John 21:1-11 NASB
After these things Jesus manifested Himself again to the disciples at the Sea
of Tiberias, and He manifested Himself
in this way. (2) Simon Peter, and Thomas
called Didymus, and Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, and the sons of Zebedee, and two others of His disciples
were together. (3) Simon Peter *said to them,
"I am going fishing." They *said to him, "We will also come with
you." They went out and got into the boat; and that night they caught
nothing. (4) But when the day was now
breaking, Jesus stood on the beach; yet the disciples did not know that it was
Jesus. (5) So Jesus *said to them, "Children, you do not have any fish, do you?"
They answered Him, "No." (6) And He
said to them, "Cast the net on the right-hand side
of the boat and you will find a catch." So they cast, and then they were not able to
haul it in because of the great number of fish. (7)
Therefore that disciple whom Jesus loved *said to Peter, "It is the
Lord." So when Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put his outer
garment on (for he was stripped for work),
and threw himself into the sea. (8) But the
other disciples came in the little boat, for they were not far from the land,
but about one hundred yards away, dragging the net full
of fish. (9) So when they got out on the
land, they *saw a charcoal fire already
laid and fish placed on it, and bread. (10)
Jesus *said to them, "Bring some of the fish which
you have now caught." (11) Simon
Peter went up and drew the net to land, full of large fish, a hundred and
fifty-three; and although there were so many, the net was not torn.
Doing What You Know
(You should note that Christ has already appeared to the
disciples at least twice.) It may seem curious to the modern observer that the
disciples, or at least some of them, went fishing. They are involved in the
greatest event in history, something well beyond their own comprehension or
experience, and their reaction to it is to go fishing. It may seem strange
behavior. To them, however, it would not seem so strange; they were
professional fisherman. In times of anxiety and stress, there is a comfort in
going back to the routine and the familiar. When you don't know what to do, you
do what you know.
It is also not strange that they caught nothing. Anyone who
has ever been fishing understands that the fish are under no obligation to be
caught. It is discouraging, but it is not unusual. As professional fisherman
this would not be the first time they had experienced such a thing. Fishing all
night is not unusual either; many fishermen around the world use some sort of
light to attract the fish to the surface and then net them.
To understand what is happening here, we need to review a
little nautical terminology — and where it came from. Most readers will know
the nautical terms "port" and "starboard". What's
interesting to us in this context is the root of these particular words.
Starboard is a contraction of the phrase, "steering board." This
dates to the days before the invention of the rudder — something which came
along the late medieval time. Until you had a ship whose stern stuck out of the
water, it made no sense to put a hole in the bottom of the boat for the
steering board. The steering board was kept on the right-hand side of the ship
(because most people were right-handed) and muscled around to steer the ship.
Thus, the right-hand side of the ship was known as the steering board side,
later contracted to starboard. The other side of the ship, the left side, was
called the port side because that was the side you laid alongside the port.
That way you didn't damage your steering board.
What does all this mean to us? It means that the steering board
would be on the right-hand side of the ship and you would cast your nets on the
left-hand side of the ship. You have to be a pretty frustrated fisherman, then,
to take the advice of some guy on the shore telling you to put your net on the
right-hand side. It's likely you will foul your steering board — a nasty mess.
But it's also possible that I am the shore can see something you can't — so it
might be worth a try.
Every now and then you get a result which is unexpected. It
tends to get your attention. So when you've been fishing all night and you've
caught nothing, and then you get a boatload of fish by doing something which
seems wrong, you pay attention. It's not exactly a miracle; technically, it's a
providence. It's a very convincing providence. Peter catches on immediately. If
you will recall, every time Peter gets in a boat with Jesus things do not go
according to plan. He recognizes the results immediately.
Peter recognizes Jesus by the results. It's an important
point for us today. Some of us have the vague idea that we would recognize
Jesus if he appeared to us in miraculous form, but otherwise he is completely
unrecognizable. That's because we no longer teach the concept of providence.
Have you ever had one of those incidents in your life where everything just
came together? It wasn't exactly miraculous, but you could see the hand of God
working behind the scenes? That's providence. Quite literally, it is God
providing for you (hence the name, providence.) Peter sees it; do you?
It's interesting to note that Peter stops to put on his
outer garment. We can assume the other disciples would've left it in the boat;
perhaps Peter wanted Christ to know that he had all of Peter, missing nothing.
Partial commitment does not become the Christian.
