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 Main Index : Commentaries : PNT : PNT Vol. 3 : Chapter XXI

Volume III
The Gospel According to John
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      This chapter is regarded by all modern critics as an appendix to John's Gospel, probably written at a later day than the body of the work. The reason for this view is not that its subject matter or style is not in harmony with the preceding chapters, but the closing verses of the preceding chapter seem to draw the whole to a fitting close. Westcott says: "It is impossible to suppose that it was the original design of the Evangelist to add the incidents of chapter XXI. after the verses which form a solemn close of his record of the great history of the conflict of faith and unbelief in the life of Christ. And the general scope of the contents of this chapter is distinct from the development of the plan that is said to be completed in chapter XX. The manifestation of the Lord, which is given in detail in it, is not designed to create faith in the fact of his resurrection, but to illustrate his action in society; he guides, supports and assigns their parts to his disciples.

      "On the other hand it is equally clear that the chapter was written by the author of the Gospel. The style and general character of the language alike lead to this conclusion; and there is no evidence to show that the Gospel was published before the appendix was added to it. The reason of the addition is probably to be found in the circulation of the saying of the Lord to John in verse 23. The clear exposition of this saying carried with it, naturally, a [305] recital of the circumstances under which it was spoken." Alford takes the same view, saying: "In every part of it his (John's) hand is plain and unmistakable; in every part of it his character and spirit are manifested in a way which none but the most biased can fail to recognize. I believe it to have been added some years, probably, after the completion of the Gospel; partly, perhaps, to record the important miracle of the second draught of fishes, so full of spiritual instruction, and the interesting account of the Lord's sayings to Peter; but principally to meet the error that was becoming prevalent concerning himself," referring to the saying that he should not die. As these incidents, the Feeding of the Five Thousand, the Night Storm on Galilee, and the teaching and incidents of Capernaum recorded in chapters IV. and VI., all occurred upon the shores or waters of the same sea, I here insert, as a help, a map of that celebrated body of water, so sacred as the center of the greater part of the Savior's earthly labors.

Map of Sea of Galilee

      1. After these things Jesus showed himself again to his disciples at the sea of [306] Tiberias. For some reason the Savior had desired to gather the whole band of his followers on the shores of Galilee, before his departure, and had directed (Matt. 28:7; Mark 16:7) them to repair to Galilee. There, after his resurrection, he was seen by the Twelve, and by about five hundred brethren at once (1 Cor. 15:6). The apostles, having arrived at the appointed place, engaged in their old occupation of fishing, until they were interrupted by the appearance of the Savior. This is not to be regarded as an abandonment of hope or of their sacred calling, but rather as a determination to employ themselves usefully while they are waiting for the fulfillment of the promise of the Lord. We are not told how long "after these things" the appearance at the sea of Galilee occurred, and can only be certain that it occurred during the last thirty days of the period that preceded the ascension. Sea of Tiberias. A name of the sea of Galilee bestowed upon it because the capital of Galilee bore that name and was located on the margin of the lake. This name does not occur elsewhere in the Gospels. In the preceding chapter John has only noted the appearances of the Savior at Jerusalem; Luke notes those only; while Matthew mentions both those of Galilee and Jerusalem, he only speaks of the appearance to the "eleven" in Galilee. John, by the addition of this chapter, makes a record of both. Shewed himself. There is a significance in the words, "Jesus showed himself," or that he manifested himself after his resurrection, showing that he was visible only by a distinct act of his own will. From the time of his resurrection the disciples did not see him, in the usual sense in which we use that term, but he appeared unto them, or was seen of them when he so willed. The language is changed, and in language of this kind all his appearances after the resurrection are narrated. The same kind of language is applied to his appearances that is used of angels and all heavenly manifestations. Men do not see them, in the sense that it was a matter that lay in their will to do so or not, as we see any material object. Language that is appropriate to objects of sense is not appropriate to these manifestations. They rather appear to men and are only visible to those for whose sakes the appearances are vouchsafed, and to whom they are willing to show themselves. The risen Christ, therefore, though seen on many occasions by his disciples, and on one occasion by hundreds of them, does not reveal himself to his enemies. In his appearances to his disciples he leaves no doubt but that he is the risen Lord, yet there is a mystery, and an air of strangeness that inspires them with awe, and which restrains them from the former familiar fellowship.

      2. There were together. Seven disciples are named, most of whom, and probably all, belonged to that very neighborhood. All that are named were apostles, unless Nathanael be an exception, who is only named in the first, second and last chapters of the Gospel. Most scholars regard him an apostle who appears, elsewhere, under the name of Bartholomew. The latter name [307] is a patronymic like Barjona, a name applied to Peter, and means "the son of Tholmaius." John, one of the "sons Zebedee" was among the number.

