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Bible Commentaries

Henry Mahan's Commentary on Selected Books of the New Testament
John 21

 

 

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Verses 1-9

Christ on the shore

John 21:1-9

v. l. After our Lord had risen from the dead, appeared to Mary and twice to his disciples, he showed himself to seven of the disciples who had gone to Galilee according to his instructions (Matthew 28:10; Matthew 28:16). These appearances were more than just physical appearances in order that they could see him and know that he lives. He manifested himself to them in his divine majesty, his resurrected glory, his love and compassion for them, and his victorious redemptive work (John 20:28-31). Here are the recorded appearances of Christ after his resurrection. There may have been more; we do not know (Acts 1:3).

1. To Mary Magdalene (John 20:11-18).

2. To the women (Matthew 28:9-10).

3. To Cleopas and his companion (Luke 24:13-35).

4. To Simon (Luke 24:34; 1 Corinthians 15:5).

5. To the disciples, Thomas being absent (John 20:19-23).

6. To the disciples, Thomas being present (John 20:24-29).

7. To the seven at the Sea of Galilee (John 21:1-14).

8. To the disciples on the mountain in Galilee (Matthew 28:16-20).

9. To the five hundred (1 Corinthians 15:6).

10. To James, the Lord's brother (1 Corinthians 15:7).

11. To the eleven disciples on Olivet, near Jerusalem (Acts 1:4-11; Luke 24:50-51).

12. To Paul on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:3-7).

John 21:2-3. There were seven of his disciples assembled together in a certain place not far from the Sea of Galilee (Tiberias); and Peter said to the others, ‘I go fishing.’ This was his business and occupation before he met the Master. Judging from the following verses, it would seem that Peter (having nothing to do, unsure of his master’s purpose for him, and being a man of action more than contemplation and waiting) decided to go back to the boats and nets. Whether Peter was turning his back on preaching and returning to his former occupation, we do not know for sure; but it appears so. The other disciples were ready to follow where Peter led and they said, ‘We also go with you.’ They evidently still owned boats and nets; so they entered a ship, as they had done so often before, and fished all night. This night they caught nothing. Our Lord is sovereign over the fish of the sea, and he prevented them from having any success this night. They had been called to be fishers of men, not fishermen of this sort.

John 21:4-5. Morning dawned and the Lord Jesus stood on the shore. The disciples were only about one hundred yards offshore and could both hear him and see Him, but they did not know that it was the Lord. He asked, ‘You have caught nothing at all, have you?’ They replied, ‘No!’ He did not ask this question for information nor because he did not know, but the reason was two-fold: to draw their attention to the fact that their return to their old occupation was a total failure (‘without him we can do nothing’), and to make them attentive to the miracle he was about to perform. He can and does indeed supply the needs of his people (Philippians 4:19).

John 21:6. Experienced fishermen do not usually obey the orders of strangers standing on the shore. Nevertheless, at the command to ‘cast the net on the right side of the ship,’ they obeyed and caught a multitude. Several things might be suggested–the calm, majestic, authoritative voice of the Master, or perhaps they recalled a similar incident (Luke 5:4) that happened months before, or did John begin to suspect that it was the Master when he spoke? At any rate, these weary fishermen obeyed and caught 153 fish.

John 21:7-8. John said to Peter, ‘It is the Lord.’ If he did not recognize the Lord's voice, at least he knew from this miracle who it was. Peter had been toiling with the nets, stripped down to a loincloth, or with nothing on, because it was hot, hard work. Realizing that his Lord (whom he had denied, whom he had doubted, and whom he had disobeyed by leaving the place of meeting to return to fishing) was standing on the shore speaking to them in love and patience. Peter, anxious to be in his fellowship and good graces, wrapped his fisher's coat about himself and jumped into the water to swim ashore. He felt guilty about where he was and what he was doing (for he had led the others there). Yet he loved the Master and wanted to be the first to welcome him. We see this impulsiveness in Peter quite often. The other disciples stayed in the ship and rowed to shore with the fish.

John 21:9. The disciples came from their defeat, frustration, and failure at sea to find a fire kindled and a meal of bread and fish prepared for them by the Lord. What a lesson for those who minister the gospel! We are unable to provide anything in our own strength, but by his grace he will fully meet our needs. Also the Master's provisions are so complete that nothing of ours need be added. The command, when he provides, is simply, ‘Come and dine, for all things are ready.’ It is so in redemption–Christ is all and in all. All we bring to him is our emptiness, our need, and our sin. We stand before him and his spiritual blessings as these weary, hungry disciples stood before that meal. It was all provided by their loving Lord (1 Corinthians 1:30; Colossians 2:9-10; Ephesians 1:3).


