John 21 Bible Commentary

McGarvey and Pendleton

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(Read all of John 21)
21:1  After these things Jesus manifested himself again to the disciples at the sea of Tiberias; and he manifested [himself] on this wise. SEVENTH APPEARANCE OF JESUS. (Sea of Galilee.) John 21:1-25

21:2  There was together Simon Peter, and Thomas called Didymus1, and Nathanael of Cana in Galilee2, and the [sons] of Zebedee, and two other of his disciples.
Thomas called Didymus. See Mark 3:18.
Nathanael of Cana in Galilee. See John 1:45.

21:3  Simon Peter saith unto them, I go a fishing1. They say unto him, We also come with thee2. They went forth, and entered into the boat; and that night they took nothing.
Simon Peter saith unto them, I go a fishing. As usual, Peter was the leader.
They say unto him, We also come with thee. These apostles, thinking that their apostleship had terminated, had returned to their old like as fishermen.*

*NOTE.--We cannot agree in this. Jesus had said too many things indicating his future need of the apostles for them to think that he was through with them (Matthew 16:19; Matthew 24:9-13; Luke 22:32; John 15:16,20,27 John 16:1-3). He had told the apostles to go to Galilee, and that he would appear to them there; they had done this and were waiting for his appearance. Peter, because of his denials, may have wavered in his loyalty, but the others surely did not. By going a-fishing they did not mean to abandon their apostleship; they were merely putting in the time, while they waited for developments; but by thus returning to their old occupation they were subjecting themselves to strong temptation (Luke 9:62).--Philip Y. Pendleton

21:5  Jesus therefore saith unto them, Children, have ye aught to eat1? They answered him, No2.
Jesus therefore saith unto them, Children, have ye aught to eat? Jesus does not use the affectionate Greek word "teknia" ("children"), but the familiar and colloquial "paidia" ("boys"). His question was like that of a stranger, or neighbor, who wished to buy fish.
They answered him, No. Their brevity bespeaks their disappointment at having a purchaser, but nothing to sell him.

21:6  And he said unto them, Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and ye shall find1. They cast therefore, and now they were not able to draw it for the multitude of fishes2.
Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and ye shall find. The movements of large bodies of fish in the waters of Galilee are frequently visible to one standing on the shore.
They cast therefore, and now they were not able to draw it for the multitude of fishes. Supposing that the stranger thus saw fish upon the right side of the boat, the disciples readily obeyed his command, without suspecting who it was that gave it.

21:7  That disciple therefore whom Jesus loved1 saith unto Peter, It is the Lord2. So when Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he girt his coat about him (for he was naked), and cast himself into the sea3.
That disciple therefore whom Jesus loved. John.
Saith unto Peter, It is the Lord. Even the wonderful draught of fishes did not at once arouse all the disciples to realize that a miracle had been wrought, and that Christ stood upon the shore. But John, having believed in the resurrection of Jesus even before he had seen the risen Lord, may rightly be presumed to have had a livelier expectation of meeting him in Galilee, and this expectation made him more alert for signs of the Lord's presence. During the night he had probably thought much of that other night when they took nothing, and of the day which followed and on which the Lord filled their nets for them. At any rate, the similarity of the two occasions now flashed through John's mind, and he recognized that it was Christ who had but now bade them cast the net.
So when Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he girt his coat about him (for he was naked), and cast himself into the sea. The arduous task of fishing had caused Peter to lay aside his upper garment; but as he prepares to meet the Lord he puts it on, moved by reverence and respect for the Master, though it encumbered him greatly in his efforts to swim.

21:8  But the other disciples came in the little boat (for they were not far from the land, but about two hundred cubits off)2, dragging the net [full] of fishes.
But the other disciples came in the little boat . . . dragging the net [full] of fishes. The other disciples restrained their emotions, and attended to the duties of the hour.
(For they were not far from the land, but about two hundred cubits off). They were about a hundred yards from the land.

21:9  So when they got out upon the land, they see a fire of coals there1, and fish laid thereon, and bread.
So when they got out upon the land, they see a fire of coals there,
and fish laid thereon, and bread. The sight gave a new meaning to the Lord's question at John 21:5. He had not come to buy, but to supply.

