AN EXPOSITION OF JOHN’S GOSPEL CHAPTER TWENTY ONE
ROBERT GOVETT, M. A.
‘After these things Jesus manifested Himself again to His disciples at sea of Tiberias; and it was in this manner that He manifested Himself.’
Jesus is said to manifest Himself now; because, while He was aware of their movements, they could not see Him, unless He was pleased to show Himself to them. This was suited to His new resurrection-life, and preparatory to His ascent, which, however, John names not. He manifests Himself. Who is John? or who is Peter? in presence of His so great Majesty. He shows Himself in wisdom and power, superior far to theirs.
This appendix to John’s Gospel confirms the authenticity of the addition to Mark’s. Both are genuine. This is in the style of John. It carries its own evidence of reality with it, in its simplicity, power, and the Divine wisdom and grace with which the difficult task of restoring Peter after his fall is handled. No writer of fiction would ever have so treated the matter. Why was it added? Many reasons, doubtless, there were in the mind of God. But one strong reason, as it seems to the writer, was that it was intended to refute by facts the Gnostic idea - that Jesus after resurrection was not the same being of divine wisdom and power that He was before His death. And here He is seen, not indeed partaking of food, but providing it for disciples - aye, even animal food, to the errorists peculiarly obnoxious.
‘There were together
Simon Peter, and Thomas called Didymus,
and Nathanael of Cana in
sacred number seven here re-appears among the disciples. The eighth person is the
Risen One; eight
being the number of resurrection. Thomas
the doubter is there, but he doubts no more. Peter
is there, and now he is to be restored
to his lost place and spirit. There
also James and John, the sons of Zebedee.
Here alone they are
called so. But it
serves John’s purpose, thus to withdraw
his own name from prominence. They
Peter has the leader’s spirit. It is not, ‘Shall we go fishing?’ He has already decided it, and his energy draws others after him. Jesus does not rebuke this turning to their nets and boats. For it was excused by His word (Luke 22: 36). ‘He that hath a purse let him take it, and likewise a scrip.’ But by this event He would put an end to the catching of fish: henceforth the apostles were to take men. Now, too, the catching was to be followed by partaking. John, with his usual modesty, puts himself and his brother last of the apostles who are named.
4-6. ‘But when morning had already come, Jesus stood on the beach but the disciples know not that it was Jesus. Saith therefore to them Jesus, "Little children, have ye any thing to eat?" They answered Him, "No!" But He said unto them, "Cast the net on the right side of the ship, and ye shall find." They cast, therefore, and now they were not able to drag it up, because of the multitude of the fishes.’
His resurrection Jesus is no longer ever by their side as before, but
and goes at unexpected times, He knows their need, and is about to
supply it. But it
is not in
Jesus is on the land: He is on the firm element of eternity. He does not now sit on board their barks as before. They are fishing now; it is their time of labour in this unquiet world.
They were unable to lift up on deck out of the waters the vast weight of fish. But they were able to draw it through the water - a much less difficult operation. The net is the same as before, the lake and the fishermen are the same; the difference lies in the blessing given of God. In their vain toil we see the inefficiency of man left to himself. In their success the power of God. Jesus has Himself to complain (in Isaiah 49,) of His unsuccess.
The miracle in Luke was preparatory to the call of Peter, James, and John. This later one was to show that they were to bid adieu to their earthly calling, and devote themselves to the apostleship, and its nobler work. There is a stranger on the beach at early morn. Who it is they know not, but He will discover Himself by His word and work.
His address is simple: such as any stranger might use. ‘Lads! have you any provision on board?’ Christ would attract their attention to their previous toil, and its want of success. Those who go out in their own wisdom, and relying on their own strength, have oft to learn their feebleness and inability; and the Most High would lead us to note it.
But now a blessing is to come upon obedience. The voice of the Son of man enters into their unfavourable circumstances, to supply all their wants. They obey the stranger’s advice, and great is the reward. In place of their many vain casts, this one brings a great haul.
