apostles (see Revelation 2:27; Revelation 7:17; Acts 20:28; 1 Peter 5:2 for the use of the word). But the shepherding of the sheep is an essentially necessary and integral portion of every pastor's care. When assailed by the wolf of heresy, by the hostile marauder, by new conditions of any kind, by special danger, unless he can in self-forgetting love pilot and protect his flock, he is no true shepherd.

John 21:17

And now Peter seems to have conquered, by his persistence, the heart of his Lord, and Jesus adopts the very phrase which Peter twice over had substituted for that which he had himself used; for he saith unto him the third time, Simon, son of Jonas (John), lovest thou me? (φιλεῖς με;); as if he had said, "Dost thou indeed love me dearly, love me as a friend, love me with the earnestness and fervor that twice over has corrected my word into one more congenial to thee, and more ample and true than that used by myself?" This trait of Peter's character, which John has hinted on several occasions, is abundantly illustrated in the synoptic narrative and in the Acts of the Apostles. Peter was grieved because he said unto him the third time, Lovest thou me? The grief was natural. The repeated question suggests some doubt about his sincerity, and the adoption of the apostle's own word cut him with a more poignant heart-thrust? He may have thought thus: Jesus seems to distrust the reality of my personal affection. and will not accept my implication that this is more to me than the most thoughtful ἀγαπή, the most deeply meditated and measured reverence. He was grieved because a third time seems like an infinite repetition, and, if repeated thus a third time, it may be asked me again and again every day of my life. He was grieved from the irresistible analogy between the threefold denial of which he had been guilty, and this threefold interrogatory. He does not say as before, "Yea, Lord;" but commences, Lord, thou knowest (οἶδας) all things. Omniscience is freely conceded to the Lord. All things that Peter did, thought, or felt, all his bewilderment, all his mistakes, all his impulsiveness and mixture of motive, all his self-assertion, all his weakness and disloyalty, are known; but so also all the inner springs and lines of his nobler nature, and that though he played the fool, he was a hypocrite in his denials. The Lord knew that his faith did not really fail, though his courage did; and in virtue of this breadth of the Lord's knowing, he must have come to full cognizance of the entire meaning of Peter's life. Thou (seest) hast come fully to know that I love thee! Just because thou intuitively knowest all things. The play on οἶδας and γινώσκεις is obvious (see John 10:14; John 17:3, etc.). Jesus saith to him, Feed my little sheep. £ It is said by some that, even if this be the true reading, we have simply a renewal of the tenderness and strong emotion which led the Lord to speak of the ἄρνια on the first occasion. Doubtless deep and glowing affection pervades the use of these epithets; but if this be the sole explanation, then the reason of the adoption of πρόβατα in the second commission is not evident, ἄρνια would have answered the purpose. There is distinct progress in the ideas:

(1) "Feed my lambs;"

(2) "Rule (shepherd) my sheep;"

(3) "Feed my little sheep."

First, let Peter, let the apostolic company, let any one of the successors of the apostles, learn the delicate duty of supplying the just and appropriate nourishment to those that are young in years or in graces; then let him also learn to guide, direct, protect from outward foes, the mature disciples, and preserve the discipline of the flock, seeking the lost sheep until it be found; and he will find that then a third duty emerges. The sheep that are young in heart, the old men that are childlike in spirit, the trembling sheep that need even more care than the lambs themselves, are specially thrown upon the shepherd's care. Was not Peter himself a προβατιόν? Had he not shown that he was a most imperfect master of himself? He was mature in years, but childish as well as childlike in character. He could (for a while) only see one thing at a time, and he was impatient of the future. Mark welt his characteristic words, "Depart from me, for I am a sinful man. O Lord!" "That be far from thee, O Lord!" "Why cannot I follow thee now?" "Thou shall never wash my feet!" "Not my feet only, but my hands and my head!" "Let us build for thee three tabernacles!" "Not so; I have never eaten anything common or unclean!" These are familiar illustrations of the childishness and infantile simplicity, babyish audacity, of the old disciple. Even after the Lord has risen from the dead, Peter ventures to correct his language. Christ, moreover, accepts his persistent alteration of the word for "love" item the lips of this προβατίον. Thus the Lord summons him to undertake a duty which he would on reflection be specially able to appreciate.

John 21:18

Verily, verily, I say unto thee. This form of address links the pre-resurrection life to that which follows, proclaims the identity of the being and the unity of the Person of the Christ under new conditions. More than that, much solemnity is conferred on this final word of the Master. When thou wast younger than thou art now; i.e. before thou camest under my sway; when thou wert supreme ruler of the fishing-fleet of Capernaum, with wife and family dependent on thee; when Andrew, James, and John (thy partners) were in a measure all doing thy will, following in thy train, submitting to thy behests,—thou girdodst thyself for whatever task was set before thee; thou hadst the choice of duties and pleasures; thou hadst time at thy disposal, thy method of service in thine own hands, even as now it was thy will to gird thee for the task of swimming to my feet (see Isaiah 45:5; Pro 31:17; 1 Kings 18:46; John 13:4, John 13:5, διαζώννυμι; Luke 12:35-37; Luke 17:8; Acts 12:8, περιζώννυμι; 1 Peter 1:13, ἀναζώννυμι. The simple verb is used here in reference to all kinds of "girding"). So that the Lord reminds him of his natural self-will, so conspicuous and prominent, the secret of all his weakness and much of his individuality. And thou walkedst whither thou wouldest; or literally, thou wert in the habit of walking whithersoever thou weft willing or desiring to do; i.e. thine outward conduct, and the whole line of thy daily enterprise and duty, was not only an utterance of thine own self-mastery, but even thy wishes, the momentary waywardness of thy purposes, found immediate gratification. But a great change has come over thee; thou hast passed through a new experience. Already thou feelest that thou art not thine own; thy heart and strength, thy hands, thy feet, thy very girdle and sandal, are beginning to seem to thee no longer at thine own disposal. Thy self-will is checked, thy natural audacity and power of initiation are repressed into much narrower limits. Thou-hast found thyself weaker than a little child; thou art in need of this Divine principle of "love," deep and fervent, reverential as well as personal, not only to utter bold expressions of regard, but to form the very focus and new central force of thy whole being; and so it will come to pass that this new force will more than master thee; and when thou shalt be old and gray with years, thy service to that other and higher wilt shall be complete: thou wilt stretch forth thy hands in token of entire submission to the will of another, however it may be revealed to thee—whether at the instance of "the angel" or "Herod," of "Cornelius" or Nero's executioner! This remarkable phrase has often been supposed to mean the "stretching forth of the hands of the crucified" on his being appended to the cross. But such a process would follow rather than precede the "girding," which is, on such an interpretation, taken literally of the girding that preceded the nailing. There can be no doubt, from the language of St. John, that this was the final and forcible illustration of the new principle that would take full possession of Simon Peter. But meanwhile it was a long life of willing surrender to the Supreme Will which gives its highest meaning to these words. And another shall gird thee, and carry thee £ (or, bring thee) whither thou art not wishing to go. The old self-will, though it be indeed mastered, will not have utterly vanished. If it be not so, where would be the sacrifice? Even the blessed Lord himself said, "Not my will, but thine be done." Verily, even the sanctified nature of the sinless Man, prepared in the spotless womb of the blessed virgin by the Holy Ghost, anointed by the Spirit, and in living absolute union with the only begotten Son,—even he was, in human consciousness, disposed to cry, "If it be possible, let this cup pass from me," etc. We need not wonder, then, that to the very last, when the supreme will was manifested to Peter in the approaches of violent death, he should feel the will of the flesh thwarted. The exquisite legend embodied in the "Domiue, quo vadis?" (see John 13:33) confirms the entire representation of the character of Peter. So also does the story, preserved by Tertullian ('De Pries.,' 35; ' Ad Scorp.,' 15) and Eusebius ('Hist. Eccl.,' Ecclesiastes 3:1), that the apostle preferred crucifixion with his head downwards, on the plea that to be crucified as his Master was too great an honor for one that had denied his Lord.

