John 21

Jesus appears again, this time on the shore of the Lake of Galilee. He miraculously provides them with a catch of 153 large fish. He asks Peter three questions about his love and commitment. He predicts by what manner of death Peter would glorify God. He tells Peter not to get distracted by the beloved disciple’s future. The post-script says that the beloved disciple wrote the Gospel, and his testimony is true. Not even the world itself would have room for all the books to contain all the things Jesus said and did.

As I have written in every introduction:

This translation and commentary are for everyone who needs an online reference, but the commentary is mainly for readers in developing and persecuting countries, where Christians cannot afford or do not have access to excellent printed Study Bibles or commentaries. The main goal is missional.

The translation is mine. I offer it only to learn what the Greek says. It tends to be literal, but complete literalness and readability are impossible, so I had to make adjustments.

Readers can go to biblehub.com and use the interlinear link to look up every Greek word, and then the links go to every occurrence of the word. They can also visit biblegateway.com for many translations.

A GrowApp section is offered after every passage of Scripture, which asks challenging questions for deeper discipleship.

Links are provided for further study.

Let’s begin.

Jesus Makes Himself Visible in Galilee (John 21:1-14)

1 Afterwards, Jesus made himself visible again to the disciples on the Lake of Tiberius. He made himself visible in this way.

2 Simon Peter, Thomas (called Didymus), Nathaniel from Cana of Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples were together. 3 Simon Peter said, “I am going fishing.” They said, “We are also coming with you.” They went out and got in the boat, and throughout that night they caught nothing. 4 While it was still early, Jesus stood on the shore. However, the disciples did not recognize that it was Jesus. 5 Jesus said to them, “Boys, you do not have any fish, do you?” They answered him, “No.” 6 He said to them, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some!” So they cast the net and they were no longer able to draw it from the multitude of fish. 7 Then that disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It’s the Lord!” Then, when Simon Peter heard that it was Jesus, he tucked in his outer garment, for he was otherwise naked. And he threw himself in the lake. 8 But the other disciples came by boat, for they were not very far from the land, but about one hundred yards, drawing the net with wish. 9 Then, as they reached the land, they saw a charcoal fire laid and a fish laying on it and bread. 10 Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish which you have just caught.” 11 So Peter got up and drew the net on land, filled with big fish, 153. And they were so many, the net did not tear. 12 Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” No one dared to question him, “Who are you?” because they knew who that it was the Lord. 13 Jesus came and took the bread and them it to them, and likewise with the fish. 14 This was now the third time Jesus made himself visible to the disciples, after he had been raised from the dead.

Comments:

It is right to ask whether this entire chapter is an epilogue written a short or long time after the two-verse epilogue (20:30-31), by a group of disciples (“and we know that his testimony is true” in v. 24) who published the entire Gospel. Stylistically, the Greek is very similar to the rest of the Gospel, but this similarity is not difficult to achieve because John’s Greek seems easy to duplicate for native Greek speakers two thousand years ago. (In contrast, the longer ending to Mark’s Gospel is very different). The vocabulary differences (28 words) can be accounted for by the context—fishing and the mission to feed the sheep and Peter’s ultimate end.

1:

The Lake of Tiberius is the Roman designation for the Lake of Galilee (see 6:1), named after the Roman emperor, Tiberius.

“Made himself visible” could be translated “manifested himself” or “revealed himself.”

Here we have another resurrection appearance. The men are in Galilee and Jesus said to go up north and meet him there (Matt. 28:10; 14:28). Bruce points out, rightly (as usual), that the movements back and forth between Jerusalem and Galilee can be tied to the sacred calendar. They left Jerusalem after Passover and Unleavened bread, not immediately with the pilgrims, but two or three days later. So they stayed up north for an unknown time, but made their way back to Jerusalem before Pentecost (Feast of Weeks or Festival of Harvest)

See my post on the feasts:

Festivals in Leviticus 23 from a NT Perspective

2-3:

Some of the persons of the drama have been named before: Thomas (20:24), Nathaniel (1:45), but the two sons of Zebedee (James and John) have not been named in this Gospel, unless he is the “other disciple” and the beloved disciple. Total in this scene: seven.

Bruce: “Perhaps the editors used this form of words here to help readers reach some conclusion about the identity of the beloved disciples, who, as the following narrative makes plain, was one of the company” (comment on vv. 1-3). In other words, the beloved disciple is John, son of Zebedee. However, Bruce also says that the editors also bring in two unnamed disciples, so the identity of the beloved disciple is not so easy.

