John 21 Continued

12.  Jesus said to them, “Come and eat breakfast.”  Yet none of the disciples dared ask Him, “Who are You?”–knowing that it was the Lord.

The Lord calls upon them to come and eat the morning meal with Him, so they do so.  They probably had done this many times before, yet how different things seemed now!  Now they did not dare to ask Him questions, though they had always been eager to question Him before.  His resurrection awed them, and they did not dare to question Him as they once had.

13.  Jesus then came and took the bread and gave it to them, and likewise the fish.

The Lord, in contrast, does not act any differently than He had before when He had been with His disciples.  He takes the bread and gives it to them, and the fish as well.  His resurrection had not changed His attitude at all.  He still was ready to serve His disciples by dividing the food among them, as He always had.

14.  This is now the third time Jesus showed Himself to His disciples after He was raised from the dead.

This is the third time that He has appeared to them altogether.  The first time we saw back in John 20:19-23, when He showed them His hands and side, and breathed on them, saying, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”  The second time was when He showed Himself to Thomas, who had not been with them the first time.  Now, this is the third.  Not included in this list is when He appeared to others than the disciples, like the women, and when He appeared to Simon Peter alone, as we read He did in I Corinthians 15:5 and Luke 24:34.  This is not counted because it was a private appearing to just one disciple.  What exactly happened at that appearing is never stated in Scripture, so we must assume that it was something very private between the two of them.  It is certain that Peter’s faith in the Lord was restored by seeing Him alive, though, as I said above, his faith in Peter was still gone because of what he had done in denying Him.

15.  So when they had eaten breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me more than these?”  He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.”  He said to him, “Feed My lambs.”

After they finish eating, the Lord has a private conversation with Peter.  It seems likely that they walked away from the rest, as we see John following them in verse 20.  Now, the Lord gestures back to those they had left behind.  Does Peter love the Lord more than these do?

The word the Lord uses for love here is agapas, the verb form of agape love, which is the Greek word for a self-sacrificing love, willing to give up yourself for the person you love.  It is the highest form of love, to the extent that some Greeks thought it was only theoretical.  God uses it to speak of His Own kind of perfect love.

There is no doubt that, before the Lord’s death and resurrection, Peter would have answered this question with a resounding, “Yes!”  That is basically what he was saying when he told the Lord in Mark 14:29, “Even if all are made to stumble, yet I will not be.”  Yet now Peter has learned a hard lesson.  He knows that he did not live up to the bold words he had spoken to the Lord earlier.  When the time came, he had proven that he was not up to the challenge.  Thus, could he now claim to love the Lord more than the other disciples did?  The old Peter would have done so in a heartbeat.  But now, that old view of Peter that he had in his head is gone, replaced with the reality of his failure.  He cannot claim to love the Lord more than the others.  Thus, he says all he can say, admitting not that he loves the Lord more than these others, but simply that he loves Him.  Yet he does not use the word that the Lord used, agapao.  He knows he cannot live up to that kind of unfailing love!  Rather, he uses another Greek word for love, philo.  That is a word that means the kind of love two friends would have for each other, a “friendship love.”  That, at least, he can say for certain.  He does love the Lord as a friend.  Making any other claim would appear now boastful and empty to him in the light of his denials.

Once Peter has admitted to loving the Lord as a friend, the Lord gives him a command.  Since he does love Him as a friend, the Lord now has work for him to do.  He is not to go back to fishing.  The Lord wants Peter to feed His lambs.  These would be those new believers, those who would be of tender age and needing the guidance and teaching of Peter and those who had been with the Lord for much longer and learned from Him.

16.  He said to him again a second time, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?”  He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.”  He said to him, “Tend My sheep.”

Now, the Lord asks Peter a second question.  This time, He does not ask him if he loves Him more than the others disciples do.  Now, He just asks him if he loves Him with that agape, self-sacrificing love.  Peter has already admitted that he doesn’t love Him more than the rest do with that kind of love.  But will Peter claim to love Him at all with that kind of love?

What can Peter say now?  On the night of His arrest, Peter had claimed, “I will lay down my life for Your sake.”  (John 13:37)  Yet when the time came, he had not done so.  The old Peter would have answered instantly that he did love the Lord this way.  But now Peter is wiser.  He remembers what he did, and how he failed.  How can he claim to love the Lord with a self-sacrificing love, when he had failed so utterly to be willing to sacrifice himself for Him?  So, once again, he answers all that he can answer.  He does love the Lord, but he only claims philo, that friendship kind of love.

