Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, September 26th, 2023
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25
Take our poll

Bible Commentaries
John 21

Whedon's Commentary on the BibleWhedon's Commentary

Search for…
Enter query below:
Additional Authors


It has been doubted (against the judgment of all antiquity and the clearest evidences of style, both in thought and language) whether the present chapter was written by John. Grotius first started the hypothesis that it was supplied by “the elders of the Church of Ephesus,” after the death of John. The reasons are, that there is a clear closing of the book at the close of the twentieth chapter; that the narrative in the present chapter has a romantic air; that the plural we know, in John 21:24, indicates the plurality of authors, and that the hyperbole in the closing verse is inconsistent with the idea of the author’s inspiration. We may admit without question that the book is closed with the twentieth chapter, and that this chapter is a later addition; but then beyond all doubt it was added by the hand of John himself. The “romantic air” is imaginary with the critic, while the depth of the thoughts and events, as well as the tone of composition, is unlike those of any author that ever held a pen save John. The other objections will be met in our notes.


Verse 1

Second miraculous draught of fishes, John 21:1-8.

Click image for full-size version

1. At the sea of Tiberias Or, Lake of Genessaret. See note on Matthew 4:13, with the map. The apostles have returned to their native lake and to their ancient employment, in quiet and holy waiting for their still higher calling at the Pentecost. Once more, and for the last time, they are to behold their now risen Lord in these scenes of their ancient sojourn. The objects, conversation, and events will vividly remind them of old recollections; and the discourse he will deliver will shed a solemn light upon their future destinies. The fishing scene is indeed a reproduction by Jesus of the miracle of the draught of fishes (Luke 5:4-11) at a more advanced stage of history, and to teach kindred but more transcendent lessons. In the former miracle was symbolized the ministry of these fishers of men under the earthly guidance of a present. Jesus. In this scene is represented the ministry of the apostles and all future pastors, on the sea of time, under the eye of the Lord, who is dimly descried by faith on the high eternal shore.

Showed Manifested; indicating not merely a bodily appearing, but an unfolding of the depths and power of his nature.

Verse 2

2. The sons of Zebedee Some have supposed that it was mainly to give his view of the Lord’s expression, in John 21:22, touching the Evangelist’s own destiny, that John added this chapter. But it is plain, to our own view, from the modest manner in which he here introduces himself, simply as one of the sons of Zebedee, that John had other and less personal reasons.

Verse 3

3. I go a fishing Literally, I am going to fish. The symbolical fishers of men are going to their literal and original work. The transaction that now ensues is a re-enactment and enlargement of their first call to follow Jesus, after a similar miracle. See notes on Matthew 4:18-20; Luke 5:4-11. That miracle presaged their future office under Christ’s living guardianship; this miracle prophetically promises a guardianship of the ascended Christ over his faithful ministry, and their final attainment to the everlasting

shores. Caught nothing Their catching nothing, the presence of Jesus, and their rare success at his command, are clear repetitions of the former transaction.

Verse 4

4. Knew not that it was Jesus The distance and the dimness of the morning light might account for their not knowing him. But still the narrative intimates that our Lord maintained a supernatural reserve, so that his apostles could scarce discern his identity. So, while his ministry and Church are here on this sea of life, he ever stands on yonder high shore of immortality, earnestly watching them, though but dimly recognized by them.

Verse 5

5. Children A term of endearment, translated little children in 1 John 2:18. It marks the absent Saviour’s love for his Church on earth. He is the Ancient of Days; they are ever being successively born into life.

Have ye any meat? The word meat signifies any food eaten additionally to bread, and here fish. Chrysostom says our Lord addresses them as though he were one who wanted to buy fish. No The question was to bring out their complete failure, preparatory to his giving the command that would ensure success. It is when we have fully realized our own insufficiency that we receive of the fulness of Christ.

Verse 6

6. The right side His divine power could have given the same success to the left side; but he makes and announces his choice that they might see that the result was produced by his will and power. The apostles here knew not, thus far, this stranger; but he directs them with a persuasive power by which they are induced to make the trial he directs.