Let us now compare the present incident with the earlier one related by Luke. The Saviour, after preaching to the multitude, bids Peter launch out into the deep, and let down the nets for a draught. Peter replies, ‘Teacher, we have been labouring through all the night, and have caught nothing, but at Thy word I will let down the net.’
Observe the blended good humour and unbelief of Peter! The Teacher had bid them let down all their nets. Peter will cast one of them. Jesus bids him let them down for a take of fish. Peter has no idea of such a thing. ‘What! After toiling all the proper time for fishing, and taking naught, are we to try in the hot sun, and close to shore? What will other fishermen say of so foolish a proceeding? This man may be a very excellent teacher, but what can He know about fishing? We know this water well; were brought up to it from boys. However, I will let down one of the nets, just to please Him; and then He will learn by the practical results what a foolish idea His was!’ He does. And the result amazes him. Had the other nets been cast, they had taken in part the strain from off this one; now the stress is so great, that the net keeps rending all along. Now they want all their partners’ help to secure the fish. They are so filled, that they are laden to the water’s edge. See, then, how Peter’s thoughts are overturned! In this book-learned man, who knows nothing about fishing, he has found One who knows and can do vastly more than himself. He blames himself sorely, then, for his unbelief. Who is this that does such things? ‘Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, 0 Lord.’
How soon can the Lord change discouragement into joy! We look to the ordinary current of things, and imagine that all must run its usual course, and maintain the average level. But the Christian’s eye should be on Him who is able at a moment to alter all for good, and so to revive his work, that there shall not be power to overtake all the results of good.
7, 8. ‘Saith therefore that disciple whom Jesus loved to Peter, "It is the Lord." Simon Peter, therefore, hearing that it is the Lord, girt round him his fisher’s coat, for he was naked, and cast himself into the sea. But the other disciples came in the little vessel, for they were not far from the land, but about two hundred cubits off, dragging the net with the fishes through the water.’
John is the first to discover Jesus by the instinct of love. He gives Him His title of ‘the Lord’. This may answer in Hebrew to one of two words (1) Adonai, or (2) Jehovah. The Saviour was discovering Himself as the Son of Man exalted over all things, specially over the fish of the sea, and whatsoever passeth through the paths of the seas. Peter at once displays himself as the man of directness and action. He will not wait for the slow punting of the vessel to land. He will dash through the water to the Lord. Thus Peter is not supreme in discernment, but in energy; he is led by John. God gives different gifts to different disciples at His pleasure.
But here is great advance. Peter has fallen, since the miracle narrated by Luke: and has displayed that he is ‘a sinful man’ beyond what he thought. But he has learned, too, that this Teacher of his early thoughts is the Lord of Grace who ‘receiveth sinners and eateth with them.’ He does not ask Jesus, then, to depart from him; on the contrary, he will overcome all obstacles to join Him.
But he is found naked and feels that he must not present himself thus to the Lord of all. He clothes himself, therefore, with his fisherman’s smock-frock, and swims ashore. This may remind us of Paul’s word -"If at least being clothed," [with our resurrection-body] we shall not be found naked’ [of good works.]
The other disciples follow Peter more slowly to the land in their vessel in the ordinary mode, and are at so little distance from the beach that they arrive at it almost as soon as Peter, although they have to drag the net with its weight of fish.
9-11. ‘When then they had come away to the land they see a fire of coals laid, and a fish lying thereon, and bread. Saith to them Jesus - "Bring some of the fish which ye have now caught." Simon Peter then went up and drew the net on to the land, full of great fishes, an hundred and fifty-three; and although they were so many, the net was not torn.’
result is before them; but the hands that had laid it, they saw not. There is much untold, much
not to be known
here. John had told
us before of the
feeding of the multitude in
Whence came that fire of coals, that fish, and that bread? We cannot say: we can only guess that it was by the ministry of angels, at the word of the Lord of all. They ministered to Him in the days of His flesh: much more are they at His beck now.
