21:4 Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize [did not recognize Jesus, perhaps because boat was far from shore or because of lack of light in the early morning] that it was Jesus.
21:5 He called out to them, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?” “No,” they answered.
21:6 He said, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some. [cf. Lk. 5:1-11]” When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish [a total of 153 fish as per v. 11].
21:7 Then the disciple whom Jesus loved [John] said to Peter, “It is the Lord! [only Jesus could do something like this]” As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, “It is the Lord,” he wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken it off [Peter was working in a loin cloth]) and jumped into the water [impulsive action characteristic of Peter; indicated Peter’s deep feelings for Jesus].
21:8 The other disciples followed in the boat, towing the net full of fish, for they were not far from shore, about [approximately] a hundred yards.
21:9 When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread.
21:15 When they had finished eating, Jesus said [Jesus asked a question that would remind Peter of his boastful claim on the night before the crucifixion] to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you truly love [Gr. verb agapas; recall that Peter had boasted of a love toward Jesus superior to that of the other disciples (cf. Matt. 26:33; Mk. 14:29; Jn. 13:37)] me more than these [perhaps “these things/fish” (referring to his vocation) or “these men” (referring to the disciples)]?” “Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love [Gr. verb phileo] you [note: Peter does not say “more than these” as he once had (cf. Matt. 26:33)].” Jesus said, “Feed [shepherd led sheep to pastures where they could find nourishment] my lambs [young disciples; perhaps the weakest and tenderest of the flock].”
Failure can be a jarring and disorienting experience that robs people of their sense of worth and purpose. God however, understands that people fail and stands ready to help them rebound from failure. Someone wisely noted that failure does not consist in falling down but in staying down.
Jesus did not let Peter remain a failure (see Luke 22:32). Before He ascended to heaven, Jesus appeared (John 21:14) to some of His disciples (John 21:4) as they fished on the Sea of Galilee (John 21:1-3). Jesus prepared breakfast for his weary disciples who had fished throughout the night (John 21:9,12).
On this occasion Jesus asked Peter three searching questions (perhaps a reminder of Peter’s threefold denial) and then restored Peter to his ministry.
Note: Regarding the use of “agape” and “phileo” — “…it is doubtful that we should make too much of an issue over this, because the two words are often used interchangeably in the Gospel of John. … It would appear that John used these two words as synonyms, whatever fine distinction there might have been between them. … It might be unwise for us to press the Greek too far in this case.” (Wiersbe • Be Transformed • p. 146)
21:16 Again Jesus said, “Simon [Jesus does not refer to him as Peter, perhaps to remind him that he had not yet realized his rock-like potential] son of John, do you truly love [Gr. agape] me?” He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love [Gr. verb phileo] you.” Jesus said, “Take care [shepherd] of my sheep [the fisherman was to be a shepherd].”
After the disciples had finished eating breakfast (John 21:15), Jesus broke the silence with a question—Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?. Jesus asked His question in the hearing of the other disciples, perhaps so that they could know that He was restoring Peter to kingdom service. Jesus used the name Simon, perhaps to remind Peter he had not acted like a rock, but more like unstable sand.
The words truly love translate the verb for the highest kind of love.
Jesus asked Simon if he loved Him more than these. Jesus’ question could be interpreted to refer to the things (boats and nets) related to Simon’s vocation or to the other disciples. Most likely, Jesus meant, “do you truly love me more than these” other disciples love me? Recall that on the night before the crucifixion Peter had, in effect, boasted that he loved Jesus more than the other disciples did (Matt. 26:33).
Peter answered Jesus’ question affirmatively, but did not imply “more than these” as he once had (see Matt. 26:33). Jesus accepted Simon’s answer and said to him, Feed or shepherd and nurture my lambs. Jesus repeated His question to Simon but omitted the words “more than these.” Simon responded affirmatively. Jesus again challenged Peter to show His love for Him and follow Him by caring for His people. We too can show our love for Jesus by caring for His people.
21:17 The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love [Gr. verb phileo] me?” Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love [have a tender regard for] me?” He said, Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my sheep [little sheep or lambs].”