Verse 7

7. Therefore The similarity of the transaction to the former miraculous draught of fishes now awakens in John a closer scrutiny of the stranger’s person, and he pronounces It is the Lord. Faith often produces love, and love often produces faith. Faith and love produce in John but a regular action; in impulsive Peter they work a bold irregular performance.

His fisher’s coat A light, short, linen, armless frock, usually flung over the other dress or undress.

Naked Undressed of his ordinary apparel; stripped to his waistcoat. So the word naked is used in both classical and biblical writings. (See note on Mark 14:52.) But Mr. Tristam encountered at or near this very spot a set of fishermen perfectedly naked. So oppressive are the government taxes that the fishermen, too poor to own boats, (but two boats are on the lake,) carry out their net lines by swimming out and back. But such a custom could not have existed at the flourishing period of John’s history.

Cast himself into the sea The water is doubtless of a fordable depth, and Peter will wade or swim ashore to meet the Lord.

Verse 8

8. Came in a little ship The little ship or lake-boat in which they were fishing. See note on Luke 5:2. Peter swam and they navigated to the shore.

Two hundred cubits But a hundred and thirty-two yards.

Dragging the net with fishes The net was doubtless of that kind which, with the first end attached to the boat, extended in a large circuit into the sea, and coming round, is fastened by the other end to the shore. As the approaches the shore the circle of the net narrows, and the enclosed fish are gradually brought to the shore. The net is sunk at the lower edge by weights, and sustained at the upper edge by corks, so as to form a perpendicular net-work for the fish encompassed by it.

Verse 9

THE MIRACULOUS BREAKFAST Emblem of the eternal banquet, John 21:9-14.

9. Fire of coals They did not make the fire, but found it already made by the divine power of Jesus. But was this a creation out of nothing? We reply: It may have been but a sensible miracle. That is, the divine power may have so operated upon the senses of the disciples as that all the phenomena of fire and food may have been presented to their perceptions without any positive creation of substance. It would have been to them but a waking vision, taking place amid surrounding realities, possessing all the vividness and force of reality. Or, more probably the divine power of the Lord, which had just collected the fishes from the different parts of the lake to the right side of the boat, may have concentrated the elements of fire, fuel, and food from any part of creation upon that shore. Jesus, therefore, was wanting in no power to furnish the means and material of this emblematic feast. So He who upon the high ground of heaven watches his ministry and Church, will in due season have full power to provide an eternal banquet, and bring his elect to its participation.

Verse 10

10. Bring of the fish The minister in the final day shall rest from his labour, and feast forever on its results. He shall gather the avails of his ministry into the treasury of God.

Verse 11

11. Great fishes The net cast in the former similar transaction, catching fishes, good and bad, may represent the Church of the earth mixed with hypocrites and apostates. But this, where the fishes are all good and great, represents the Church of the finally saved.

A hundred and fifty and three This reckoning presents no number of mystical signification. So it does not show that the elect are the fixed foreordained number which can be neither increased nor diminished. But it does intimate literally that the fishes were each worthy of a count, and that the whole was a lot to rejoice at. Symbolical that the finally saved will each be accounted great and worthy in the eye of the Saviour.

Not the net broken In the former miraculous draught the net began to break. So the earthly Church is often distracted and torn by false members, by sins, and by schisms; but the Church of the advent will be an unbroken Church.

Verse 12

12. Come and dine Or, as it was the morning meal, it might better be rendered,

Come and breakfast. Durst ask… knowing The meal was taken in silent awe. Though there was a mystery about him which prompted the question Who art thou? yet there was such a consciousness of his divine person as both convinced them that it was he and awed their questions into silence.

Verse 13

13. Giveth them It is not said that our Lord ate, as he did in the narrative Luke 14:43. On that occasion he ate in order to convince them of his bodily reality. But here he gives the meal to show that he is the Divine bestower, they the humble but blessed receivers. In all their future wants and deprivations, both of body and of soul, these disciples might call to mind this meal, and feel assured that on the shores of the promised land they had a sure and ever faithful Provider.