The Meaning of the Names of the Twelve Apostles

Peter was not going to waste any time lollygagging before they went back down to Jerusalem. They needed to eat, just on a practical level, so they went back to the trade they knew best—fishing. (Beasley-Murray also notes their practical need to eat, comment on v. 3.) Employment is better than passing time idly. The other men must have been employed in the fishing trade.

Mounce points out, insightfully, Peter’s natural leadership. All he has to do is announce that he was going fishing, and the other follow, naturally (comment on vv. 2-3).

However, they never caught any fish. This passage recalls Luke 5:5, which says Peter, James, and John worked all night but caught nothing, though the two scenes are different—one at the beginning of the story and this one at the end. Fishermen sometimes catch nothing. Then a stranger appeared.

4-6:

The night may have been still darkening the scene, making visibility difficult. Apparently they were so discouraged that they obeyed, without question, the stranger’s order to cast the net on the right or starboard side. Then the fish became so numerous that they could not bring the catch on board.

Jesus “stood” on the beach. The text does not say he “arrived.” This indicates that he appeared as he did behind locked doors (20:19). Jesus was “made manifest” or “manifested himself” (HT: Mounce, comment on v. 4).

They did not catch any fish. Carson notes, correctly (comment on v. 3), that fishing at night was normal, but he wonders whether the message here is that without Christ they can do nothing (John 15:5). But with Christ’s leadership, they can do all things which the Father wills, including catching fish and then being fishers of men.

To me, this looks like a miracle. In Luke 5:8-9, Peter was so struck by the miracle that he knelt down before Jesus. Here this miracle is the trigger of recognition.

7-8:

It was John who was triggered. He exclaimed, “It’s the Lord!” This is more or less a full profession of faith, though he was still learning how to relate to the Lord. Remember, throughout Jesus’s ministry, the disciples ate and drank with him and took naps and rested with him as he got tired and thirsty and slept out under the open starry night, as they camped out. This may explain why it was a process of learning who Jesus really was. He was the Lord, the Messiah and Son of God, but how deep does their knowledge go? After Pentecost, John learned that he was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God and through the Word everything was created. Yet the Word became flesh and tabernacled with humankind (John 1:1-4, 14). But before Pentecost, they were still in process. Even after Pentecost, they still had to receive fuller revelations of who Jesus was.

100 yards = 100 meters (and a little more)

I have to smile at Peter. He threw himself into the water to swim where Jesus was. When the other disciple and Peter ran to the tomb, the other disciple got there first and peeped inside but did not go in. Peter went in without hesitating (20:5-6). Peter is the one who asked permission to walk on water towards Jesus (Matt. 14:28-29). Here he is again leaping into the water, the Greek literally reading “threw himself.” Mounce like an earlier commentator (Temple), who says Peter’s conscience was stained with disloyalty, so he needed personal assurance of forgiveness and restoration (comment on v. 8). I like this idea.

He tucked in the lower part of his garment under his belt so he could swim more easily. He was clad in only in his fisherman’s smock and tucked it in his belt, not to impede his legs and to swim more easily. The word “otherwise” was inserted for clarity. Mounce says that the lake was shallow at the northwestern side, so we should picture Peter wading ashore (comment on v. 7). Morris writes that lexicons say the word “naked” can mean without an outer garment but the man wears his undergarment. So Peter wore a loincloth or a sleeveless tunic (comment on v. 7).

Finally, In Luke 5:7, Peter caught so many fish that they had to signal their partners to come and help, for the boat was about to sink. Here, they could not draw the catch of large fish into the boat, but dragged the full net behind them, as they rowed. So there are differences in the two stories because they are different stories at different times.

9-11:

Peter went back to the shore and saw a meager meal waiting. Then he waded out to drag the net of fish onto the shore. Peter was strong. I had always pictured him as husky, and this passage confirms it.

Obviously someone had to count the fish to reach the total, in order to tell this story of another miraculous catch of fish (see Luke 5:1-11). What to make of the number? Why even mention it?

Options:

The Septuagint (pronounced sep-TOO-ah-gent) is a third to second century B.C translation of the Hebrew Bible into Greek, and it says that 153,600 “proselytes who were included in Solomon’s subjects” (2 Chron. 2:17; see also 1 Kings 5:15). This refers to later Gentiles who will convert to the Jesus Movement.

The number of 153 is the total of adding up the numbers 1-17 (inclusive).

The number 153 is a triangular number, which means that if you have 153 pebbles and put them in an equilateral triangle, each side (including the corners) would have 17 pebbles. A triangle can symbolize the Trinity. If that’s not what a triangular number means, then you can figure it out.

