The foregoing chapter acquainted us with several appearances of Christ to his disciples after his resurrection, all which were in Jerusalem.
This chapter acquaints us with his appearing to his disciples in Galilee, whither he had ordered his disciples to go, promising there to meet them. Jerusalem now becomes a forsaken place, a people abandoned to destruction; Christ will not show himself openly to them, but Galilee was a place where Christ's ministry had found better acceptance; to Galilee therefore doth he go. Such places wherein Christ is most welcome to preach, shall be most honoured with his presence: Jesus showed himself to his disciples at the sea of Tiberias, called elsewhere the sea of Galilee.
Observe here, that after Christ was crucified, the disciples returned for a time to their trade and employment of fishing; though they were called to be fishers of men, yet churches not being gathered and constituted at present, nor being able to maintain them, they labour with their hands to supply their present necessities.
Afterwards, when at the feast of Pentecost they had received those visible gifts of the Holy Ghost, which did furnish them for preaching the gospel to all nations, and they went forth to plant and propagate the gospel, we may believe they then gave over the labour of their secular callings, and applied themselves wholly to the work of the ministry. That may be done (Ecclesia constituenda) in a church which is constituting, or about to be constituted.
Observe farther, how Peter, with the rest, toil all night, and catch nothing; but no sooner is Christ come among them, but they inclose a multitude of fishes.
Thereby teaching us, that all human labours and endeavours are in vain, unless Christ by his presence and blessing crown them with success.
Observe here, 1. Christ was near, very near to his disciples, but they perceived it not: Jesus stood on the shore, but they knew not that it was Jesus.
Learn, Christ is not always discerned by us when he is present with us; it is a double mercy to enjoy his company, and to know indeed that it is he.
Observe, 2. Although they had laboured all the night in vain, yet at Christ's command they go to work again, and with great success: They were not able to draw the net for the multitude of fishes.
When Christ is about to do great things for his people, yet will he have them exert all possible endeavours of their own; and the want of former success must not discourage from future endeavours.
Observe, 3. What a proof Christ here gives of his divinity and godhead: how were all the fish in the sea at his pleasure, and obedient to his command! he knew where they swam, and brings them from one part of the lake to the other, where the disciples had toiled all night, and caught nothing. Christ our Mediator is true God, and as such he had a sovereign power and providence over all the creatures; the cattle on a thousand hills, and all the fish swimming in the sea, are obedient to his power, and observant of his commands.
Observe here, 1. The great zeal and forwardness of Peter: hearing that it was Christ, he leaps into the sea to get to him. O how inviting, attractive, and alluring, is a sight of Christ! It will make those that know him break through all difficulties to come unto him. It is not a sea of water, no, nor seas of blood, that can keep a zealous soul at a distance from Christ: When Peter heard that it was the Lord, he girt his coat, and cast himself into the sea.
Observe, 2. What a complication of miracles were here: as soon as they came to land they discerned another miracle, viz. a fire of coals, and fish laid on, and bread, all created and produced by Christ out of nothing, at this time, as an evidence of his divine power; for before they could get the fish to shore, they saw fish broiling upon coals, which makes it evident that these were none of the fish which they had catched.
Christ, when he pleases for the benefit and comfort of his people, will work miracle upon miracle, mercy upon mercy, one wonder upon the head of another; for here, after a miracle at sea, they met with another miracle at land: As soon as they came to land they saw a fire.
Observe here, 1. What was Christ's end in commanding his disciples to bring forth the fish which they had now taken: namely, that the sight of their number and bigness, together with the sight of the net remaining unbroken, might confirm them in the belief of its being a real miracle. Christ had fed their bellies before, his business now is to feed their minds with the contemplation of the greatness and reality of the miracle. All Christ's miracles were obvious to sense, and would bear the examination of the senses; not like the lying wonders of the church of Rome, which are commonly wrought in the dark to cozen the vulgar, and are mere cheats and impostures.
Observe, 2. That this full draught of fishes, which Peter and the rest of his disciples now had, might probably presage that great and wonderful success which he and they were afterwards to have in fishing for men.
Here we have an hundred fifty and three great fishes caught at one draught: but Acts 2:41 we find three thousand souls converted by St. Peter at one sermon.
O the marvellous success of the gospel at the first preaching and planting of it! Three thousand then proselyted by one sermon. Now we have cause to fear that there are three thousand sermons preached, and scarce one soul savingly converted. Lord! who hath believed our report?