Verse 14

14. The third time That he had shown himself to his disciples alone. The two previous being 5 and 6 in the following enumeration: “This was the seventh time in which he had manifested himself after he arose from the dead. (1.) He appeared to Mary of Magdala, Mark 16:9; John 20:15-16. (2.) To the holy women who came from the tomb, Matthew 28:9. (3.) To the two disciples who went to Emmaus, Luke 24:13, etc. (4.) To St. Peter alone, Luke 24:34. (5.) To the ten, in the absence of Thomas, chap. John 20:19. (6.) Eight days after to the eleven, Thomas being present, John 21:14. (7.) To the seven, mentioned in John 21:2 of this chapter, which was between the eighth and fortieth day after his resurrection. Besides these seven appearances, he showed himself, eighthly, to the disciples on a certain mountain in Galilee, Matthew xxiii, 16. If the appearance mentioned by St. Paul (1 Corinthians 15:6) to upwards of five hundred brethren at once be not the same with his appearance on a mountain in Galilee, it must be considered the ninth. According to the same apostle he was seen of James, (1 Corinthians 15:7,) which may have been the tenth appearance. And after this to all the apostles, when, at Bethany, he ascended to heaven in their presence. See Mark 16:19-20; Luke 24:50-53; Acts 1:3-12; 1 Corinthians 15:7. This appears to have been the eleventh time.” A. Clarke.

Verse 15

15. Had dined But still sat at the meal. Peter was likely to be upon one side and John upon the other of Jesus, at the head. Jesus, in allusion (though the allusion is disclosed gradually) to Peter’s thrice denying him, proceeds to ask him thrice, Lovest thou me? At each profession Jesus bids him, in increasing kindness, to return to his pastoral office.

Simon, son of Jonas Jesus calls him not by his name of honour, Peter. He recurs rather to his origin as a natural man, son of Jonah. Lovest There are two Greek words alike rendered love in our translation, but which have a different force. The love of this question, αγαπας signifies the love of will, of judgment or of moral feeling, nearly our English word to prize. The other is φιλεις , which is simply affectional love, springing from the natural sensibility. In his question Jesus uses the former word; in his answer Peter uses the latter. Simon, son of Jonas, prizest thou me ?

More than these More than the rest of the disciples at the meal love me. Peter had proudly boasted over them, “Though all should be offended in thee, yet will not I.” Our Lord tests him to see whether he still professes over the others. Thou knowest He makes no vehement protestations, but appeals to the Lord’s own knowledge of his heart.

I love thee Peter uses the affectional term for love:

I love thee tenderly from the heart. Feed my lambs It is as if Peter’s first denial is now wiped out. Jesus bids him to return to the pastoral office in its humblest form.

Verses 15-23

THE BREAKFAST CONVERSE Restoration of Peter; intimation of his martyrdom; mysterious intimation regarding John, John 21:15-23.

Thus far Jesus performed miracle that is at the same time parable. Next will follow utterances which are prophecy in parable. We suppose that the following is uttered at the meal, until Jesus rises to depart, bidding Peter to follow him, at John 21:19.

Verse 16

16. Lovest thou me? Jesus still uses the moral term for love, and omits the comparison which Peter had declined to accept. Peter still refers to Jesus’s knowledge, and again uses the affectional term for love. Thus: Prizest thou me? Answer: Thou knowest I love thee.

Feed my sheep Rather shepherd my sheeplings. Before the word was to feed; now it is to perform the whole shepherd’s office. Before it was lambs; now the Greek word for young and not full-grown sheep is used.

Verse 17

17. Lovest thou Jesus now, at last, uses the affectional term for love. This affectional term is lower than the moral term, but yet tenderer. But the cherishing of the moral tends to produce the affectional; and it is when both are united that the love is perfected. This blending in spiritual perfection is impossible without the aid of the blessed and Divine Spirit of love.

Peter was grieved Peter now sees that it is his threefold denial that demands this threefold confession. He is grieved, not because the demand is made, but for the sad cause that renders it necessary. He had thrice said, I know not the man; he may now thrice declare how he loves the man. But the recollection of the sad scene of apostacy melts him to sorrow in this his hour of restoration.

Knowest all things The man whom he denies is divine. The man whom, in the hour of the denial, he knew not, knows all things.

I love thee The full profession is uttered, and the full absolution will now be made.

Feed my sheep Shepherd my full-grown sheep. Peter passes by humble degrees to his full pastoral office. But he receives no popedom, no triple crown over the universal Church. Nothing indicates that he is restored more than to the level of his fellow-disciples.