John 21:19

This he said, adds the evangelist, signifying by what manner of death, not necessarily crucifixion (Godet), but that violent and martyr-death to which the prince of the apostles was called. How many anticipations, partial beginnings, of the final scene must Peter have passed through before, in utter human helplessness, but in Divine, supernatural strength, he stretched out his hands, allowed another to gird him, prepare him for the day's work, and carry him whither all his nature would shrink to go! There is no other hint whatever of literal crucifixion than this phrase of "stretching out the hand," which is nowhere else applied to the peculiar method in which the crucified ones suffered. Doubtless the transposition of the two phrases must not be pressed too much, since the stretching of the arms might possibly bear the literal interpretation of the action which was forced upon the victim, and the subsequent "girding" refer to the subligaculum, by which he was fastened to the instrument of torture; while the "being carried whither he would not" might, though by some forcing of the phrase, be supposed, though enigmatically and obscurely, to refer to the uplifting of the cross with its living burden. The phrase, "signifying by what manner of death he should glorify God," is peculiarly Johannine (John 12:33; John 18:32). This sublime term for the suffering of the great saints, taken from the light which the Lord's agony had cast upon holy death, became a permanent Christian idea (Suicer, 'Thes.,' 1:949). When John wrote, the fact of Peter's death must have been well known throughout the Church. There is every probability that he had long since been crucified, and the solemnity of the utterance was augmented and pointed by the well-known manner of the death of the illustrious apostle. This was, however, by no means the only meaning that naturally flows out of the warning; nor is Peter's experience the only illustration that it bears. And when he had spoken this, Jesus saith to him, Follow me. There may have been a primary interpretation derived from Christ's removal to a distance from the rest of the disciples, and the intention of conferring upon Peter there and then, special and further instructions. But from the context, in which the contrasts of life, character, and service are conspicuous, it would seem impossible (Meyer) so to restrict the meaning, as Tholuck and others do. The command is the concentration into one burning utterance of all that is meant by Christian life—that coming into relation with the living Lord, that imitation of his principle of action, which, as St. Paul in Philippians it. has shown, was capable of imitation in the narrower and smaller circle of our human experience. If it be rational for the Lord to have said, "Be ye perfect, as your Father in heaven is perfect," and for Paul to have pressed upon his converts, "Be ye followers of God, as dear children;" "Be ye followers of me, as I am of Christ,"—then the Lord gathered all the rules of conduct which were involved in his previous discourses into one word, when he laid upon the man who should be a fisher of souls, a feeder of lambs, a shepherd of sheep, a feeder of the little sheep of the flock, the comprehensive duty, "Follow me." Those interpretations which make the words mean "Follow me as universal bishop and pastor," as that of Chrysostom does, are incompatible with the narrative; or if we suppose them to signify, "Follow me into the invisible world," or "Imitate me in my martyrdom," this would be unpractical, and by no means in obvious harmony with the kind of injunctions just given. We give the passage from James Innes' translation of Aug., 'Tr.,' 123:4, which Westcott justly implies is beyond translation: "Such was the end reached by that denier and lover; elated by his presumption, prostrated by his denial, cleansed by his weeping, approved by his confession, crowned by his suffering,—this was the end he reached: to die with a perfected love for the Name of him with whom, by a perverted forwardness, he had promised to die. He would do, when strengthened by Christ's resurrection, what in his weaknesss he had promised prematurely. The needful order was that Christ should first die for Peter's salvation, and then that Peter should die for the preaching of Christ." Our Lord, when appealed to with reference to John, does not merely repeat the injunction, "Follow me," but forces upon Peter the original summons. This undoubtedly gives a solemnity and specialty to the work of Peter, to which the subsequent career of John was not an exact parallel. It cannot be said that our Lord in any sense forbids John to follow him, but says that, though John may abide, may rest, may meditate, may see visions and dream dreams, until he the Lord should come, that would in no respect alter the direct advice given to Peter. On referring to the earliest scene described in this Gospel between Jesus and his disciples, we find that "Follow me" was addressed to Philip, Moreover, Andrew and John were, on their first introduction to Jesus as "the Lamb of God," already (ἀκολουθοῦντας) "following him," and they were even then asking for power or permission to "abide" (μένειν) with him. But Peter was not then told to "follow him," but was simply invested with the great name of Cephas (John 1:42). These details are obviously supplemented by those before us. The entire phraseology is borrowed from the earlier narrative. The true solution of the problem of the paragraph is that John had followed the Master from the first, and clung to him (ἔμεινε), abode with him, from those early days till the moment at which these memorable words were uttered. In the journeys to Jerusalem, at the interview with Nicodemus, in Samaria, at the pool of Bethesda, in the hall of the high priest, and in Pilate's Praetorium, at the upper chamber, and in the garden, to the cross, and to the grave of Joseph, the beloved disciple had "followed" his Master. Peter's devotion was intense and at times passionate, but it was marked with a striking disposition, from first to last, to lead as well as "follow," to advise as well as to be guided, to stretch forth his hands, and to gird himself for his own enterprises. But with all his extraordinary peculiarities, he had never really broken the bond or relinquished his faith; and now the Lord in one word corrects every one of his failings anew, and institutes him into his sublime mission by the call, "Follow me." But even yet, Peter's extraordinary characteristic, to guide rather than to follow, leads him once more to lake the initiative. For whatever gesture it was that our Lord made, which induced Peter to think of immediate action, we cannot say; but it would seem that, even before he began to follow, he gave another intensely vivid characterization of himself.

John 21:20-23

(3) The revelations made to patient waiting for the coming of the Lord, with correction of a misunderstanding touching the disciple whom Jesus loved.

John 21:20

Having turned himself round, instead of keeping every glance for his Lord, Peter seeth the disciple whom Jesus loved following (ἀκολουθοῦντα), obeying the command without offering one suggestion. The writer adds, by way of further identification, he who also leaned back at the supper, upon his breast, and said, Who is he that betrayeth thee? (see notes on John 13:23). The note is here introduced to show the close connection of Peter and the beloved disciple. It was Simon Peter who had beckoned at the supper to the beloved disciple to ask this very question.

John 21:21, John 21:22

Peter then, £ seeing this man, saith to Jesus, Lord, and this man, what? What is the duty, place, fate, or honor of this man? Paulus and Tholuck suggest in the words the inquiry, "May not this man come now and hear our intercourse, share in my travail and the like?" Meyer supposes it to be dictated by a certain jealousy or curiosity, a consciousness of contrast between his own impetuosity and the beloved disciple's quietude and self-possession. Clearly the inquiry was not altogether pleasing to the Lord, and led him once more to reiterate the original injunction, If I will that he abide until I come, what is that to thee? Follow thou me. Do thou follow me, and cease to inquire after another's duty. Meyer considers that the μένειν is the opposite to ἀκολουωεῖν—that the latter word means "following unto death and martyrdom," while the former means "to be preserved alive," and turns to Philippians 1:25 and 1 Corinthians 15:6 in vindication. Doubtless that was the crude explanation which led to the subsequent legend of his immortality on earth, and the apostle's own disclaimer; but the word μένειν seems to be used in John 1:37, John 1:39, John 1:40, and in many other places, of the complement and entire fulfillment of the idea and practice of ἀκολουθεῖν—of that abiding in Christ which is the full result of heartfelt following and unquestioning submission to the Savior's will (John 15:4, John 15:5,John 15:10; see also 1 John 2:6, 1 John 2:17, 1Jn 2:24, 1 John 2:26; 1 John 3:24; 1 John 4:15). Taking with these passages the corresponding and alternative use of the word to express the manner in which God, truth, or love "abides" in the child of God, it would seem as though it were the keynote of much of John's most mature experience—a fact which is very remarkably elucidated by the passage before us. Baur, Hilgenfeld, Schwegler, Strauss, have urged from this passage that the writer was contending against the Petrine tendency in the Church, by representing John as the higher and more distinguished apostle; and, according to Kostlin, a precisely opposite expression was conveyed by the unknown writer, who meant to flatter the Roman primacy, in the second century, by the dignities thus conferred upon the chief of the apostles. Both hypotheses are baseless. The beloved disciple quietly accepts here the role of "abiding," "waiting," "resting in the Lord," and admits the superior energy and constant initiation which Peter was, as a man, constrained to pursue. There is no jealousy between them, nor the hint of it. John receives more than he asks. "If I will that he abide till I come," etc., has been variously interpreted. Some have said that it means, "If I will that he enjoy the long life and the natural death of one who rests with Christ until he comes to take him home by a quiet departure, until he comes to receive him to himself" (John 14:3. So Ewald and Olshausen). This view is improbable, because most certainly in that sense, Peter too followed and tarried and abode with Christ till the day when he was taken home. Luthardt suggests that the saying, as here given and interpreted by John himself, not of physical immortality, but of the coming itself, is John's way of asserting that the Lord has come; that in the fall of Jerusalem, A.D. 70, the destruction of the theocracy, and the obvious establishment of the true kingdom in all the world was the "coming," the παρουσία, the ἔρχομαι, of which the Savior had always spoken. John "sees the coming of the Lord in that event." In this general interpretation, Stier and Hengstenberg concur. Westcott throws more light upon it by wisely emphasizing (ἕως ἔρχομαι) the coming, not as one great event, but that continuous realization of his return which is the lofty privilege of faith; and shows that in numerous places ἕως points, not so much to the ultimate consummation, as to the interval which will elapse between the commencement and the consummation of the coming; 1 Timothy 4:13; Luke 19:2; Matthew 5:25). How frequently has Christ spoken, in the latest discourses, of coming again, to fill the sorrowing with joy, to teach in the power of the Comforter, to judge the prince of this world, to raise and quicken the dead! Such abiding is the full issue of faithful following. Surely two types of character pervade the whole dispensation the Martha and the Mary types; the faithful servant who works and trades with his talents, and the virgin who waits for the Bridegroom; and these two types both meet with appropriate advice. Simon is bidden to follow, and, occupied with busy cares of the Church, leave results to Christ; but John, who has passed into the sanctuary of holy love, is encouraged to rest patiently, and in obscurity and silence, to glory and serve by "standing and waiting."

