READ AND DECIDE -John’s stated purpose for writing his Gospel was to show that Jesus was the Son of God. He clearly and systematically presented the evidence for Jesus’ claims. When evidence is presented in the courtroom, those who hear it must make a choice. Those who read the Gospel of John must also make a choice—is Jesus the Son of God, or isn’t he? You are the jury. The evidence has been clearly presented. You must decide. Read John’s Gospel and believe in Jesus!
This and other *Life Applications are in today’s reading.
Jesus Appears to Seven Disciples / 21:1-14
Chapter 21 is an epilogue to John’s narrative. Very likely, John decided to add this chapter some time after he completed his Gospel in order to clarify the misconception about the relationship between his (John’s) death and the Lord’s return. The rumor that John would not die before the Lord’s return (21:23) had to be corrected; otherwise, the church might experience great trouble at his death before the Lord’s return. John, therefore, decided to add a chapter that would make it clear that Jesus did not say that he would return before John died.
21:1-3 This chapter records Jesus’ appearance to the disciples beside the Sea of Galilee. Jesus had made at least six appearances in (or around) Jerusalem. After the Jerusalem appearances, the disciples evidently had returned to Galilee. Jesus made several appearances in this region: to five hundred believers (1 Corinthians 15:6); to James, his brother (1 Corinthians 15:7); and the appearance recorded here.
Prior to his resurrection, the Lord had told his disciples that he would meet them at an appointed place in Galilee after he arose (Matthew 28:10; Mark 14:28). But due to the disciples’ unbelief and fear, they had remained in Jerusalem. After Jesus appeared to them behind locked doors, they did as they had been told and returned to Galilee. But as they waited there, they remained unsure, confused. So they did what they knew how to do best—they went fishing. Seven disciples were together at this time:
- Simon Peter (mentioned first because he was the leader)
- Thomas (mentioned specifically at the end of chapter 20)
- Nathanael (first introduced in chapter 1 and not mentioned again until now)
- The sons of Zebedee: John, the author,
- and James
- and 7. Two other disciples (unnamed).
Having returned to Galilee, the disciples did not know what to do next, so it was natural for some of them to return to their occupation. Simon, Andrew, and James and John (the sons of Zebedee) had been fishermen (see Mark 1:16-20). Peter took the lead, and the other six disciples went with him. Although fishing was often good during the night while the fish were active and feeding closer to the surface, the disciples caught nothing. When daybreak arrived, they were tired, hungry, and probably more than a little frustrated.
*LIFE APPLICATION: EMPTY NETS: Jesus never criticized the disciples for going fishing. Whatever their motives, fishing was a familiar activity that gave them a sense of normalcy and comfort. It gave them something to do and time to sort out their thoughts. But their efforts yielded nothing. Many times our efforts at work, parenting, or ministry leave us with only “empty nets.” The Lord allows us to experience lack of productivity, frustrations, and failure to bring us closer to him and to help us rely on him, not on our own resourcefulness. When you feel tired and empty, listen for Jesus’ words to you.
21:4-6 Jesus had come to make another appearance to the disciples, especially to Peter. Perhaps because of the distance, haze over the water, or lack of light at dawn, the men in the boat did not recognize the man on the shore. He called out, “Friends, have you caught any fish?” They were only about a hundred yards out (21:8) and called back, “No.”
The man then said, “Throw out your net on the right-hand side of the boat, and you’ll get plenty of fish!” The disciples, tired as they were, responded to the obvious authority in the voice, and cast their nets to starboard—and a miracle occurred! This recalls Luke 5:1-11, another occasion where Peter and the other disciples were fishing, catching nothing. Jesus gave a command to go out into the deep water. Peter, though doubtful, followed Jesus’ orders. When they obeyed, a miracle occurred! When Peter saw the first miracle, he recognized beyond Jesus’ power a holiness that was not part of his own life.
On this occasion, Peter is again a central character. Jesus identified himself by his unexpected and seemingly useless request. The fishermen’s actions involved them in another miracle. If the request did not give them a clue, the results unmistakably pointed to the power of their Lord: They couldn’t draw in the net because there were so many fish in it. Both John and Peter recognized that Jesus was behind the overwhelming catch of fish.
*LIFE APPLICATION: SURPRISED BY JESUS
Once again the disciples failed to recognize Jesus. This time the poor light gave them a good reason not to realize who he was. Perhaps they were preoccupied with fishing; surely they weren’t expecting him; maybe they were avoiding the issue of what to do next. Are you involved in some area or activity where you think a visit from Christ would be unlikely? Guard against being so preoccupied with your own work that you miss seeing Christ. Expect that he can do the miraculous in ordinary events. Look for him throughout each day.
21:7 John (the disciple whom Jesus loved) may have immediately recognized the repeated miracle, for he was part of the incident recorded in Luke 5. As John peered through the morning mist, he recognized that the man on the shore was the Lord. Peter immediately jumped into the water to swim to Jesus. Though his love for Jesus was very great, Peter may have thought a barrier still existed between the Lord and him because of his denial.