He then swims to shore. It is a remarkable display of his
enthusiasm; he's only 100 yards offshore, and it won't take that long to row
the boat there. But Peter is a man of action, whose motto seems to be,
"direct action whenever possible." The contrast with John is
instructive. John is more contemplative by nature, and his contempt for the
boat to take him to Christ. It seems that the reaction depends upon the
disciple. Here is an instance where it is important to remember the saying,
One final point: note that Peter helps haul the net in from
the shore. The true disciple of Christ is willing to do the work, no matter how
hot and sweaty it is.
John 21:12-19 NASB
Jesus *said to them, "Come and have breakfast."
None of the disciples ventured to question Him, "Who are You?"
knowing that it was the Lord. (13) Jesus
*came and *took the bread and *gave it
to them, and the fish likewise. (14) This is
now the third time that Jesus was manifested to the disciples, after He was
raised from the dead. (15) So when they had
finished breakfast, Jesus *said to Simon Peter, "Simon,
John, do you love Me more than these?" He *said to Him, "Yes,
Lord; You know that I love You." He *said to him, "Tend
My lambs." (16) He *said to him
again a second time, "Simon, son of John, do you love
Me?" He *said to Him, "Yes, Lord; You know that I love
You." He *said to him, "Shepherd My
sheep." (17) He *said to him the
third time, "Simon, son of John, do you love
Me?" Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, "Do you love Me?" And he said to Him,
"Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You." Jesus *said to
him, "Tend My sheep. (18) "Truly, truly, I
say to you, when you were younger, you used to gird yourself and walk wherever
you wished; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands and someone
else will gird you, and bring you where you do not wish to go." (19) Now this He said, signifying by what kind of
death he would glorify God. And when He had spoken this, He *said to him, "Follow Me!"
Please note the phrase, "None of the disciples ventured
to question Him." It's a modest way of phrasing the fact that none of the
disciples at this point had the guts to ask, "Are you really Jesus?"
This is, by all accounts, the third time the disciples have seen him in a
group. At this point, they know what they're dealing with. They just don't know
what to do with it.
We may make a culinary note at this point: Jesus brought the
bread. Jesus cooked the fish that they caught. Breakfast, it seems, is a
cooperative effort between the disciples and Christ. This may seem a minor
point to you, but it actually is quite important. Many Christians have the idea
that everything depends upon their efforts. If they can't see a way to get it
done, then it can't be done. Other Christians have the idea that all we need to
do is pray and things will happen; we don't need to really do anything. The
truth is in the middle. Like breakfast, Christian endeavors are a cooperative
effort between Christ and the disciples. The key is to figure out what he wants
us to do and what we should leave to him.
There is a very deep theological point here, also. Christ
eats breakfast with them after the resurrection. It is common these days to
hear the Christ had some sort of spiritual body (think ghostly). One of the
reasons he eats with the disciples is to show them that he is fully human. The
importance of this point has been appreciated since the early days of the
church — because the heretics who are fond of that spiritual body have been
with us since the early days of the church.
A Note on the Greek
The reader will pardon this diversion into the Greek
language. The passage in question is almost impossible to translate correctly
into English. The reason for this is somewhat unexpected. Normally, the English
language has many more words for a similar concept than does the Greek
language. In this instance, however, Greek has for words which are correctly
translated into the English word, “love.”
Storge, which means the kind of love you would have within
Eros, from which we get our word "erotic", means
Phileo, which is often translated "brotherly
love", is the word used here in all three instances by Peter. It generally
implies an affection which comes from the heart but not the head.
Agape, which is used by Christ in the first two instances,
means a love which comes from the will. Put shortly, it is love which stems
from the head more than the heart.
You can easily see how this changes our understanding of the
dialogue. Christ uses the higher and stronger word in his first two questions;
Peter replies with the weaker one. On the third try, Christ uses Peter's word.
The implication is that Christ is willing to accept what Peter offers; the
emotional side of love. It also implies that what Christ desires is more than
that. The matter is at once simple and powerful: love the Lord your God with
all your heart, all your soul, all your mind and all your strength. You may not
be capable of doing all that, certainly not all the time. But Christ accepts
May I point out one simple thing? Notice that Jesus waited
until after breakfast to have this conversation. It is an example of our Lord's
grace. Have you ever had to go to someone and apologize — and dreaded the
meeting beforehand? You understand the emotions that Peter must have felt. He
probably expected to be chewed out royally, and he was not looking forward to
it. He probably suspected that he was going to be kicked out of the group of
disciples. Jesus counters that feeling by including Peter in the meal. In the
culture of that time, if you were invited to eat with someone it was a sign
that you were included in their group. If you eat my home, you must be welcome
in my home. By doing this, Christ made Peter feel welcome with him.
