John 21 Bible Commentary

John Lightfoot’s Bible Commentary

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(Read all of John 21)
2. There were together Simon Peter, and Thomas called Didymus, and Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, and the sons of Zebedee, and two other of his disciples.

[Simon Peter, and Thomas, &c.] Here are seven of the disciples mentioned, and but five of them named. Those two whose names are not recited probably were Philip and Andrew; as the four that were absent at the time were the sons of Alpheus, Matthew, Judas, Simeon, and James. Compare those that are mentioned, chapter 1; and you may reasonably suppose the person not named there, verses 37, 40, might be Thomas.

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.

[I go a fishing.] Christ had ordered his apostles to meet him at a mountain in Galilee, Matthew 28:16. It is plain, verse 14, that he had not yet appeared to them there: so that it is something strange how they durst keep away from that mountain, and how the four newly mentioned durst be absent from the rest of their number. They knew the mountain without doubt; and if they knew not the time wherein Christ would make his appearance amongst them, why should they not abide continually there in attendance for him?

It should seem, that they did not look for him till the Lord's day, which had not yet been since they were come into Galilee. And perhaps the sons of Alpheus had, in their return from Jerusalem, betaken themselves amongst their relations, determining to be at that mountain on the Lord's day. These seven dwelt not far off the mountain, which was near Capernaum, and hard by the sea of Galilee: only Nathanael, who dwelt more remote in Cana, towards the extreme north parts of that sea. He was not yet gone home, but, waiting the appointed time, stayed here. Peter and Andrew dwelt in Capernaum, and so, probably, did James and John: Philip in Bethsaida, and Thomas (as we may conjecture from his Greek name Didymus) probably lived amongst the Syro-Grecians in Gadara, or Hippo, or some place in that country of Decapolis, not very far from Gennesaret.

5. Then Jesus saith unto them, Children, have ye any meat? They answered him, No.

[Children.] By what word soever Christ expressed this children to them, it seems to be a very familiar and gentle compellation, that his disciples, from that very salutation of his, might discern him. They did not know him by sight, as appears, verse 4: he would have them know him, therefore, by the title he gave them.

[Any meat.] Very usual amongst the Rabbins may not unfitly be rendered meat for one single repast: as if Christ should have said, "Children, have ye any meat with you sufficient for a breakfast or a dinner?" But if any meat should signify any sort of meat that must be eaten with bread, as Camerarius thinks, then Christ's words seem to have this meaning: "Here, I have bread with me: have you taken any thing, that we may eat this bread?" and so meat may be distinguished from bread.

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.

[Lovest thou me more than these?] Why more than these? Might it not have been enough to have said, "as well as these?" For what reason had he to expect that Peter should love him more than the rest did? especially more than St. John, whom Christ himself had so loved, and who had stuck so close to him?

Christ seems, therefore, to reflect upon Peter's late confidence, not without some kind of severity and reproof: q.d. "Thou saidst, O Simon, a little while ago, that thou wouldst never forsake me, no, not though all the other disciples should. Thou didst profess beyond all the rest that thou wouldst rather die than deny me; thou wouldst follow me to prison, to death; nay, lay down thy own life for me. What sayest thou now, Simon? Dost thou yet love me more than these? If thou thinkest thou art provided, and canst hazard thy life for me, feed my sheep; and for my sake do thou expose thy life, yea, and lay it down for them."

[Feed my lambs.] If there be any thing in that threefold repetition, Feed, Feed, Feed, we may most fitly apply it to the threefold object of St. Peter's ministry, viz. the Gentiles, the Jew, and the Israelites of the ten tribes.

I. To him were committed, by his Lord, the keys of the kingdom of heaven, Matthew 16; that he might open the door of faith and the gospel to the Gentiles, which he did in his preaching it to Cornelius.

II. In sharing out the work of preaching the gospel amongst the three ministers of the circumcision, his lot fell amongst the Jews in Babylon. James's lot was amongst the Jews in Palestine and Syria: and John's amongst the Hellenists in Asia.

III. Now amongst the Jews in Babylon were mixed the Israelites of the ten tribes; and to them did the gospel come by the ministry of St. Peter, as I have shewn more at large in another treatise.

To this, therefore, have the words of our Saviour a plain reference; namely, putting Peter in mind, that whereas he had, with so much confidence and assurance of himself, made such professions of love and constancy beyond the other disciples, pretending to a wonderful resolution of laying down his very life in that behalf, that he would now shew his zeal and courage in 'feeding the sheep' of Christ:--"Thou canst not, Simon, lay down thy life for me, as thou didst once promise; for I have myself laid down my own life, and taken it up again. 'Feed thou my sheep,' therefore; and be ready to lay down thy life for them, when it shall come to be required of thee."

So that what is here said does not so much point out Peter's primacy, as his danger; nor so much the privilege as the bond of his office, and at last his martyrdom: for that our Saviour had this meaning with him, is plain, because, immediately after this, he tells him by what death he should glorify God, verse 18.

24. This is the disciple which testifieth of these things, and wrote these things: and we know that his testimony is true.

[And we know that his testimony is true.] The evangelist had said before, chapter 19:35, "He knoweth that he saith true"; and here in this place he changeth the person, saying, "We know that his testimony is true."

I. One would believe that this was an idiotism in the Chaldee and Syriac tongue, to make 'We' know, and 'I' know, the same thing: which is not unusual in other languages also; Joshua 2:9, I know. The Targumist hath which you would believe to be We know. 1 Samuel 17:28, I know. Targumist, We know.

II. We suppose the evangelist, both here and chapter 19:35, referreth to an eyewitness. For in all judicial causes the ocular testimony prevailed. If any person should testify that he himself saw the thing done, his witness must be received: for true when it is said of any testimony, does not signify barely that which is true, but that which was to be believed and entertained for a sure and irrefragable evidence. So that the meaning of these words is this: "This is the disciple who testifies of these things and wrote them: and we all know that such a testimony obtains in all judgments whatever; for he was an eyewitness, and saw that which he testifies."