      3. Simon Peter saith, I go a fishing. Peter here is true to the character portrayed in all the Gospels as well as Acts. He is the leader. It is upon his proposition and example that the disciples resort to the calling once more from which they were taken to become "fishers of men." "They went forth" from the house where they were stopping, possibly at Capernaum or Bethsaida, entered a "ship," or fishing boat, and engaged in the work at night, the most favorable time for fishing, but "that night they caught nothing." We may learn from the readiness with which the other disciples follow the example of Peter the importance of correct leadership. The masses of mankind, in politics, in society, in church or family, are constantly moulded by the example and influence of leading men. A few lead; the multitude are led where these leaders point out the way.

      4. When the morning was now come. The true reading, "When the day was breaking," gives a more vivid picture. As the dawn appeared they observed some one upon the shore whom they did not yet recognize, either because of the indistinct light, or because of his changed appearance. It will be noted that in all the appearances after the resurrection the Lord came and went suddenly, and was recognized or not as he desired. Still it may be that the reason the disciples failed to recognize him was their preoccupation of mind and the dim light.

      5. Children, have ye any meat? The word translated "children" means, literally, "boys," and we take it that the Savior asked in the familiar, colloquial language of the locality, "Boys, have you caught any fish?" There was nothing in his question that made the disciples suspect who he was. It would be natural for them to suppose that the inquiry was made by one wishing to purchase fish. The word rendered "meat" is a general term applied to food of any kind.

      6. Cast the net on the right side of the ship. This direction was promptly followed and resulted in the net being so crowded with fishes that they could not draw it into the boat. The command, itself, though promptly obeyed, did not suggest to the disciples that it was Jesus. They might suppose that he [308] had seen some fishes playing on the other side of the vessel. The ship must be understood as a small fishing boat, propelled by either oars, or a sail, and capable of carrying about a dozen men, such as are still seen on the waters of Galilee.

      7, 8. That disciple whom Jesus loved, saith, It is the Lord. John, with his quickness of perception, as soon as it was seen that the net was filled with an astonishing draught of fishes, remembering a former miracle of the same kind, exclaimed, It is the Lord! Peter, impulsive as usual, when he heard it, at once plunged into the sea in order to reach the shore. During the work of the night he had laid off his "fisher's coat," a kind of loose blouse, and counting it unseemly to appear before the Savior half clad, he put it on. In a moment he was standing upon the shore by the Lord. The rest of the disciples, less impulsive, came more slowly. It was 200 cubits, 100 yards to the shore, and they, as they came in the boat, slowly dragged the net with its living load after them. This, Peter seemed to have forgotten, though the fish had been caught under Christ's directions. We rather admire the course of those disciples who continued faithful to the duty of that moment.

      9, 10. They saw a fire of coals there, and fish laid thereon. The preparations were already begun for a simple meal. The commentators have discussed, idly, the origin of this fire. As we are not told we have simply to leave it to conjecture. It might have been miraculous, which we prefer to believe, or it might have been built by human hands. There were fish already broiling, but still, Christ bids them bring of the fish just caught.

      11. Simon Peter . . . drew the net to land. Peter, at once, at the Master's command, springs back to duty and draws the net on the shore. The number of fish was carefully counted, one hundred and fifty-three large ones, and yet the net with such a strain, remained unbroken. [309]

      12, 13. Durst not ask, Who art thou? The disciples knew that it was the Lord, but there was something in his mien, his majesty, his altered appearance, that amazed them, filled them with awe, and prevented them from asking questions that they were curious to know. How many questions occur to us concerning which we would like to know! The Lord himself takes the bread and fish and distributes to his disciples. He is the host; they are the guests.

      14. The third time that Jesus shewed himself to his disciples. John does not say that this was the third appearance of Jesus, but the third time he had showed himself to the disciples, or apostles, for that is the sense in which disciples is here, and often used. The first time was his appearance to the ten apostles, on the evening of the day of the resurrection (John 20:19). The second was to the eleven (Thomas was now present) one week later (John 20:26). The third is this appearance in Galilee. Besides these, he had appeared to Mary Magdalene (John 20:16), and to two disciples near Emmaus (Luke 24:13). At this appearance he furnishes fire and food to them after a night of sleepless toil; an illustration of his tender care of his own.