There is a simple, classic point made about this passage by
virtually every commentator. Peter denied Christ three times; Christ restored
Peter three times. At the very least we may conclude that the grace of Christ
is all sufficient. More than that, we may also conclude that Christ will take
us back no matter how many times we have offended. For those of us who are
experienced sinners, this is very good news indeed.
Each time that Jesus speaks to Peter here he gives him the
same task: take care of my sheep. In so doing he confirms Peter as the head of
the disciples. More than that, however, he tells the rest of us how much he
cares for us. There are many things that Peter is going to have to do, as we
shall see. But Christ has him focus on the one most important thing: take care
my sheep. Winston Churchill tells us that when British generals first heard the
American generals use the phrase, "overall strategic objective", they
laughed. But then he says, "later on, its wisdom became apparent." It
helps to know what your main objective is — and always to keep it in focus.
Almost casually, Jesus then tells Peter how he is going to
die. It is a curious thing about Christianity: the assumption is that the
Christian will suffer. The greater the service to Christ, the greater the
suffering. This is, as the physicists put it, "intuitively obvious to the
casual observer." How can this be? The world hates Christ. The Prince of
this world is Satan; hate is his greatest weapon; Christ is his great enemy. It
is no great logical leap, therefore, to see that Satan will hate those who love
the way Christ loves. Peter's service will be great; likewise his suffering.
What about Him?
John 21:20-25 NASB
Peter, turning around, *saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them; the one who also had leaned back on His
bosom at the supper and said, "Lord, who is the one who betrays
You?" (21) So Peter seeing him *said to
Jesus, "Lord, and what about this man?" (22)
Jesus *said to him, "If I want him to remain until
I come, what is that to you? You follow Me!" (23) Therefore this saying went out among the brethren that that
disciple would not die; yet Jesus did not say to him that he would not die, but
only, "If I
want him to remain until I come, what is
that to you?" (24) This is the disciple who is testifying to these
things and wrote these things, and we know that his testimony is true. (25) And there are also many other things which
Jesus did, which if they *were written in detail, I suppose that even the world
itself *would not contain the books that *would be written.
The change in Peter is rather breathtaking. From the man who
was worried about his status he has gone back to being Peter the bold. The
first thing he does is ask the question which is none of his business. That
It also shows us the close union of Peter and John. As far
as we know, Peter didn't ask anything about any other disciple. As we shall
see, the two of them are inseparable in the early days of the church. It's an
unusual pairing, perhaps. For if Peter is the man of action then John is the
man thought. It is as if Christ were saying to us through this great
friendship, "you need both action and mind." This is true for each
individual Christian; it is even truer for the church as a whole. Paul makes
this point several times when he describes the church as a body. Peter alone
cannot perform the tasks assigned; he needs the help of the other disciples. No
matter how great you are in the church, you are still part of the body.
Why Did He Ask?
Remember, please, the last thing before he asked was the
statement by Christ about how much he was going to suffer. Peter's question
relates to that suffering. In effect, he's asking how much John is going to
suffer. Why would he do that?
Some writers feel that Peter is deflecting the pain of the
suffering which is coming. It's a rather psychological concept.
In another sense, Peter is sharing the pain. He knows he's going
to suffer; it always feels better to know you're not suffering alone. That's
just how human beings are built.
It's also possible that he's just curious. John is, after all,
his best friend.
The apostle John records the answer simply as, "none of
your business." God never told Job why he was suffering. Often enough,
suffering comes without explanation. If our own suffering comes that way, how
much more unexplained is the suffering of others. One of the reasons we are
discouraged from judging others is that we have the tendency to see in their
suffering some unjudged sin. For this reason, God seldom if ever tells you what
somebody else is going to suffer. It's a form of, "lead us not into
temptation." God tells us only our own story and that day by day.
The reason John records this in his gospel is rather simple:
Christ's answer was misunderstood by some in the early church to mean that John
would live until Christ returned. That's not what Christ said, as John points
Restoration of the Believer
We may close this lesson with a few points to remember:
As often as you fail, Christ is there to restore you.
You may not see it that way. You may think that there is a limit
to love, because your love is limited. But remember that his love is greater
than your love. Count on that.
Christ's love for you does not depend on anyone else. It doesn't
matter what your pastor thinks or your wife says; Christ's love is eternal.
Remember the Prodigal Son; his father ran to greet
him and bring him home.