John 21:1-25 - Outline of John (MENU page)
21:1. After these things Jesus shewed himself again to the disciples at the sea of Tiberias;
and on this wise shewed he [himself].
21:2 There were together Simon Peter
and Thomas called Didymus
and Nathanael of Cana in Galilee
and the [sons] of Zebedee
{Mat 4:21},
and two other of his disciples.
the sea of Tiberias- is the Sea of Galilee (6:1).
At the end of ch. 20, the disciples were still in Jerusalem. Since then, they had traveled to Galilee, in obedience to the instructions of Jesus and of the angels at the tomb (Mat 26:32; 28:7,10; Mark 16:6-7). Note that in the Mark passage, special attention was given to Peter, who due to his failure (of denying the Lord) might otherwise have drowned in his despondency. In this chapter, the Lord will restore Peter to full fellowship with Him.
Jesus shewed {manifested} Himself.- This is one of the many appearances of the Lord Jesus,
after His resurrection and before His ascension. cp. Acts 1:3
21:3 Simon Peter saith unto them, I go a fishing.
They say unto him, We also go with thee.
They went forth, and entered into a ship immediately;
and that night they caught nothing.
21:4 But when the morning was now come, Jesus stood on the shore:
but the disciples knew not that it was Jesus.
21:5 Then Jesus saith unto them, Children, have ye any meat?
They answered him, No.
21:6 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.
21:7 Therefore that disciple whom Jesus loved saith unto Peter, It is the Lord.
I go a fishing.- Peter and several of the others in this group were fishermen.
Three years earlier, they had left their nets to follow Jesus. Mat 4:18-22; Luk 5:10,11
But now, perhaps because they were weary of waiting for Jesus to come, or perhaps because their treasury was depleted, they decided to pick up where they had left off.
we go with you... they went... immediately...- They considered themselves capable of the task.
They acted "in self-will, under human leadership." [ScofRB]
they caught nothing {GK= oudeis, 'not one thing'}- "the barren result" of service in self-will [ScofRB]
is in stark contrast to the "fruitfulness of Christ-directed service" (v.6). [NewScofRB] cp. 15:5
the disciples knew not... Jesus.-- perhaps due to the distance (about 100 yards, v.8);
-- perhaps, because they had not been expecting to see Him. cp. 20:14
This incident is strikingly similar to the time when Jesus called these men to follow Him. (cp. Luk 5:1-11)
  • John discerned the similarity and suddenly recognized Jesus. v.7; cp. 20:8
  • In effect, the Lord, here, renewed His call to His disciples to "Follow Me."
  • The common lesson of both incidents: We must follow His direction, if we would catch men.
  • Note the differences between these incidents:
    Luke 5John 21
    Jesus was in the boat (with the disciples)-
    as Emmanuel, God with us.
    cp. Joh 17:12
    Jesus was on the shore (to which they would come)-
    He is glorified in Heaven today. From there,
    He directs & cares for His own. Col 1:18; Heb 7:25
    The net broke-
    Many would start to follow Jesus,
    but some would turn away in unbelief.
    (cp. Joh 6:60-66)
    The net held-
    Salvation is sure for true believers.
    They are kept by the power of God.
    (Joh 10:27-30)
Now when Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord,
he girt [his] fisher's coat [unto him], (for he was naked,)
and did cast himself into the sea.
21:8 And the other disciples came in a little ship;
(for they were not far from land, but as it were two hundred cubits,)
dragging the net with fishes.
21:9 As soon then as they were come to land,
they saw a fire of coals there, and fish laid thereon, and bread.
21:10 Jesus saith unto them, Bring of the fish which ye have now caught.
21:11 Simon Peter went up, and drew the net to land full of great fishes, an hundred and fifty and three:
and for all there were so many, yet was not the net broken.
21:12 Jesus saith unto them, Come [and] dine.
And none of the disciples durst
{ie., dared} ask him, Who art thou? knowing that it was the Lord.
21:13 Jesus then cometh, and taketh bread, and giveth them, and fish likewise.
21:14 This is now the third time that Jesus shewed himself to his disciples,
after that he was risen from the dead.