Jesus asked Peter a third time if he loved Him. Peter replied that Jesus knew through experience that he loved Him. Jesus again said to Peter, Feed my sheep (v. 17). Jesus’ questions hurt Peter’s pride but helped him realize he was forgiven and could again be useful in building Christ’s Church. Peter’s experience teaches us that failure does not have to be final. Failures can indeed open new opportunities to humbly follow and serve Christ.
Failure gave Peter the opportunity to evaluate. I once heard someone say that we tend to celebrate in victory and evaluate in defeat. Peter’s failure caused him to remember the words Jesus had spoken to him on the night before the crucifixion (see Matt. 26:75). People who fail need an opportunity to evaluate and sort through the steps that led to their failure. Such evaluation can lead to renewed commitments to avoid the paths that lead to failure in the future.
Failure gave Peter the opportunity to learn lessons he might not have learned in any other way. Failure introduced proud and boastful Peter (see Matt. 26:33) to humility. Failure helped Peter to become more aware of his own weaknesses and of the need to humbly rely upon God’s strength. Ultimately, failure helped Peter understand more of the meaning of grace and forgiveness.
The lessons learned in the school of failure can provided mature foundations for new life adventures with God. As Jesus accepted Peter and gave him opportunity to reassert his love for Him, so God will open opportunities for people to move past failure into recommitment to God and His work. People who have experienced failure should look for and be open to these new opportunities to humbly follow and serve Christ.
Sheep Feeding 101
S — Set a godly personal example for the sheep to follow. Sheep are not the brightest animals in the world and can be easily led astray.
H — Help those who are new in the faith and are the most vulnerable to attack from the enemy.
E — Encourage others in the flock. Take the time to speak with others and to learn about their struggles and challenges. Ask what you can do to help.
E — Eat a healthy diet. Make sure you get lots of daily nourishment from God’s Word. Prepare good meals for the sheep under your care.
P — Pray. Like the Apostle Paul and others, pray for those you lead to faith in Christ and for all fellow believers.
Note: “It was appropriate that he that had denied Him three times should confess Him three times, so that Peter might neither doubt the forgiveness of his grievous sin, nor his being restored to the office of the apostleship.” (The 1599 Geneva Study Bible)
21:18 I tell you the truth, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands [perhaps a figure of speech for crucifixion or means to have hands bound with cords for execution], and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go [martyrdom].”
As Jesus and Peter walked along the shore of the Sea of Galilee, Jesus solemnly informed Peter of the danger that accompanied his new assignment (v. 18). Jesus explained that when Peter was a young man he could dress himself and go wherever he chose. However, Jesus predicted that when Peter was old he would stretch out his hands and be led by someone else to where he did not want to go. Stretching out the hands was a figure of speech for crucifixion. (See Study Question 3)
Note: “In the third volume of Eusebius’s ‘Ecclesiastical History,’ the first-century historian notes that Peter was martyred around A.D. 61. First, he saw his wife crucified before his very eyes, and then, with a willing heart, he submitted himself to the cross. But feeling unworthy to die in the same manner as his Lord, he asked that he be crucified upside down.” (Swindoll • Beholding Christ … The Lamb of God • p. 108)
21:19 Jesus said this [21:18] to indicate [signify] the kind of death [tradition says that Peter crucified head downward; a violent death; Peter who had previously boasted that he was ready to die with Jesus (Lk. 22:33) would eventually die for Jesus] by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me [cf. Matt. 4:19 re: Peter’s original commission; follow continuously: both now and unto death]!”
Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God (v. 19). Jesus foretold the suffering that Peter would have to endure as His follower, a sacrifice that would bring glory to God. Eusebius, the first-century historian, noted that Peter was crucified in Rome under Nero. Peter was executed on a cross but, feeling unworthy to die in the same manner as Jesus, he asked to be crucified upside down. Peter made reference to this aspect of his conversation with Jesus in 2 Peter 1:14.
Jesus called Peter to a renewed commitment with the invitation, Follow me! (v. 19) — literally, “keep on following me.” Three years earlier, Peter began his journey with Jesus in response to the same call by the Sea of Galilee (see Matt. 4:18-20). And now, forgiveness gave Peter the opportunity to continue his journey with Jesus. Jesus was not through with Peter. He still had important work for him to do.
