The Agora
Bible Commentary

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John 21

Joh 21:1

Background: the apostles had been told to go to Galilee to wait for Jesus (Mat 28:10).

SEA OF TIBERIAS: This name used only in Gospel of John. City of Tiberias was of no consequence until after AD 70. Thus this mention fixes date at after AD 70 (LB 398).

Joh 21:2

Seven disciples listed; where are the others?

Joh 21:3

THEY CAUGHT NOTHING: The 7 apostles attempt to sustain themselves by old livelihood. But they are totally unsuccessful: they catch nothing all night. Were they doing the wrong kind of fishing? (ct Joh 17:18; 20:21). Cp Psa 127:1.

Joh 21:4

Vv 4-6: Cp with Luk 5:4-7. Both incidents have: (1) sea of Galilee, (2) toiled all night, (3) no success at all, (4) at command of Jesus, they let down nets again; and (5) miraculously, a great catch of fish.

Contrasts with Luk 5:

Luk 5
Joh 21
1. At beginning of work
1. At end of Christ's earthly ministry
2. Christ was "in the ship"
2. Christ is on the "shore"
3. Net broke: schisms in the gospel "net"... good and bad together?
3. Net, cast on right side (approval), brings in all good fish; net does not break
4. Ship almost sinks
4. No danger at all
5. A great number of fish, uncounted (many called)
5. A precise number of fish, counted (few chosen)

Joh 21:6

THE RIGHT SIDE: The side of acceptance, approval, blessing.

THE LARGE NUMBER OF FISH: Eze 47:9; Isa 60:5.

Joh 21:7

John (as before, at tomb, with Peter: Joh 20:3-9) is first to grasp the truth. But Peter, impetuous, a natural leader, is the first to act. (How true to life these men are... flesh and blood, not "cardboard"!)

AND JUMPED INTO THE WATER: Did Peter walk on the water (this time, successfully, in ct Mat 14:29-31)?: Consider (1) why put on a heavy coat to SWIM 100 yards or so (v 8)? (2) "into" the water of v 7 sw as "to" land in v 9 (NIV "landed" = KJV "come to land"); (3) other implicit miracles in ch: v 9: fish already of fire -- from where? v 11: Peter drags up net alone; v 11: net was not broken.

Joh 21:9

A FIRE OF BURNING COALS: A "flashback": cp site of Peter's denial (Joh 18:18). Gazing into one fire, he denied his Lord. Now, gazing into another fire, he finds forgiveness and renewal. Cp Rom 12:20,21: Christ feeds Peter (previously his "enemy"), thus heaping "coals of fire" on his head to "melt" his heart.

By contrast there was no recovery for Judas. By now he had hanged himself. Denial is forgivable. Betrayal was the behaviour of a man who did not appreciate the true character of his Lord and God. Consequently -- in the absence of a change of heart -- Judas could find no place for repentance.

FISH... AND... BREAD: This was as unexpected as the washing of the disciples' feet had been. Though Christ has now risen from the dead and transcended the limits of humanity, yet he has not forgotten our needs. The immortal Christ is still the servant of his followers: Joh 13:12-16.

Joh 21:10

They are invited to add "their" catch to his! The meal of fellowship is made up of contributions from all -- to be shared by all.

Joh 21:11

Peter, by himself, is now more powerful than all 7 men had been earlier (v 6). This act: typical of his work in Act 2:37-41, where the "fisher of men" hauls in the gospel "net"!

153: (1) Gematria (numerical value of individual letters) in Heb of "sons of God"; (2) 153 species of fish known to ancient people, as if these "fish" were from every possible sort (elect, out of EVERY nation); (3) "The text of the Law was divided into 153 parts -- so as to be read in 3 years of Sabbaths: 3 x 51; (4) a "pyramid" number: 1 + 2 + 3... + 16 + 17 = 153! (5) 3 x (50+1) = 153 soldiers in the days of Elijah: 2Ki 1,2.

THE NET WAS NOT TORN: Suggesting unity, as in the cloak of Jesus (Joh 19:23,24).

Joh 21:12

See VL: Disciples, awe of Jesus.

COME AND HAVE BREAKFAST: 'Forget your concerns for your own subsistence, or for your former way of life. I will take care of you.' Cp Mat 6:33...

Come and eat -- the invitation of Jesus. And in the eating we shall know that he is the Lord! And what shall we eat? The only meal worth having: "Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him. Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me" (Joh 6:54-57).

Joh 21:14

THE THIRD TIME: Perhaps the third time on a Sunday!

Joh 21:15

Vv 15-17: In these 3 vv, Jesus uses, in succession, "agape", "agape", and "phileo", and Peter uses "phileo" all three times. The 3-fold restoration and commission (Feed/tend my flock) corresponds to Peter's 3-fold denial.)

SIMON: The old name, not the new. A rebuke?

SON OF JOHN: A fisherman too? As though Peter were still a prisoner of the past.

DO YOU TRULY LOVE ME...: See Lesson, Peter: The look.

MORE THAN THESE?: (1) More than these other men do (based on Mat 26:33,35)? (2) More than you love these other men? (Wouldn't the answer to this be obvious?) (3) More than you love these fish (ie your former profession)? (WGos 830-832 argues for this, on basis of general context.) Grammatically, any of the 3 is possible.