A two-fold reason may be assigned why Christ did at this time invite and call his disciples to dine with him: the first and more principal reason was, to evidence to them the reality of his resurrection, and to assure them of the truth of his manhood, that they might not think it was an apparition only. By the miracle in catching the fishes, he proved himself to be God; by his present eating of the fish, he evidenced himself to be man, and consequently teaches us that our exalted High Priest continues our kinsman in heaven. He is still bone of our bone, and flesh of our flesh; he has taken possession of heaven in our nature, sitting there in our glorified humaninty united to the glorious Deity, clothed with that body which hung in its blood and gore upon the cross, but now shining brighter than ten thousand suns. The second and less principal reason why Christ called his disciples to dine with him, was this, to show his tender care over the bodies of his dear disciples, as being the tabernacles of his own Spirit, the temples of the Holy Ghost; therefore Christ encourages, though not to the pampering, yet to the refreshing of them: Jesus said unto them, Come and dine. And he would not confer with them till they had dined; as the next verse shows.
Observe here, 1. Christ puts Peter upon a threefold profession of his love unto him, answerable to his threefold denial of him: his threefold denial required a threefold confession. True repentance ought, and will be as eminent in the fruit and effects of it, as the saint's fall hath been. A threefold denial of Christ shall be attended with a threefold profession of love unto him.
Observe, 2. The solemn question put by our Saviour unto Peter: Lovest thou me? Lovest thou me more than these? That is, more than thy occupation and employment, more than thy nets and fishing boats? If so, leave them, and wholly employ thyself in feeding my sheep and lambs. Or, more than these? that is, more than the rest of my disciples. Dost thou love me more than thou lovest these? Or, more than they love me? If so, evidence the sincerity of thy love to me by thy care of mine.
Thence note, that ministers who are called to take care of Christ's flock, had need of much love to Jesus Crhist, and great compassion for souls; by which they will be animated and fortified to go through with the labours and difficulties, as well as to encounter the dangers and sufferings, which do accompany their calling. Simon, lovest thou me? Feed my flock.
Note farther, that the surest argument and best evidence of a minister's love to Jesus Christ, is his conscientious care to feed, that is, to teach, instruct, and govern, the whole flock of Christ; lambs and sheep, weak and strong: the feeblest in the fold were purchased by the great Shepherd. And if he judged them worth his blood, well may we judge them worth our sweat.
Note again, that such as would be faithful in their ministerial charge, ought to look upon their people as committed to them by Christ himself, as loved of him, and committed to their care by him, and for which they must be accountable to him. Christ calls them three times over, his lambs and his sheep, and as often charges Peter to feed them.
Observe next, Peter's threefold answer to Christ's question: Simon, lovest thou me more than these? Lord, thou knowest that I love thee.
Where note, 1. The great modesty of Peter in his reply. Lovest thou me more than these? says Christ; Peter replies, Lord, thou knowest that I love thee. He doth not say, Lord! I love thee above them all, and before them all: here is no boasting now. Once it was said that Peter vaunted, though all men forsake thee, yet will not I; but now his fall had taught him humility; he boasts not of his love above others, and makes no comparison with others, but only ranks himself among the true lovers of Christ: Lord, I love thee.
Note, 2. The evidence that Peter gives of his sincere love to Christ: he dares appeal to Christ himself, Lord, thou knowest that I love thee; yea, Thou art omniscient, the all-knowing and heart-searching God, thou that knowest all things, knowest that I love thee.
O! it is a blessed thing, when we can and dare appeal to God's knowledge; and it is matter of high consolation to know that God knoweth our sincerity and love unto him, and he knoweth and approveth us as such. Lord, thou knowest all things, thou knowest that I love thee.
Note lastly, from these words, Lord, thou knowest all things, an argument of Christ's divinity. He that knows all things, and particularly the hearts of all men, is God, 1 Kings 8:29 but so doth Christ, if St. Peter's testimony here be true; saying, Lord, thou knowest all things, that is, say the Socinians, very many things; but this would have destroyed St. Peter's argument at once; for it follows not that Christ knew the sincerity of Peter's heart, unless he knew the secrets of all hearts; and if he knew the secrets of all hearts, he is really God.
In these words our Saviour forewarns Peter of his future sufferings, intimating, that he should prove more stout than in his former trial. When he was young and unexperienced, he enjoyed his liberty; but when he was grown older in years and stronger in grace, he should willingly stretch forth his hands, and quietly suffer himself to be bound to the cross; for Peter (say some) was not nailed, but tied and bound to the cross only, and so as a martyr or witness for the truth of Christ glorified God by his death.