In Greek, letters are assigned numbers so Simon adds up to 76 and fish (ichthus) = 77, so, 76 + 77 = 153.

17 means the number of the Ten Commandments plus and the seven-fold Spirit of God (Rev. 1:4), so 10 + 7 = 17, which brings us back to the triangle.

In the miracle of the feeding of five thousand, there were five loaves, but they collected twelve baskets of bread (6:1-15). So, 5 + 12 = 17, and we are back to the triangle.

The Trinity is represented twice in this simple equation: (50 x 3) + 3 = 153.

The number 153 is the sum of the squares of 12 (the number of the twelve apostles and the twelve tribes of Israel) and the (the number of the Trinity).

Ezek. 47:9-10 talks about fishermen standing by the sea and spreading their nets from Engedi to Eneglaim, and its fish will be of many kinds. Evidently the prefix en is the word for spring, and gedi yields the number 17 because Hebrew letters are also assigned numbers. 17 is the triangle number. Also eglaim yields 153. So gospel fishermen will spread their nets and catch people of all kinds.

Finally, Richard Bauckham says the key words in 20:30-31 are “sign,” “believe,” “Christ,” and “life.” Each word appears for the last time in those verses. Yet the number of times they appear in the whole Gospel is as follows: “sign” (17x), “believe” (98x), “Christ” (19x), and “life” (36x). Add up the last three totals and you get 153. And then 17 is the triangular number again. It is not that the original readers would understand this, but John did, and he embedded this number in his Gospel for the deeper readers (HT: Klink, p. 902). I’m not clear that a writer would burden himself with keeping track of a word 98 times or 19 times, a prime number. It is a clever idea, however.

I’m confident that there are other numerical and symbolic readings online. Look them up.

If there is a symbolic reading, then it is in the net (so says Bruce, insightfully, in his comments on vv. 9-11). In Luke 5:6, before the mission got underway with the involvement of all the disciples, the nets broke. A miracle, but the net broke. Here, at the end of Jesus’s mission—at its culmination—the net is full but does not break. Also, the catch was so big that it could not be hauled up into Peter’s boat. No small boat can contain all the fish that the gospel net can take in. “The disciples’ haul of fish is a parable of their missionary activity that lies ahead. But this activity, with its pastoral sequel, will be attended by success only as they follow the directions of their risen Lord” (Bruce, ibid.)

I am really not into reading numbers in this way. But you can take or leave some or all the symbols. My belief is that they counted up the fish because they were businessmen, and they would share the catch (Morris).

12-13:

Jesus invited them to have breakfast with them, and they knew it was the Lord. So no one dared to inquire of him, asking “Who are you?” The verb question (exetazō, pronounced ex-eh-tah-zoh) can be translated, depending on the context, as “inquire,” “make a careful search for someone,” “question, examine” (Shorter Lexicon). It is rare verb for the NT, used only three times. The point is that this is not a casual question, but an examination. They were nervous about asking him about his identity by cross-examination. Plus, they knew who he was, so why ask?  Once again, they are still insecure.

Carson:

The disciples had been granted the strongest possible reasons for believing in Jesus’ resurrection, and indeed did so: they knew it was the Lord. But whether because they could see Jesus was not simply resuscitated (like Lazarus), but appeared with new powers, or because they were still grappling with the strangeness of a crucified or resurrected Messiah, or because despite the irrefutable power of the evidence presented to them resurrection seemed strange, they felt considerable unease—yet suppressed their question because they knew the one before them could only be Jesus. (comment on vv. 12-13, emphasis original)

No wonder why Bible students interpret Jesus breathing or exhaling (20:22) as not anywhere near as powerful as Pentecost (Acts 2) because after the powerful Pentecost, their personalities change, becoming mighty ministers, with signs and wonders following them, just like Jesus.

In Jerusalem, the resurrected Jesus asks them for food, which probably happened before they went north to Galilee, and they offered him broiled fish and bread (Luke 24:41-43). He had miraculously fed the multitude near the lake (6:1-15), and now he is feeding his disciples, but by another miracle. This bears the marks of another sign in John’s Gospel (Bruce).

Bruce points out that in Greek the standard word for fish is ICHTHUS = Iēsous (Jesus) + CHristos (Christ) + THeou (of God) + hUioS (Son) = Jesus Christ, Son of God. Or the longer form: Iēsous (Jesus) + CHristos (Christ) + THeou (of God) + hUios (Son) Sōtēr (Savior). Maybe it is passages like vv. 1-14 that produced the abbreviation, particularly in Rome during tough times of persecution directed against Christians. It was a sign that Christians secretly gathered here.