      15. Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these? At the close of the feast the Lord turned to Peter with this question, one that he repeated twice, and which has caused much perplexity. I think that it is easily explained in view of what had passed only a short time before. On the night of the betrayal, when Christ intimated that his disciples would forsake him in the trial he was about to suffer, Peter spoke up and asserted that though all others forsook him, he would never forsake him. What Christ had said might be true of the rest, but he was so loving, faithful and true, that he would die for him. Yet before the cock crow of the next morning he had thrice denied that he knew Jesus, even with oaths. Such was the collapse of the confident disciple who "loved the Master better than these" other disciples. Since that fall, Christ had met with Peter among the rest of the disciples but had not referred to this subject, but now has come the time for a restoration of Peter. Hence he probes him with the question, Lovest thou me better than these? That question would at once recall to Peter his boastful claim, his awful fall, and would pierce him to the heart. He no longer claims that he is the truest of the apostolic band, does not even affirm confidently, but answers, Thou knowest my heart; thou knowest that I love thee. Then said the Savior, Feed my lambs. The modesty of Peter's answer is better indicated in the Greek than in our version. The word used by the Savior for "lovest" is a very strong term; that used by Peter for "I love" is far less [310] strong. After his shameful denial he was ashamed to even claim the highest love. Christ then, once more, assigns a work to Peter. If he loves him he may feed his lambs, take care of the tender disciples of the Lord. The Good Shepherd will give him work as an under shepherd.

      16. Feed my sheep. A second time the Lord probes Peter with the question. Let it be noted that he does not call him Peter, "the rock," any longer. So frail a disciple could only be called Simon. Again he uses the strong term for love (agapao). Again Peter answers as modestly as before. He not only cannot claim to love best of all, but can hardly claim to love, only "to have affection" (phileo). Then Christ again commissions him to work, "Feed my sheep." Not only the lambs, but he may look after the sheep of the fold, watch over the disciples of the Lord, young and old.

      17. Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee. The third time the Lord asks the question. Only once had he compared Peter's love with "these." The third time the Lord himself drops the strong term for love and uses the weaker one, "have affection." Peter, pierced to the heart by these repeated questions, throws himself on the knowledge the Lord has of his heart. The third time the Lord charges him to act as a shepherd under him and to take care of the sheep. Three times Peter had denied the Master; three times the Master questions his love; three times he gives him charge concerning his work. The questioning was painful, Peter was grieved, but the grief was wholesome and Peter's whole subsequent life bore proof of the discipline. His rashness was forever gone.

      18. When thou wast young, thou girdedst thyself. Peter had denied his Master to save his own life. Now that he is reinstated in the old confidence and charged with the Master's work, he is told that he will be called on to die for it. He will be girded, not with a girdle, but with bonds, and he shall be led where he would not, unto death. [311]

      19. By what death he should glorify God. These two verses can only be understood as declaring that Peter should die the death of a martyr. John wrote after Peter's death, and may be understood as affirming that he did thus "glorify God." The universal testimony of the ancient Church is that he did thus die. It is asserted that Peter was crucified, a fact that is probable, as he was not a Roman citizen. Follow me. He had once forsaken Christ through fear of death. Now, with a prospect of violent death before him, he is bidden to resume the Master's work and to follow him. He did this, from this time, faithfully and gloriously, whether threatened by the Jewish Sanhedrim, in prison, or dying as a martyr on the cross. He was to follow until he tasted the cup that his Master had drunk. It will be noted that at the beginning of the Lord's ministry the command "Follow me," had a different, though analogous meaning to that which was now attached to it. Then it meant primarily to follow the Lord in his ministry, abandoning previous occupations, and sharing with him danger and disgrace. At the time of the seizure of Christ, Peter had ceased to follow and even had denied him. Now, with the certain prospect of death in the end, he is bidden to follow in a life of obedience to his will which would manifest Christ to the world. The special charge here given to Peter is one demanding work, activity for the Lord. It will be observed that, while the Lord emphasizes action to Peter, it is waiting that is made the special duty of John. Of Peter, Augustine, commenting on this passage, says: "This denier and lover of Christ has revealed to him this end: puffed up by presumption, prostrated by the denial of the Master, purged of his sin by weeping penitence, once more approved by humble confession, he is at last crowned by suffering for Christ.


      20, 21. Peter, turning about, saw the disciple, etc. Three years before on the banks of the same sea, Jesus had called Peter and Andrew, and the sons of Zebedee to become fishers of men by the very same words that he had now just addressed to Peter. The latter, not unnaturally, thinks of his companions, and turning to look at John, asks: "Lord, what shall this man do?" It is probable that during the conference, Peter had been drawn apart, and that John, so intimate with Peter, and who had "leaned his head on the Savior's breast at supper," had drawn near to them. By [312] omitting the words in Italics the reader can catch the laconic form of the Greek: "Lord, this man, what?" Peter understands the prophecy with regard to himself, but what shall become of his friend?