Learn hence, 1. The ministers of Jesus Christ, when they undertake the charge of his flock, must prepare for suffering work, and their lot upon it: therefore is this prediction of Peter's suffering joined with the former injunction, Feed my sheep.
2. That human nature in Christ's ministers, as well as in any other men, reluctates sufferings, has an antipathy against a violent death: they shall carry thee whither thou wouldest not.
3. From the time of St. Peter's sufferings, when he is old; learn, that the timing of the saints' sufferings is in Christ's hands; he can, and when he pleaseth doth, screen them from suffering till old age; and when their work is almost done for God, they close their days with suffering for him: When thou art old, thou shalt stretch forth thine hands, and another shall gird thee.
Learn lastly, that the suffering of the saints in general, and of the ministers of Christ in particular, do redound much to the glory of God; which is a consideration that ought to reconcile them to the cross of Christ, and support them under it: This spake he, signifying by what death he should glorify God.
Our Saviour having foretold the manner of Peter's death in the foregoing verses; here in these, Peter is inquisitive after, and very solicitous for the knowledge of, what kind of death St. John should die. Christ checks him for his curiosity, as meddling with that which did not concern him, yet intimates to him that John should live till he came to take vengeance on the Jews, and destroy Jerusalem: If I will that he tarry till I come; that is, till I come to execute judgment upon Jerusalem.
Here we may note, there are two great vanities in men with reference to knowledge; the one a neglect to know what is our duty to know; the other a curiosity to know what doth not belong to us to know. Christ tells Peter, it was none of his business to enquire what John should do; but he ought rather to be preparing for what he himself should suffer: If I will that he tarry, what is that to thee.
Observe here, how strangely our Saviour's words were mistaken and misunderstood by his own disciples; they apprehend presently that John should not die, and so it passed current among them.
From hence we may note, how much the wisdom of God is, and ought to be admired, in giving us a written word, and tying us to it, when we see erroneous traditions so soon on foot in the world, and our Saviour's own speeches so much mistaken, and that by wise and holy men themselves in the purest times. Much more may the words of others be misreported, and wrested contrary to their sense and meaning. How great then is the vanity and uncertainty of oral tradition! Men are naturally prone to mistake, to mistake themselves, and to mistake one another. The more to be admired is their over-daring ignorance, who think they cannot err. Such a haughty opinion of a man's self, concludes him to be neither good nor wise.
The great modesty of the holy evangelist St. John, is all along throughout his gospel very observable; he mentioneth himself hitherto under a third person; he calleth himself a disciple, a learner, who excelled the most accomplished doctors of the ages ever since. Here he speaks more plainly and expressly concerning himself, declaring that he was an eye-witness and an ear-witness of what he wrote, for the greater certainty therof. And this protestation here made by the evangelist of the truth of what he wrote, was highly necessary, lest any should think that Christ's extraordinary love and affection to him, (he being the beloved disciple) should move him to exceed (as we are prone to do) in writing the history of their lives who are dear to us, and we to them.
Learn hence, that this gospel was written by John the beloved disciple, and the narration is of divine truth, worthy to be embraced and received by us as a perfect rule of faith and life. We know that his testimony is true.
John being about to conclude the history of our Saviour's life asserts, that there were many other miracles and special deeds done by Christ, both before and after his passion, which he had not recorded or set down; because, should all that Christ did and said be committed to writing, it would even fill the world, the volumes would be so many.
From hence we gather, 1. The wonderful activity, industry, and diligence, of the Lord Jesus Christ, that he was never idle, but that his whole life was spent in doing good; stances have been recorded, it would amount to an incredible bulk.
Learn, 2. That it is impossible to get all said, which might be said of Christ, and in his commendation: such is the transcendent excellency of his person, and the weakness of our apprehensions and judgments, that if all were written, which might be written concerning him, the world itself could not contain the books which should be written.
Learn lastly, that although many of Christ's sermons, conferences, miracles, and actions, be not recorded; yet it doth not follow, nor can it be inferred from thence, that any necessary doctrine is omitted, or not sufficiently confirmed: there being so much written as it pleased God we should know, and was necessary for us to know, in order to our improvement in faith and holiness. If then, after all the revelation and discovery which God hath made of his Son Christ Jesus, and of the way that leads to eternal salvation by him, persons remain willingly ignorant of him, and of their duty to him, "where shall they appear, and how shall they escape?"
Now unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood, and hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father: To him be glory and domination for ever and ever. Revelation 1:5-6 Amen.
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Burkitt, William. "Commentary on John 21". Expository Notes with Practical Observations on the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/
the First Week after Epiphany