Jesus calls them 'the fish which they had then taken.’ The Saviour will gladly own His people’s co-operation with Him in the work, although the power and blessing come from Himself. Yet He bids us look on to the day, when the sowers and the reapers shall rejoice together, over the fruit gathered in to life eternal.
The disciples had fed Him before, on the first day of His resurrection, on a piece of broiled fish and a honey-comb. He now feeds them in return. He has been aware of their want, of success, their fatigue, their discouragement, and their hunger; and lo, unexpectedly their wants are supplied, and their souls encouraged. Poor Christian! Around you may be no visible supply of your need. But you serve a Master who has all hearts and means at His disposal; and who can furnish a table and provisions on the sea-beach! Christian in difficulty! you are discouraged by previous disappointment; perhaps, because you have left the Lord out of the matter, thinking it too small an affair to bring to the Great Master of all. Look up now to the Lord your Shepherd! See here His goodness and power!
The Apostles shall help to furnish the table. The Lord could do all alone. But in His grace he will have us to be co-workers with Him. They had now caught a wealth of fish, who before had been so cast down by failure.
is something to be done. And
despite his dripping clothes, is the man to do it. It
would seem as if he did it alone. The net
has been left just at the edge of the water. He
draws it up on the land, and throws out and
counts the fishes. ‘Great fishes’ - filling the
net - ‘a hundred-and-fifty three.’
Why is the number
given? It is not
easily said. But
there is some meaning in it. The
number given is a part of the book of God,
and of the Gospel of His grace; and there is nothing idle there. Some suggest that it was
because it was a
general idea of those times, that the number of the nations of the
world was a
hundred-and-fifty-three, and that this haul of fish was intended to
salvation of some out of every tribe and tongue. Though
there were so many, the net now does
not rend. Perhaps
it was typical of the
day, when, after Jesus’ reappearing, Israelite messengers shall be sent
nations to lead them to
12. ‘Saith to them, Jesus, "Come and breakfast!" Now none of the disciples dared ask Him - "Who art Thou ?" - knowing that it is the Lord.’
This scene shows us that the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New are one; that the God of creation is also the God of the Gospel: a truth quite contrary to Gnostic speculations. After the long night of Gospel toil, Jesus shall meet His workmen on the firm land of the promised heritage, and on the glorious morn of resurrection
13, 14. ‘Jesus cometh, and taketh the bread and giveth to them, and the .fish likewise. This is already the third time that Jesus was manifested to the disciples after His resurrection from the dead.'
It seems to have been a silent meal. None doubted, or durst ask, who was the stranger that spread the feast? It was the Lord! His hand was on the fish. He supplied, as Jehovah, the table, in the midst of His foes.
Jesus takes the first place. He is the host, and they His guests, to whom He distributes. It is not said, that on this occasion He partook with them. He would let us know, that while the Risen One can eat, He is not now, as those who are in their animal state, dependent on the supply of food. But against the deceits abroad in the latter day, He sanctions anew the use of animal food. On this question - food - Satan at first overthrew men; he will again, at this point, make a new breach, and enter in. 'What right have you to kill, and feed upon the dead? How cruel and unwarrantable to take away a life you cannot give! No wonder man is so savage and cruel, when he lives on flesh! Are not the fruits of the earth sufficient, that you must go down to the sea, and peril your own life upon that treacherous element, in order to take away the lives of the creatures that disport themselves there?’ What is to be our anchor, against this new wind of doctrine? The Scripture! God’s grant of animals for food in Noah’s day, and the Saviour’s continual sanction of it, and of the use of fish especially - before His death. and after His resurrection!