{ie., the third time that Jesus appeared to the assembled disciples, in John's gospel.}
Simon Peter... cast himself into the sea- cp. Mat 14:28-32
Peter's failure(s) had not diminished his desire to be with the Master.
a fire of coals- Peter would remember a similar fire. See 18:18,25.
The Lord Jesus had seen Peter by that other fire. Luk 22:61,62
He had also seen his tears. (cp. Peter's repentance when Jesus had first called him. Luk 5:8)
Just as Jesus had prepared this fire and meal, He had already dealt with Peter's failure, and was preparing to restore and re-commission him for service.
fish... and bread (v.9)- lit., a small fish and a small loaf of bread. cp. 6:9-13
But what are these among so many hungry fishermen?
Before them, the Lord placed a reminder of the feeding of the five thousand, and of His ability to provide.
the fish which ye have now caught... full of great fish, an hundred fifty and three.-
Why the mention of this specific number? - Various ideas have been suggested.-
  • Perhaps it pictures the completeness of the harvest...
    1. of individual believers, throughout the age.-
      "Had it said 150 fish, the statement would have suggested an estimate, but 153 records individuality. All His sheep are named and numbered." [GWms] (cp. 6:37)
    2. of nations, at the end of the age.- (cp. Mat 13:47-50)
      (Could this mean that 153 nations will exist at the time of Christ's return? cp. Rev 14:6)
  • Perhaps it pictures the completeness of Christ's Lordship over the harvest...
    1. the harvest depends upon Him.
      The fishermen would normally have divided the fish between them. (There were seven disciples present on this occasion. v.2) However, 153 fish divided between 7 fishermen provides each man with 21 fish, leaving 6 fish remaining. But the number 6 in scripture speaks of man and his incompleteness. The number 7 is the number of completion. If there was just one more fish, the total (154) would be evenly divisable by 7.
      - - If this is the Lord's harvest, and if none of His will be lost, where is the 'missing' fish?
      - - Answer: He has already prepared it.
      The word for fish in v.9 is singular (GK= opsarion, a small fish, or cooked fish). This word is used in 6:9, where Jesus took two 'small fish' and filled a multitude of hungry people, and then filled twelve baskets with the leftovers. Here, Jesus filled the disciple's net with 153 'great fish' {GK= icthuon megalon}, while providing for them with one 'small fish' {GK= opsarion} to which the rest of the harvest was added (v.10).
    2. 'the Savior of the world' is, first, 'the King of Israel.'
      This thought parallels the above point, while noting that the 153 great fish were drawn from 'the sea' (often symbolic of the Gentile world), while one small fish was already on 'the land' (depicting Israel). At the time of the harvest, Israel is being cooked over a fire (the Time of Jacob's Trouble). But she is not alone, for there is a loaf of bread in the pan with her (cp. Joh 6:41; Isa 43:1-3).
          Out of tiny Israel (which was not numbered among the nations, Num 23:9), the Messiah came (Joh 4:22; Rom 9:5). He has multiplied His salvation to include some from 'every kindred, tongue, people and nation' (Rev 5:9). Yet, Israel itself will not be fully counted in the harvest until the 'fullness of the gentiles' has been brought in. (cp. Rom 11:25-27; Zech 12:10; 13:1)
Who art thou?... - They wanted to ask.
They knew it was Jesus. Yet, they had come to realize that they did not truly know Him.
Jesus... taketh bread, and giveth them...- cp. Luk 22:19; 24:29-32
come and dine {lit., eat breakfast}-
They had labored fruitlessly in the strength of the flesh.
Now, just before He commissioned them to labor for Him (Mat 28:18-20), He invites them to find their strength in fellowship with Him.
Those, who sup with Him (Rev 3:20), grow in their knowledge of Him, and feed upon the remedy for empty fleshly self-sufficiency (as described in Rev 3:14-19). Our lack can be met only by the fullness of Who He is. cp. 2:3,7; 21:3,6; 1:14,16; Col 1:19; 2:9,10
21:15 So when they had dined, 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 love thee.
He saith unto him, Feed my lambs.