John 21:23

We need not be surprised that the sublime meaning of these words, "Wait while I am ever coming to him," should have been misunderstood. Therefore this word went forth to the brethren. The designation, "brethren," only occurs in John 20:17 and Luke 22:32. The more familiar names of "disciples" and "children," "servants" and "apostles," are used in the Gospels. The Acts and Epistles introduce a new group of titles, e.g. "believers" as well as "brethren," "saints" as well as "disciples," "Christians," "slaves and soldiers of Christ," "sons of God," "priests and kings," and "little children;" but now, acting on the Divine hint of the Lord's own words, John speaks of his fellow-disciples who are called into the sacred fellowship as "brethren." The word went forth that that disciple dieth not (ἐκεῖνος, equivalent to "the disciple whom Jesus loved"). This was not an unnatural supposition, as his age advanced, and he was regarded as the "great light of Asia," the depositary of the latest traditions, as the link between the days of our Lord's ministry and two succeeding generations of believers, the seer of mighty visions, the enemy of all unrighteousness, and the apostle of love to the lost. In virtue of this very tradition, three hundred years later it was said that the holy apostle was still sleeping in his tomb at Ephesus, and that the dust moved lightly on his heaving breast. Here was the beginning of a genuine myth, which, having no real root in fact, failed to establish itself. "John the Baptist is risen from the dead," exclaimed Herod Antipas, "and therefore mighty powers energize in him." But there was no life and no truth in the story, and even among the disciples of St. John Baptist it did not take any place as a supposed fact. It is interesting to see that here a myth was started without positively bad faith, and based itself upon a recorded saying of the Lord; but it perished! The aged apostle strikes the folly dead with one stroke of his pen. The language is remarkable, as helping to prove that John wrote this chapter as well as the rest of the Gospel. Yet £ Jesus said not unto him, that he dieth not; but, If I will that he abide while I am ever coming, what is that to thee? Meyer, who always insists on the apostolic idea of the nearness of the παρουσία, thinks that John does not decide here whether the rumor was true or false, and simply says it must, when he wrote, have been left still uncertain and unsettled (so Luther). The tradition is not authoritatively condemned; but it is shown to be a mere inference, one inference out of many, from words partially understood. The Epistles of John show how deeply John pondered the idea, and how much he crowded into the words, "abide in him," until the coming, and before and during and after the various comings of the Lord to him. Mr. Browning, in 'A Death in the Desert,' makes St. John say in his last hours—

"If I live yet, it is for good, more love
Through me to men: be naught but ashes here
That keep awhile my semblance, who was John—
Still when they scatter, there is left on earth."
No one alive who knew (consider this!)—
Saw with his eyes and handled with his hands
That which was from the first, the Word of life.
How will it be when none more saith, 'I saw'?
Such ever was love's way: to rise, it stoops.
Since I, whom Christ's mouth taught, was bidden teach,
I went, for many years, about the world,
Saying, 'It was so; so I heard and saw,'?
Speaking as the ease asked: and men believed.
* * *
"To me that story—ay, that Life and Death
Of which I wrote 'it was'—to me it is;—
Is, here and now: I apprehend naught else.
Yea, and the Resurrection and Uprise
To the right hand of the throne—

I saw the Power; I see the Love, once weak,
Resume the Power; and in this word 'I see'
Lo, there is recognized the Spirit of both
That moving o'er the spirit of man, unblinds
His eye and bids him look …
Then stand before that fact, that Life and Death,
Stay there at gaze, till it dispart, dispread,
As though a star should open out, all sides,
Grow the world on you, as it is my world."

In verse 23 we find the significant close of the Fourth Gospel, and there is much to make it highly probable that the two remaining verses were added by the Ephesian elders, as their certificate of its authorship, and their identification of the beloved disciple with the author of the Gospel. It differs from the similar passage, John 19:35, where the writer himself gives his own autoptic testimony to the great miracle of the spear-thrust; and where that testimony is declared by himself to be ἀληθινή, "veritable," i.e. answering to the very idea of testimony. Here the person and verb are plural.

John 21:24, John 21:25

(4) Note of subsequent editors with reference to the authorship and the fullness of unrecorded traditions touching the words and deeds of Jesus.

John 21:24

This is the disciple who testifieth concerning these things—whether those narrated in the twenty-first chapter or in the entire Gospel. He is still testifying. He has not yet departed. He still proclaims his gospel of the love of God, his memories of "the Word made flesh," of "the Light of the world," his doctrine of the "eternal life which was with the Father, and has been manifested unto us." And wrote these things—compare "these things write we unto you, that your joy may be full" (1 John 1:4)—and we know (as a matter of fact, οἶδαμεν) that his testimony is true (ἀληθής), "veracious." We know him; we believe in his representation; we know without any shadow of doubt upon our mind that what he has said answers to the fact. It does not need that any of the elders should have seen the Lord to justify the use of οἶδαμεν. Meyer supposes that these words, notwithstanding their plural form, simply show that John identifies himself with his readers, and, from the peculiar delicacy of his mind, hides himself and his individuality among them or behind them. Alford compares it with John 1:14, "We have seen his glory," and 1 John 4:14, 1Jn 4:16; 1 John 5:18. Chrysostom and Theophylact read, in place of οἶδαμεν οἶδα μέν," I indeed know that his testimony is true." This ingenious method is rejected by modern scholars, on the principle that the writer would not thus have passed from third person to first. This does not seem to be insuperable: Paulus adopted this solution. The chief difficulty of admitting that these words are a note by the Ephesian presbyters, and of ignoring Chrysostom's suggestion, is that verse 25 contains an unquestionable reintroduction of the first person in the οἶμαι. This difficulty is, however, surmounted by Meyer, on the supposition that the last verse is not Johannine. Meyer and Tischendorf (who excludes it from his text) suppose it to have been a gloss by later hands, one which departs from the gravity and dignity of an apostle by its strong hyperbole. Still no codex but the Sinaitieus omits it, and the omission may be due to the loss of the last folio, on which it may have been written; while every other codex contains it. Godet thinks the writer was one of the elders who had joined in the previous authentication, and refers to "the strange notice which Tischendorf records from a manuscript in the vatican, that Papias was the secretary to whom John dictated the entire Gospel," and imagines that the hyperbolic style of sores of the extant fragments of Papias might account for the extravagance of the statement it contains. Lange and Alford regard the whole verse, together with verse 24, as Johannine, and suppose that John here speaks in propria persona when the fullness of his memory baffled all expression. Some treat the οἶμαι, etc., as a possible saying of John's which was added by the authors of both verses. We think that the presence of the οἶμαι (a very unusual word in the New Testament) is possibly accounted for by the recollection which some of those who had often heard the beloved apostle speak may have had of his way of describing the superlative richness of the life of our Lord, and that the brief appendix by those who bore this testimony to the veracity and authenticity and apostolic origin of the whole narrative is of priceless value. Undoubtedly it asserts with perfect clearness that John the son of Zebedee was the author of the Gospel. If, nevertheless, the work be that of a forger, who secured an accomplice in his deed of imposition, he is a moral anomaly; for, while acting so unworthily, he was nevertheless glorifying the doctrine that God is true, and that every lie is of the devil (John 8:44), and has produced a work which turns from end to end on a realization of the truth. The words on which so many speculations have been raised are—

John 21:25

There are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written one by one (or, each by itself), I suppose even the world itself would not contain the books which would (then) be written. Some have suggested the idea that χωρήσειν, or χωρῆσαι, means "morally contain," "bear with … endure." This is unsatisfactory. The writer, by the use of the name "Jesus," is not going back to the pre-existing, premundane activity of the Logos, but is simply conveying his enthusiastic sense of the inexhaustible fullness of the human life of the blessed Lord. The whole redeeming life, word, and work of the Word made flesh had a quality of infinity about it. The entire evangelic narrative has only touched the fringe of this vast manifestation, a few hours or days of the incomparable life. Every moment of it was infinitely rich in its Contents, in its suggestions, in its influence. Every act was a revelation of the Father, of the Son, of the Holy Spirit, giving vistas into the eternities, and openings into the heart and bosom of Deity. Let all that thus was done take thought-shape in human minds, and word-shape in human speech, and book-shape or embodiment in human literature, and there are no conceivable limits to its extent. We use such expressions continually, without feeling that we are adopting any unnatural or unhealthy hyperbole. The infinite abundance of the teaching and significance of the blessed life of the Son of God is ample justification of the apostolic enthusiasm. £


John 21:1-8

The fishing in Galilee.

This chapter is an appendix to the Gospel written by the Apostle John.

I. THE SCENE OF OUR LORD'S NEXT APPEARANCE TO THE DISCIPLES. "After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples at the sea of Tiberias."

1. It was not at Jerusalem, which was now forsaken and, in a sense, abandoned to its own delusions.

2. It was at the scene of our Lord's opening ministry.

(1) Galilee was the place to which he had ordered the disciples to repair, with a promise that he would meet them.

(2) It was the place from which he had drawn all his disciples save Judas Iscariot.

(3) It was the scene of his greatest popularity and acceptance.

II. THE DISCIPLES TO WHOM OUR LORD APPEARED. "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." There were, therefore, but five of the eleven apostles and two disciples.

III. THEIR OCCUPATION. "Simon Peter saith unto them, I go a-fishing. They say unto him, We also go with thee." They resumed their old mode of life as fishermen, awaiting the sign that should fix their future course.

1. This step was necessary for their daily subsistence.

2. The apostles give us an example of diligence in their calling. They do not care to eat the bread of idleness.

3. The scenes around the Galilaean sea would vividly remind them of many a miracle and many a discourse of their blessed Lord. Quiet recollection is part of our education for duty.


1. The disciples passed a fruitless night upon the waters. "That night they caught nothing."

2. The appearance of Jesus to them. "But when the morning was now come, Jesus stood on the shore: but the disciples knew not that it was Jesus."

(1) They were, perhaps, so preoccupied that they did not recognize him.

(2) Jesus may be near to his people, in their extremity, though they may not know it.

3. His directions to the wearied and dispirited fishermen. "Cast the net on the right side of the ship, and ye shall find."

(1) The want of former success must not discourage from fresh efforts.

(2) The first duty of disciples is to obey the Divine command.

(3) Two factors are needful to success—the faithful work of the disciples, and the blessing of the Lord upon it.

(4) The success of their fresh effort. "They cast therefore, and now they were not able to draw it for the multitude of fishes." What a proof of our Lord's omniscience and power!


1. John is the first to know him. "It is the Lord!" His penetrative, contemplative insight is quick to make the discovery.

2. Peter's eagerness to reach his 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." What an instance of the characteristic impetuosity and affection of Peter!

John 21:9-14

The repast on the seashore.