The Lord again commands him, this being so, to tend his sheep.  This word “tend” is the word for “shepherd,” and the word for “sheep” is now adult sheep.  Peter would be God’s leader, and would be given the job of shepherding all believers, even the mature ones.  We see Peter doing this, especially during the early days of the Acts period.

17.  He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?”  Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, “Do you love Me?”  And he said to Him, “Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.”  Jesus said to him, “Feed My sheep.

Now, the Lord asks a third question.  This time, He weakens it even more.  This time, He uses the word phileis, the second-person of philo.  Does Peter even love Him as a friend?  This grieves Peter, that the Lord would ask him this.  For this is what has been bothering Peter the most.  Yes, he had been unwilling to lay down his life for the Lord.  But, had he even displayed friendship love for the Lord?  He had denied being His disciple…had denied even knowing Him…had called down a curse upon himself of death if he was lying and knew Him.  Would a friend do such a thing?  Could Peter even claim to be the Lord’s friend after such a betrayal?  The thought that the Lord was questioning if he could even claim a friendship love for Him tormented Peter.  He did want to be the Lord’s friend, more than anything.  He knew deep down in his heart that he did care for Him, even though he had failed so miserably to show it.  So, in anguish, he insists upon this.  Yet, he does not appeal to anything external.  How could he, when all the evidence pointed to his failure?  Rather, he calls upon the Lord’s knowledge.  The Lord knows all things.  Thus, He knows that Peter does love Him with a friendship love.

Once again, the Lord commands Peter.  Since he does love the Lord as a friend, he should obey Him now.  The Lord’s questions had brought Peter to the point of his dilemma.  He had failed the Lord, and utterly failed to show forth love for Him.  Now, Peter can no longer view himself as the great disciple who will be loyal no matter what.  Now, he must look at himself realistically, as just a man who can be used by the Lord.  And now, the Lord has a mission for him.  He wants him to feed His sheep.

18.  “Most assuredly, I say to you, when you were younger, you girded yourself and walked where you wished; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish.”

Peter has become upset, since his very love for the Lord as a friend has been questioned.  Yet Peter has shown the Lord that he is now willing to look at himself realistically, and not with the exaggerated viewpoint he had had of himself before.  So now the Lord reassures Peter.  When he was younger (the word signifies under thirty years of age,) he had always clothed himself and walked where he wanted.  Yet when he is old, he will not be able to do this.  The idea is of someone having his hands stretched out with a rope before being clothed and led away to be executed.  In fact, this could very well indicate crucifixion, since one was usually not clothed and led in this way for a stoning.  Tradition tells us that crucifixion is the way that Peter died, but this cannot be positively proven to be true.

19.  This He spoke, signifying by what death he would glorify God.  And when He had spoken this, He said to him, “Follow Me.”

The Lord had said this to tell Peter how he would die to glorify God.  This was the ultimate comfort the Lord could offer Peter at this point.  Peter was in anguish of mind, doubting his own loyalty, and whether he was worthy of doing anything for the Lord.  Now, the Lord assures him.  It is as if He is saying to Peter, “You will be loyal to Me, Peter.  You will love me with agape love.  You will be willing to lay down your life for me, Peter.  You will die for me, just like you wanted to.”  It might seem strange to us, to think of someone being comforted by being assured that he would be executed.  Yet how these words must have encouraged Peter!  He was not a disloyal, useless servant.  He was not worthless in God’s service.  The Lord would use him, and when the time came, he would die for Him, after all.  So, the Lord assures him with His final command, “Follow Me.”  It must have been with a much lighter heart that Peter continued his walk with the Lord from this point!  The Lord had accepted him back.  The Lord believed in him, and now assured him that he would lay down his life for him.  Thus, it was a humble but happy Peter who could now continue his walk with the Lord, knowing that he would be allowed to serve Him as he wanted to, and would do it faithfully.

20.  Then Peter, turning around, saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following, who also had leaned on His breast at the supper, and said, “Lord, who is the one who betrays You?”

Now, Peter turns around, and sees John following.  We recognize again here that John is speaking of himself as if he were speaking of someone else, yet this was the author himself who had done the things he speaks of here, and who was following Peter now.  John does not like to name himself in this book, preferring to keep the focus off of himself and only on Jesus Christ.

21.  Peter, seeing him, said to Jesus, “But Lord, what about this man?”

We see that all of Peter’s former impetuosity has not disappeared.  Now, Peter speaks up right away, and wants to know what will happen to John.  Will he be martyred as well?  Peter was feeling good at this point, with the relief of knowing that he would serve his Lord to the point of death.  He probably just wanted to know if John would join the martyr club.

