John 21 - The Restoration of Peter
A. A miraculous catch of fish.
1. (1-3) Peter and six other disciples return to fishing.
After these things Jesus showed Himself again to the disciples at the Sea of Tiberias, and in this way He showed Himself: Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of His disciples were together. 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.
a. I am going fishing: Was this a return to the old life or prudence? Only the attitude of their hearts could tell. If they wanted to give up on the business of serving Jesus, it was bad; if they were providing for themselves and those near to them until Jesus told them what to do next, it could be fine.
i. At the best, it shows they were uncertain. "The fishing expedition plainly reveals the uncertainly of the disciples, an uncertainty which contrasts sharply with their assured sense of purpose from the day of Pentecost on." (Morris)
b. That night they caught nothing: No matter what their reason was for returning to their fishing boats, their own efforts were futile.
2. (4-6) Jesus directs their work.
But when the morning had now come, Jesus stood on the shore; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Then Jesus said to them, "Children, have you any food?" They answered Him, "No." 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.
a. Have you any food? When you are unsuccessful at fishing, you don't welcome questions about your progress. Jesus asked anyway.
b. Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some: "There is no need to seek symbolical meanings for the right and left side. The difference is not between right and left, but between working with and without Divine guidance." (Plummer)
3. (7-14) The disciples eat breakfast with Jesus.
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. 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. Then, as soon as they had come to land, they saw a fire of coals there, and fish laid on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, "Bring some of the fish which you have just caught." 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. 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. Jesus then came and took the bread and gave it to them, and likewise the fish. This is now the third time Jesus showed Himself to His disciples after He was raised from the dead.
a. Yet none of the disciples dared ask Him, "Who are You?" - knowing that it was the Lord: There seems something unusual about the appearance of Jesus after His resurrection. Possibly it was a result of the beatings He endured at the cross, the scars of which remained at least in part.
b. Jesus then came and took the bread: Jesus is often seen eating with His disciples after His resurrection. This is a picture of intimate, friendly fellowship.
c. Full of large fish, one hundred and fifty-three: Why 153 fish? This number has been a field day for speculative interpretations of the Bible since the early church.
i. 153 is the sum of numbers 1 to 17. Some (like Augustine) say that it is a number representing the number of commandments (10) added to the sevenfold gifts of the Spirit.
ii. 153 is the added numerical value of the Greek words "Peter" and "fish."
iii. Some ancient writers (such as Jerome) held that there were 153 different types of fish in the world; this represents a "full harvest" of all of the world.
iv. Some (like Cyril of Alexandria) say that 100 stands for the Gentiles, 50 for Israel and 3 for the Trinity.
v. The truth is 153 stands for the number of fish that they caught, and nothing else! We must always be careful of manufacturing "hidden meanings" in the Word of God.
B. The public restoration of Peter.
1. (15-16) Jesus inquires about Peter's love.
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." 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."
a. Jesus met with Peter individually on the day of His resurrection, (Luke 24:34) but a public restoration was also needed.
b. Do you love Me more than these: Jesus strangely asks Peter to compare his love for Him with that of the other disciples.
i. It is possible that "these" refers to the fish and a fisherman's life. Jesus could be asking Peter if he is willing to give up fishing again to follow Him. But Peter had claimed a superior love (Matthew 26:33). Does he still have this proud estimation of his devotion?
c. Do you love Me more than these . . . You know that I love You: Jesus asks about agape love (all giving, uncaused, unselfish love) and Peter answers with phileo love (reciprocal, friendly affection). Some translations have Peter answering "I am your friend."
i. Some commentators see no distinctions between the two different ancient Greek terms, but most say that Peter is now more reserved in his proclamation of devotion.
d. Feed My lambs . . . Tend My sheep: For Peter to follow through with that love for Jesus, he must give himself to the service of God's people.
2. (17) Jesus asks Peter a third time: Do you love Me?
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.
a. Do you love Me . . . Lord, You know all things: This time, Jesus asks if Peter does in fact have a friendly devotion (phileo) to Jesus. Peter leaves the question with Jesus' omniscience.
b. Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time: What really grieved Peter was the three-time repetition, because it was a plain reminder of his previous three-time denial.
i. Jesus restores us by causing us to face squarely our point of failure, then challenging us to set our eyes on the work ahead.
ii. Jesus doesn't ask "are you sorry?" nor "will you promise never to do that again?" "Jesus Christ asks each one of us, not for obedience primarily, not for repentance, not for vows, not for conduct, but for a heart; and that being given, all the rest will follow." (Maclaren)
c. Jesus allowed Peter a three-fold public affirmation of love to replace a three-fold denial, and gave him a three-fold challenge to feed My sheep.
3. (18-19) Jesus' call on Peter's life.
"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." This He spoke, signifying by what death he would glorify God. And when He had spoken this, He said to him, "Follow Me."
a. When you are old, you will stretch out your hands: Jesus promises Peter that his life will end in utter faithfulness, that in the end Peter will make a faithful stand for Jesus and be crucified.
b. And carry you where you do not wish: If Peter's principle of life once was a self-reliance, from now on his principle of life will be the cross.
c. The most important, all encompassing words: Follow Me.
4. (20-23) What about John?
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?" Peter, seeing him, said to Jesus, "But Lord, what about this man?" Jesus said to him, "If I will that he remain till I come, what is that to you? You follow Me." 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?"
a. If I will that he remain till I come, what is that to you? You follow Me: Jesus' words apply to us. Instead of worrying about what He will do or is doing with other believers, our focus should be on His command to Follow Me.
b. Jesus did not say to him that he would not die: "Rumour had it that the Lord had prophesied that the beloved disciple would be alive when He came again, and the evangelist is anxious to make it perfectly clear that Jesus had only spoken hypothetically about such a possibility." (Tasker)
5. (24-25) Conclusion to the book.
This is the disciple who testifies of these things, and wrote these things; and we know that his testimony is true. 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.
a. The disciple who testifies of these things, and wrote these things: It is both a testimony of accuracy and incompleteness.
b. Even the world itself could not contain the books that would be written: God's works have no end, and the events are to continue as we obey Jesus' command to follow Me.