1. They must have been hungry and exhausted with the long and fruitless efforts of the night. Mark our Lord's consideration for their bodily comfort! "Thou shalt eat the labor of thy hands." "Come and dine."

2. Mark the awe of the disciples. "None of the disciples durst ask him, Who art thou? knowing that it was the Lord." There was something mysterious in the appearance and manner of the Lord that kept them in awe.


1. It was partly to make the disciples feel their continued dependence upon the Lord.

2. It was partly to afford an opportunity for his significantly important dealing with the Apostle Peter.

John 21:15-17

The restoration of Peter.

Though the Lord had already appeared to his disciple (Luke 24:34; 1 Corinthians 15:5), he had not yet formally restored him to the place he had forfeited by his three denials.

I. THE SOLEMN QUESTION OF OUR LORD TO PETER. "Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these?"

1. The question is thrice repeated, that it may elicit a threefold confession answerable to the threefold denial of our Lord.

2. The question in its first form seems to remind the apostle of the presumptuous superiority he had claimed for himself above all the disciples. "Though all men forsake thee, yet will not I." "Lovest thou me more than these?"—these other disciples. It is a suggestive fact that Peter's assertion of extreme devotion had occurred in immediate connection with the promise of our Lord to meet his disciples in Galilee.

3. The question is concerning the higher love of veneration and confidence which is the sitting of the Christian life (ἀγαπᾷν); not the feeling of mere natural affection or simple personal attachment (φιλεῖν).

4. The question makes an appeal to personal experience.

(1) It is not an appeal to faith, but to love; for love is a far more practical test than faith.

(2) It is implied that love is that of which a man may be conscious. It may be known by itself, and not merely by its doings.

(3) It is that feeling which—first to come, last to go—tells most surely the heart's relation to Christ. Hence the Apostle Paul girdles the whole Church with this girdle when he utters the catholic blessing, "Grace be with all them that love our Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity." Hence also he fences off the Church from the world by the terrible anathema, "If any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be Anathema Maranatha."


1. The first answer is, "Yea, Lord; thou, knowest that I love thee."

(1) He appeals to our Lord's omniscience. Experience had taught him to distrust his own judgment in a matter so personal and so solemn.

(2) There is deep humility in the answer.

(a) He does not now boast of his superiority to the other apostles, as if to say, "I love thee above them all;" he now merely ranks himself with true lovers of Christ.

(b) He does not adopt the higher term (ἀγαπᾷν) used in the question, but contents himself with the mere term of simple and friendly relationship (φιλεῖν).

2. The second answer is, "Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee."

(1) The Lord had dropped the words, "more than these," from his second question, because the answer to the first showed that the words in question had done their work.

(2) The apostle repeats his appeal to the Lord's omniscience.

(3) He still shrinks from using the higher word (ἀγαπᾷν).

3. The third answer. "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."

(1) The grief of the apostle was excited by the remembrance that his past conduct might well suggest a doubt of his present love.

(2) Our Lord drops the higher term and adopts the lower (φιλεῖν), as if to test the truth of the feeling now twice expressed by the apostle. The change of term must have touched Peter to the quick.

(3) The answer is, accordingly, a passionate appeal to our Lord's absolute omniscience, in which is included his special knowledge of Peter's heart. The variety of the terms employed is very significant: "Thou knowest all things"—οἶδας, with the knowledge of Divine intuition; "thou knowest that I love thee"—γινώσκεις, with the knowledge of direct observation.

III. THE SOLEMN CHARGES GIVEN TO PETER BY OUR LORD. They imply that our Lord accepted the apostle's answers in all their deep and touching sincerity.

1. First charge. "Feed my lambs." This is shepherd's work.

(1) The young members of the flock are to be cared for. They prepare the generations following.

(2) They need to be fed with "the sincere milk of the Word" (1 Peter 2:2), as well as guarded against false seductions and kept from wandering.

2. Second charge. "Lead my sheep."

(1) The more mature Christians are to be cared for.

(2) They need watchful guidance.

3. Third charge. "Feed my sheep."

(1) Our Lord returns to the word "feed," as if to emphasize the importance of instructing the whole flock in the pure Word of God.

(2) We hear the echo of our Lord's charge in the voice of this under-shepherd long after: "Feed the flock of God which is among you" (1 Peter 5:2).

John 21:18, John 21:19

Prediction of Peter's death.

Our Lord next announces what will be the manner of the end of his disciple's ministry.


1. Job speaks of the days of man being determined. "The number of his months are with thee; thou hast appointed his bounds, that he cannot pass."

2. Jesus has a lordship over the life and death of his saints. "If we die, we die unto the Lord;" "He is the Lord both of the living and of the dead" (Romans 14:8, Romans 14:9).

3. The Lord's disposal of his saints' lives makes them immortal till their work is done.

II. THE LORD DETERMINES THE MANNER OF PETER'S DEATH. It was to be a death of violence. He was to become a martyr of the Christian faith. "When thou wast young"—Peter was now a middle-aged man—"thou girdedst thyself"—possessing full liberty of life—"and walkedst whither thou wouldest"—with full freedom of movement—"but when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands"—as helpless and in the power of others—"and another shall gird thee"—as a condemned criminal—"and carry thee whither thou wouldest not." A violent death, as being unnatural, is shrunk from. But these words are to be regarded solely from the standpoint of natural feeling.

1. The apostle understood the exact nature of this prediction, as we know by his own words, "Knowing that shortly I must put off this my tabernacle, even as our Lord Jesus Christ showed me" (2 Peter 1:14).

2. The death of the apostle was to redound to the glory of God. "This spake he, signifying by what death he should glorify God. The martyrs glorify God

(1) by their readiness to sacrifice their lives for the sake of God;

(2) by their patience and resignation in death;

(3) by the evidence afforded in their deaths of the sustaining and comforting presence of the Lord.

3. The martyrdom of Peter took place in the year A.D. 64. It was, therefore, now a past event which the evangelist records.


1. It was a solemn thought to the apostle to know the destined end of his apostolic labors.

2. This knowledge would intensify his eager zeal to work without pause during the term of life that remained to him.

3. The command to follow Christ implied

(1) that Peter should cast in his lot with Christ, and make common cause with him;

(2) that he should learn his will and do his commands;

(3) that he should walk in the footsteps of his holy life.

John 21:20-23

The mystery of John's future.

The Apostle Peter began to follow Jesus as he went forth, and, turning round, saw John following. He is anxious to know the future destiny of his fellow-disciple.

I. PETER'S QUESTION CONCERNING JOHN. "Lord, and what shall this man do?" or, literally, "Lord, and this man! what?"

1. Consider the motive of this question.

(1) It was not prompted by mere curiosity;

(2) nor, as some unworthily suppose, by a feeling of rising jealousy, as if the Lord had reserved for John a happier destiny and a more peaceful end than that predicted for Peter himself.

(3) It was prompted by the purest love to a disciple from whom Peter did not desire to be separated in life or in death.

(a) They were two apostles most intimately linked together in the associations of our Lord's ministry. They were two of the three honored with the more intimate confidence of our Lord—apart with him

(α) in the house of Jairus;

(β) in the Mount of Transfiguration;

(γ) in the garden of Gethsemane.

(b) Their very variety of gifts and temperament tended to cement the relationship more closely together. The one was the man of reflection; the other, of action.

2. Consider the meaning of this question. "Lord, and what shall this man do?" Is he destined to suffer and die like me? Or is he destined to a still longer life and a more peaceful and natural death?

II. OUR LORD'S ANSWER TO THE QUESTION. "If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee?"

1. The answer assumes a certain tone of rebuke, as if Peter's question lay somewhat outside the sphere of his own direct concernment and duty.

2. It implies that the Lord exercises a Divine sovereignty over the lives and over the deaths of his servants. The Lord can make his servants "tarry" in the world as long as it pleases him.

3. It implies that his servants ought to tarry till the Lord comes. The words, therefore; rebuke

(1) the madness of the wretched suicide who is in haste to fling away his life;

(2) and the eager longing for death, sometimes manifested even by God's saints, who are weary of the troubles of life and anxious for the rest of heaven. They ought, rather, to work on till the Lord comes, and to accept either death or life, after Paul's manner, as either may seem best to the Lord himself or best for the good of the Church (Philippians 1:24).

4. The answer of our Lord implies that each disciple has a distinct position in the world. "What is that to thee? follow thou me."

(1) It asserts each man's individuality. Each man has

(a) his more separate sphere of responsibility;

(b) his separate cares;

(c) his separate destiny.

(2) Therefore each man must look primarily to himself and his own duty.

(a) Our Lord does not censure the regard of social relations;

(b) but the neglect of individual concern, the disposition to interest one's self unduly in other people's concerns.

5. The answer of our Lord implies that we are bound to follow him through all the mystery that surrounds our path. "Follow thou me." Peter is to follow Christ whether he knows or not the future destiny of his beloved fellow-disciple.

(1) Men are sometimes loath to follow Christ because of the pressure of intellectual, or moral, or personal difficulties. This is a ruinous as well as foolish policy.

(2) Our duty is to follow Christ in the hope either

(a) that he will solve our difficulties,

(b) or that he will give us peace in presence of difficulties, in the hope of their future solution. Let us deal with the duty of the hour, and leave the future to God.

6. The answer of our Lord implies that John would tarry till his coming. "If I will that he tarry till I come." The words are dark enough in their meaning, yet history seems to interpret them.

(1) The brethren of that day imagined that John would never die. John himself corrects this misapprehension, without, however, giving any interpretation of our Lord's mysterious words.

