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Wednesday, July 24th, 2024
the Week of Proper 11 / Ordinary 16
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Bible Commentaries
John 21

Utley's You Can Understand the BibleUtley Commentary

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John 21:0


The Appearance of Jesus to the Seven DisciplesBreakfast By the SeaEpilogueJesus Appears to Seven disciplesThe Appearance on the Shore of Tiberias
John 21:1-14John 21:1-14John 21:1-3John 21:1-3aJohn 21:1-3
John 21:3-5a
John 21:4-8 John 21:4-8
John 21:5b
John 21:6
John 21:7-10
John 21:9-14 John 21:9-14
John 21:11-14
Jesus and PeterJesus Restores Peter Jesus and Peter
John 21:15-19John 21:15-19John 21:15-19John 21:15aJohn 21:15-19
John 21:15b
John 21:15-16a
John 21:16b
John 21:16-17a
John 21:17b
John 21:17-19
Jesus and the Beloved DiscipleThe Beloved Disciple and His Book Jesus and the Other Disciple
John 21:20-23John 21:20-25John 21:20-23John 21:20-21John 21:20-23
John 21:22
John 21:23Second Conclusion
John 21:24 John 21:24-25John 21:24John 21:24
John 21:25 John 21:25John 21:25



This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects. Compare your subject divisions with the five modern translations. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.


A. There has been much discussion about chapter 21 being an addition because the Gospel seems to end in John 20:31. However, there is no Greek manuscript that omits chapter 21.

B. Verse John 21:25 is often thought to be a later addition because in some manuscripts John 7:53-11 is inserted after verse John 21:24. Also, in the ancient manuscript Sinaiticus, the scribe originally omitted verse John 21:25 and had to go back and erase an ornamental Colophon in order to insert it.

C. Though not an integral part of the Gospel of John, chapter 21 was certainly from the hand of the Apostle. It answers two questions of the early church:

1. was Peter re-instated?

2. what about the legend concerning John's longevity?


This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought-provoking, not definitive.

1. How is John 21:0 similar to Luke 5:0?

2. Why did the disciples not immediately recognize Jesus?

3. Who is the disciple whom Jesus loved?

4. Why did Jesus ask Peter three times concerning his love for Him?

5. Did Jesus assert that John would live until He came again?

6. Who is referred to in verse John 21:24?

7. Is verse John 21:25 original?

Verses 1-3

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: John 21:1-3 1After these things Jesus manifested Himself again to the disciples at the Sea of Tiberias, and He manifested Himself in this way. 2Simon Peter, and Thomas called Didymus, and Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, and the sons of Zebedee, and two others of His disciples were together. 3Simon Peter said to them, "I am going fishing." They said to him, "We will also come with you." They went out and got into the boat; and that night they caught nothing.

John 21:1 "Sea of Tiberias" Tiberias was the Roman administrative capital of Galilee. This body of water is also known as the "Sea of Galilee" (cf. John 6:1) or "Lake of Gennesaret" (cf. Matthew 14:34; Mark 6:53; Luke 5:1) and in the OT as "Lake of Chinnereth" (cf. Numbers 34:11; Deuteronomy 3:17; Joshua 11:2; Joshua 12:3; Joshua 13:27; Joshua 19:35; 1 Kings 15:20).

"He manifested Himself in this way" This verb has the connotation of "to display fully or clearly" (cf. John 1:31; John 2:11; John 7:4; John 9:3; 1 John 1:2; 1 John 2:28; 1 John 3:2; 1 John 4:9). In Matthew there is a meeting in Galilee which occurred on a mountain (cf.26:32; 28:7,10,16), the setting for "the Great Commission." In John Jesus manifested Himself at the Sea of Tiberias. In this encounter Jesus deals with two questions the early church was interested in

1. was Peter reinstated as a leader

2. what about the legend that John would not die before Jesus' return

John 21:2 "Thomas called Didymus" See Special Topic about the Apostles' names at John 1:45.

Apparently seven of the eleven went fishing.

"sons of Zebedee" This refers to James (Jacob) and John (Johanan, cf. Matthew 4:21). Neither James nor John are mentioned by name in John's Gospel.

John 21:3 "Simon Peter said to them, 'I am going fishing'" This is present tense. There are several theories concerning this fishing trip.