14:

This verse is related only to John’s narrative. Jesus did manifest himself first to the disciples (20:19-23), to Thomas (20:24-29) and here to these seven disciples. Sorry, but Mary is an individual, and the author of the Gospel says Jesus appeared to the disciples (plural) for the third time. She was part of the wider disciples, but not a part of these main disciples. No disrespect intended.

One final point: the verb “was manifested” is in the passive and may indicate the divine passive, which means that God is the unstated subject of the sentence. The Father worked the miracle of manifesting his Son. The Father is leading the way, and the Son is obeying.

Here is the table produced in John 20.

I hope it clarifies the main passages:

Resurrection Appearances

Appearance Place Time Scriptures
The Empty Tomb Jerusalem Resurrection Sunday Mt. 28:1-10; Mk. 16:1-8; Lk. 24:1-12; Jn. 20:1-9
Mary Magdalene In a garden in Jerusalem Resurrection Sunday Mk. 16:9-11; Jn. 11-18
Other women Jerusalem Resurrection Sunday Mt. 28:9-10
Two men on Road to Emmaus Emmaus seven miles from Jerusalem Resurrection Sunday Mk. 16:12-13; Lk. 24:13-32
Peter Jerusalem Resurrection Sunday Lk. 24:34; 1 Cor. 15:5
Ten disciples in upper room Jerusalem Resurrection Sunday Lk. 24:36-43; Jn. 20:19-25
Eleven disciples in upper room Jerusalem Following Sunday Mk. 16:14; Jn. 20:26-31; 1 Cor. 15:5
Seven disciples Sea of Galilee Some time later Jn. 21:1-23
Eleven disciples on mountain Galilee Some time later Mt. 28:16-20; Mk. 16:15-18
More than five hundred Unknown Some time later 1 Cor. 15:6
James Unknown Some time later 1 Cor. 15:7
His disciples at his ascension Mount of Olives Forty days after resurrection Lk. 24:44-49; Ac. 1:3-8
Paul Damascus Several years later Ac. 9:1-9, 22:3-16, 26:9-18; 1 Cor. 9:1
Adapted from NIV Study Bible, p. 1754.

Also see Do I Really Know Jesus? He Appeared to His Disciples

GrowApp for John 21:1-14

A.. The net of the gospel is big enough to catch the whole world in all its variety, by the Father’s will. How big is your heart for everyone you meet?

Do You Love Me Peter? (John 21:15-19)

15 Then, when they finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these do?”

He said to him, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”

He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” 16 He said to him 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.” 17 He said to him a third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?”

Peter, grieved because he said to him a third time “Do you love me,” said to him, “Lord, you know everything. You know that I love you.”

Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. 18 I tell you the firm truth: When you were young, you dressed yourself and walked around where you wanted. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and bring you where you do not want.” 19 He said this to signify by what sort of death he would glorify God. And after he said this, he said to him, “Follow me.

Comments:

15-17:

Evidently, we are intended to believe that Peter and Jesus wandered off, because in v. 20, Peter turns around and sees the beloved disciple following them (v. 20). This is a private conversation of restoration between Peter and Jesus. Jesus’s method of restoration is to challenge Peter in his commitment to love him. The way Peter shows his love for Jesus is to take the leadership role to feed and shepherd the sheep and lambs. In other words, love requires good action. The sign of love is to do the works that God has for him (and you and me).

As for the differences between sheep and lambs and feeding and shepherding, they are about the same, but I can see how an interpreter can find nuanced differences and teach them. Lambs are younger and more innocent. Feeding and shepherding may be about the same, but shepherding is much broader. Think of Psalm 23, which describes the shepherd’s role as more than just feeding sheep, but he leads them to green pastures and beside still water, as he nudges them with his shepherd’s staff. He calls them by name and they recognize his voice (John 10). Also, in Ezek. 34, in the Septuagint the word “feed” and “shepherd” are alternated in the same way as here. They refer to the same Hebrew word (HT: Bruce, p. 412, note 12).

Remember, Jesus told Simon that he is to feed “my” sheep and “my” lambs. They are not Peter’s sheep or lambs. Remember this, pastors of today! Borchert is right:

Leadership in the Christian church should not be a matter of obligation or oughtness but of a willing desire. It should likewise not be from a goal of achieving personal gain but from a sense of calling to serve others. And it should not be because one wishes to dominate others but because one is willing to model the way of Christ in serving God’s flock (cf. 1 Pet 5:3). Seeking power and personal aggrandizement should not be any part of the goals among Jesus’ disciples. (p. 336).