(2) The tradition existed long in the Church—even in the third and fourth centuries—that John was even then alive, awaiting the Lord's coming.

(3) The Lord meant to say that John would survive till his coming—at the destruction of Jerusalem. This event was not more than a generation distant at the time.

(a) Scripture speaks of the Lord's coming in connection with that event, which, by sweeping away the Jewish commonwealth, would leave the ground clear for the establishment of the kingdom of God.

(b) John did, as a matter of fact, long survive this event.

John 21:24, John 21:25

Conclusion of the appendix to the Gospel.

These last words are added, not by the apostle, but by some other hand.

I. A TESTIMONY TO THE AUTHORSHIP AND TRUTH OF THIS GOSPEL. "This is the disciple which testifieth of these things, and wrote these things: and we know that his testimony is true." This language implies:

1. That John was still alive.

2. That he was an eye-witness and an ear-witness of all recorded in this Gospel.

3. That the narratives were written by his hand in a spirit of truth, free from all exaggeration or falsehood.

II. A COMPLETE LIFE OF CHRIST WOULD BE PRACTICALLY OF INFINITE DIMENSIONS. "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."

1. A book of limited extent could never describe the acts of an infinite Being.

2. Thee emphatic place given to our Lord's works, including his miracles, shows the stress that is to be laid, evidentially, upon miracles as an argument for Christianity.

3. The passage implies a vast activity of Christ. After all, we have but few miracles of his life recorded. He verily" went about every day doing good." What an amount of beneficial work he compressed into the three years of his public ministry!

4. It is satisfactory for faith to know that nothing is omitted in the record of Scripture essential to salvation.

5. It was a sign of Divine consideration to the wants of men that the Scriptures should be suitable, in respect of their extent as well as their contents. The Bible is large enough, but not too large for human use.

6. Let us prize it as the exhibition of a Divine life revealed for the salvation of the world.


John 21:7

The cry of joyful recognition.

First uttered by John when he discerned the form of his beloved Master upon the beach of the Galilaean lake, this exclamation has passed into the hearts and the lips of all Christian people, who, amidst the various scenes of life, have recognized their Savior's presence, and have ever been wont to acknowledge with reverential faith, "It is the Lord!" The circumstances in which the words were uttered, as well as the words themselves, are full of instruction, suggestion, and comfort.

I. How JESUS COMES TO BE HIDDEN. Others, beside the twelve, have for a time failed to recognize the Son of God.

1. It may be through human misapprehension. Many there are who never really see and know Jesus. They misunderstand his character and purposes, his disposition with reference to themselves; and consequently they remain altogether estranged from him.

2. It may be through human unbelief. Men may, and do, deliberately draw a veil between themselves and Christ. Their sins, their unspirituality, are a complete barrier to their really knowing him; they are without the receptiveness and sympathy which are necessary in order to such knowledge.

3. It may be through human perplexity and despondency. In the case of the disciples this seems to have been the explanation of their failure to perceive at once that the form upon the shore was that of their Lord. Their minds were preoccupied with their own distress, uncertainty, and troubles. And thus they were for a while blind to that very presence which alone could bring them relief and blessing.

II. HOW JESUS COMES TO BE RECOGNIZED. He was hidden for a short season from the eyes even of his own attached friends; but the hiding was not for long. Nor will he fail to make his nearness and his grace known to those who are prepared to receive the revelation. This he does:

1. By the voice of Divine authority in which he speaks. There was command in the tones of Jesus when he bade the fishers let down their net. He never speaks—however graciously and with however much of encouragement and kindly invitation—save in a manner divinely authoritative. And the true disciples recognize that royal tone.

2. By the language of sympathy and love which he uses. As Jesus pitied the poor fishermen who had toiled all night in vain; as he addressed them as his children, and showed commiseration; so does he ever appeal to the tenderest feelings of human hearts, awakening the response which love gives to love.

3. By the provision which he makes for the needs of his own. There is a practical aspect in the spiritual ministry of the Savior. He provided breakfast for the disciples; how could he have given them a homelier welcome? Thus does he give his flesh for the life of the world. His Deity is recognized in his devotion and sacrifice. They who once see what he has done for man can never doubt who he is.

III. How THE RECOGNIZED JESUS IS GREETED. With the cry, "It is the Lord!" This is:

1. The cry of faith, on discovering in him the Truth of God. The long-looked-for vision breaks upon the soul. He who has been desired draws near.

2. The cry of obedience, as his will is felt to be authoritatively binding. He speaks the language of command; and the obedient soldier adopts the wish as law, and does the bidding of his Captain; for "it is the Lord!"

3. The cry of submission and resignation, as his hand is discerned in the chastisements of life. Let a man say, "It is fate!" or, "It is fortune!" and how can he submit with profit? But let him say, "It is the Lord!" and he will add, "Let him do as seemeth good in his sight."

4. The cry of witness, as Christ's presence is proclaimed to all around. It is the mission of the Church to all the world, to direct attention to the world's Savior and Lord.


1. With his society and friendship.

2. With his liberality and bounty, by which all their spiritual wants are supplied.

3. With his power and benediction upon the life and work of each one who acknowledges and serves him.

4. With the final vision of his face. They who have seen him by faith on earth shall see him as he is above. Blessed, rapturous, shall be the recognition, when the disciple shall open his eyes in heaven, and shall exclaim, "It is the Lord!"—T.

John 21:12

The diffidence of reverent hearts.

It does at first sight seem strange that when John had exclaimed, "It is the Lord!" when Peter had plunged into the lake to swim to the shore where Jesus stood, when all the little company had indubitable evidence that Jesus was indeed with them, there should still have been this reticence, this diffidence, this awe. Yet such conduct is not inconsistent with human nature; and its analogue is still to be discerned in human experience.

I. THE SOUL RECOGNIZES CHRIST BY HIS DIVINE DEMEANOR AND LANGUAGE. The authority and the considerateness with which Jesus addressed the disciples, and the provision which he made for their wants, were to them an assurance that they were not mistaken in their conviction that they were in the presence of their Lord. Only let the heart be open to the manifestations of the spiritual presence of the Divine Lord and Savior of men, in his Word and in human society, and the conclusion will be reached speedily and certainly that the work witnesses to the Worker; that the light and heat are an index to the presence of the sun. The correspondence between human need on the one hand and Divine provision on the other is so marked and so perfect as to suggest, and indeed to require, belief in the authoritative mission of Christ, and in his eternal presence in human society.

II. THE SOUL MAY BE DETERRED BY ITS VERY REVERENCE FROM INTELLECTUAL INQUIRY INTO CHRIST'S CREDENTIALS. No doubt there are those who believe as they have been taught and trained to believe, and whose belief is simply the reflection of that of others. Yet there are natures, refined and sensitive, who are so perfectly convinced of our Lord's Deity and mission, that to doubt of, and even to inquire into, this matter seems almost like a scrutiny into a mother's virtue or a father's integrity. They have the witness within themselves. For some, evidences and investigation and criticism may be necessary; but for these reverent souls is no such need. Knowing "it is the Lord," they dare not ask him, "Who art thou?"

III. SUCH FAITH IS SUFFICIENT FOR HIM WHO EXERCISES IT, AND IS ACCEPTABLE TO THE LORD HIMSELF. Men may reason and argue and dispute, and yet never come to faith, whilst there are believing souls who are altogether indifferent to logical processes and insusceptible to critical doubt. The heart may be peaceful and strong in fellowship with the Savior who has revealed himself to it. And he whose claims will endure all scrutiny, and whose right transcends all debate, is yet willing to accept the homage of the child-like, and the devotion of the congenial and the pure.—T.

John 21:15

"Lovest thou me?"

To comprehend this interview and dialogue, it is necessary to look at preceding circumstances. In a conversation which took place before our Lord's betrayal, Peter had made the most ardent professions of attachment and devotion to his Master. Though all should forsake Jesus, yet would not he! He was willing even to die with him! But the events of the awful night of the Lord's apprehension and mock trial before the Jewish council, had made evident the moral weakness of spiritual fiber which was hidden by his impetuous fervor. Peter's faith had failed, and he had been led by timidity to deny the Lord he loved. That he repented of his cowardice, and that with bitter tears, was known to the Master whom he had wronged. These circumstances account for the language of Jesus when he met his disciple by the lake of Galilee. Jesus elicited from his follower the thrice-repeated expression of his love, and, having done this, treated Peter as one restored and reconciled, imparted to him his apostolic commission, and predicted his future of service and of martyrdom. Turning from the special incident which called for the question and the answer here recorded, we direct attention to what is practical and of universal application.

I. A POINTED QUESTION. "Lovest thou me?"

1. This question implies that Christ has a claim upon our love. This claim is founded upon:

(1) His supreme worthiness to be loved. Who, in himself, in character, in moral excellence, can be compared with Jesus, as the Object of human affection? He was admired and loved on earth; but since his ascension he has been more intensely and far more widely admired and loved by those whom he has left behind him. In a word, he deserves love; and we "needs must love the worthiest."

(2) His love to us. Christ's is no cold, elevated dignity and excellence. He is a Being of benevolence, compassion, and tenderness; and these qualities he has displayed towards us. His love and kindness to men are simply the expression of his holy, gracious nature. He first loved us; and, if we love him not, we prove our insensibility and moral debasement. There is nothing meanly interested and unworthy in the love Christ's people bear him.

(3) Especially upon his sacrifice and death. "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends;" and this proof of Divine affection Jesus gave. His was the love which is "stronger than death."

"Which of all our friends, to save us.

Could or would have shed his blood?

But Immanuel died to have us

Reconciled in him to God.

This was boundless love indeed:
Jesus is a Friend in need."