In spite of his failures, Peter became a solid and dependable leader of the early New Testament church. The first twelve chapters of the Book of Acts record the accounts of Peter’s bold and courageous leadership. Peter never again denied Jesus. He faithfully served Jesus in the face of opposition and obstacles and at great personal risk. The lessons learned in the school of failure served Peter well for the remainder of his life.
21:20 Peter turned [a sudden turning around] and saw [we must fix our eyes on Jesus rather than others (cf. Heb. 12:1-2] that the disciple [John] whom Jesus loved was following them. (This was the one who had leaned back against Jesus at the supper and had said, “Lord, who is going to betray [to deliver over] you?”)
As Jesus and Peter walked in the morning light, Peter looked over his shoulder and saw that John, the disciple whom Jesus loved, was following them. This disciple is identified as the one who had asked Jesus at the Last Supper, “Lord, who is going to betray you?” (see John 13:23-25). He, along with Peter and James, were part of Jesus’ inner circle. These men were among the first to be called by Jesus and had witnessed the transfiguration of Jesus (Matt. 17:1-13).
21:21 When Peter saw him, he asked, “Lord, what about him [Peter interested in whether John’s earthly lot would be easier or harder than his own]?”
When Peter saw him, he asked, “Lord, what about him?” Having just learned about what would happen to him in the future (21:18-19), Peter wanted to know what was going to happen to John. He wanted to know whether John’s earthly lot would be easier or harder than his own. We too can easily get sidetracked when we take our eyes off of Jesus and begin to look at others. Like Peter, we too are often guilty of comparing our lot to that of others.
My children have asked Peter’s question on many occasions. “But Daddy,” one child might say in a complaining tone, “what about her? How come she doesn’t have to do this?” My children have often complained to me that a particular assignment was not fair or that they felt that they were doing more than a sibling. Helping my children understand that they must fulfill their assigned tasks regardless of what their siblings are assigned is one of the challenges of parenting.
21:22 Jesus answered [told Peter that God’s plans for John were none of his concern], “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you [a sharp rebuke]? You must follow me [regardless of what God had planned for others, Peter’s responsibility was to follow Jesus; “God doesn’t deal with us on a comparative basis, but on an individual one.” (Swindoll)].”
Jesus lovingly rebuked Peter and essentially told him to mind his own business. God’s plans for John were none of Peter’s concern. Peter was to carry out his own assignment without worrying about the assignment Jesus might or might not give another disciple. Following Christ and helping His people requires focus and a refusal to compare one’s circumstances with the circumstances of others.
“You,” Jesus emphatically reminded Peter, “must follow me” (v. 22). God had a specific assignment for Peter that included preaching on the day of Pentecost, becoming a key leader in the Jerusalem church, taking the gospel to a Gentile named Cornelius, and writing two epistles that bear his name. God had other plans for John. Peter was not to question God’s plans for him or for John.
God deals with us on an individual basis rather than on a comparative basis. We must be concerned about our personal obedience and not compare ourselves to others (see Gal. 6:4). God takes into consideration our personalities and giftedness in making assignments. He will not give an impulsive Peter the kind of assignment that can best be fulfilled by a sensitive John or a forceful Paul. In order to successfully follow Jesus we must fix our eyes on Him and do what He has called us to do, not on what others are doing or where others are going.
21:23 Because of this, the rumor [mistaken idea] spread among the brothers [the Christians] that this disciple [John] would not die [prior to Jesus’ return]. But Jesus did not say that he would not die; he only said, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you?”
Apparently, some believers misinterpreted Jesus’ puzzling statement about John—“If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you?” (21:22)—to mean that John would remain alive on earth until Jesus’ Second Coming.
Misunderstanding and misinterpreting God’s Word can create all sorts of problems for God’s people. Because this rumor spread among the brothers, John addressed it in his gospel. He included a concise statement to clear up any misunderstanding about what Jesus meant. Jesus never said that John would not die.
Although John lived the longest of all the disciples, he did die. John wanted his readers to understand that Jesus was merely making a point to Peter that the decision about what would become of John’s life was not any of Peter’s concern.
21:24 This is the disciple who testifies to these things and who wrote them down. We know that his testimony is true.
21:25 Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.
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