Verse 18

18. Girdedst thyself The young and athletic man, when about to perform some manly labor, would first tighten the girdle about his waist, so as to fasten his flowing apparel.

Whither thou wouldest That same young man is able to be his own master, taking what path he pleases.

Stretch forth thy hands In his second childhood, as in his first, he spreads out his helpless arms, that his girdle may be tightened by other hands round his waist. But this image suggests in the background the spreading of the arms of the apostolic martyr upon the cross; and this secondary, but really final and true meaning, is confirmed by the words that follow.

Another shall gird thee The girding of the old man by the attendant friend, is still the symbol of the binding with cords by an executioner.

Carry thee Shall lead thee.

Thou wouldest not To thy death. The actual order of the transaction thus dimly hinted was to be, however, first, the binding, then the leading, and then the stretching forth of the hands on the cross.

Verses 18-19

18, 19. Jesus has restored him to his office and now he symbolizes his future destiny. He who shrank from an imaginary danger will not shrink from the cross and the crown of martyrdom. Peter is said to have been crucified at Rome more than thirty years after this memorable conversation.

Verse 19

19. Glorify God That God should receive glory in the martyr’s death was a new thought, unknown to heathenism. F o

llow me Our Lord, we now suppose, rose from the meal and prepares for his disappearing. He moves from the company and bids Peter follow him. As Peter rises to follow, John, with deep interest, but half unconsciousness, rises to follow also. This command to Peter to follow him required a bodily following; but it also symbolized that following in future destiny by which Peter should tread the path through martyrdom to heaven. This will soon appear as we advance.

Verse 20

20. Peter, turning about His face is towards the Lord, as in the act of following his footsteps. But John’s movement, in following also, attracted Peter’s eyes. As his own tragic destiny had been sketched by Jesus, an interest arises to know also the future fate of the Lord’s own beloved John. But the question is abruptly put in the Greek, But this man, what?

Verse 22

22. If I will Our Lord here assumes to be Lord of man’s destiny. Though he permit, yet nothing can take place without his permissive will. Now the Lord’s answer to Peter’s question is purposely pregnant with two or three admissible meanings; nevertheless of the two or three possible meanings but one is the true one. Tarry [on earth] till I come That is, remain living to the judgment day, be the same a longer or shorter period. If that were Christ’s will, what is that to Peter? Commentators of all ages falter and vibrate around, and then from, this plain meaning. Jesus does not say that John will live to the Second Advent; but he does most truly say that it is none of Peter’s business if he does. At the same time he intimates that if John’s future be not this, it is something so much like it that it may be shadowed under these words. If, firstly, the word come be taken in the sense of John 14:3, then the sentence is that John shall not, like Peter, be bound and violently slain; but shall quietly and peacefully tarry until the Lord shall please to come at the hour of death and take him to himself. Or, secondly, if the Lord shall in his own time vouchsafe to John individually a Christophany, that is, a special parousia or coming to him alone what had Peter to say to it? John did tarry until the Lord in that Christophany did come. Revelation 1:12-20. And this last was, perhaps, the true meaning at which the Lord so enigmatically hinted, and which justifies the indicative I will in the Greek.

Follow thou me In token of that future spiritual or historical following which the bodily act represented, Peter now follows his departing Lord. To what direction and result? No one knows; for John there leaves them; and the whole scene seems to vanish like a morning dream. But even at this late age of the world let us venture, from the nature of the symbol, to conjecture how our Lord finished this interview. If we may suppose, then, that, as Peter followed, Jesus suddenly vanished in an upward splendour, the symbolic action would then express a complete and required meaning. Follow me, Peter during thy whole future earthly life without swerving, historically as now corporeally, even through suffering and death, and thy path shall end, as mine now merges, in ascending GLORY. It will be seen by this view, that the rebuke of Peter’s sidelong question about John is less severe than commentators generally make it. It was a rebuke, in symbol, which signified that Peter’s future following his Lord ought to be unvarying, regardless of all incidental considerations.