Speaking of nuanced differences or synonyms, the two Greek verbs for love used here may be perfect synonyms or have their fine-line distinctions. The NET study Bible, available online at netbible.org, has a great discussion, but let me simplify things.

First, let’s look at the phrase “more than these.” “These” could refer (1) to things, that is, the boat and fishing gear and his earlier fishing trade; (2) or “these” men, meaning, “Do you love me more than you love these men”; (3) or it could mean, “Do you love me more than these men love me.” I chose the third option, as do many other translations, because I believe the appearances of Jesus solidified Peter’s commitment. The first option doesn’t quite work because he went back to fishing because he had to eat. Jesus was sitting right in front of him, so did Peter really renounce his commission and go backwards to his trade? The second option is weak because I can’t see Jesus being required to offer Peter a choice between Jesus himself or the other men. “It’s either them or me, Peter!” So this leaves the third option. In effect, Jesus is inquiring into Peter’s soul and asking him whether he loves Jesus deeply enough to commit to him and lead the church and to follow him no matter what happens at the end of Peter’s life.

But any of the three options may work—and all three at once—or at least the first and third ones combined.

I find it interesting that Jesus keeps referencing Peter’s father, John or Jonah (Matt. 16:17). He drops Peter’s nickname, which he acquired during Jesus’s ministry. Why? Jesus could be reminding Peter of who he used to be and how far he has come. Don’t back away now. Or he could be referring to him in a biblical way (so-and-so, the son of this guy) to catch his attention. Jesus is being firm with him, in effect saying: “Pay attention Peter because I am about to prophesy what will happen to you when you reach the end of your life. When this happens, you follow me, no matter what!”

Next, if you have been part of the church for a few years, you have heard this section of Scripture preached because it speaks of restoration after we ourselves fail the Lord. This is always a timely and very edifying message. No doubt you have heard that Jesus and Peter use two different verbs. Here they are:

Agapaō (pronounced ah-gah-pah-oh), which means a deeper love, a total commitment. (Yes, you can also be totally committed to darkness—love [agapaō] darkness—as John 3:19 reminds us.)

Phileō (pronounced fee-leh-oh or fih-leh-oh), which is a shallower or a friendship love. It can mean “I like you” or “I am your friend.”

See my longer word studies here:

Word Study on ‘Loves’

However, in John’s Gospel, the two verbs seem to be synonyms. Both verbs are used to identify the beloved disciple (see 13:23 for agapaō). Both express the Father’s love for the Son (agapaō in 3:35; 10:17; 15:9; 17:23, 24, 26; phileō in 16:27) (HT: Novakovic, p. 326). However, Novakovic, citing another grammarian, Stanley E. Porter, warns us not to see the two verbs as true and complete synonyms without nuanced differences even in John’s Gospel. Porter writes: “One of the differing components in the meanings of these words appears to be related to levels of esteem (a vertical scale) for [agapaō] and interpersonal associations (a horizontal scale) for [phileō]. The definition of a true synonym is that the two lexemes are interchangeable in all contexts. That simply is not true for these Greek lexemes [agapaō and phileō]: there is a major identifiable pattern of usage that is different” (quoted in Novakcovic, p. 326). Porter goes on to say that the two verbs are not true synonyms because of the logic of the dialogue. “Jesus has reduced his first question to a simpler question, and he has received a similarly unsatisfactory answer” so Jesus replaces [agapaō] with [phileō] in his third question (Novakovic, p. 326).

Let me paste vv. 15-17 with the two verbs inserted, and then you can make up your mind. The verb tenses are in the present, so I’ll simply use the lexicon forms (agapō and phileō).

15 Then, when they finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love [agapaō] me more than these do?”

He said to him, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love [phileō] you.”

He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” 16 He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love [agapaō] me?”

He said to him, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love [phileō] you.”

He said to him, “Shepherd my sheep.” 17 He said to him a third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love [phileō] me?”

Peter, grieved because he said to him a third time “do you love [phileō] me,” said to him, “Lord, you know everything. You know that I love [phileō] you.”

Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.

What really leads me to believe that they are synonyms is that Peter was grieved when Jesus asked him their third time, do you love [phileō] me.” In fact, Jesus had been using the verb agapaō the first two times and phileō only the third time. Also, the NET commentator says that in Aramaic, the verb for love would be the same. However, John is writing in Greek, and he may intend nuanced differences for his original community.