15. ‘When, therefore, they had breakfasted, Jesus saith to Simon Peter, "Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou Me more than these?" He saith unto Him, "Yea, Lord, thou knowest that I have a friendship for Thee." He saith unto him, "Feed My lambs." ’
Divine wisdom and grace shine forth in the Saviour’s treatment of the penitent apostle. Most men would have felt that all further intercourse was cut off between Jesus and him who had, after warning, denied all knowledge of Him with oaths and curses. The Lord would restore Him in grace. He does not then reproach him. He does not separate him from His company, and from the company of his fellow-apostles, as is commanded in cases of flagrant sin. ‘With such an one no, not to eat.’ He seats him at the board which he has spread. He does not allude to the past, till the meal was ended. The like would never occur again in the apostle’s life. He would die a martyr. But still it was not wise, that no notice should be taken of so heavy a fall; a fall both personal and official. The offence had been public, and now Jesus touches the root of the matter; the apostle’s too high thoughts of himself and his powers. How much of trouble and mischief would have been spared to the ancient churches of Christ in the days of the Roman heathenism, if they had taken this as their model of dealing with a fallen brother! Many refused ever to reaccept to communion one, who, under stress persecution, had sacrificed to heathen gods, to save his life.
Our Lord addresses him now by his old name of nature. ‘Simon, son of Jonas.’ He had shown himself not to be the ‘Rock’ in his late encounter with Satan. He is called, then, by the name of his earthly father. And the Master questions his love to Him. There is a remarkable change and play of words in this narrative, which is difficult to render into exactly equivalent English. Jesus uses one word to express love. Peter uses one implying a less degree; which might best, I think, be translated by, ‘I have a friendship for Thee.’
‘Lovest thou Me more than these?’ In the concluding word of this sentence the Saviour alludes to Peter’s boastful words of unbelief. Jesus had said, ‘All ye shall be stumbled because of Me this night.’ Peter answered and said, ‘Though all should be stumbled because of Thee, yet will I never be stumbled,’ Matt. 26: 31-33. He had thus proudly taken a stand above the other disciples, only to fall far worse than they. Jesus, then, touches his too high thoughts of himself, and the unjust assumption of a height of love above that of his fellow-apostles.
But his fall has done him good; has abated his high ideas of his superior love and steadfastness. He will not now affirm any superiority over others. He will only assert to Christ his friendship; resting for proof now, not on his own asseveration, but on His knowledge to Whom all hearts were open.
Jesus bids him, ‘Feed My lambs.’ They would need gentle dealing; and Peter’s sense of his weakness would be a good internal preparation for intercourse with the young and infirm in the faith. Inasmuch as he fell, being tempted, he was prepared to speak in grace to those weak and tempted. He was, then, accredited by Christ with this charge. When a man has been ejected from his land, and is by law reinstated, a sheriff’s officer puts into his hand a sod of the land, in token that the property is legally his once more. So Jesus puts into Peter’s hand this service to youthful Christians. It is so connected with love to Christ in the Saviour’s first question, as to hint to us the important truth, that such service can only be undertaken, and executed aright through the love of Christ as its motive. In the Saviour’s case we see how the firmness of love can be combined with its gentleness.
16. ‘He saith again the second time, "Simon, son of Jonas, lovest Thou Me?" He saith to him, "Yea, Lord, Thou knowest I have a friendship for Thee." He saith unto him, "Shepherd My sheep." ’
Peter’s denials had brought his love into public question; therefore, though the Saviour knew his heart, He again enquires as one not fully satisfied. Peter answers as before, substituting a word of less feeling than that of our Lord, as marking his sentiments towards Christ. The Saviour makes this profession the occasion of restoring to him his place over the elders of the flock. He says, ‘My sheep.’ ‘My lambs.’ The flock is not Peter’s, but Christ’s. Nor does Peter ever assert it; whatever use some may make of Peter’s supposed rights. He speaks of Christ as ‘the chief Shepherd’, and of himself as only ‘fellow-elder’, and ‘under-shepherd’ (1 Pet. 5: 1-9).
