John 21

Now this is a strange thing.  As we saw, verse 31 of John 20, the last chapter, wrapped up the great treatise that John has been presenting to us ever since the first verse of the first chapter.  Having presented all the evidence proving the truth that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, John now challenges us with the great and crucial question: what will you do with this truth?  Will you believe it, or reject it?  And thus his object in writing this book is complete.  Now, you have all the evidence.  Now, whether you believe or not is up to you.

But if John 20 completed the purpose for which John wrote his book, then the obvious question arises, “Why is there a chapter 21?”  For the work of proving that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, is completed.  Well, that is a good question.  But I believe if we examine chapter 21 carefully, we can discover the answer to this question.  For the great question that every new believer must face is, “What now?  Now that I have become a believer, now that I have had faith in Jesus Christ, in Who He is and in what He did, now what do I do?  What does God want and expect of me?  How can I live my life to please Him?  What next?”  That is a great and important question.  Young believers need to know this, and they need help with this, for this is what they need to know to start living the new life God has for them.  God has not left us without answers to these questions.  And ultimately, that is the purpose for which chapter 21 of John was written.  It shows us an example of what it means now to live for the Lord Jesus, and it does so through the example of Peter.

Now we all know where Peter came from during the Lord’s ministry.  He was a fisherman, a blue-collar worker, and member of the poor class in Israel.  He had first heard about the Lord from his brother Andrew (John 1:40-41,) who had been a disciple of John the Baptist until he met the Lord.  Andrew brought Peter to the Lord Jesus for the first time, when the Lord gave him the new name of Peter (he had been called Simon previously.)  Later, the Lord called Peter while he and Andrew were fishing with their father, and the two of them dropped their nets on the beach where they were, left their father and their business behind, and followed the Lord.  So Peter had indeed given up his life that he had before in order to leave everything and follow the Lord.

Peter quickly moved up among the ranks of the disciples.  Chosen by the Lord as one of the twelve (Matthew 10:2,) he soon became one of the three, most privileged disciples, to whom the Lord showed the greatest of His revelations, like the transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-9.)  Peter was never a quiet disciple, but was always one of the first to speak up and speak his mind to the Lord (e.g., Matthew 17:4,) although he often spoke for all the disciples (Matthew 16:16.)

What must Peter have thought of himself through all this?  To go from being a poor fisherman to being a privileged disciple of Israel’s greatest Rabbi of the day would have been enough to raise anyone’s estimation of himself.  Yet Peter also realized that the Lord Jesus was more than a mere Man, but was also the Messiah, and the Son of God Himself.  Surely, Peter’s ambitions must have soared!  With such a privileged position as he had, certainly he could expect nothing but the highest of rewards when the Lord’s great Government came to earth at last.  Yet, as always, the human flesh, when one is given honor, tends to seek to puff itself up even more, through pride exalting oneself more than is right.  We can see this in things like the disciples’ argument regarding who was the greatest (Matthew 18:1, Luke 22:24.)

Yet in spite of this, there can be no doubt that Peter was loyal to the Lord, and really wanted to serve Him.  Thus, when the Lord announced to Peter that “before the rooster crows, you will deny Me three times,” (Matthew 26:34) we can understand why he protested, “Even if I have to die with You, I will not deny You!”  (Matthew 26:35.)  Surely Peter believed he knew his own heart, and he could not believe that he would ever deny His Lord!  Why, who was loyal if not Peter?  Had he not left everything to follow the Lord, including his family and his business?  Had not he followed the Lord faithfully and served the Lord wholeheartedly?  Did he not know in his own heart how sincere he was, how much he really loved the Lord, and how much more he was willing to give up for him?  Had not the Lord Himself commended him for his faith (Matthew 16:17,) and promised him that he would be one of those to “sit on twelve thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel”?  (Matthew 19:28)  How, then, could the Lord ever question his loyalty?  Peter knew very well that he would never deny the Lord!

But how different the events of that night turned out than Peter would ever have anticipated.  Even up to the very end, when the Lord was standing ready to be arrested, he had believed that all he hoped for would come to pass.  He had drawn his sword, and swung it in the defense of his Lord!  And yet, the Lord did not join him.  He did not commend him.  Instead, he healed the man’s ear Peter cut off, and commanded him to put his sword back in its sheath.  Then, He had surrendered Himself to the mob to be arrested.  When in his wildest dreams would Peter ever have imagined something like that?  They were supposed to win!  The Lord was the Son of God Himself.  He was supposed to be able to triumph in every situation.  He was supposed to achieve the victory, and bring in His government on earth.  He wasn’t supposed to surrender to a mob that wanted to kill Him!  No wonder Peter lost his courage, and fled with the rest.