21:11  Simon Peter therefore went up, and drew the net to land1, full of great fishes, a hundred and fifty and three2: and for all there were so many, the net was not rent3.
Simon Peter therefore went up, and drew the net to land. Peter, already wet, could lend material assistance in bringing the net to shore.
Full of great fishes, a hundred and fifty and three. John tells us the exact number of the fishes to show the magnitude of the miracle, both as to the catch and as to the unbroken nets.
And for all there were so many, the net was not rent. This forms a sharp contrast to the broken nets of Luke 5:6. Possibly when the hour approached when they would become fishers of men, Jesus meant to show them that a greater and fuller miraculous power would attend and bless their efforts.

21:12  Jesus saith unto them, Come [and] break your fast. And none of the disciples durst inquire of him, Who art thou1? knowing that it was the Lord.
And none of the disciples durst inquire of him, Who art thou?
knowing that it was the Lord. It was not, as some suppose, because they stood in a new and special awe of him, that they durst not question him, but it was the nature of the question itself. They feared a mild rebuke like that once administered to Philip (John 14:9).

21:13  Jesus cometh, and taketh the bread, and giveth them, and the fish likewise.
Jesus then cometh, and taketh the bread, and giveth them, and fish likewise. Thus he gave to them when he fed the multitude and thus it may be hundreds of times he had given to them when they sat at meat together (Luke 22:17-20; John 13:26).

21:14  This is now the third time that Jesus was manifested to the disciples, after that he was risen from the dead1.
This is now the third time that Jesus was manifested to the disciples, after that he was risen from the dead. It was his seventh appearance, but his third appearance to a "group" of disciples, and the third appearance witnessed by John. John counts as follows: (1) An appearance to the apostles without Thomas (John 20:19); (2) an appearance to them with Thomas (John 20:26); (3) this appearance.

21:15  So when they had broken their fast1, Jesus saith to Simon Peter, Simon, [son] of John, lovest thou me more than these2? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my lambs3.
So when they had broken their fast. After the eating of a meal together had calmed and quieted the excitement of the disciples, and made them susceptible of teaching.
Jesus saith to Simon Peter, Simon, [son] of John, lovest thou me more than these? Jesus here means: Do you love me more than these fishes and this fishing business?* See John 21:17.
He saith unto him, Feed my lambs. See John 21:17.

*NOTE.--Here again we dissent. See Hengstenberg, Alford, Meyer, etc. and especially Godet. Peter had boasted of a love toward Jesus superior to that of any of the other disciples (Matthew 26:33; Mark 14:29; John 13:37), and by refusing to have Jesus wash his feet, by being the first to draw a sword in his Master's defense, and even by now conspicuously deserting the others to swim to meet Jesus, he had endeavored to prove his boast. Jesus therefore asks him if it is indeed true that his love is greater than that of his fellow-disciples--"Do you love me more than these love me"?--Philip Y. Pendleton.

21:16  He saith to him again a second time, Simon, [son] of John, lovest thou me1? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Tend my sheep2.
Simon, [son] of John, lovest thou me? See John 21:17.
Tend my sheep. For if you love me better than fishing, you are a fisherman no longer, but a shepherd.* See John 21:17.

*NOTE.--Rather, "If you love me better than the others do, take the place which I have assigned you as chief servant of the flock" (Matthew 16:18,19; Luke 22:26)--Philip Y. Pendleton.

21:17  He saith unto him the third time, Lovest thou me1? And he said unto him, Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee2. Jesus saith unto him, Feed my sheep3.
He saith unto him the third time, Lovest thou me? The Greek here has subtle shades of meaning which the English does not express. In the first two questions addressed to Peter (John 21:15,16), our Lord uses the strong verb "agapan", and Peter replies by the weaker verb "philein". See John 11:5. In his third question, Jesus drops the "agapan" and takes Peter's own word "philein", as if he said, "Peter, are you even sure that you have a high regard for me"?
And he said unto him, Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee. Peter, as we have seen, had professed the most unparalleled devotion for the Master, but when the Lord now asks him if he has that devotion, he humbly describes his love as of a far weaker order--a more instinctive affection or strong attachment, but nothing approaching adoration. It grieved Peter to have the Lord thus apparently doubt that he had even a tender regard for him, and he appealed to Christ himself as a searcher of hearts to bear witness that, poor and meager as his love was, it was at least as intense as he had represented it to be.
Jesus saith unto him, Feed my sheep. In response to each of Peter's professions of love Jesus lay a command on him, as if he had said, "If you love me as you say, prove it thus". These three commands also contain subtle linguistic distinctions which, however, are fairly represented by the English. Lambs and sheep are to be fed, and sheep are to be tended. The former means that young and old in the church are to be provided for, and, since the word "tends" mean to be shepherd unto, the latter may mean that Peter is to play the shepherd to the wandering and the erring, bringing them into the fold. Before leaving this scene, we should note that it has close relationship to other incidents in the life of Peter: (1) Jesus here calls him by the name by which he had first called him, noting the more honorable name which he had given him. (2) Jesus recalls Peter under circumstances very similar to his first call. Compare John 21:1-14; Luke 5:1-11. (3) In a group around a fire of coals Peter here thrice professes his love for Christ, thus revoking the threefold denial which he had made under similar circumstances (Luke 14:54).

