John: Chapter 21
Let’s begin by reading (John 21:1-14).
(Verses 1-2) Seven (a significant Biblical number) disciples have gathered at the “Sea of Tiberius,” which is another name for the “Sea of Galilee.” (The “Sea of Tiberius” is used only here, and in Jn 6:1.) These 7 disciples are: Peter, Thomas, Nathanael, James, John, and two other disciples (either: Andrew, Matthew, Philip, Simon, Judas [not Iscariot]).
(Verse 3) “Peter said to them I am going fishing” and the other 6 went too. “That night, they caught nothing.”
Notice that they were “fishing at night.” This was apparently a common practice, because at night, many fish would move to the shallows, later moving to deeper waters when day came. (Notice in Verse 8, that when Jesus appears to them, they are “not far from land,” about “two hundred cubits,” or 100 yards from shore.)
Why had they “caught nothing?” Were they prevented from catching anything so that Jesus could perform His miracle? Was it because they had returned to their former occupations, when Jesus had called them out of that? Was it because they aren’t shown to have prayed first?
(Verse 4) “But when the morning was now come, Jesus stood on the shore: but the disciples knew not that it was Jesus.”
Why do you think the disciples didn’t “know” it was Jesus?
(Verse 5) “Then Jesus saith unto them, Children, have ye any meat? They answered him, No.”
The disciples may have thought that the “man” was wanting to purchase some of their fish. If so, having to answer “No” would have been an embarrassment to them after fishing all night.
(Verse 6) “And 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 draw it for the multitude of fishes.”
It is interesting to me that even though they thought a stranger was speaking to them, they still obeyed him, and cast their nets again.
(Verse 7) “Therefore that disciple whom Jesus loved saith unto Peter, It is the Lord.”
How did John suddenly know it was Jesus? Let’s turn to (Lk 5:1-11) for a likely explanation.
Notice at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, when He first calls the disciples, He says that He will make them, “fishers of men” (Mt 4:19)(Lk 5:10). He spent about 3 years preparing them for this task. Now, at the end of His earthly ministry, the disciples are prepared to “catch the fish.” We will see this taking place in Acts.
(Verse 7)(NASB) “So when Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his outer garment (for he was stripped for work), and threw himself into the sea.”
Of course, impetuous Peter immediately jumps into the water. Given his 3 previous denials of Jesus (Jn 18:17-27)(Mt 26:69-75)(Mk 14:66-72)(Lk 22:55-62), he may have been the most excited to see him again.
Doesn’t it seem odd that Peter would “put on his outer garment” before jumping into the sea? Wouldn’t that make it harder to swim? My NIV Study Bible gives this possible explanation: “Jews regarded a greeting as a religious act that could be done only when one was fully clothed. Peter may have been preparing himself to greet the Lord.”
(Verses 8-9) “And the other disciples came in a little ship… dragging the net with fishes. (9) As soon then as they were come to land, they saw a fire of coals there, and fish laid thereon, and bread.”
So, the first question that comes to mind is, “Where did Jesus get the fish that were on the fire??”
Where was the last time we saw a “fire of coals” (Gr. “anthrakia“)? When Peter was warming himself over a “fire of coals” while he betrayed Jesus (Jn 18:18).
(Verse 11)(NASB) “So Simon Peter went up and hauled the net to land, full of large fish, 153”
Why “153” fish? It is incredible how many theories are out there about why the number “153” is significant! I would guess I have seen at least 15 theories. Here are a few:
1. This was the total number of species of fish in the world, signifying that the Gospel (“fishing for men”) would be taken to all of the world.
2. This was the total number of known nations (or “languages”), signifying that the Gospel (“fishing for men”) would be taken to all of the world.
3. This was the total number of people Jesus “blessed” in the Gospels.
4. The number of times the tetragrammaton (the four-letter Hebrew word for God: YHWH) is found in Genesis is 153.
5. The Greek letters for “Mary Magdalene” add up to 153.
THIS was interesting to me (I am not saying it is right though):
If you add the numbers 1,2,3,4….up to “17,” you get 153. This puts an emphasis on the number “17.” Why is this significant? If you go to Pentecost (which would occur shortly afterwards) in (Acts 2:5-11), we see that when the Holy Spirit was given, and “tongues” were spoken, the number of nations that heard the tongues in their own language was “17” (“Jews and proselytes from Rome” two separate people)! This seems to indicate that all nations would be able to receive the Holy Spirit!