Yet we cannot blame Peter for not at least trying to stick with the Lord.  It seems he did not flee very far, but joined John to follow the Lord to the home of the high priest to see what would happen to Him.  Yet Peter was scared now, and was unwilling to let those there, the servants of the high priest, the Lord’s enemies, know who he was.  He had been ready to stand with the Lord in battle, in facing down His enemies, but he wasn’t prepared to stand with the Lord in meek surrender and yielding to an unfought, martyr’s death.  Thus, when they questioned him about his identity, he denied being the Lord’s disciple.  He probably sincerely wished that they would just leave him alone.  He only wanted to be near, to see what would happen to the Lord!  If they would let him be, he wanted no trouble with them.  Yet they did not leave him alone, and he found himself denying his connection with the Lord again and again.  As he was blamed repeatedly and more insistently, his fear and anxiety must have increased.  He just wanted to see what they would do with the Lord…why couldn’t these meddlers leave him alone?  Finally, he was so fully into his part that, when blamed again for being the Lord’s disciple, he not only denied it, but this time called down curses upon himself if he was lying, and swearing that he did not know the Lord.

That is when he heard the rooster crow.  In that moment, he looked up, and the Lord looked at him.  Why the Lord was there it is hard to say.  He may have been standing in the courtyard waiting to be admitted to His next trial.  He may have just been passing through, being led by His captors from one place of trial to another.  And yet at that moment, He was there, and His eyes and Peter’s met.  That was when Peter realized what he had done.  The Lord’s words earlier, and his own reply, his insistence upon his own loyalty, all came rushing back to his mind.  That look that the Lord gave Peter must have hurt him more than any sword stroke ever could have.  For now he knew that he had denied his Lord, as he had sworn he would never do.  He had failed to stand with Him when it mattered most.  He had denied Him vehemently in His very presence.  His passionate oath of moments earlier still rang in his ears, and every word became a condemnation.  Peter could no longer face himself and what he had done, and he ran from the high priest’s home, ran out of the city itself, and alone he wept.

It is difficult to think of the state Peter must have been in at this point.  The next day, when the Lord died, it was just the nail in the coffin of all Peter’s hopes and dreams.  Everything he had thought and believed about the Lord, and everything he had thought and believed about himself, all had come crashing down around him.  How could he have ever imagined that he was someone great or special?  How could he have ever dreamed of being a high and mighty personage, a great one in God’s future Government, a ruler among rulers?  How had he ever dared to be a disciple of the Lord at all?  Surely he didn’t deserve it!  His every action from before, his former thoughts and speculations about his own greatness, all must have come back stripped bare before him now, shown to be nothing but what they were: mere pride and arrogance.  And worst of all, the event of that awful night must have played over and over again in his mind.  Every detail of his flight, every word of his denials of the Lord, all replayed for him over and over in merciless repetition.  How often he must have wished that for just one moment he could go back and respond differently!  How he must have wished that he could be given one more chance to stand up and own the Lord, and accept whatever consequences might have come!  And yet cold, hard reality could not be changed by wishes, no matter how heartfelt.  What he wished he would have done, and what he actually had done were worlds apart, and there was nothing he could do to go back and do it over again.  Now, the Peter he had been, or thought he had been, was dead, and all that was left was a defeated, broken man.  His Lord had not won.  No government of God had come.  Instead, He had given up, and had been killed on a cross.  And His friend, His most loyal disciple, Peter, had disowned Him.  Nothing that Peter had most counted on or believed in was left.  Everything he had hoped for was destroyed.  And that is how Peter lived for three days and nights.

Yet then, on the third day, things changed.  The Lord rose from the dead, and the sorrow of His death was changed in an instant from the mourning of loss to the joy of victory, of triumph, of the final defeat of sin and death!  Now, all that Peter had believed about the Lord and all that he had hoped for regarding His victory and His Government were proven to be true.  In fact, the Lord was even greater, even more powerful, even more amazing than he had ever thought Him to be before.  Yes, his faith in the Lord was restored.  The Lord appeared to Peter personally, and Peter now knew that He was everything he had ever thought He was.  The Lord had His victory, a greater victory than Peter had ever imagined.  Now, He would go on to form His government, and everything they had hoped for would be fulfilled.