2. This question implies that Christ is solicitous and desirous of our love. Men often seek the friendship of those who are above them in abilities, in station, in character, in power. Jesus does just the contrary when he condescends to ask our love. It is a proof of his disinterested and benevolent affection, that Jesus should deign to address to each hearer of His Word the question, "Lovest thou me?"

3. This question implies that in Christ's view our love towards himself is of vast importance to us. To love him, as he knows full well, is to man the spring of the truly religious life. It is the surest means of becoming like him. Nay, to love Christ is to be in the way of loving everything that is good. It must not be supposed that such affection is the merely sentimental side of religion; it is closely connected with practice, for love is the divinely ordered motive to duty and service. How different is Christianity from other and merely human religions! These teach men to fear God, to propitiate God, but never to love God. Jesus draws our love towards himself, and thus leads us into love to God as the element of our higher life.

II. As ARDENT RESPONSE. In the case of Peter, the reply to our Lord's pointed question was most satisfactory. It may well be pondered as an example for us, as Christians, to imitate. It was:

1. An affirmative answer, inconsistent with coldness, indifference, and mere respect.

2. A modest and not a boastful answer. Peter had endured a bitter experience of the mischief of self-confidence and boastfulness; into this sin he was not likely again to fall.

3. A cordial and sincere answer, opposed to merely formal and verbal profession.

4. An open and public answer, such as should ever be given to the rightful Lord and holy Friend of man.

5. A consistent answer—one supported by a lit e of loving devotion.

6. An acceptable and accepted answer. When Jesus asks our heart, and we yield it, never need we fear lest he should reject what we offer.—T.

John 21:18

The primacy of Peter.

The career of St. Peter is a striking instance of elevation from obscurity to fame. From a Galilaean fisherman he was promoted to the leadership of the college of apostles, and has for centuries been revered by a great part of the Christian world as the earthly head of the Church. The ardor of his love and the boldness of his confessions endeared him to the Master; yet his self-confidence and his temporary unfaithfulness grieved the Master's heart. In the singular alternations of feeling and conduct he reminds us of David in the older dispensation. Both have gained a position in human regard which the cold and blameless have failed to reach.

I. PETER WAS THE FIRST AMONG THE FAVORED GROUP ADMITTED TO WITNESS CHRIST'S GLORY AND HUMILIATION. Peter, James, and John were the favored three who beheld the glory of the Son of man upon the Mount of Transfiguration, and his woe in the garden of Gethsemane. Not only is his name mentioned first, but precedence in action is on both occasions referred to him. It was he who exclaimed upon the mount, "It is good for us to be here," proposing that tents should be reared for the illustrious visitors and for their Lord. It was he who, when the foes of Jesus would have arrested him, drew the sword in the Master's defense.

II. PETER WAS THE FIRST TO BEAR WITNESS TO THE LORD'S DIVINITY. What the others thought of Jesus at the time when he asked them, "Whom say ye that I am?" we do not know; but it is recorded that Peter promptly and boldly replied, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God." His ready apprehension of his Lord's nature, dignity, and office gave rise to the cordial acknowledgments of him to whom he testified.

III. PETER WAS THE FIRST OF THE APOSTLES TO BEAR WITNESS TO CHRIST'S RESURRECTION FROM THE DEAD. When on the evening of the day the disciples met, the subject for wonder and for rejoicing was that the Lord had appeared unto Simon. And Paul tells us that after his resurrection Jesus was seen first of Cephas. It is recorded that, upon receiving tidings from the women, Peter with John hurried to the empty tomb; it must have been soon after this that this apostle was favored with the interview twice referred to in the New Testament.

IV. PETER WAS THE FIRST, AFTER THE DESCENT OF THE HOLY SPIRIT, TO PREACH THE GOSPEL TO HIS FELLOW-MEN. The record in the Book of the Acts is explicit upon this point. Peter, standing up with the eleven, lifted up his voice and spake forth to the people, proclaiming the Lordship and Messiahship of the Risen One, and announcing through him remission of sins to the penitent and believing. In this be was the mouthpiece of the Christian community, and the leader of the great company who published the Word of the Lord.

V. PETER WAS THE FIRST AMONG CHRISTIAN CONFESSORS TO ENDURE AND DEFY THE RAGE OF THE PERSECUTOR. In the fourth and fifth chapters of the Acts we have the record of this apostle's boldness when confronted with the enmity of the rulers among the Jews. How dignified was his demeanor, how faithful was his testimony, how patient was his endurance of hostility and of persecution for Christ's sake, the author of that book makes abundantly apparent to every reader.

VI. PETER WAS THE FIRST AMONG THE TWELVE TO WELCOME THE BELIEVING GENTILES INTO THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH. First in the case of Cornelius, and then upon the occasion of what is called the Council of Jerusalem, Peter proved himself to be possessed with the Spirit of his Lord, in whom there is neither Jew nor Gentile. It was he, occupying a position of peculiar authority and advantage, who may be said to have thrown open the gates of the Church to those of Gentile descent. Paul was indeed the apostle of the Gentiles; but if we turn aside from the speculations of the "higher criticism," and confine our attention to historical facts, we shall see it was Peter who made it possible to widen the foundations of the Church, and, without endangering unity, to receive the believers in Christ from every race and nation into the enjoyment of equal privileges and hopes.

VII. PETER WAS THE FIRST CONCERNING WHOM IT WAS FORETOLD THAT HE SHOULD SUFFER A DEATH OF MARTYRDOM FOR THE SAKE OF CHRIST. It is certainly very singular that our Lord should choose the moment when Peter made protestation of his love and devotion, and when he himself formally entrusted Peter with authority to feed the spiritual flock, as the moment for predicting his martyrdom, particularly foretelling by what death he should glorify God. His Epistles assure us that this language was not lost upon the faithful servant, but that he learned to rejoice in the prospect of partaking Christ's sufferings.—T.

John 21:19

God glorified in death.

There is something startling in this language of our Lord. God is the Giver of life; and death, according to the scriptural teaching, comes by sin. In life God is glorified. Yet, as Christianity transmutes dross into gold, it is credible that even death may tend to the Divine glory. In the case of Christians we can indeed see how this should be so.

I. THE CHRISTIAN, IN ORDER TO GLORIFY GOD IN DEATH, MUST FIRST GLORIFY HIM IN LIFE. Such was conspicuously the case with Peter, with regard to whom this language was first employed. Active energies were consecrated to no personal end of self advancement, but to the highest end of life. Similarly with every Christian, however lowly his position and however brief his career. The end crowns the work. He who lives well, dies well.

II. GOD MAY BE GLORIFIED BY THE CHRISTIAN'S DEATH, WHETHER THAT DEATH BE NATURAL OR VIOLENT. In the case of Peter, the language of Jesus evidently pointed to crucifixion as the mode of that apostle's end. And in the early age of Christianity there were evident reasons why many should be permitted to seal their testimony by their blood. But then and always the highest purposes may be secured by whatever mode of dissolution Divine providence allows. And a peaceful decease, though it may be less impressive upon men, may be equally acceptable to God, and perhaps even equally serviceable to survivors, as a triumphant martyrdom.

III. THE SPIRIT IN WHICH DEATH IS MET BY CHRISTIANS IS GLORIFYING TO GOD. This is emphatically the spirit of submission. Since men naturally shrink from dissolution, a principle of especial power is needed in order to overcome this tendency. On the part of some dying Christians there is something more than patient acquiescence; there is joy and even ecstasy in the prospect of being with Christ, which is far better. But even where such experience is wanting, there may be the manifestation of a truly submissive spirit. God is glorified in the patience of the saints.

IV. GOD IS GLORIFIED BY THE RESULTS WHICH THE CHRISTIAN'S DEATH PRODUCES UPON SURVIVORS. The consequences which flowed from the early martyrdoms have been generally acknowledged. It is proverbial that "the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church." Even persecutors have been touched by the exhibition of constancy, fortitude, and expectation of glory which they have witnessed on the part of sufferers. And in how many instances have children traced their new and holier life to the dying confession and victory of their Christian parents! Christ's death was the life of the world; and the death of his followers is ever fruitful of spiritual and immortal good.—T.

John 21:21, John 21:22

Curiosity rebuked.

Peter and John were the two among the twelve who were nearest to Christ, and they were peculiarly intimate in their friendship and congenial in their disposition. It was very natural that, when the risen Jesus had uttered so explicit a prediction concerning the future of the apostle—viz., that he should live to old age, and then should glorify God by enduring a martyr's death by crucifixion—a general desire should be aroused in the breasts of the disciples to know something of the future history and the end of John. Especially it was very natural that Peter should put to the Lord the question here recorded. Yet Jesus not merely declined to comply with this request, he even rebuked the questioner for his curiosity.


1. Of these one is good, viz. the natural desire to know, with which is conjoined that sympathy that transfers to another the feelings of interest first belonging to one's self. A person utterly indifferent to the prospects of his neighbors would be regarded as morally imperfect and defective.

2. On the other hand, there is something of evil in the springs of curiosity, inasmuch as this habit of mind arises very much from the tendency to remove attention from principles, and attach it to persons. He who thinks only of principles is pedantic, and his pedantry is blamed; but he who thinks only of persons and of what happens to them is curious, and his disposition is condemned as trivial and prying. Peter's question was evidently regarded by our Lord in this latter light.

II. THE MISCHIEF OF CURIOSITY. In two respects this mental habit is injurious.

1. There is a great danger of the curious man's attention being drawn away from what relates to himself and his own true welfare.

2. There is a further danger lest the curious man should yield to the temptation to indulge in gossip, and even in scandal. It is not easy to speculate much about the circumstances and prospects of others without talking about their affairs, and surmising with regard to matters upon which we have no means of exact knowledge.

