John 21


‘Afterward Jesus appeared again to his disciples, by the Sea of Galilee. It happened this way: Simon Peter, Thomas (also known as Didymus), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples were together. “I’m going out to fish,” Simon Peter told them, and they said, “We’ll go with you.” So, they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing. Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus. He called out to them, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?” “No,” they answered. He said, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.” When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish. Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, “It is the Lord,” he wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water. The other disciples followed in the boat, towing the net full of fish, for they were not far from shore, about a hundred yards. When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread. Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish you have just caught.” So, Simon Peter climbed back into the boat and dragged the net ashore. It was full of large fish, 153, but even with so many the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” None of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. This was now the third-time Jesus appeared to his disciples after he was raised from the dead.’ John 21:1-14

This last chapter causes some concern as far as the authorship is concerned, some have suspected that it was written by a different author, but no evidence such as manuscripts missing the last chapter can be found.

The last two verses of the previous chapter could well constitute the end of the book. John may then at a later date have found it necessary to return and write more.

He may have wanted to throw light on the misunderstanding that had developed in John 21:20-23, but this seems a long way to go about it. The style of writing is the same here as before except for some problems with the use of the name of John’s father Zebedee in verse two which constitutes the first use of the name of such a close relation to the author in the account.

Also, verse twenty causes some difficulty as it goes to great lengths to describe the disciple whom Jesus loved in contrast to the veiled manner he is previously identified.

The last two verses of this chapter are the most difficult to reconcile to the balance of the book. The word ‘we’ in verse twenty-four seems to suggest that an outside influence was called to witness the fact that John wrote the book.

As no textual difficulties are found, the last chapter, or certainly the last two verses may have been added with the full knowledge and assistance of the writer of the balance of the account, which we shall know in eternity.

In John 21:1-14 we see the miraculous draught of fishes. The ‘Sea of Galilee’ was probably better known by this name to readers outside Palestine, John 6:1, ‘Lake of Gennesaret’ Luke 5:1

Jesus ‘revealed’ Himself means He manifested, disclosed, showed Himself. Obviously, those weren’t subjective visions that John is reporting, but actual appearances of the One who had been crucified, 1 John 1:1.

There are seven ‘disciples’ present and five are identified, the mentioned disciples, are Peter, John, Thomas, Nathanael, James and two others who were out fishing, not all of the 11 were fishermen.

Peter’s literally saying, ‘I am going to fish’ gives no indication of a motive.

Was it to be just one fishing expedition, or did he intend to resume his former profession?

One suggestion says, while they were waiting for the promise of the Holy Spirit, they still found it proper to be usefully employed. Another suggestion is, that they were probably waiting in Galilee for the appointed meeting with Christ on the mountain. The truth is, the reason isn’t revealed.

The action has now moved to Galilee where Jesus had told the women to tell the men to go and it seems as if the fishing trip was a spur of the moment decision, probably to help relax them after the difficulties they had lately experienced. Although they were experienced fishermen and they tried all night, they caught nothing.

‘Just as day was breaking’, dawn ended the customary time for fishing, ‘Jesus stood on the beach; yet the disciples didn’t know that it was Jesus.’

Were their eyes kept from recognising Him as we find in Luke 24:16? John says nothing to suggest that.

The disciples were about 100 yards from the shore, but they didn’t recognise the man standing on the shore. John 21:8, it wasn’t fully light, there could have been a morning midst, perhaps they were preoccupied with their fishing.

There need be no miraculous explanation for their lack of recognition. This seems a common thing after Jesus’ resurrection, people didn’t recognise Him. Mary at the tomb, the disciples on the road to Emmaus.

The term ‘children’ in John 21:5 is ‘paidia’, the same word is used in 1 John 2:13+18. Jesus ask the question, ‘have you any fish?’ and their answer, ‘No’, and His advice, ‘cast your net on the right side, and you will find some’, all were shouted across the 100 yards of water separating them. When they cast as He directed, they were unable to haul in the net ‘because it was so full of fish’.

The Bible doesn’t give a reason why He was not recognised here, only when the great catch of fish was netted did John realise who it was. Sometimes people standing on the shore can see better than those in the boat!

John was the first to recognise this ‘stranger’ is Jesus, ‘it is the Lord’. Peter was the first to act, ‘jumped into the water’, his impulsive nature was evident, he was anxious to get to Jesus immediately. He ‘put on his clothes’, ‘ependutes’, upper garment, a fisherman’s Jacket, outer garment, coat.