Alternatively, from Peter’s perspective, he may have believed they were synonyms, but Jesus was actually asking something deeper.

So now let me offer an expansive, loose paraphrase, in the spirit of the Message Bible.

15 Then, when they finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love [agapaō] me with a total commitment for me, enough to lead my flock, more than these disciples do?”

He said to him, “Yes, Lord, you know that I have a close association with [phileō] you.”

He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” 16 He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you really love [agapaō] me with a total commitment for me, enough to lead my flock?”

He said to him, “Yes, Lord, you know that I have a close association with [phileō] you.”

He said to him, “Shepherd my sheep.” 17 He said to him a third time, this time with emphasis in his voice, “Simon, son of John, do you really have an intimate, close association with [phileō] me?”

Peter was grieved because from his point of view Jesus said to him a third time “do you have a close association with [phileō] me,” and said to him with the same emphasis in his voice, “Lord, you know everything. You know that I have really have an intimate, close association with [phileō] you.”

Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.”

Now let me paste the same loose paraphrase, but without the two bracketed verbs.

15 Then, when they finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me with a total commitment for me, enough to lead my flock, more than these disciples do?”

He said to him, “Yes, Lord, you know that I have a close association with you.”

He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” 16 He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you really love me with a total commitment for me, enough to lead my flock?”

He said to him, “Yes, Lord, you know that I have a close association with you.”

He said to him, “Shepherd my sheep.”

17 He said to him a third time, this time with emphasis in his voice, “Simon, son of John, do you really have an intimate, close association with me?”

Peter was grieved because from his point of view Jesus said to him a third time “do you have a close association with me,” and said to him with the same emphasis in his voice, “Lord, you know everything. You know that I have really have an intimate, close association with you.”

Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.”

We don’t know what the tone of voice Jesus used and what penetrating look he directed at his lead apostle, as Jesus was in the process of restoring him. My paraphrase adds these unspoken elements,

However, you can take or leave my paraphrase.

Finally, let’s tally up the commentators.

Bruce, Carson, Morris, Mounce, Borchert, and Beasley-Murray believe the two verbs are synonyms in John’s Gospel, so they say not to make a big thing of it. Klink seems to fudge things a little, so I’m not clear about his views. Back to Mounce: he is tempted by Temple’s suggestion that the Lord’s questions follow a descending scale, while his commissioning follows an ascending scale. I like this idea too and would like it more if I knew precisely what it meant. Maybe it means: descending from agapaō to phileō; and ascending from lambs to sheep. If that’s not what it means, so be it. You can sort it out on your own.

Morris is excellent here. Peter denied Jesus three times, and Jesus is restoring Peter with three probing questions and commissioning him three times. “This must have had the effect of a demonstration that, whatever had been the mistakes of the past, Jesus was restoring Peter to a place of trust. It is further worth noting that the one thing about which Jesus questioned Peter prior to commissioning him to tend the flock was love. This is the basic qualification for Christian service. Other qualities may be desirable, but love is completely indispensable (cf. 1 Cor. 13:1-3)” (comment on v. 17).

18-19:

Bruce:

By the time the Gospel was written Peter had glorified God in martyrdom. Knowing what form Peter’s martyrdom took, the Evangelist [John] could see a precise reference to it in the words of Jesus, such as could not have been seen at the time. The stretching out of his hands could have been for the fitting of handcuffs, and there might be the further picture of his being led off in chains to the place of execution. Clement of Rome (c. AD 96) speaks [1 Clement 5.4] of Peter’s martyrdom, but does not indicate what form it took; for this we have to wait until Tertullian (c. AD 212), who says, with evident reference to our present text, that it was ‘when Peter was bound to the cross that he was girt by someone else.’ [Scorpiace 15] The stretching out of his hands would then be understood in retrospect to be their stretching out on the cross-beam of the cross. (We need not take too seriously the later embellishment, found in the apocryphal Acts of Peter [37-39] and in Eusebius [Hist. Eccl. 3.1], according to which he was crucified head downwards at his own insistence). (comment on vv. 18-19).

Beasley-Murray teaches us that classical writers, who lived before the NT was written, understood the expression “stretching out” to refer to Roman crucifixion, to a crucified man (comment on v. 18). So Jesus is telling Peter that he will be crucified.

Jesus starkly finished his one-on-one dialogue with Peter with the two words, “Follow me.” He was communicating to Peter that he had betrayed him before, now it is time to really follow him, even when he is about to you his life unpleasantly, as Jesus did. In effect: “I followed the Father’s will even to the cross. Now you follow me no matter where your journey, directed by me, leads.”