***Note: If you start with 1 at the top, 2 & 3 in the next row, 4 & 5 & 6, in the next row, etc. up to 153, you will get a perfect triangular shape called the “Vesica Piscis.” (Look it up if you want more info.) You will also get this same “perfect triangular shape” if you start with the number 1 at the top and go to the number “666” (Rev 13:17-18 – the name of the beast), or if you start with the number 1 and go to the number “276” (Acts 27:37 – the number of people saved in the shipwreck with Paul). Fascinating!!??
(Verse 11)(NASB) “and although there were so many, the net was not torn.”
Remember when we read in (Lk 5:6) that “their net was breaking” because of the number of fish? Notice here that their “net was not torn.” Do you think this is significant? Why?
(Verse 12)(NKJV) “Yet none of the disciples dared ask Him, “Who are You?” – knowing that it was the Lord.”
Another question: What do you think this verse means?
(Verse 13)(NASB) “Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and the fish likewise.”
A common question is, “Will we eat in Heaven?” Remember here that Jesus is now in a glorified body, like the body we will one day receive (Phil 3:21)(1 Cor 15:48-49)(1 Jn 3:2). He is “eating breakfast” (see: verse 15) with the disciples here in His glorified body, and in (Lk 24:41-43) He is shown eating a piece of broiled fish.
(Verse 14) “This is now the third time that Jesus shewed himself to his disciples, after that he was risen from the dead.”
The “key” words here are: “to His disciples.” He previously appeared to them in (Jn 20:19-23) and (Jn 20:26-29). However, these are not the ONLY times that Jesus appeared after His Resurrection. He also appeared to the following:
#1. To Mary Magdalene: (Mk 16:9-11)(Jn 20:11-18)
#2. To two people, one named Cleopas, on the way to Emmaus: (Mk 16:12-13)(Lk 24:13-35)
#3. To Peter: (Lk 24:34)(1 Cor 15:5)
#4. To the 11 disciples on a mountain in Galilee: (Mt 28:16-20)
#5. To the disciples before His ascension at the Mount of Olives: (Mk 16:15-19)(Lk 24:50-52)(Acts 1:3-10)
#6. To more than 500: (1 Cor 15:6)
#7. To James (Jesus’ brother): (1 Cor 15:7)
Finally, lets read (Jn 21:15-25).
These verses show us why it can be important to look at the original Greek (or Hebrew) words used in the Bible. In English, we have one word for “love.” However, in the Greek language there are several words used for “love.” Two of them are used in these three verses. When the word “agapao” is used, Jesus is speaking about self-sacrificial, committed, servanthood kind of “love.” On the other hand, when the word “phileo” is used, it is speaking about an intense, affectionate, intimate kind of “love” (like we would have with our family).
Keeping this in mind, let’s look at these three verses with the Greek words added.
(Jn 21:15-17) “So when they had dined, Jesus saith to Simon Peter, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest (agapao) thou me more than these? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love (phileo) thee. He saith unto him, Feed my lambs. (16) He saith to him again the second time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest (agapao) thou me? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love (phileo) thee. He saith unto him, Feed my sheep. (17) He saith unto him the third time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest (phileo) thou me? Peter was grieved because he said unto him the third time, Lovest (phileo) thou me? And he said unto him, Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love (phileo) thee. Jesus saith unto him, Feed my sheep.
In other words, twice Jesus asks Peter if he has “self-sacrificial, committed, servanthood love” for Him (agapao). Peter replies that he has “intense, affectionate, intimate love” for Him (phileo). Why did Peter change the wording from “agapao” to “phileo?” This is almost certainly because Peter questioned his (agapao) love for Jesus due to his previous “three denials of Him” (see: Jn 18:17-27).
However, notice that the third time Jesus asks Peter if he loves Him (verse 17), He changes His wording from (agapao) to (phileo). It seems as though Jesus is questioning if Peter really has even “phileo” (“intense, affectionate, intimate”) love for Him, doesn’t it? At this question, Peter was “grieved.” He calls upon the omniscience of Jesus to say that He MUST know that he (Peter) has this kind of “love” for Him. (I believe Jesus does know.) So, why did Jesus ask Peter these three questions, and why did He change His wording in the third question?
I believe Jesus was trying to get Peter to understand that while “phileo” love for Him is important (Paul says in 1 Cor 16:22 that if one doesn’t have “phileo” love for Jesus, he is accursed), if Peter said he had “phileo” love for Him, this love should also entail having “self-sacrificial, committed, servanthood love” (agapao). In other words, you cannot claim to have “intense, affectionate, intimate love” (phileo) for Jesus if you don’t also have “self-sacrificial, committed, servanthood love” for Him (agapao).