Simon...- Jesus does not call him 'Peter' (a stone, a small rock). cp. 1:42
In his feeble faith, and in his denial of his Lord, Peter had hardly been solid.
He had not yet learned to rest on the Rock, Christ Jesus, the one Foundation.
Mat 16:16-18; 1Cor 10:4; 3:11; Eph 2:20
lovest thou me more than these?- ie., more than these other disciples.
This had been Peter's claim (Mat 26:33; Mark 14:29), but he knew himself better now.
lovest thou me...? - The word Jesus uses for 'love' is GK=agapan (agapao),
"the love of intelligence, reason and comprehension, coupled with the corresponding purpose" [*].
This is the type of love with which God loved the world (3:16). God's love went far beyond emotional feeling, it involved taking costly action for the ones loved, even while they were living in rebellion as His enemies.
The Lord desires that believers should love Him with that same kind of love, that stands true to Him, and to His purposes, even when it is costly to do so. Those, who have such love for Him , will keep His Word, and will enjoy fellowship with Him (14:15,21-24; Rev 3:20).
In effect, Jesus asked Peter: 'Do you love me with all your heart?'
thou knowest that I love thee.- Peter uses a lesser word for 'love', GK=philein (phileo),
"the love of mere personal affection or liking... no intelligence or high purpose is involved" [*].
    [ * quoted from Richard C.H. Lenski, in the OnLine Bible word study of 'phileo.']
cp. 'philadelphia', brotherly love - which expresses affection, fondness and civility, but not necessarily total commitment.
Peter no longer trusted his own heart to use the higher word.
He could say only: 'You know I have a high regard for you, as a friend.'
Feed {GK=bosko, nourish} my lambs {GK=arnion, little lambs}.-
ie., Express your love for me by nourishing new believers (with the 'milk' of the Word, 1Pet 2:2).
21:16 He saith to him again the second time,
Simon, [son] of Jonas, lovest thou me?
{love- GK=agapan. Note that the words 'more than these' are omitted.
'Perhaps you are unable to compare your love to that of others,
but can you say, for yourself, that you love me with all your heart?'}
He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee.
{love- GK=philein- 'You know that I have an affection for you, as a friend.'}
He saith unto him, Feed my sheep.
feed- GK=poimano, tend to, do the work of a shepherd toward...
This involves all aspects of care and oversight of the flock (including, but not limited to nourishing).
my sheep- GK=proboton, cattle, adult sheep
(cp. 1Pet 5:2-4, where 'feed' is GK=poimano, tend to).
21:17 He saith unto him the third time,
Simon, [son] of Jonas, lovest thou me?
lovest thou me?- GK=philein. This time, Jesus uses Peter's word.
'Do you have an affection for me?'
Peter was grieved because he said unto him the third time, Lovest {philein} thou me?
Peter's heart ached with sorrow, when Jesus questioned even his claim of fondness for Him.
And he said unto him, Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love {philein} thee.
thou knowest all things...- Three times, Peter had appealed to the Lord's omniscience.
Peter's self-assurance was gone. Now, he saw that he did not know his own heart.
But he was certain that the Lord knew him thoroughly (cp. Psa 139:1,2; Jer 17:9,10).
'...You know that I have a fondness for you.'
Considering his failure, how could he claim any higher love for the Lord?
Jesus saith unto him, Feed {GK=bosko, nourish} my sheep {GK=proboton, adult sheep.}
Perhaps the Lord's words could be paraphrased thus:
'Peter, I am not asking you to rely upon your unsure emotions.
Express your love for Me, by feeding my flock with that which is sure.'
(The sure Word of God, is milk for young believers and also solid food for the more mature. cp. 1Pet 2:2,3; Heb 5:12-14; 2Pet 1:15-21)
Lovest thou me? - This is the primary pre-requisite for any service for the Lord.
Sadly, many enter into ministry with very poor motives (eg., prideful self-confidence in innate people skills, a desire for financial profit, a desire for a following... cp. Acts 20:28-30; 1Pet 5:1-4). Apart from an abiding love for the Lord, a man will not selflessly care for those who belong to Him (Php 2:20,21).