He was stripped for work, probably wearing only a loincloth. The Jews regarded giving a greeting as a religious act, which couldn’t be performed unless one was properly clothed.

Peter belted his fishermen jacked around him with instinctive reverence for the presence of His Master. Such details are a good indication that the writer was an eyewitness to the event.

They had a great catch, the weight of which would normally split the net but here divine intervention prevented the net from splitting. The disciples joined the Lord on the shore and it appears they still didn’t recognise Him as they dared not ask if it was Jesus.

Some people regard the fire, fish and bread to have been provided supernaturally. They note that ‘fish,’ ‘a little fish’, ‘opsarian’ but there is really nothing in the text which suggests that this was a miracle, and it would be uncharacteristic of Jesus to work one when no urgent need existed.

Jesus says, ‘Bring some of the fish that you have just caught’ would most naturally suggest some of that being added to what was already cooking on the fire. Again, some people see here ‘a miracle of multiplication’ as in John 6:11, whilst others seem to be arguing for an unnecessary miracle.

The 153 ‘large fish’ have been the subject of incredible explanations.

1. They were only counted when brought to shore, meaning that the full member will only be known when we get to Heaven.

2. There were only 153 different kinds of fish, so the people then believed, and this great catch meant that the Lord’s ‘net’, the church, will take in all.

3. The number 153 stands for all ‘who either by Law or grace have been moved to come to Jesus Christ’.

Augustine originated this explanation and so, 10 stands for the Law, it had 10 commandments, 7 is the number of grace, the seven-fold gifts of the Spirit, 10+7=17, and 153 is the sum total of all the figures, 1+2+3+4+5 etc., up to 17.

This is the same kind of totally unjustified spiritualism that sees some special significance in the 6 water pots of cans, it would be just as logical to see the special significance in the 100 yards, 200 Cubits, of John 21:8.

It was the common practice to count the fish for purpose of sharing out the catch. This, the count, along with the other details, ‘large fish’, ‘net not torn’ and distance from land are all details an eye-witness would naturally record. Even apart from inspiration, the whole incident was indelibly imprinted on John’s memory.

‘Now none of the disciples dared ask him, ‘Who are you?’ Yet, ‘they knew it was the Lord’. John had first recognised him, John 21:7, now they all ‘knew’ it was Him, indicated that they knew by experience, not by sight, yet none dared to ask Him who He was! They are convinced that He is the Lord, yet feel that He is changed, and reverence restrains them from curious questions.

Jesus looks after them, a breakfast they would never forget, after fishing all night He saw that they were tired, cold and hungry and fulfilled their needs. Their risen Lord waited on them, served each of them.

‘This was now the third time that Jesus was revealed to the disciples.’ John has already recorded three appearances prior to this and this comes seventh in the ten recorded appearances in the four Gospels but this is the third time He appeared to the apostles as a group.

1. John 20:19-25.

2. John 20:26-29.

3. John 23:1-23.

‘When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” “Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.” Again, Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.” The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my sheep. Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!” Peter turned and saw that the disciple whom Jesus loved was following them. (This was the one who had leaned back against Jesus at the supper and had said, “Lord, who is going to betray you?”) When Peter saw him, he asked, “Lord, what about him?” Jesus answered, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.” Because of this, the rumour spread among the believers that this disciple would not die. But Jesus did not say that he would not die; he only said, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you?’ John 21:15-23

Jesus speaks to Peter

The question, ‘do you love me more than these?’ has a few possible explanations.

1. That this refers to the boat, nets, fish etc., ‘more than these things’. If so, it would refer to his work as a fisherman. As if Jesus said, ‘are you really willing to give up all this to follow me?’ Was Peter feeling the pull to return to his former life? There would be much in favour of this if it could be proved that Peter had decided to return to fishing as a profession.

2. That this refers to the other apostles, ‘more than these others do?’ Peter had said, ‘Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away’, Matthew 26:33 / Mark 14:29 / John 13:37. In this case, the Lord is deliberately reminding him of this, He wants Peter to learn humility.

A threefold question and affirmation, Peter had denied his Lord three times. Just a short time ago in the presence of the enemy denied all connection with the Lord, so now in the presence of his friends, he affirms three times over that he loves the Lord.