Yet, though Peter’s faith in the Lord was now restored, and his every expectation of Him was now justified, everything was not as it was before for Peter.  For, though now what he believed about the Lord had been restored, what had not been restored was what he had believed about Peter.  This amazing proof of the Lord’s victory and greatness only showed all the more by contrast how short Peter had fallen from being what he had wanted to be.  He was no great person, no worthy disciple, no paragon of loyalty, rightfully bound for the highest of roles in the future Government!  How foolish His previous view of himself now must have seemed to him.  How high above himself the Lord now appeared to his new vantage point.  How had he ever imagined that he could be worthy of being anything to the Lord?  Now, he appeared to himself to be nothing but a silly, simple man who had meddled in things too big for himself.  He was no one great.  He was just Simon, the fisherman.  Perhaps, he may have thought, he should just go back to being a fisherman, and leave things like governments and triumphs to greater men and more worthy than he.  That is the state we come upon Peter as we begin chapter 21 of John.

1.  After these things Jesus showed Himself again to the disciples at the Sea of Tiberias, and in this way He showed Himself:

This is the setting for the story we are about to study.  The Lord is going to manifest Himself once again to His disciples, this time at the Sea of Tiberias.  What happened during this visit will be the subject of this section, and will teach us the lesson God has for us to learn.

2.  Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of His disciples were together.

Now, Simon Peter is gathered with six of the other disciples at the Sea of Tiberias.  Perhaps the strangeness of their situation was getting to all of them.  Though the Lord had risen from the dead, it was clear to them by now that things were not going to be as they were before.  He was not going to return to traveling around the land of Israel with them teaching as He went, as He had before.  Therefore, they must have wondered what would become of them, His disciples, now that everything was changing.

3.  Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.”  They said to him, “We are going with you also.”  They went out and immediately got into the boat, and that night they caught nothing.

Peter makes up his mind, and informs the others that he is going to go fishing.  Remember, this was his former occupation, and the way he made a living before he had become the Lord’s disciple.  It was not an easy way to earn a living, and was little like the sport of fishing that many indulge in for pleasure today.  This was difficult work, and a very hard way to earn money.  Yet this is what Peter was by trade, and others of the disciples, like James and John, had been fishermen as well.  Thus, Peter, unsure what to do now, and probably feeling that he would be better off going back to fishing than returning to work for the Lord and risk letting Him down again, decides to take this step, and to try to go back to the way he was before.  And the other disciples choose to join him.

Thus, they all get in a boat immediately, and go out fishing.  This was probably a boat belonging to one of their families, either Peter’s or James’ and John’s.  Yet it almost seems that their skills had gotten rusty, for they fished all night and caught nothing.  More likely, the Lord had a lesson for them in this.  He had plans for their futures, and they did not include them going back to fishing.

4.  But when the morning had now come, Jesus stood on the shore; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus.

Night was the proper time for fishing, and now morning has come, so they were getting ready to give up and come back in.  Now, the Lord comes and stands on the shore, probably around where they were planning to land.  The disciples, at first, don’t realize that it is Him, however.  This could have been hidden from them by the Lord, as He did at other times (see Luke 24:16,) but it could also have been that they were still a good ways out, and they could not recognize Who it was Who was speaking to them.  Since we learn in verse eight that they were about three hundred yards from shore, this seems the more likely option.  There is no indication that His appearance was hidden from them here.

5.  Then Jesus said to them, “Children, have you any food?”  They answered Him, “No.”

The Lord asks them this question, and they respond.  The Lord, of course, knew what the answer was, but He asked this question to set up the command He was about to give them.  We can see how this question too could have thrown them off.  Perhaps they thought this was Zebedee, James’ and John’s father.  This could have been his boat they were using, and this would have been a sensible question for him to ask.

6.  And He said to them, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.”  So they cast, and now they were not able to draw it in because of the multitude of fish.

The Lord commands them to cast the net on the right side of the boat, and they will find some fish.  This does not mean, as some have suggested, that they had cast the net only on the left side all night, and the Lord commands them to cast it on the other side of the boat.  After fishing all night, they certainly would have cast the net many different times, and not necessarily from one side of the boat.  This is simply a command they are to follow, and by doing so they demonstrate a willingness to obey.  When they do so, their reward is immediate, for suddenly the nets are so full of fishes that they are not able to lift them back into the boat again!