1. it was a relaxing trip to pass the time until Jesus' appointed meeting (cf. Matthew 26:32; Matthew 28:7, Matthew 28:10)

2. it was for the purpose of making money

3. it was a re-instigation of Peter's fishing vocation

This chapter is very similar to Luke 5:0.

"and that night they caught nothing" Notice that these men, who were able to heal the sick and cast out demons, did not have miraculous powers on all occasions for all purposes. This verb is used nowhere else in the NT for catching fish. Usually it is used of arresting someone.

Verses 4-8

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: John 21:4-8 4But when the day was now breaking, Jesus stood on the beach; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. 5So Jesus said to them, "Children, you do not have any fish, do you?" They answered Him, "No." 6And He said to them, "Cast the net on the right-hand side of the boat and you will find a catch." So they cast, and then they were not able to haul it in because of the great number of fish. 7Therefore that disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, "It is the Lord." So when Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put his outer garment on (for he was stripped for work), and threw himself into the sea. 8But the other disciples came in the little boat, for they were not far from the land, but about one hundred yards away, dragging the net full of fish.

John 21:4 "yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus" There have been several theories as to this inability to recognize Jesus.

1. it was too dark

2. He was too far away

3. they were too tired

4. Jesus looked slightly different (cf. John 21:12; Matthew 28:16-17; Luke 24:13ff)

5. they were divinely prevented from recognizing Him (cf. Luke 24:16)

John 21:5 "Children" This is used metaphorically. There are two terms for "little children" commonly used in the NT. This one (paidion) is used least and is different from the more common one (teknion) used in John and 1 John. This term occurs in the Gospel only in John 4:49; John 16:21, and here. These terms seem to be used synonymously in 1 John, paidion in John 2:13, John 2:18, but teknion in John 2:1, John 2:12,28.

"you do not have any fish" This term "fish" (prosphagion) really denotes food of any kind that is eaten with bread, but in this context, "fish" is demanded. This question expects a "no" answer.

John 21:6 Jesus was acting in the same manner as He did when he first called them, Luke 5:1-11. As a characteristic of this chapter (see note at John 21:15) two different Greek terms are used for boat, ploion in John 21:3 and 6 and ploiaron (little boat) in John 21:8. John shows his literary variety in the chapter several times.

John 21:7 "Therefore that disciple whom Jesus loved" This refers to the author of the Gospel, the Apostle John (cf. John 13:23; John 20:2, John 20:3, John 20:8; John 21:20). John is never named in the Gospel.

NASB"he put his outer garment on (for he was stripped for work)" NKJV"Put on his outer garment (for he had removed it)" NRSV"he put on some clothes, for he was naked" TEV"he wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken his clothes off)" NJB"Peter tied his outer garment around him (for he had nothing on)"

In first century Palestine people wore an outer robe and close-fitting long underwear. Peter had removed his outer cloak/robe and rolled down his underwear to the waist.

"It is the Lord" The term kurios was the Greek term for "mister," "sir," "master," "owner," or "lord." In some contexts it is simply a polite address, but in others it is a theological affirmation of Jesus' deity. In this context these fishermen recognized this person on the beach as the glorified, resurrected Lord!

The origin of the translation comes from OT usage, where YHWH is translated as Lord. This occurred because the Jews were afraid to pronounce this covenant name for Deity, so they substituted another Hebrew term, Adonai, which corresponds to kurios. See Special Topic at John 6:20.

Lord is the title which is above every name in Philippians 2:9-11. It was the part of the early church's baptismal confession, "Jesus is Lord" (cf. Romans 10:9-13).

John 21:8 "the other disciple" Apparently all the inner circle had gone with Peter and John for a fishing retreat as a way to get some spending money (they could no longer depend on the women who traveled with Jesus).

"the net full of fish" Even at this late date Jesus is still

1. building their faith

2. providing their needs

3. confirming His resurrection and authority (over nature)

Verses 9-14

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: John 21:9-14 9So when they got out on the land, they saw a charcoal fire already laid and fish placed on it, and bread. 10Jesus said to them, "Bring some of the fish which you have now caught." 11Simon Peter went up and drew the net to land, full of large fish, a hundred and fifty-three; and although there were so many, the net was not torn. 12Jesus said to them, "Come and have breakfast." None of the disciples ventured to question Him, "Who are You?" knowing that it was the Lord. 13Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and the fish likewise. 14This is now the third time that Jesus was manifested to the disciples, after He was raised from the dead.