Further on the first possibility above, NET renders: "Do you love me more than these DO?" It seems likely that there is some irony here: Peter had boasted in Joh 13:37, "I will lay down my life for you," and elsewhere Peter boasted even more explicitly of his loyalty to Jesus ("Even if they all fall away, I will not": Mat 26:33; Mar 14:29). Thus the semantic force of what Jesus asks Peter here amounts to something like: 'Now, after you have denied me three times, as I told you you would, can you still affirm that you love me more than these other disciples do?' The addition of the auxiliary verb "do" in NET is used to suggest to the English reader the first interpretation above, which is the preferred one.

FEED MY LAMBS: This and the similar exhortations in vv 16,17 demonstrate that the test of true love is obedience. Not just Peter, but others, are told to feed sheep: Act 20:28; 1Pe 5:1-3.

Joh 21:17

DO YOU LOVE ME?: "Phileo": 'Do you EVEN have brotherly affection for me?'

YOU KNOW THAT I LOVE YOU: "Phileo". Peter refuses to assume the greater love -- he has learned his lesson about boasting.

FEED MY SHEEP: "We all have gifts to give. Some gifts are highly visible and praised and acknowledged often, others are unseen and unacknowledged by most. Do we know the gifts and care that we give to the flock? Do we have gifts that we have been reluctant to bring forth because we feel they are not good enough or that someone else seems to do it better? Let us not be afraid to tend to the flock. We may not do it perfectly, but that is not what Christ was saying to Peter. He said that if we love him then the next thing is to feed his flock. We all have spiritual food to share. We all can reach out and care for the flock. It doesn't have to be in a public forum or place. We all can think of a person right now who would benefit from a call or visit from us. Let us not limit our ecclesial interactions to the scheduled meetings times, but truly feed Christ's flock throughout the week. We have plenty of time for other diversions -- do we have time to feed the flock? And I have always found that, when I do make time for care of the flock, I am fed and cared for all the more. The greater gift is definitely to me. Thank You, Lord Jesus, for all your wisdom and love!" (CPv).

Joh 21:18

Cp 1Pe 2:19-25; 2Pe 1:14. Purpose of these last vv: to show ultimate ends of the two leading apostles: Peter to die by crucifixion; John to live many years, until Christ "comes" to him in Patmos.

Joh 21:20

As they walked along the shore (after the meal?), Peter follows Jesus (v 19), and then turns to see John following also...

THE ONE WHO HAD LEANED BACK AGAINST JESUS: Ref another incident (Joh 13) where Peter was more concerned about another apostle than himself!

Joh 21:21

LORD, WHAT ABOUT HIM?: 'But this man, what?' That is, 'How shall HE die? Am I alone to be singled out for suffering?' Such a question is wrong. Each person is tried according to God's will (Rom 8:28). We must not question our fate -- it is in God's hands.

Joh 21:22

IF I WANT...: Our lives are ordered by Christ. What he wants is what will happen. Who can protest such an arrangement? Is it wise even to know what those arrangements will be? Surely it is best that our curiosity to know the future remain unsatisfied.

YOU MUST FOLLOW ME: The cure for anxieties about the future is: "Follow me." The longer we follow, the clearer the path will be: Pro 4:18.

Joh 21:23

But John did, of course, die. Tradition, then, was of no consequence compared to the word of Christ. A good lesson: even a "rumor spread among the brothers" is not sufficient foundation on which to base truth!

Joh 21:24

See Lesson, Bible formulated.

THIS IS THE DISCIPLE...: John is the witness here, fulfilling Christ's words (Joh 15:26,27).

WE...: An added testimony perhaps from Ephesian elders (CJo 233), or of the 12 apostles together.

Joh 21:25

EVEN THE WHOLE WORLD WOULD NOT HAVE ROOM FOR THE BOOKS: Only a silly exaggeration? Or something unexpectedly meaningful? Perhaps the "word made flesh" (Joh 1:12-14) in each of us? "The gospel according to" George, or William, or Allen, or Barbara, etc? The exciting revelation that Christ is still working today: "which Jesus did / does". Writing the "book" of each believer's life. Thus, (1) the things which Jesus has done in every age since; (2) the things which Jesus is doing with each of us today.

See Article, Little things in John, the.

HAVE ROOM: Overflowing, as in Isa 11:9.


"Three years, and half a year -- so short a space
To listen to his voice and see his face --
Yet, O incredible! those years unrolled
Wonders the very world could scarcely hold.

"Sometimes his words were hard to reconcile,
As if he warned, prepared; but we would smile
And put them from us as if we had not heard,
With childish question or with heedless word.

"Dead? Raise to life? We could not understand.
He was the leader of our little band,
Our friend, our Master, and so much beside --
How further his great purpose if he died?

"He was not always grave, nor we in awe;
Only the golden present time we saw
And it sufficed us, learning every hour
New gifts of healing, and new words of power.
We walked with him by Galilee, while he
Trod the dark shadows of Gethsemane.

"In those last days some high distinction grew,
A strange, disturbing difference, and I knew,
Yet without knowing, that the time was near
When we should mourn, sometimes I seemed to hear
A cadence in his speech as yet unknown.
And in his eyes a look as though alone
He heard his Father speaking to him there
And loved to listen, yet could hardly bear
The growing consciousness of all it meant
To tread the fearsome path where he was sent.

"This was his burden and his glory, borne
As he alone could bear it, till the torn
Last shreds of self dropped from him, and the clear
Light of the spirit shone at last austere.

"So passed our Lord through life, and made it sing
And glow transcendent by his tarrying.
Marred beyond all, and past all telling fair,
So went our Lord to death... I am John... I was there..."

(Edith Ladson).

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