Jesus knew by what death Peter would glorify God. Peter had proclaimed, confidently, “I will lay down my life for you (13:37), and the first stage in the prophecy was wrong. He abandoned Jesus. But at the end of Peter’s life his confident prediction proved true. He really did lay down his life for Jesus. This willingness to be martyred happened only after his empowerment at Pentecost. He is an inspiration to us.

GrowApp for John 21:15-19

A.. However one translates the two verbs for “love”, these questions are challenging. “How deep is your commitment to Jesus? Would you—could you, by God’s grace—lay down your life for him?

Jesus, Peter, and the Beloved Disciple (John 21:20-23)

20 When Peter turned around, he saw the disciple whom Jesus loved, following them, who leaned on Jesus’s chest at supper and said, “Lord, who is the one who hands you over?” 21 On seeing him, Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, what about this man?” 22 Jesus said to him, “If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me.” 23 Then the report went out among the brothers and sisters that that disciple would not die. But Jesus did not say to him that he would not die, but instead, “If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you?

Comments:

20-21:

Jesus and Peter were walking along the lakeshore. Peter turns around and sees the beloved disciple following behind. Did the beloved disciple want some “alone time” with Jesus, before his ascension? Was it a coincidence? Whatever the case, Peter asks the natural question about his future. The beloved disciple, called as such, made his first appearance at the last supper in the upper room (13:23), when he leaned back on Jesus’s chest as they all were reclining. Peter just now received his commission or re-received it. Now he asks, in effect, “What will this man’s future be like?” Or “what will happen to him?”

22:

Jesus response was to tell Peter that his commission will be plenty for himself. He does not need to worry about anyone else, even the disciple for whom Jesus had a special affection. The clause “until I come” refers to a future event, the second coming. Jesus was not predicting his second coming before the death of the beloved disciple. Instead, he was offering a hypothetical event. If he lives long time—even until I return—what is that to you? Not every disciple will suffer martyrdom.

Please see this post about John 14:

John 14 Does Not Teach Second Coming or Separate Rapture

The next three articles come from the Synoptic Gospels:

What Jesus Told High Priest and Sanhedrin Now Makes Sense

“You Will Not Complete Towns of Israel until Son of Man Comes”

“Some Shall Not Experience Death until They See Son of Man Coming”

All of those articles teach us that Jesus did not expect his grand and glorious second coming in his generation, which did not happen, so he was wrong. No, it’s more the case that some interpreters don’t know how to read these verses, so they are wrong.

Morris reminds us of this truth: Jesus told Peter once again: “follow me!” You must follow me. The verb is imperative, and the subject (a pronoun) “you” is added in Greek for emphasis.

23:

But a report went out and about among the brothers and sisters (the Greek says brothers, but it is generic, so I included sisters, as well), that the beloved disciple would not die before the second coming. Evidently the Christian communities were trying to keep John alive in some form because they thought that Jesus really said that John would live at Jesus’s return. Augustine (354-430) reports, with disapproval, that John was lying asleep rather dead in his grave in Ephesus. Rumors said the ground was heaving up and down. Therefore, John had to be breathing, right? Augustin says no. (HT: Bruce, comment on v. 23, and referring to Augustine, Homilies on the Gospel of John, 124).

Bruce refers to another interpretation which says that a crisis emerged with the death of the last member of the apostolic community—a close associate—required people to rethink their belief in an early return of the Lord. But, Bruce replies, it is more likely that the beloved disciple was still alive when this pericope was penned (pronounced puh-RIH-koh-pea and means a unit or section of Scripture). So the crisis did not occur when the last close associate of Jesus was still alive.

GrowApp for John 21:20-23

A.. Are you naturally nosy and get into business not your own? Or do you look straight ahead on your own commission without barging into other people’s calling? Tell your story.

The Truth of This Gospel and Its Author (John 21:24-25)

24 This is the disciple who testifies concerning these things and the one who wrote these things, and we know that his testimony is true. 25 But there are many other things which Jesus did, which if they were written one by one, I suppose not even the world itself would have room for the written books.

Comments:

Scholars call this passage two post-scripts: v. 24 and v. 25.