Verses 10-17

Lovest thou me?

John 21:10-17

John 21:10. The disciples landed their boat with the net full of fish dragging behind, ran to where Peter and the Master were standing beside a fire of coals, and all stood amazed and delighted before a complete meal of bread and fish prepared by the Lord. Before they were to dine and talk, their fish must be cared for; so the Master said, ‘Bring your fish to land.’

John 21:11. Simon Peter (I'm sure all of the disciples helped him, but Peter was the leader) drew the net to shore and counted one hundred fifty-three great fish. Usually this many fish would break a net, but there was not a tear in it (Luke 5:4-9). Everything connected with this incident is miraculous in order to strengthen the faith of these disciples who would carry the gospel to the world (Hebrews 2:3-4).

John 21:12. Evidently not much conversation had taken place, only the instructions of the Lord. The disciples were silently stunned and awed in his presence and before his great power. They landed the boat, stood about in silent wonder observing him and the meal he had provided, emptied the net, and counted their catch as he had instructed them; and now he said to them, ‘Come and eat breakfast.’ None of them asked any questions, for they knew that it was the Lord. Their doubts, unbelief, and questions about his resurrection were all resolved. Their Master was again with them, providing for them and serving them. They were satisfied and happy. They knew it was the Lord himself.

John 21:13-14. The Lord took the bread and fish, which he had prepared and gave it to them. It is so important to observe that the banquet of mercy is provided and served to hungry sinners by the blessed Lord himself (Psalms 23). Christ, himself, is the fountain of all grace and the source of all mercy. John Flavel wrote that all spiritual blessings are in and through Christ, those blessings are ours by a living union with Him, that union with Christ is through faith, and faith is the gift of God and comes by hearing the word. This was the third time he appeared to his disciples since his resurrection (John 20:19; John 20:26; John 21:7).

John 21:15. After they had finished eating and had refreshed themselves, the Lord singled out Simon Peter and said to him, ‘Lovest thou me more than these?’ This setting was similar to the one in which Peter had denied the Lord. It was around a fire, and Peter denied the Lord three times. Some suggest the Lord pointed to the boats, the nets, and the sea, which had been Peter's life and occupation. Now his life was to be Christ and his occupation to preach and to feed the Lord's sheep. Others say Christ asked if Peter really loved him more than the other disciples loved him; for Peter had said, ‘Though all shall be offended because of thee, yet I will never be offended’ (Matthew 26:33).

Peter did not hesitate nor boast of the degree of his love; he simply replied, ‘Lord, you know that I love you.’ With modesty and humility, yet acknowledging the omniscience of Christ and his own affection for Christ, he declared his love for the Master. ‘Feed my lambs,’ Christ said. Feed the new-born, the weak believer, and the Lord's little children (1 Peter 5:1-2).

John 21:16. The second question is a little different from the first in that the Lord left out, ‘more than these,’ and simply asked, ‘Do you love me?’ Peter replied in the same way as before, as if to say, ‘What more can I say or do? You know that I love you.’ ‘Feed my sheep’–both the sheep of Israel and the sheep among the Gentiles (Ezekiel 34:1-6).

John 21:17. Peter was grieved when the Lord asked him the third time, ‘Lovest thou me?’ It has been suggested that the Lord asked this question three times because Peter had denied him three times. I'm sure that the memory of that incident added to Peter's grief that the Lord should keep repeating this same question. Peter appealed to the Lord's complete knowledge of all things, of all men's hearts and thoughts, and replied, ‘Lord, you know all things; you know that I do love you.’ This is the vital issue and question of questions for all professed Christians, ‘Do you love Christ?’ Not, ‘do you love the word, the doctrine, the church, the law, the people of God?’ though you certainly will if you love Christ. But do you love him? This is where life and hope and grace are born–love for Christ (1 Corinthians 16:22). Again the Lord said, ‘Feed my sheep.’ It may be observed from the repetition of this phrase following Peter's declaration of love for Christ that the only proper persons to feed the Lord's sheep are those who truly love him! There are pretended shepherds who feed themselves and in time of trouble leave the flock, or who feed goats and not sheep, or who feed them not the true bread. But since the work is so laborious, the opposition from the religious world so great, the reproach of the world so constant, and conflict with powers of darkness so real, only true lovers of Christ faithfully perform the work of feeding the sheep. They are faithful to preach and teach the word because they love Christ, they love the gospel of his grace, and they love his sheep. They also know that God will bless, honor, and prosper his preached word (Isaiah 55:11). They are motivated by Christ's love for them and their love for him (2 Corinthians 5:9-15).