22.  Jesus said to him, “If I will that he remain till I come, what is that to you?  You follow Me.”

The Lord patiently turns Peter’s focus back to what was important for him.  It did not matter to him what John was to do, even if John was to remain alive until the Lord returned.  What was important was what Peter was going to do.  His job was to follow Him, not to worry about what others were doing.

This brings us to the great lesson that the Lord has for us to learn from this chapter.  Like Peter, we are not to think more of ourselves than we ought.  When we boast in ourselves, we only end up in failure, as Peter did.  Yet when, as Peter did in this chapter, we are willing to take an honest look at ourselves and how committed we are to the Lord, He is able to use us, and to make us the servants that we could never be on our own.  Yet it is important in all this that we do not concern ourselves with those around us.  We live in a day when the majority of men, even the majority of “Christians,” are not living for God the way they ought to.  Yet ultimately, this is not to be our main concern.  All we are called on to do is to follow Him.  What His plans for someone else are is not our focus.  Rather, we are to focus on our own walks with God, and to follow Him regardless of what others do.  This is what Peter was to do, and this is what we are to do as well.  Now that we have believed, we must follow, and we must serve Him by serving others.  That is what the Lord expects of us.  That is the lesson of John 21.

23.  Then this saying went out among the brethren that this disciple would not die.  Yet Jesus did not say to him that he would not die, but, “If I will that he remain till I come, what is that to you?”

Now, before closing, John is going to clear up a misconception that had arisen about himself.  We could wish sometimes that books of the Bible were still being written, so that some of the terrible misconceptions that have arisen in our day could be cleared up as easily as this one was!  What John needed to clear up is that some, hearing of this statement of the Lord’s to Peter regarding him, had assumed that this meant that John would not die, but would live until the resurrection came, and then would go right on living in God’s Kingdom.  Yet this is not what the Lord said.  What He said was that this should not matter to Peter if even this was true.  What Peter was to do was to focus on God’s plan for him, not God’s plan for John.  The Lord’s point had nothing to do with setting forth the fate He had in mind for John.  Just the opposite, this seems to be the Lord’s way of telling Peter that this is none of his business!  So John reveals to us that this conception of what the Lord said was not true.  Yet, amazingly, in spite of this verse, I have heard some today still use this passage to suggest that the Lord Jesus believed that John was going to live until He came back to earth, and that the Lord was wrong about this!  What can we say in the light of such careless study, such ignorant error, such clueless unbelief?  Let us ever be willing to check our beliefs against the Word, so we will never make such absurd errors as this!

24.  This is the disciple who testifies of these things, and wrote these things; and we know that his testimony is true.

Now, at the very end of the book, John reveals his authorship.  This disciple whom he has been referring to all along as if he was another character is, in reality, the author himself.  He is the one who has been testifying of these things, and the one who wrote these things.  Yet even in revealing himself, John continues to speak of himself as if he were speaking of someone else, for when he claims the truth of what he has said, he does so by saying that, “We know that his testimony is true.”  John knew that what he was saying was true, for he himself was the one who had seen and experienced these things.  Yet he also knew it was true, for it was inspired by the Holy Spirit.  There can be no claims of error in John by those who would make themselves out to be believers.  John claims to be true, and we who believe must accept it as such.  Indeed, it is crucial that we do so, for this book gives us the clear picture of the Lord as God that we need to see so that we can believe that He is the Christ, the Son of God, and so that believing, we may have life in His name, as we saw back in John 20:31.  That is the most important thing we can ever do: to believe this truth.  And we will only do so if we are willing to trust in the reliability of what John wrote.  For those of us who believe, we do know, and we say with John that his testimony was indeed true.

25.  And there are also many other things that Jesus did, which if they were written one by one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.  Amen.

John, in closing his book, assures us that this is not a complete record of what the Lord Jesus did.  This is important, for I believe that John was the first gospel to be written, and so room is made here for the books of Matthew, Mark, and Luke to add further details about the Lord’s life and ministry.  Yet also, we realize that He is God, and His works are infinite.  If they were all written down, the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.  This does not necessarily mean that they will fill every available space on earth, but rather that the people in the world could not make room for them in their minds and hearts.  The world was just not ready to receive such books.  Someday, when God’s government comes to earth, perhaps then the world will be ready.  But for now, John puts down his pen, and we come to the end of the great gospel of John.