Verse 23

23. That that disciple should not die Many in the apostolic Church put upon Jesus’s words the first meaning, namely, his living to the Second Advent; which was the true and yet the mistaken meaning. True, because it truly was not Peter’s concern if that result really took place; and mistaken, because that result did not take place. Thus John’s contemporaries are left by him to interpret the words upon their own responsibilities. They inferred that for John to live to the Advent was to escape death completely. But John, as if to disclaim all false pretensions, and dissipate all false conceptions, publishes the words just as they were uttered, and declines all interpretation. He gives the text and refuses to give any commentary. And that there may be no responsibility on his shoulder, he takes care to repeat the very identical words, and leave the matter with the reader. Did John know? His inspiration is no proof that he did know; for inspiration is as truly, though not as narrowly, limited as natural knowledge. Inspiration only knows so far as is revealed; and who knows that the meaning of these words was revealed to John? Whatever he expected, he lived peacefully at Ephesus until about the close of the first century, nearly if not quite a century old. He was buried in that city, and some of the Fathers profess to have seen his tomb. Many in Augustine’s day fancied that John lived in his own tomb, and that the earth above him heaved with his respiration. Stier tells us that the celebrated Lavater professed to have revelation of the fact, that John still lives on earth!

Verse 24

24. This is the disciple Spoken in John’s usual manner of himself, in the third person.

We know Speaking in full apostolic and inspired authority for and with the apostolic Church. From that Church, the gifted Church, endued with the discerning of spirits, we receive the sacred canon, and thereby amply prove that its books were selected under divine guidance. Even if the authors were not inspired, this testimony of the then living Church fully establishes the New Testament as the authentic announcement of the facts and doctrines of Christ’s religion. That the apostle here passes into the plural number, we know, is a dignified assumption of representative character, in communion with that Church.

Verses 24-25

The attestation and conclusion, John 21:24-25.

Against the arrogant pretensions of modern factitious criticism, “criticism run mad,” we repudiate the notion that these verses are added by a later hand It is a modern invention, that about the Ephesian Church giving us this testimony to John! His own spirit and style breathe in every clause. This, is certain, that if it were by any other hand, the spurious writer does his best, with great success, to counterfeit the authorship he professes to authenticate. The additional verses are composed either by the apostle or by an impostor. But we believe that the Church of that day could not have been imposed upon, and would not impose upon us a counterfeiter’s endorsement of this memorable Gospel.

Verse 25

25. The world itself could not contain the books The world, in John’s use of the term, perhaps always signifies, not the physical frame of creation, but, the living world. And sometimes he uses it, as used in modern times, in a narrow and conventional sense, when we speak of the literary world the fashionable world. Thus in John 12:19, The world has gone after him. In this passage we understand him as speaking of the book-world, which was then not a very large world, and could not accept or digest many books, or rather, manuscript scrolls. He then declares his own feeling, that if all that Jesus did in word and deed should be written, there would be more than the world-full of books. The book-market would be more than glutted, and the reading public overwhelmed. The world could not compass the big library. With such a hyperbole no one will have any difficulty who remembers that the inspired books were “not only divine books, but intensely human books.” Inspiration does not petrify or congeal the natural expression of human feeling or thought. And on no other subject than the life and work of Jesus were such a hyperbole so graceful, even in an inspired writer.

Stretching these words from their more narrow and indefinite sense to their full infinite capacity of meaning, could a universe of books fully unfold all that Jesus did in the brief work of atonement on the cross? Nothing less than that infinite library can detail the number saved, the eternal death from which they are saved, the eternal life and all its glorious eternal history to which they are saved, all of which were wrought by the earthly life and death of Christ.

And these words very conclusively indicate that the Evangelists profess not to narrate all they knew of the Lord’s words and deeds. It is very irrational for sceptical writers, when one of the Evangelists omits some fact elsewhere narrated, to continually exclaim, “That Evangelist knows nothing about that fact; it is, therefore, of doubtful authority.” Just as if every Evangelist must narrate all, and just as much, as every other Evangelist! Just as if all the writers must square themselves precisely by each other, each narrate the same facts in exactly the same manner. So that if they omit they are ignorant, and if they vary they contradict. Their brief sketches are but slight leaves in the great biography. And well does our Evangelist close the divine four with an attestation of the infinite scope of the Life of the INCARNATE.

Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on John 21". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/whe/john-21.html. 1874-1909.
adsFree icon
Ads FreeProfile