21:8-9 We can only guess what Peter did when he came out of the water, dripping wet, facing the one he had denied. He may have been at a loss for words. Peter must have appreciated the fire that Jesus had burning; there he dried off while he felt the inward chill of remembering what he had done the last time he had stood by a fire warming himself. If any words were said, they were kept between Jesus and Peter, since the others were still too far away to hear.
*LIFE APPLICATION: DISCOURAGED WORKERS
Tired, hungry, and frustrated, these discouraged disciples needed a lift. They lacked direction and they were uncertain of the Lord’s presence and help. Jesus came to them, made his presence known, and gave them direction. Are you discouraged in your work for the Lord? Jesus is prepared for you; he has a gracious welcome waiting. He offered the disciples a warm fire and breakfast. He also wants to give you sustenance, comfort, and fellowship.
21:10-11 The miraculous catch of fish must have affected Peter profoundly. Peter did not say a word as he dragged the heavy net full of 153 large fish to shore and then, with the other disciples, ate the breakfast of bread and fish the Lord had prepared even before they caught the fish.
The number of fish probably has no other significance than that it was a very large amount of large fish—especially after having caught nothing all night. And the exact number is recorded simply as a matter of historical fact. It was the usual procedure for a group of fishermen to count the day’s catch and then divide it among themselves. Once again, John observed that when Christ takes action, the results bring overabundance.
LIFE APPLICATION: JESUS KNOWS
The fact that the net was not torn attested not only to the miracle, but to the attention of the miracle worker. Jesus would supply their catch of fish and would take care that their nets were not torn. Such attention to detail is characteristic of the Holy Spirit’s work in circumstances in every believer’s life—from these disciples who would soon begin to carry out the great commission, to us, today, as we struggle through the confusion in our daily lives.
21:12-13 Any question or any comment seemed trite at that moment. They stood around in awed silence before this one who, as always, was doing the serving, inviting them to have some breakfast. This special meal with the risen Jesus had a profound effect on these seven disciples. Peter would later make claim to his reliability as a witness of Jesus (see Acts 10:41). John does not record that Jesus ate anything, but Luke 24:41-43 describes an appearance of Jesus where he did eat some fish.
21:14 This was the third time Jesus had appeared to his disciples; the first two times had been behind locked doors in Jerusalem. Jesus had come to them to encourage these disciples, especially Peter, concerning their future work. The text seems to imply that Jesus had come to remind them that they were not to return to their old life of fishing. He had called them to be fishers of people (Luke 5:10) and to start the church (Matthew 16:19). Peter, the leader among them, needed to be ready for the responsibilities he soon would assume. He would lead and feed the flock—not with physical food (which Jesus would provide) but with spiritual food.
Jesus Challenges Peter / 21:15-25
After the meal, Jesus and Peter had a talk. During their conversation, Jesus led Peter through an experience that would remove the cloud of guilt that came from Peter’s denial. The Master-Teacher conveyed both forgiveness and usefulness to this disciple who must have concluded he was beyond being useful to Jesus.
21:15-17 Simon son of John was the name Jesus had said when he first met this man who would become his disciple (1:42). But Peter had not yet proven himself to live up to that name—Peter, “the rock.” According to Luke 24:34, Jesus had probably met with Peter previously. Jesus’ first question to Peter, “Do you love me more than these?” could be translated in three ways: (1) “Do you love me more than these men love me?” (2) “Do you love me more than you love these men?” (3) “Do you love me more than these things?” (that is, the fishing boat, nets, and gear). Of the three options, the first seems the most appropriate because Peter had boasted that he would never forsake Jesus, even if all the other disciples did (see Matthew 26:33; Mark 14:29; John 13:37). This was the same as saying that he had more love for Jesus than the others did.
Peter did just the opposite of what he boasted: He denied Jesus three times. As a consequence, Jesus asked Peter three times, “Do you love me?” to affirm Peter’s love and commitment. Each time Peter told Jesus, “I love you,” Jesus exhorted Peter to care for his flock: “Feed my lambs” (21:15); “Take care of my sheep” (21:16); “Feed my sheep” (21:17). Lambs and sheep can be taken as words of endearment. Jesus’ love and concern is for all believers—the entire “flock” that would grow as a result of the apostles’ ministry.
*LIFE APPLICATION: BROKENNESS
Jesus helped Peter grasp his most valuable life lesson—he must learn humility before he could obtain leadership. Peter needed to confront realistically his shortcomings before he could guide the flock. This strong, powerful person had to be broken before he could deal compassionately with others. Do you aspire to lead others? It takes more than talent to gather followers. To have Jesus’ style of leadership takes a spirit broken from pride, linked to God, and tender toward others.