21:18  Verily, verily1, I say unto thee, When thou wast young, thou girdedst thyself, and walkedst whither thou wouldest2: but when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, and carry thee whither thou wouldest not3.
Verily, verily. See John 1:51.
When thou wast young, thou girdedst thyself, and walkedst whither thou wouldest. Peter had just shows this freedom by girding himself and plunging into the sea (John 21:7).
But when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, and carry thee whither thou wouldest not. Thus our Lord, by delicate but unmistakable suggestion, shows Peter that the freedom which he now enjoyed would be taken from him, and that he would lift his hands to permit others to bind him at they might lead him to martyrdom to which his flesh (though not his spirit) would go unwillingly.

21:19  Now this he spake, signifying by what manner of death he should glorify God1. And when he had spoken this, he saith unto him, Follow me2.
Now this he spake, signifying by what manner of death he should glorify God. John, who wrote after Peter's death, tells us what the words of Christ meant. His words show that tradition is true in saying that Peter suffered martyrdom, but it is no voucher that tradition is true as to the time (about thirty-four years after this), place (Rome), or manner (crucified head downward) of Peter's death. There is certainly no trustworthy evidence that Peter was ever at Rome.
And when he had spoken this, he saith unto him, Follow me. This saying bore the usual double sense in which Jesus employed it. Peter was to follow him now (and he did arise and follow), and he was also to follow Jesus to a violent death and a glorious immortality.

21:20  Peter, turning about, seeth the disciple whom Jesus loved1 following; who also leaned back on his breast at the supper, and said, Lord2, who is he that betrayeth thee?
The disciple whom Jesus loved. John.
Who also leaned back on his breast at the supper, and said, Lord,
who is he that betrayeth thee? See John 13:25.

21:21  Peter therefore seeing him saith to Jesus, Lord, and what shall this man do1?
Lord, and what shall this man do? Peter and John were near friends (Acts 3:1), and understanding that the Lord had prophesied a violent death for himself, Peter was naturally interested in the fate of his dear companion.

21:22  Jesus saith unto him, If I will that he tarry till I come, what [is that] to thee? Follow thou me.
If I will that he tarry till I come, what [is that] to thee? follow thou me. It was none of Peter's business whether John's earthly lot was easier or harder than his own; his business was to be faithful in the pathway whither the Lord led him.

21:23  This saying therefore went forth among the brethren, that that disciple should not die1: yet Jesus said not unto him, that he should not die; but, If I will that he tarry till I come, what [is that] to thee?
This saying therefore went forth among the brethren, that that disciple should not die. Our Lord's words were a puzzle when John wrote his Gospel, and to many they are a puzzle still. For an able treatment of the various interpretations of this difficult passage, see W. Johnson's Commentary on John. There is no question that John died. The site of his grave at Ephesus was well known to early Christians. The coming of the Lord for which he tarried was that in the isle of Patmos, of which he tells us in the Book of Revelation. This passage, therefore, shows that John wrote his Gospel before his exile in Patmos.

21:24  This is the disciple that beareth witness of these things, and wrote these things: and we know that his witness is true1. John 21:24,25
And we know that his witness is true. Since the "we know" differs from the "he knoweth" of John 19:35, most of the critics hold that this verse was added by the elders at Ephesus to whom John committed his Gospel, and that it is the attestation of the church there to the truth and authenticity of the Gospel. But the first person singular, "I suppose", of John 21:25 is hard to account for such an hypothesis. Besides, none of the elders at Ephesus could suppose any such thing. Only an eyewitness who saw the fullness of the Lord's ministry would be led to pen these words. We find in the Epistle of John a condition of affairs similar to these two verses. The first chapter opens with and continues to use the editorial plural, while the second chapter drops in the first person singular. We think, then, that John finished his own book.

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 would not contain the books that should be written1.
Even the world itself would not contain the books that should be written. Considering the wilderness of literature which has accumulated around the sayings and doings of our Lord contained in the brief Gospels, it is little wonder that John thought a full record of the Lord's life would fill the world with books.

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