Verses 18-25

Follow me

John 21:18-25

John 21:18-19. John 21:19 gives us the meaning of our Lord's words to Peter in John 21:18. Peter (as all of the apostles except John, who was exiled to Patmos) would die a martyr. The Lord tells him by what death he would glorify God – crucifixion! When you were young, you freely dressed yourself and traveled where you would in freedom. But you will live to be an old man, preaching the gospel of God's grace and feeding the sheep of Christ: and then you will be bound as a prisoner, stretching forth your hands on a cross; and they will take you to a shameful, cruel death. ‘Where thou wouldest not’ means NOT that Peter would be unwilling to die for Christ, but that this type of death is disagreeable to the flesh. Our Lord glorified the Father in death (John 13:31-32), and the disciples would also glorify God in their deaths (2 Peter 1:14). It is reported in ‘Fox's Book of Martyrs’ that:

Peter was crucified at Rome.

James the less, at age 94, was stoned and beaten to death.

John was exiled to Patmos.

Andrew was crucified.

Philip was stoned then crucified.

Thomas was killed with a spear.

Bartholomew was beaten then crucified.

Matthew was slain with a halberd.

James the great was beheaded.

Simon Zelotos was crucified.

Jude was crucified.

The Lord said to Peter, ‘Follow me,’ in preaching the gospel and in death. Our Lord renewed the call he had given to Peter earlier (Matthew 4:18-20).

John 21:20-21.. Peter looked over at John, the writer of this book, who (without calling his own name) describes himself so as to leave no doubt as to whom Peter meant. ‘Lord, what shall John do? What shall John suffer?’ It is really difficult to determine the reason Peter asked this of Christ. Was he genuinely concerned for his friend John? Was he just curious about John's future service and usefulness? Or was he thinking, ‘If I am to be a prisoner and die for the faith, should not John and the others suffer also? Am I the only one who shall bear the wrath of men for the glory of God?’ From the answer that our Lord gave to Peter, we can determine that the question was impertinent, improper, and totally out of place. Evidently our Lord's command, ‘You follow me,’ had not registered fully with Peter.

John 21:22. The Lord's reply carries a strong rebuke for Peter's curiosity, friendly interest, probing into secret matters, or whatever it was that motivated Peter's question. ‘If it is my will for John to live and not die until I return, of what concern is that to you? You follow me!’ While the body of Christ is made up of many members and our one goal and purpose is to glorify our head, Jesus Christ–to preach his word, to feed his sheep, and to follow Him--yet the work each member does, the gifts each member has, the place each occupies, and the suffering each endures are according to the will and purpose of the Lord. We must be occupied with our own ministry, calling, and faithfulness to Christ and not be taken up with how, when, or where he is pleased to use others (1 Corinthians 12:12-27). There should be no jealousy, envy, nor self-seeking among the servants of the great King. In his infinite wisdom and according to his purpose, he calls and assigns each servant to his place and work, which work is to be done willingly, diligently, and unto the Lord (2 Timothy 2:9-10).

John 21:23-24. I suppose that it is only normal and natural (men being what they are, always ready to misinterpret, misread, and misapply the word of the Lord) that the rumor went forth among the brethren (and remained for a long time) that John would not die but would remain until the second coming of the Lord Jesus. But John, who wrote this epistle (and we know that his testimony is correct), sets the record straight. The Lord did not say that John would not die! In answer to Peter's concern for what place John would serve and what death John would die, the Lord said, ‘If it is my will for John to live until I come and never die, that is of no concern to you. Peter; it is your business to follow me and fulfill my purpose, whatever I am pleased to do with John.’

John 21:25. We must never imagine that all that our Saviour did and said are recorded in this book or in any other book. If all the miracles he did, sermons he preached, works he performed, and words he spoke had been written in books, the world itself could not contain the books that must be written: for he is from everlasting to everlasting! However, God has been pleased to have written all that is necessary and needful for us to know concerning the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ, that we may know Him, believe Him, and be brought to life eternal (John 20:31; 2 Timothy 3:15-17).

 


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Bibliography Information
Mahan, Henry. "Commentary on John 21:4". Henry Mahan's Commentary on Selected Books of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/hms/john-21.html. 2013.

Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, October 13th, 2019
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28
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