    While sevice for the Lord begins with love for Him, the servant will also need to be prepared to serve. Central to this preparation, is a right understanding of God's Word (2Tim 2:15; 3:16,17), and exercise, in walking with the Lord and in being discipled under more experienced servants (eg., 2Tim 3:14; 1The 1:5-9).
    If a servant truly loves the Lord, he will yield to His leading, even when it conflicts with long held convictions (eg., Acts 10:14,15) or, with personal comfort.
21:18 Verily, verily, I say unto thee,
When thou wast young, thou girdedst thyself, and walkedst whither thou wouldest:
but when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands,
and another shall gird thee, and carry [thee] whither thou wouldest not.
21:19 This spake he, signifying by what death he should glorify God.
And when he had spoken this, he saith unto him, Follow me.
Peter had once told Jesus that he could follow Him, and that he would die for Him. 13:36,37
Peter had failed on both points. Jesus would make good what Peter could not.
  • Jesus told him that he would indeed die a martyr's death. cp. 1Pet 4:12-14; 2Pet 1:14
    History tells us that Peter was crucified (his 'arms stretched forth'). But when the time came, he requested to be crucified upside down, because he felt unworthy to die as His Lord had died.
  • Jesus commanded him to 'Follow me.'
    What He commands, He will enable. cp. Joh 12:26; 15:5,7
    Inspite of Peter's weakness and failure...
21:20 Then Peter, turning about, seeth the disciple whom Jesus loved following;
which also leaned on his breast at supper, and said, Lord, which is he that betrayeth thee?
21:21 Peter seeing him saith to Jesus, Lord, and what [shall] this man [do]?
21:22 Jesus saith unto him, If I will that he tarry till I come, what [is that] to thee?
follow thou me.
Lord, what shall this man do? -
Peter (like us) still had to learn to submit to the Lord's authority. The flesh takes exception to the Lord's leading, and demands answers beyond its understanding. cp. Mat 16:22,23; Acts 1:6,7; 10:14,15
Since Jesus is the Lord, He has the right to lead each believer according to His will.
Follow thou me.- cp. Mat 4:19; 16:24-27
the disciple whom Jesus loved...-
Throughout this book, the writer (John) uses this expression to refer to himself (13:23; 19:26; 20:2; 21:7).
It is a title that expresses humility, since it applies to every believer. cp. 13:1; 15:13; Gal 2:20
    In every occurrence of this expression, the word for 'love' is GK=agapao. Several Greek words may be translated 'love' with very different connotations. 'Phileo' is the love of fondness and friendship. 'Storge' is the love of parents for children. 'Eros' is the love of sexual passion. Some, who do not know the mind of Christ, try to read the latter into His relationships with His disciples. However, they are grievously mistaken. The high costly 'agape' love, which Jesus has for His own, willingly endured His passion on the cross, to purchase perfect purity for those who were previously impure... and totally undeserving of His favor. It is this same costly love which He desires to see in His disciples (13:34,35).
If I will that he tarry till I come, what [is that] to thee? -
The Lord has different roles and places of service for each of His servants.
My responsibility is to be faithful to my Master.
The Lord's plan for another servant, is His business, not mine.
21:23 Then went this saying abroad among the brethren, that that disciple should not die:
yet Jesus said not unto him, He shall not die; but,
If I will that he tarry till I come, what [is that] to thee?
John was the longest lived of all the disciples. Because of misinterpretation of Jesus words to Peter (in v.22), some in the early church believed that John would not die before the Lord's return. Here, John sets the record straight.
21:24 This is the disciple which testifieth of these things, and wrote these things:
and we know that his testimony is true.
21:25 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.
The written record of Jesus' earthly life was not meant to be an exhaustive biography.
John wrote with the specific intent that the reader "might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through His name." (20:30,31)
The record of what "Jesus began both to do and teach" (Acts 1:1) continues into the book of Acts, and will not be completed until 'the end' (1Cor 15:21-26). Who can tell how many volumes would be required to tell the full story of what the Shepherd has done in the lives of each of His sheep?

This concludes the study in the Gospel of John.
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