24:

We now have a clear declaration that the beloved disciple wrote this Gospel. Testimony outside of this Gospel all point in the direction of John the apostle. 1 John 1:3 says that what “we” have seen and heard “we” declare to you also. And 1 John 1:3 says that “we” have touched the Lord with “our” hands and looked upon him with “our” own eyes. This is the only Gospel that states clearly that the author was an eyewitness and that his team of disciples or co-leaders bear witness to the truth of this book. Recall John 19:35, referring to the blood and water flowing from Jesus’s side: “And the one who saw has testified, and his testimony is true, and he knows that he speaks truly, so that you also may believe.” Here in v. 24 it is not clear who the “we” are unless it is the obvious team who put together this Gospel, serving as amanuensis (scribes) or copyists or those who put up the money to have the manuscript published (no printing presses back then, so everything had to be handwritten). This process was expensive.

The testimony that they know is true does not refer to they themselves being eyewitnesses; they were not. They are referring to the inner witness of the Spirit and their first-hand knowledge of John’s honesty. The Spirit is bringing back these truths. “But the Paraclete, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name—he will teach you all things and will remind you of everything which I have told you” (John 14:26). “He will glorify me because he will receive from what is mine and declare it to you” (John 16:14). The “we” are filled with the Spirit and can recognize the deeper truths.

One last time, here is a review of the words “testify … testimony”: “The theme of witness … pervades the whole Gospel. The witness to the truth of God’s self-revelation in the Word is manifold: it comprises the witness of the Father (5:32, 37; 8:18), of the Son 8:14, 18), of the Spirit (15:26); the witness of the works of Christ (5:36; 10:25), the witness of the scriptures (5:39), the witness of the disciples (15:27), including the disciple whom Jesus loved (19:35; 21:24). The purpose of this manifold witness, as of John’s witness, is ‘that all might believe’: it is the purpose for which the Gospel itself was written (20:31)” (Bruce, comment on 1:6-8). The terms “witness” or “testimony” carries a legal meaning “of testifying or bearing witness to the true state of affairs by one who has sufficient knowledge or superior position” (Klink, comment on 1:7).

The beloved disciple—John—was able to peel back the historical layer—but not throw it away, because the Gospel is rooted in social conditions and historical and geographical accuracies about first-century Israel, particularly in Judea and Jerusalem. The truths that the beloved disciple perceived about Jesus goes into his origins and spirit and message. The message and miracles came from the Father and was communicated to and through his Son. I get the impression that since the beloved disciple spent so much time with Jesus that the disciple was ready to see the eternal truths about him.

25:

Then I like this expression about the deeper and eternal truths of the ministry and life of Jesus. Think of your high-school reading list: Homer’s Odyssey, various plays of Shakespeare, various American novels (by Mark Twain or Harriet Beecher Stowe, for example). You may have read a modernist, postmodernist twentieth-century play, if you took honors English. None of those great works of literature contains the truths found in this Gospel. Eternal truths will take an eternity to understand—the true nature of Jesus and his miracles and teachings.

As for the obvious hyperbole (pronounced hy-PER-boh-lee), it is a rhetorical device, not a moral vice. Hyperboles are designed to startle the reader. That is all.

The Passion and Resurrection narratives culminate this Gospel and the Synoptics. And Jesus is reigning right now in heaven. He is calling you and make his personal appearance in your heart if you allow this to happen. Then, in your own way, you can proclaim with Thomas, “My Lord and my God!”

GrowApp for John 21:24-25

A.. What are one or two eternal truths in the Gospel of John which have penetrated your heart? How have they impacted you? Begin with Jesus himself as the Word who tabernacled among us (John 1:1-3, 14).

SOURCES

Beasley-Murray George R. John. Word Biblical Commentary. Rev. ed. Zondervan, 1999.

Borchert, Gerald L. John 12-21. New American Commentary. Vol. 25b. Broadman and Holman, 1996.

Bruce, F. F. The Gospel of John: Introduction, Exposition, and Notes. Eerdmans, 1983.

Carson, D. A. The Gospel according to John. The Pillar New Testament Commentary. Eerdmans, 1991.

The Greek New Testament. Fifth Revised Edition by Barbara Aland, Kurt Aland, Johannes Karavidopoulos, Carlo M. Martini, Bruce M. Metzger (United Bible Society, 2014).

Keener, Craig S. The Gospel of John: A Commentary. Vol. 1. Baker Academic, 2003.

Novakovic, Lidija. John 11-21: A Handbook on the Greek Text. A Handbook on the Greek Text. Baylor UP, 2020.

Klink, Edward W. John. Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. Zondervan, 2016.

Morris, Leon. The Gospel according to John. Rev. ed. Eerdmans, 1995.

Mounce, Robert H. John. The Expositor’s Bible Commentary. Rev. ed. Zondervan, 2007.

Works Cited

 

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