This is now the eighth sign we have come upon in the book of John.  It is the final sign in John, and corresponds with the first sign, the turning of the water into wine (John 2,) by demonstrating the Lord’s power over nature, thus proving that He is the Son (or Representative) of God.  It also corresponds with the first in that it involved a command (“Fill” in John 2, “Cast” in John 21.)  The first sign was a prologue to His ministry, for He claimed that when He worked it His hour had not yet come (John 2:4.)  This eighth sign is a postscript to His ministry, for it takes place after He had risen from the dead, and after His hour had come and gone, and a new hour had come.

7.  Therefore that disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!”  Now when Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his outer garment (for he had removed it), and plunged into the sea.

This is not the first time that the Lord had worked such a miracle.  In Luke 5:1-11, He had done the same thing with Peter, James, and John all present.  Thus, John recognizes what has happened, and realizes that the One Who told them to do this must be the Lord Jesus.  He tells Peter what he has realized.  Notice here that John, the author of this book, once again does not use his own name in speaking of himself, but acts as if he is talking about someone else.  Again, this is to avoid the charge that John is writing this book at all to glorify himself, for he is writing it only to glorify the Lord Jesus Christ.

Peter has felt lost without the Lord, that is true.  He has not known what to do with himself, and even has resorted this night to going back to his trade of fishing, perhaps thinking that that is all that is left for him to do.  Yet one thing is certain, and that is that he still wants to be with the Lord Jesus more than anything.  Thus, when he hears that this is the Lord, he puts his outer cloak back on (for he had stripped down to his undergarment for working,) and jumps into the sea to swim in to the Lord.  It seems he could not even wait for the catch to be completed and the boats to be brought in.  He must get to the Lord as soon as possible!  We can see that Peter’s impetuous nature has not changed, though he is much more subdued in some ways now that he no longer believes in himself as he once did.

8.  But the other disciples came in the little boat (for they were not far from land, but about two hundred cubits), dragging the net with fish.

The other disciples follow Peter, probably with much the same excitement, yet they bring their boat and drag the net along behind it.  Remember, they were not able to lift it into the boat, so that is why all they could do was drag it behind them.  This was a huge catch of fish indeed!

9.  Then, as soon as they had come to land, they saw a fire of coals there, and fish laid on it, and bread.

Peter arrives first and then the others, but they all see the same thing, which is a fire of coals with fish laid on it and bread, all ready for them to eat breakfast.  The Lord had apparently been there for some time, and had prepared a meal for His hungry followers.

This verse clearly demonstrates the foolishness of any attempt to claim that the Lord was a vegetarian, or that the Bible does not support the eating of animals.  Here, the Lord Himself prepared a meal of fish for His disciples, and let anyone dare to say that what He did was wrong!  No, the eating of meat is clearly something that God approves of in this day.  For one who knows the Scriptures, this is no surprise, for it is God Himself Who instituted this practice (Genesis 9:3,) but only after His original creation was destroyed by the flood because of man’s sin.  In His original creation, all creatures were exclusively vegetarians (Genesis 1:29-30.)  Yet it is wrong to take God’s plan for a previous time and to try to make it be for today.  This is something that God Himself clearly changed, and we have no right to say that it was wrong.  When God changes the plan, anyone who tries to go back to His previous plan will not fare well, as the Israelites found in Numbers 14:39-45.  This is just another form of wrong division.

10.  Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish which you have just caught.”

The Lord only had one small fish and one small loaf of bread at the first.  Now, He calls upon them to bring of the bountiful catch He had given them so that they could fix them for breakfast as well.  These are great fishes, and but a few will easily feed all these men, with plenty to spare.  This is an interesting variation on the feeding of the five thousand, for here the Lord starts with one small loaf and one small fish, and expands it to enough to feed all these men, although this time He does it in a far different way through the miraculous catch of fish.

11.  Simon Peter went up and dragged the net to land, full of large fish, one hundred and fifty-three; and although there were so many, the net was not broken.

Peter jumps to follow the Lord’s command.  This is what He wants more than anything: to be doing what the Lord demands of him.  Yet what he does not know is if the Lord will allow him to continue doing it after he failed Him so badly.  Yet now he is eager to obey, so he does and drags this net to land.  Apparently they counted the fishes, and John gives us the number, one hundred and fifty-three!  This is a great catch indeed, and far too much for their net, so it was also a miracle that the net did not break with such a weight of fishes in it.  The Lord saw to it that everything was right for this giant catch of fish to be made!