III. TRUE REBUKE AND CURE OF CURIOSITY. The language of the Lord Jesus was very emphatic and very just.

1. Let every man remember his own personal responsibility. "Follow thou me," said Jesus to Peter. We are not accountable for our neighbors, but we are accountable for ourselves.

2. Let every man remember that, the ease of others is in the hands of Divine wisdom and beneficence. "If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee?" said Jesus; i.e. fear not; he is cared for equally with thyself; a good hand is over him, and he shall not be forsaken. There is often good reason for us to bear in mind the somewhat sharp but very needful rebuke of Christ, "What is that to thee?"—T.

John 21:23

The untrustworthiness of tradition.

Tradition is the handing down from one person to another of what is not committed to writing. It is customary in those primitive societies where writing is unknown. It is practiced also in communities more advanced in civilization, when there is some special reason why it should be preferred to documentary preservation and transmission. That there was traditional teaching concerning our Lord's ministry is undoubted; and it has been disputed to what extent our Gospels embody such teaching. But this passage seems to have been inserted here as if to remind us how carefully coming ages of the Church have been preserved from a fruitful source of error.


1. In this case the saying concerning John was a saying of Christ, and as such might be supposed to be treasured with the greatest care and reverence.

2. It was uttered in the hearing of the select friends of our Lord, who, if any could do so, would guard it from corruption.

3. The apostles of Christ must have been the reporters of this saying to their fellow-Christians.

4. The person concerning whom the tradition went abroad was living at the time that the misrepresentation was repeated.

II. YET AN ALTOGETHER ERRONEOUS VERSION OF THIS SAYING WAS CURRENT IN THE EARLY CHURCH. Although Jesus had simply said to Peter, "If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee?" which might be simply a strong way of rebuking curiosity, or an intimation that John should survive until the destruction of Jerusalem; yet there went abroad a notion that Jesus had expressly assured his beloved disciple that he should never die ] Could there be a more remarkable perversion of the Lord's words? a more signal instance of the untrustworthiness of oral tradition? Yet, what happened then has often happened before and since. Passing from one man's lips to another's, facts may dissolve into fictions, and opinions may be reversed.

III. THIS INSTANCE SUGGESTS HOW WISE AND MERCIFUL AN ARRANGEMENT IS THAT BY WHICH THE GOSPEL IS NOT LEFT TO ORAL TRADITION, BUT HAS BEEN EMBODIED IN AUTHENTICATED DOCUMENTS. By inspiring his apostles to commit the gospel facts to writing, our Lord has secured us against the mischiefs attending tradition. The truth cannot be injured either by the zeal of friends or by the malice of foes.

PRACTICAL LESSON. Readers of the New Testament are hound in reason to accept and credit what there is no room for any candid inquirer to distrust.—T.

John 21:24

Witness authenticating witness.

That the last two verses of this Gospel are not the composition of the evangelist whose name it bears is plain enough. But it is almost equally plain that this fact does not detract from their value, but, all things considered, rather adds to it.

I. IT IS EVIDENT THAT THIS GOSPEL WAS KNOWN TO THE CONTEMPORARIES OF THE APOSTLE JOHN. Whoever wrote these supplementary sentences, this appendix to the treatise, it is clear that the treatise itself was in his hands, and that he added his witness in the earliest age, and in all likelihood while the aged John was still living.

II. JOHN HIMSELF WAS KNOWN BY THE WRITER OF THIS APPENDIX TO BE THE AUTHOR OF THE GOSPEL. No one who is unprejudiced can suppose that this addition was made long after the writer was dead, and longer still after the death of the great Subject of the memoir. We have not here the record of an opinion; it is not the case of an anonymous Christian giving expression to his judgment that, as a matter of criticism, John was probably the author of the Gospel. "We know," he says—speaking for others as well as for himself—"that his [the beloved disciple's] testimony is true." They had doubtless heard many of the contents of the book from the lips of John himself, and they had doubtless heard the aged apostle acknowledge the authorship.

III. THE VERSE CONTAINS A GUARANTEE OF THE VERACITY OF JOHN. In stating that they knew that John's testimony was true, the guarantors and attestors must have been deliberately laying claim to independent sources of information. What more reasonable than to believe that they had seen and listened to some who had been witnesses of the Lord's death and of his resurrection-life? They may not only have entertained other apostles at Ephesus; they may have visited Jerusalem, and have seen those who in their youth had seen the Lord. In many ways they may have satisfied themselves that the records of John were not "cunningly devised fables;" that he had spoken what his eyes had seen and his ears had heard of the Word of life.

IV. THE WITNESS THUS BORNE TO THE GOSPEL CONFIRMS ITS CLAIM UPON OUR REVERENT ATTENTION AND FAITH. This was the intention with which the appendix was added. And as the interest and value of the document center in the Being to whom it mainly relates, we may justly acknowledge that we are under a moral obligation to study the testimony borne. The Gospel of John is to be treated as an ordinary book in so far that its acceptance as credible depends upon evidence of an appropriate and convincing character. But its contents are far from ordinary; they are so extraordinary that it is reasonable and right for the reader to look for a valid foundation for his credence. And inasmuch as the manifest purpose, the professed purpose, for which the Gospel was written was to produce faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, we shall only receive the testimony of this unnamed but credible and veracious attestor so as to secure our highest enlightenment and welfare, if we are convinced that Jesus Christ is indeed the Son of God and the Savior of mankind. Even assent to historical truth is insufficient; for this is the means to an end, and that end is "saving faith."—T.


John 21:15-17

The pastoral office.



1. In some of its leading features.

(1) It is the highest order of love. "Lovest (ἀγαπᾷς) thou," etc.? Love varies in its quality, from the common love of man to man up to the most spiritual and Divine love of the soul to God. The love required of the shepherd is the latter, although the former is by no means to be despised, but is advantageous.

(2) It is the highest order of love to Christ. "Lovest thou me?" This high honor, devotion, and attachment must be felt towards Jesus - his Person, his character, his cause, and grand purposes of salvation. Christ in his Person and character demands the highest devotions of the heart and soul.

(3) It is the highest order of personal love to Christ. "Lovest thou," etc.? It must not be merely historical, but experimental. Not the love of some one else, but that of the individual himself—the fire of his own heart, the glow of his own affections, the enthusiasm of his own soul, and the warm devotion of his own feelings. There is much that is borrowed and second-hand in religious experience and Christian love. Christ requires the really experienced love of the individual.

(4) It is the highest order of love to Christ in the greatest degree. "More than these"—more than the other disciples love me. This doubtless has a retrospective reference to Peter's profession of love, and serves as a rebuke; but it has a prospective reference to the fulfillment of personal love in the future, and serves as a guide and inspiration. Love to him is not only to be of the best quality, but also of the greatest quantity. It should strive to excel. Christ is to be supreme in the heart, and occupy the throne without a successful competitor.

2. In its supreme importance.

(1) It is important to the disciple himself.

(a) As the test of his Christian character. The possession or non-possession of love decides at once his relationship to Christ. Without love he is none of his; with it he is Christ's disciple.

(b) As the sum of his Christian being. What a man's love is, he is to Christ. Love only weighs in the Christian balance. A man may be all things, but without love he is nothing; in the absence of love every excellence goes for nothing. It is the sum and soul of our Christian being.

(c) As the essential qualification for Christian service. It is the only basis, inspiration, and support of Christian work and usefulness. Great faith may make a great hero, great intellect may make a great scientist; but great love alone can make a great preacher and missionary.

(2) It is important in relation to Jesus.

(a) He is anxious that all should love him. Hence the question. A cold Stoic cares not for the love of others; but a loving nature craves to be loved. He who is love, and came on an errand of infinite love, is anxious to be loved of all.

(b) He is anxious to know how all feel towards him, especially his disciple and candidate for apostleship. He is anxious to learn from his own lips the true sentiment of his heart.

(c) Only those who specially love him can be of special and real use to him. He wants shepherds, workers, preachers, and soldiers; but only those who love him supremely are eligible for his service, especially to be Shepherds of his flock.

3. In its special trial.

(1) It is tried by Christ. He asks his all-important question. He is the Examiner and Judge, and he alone is fit for this office. He alone knows what is in man.

(2) The trial is personal. Christ stood face to face with Peter, and asked him, "Lovest," etc.? The trial of love is still between the soul and Christ. The Personal Christ comes to the soul and asks, "Lovest thou me?" The candidate for the ministry may be questioned by the Church through some of its officials; but the real examination is that in the human heart by the ever-living and present Savior.

(3) The trial is most searching. The question is thrice repeated, almost in the same words. It rang in his ears, penetrated his heart, went through and through his whole moral being, and stirred his soul unto its very foundation.

4. In its satisfactory evidence.

(1) The evidence of his inward consciousness. He felt in his very heart that he loved him. His inmost spirit testified to this.

(2) The evidence of his public confession, He emphatically answers to the question, "I do love thee." There is no hesitation, but, with every repetition of the question, his affirmative answer is growingly earnest.

(3) The evidence of the perfect knowledge of Jesus. At each answer he appeals to this. "Thou knowest," etc. He is willing to be judged by his past conduct in spite of his denial. He had confidence in his Judge. He was conscious of his omniscience, and still to this he confidently appeals.

(4) The evidence of his modest self-distrust. He had more confidence in the knowledge of Jesus than in his own. He finally leaves the matter with his Judge. This is unlike old Peter; there must have been some inflow of new life and light. At his third repetition of the question he was grieved; if he was not, we should be inclined to grieve for him. It was human and Christian to feel so. It was the natural pain of sincere love at being questioned, its blush at being apparently doubted—a strong evidence of its sincerity.