Perhaps relations between Peter and the others were difficult, perhaps it was hard for them to forget what Peter had done. He is now restored to full fellowship with his Lord and with his brethren.

The use of the words, ‘agapao’ and ‘phileo’. In his first and second questions, John 21:15-16, Jesus uses the verb ‘agapao’, which means high and devoted love. Peter, every time he replies, uses the verb ‘phileo’ which means loving as a friend.

In His third question, Jesus uses the same word that Peter has used. Commentators are divided into two groups, those who see the profound significance in the change of verb, and those who don’t. Jesus says ‘do you love me’, ‘agapao’, love me’.

Peter replies ‘you know that I love you’, ‘oidas phileo’, ‘know I love’. Jesus says, ‘feed my lambs’, ‘feed my sheep’, the word ‘feed’, John 21:15 / John 21:17 is from the verb ‘bosko’, which means to supply with food, to nourish.

The word, ‘lambs’ is ‘arnia’, and is symbolic of young converts. The word, ‘tend’ is from the verb ‘poimaino’, and means to act as a shepherd, a ‘poimen’ is a shepherd, it’s the same word used in Acts 20:28 / 1 Peter 5:2.

This continues with Jesus next telling Peter to tend the little sheep, ‘look after my little sheep.’ In John 21:17 Peter claims that Jesus you know by experience, and you have learned that I love you Jesus responds ‘feed my little sheep’.

Notice when Jesus spoke to Peter it would probably have been in Aramaic, but there must have been something implied for John to record it this way.

There could be a distinction in these words to do with love according to the will and Love according to the emotion, this would be similar to what Paul expresses in Romans 7.

Jesus then gives a prophecy to Peter regarding his life and the method and situation surrounding his death. Earlier, Peter had been very much a free type of man, he had few problems and was able to move and think freely.

The time would come though, then Peter would be restricted in his movement and be forced in a direction he wasn’t willing to go. He would no longer be able to expose the free spirit that always caused him to be the first to put his foot in his mouth and the first to speak, the impetuous Peter would be no more.

Soon after New Testament times the phrase ‘to glorify God’ became a common term for martyrdom. The tradition is that Peter died by crucifixion.

Eusebius quotes Origen for the story that he asked to be crucified downwards. By the time, John wrote this, he knew of the death of Peter and how he had died, so he was able to draw the parallel himself.

In the last call to ‘follow me’ we see that Peter evidently understood the words literally, and immediately began to walk after Jesus, Notice John 21:20, ‘he turned and saw’ John following. But the command was probably meant figuratively, ‘go on following me faithfully’, John 1:43 / Matthew 8:22 / John 9:9 / John 19:21.

Despite his previous boasting, Peter had failed, he was now called to follow faithfully, even to martyrdom, John 13:36-37. A call of encouragement to discipleship and the rigours of the apostolic office.

In John 21:20-23 we see the beloved disciple. Peter saw his great friend standing near and asked, ‘Lord, what about this man?’ He had been told about his own future, what about John? Jesus’ answer is a rebuke, ‘If I choose that he should survive till I come back, what does that matter to you? Follow me yourself.’

‘Follow me yourself’ impresses upon Peter that his responsibility is for his own faithfulness, Jesus is simply saying, ‘don’t let your doubts and perplexities about others hinder your own service.’

We must obey without waiting to know what orders or promises may be given to others.

What was to become of John?

The reply was misconstrued to become the rumour that John would never die, that the Lord would return before his death. This idea must have grown stronger and stronger as John grew older and he needed to squash the entire story, he does so here quite effectively.

‘This is the disciple who testifies to these things and who wrote them down. We know that his testimony is true. Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.’ John 21:24-25

The words ‘bearing witness’ is the present tense, which means they are still bearing witness. He is still telling the things of Jesus as well as writing them down, he is the one ‘who has written these things’, the aorist describes a completed act, this ‘witness’ is the apostle John.

The group indicated by ‘we know that his testimony is true’ could refer to his fellow elders at Ephesus, the words were probably added by the Ephesian elders, to whom the preceding narrative had been given both orally and in writing.

John has been very selective and a great mass of material remains, no matter how extensive our knowledge of Jesus, it is only a tiny fragment of what could be told. No human category is adequate for Him. no human writing big enough to contain Him.

Jesus did many, many other things which are not recorded in this or any book. The writer here uses hyperbole, an overstatement to make his point, the book is now complete, and all matters have been attended to.



"I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world."