John 21:9 "a charcoal fire already laid and fish placed on it, and bread" The purpose of this early morning breakfast was for fellowship and for theological reflection. The theological implications are

1. This section deals with Peter's denial in a setting of another charcoal fire (cf. John 18:18). This term is found here and there.

2. The Gospel of John and 1 John were written to combat the heresy of Gnosticism which denied true humanity to Jesus, the Messiah. Jesus ate with them.

John 21:10 There are two different terms for fish in this paragraph: (1) in John 21:9, John 21:10, & 13 the term is opsarion, which meant small fish and (2) in John 21:6, John 21:8 & 11 the term is ichthus, which meant large fish. They seem to be used interchangeably in this context.

John 21:11 "a hundred and fifty-three" In context there seems to be no symbolic significance to this number; it is simply an eye-witness detail. However, the inappropriate tendency of the early church to allegorize all numbers and details forced this verse to mean:

1. Cyril stated that 100 stood for Gentiles and 50 stood for Jews and 3 for the Trinity.

2. Augustine asserted that this number refers to the Ten Commandments and the seven gifts of the Spirit, which equals the number seventeen. If you add up each number 1,2,3,4 through 17 you get 153. Augustine said this was the total number who came to Christ through the law and grace.

3. Jerome said there are 153 different kinds of fish, therefore, this is symbolic of all nations coming to Christ. This allegorical method of interpretation speaks of the cleverness of the interpreter and not the intent of the original, inspired author!

"and although there were so many, the net was not torn" This is either a usual eyewitness detail or an implied miracle.

John 21:14 "This is now the third time that Jesus was manifested to the disciples" This must refer to the two accounts in chapter 20 added to this one.

Verses 15-19

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: John 21:15-19 15So when they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon, son of John, do you love Me more than these?" 16He said to Him, "Yes, Lord; You know that I love You." He said to him, "Tend My lambs." He said to him again a second time, "Simon, son of John, do you love Me?" He said to Him, "Yes, Lord; You know that I love You." He said to him, "Shepherd My sheep." 17He said to him the third time, "Simon, son of John, do you love Me?" Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, "Do you love Me?" And he said to Him, "Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You." Jesus said to him, "Tend My sheep. 18Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were younger, you used to gird yourself and walk wherever you wished; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands and someone else will gird you, and bring you where you do not wish to go." 19Now this He said, signifying by what kind of death he would glorify God. And when He had spoken this, He said to him, "Follow Me!"

John 21:15 "Simon, son of John" Notice that Jesus did not call him "Simon Peter;" this man was anything but a rock!

There is a manuscript variant related to Simon's father's name.

1. John - אcfJohn 21:8 i1, B, C*, D, L W

2. Jona - A, C2

3. omit - א*

The UBS4 gives option #1 a "B" rating (almost certain) following John 1:42 (P66, P72, א, B*, L, W).

"love. . .love. . .love" There is an obvious threefold repetition which seems to relate to Peter's threefold denials in the courtyard of the High Priest (cf. John 18:17, John 18:25, John 18:27). There is a variety of parallels and contrasts throughout this section.

1. love (phileô) versus love (agapaô)

2. lambs versus sheep

3. know (ginoskô) versus know (oida)

There has been much discussion as to whether this refers to literary variety or if there is an intended contrast between these terms. John often uses variety, especially in this chapter (two terms for "children," "boat," and "fish"). There seems to be some distinction in this context between the Greek words agapaô and phileô, but this cannot be pushed because in Koine Greek they are synonymous (cf. John 3:35; John 5:20; John 11:3, John 11:5).

"do you love Me more than these" The syntax is ambiguous as to the object of this question. Some assert that it refers to

1. fishing as a vocation

2. Peter's previous statements of loving Jesus more than the other disciples (cf. Matthew 26:33; Mark 14:29 and John 13:37)

3. the first shall be servant of all (cf. Luke 9:46-48; Luke 22:24-27)

"Tend My lambs" This is a present active imperative. All three of these statements are the same grammatical form (cf. John 21:16 and 17), but slightly different wording (shepherd My sheep and tend My sheep).