Jesus takes the place of Jehovah. Even the earthly flock of
17. ‘Jesus saith to him the third time, "Simon, son of Jonas, hast thou a friendship for Me?" Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, "Hast thou a friendship for Me?" and he said unto Him, "Lord, Thou knowest all things; Thou knowest that I have a friendship for Thee." Jesus saith unto him, "Feed My sheep." ’
This third time of calling Peter’s love in question is most manifestly in allusion to Jesus’ threefold warning of his fall, and to Peter’s nine-fold denials - three for each warning. Christ still calls him by his name as a child of Adam. This third time grieves Peter. Doubtless it was saddening to have even his asserted friendship for Christ questioned, and that before the other apostles. Doubtless it touched him the more closely, that it brought back to memory the hour of his self-confidence, and of his fall. But it was a wound with a view to heal. And it was effectual. Even with the martyr’s death in its most cruel form before him, Peter denied no more. But he now asserts Jesus’ omniscience, which before he had questioned, when on that night the Lord had foretold Peter’s fall.
He appeals now not to his own feelings - as if Christ could not be aware of their depth and sincerity, or He never would have spoken of him as he had done - but he appeals to Christ, as the reader of all hearts, that he had the sentiments which he had asserted. Here is Gospel grace. The Lord restores after a fall. How unlike to the treatment of Eli under Law!
This profession again, is met on our Lord’s part by a committing to him His sheep! This was not constituting Peter supreme over the other apostles, as, for instance, over John. These three commissions were not so much to Peter’s credit, as a reminding him of his sin. The absence of them was a glory to John. Jesus never thus questions John's love. But for the third time we have it intimated to us, that love to Christ is the alone true and stable foundation of service to Christ’s flock. He is no shepherd owned of Christ, who, however consecrated by men, has neither faith nor love to Christ.
Again, we learn that Jesus is the true and central object of love to all His people. Thus once more He tacitly asserts His Godhead. For who, save our Creator and Preserver, may challenge our undivided love as the principle of our service? ‘Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart.'
18. ‘Verily, verily, I say unto thee, when thou wert younger, thou usedst to gird thyself, and walkedst where thou wouldest, but when thou shalt become old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, and bear thee whither thou wouldest not.’
Jesus in resurrection shows Himself the same person in look, in speech, in power, as before His death. Here we have His characteristic - ‘Verily, verily, I say.’ He now discovers Himself as the Prophet. Though Peter had once denied Him, his faith at last would be so firm as to stand the sorest shock. The Lord had already said - ‘Whither I go, thou canst not follow Me now, but thou shalt follow Me hereafter.’* This He expands. At the close of his service for Christ and His Church, Peter would endure the martyr’s death. He would suffer even the kind of death endured by our Lord. The Saviour speaks of it, in contrast with his youthful energy and independence. There is an allusion to his previously described conduct in this miraculous draught of fishes. There we read of Peter’s girding himself, and plunging into the sea alone of the apostles. But in his old age, he would be arrested, and bound, and carried, probably on some vehicle (as we read of Polycarp), to execution. His stretching forth his hands, and his helplessness, allude to his arms thrown and nailed apart in crucifixion. Where and when did this take place? There is variety of testimony, and nothing certain.
also has an inference to the time of Christ’s
‘Whither thou wouldest not.’ How wise and temperate the Scripture! It is not - ‘Thou shalt go joyfully to death.’ Even where the spirit quells the flesh, the martyr’s death, specially by crucifixion, must give the soul a shock. We see in the Lord Himself a moment’s pause.
19. ‘This He said, hinting by what kind of death He would glorify God. And when He had spoken this, He said - "Follow Me."’
Death to those in Christ is now no longer the dread penalty of the Law inflicted on the guilty culprit. It is a falling asleep in Christ; which opens to the departed a new world and a vision of Christ, which is very far better than this life. What the mode of death of each of the saints shall be, we know not. But borne with faith, it glorifies God. We may be thankful that its time and mode are arranged by our Father on high. Peter’s was a cruel death, but it glorified God. It showed how firm his faith, how strong his hope and confidence in Christ. ‘The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.’ ‘If we with Him suffer, we shall with Him reign.’
The Saviour’s last words to Peter and to us are - ‘Follow Me!’ Our great Captain of salvation has gone first, and it is ours to tread in His steps. With Him the Father was ever well pleased. And all that God desires is summed up in a following of Christ. This, in relation to Peter’s case, more definitely foretold His death by crucifixion. The tradition is that Peter declared himself to his persecutors unworthy to die as his Lord and Master had done; and hence he begged them to crucify him with his head downward. His request, it is said, was complied with. Thus again he glorified God.