Peter claimed to have “phileo” love for Jesus, but when it came down to displaying “agapao” love for Jesus (self-sacrificial, committed, servanthood), Peter denied knowing Jesus (3 times). The lesson for Peter, and for us, is that if one claims to have intense, affectionate, intimate “love” for Jesus, Jesus demands TOTAL self-sacrificial, committed, servanthood “love” as well.
I believe this is why Jesus ended each of His three questions with: #1. “Feed My lambs,” #2. “Feed (“Shepherd” in Gr.) My sheep,” #3. “Feed My sheep.” Peter said, “I have “phileo” love for you,” and Jesus replied (paraphrasing), “If you have “phileo” love for me, you will show this love by “feeding my sheep / lambs” (by sacrificing your life, and serving – “agapao” love).
We must remember (Mt 16:18), where Jesus said that He would “build His church” upon Peter. Peter was going to be the chief instrument that Jesus would use to begin the spread the Gospel (which we see in Acts). Jesus was making sure that going forward, Peter understood that not only was his “phileo” love for Jesus important, but his “agapao” love was as well. We can clearly see that Peter received this message from Jesus, because in Acts, Peter did indeed display TOTAL “self-sacrificial, committed, servanthood” love not only for Jesus, but for others. He “fed the sheep / lambs” of Jesus, and he never again denied Jesus, eventually being martyred on a cross, just as Jesus was.
***Note: I believe there is also significance to Jesus asking Peter about his love for Him “3 times,” which was the same number of times that Peter denied Him.
(Verses 18-19)(NASB) “Truly, truly I tell you, when you were younger, you used to put on your belt and walk wherever you wanted; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands and someone else will put your belt on you, and bring you where you do not want to go.” (19) Now He said this, indicating by what kind of death he would glorify God.”
In these verses, Jesus is telling Peter (prophesying) that when he gets older, he will be martyred for his faith in Jesus. “Stretch out your hands” signifies that Peter will be crucified on a cross, just as Jesus was. This happened almost 40 years later (about 66 or 67 A.D.). Tradition tells us that Peter was crucified “upside down,” on an “X” shaped cross, because he felt unworthy to die in the same manner that Jesus did.
In saying that Peter would be crucified for his faith, and that his death would “glorify God,” Jesus is telling Peter that he will remain faithful to Him until the end of his life! Peter indicates in (2 Pet 1:13-15) that the death Jesus prophesied for him was very near at the time he wrote that book.
(Verses 19-20)(NASB) “He (Jesus) said to him, “Follow Me!” (20) Peter turned around and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them…”
It appears that after Jesus told Peter that he would be martyred, He may have turned to leave. He told Peter to “follow” Him, and Peter did so. Peter then turned around to see John (“the disciple whom Jesus loved”) following as well.
(Verse 21)(NASB) “So Peter, upon seeing him, said to Jesus, “Lord, and what about this man?”
Why did Peter want to know what would happen to John? Some speculate that Peter may have been concerned about John’s welfare, and that he might have to die in the same way. This is possible, however, throughout the Gospels we see a little bit of a “competition” between Peter and John. Perhaps a little jealousy? I believe this may be the issue here.
In other words, perhaps Peter is asking, “If I am going to die as a martyr, is “beloved” John going to die this way too?” Let’s look back again at (Jn 20:3-8) for one more example. (Also see: Jn 18:15-16)
(Verses 22-23) “Jesus said to him, “If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow Me!” (23) Therefore this account went out among the brothers, that that disciple would not die; yet Jesus did not say to him that he would not die, but only, “If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you?”
As a result of Jesus’ words, the word apparently was spread that Jesus would return (His “2nd Coming”) before John died. While this did not happen, John was the only disciple that was not martyred, dying a natural death in app. 98 A.D.
***Note: Perhaps there is some significance in the fact that near the end of his life, John ended up writing the book of Revelation, which is almost entirely focused on the 2nd Coming of Jesus. It is also worth noting that because John was the only disciple to survive the destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D., he alone was a witness to the beginning of events leading to the “end times,” and Jesus’ 2nd Coming.
***Lesson: Don’t concern yourself with how God is using, and going to use other people. Focus instead on your own walk with the Lord.
(Verses 24-25) (25) “And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written. Amen.”
John (verse 24) is using what is called “hyperbole” (exaggeration) here. We spoke of this previously in (Jn 12:19), when the phrase “Look, the world has gone after Him!” was used. We see this type of language displayed over and over in the Bible i.e. (Judg 7:12)(Isa 55:12)(Mt 5:29)(Mt 23:24)(Mt 17:20).
In other words, John is saying that Jesus did many more things which he did not record in the book he wrote. However, since God inspired all of Scripture (2 Tim 3:16)(2 Pet 1:20-21), John wrote all that we needed to know about what Jesus did.