John 21:17 "Lord, you know all things" Peter is learning not to speak so fast. He expresses good theology (cf. John 2:25; John 6:61, John 6:64; John 13:11; John 16:30).

"You know that I love You" There is a change in the Greek word for "know" between John 21:16 (oida) and John 21:17 (oida and ginoskô). The exact reason is uncertain and may simply involve variety.

John 21:18 "stretch out your hands" This may be a technical idiom used (1) in the early church and (2) in Greek literature for "crucifixion."

John 21:19 "signifying by what kind of death he would glorify God" Tradition asserts that Peter died by crucifixion in an upside-down position. In The Ecclesiastical History, Vol. John 3:1, Eusebius says, "Peter was believed to have preached in Pontius, Galatia, Bithynia, Cappadocia, and Asia unto the Jews of the Diaspora. Having gone to Rome he was crucified head down at his own request." See note at John 1:14.

"Follow Me" This is a present active imperative, as is John 21:22. This is related to the renewal and reaffirmation of Peter's call to leadership (cf. Matthew 4:19-20).

Verses 20-23

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: John 21:20-23 20Peter, turning around, saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them; the one who also had leaned back on His bosom at the supper and said, "Lord, who is the one who betrays You?" 21So Peter seeing him said to Jesus, "Lord, and what about this man?" 22Jesus said to him, "If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow Me!" 23Therefore this saying went out among the brethren that that disciple would not die; yet Jesus did not say to him that he would not die, but only, "If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you?"

John 21:20 "the disciple whom Jesus loved" This refers to the account found in John 13:25. Why he is designated in this cryptic manner is uncertain (cf. John 13:23; John 19:26; John 20:2; John 21:7, John 21:20). Possible theories are

1. traditional Jewish writings of the first century did not mention the author by name

2. John was so young when he became a follower of Jesus

3. John was the only Apostle who stayed with Jesus during the trials and crucifixion

John 21:22 "Jesus said to him, 'If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you'" This is a third class conditional sentence. We must remember that we are to deal with our own gifts and ministries and not be concerned with what God has planned for others! A possible reason for adding chapter 21 was to answer the misunderstanding over this very issue. Apparently there was an early rumor (possibly Gnostic) that John was to live until the Second Coming (John does speak of the Parousia, cf. 1 John 3:2).

"follow Me" This almost summarizes the personal invitation of John's Gospel (cf. John 1:43; John 10:27; John 12:26; John 21:19, John 21:22). This emphasizes the personal aspect of the gospel, while "believe that" emphasizes the content aspect of the gospel.

Verse 24

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: John 21:24 24This is the disciple who is testifying to these things and wrote these things, and we know that testimony is true.

John 21:24 "wrote these things" Does this refer to (1) John 21:20-23: (2) chapter 21; or (3) the whole Gospel? The answer is uncertain.

"we know that his witness is true" The specific group referred to by the pronoun "we" is uncertain. It is obvious that others are being brought into the affirmation of the truth of the Gospel of John. This probably refers to the Ephesian elders. This was the area in which John lived, ministered, and died. Early tradition asserts that the Ephesian leaders urged the aged John to write his own Gospel because of the death of all the other Apostles and the growing heresies about Jesus. See Special Topic: Witnesses to Jesus at John 1:8.

Verse 25

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: John 21:25 25And there are also many other things which Jesus did, which if they were written in detail, I suppose that even the world itself would not contain the books that would be written.

John 21:25 Verse 25 has been disputed for two reasons: (1) in several manuscripts John 7:53-11 is inserted between verses John 21:24 and 25 (2) in the manuscript Sinaiticus (א) the scribe erased an ornamental Colophon and inserted John 21:25 later. This was observed by ultra-violet rays at the British Museum. This verse specifically informs us that the Gospel writers were selective in what they recorded. The hermeneutical question is always to ask, "Why did they record this in the way they did and not rush to combine the four Gospels?" (see Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart, How To Read the Bible For All Its Worth).

Bibliographical Information
Utley. Dr. Robert. "Commentary on John 21". "Utley's You Can Understand the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ubc/john-21.html. 2021.
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