20-22. ‘Peter having turned, seeth the disciple whom Jesus loved following, (who also reclined on His breast at the supper, and said, "Lord, who is it that betrayeth Thee? ") Peter, on seeing him, saith to Jesus, "Lord, and what of him?" Saith to him Jesus, "If I wish him to remain till I come, what is that to thee? Do thou follow me."’
Peter having a peculiar friendship for John, and knowing also Jesus’ love for John, desired to learn of our Lord as a prophet what end should befall John, their mutual friend? John’s description of himself, here fuller than elsewhere, points to the mutual love which reigned between him and our Lord. At Peter’s request, John had asked the Lord - Who was the betrayer? and had obtained a reply. Peter now asks for John, but gets no direct reply. This does not, then, manifest Peter’s superiority but the reverse. The Saviour’s answer is in part a rebuke. It is the reply of a Sovereign, who does not narrate to every one his counsels. He assumes that all shall be regulated by His will. Here again, the Divine Majesty shines out. ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will do all My Pleasure.’ Our own path is of prime importance to us. How many turn aside to look at others instead of minding their own work! Of ourselves we shall give account.
what did Jesus mean by John’s abiding till He came? Strange
and untrue guesses are uttered
concerning it. (1) ‘It meant
that John would over-live
the destruction of
(2) Some make it John’s writing the Apocalypse concerning our Lord’s advent. (3) Some, more strangely still, make it the believer’s death. Now that is his going to be with Christ, but not Christ’s coming, which takes effect once for all on His people, both the living and the dead. That idea is the more unsuited, because the next verse tells us that the disciple of that day understood the Lord Jesus to mean that John should not die. They believed and hoped that the Lord might come before their death, really and in person; and that is to be our hope too. It is the Scripture hope, set before the whole Church; and it has not altered, in spite of passing centuries of the Lord’s tarrying.
Jesus prophesied to Paul and Peter of their individual death. But our hope is the being caught away to Christ without death. The verse which immediately follows was probably added after John’s death, to obviate the stumbling of some, as if our Lord’s word had failed.
the two next verses are from the hands of some uninspired person, I
doubt; convinced both by internal and external evidence. They are of no more value
than the notes at
the end of Epistles; such as the subscription to Titus. ‘Written
to Titus, ordained the first bishop of the church of
the Cretans, from Nicopolis,
The general lesson derivable from the concluding verses of this Gospel is, that the Saviour’s disciples are distributable into two classes, with reference to their end. Either we shall fall asleep before Christ comes; [or we shall be rapt into heaven before the Great Tribulation, (Luke 21: 36)]; or we shall be alive on earth at His advent. In which of these classes shall we be found? We do not know. It is not designed we should. We are to watch and follow Christ!
F. E. BATSON
* ‘Anthrakia’ a ‘fire of coals’, occurs twice: when Peter denied his Lord (John 18: 18); and when the risen Saviour invites a group of His disciples, including Peter, to the meal He has prepared (John 21: 9).
rebuke nor withering
wrought so much that wondrous morn,
For as Peter
looked on the glowing coal,
shame and remorse
swept o’er his soul,
And thoughts piere’d and burnt,
like sword and fire,
As he gazed
upon this Anthrakia.*
For he saw himself yet once again
In the high
priest’s hall, of reputed fame,
Remember’d the oath,
the curse, the lie,
When there he
did his Lord deny,
As man and
maid would of him enquire
When he stood
with the crowd at Anthrakia
Yet, behold, what wondrous love return’d
By the One
whose name he had so spurn’d;
Those nail-piere’d hands could a
And a tender
voice had called him there;
And a heart o’erflowing with
for him this Anthrakia.
Beloved, in this cold world around,
and strife are everywhere found,
may deny us, and
loved ones forsake,
And foes look
upon us in envy and
such grace, let us all aspire,
With the warmth of our Saviour's Anthrakia.