      22. If I will that he tarry till I come. Observe (1) that each one must work in the place where the Lord wills; "If I will." (2) that as Peter's duty was restless activity in following Christ, it is indicated that John's work in part at least, is calm, trustful and patient waiting; tarry till I come. These words of the Savior here give rise to much discussion. It has been held 1. That they have no special signification but to rebuke Peter and to assure him that John's future was the Lord's business, not his. Such a view is disproved by the deep significance that always inheres in the Savior's words. 2. That these words refer to a second coming at the destruction of Jerusalem. But all the weight of authority is to the end that John wrote his Gospel after the fall of Jerusalem; yet his language in the next verse shows that, while he pondered the Savior's words, he did not understand their meaning. The prophecy was, therefore, yet unfulfilled, as far as he was concerned. 3. That the coming referred to was death. That would deprive the Savior's words of any significance whatever, as they would be as true of every man as of John. 4. That they refer to the promised second coming of Christ, and that John did not die a natural death. Even Godet suggests that the primitive epoch of humanity had its Enoch; the theocratic epoch its Elijah and that the Christian epoch may have had its John who was translated without seeing death. In the face of the fact that the grave of John was pointed out at Ephesus until the chaos of Mahometan invasion swept over the East, such a view is absurd. Discarding all these hypotheses as inadequate, I may be allowed to express my surprise that the commentators have not perceived that John did literally tarry until the Savior came, until he saw him, heard him speak, and recorded the last revelation of the Lord to the world. About sixty years from the time that Christ spoke these words, according to the testimony of the early Church, the aged John was an exile in, Patmos. There, upon the Lord's day, he "heard a great voice," and turning, he says, "I saw one like the Son of Man" blazing with such glory that he fell, "fell at his feet as dead, and then he laid his right hand on me, saying to me, Fear not." Then follow the Seven Letters to the Church dictated to John by our Lord, and the sublime prophecies of Revelation. It is, therefore, a historical fact that John did "tarry" on the earth long after the other apostles were wearing crowns of martyrdom, and until the Lord came to him visibly to make the last inspired revelation of his will to man. This view, which is the only one in which the Savior's words and the historical facts are in exact harmony, incidently shows that Revelation was not written when John penned this chapter. Had that been the case he would not have been at loss to understand just what the Savior's words could mean, but would have referred at once to the wonderful "coming" he witnessed on Patmos. All the testimony of the ancient [313] Church agrees that Revelation was the last book of the Bible written, but a class of modern expositors, solely in the interest of a preconceived interpretation, have dated its composition before the fall of Jerusalem.

      23. This saying went abroad among the brethren. John corrects the mistake that had gone abroad. Christ had not said that he should not die, but simply, "If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee." His language shows that he was uncertain what the Savior might mean. The scenes of Patmos finally made all clear.

      24. This is the disciple which testifieth these things. The one named just before, concerning whom Peter asked the question. Most of the critics hold that this verse and probably the next were added by another hand. The plural, "we know," seems to be a kind of attestation and the hypothesis is offered that they were added by the Elders of Ephesus to whom John committed his gospel. They are found in all the manuscripts and, if not written by John, were appended to the original copy before it was published.

      25. Also many other things which Jesus did. "Many other things" are recorded by the three preceding gospels which John does not record. The ministry of Christ was so busy, his teaching so voluminous and his deeds of mercy so numerous, that the verse states that it would be impossible to make a minute record, and in order to convey this idea forcibly an oriental hyperbole is employed.

      I will close this comment by an extract from Godet which treats of the authorship of this chapter, as well as the whole gospel. "1. The narrative in chapter 21:1-23, is from the hand of John. 2. Verse 24 is from the friends of John, who had called forth the composition of this gospel, and to whom he committed it after composition. 3. Verse 25 was written by one of them, with whom the work was deposited, and who thought himself bound to close it thus in honor, not of the author, but of the subject of the history. By these last words the entire work becomes a whole. Accordingly we are shut up to hold either that John is the author of our gospel, or that the author is a forger, who, 1, palmed himself off on the world with all the characteristics of the Apostle; who, 2, carried his shamelessness so far that [314] he got made out for him, by an accomplice in the fraud, a certificate of identity with the person of John; or who, more simply still, to save falsehood, made out this certificate for himself, in the name of another, or of several others. And he who had recourse to such ways was the author of a writing in which lying is treated as the work of the devil (8:44) and truth glorified as one of the two essential features of the divine character. If any one will believe such a story . . . let him believe it." (1 Cor. 14:38). [315]

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