(5) The direct evidence of Jesus. "Feed my lambs." This was a final proof that his love was genuine. Christ would not entrust his iambs but to the bosom of genuine love, nor his sheep but to the arms of warm affection. His employment in his service was the strongest proof of the sincerity of his love.


1. This service is special. "Feed my lambs," etc.

(1) Christ has his lambs and sheep. He has his little, weak, young, helpless, ignorant and wayward ones; and he also has some that are more mature and strong.

(2) These require feeding. Neither the weak nor the strong can live without food. The weak are not too weak to take it, the strong are not too strong to require it. Food is as essential to the health and growth of spiritual life as it is of the physical.

(3) It is the special duty of the pastor to supply them with food. The provision must be appropriate and suitable in quality and quantity. It must be spiritual, and not carnal and material. It must be real, and not illusive. Souls will starve if they have to breakfast on mere rhetoric, dine on mere words, and sup on empty ceremonies. The food must be appropriate, plentiful, and timely; otherwise the sheep and lambs of Christ will not thrive.

2. The service is various.

(1) Some portions of it are comparatively easy and simple. "Feed my lambs." Compared with other portions of the pastoral office, this is simple. It embraces the first elements of knowledge, the first principles of truth, the alphabet of Christianity, and the milk of the Word.

(2) Some portions of it are more difficult and honorable. "Tend and feed my sheep." This requires great wisdom, intellect, and spiritual power and penetration to dive down for the hidden treasures, and climb some of the higher branches of the tree of life for the ripest fruits.

(3) The various portions of the office demand all our energies. Food must be provided and wisely administered. This will involve thought, search, energy, and tender care, and will demand all the vitality of head and heart; and this must be supplied by the great Shepherd.

(4) Those who faithfully perform the simplest duties of the service are fitted and allowed to perform the most difficult and honorable. He who is willing and able to feed the lambs is allowed to feed the sheep. Those who teach the young in the Sunday school are specially trained to teach the more advanced in the congregation. Those who are faithful over a few things shall rule over many. If you will not feed the lambs, who will entrust you the sheep?

(5) The performance of the simplest portions of the service requires the most love. After the answer to the question, "Lovest thou me more than these?" Jesus said, "Feed my lambs." To feed and nurse the little, weak, and invalid ones requires tenderer and more patient love than to satisfy the strong and healthy. If the latter require more wisdom and eloquence, the former require more love. The father will rule and instruct the healthy and robust of his family; but the mother alone will nurse the babe, and watch over the invalid child. The more honorable portions of Christian service may be performed from the love of fame, popularity, and self-interest; but its drudgery can scarcely be inspired by anything but the pure love of Christ. If you wish to manifest disinterested love for Christ, feed his lambs, and this is the only training for advancement.

3. This is a service which can only be properly performed by supreme love to Christ.

(1) This alone can make it possible. It involves physical, mental, and spiritual energy, and self-sacrifice, tender and patient care and watching; and these can only be inspired and sustained by supreme love to Christ.

(2) This alone can make it valuable to the shepherd, to the sheep, and to Christ.

(3) This alone can make it pleasant and delightful. Otherwise it will be a burden and an unbearable drudgery; but love will make its most unpleasant duties a sweet delight.

(4) This alone can make it really successful. The food provided and administered in love will alone be multiplied and blessed; and in its participation the lambs and sheep of Christ will lie down in green pastures, beside the still waters.


1. It was proper that Peter's love should be severely tried. This was required by the nature of the case. He denied Christ thrice, and thrice was the question of love put to him. A damaged vessel must be well examined and repaired before being sent to sea again.

2. The omniscience of the Master is a great comfort to the sincere servant. On account of his essential failings and shortcomings at best, he is liable to be upon the whole misguided by men; but from their petty court he can appeal to the "King's bench," and, if right there, he has a consolation in the duties of his office, which will inspire him in all difficulties, and which no man can take away.

3. Let the pastor ever remember that the sheep are not his own, but Christ's. Although he is the shepherd, the provider, and the feeder, yet he is not the owner. Their owner is Christ, and let them be treated as such in all their peculiarities and failings for his sake.

4. Those who love Christ are commissioned by him to do his work. Let the fact of personal, genuine love to him be established, and their commission follows as a matter of course. Love to Christ is entitled to work for him, and will work for him. It will ever find employment, and the fidelity with which it performs its duties is the final proof of its power and sincerity. In the degree we love Christ we shall feed and tend his lambs and sheep.—B.T.


John 21:1

A new manifestation on an old scene.

I. THE OLD SCENE. This verse gets all its suggestiveness just as we remember the place which Jesus chose for this particular manifestation. Persons and time and place were all combined together into one complete lesson of truth. Capernaum stood on that sea, the one place that came nearest to a home for him who all the years of his public life had no true home. While walking on the margin of its waters, Jesus called his first disciples to become "fishers of men" (Luke 5:1-11). To the disciples of Jesus gathered on the shores of this lake everything should have been eloquent with stirring memories of their Master. Everything in the way of circumstance and association was made, as far as it could be, into a hook and a help.

II. WHAT WAS CHANGED SINCE THE COMPANY HAD BEEN THERE BEFORE? The interval could not have been very long; yet what momentous things had happened in it! There was no change to speak of in the scene; a spectator from some coign of vantage would have seen pretty much the same as before. Nor would there be much change in the disciples. A great preparation was going on; but the change itself had yet to come. But in Jesus himself, what a glorious change! The mortal had put on immortality, the corruptible had put on incorruption. A great gulf separated him and his disciples—an immense difference added on to all the differences existing before. Best of all, the difference was laden with hope and encouragement for all who could look at it in the right way. The change in Jesus heralded and initiated a change in every one of these disciples, and through them a change in many with whom they would have to deal.

III. THE ESSENTIAL JESUS STILL REMAINED. He had not to make confession of former errors and new discoveries. The change in Jesus was but a metamorphosis; the change in the disciples was a regeneration. Jesus would look different, for he had put on the body of his glory. Before long, the disciples, looking outwardly the same, would have been profoundly changed.

IV. THE NEED OF A NEW MANIFESTATION TO US IN THE OLD SCENES OF OUR LIFE. Most people have to spend their days among scenes that are as familiar to them as ever the shores of Galilee were to these seven disciples. Life may become very dull and monotonous in these circumstances. But a manifestation of Jesus will make a wondrous change. Then, and only then, will there be sense and comfort in the utterance, that "old things have passed away, and all things become new." The Galilaean cities are gone long ago; but humanity remains, needing all the manifestations of Jesus as much as ever it did.—Y.

John 21:15

An under-shepherd's great necessity.

Reasons based on previous experiences of Peter will at once suggest themselves as explaining why the question of Jesus was addressed to Peter rather than another disciple. But the best reason of all is that Jesus knows best whom to ask, and. when. There was need why Peter should be especially addressed; but the other listeners were not shut out. Love to Jesus was as much a necessity and a duty to the other six as to Peter.

I. LOOK AT THE QUESTION IN THE LIGHT OF THE "THOU," "Lovest thou me?" Jesus addressed no stranger, no occasional acquaintance, but the constant companion and servant over a very considerable time. Jesus cannot come to a stranger with this question. But who of us should be able to plead the stranger's plea? Have we not heard the forerunner's voice, "Repent"? Have we not heard the Master's voice, "Follow me"? What a solemn reminder this question contains of the headway some of us may have to make up! It is very plain that such a question must be preceded by dealings leading up to love. A mother can say, "Lovest thou me?" to a child that never remembers the time when that mother's face was not the most familiar object. But the same woman cannot say to a strange child, on her very first meeting with it, "Lovest thou me?" She will have to do something before love can spring up. If we have not had experiences of repenting and of endeavoring to follow Jesus, it is vain for us to listen and wait, as if love to Jesus would spring up mysteriously without apparent cause.

II. LOOK AT THE QUESTION IN THE LIGHT OF THE "ME." In a few days Peter will have entered on a new and momentous chapter of life, where everything will depend on the completeness of his devotion to Jesus. He will not be of the slightest use if he is to be a man of divided interests and fluctuating attachments. He is to be a shepherd of the flock of Jesus, and it will take all his energy and all his care. The comparison is ever being instituted between the claims of Jesus and the claims of self. Jesus must be first and last, and all that lies between. If Jesus is just to tinge our lives with a superficial influence, and modify our selfishness a little, we shall do little indeed for his sheep. Why should we serve the world by candlelight when we can do it by sunlight? why by twilight, when we can do it by noonday? We are bound to do our very best for men, and we can only do it by being servants of Jesus. We do more than others, because we are able to do more.

III. LOOK AT THE QUESTION IN THE LIGHT OF THE "LOVEST." The feeling of love is seed and soft to everything else. Love binds the "thou" and the "me" together. Mere admiration of Jesus will do nothing. The love of Jesus is the only effectual fountain to wash away the selfishness continually rising in our hearts, and especially will the love of Jesus keep us from becoming weary of loving the loveless. The sin-stricken life, the heart polluted with evil thoughts and affections, needs love. Yet love is what such a life too often falls to get. We fall most naturally into speaking angrily and contemptuously of bad people. But a heart full of living love to Jesus, with him ever in observation, will love and pity the wicked far more than be angry with them. Whatever other good qualities we possess, love to Jesus must crown them. If only we can respond fully to this question of Jesus, we shall escape many an irritating thought, many a vexatious brooding over the meanness and duplicities of mankind.—Y.

Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on John 21". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tpc/john-21.html. 1897.
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