21:18-19 Jesus used a proverbial statement about old age to depict Peter’s death, which was by crucifixion. From this day onward, Peter knew what death lay before him. Peter never forgot this prophecy from Jesus; Peter referred to it in his Second Epistle when he spoke about his imminent death (see 2 Peter 1:14). Peter was crucified in Rome under Nero around a.d. 65–67. By his words, “Follow me,” Jesus was reinstating and restoring Peter as his disciple. What assurance these words must have been for Peter. Despite what glory or trial or death lay ahead, he would always be under the Savior’s care, for he would be following Jesus.
Three years earlier, along the same lake, Jesus had said the same words to Peter—”Follow me.” These words mean “Keep on following.” Stripped of pride, impulsiveness, and false expectations of leadership, Peter was ready to follow Christ in a new way because of new experiences and a clearer picture of himself. “Follow Me” means consistent discipleship and steadfast pursuit of Christ, even if that requires martyrdom. It means continuing Christ’s work in the way he wants it done, not in a way we want it done.
*LIFE APPLICATION: YOU FOLLOW ME
Peter asked Jesus how John would die. Jesus replied that Peter should not concern himself with that. We tend to compare our lives to others, whether to rationalize our own level of devotion to Christ or to question God’s justice. Jesus responds to us as he did to Peter: “What is that to you? You must follow me.”
21:20-23 Having been told his destiny, Peter wanted to know what would happen to John (called the disciple Jesus loved). In this profound but loving rebuke, Jesus explained to the impulsive Peter that he was not to be concerned about God’s plans for anyone else but himself. Indeed, Peter’s contribution to the beginnings of the Christian church would be astounding (from his sermon on Pentecost in just a few weeks, to his leadership of the Jerusalem church, to his being the first to understand that Gentiles too could become Christians), and both his miraculous escape from death (Acts 12:1-19) and his death by martyrdom would be heroic. John, although he would remain alive, would be called to a different kind of service, even through exile on a remote island—for John would write this incredible Gospel, three letters, and the astounding account of the triumphant return of the Son of God in the book of Revelation. Peter, the impulsive one, would write two epistles to encourage patience while we wait for Christ’s return. Peter and John were called to different kinds of service for their Lord; neither was to question why.
Jesus’ statement to Peter had been interpreted to mean that John wouldn’t die, but would remain alive on earth until the Second Coming. John had to correct this rumor. If John died and the Lord still had not come, this tiny rumor could throw many believers, and the church itself, into confusion. John insisted that Jesus’ words had been misunderstood. Jesus had not said that John would not die; rather, if Jesus were to want him to remain alive, it wasn’t any of Peter’s business. The point is that the decision was up to Jesus—not John or Peter. What Jesus was communicating to Peter was that it was not for Peter to be concerned about what would become of John’s life. He, Peter, was responsible to follow the Lord according to what the Lord had revealed to him. And so was John.
*LIFE APPLICATION: DON’T COMPARE
If we want to follow Jesus, we must be totally committed to obeying him, but God’s call and the result of that obedience are different for every person. God can use all kinds of people. He has specific plans and service for the impulsive Peters, the thoughtful and sensitive Johns, and the forceful Pauls. God takes into consideration each person’s nature and abilities. Each Christian is called and guided by God and is accountable to no one but God. Christians should not make comparisons among themselves or judge others regarding how each is fulfilling God’s plan (Galatians 6:4). We must be content with where God has placed us and not be jealous about what he has given others to do.
21:24 The last two verses of John’s Gospel contain the finishing touch to the book that attests to the truth of John’s written testimony. The testimony is trustworthy because John was an eyewitness of Jesus Christ. After many years of experience and reflection, John wrote an account that reflects his spiritual insight into the life of Jesus Christ (see 1:14; 1 John 1:1-3).
The statement, “We all know that his account of these things is accurate” is probably from some of John’s contemporaries who knew that what John wrote was true. Some scholars think these contemporaries were the Ephesian elders, who had been told and/or read the preceding narrative. Early church history reports that after John spent several years as an exile on the island of Patmos (see Revelation 1:9), he returned to Ephesus where he died as an old man, near the end of the first century.
21:25 This final statement is not mere hyperbole. It is an affirmation of the fact that John’s one book is far from being exhaustive because John recorded only some of the things that Jesus had done. If John had covered every event, how many more books would be required to contain all the material? Some of this material can be found in the other three Gospels. But there is so much more that could have been said about Jesus. Nonetheless, what was written has provided believers with a true biography of the greatest person who ever lived: Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
*LIFE APPLICATION: READ AND DECIDE
John’s stated purpose for writing his Gospel was to show that Jesus was the Son of God. He clearly and systematically presented the evidence for Jesus’ claims. When evidence is presented in the courtroom, those who hear it must make a choice. Those who read the Gospel of John must also make a choice—is Jesus the Son of God, or isn’t he? You are the jury. The evidence has been clearly presented. You must decide. Read John’s Gospel and believe in Jesus!