Biblical Studies/New Testament Commentaries/The Gospel of John/Chapter 21

Some Points of Interest in John 21 Peter is asked to declare his love for Christ three times, matching the number of times he denied Him before He was crucified.However, after the third denial, Peter realized that he had fulfilled Christ's prediction of his denial, and wept. In John 21, though, we have no indication that Peter realizes the significance of the moment. His comment "I'm going fishing" shows that he plans to simply return to his old life. He is being bestowed with grace and forgiveness, but seems not to recognize it. Indeed, the author even mentions Peter's hurt at being asked a third time.

Peter also makes reference to the beloved disciple, and while doing so, adding to the possibility that a rivalry might have existed between the two. As Jesus and Peter are walking together after Jesus has bestowed grace and forgiveness upon him, Peter turns around and makes reference to the beloved disciple walking behind them. The beloved disciple (John) probably is just following Jesus, and was most likely uninvited on Peter and Jesus' little walk. It is actually quite humorous when Peter notices John trailing himself and Jesus. As he asks Jesus "what about him?" Jesus no doubt picks-up on his condescending tone and sets him straight. It's possible that Peter was also a little jealous of the beloved disciple. After hearing about the way he was to die, it seems natural for Peter to inquire about the beloved disciple's fate as well. Jesus dismisses the question because he knows that Peter's worrying about the beloved disciple will not lead Peter to the life of holiness that Jesus has commissioned him to live.

John, are you there?

The authorship of the Gospel of John is questionable in the switch between Chapters 20 and 21. The end of the previous chapter (20:29-31) seems to come to an abrupt halt, as the author declares his reasoning for the composition of the Gospel of John. Verse 30 shares that not all of the miracles which Jesus performed are recorded. The interjection of this verse seems unreasonable, as the next chapter contains an account of yet another miracle. These last verses of chapter 20 seem to wrap up the book in an abrupt, yet reasonable manner. However, the addition of Chapter 21 to John seems to come at an odd time. Perhaps the original author did not finish The Gospel of John. Then toward the end of chapter 21, another two verses seem to close the book once again, saying: "This is the disciple who testifies to these things and who wrote them down. We know that his testimony is true" (21:24). The third person narrative seems to lead the reader to believe that the author himself did not write this. (However, if the author did write this, the third person narration would line up when compared to the idea of John being the "Beloved Disciple," who is also discussed in third person). Further misunderstanding comes when the use of the word "we" comes into play. This shows that the author is no longer one person. Perhaps a community of believers finished the book for John, adding to his credibility. Yet once again, the narration switches back to first person in verse 25. This verse seems to line up more with verse 30 of the previous chapter. The author, whether or not the same author, is being redundant. Wrapping up the Gospel two times along a similar idea causes me to question the interjection of 23 verses. Scholars have added the language and word choice to their argument that the closing chapter of the Gospel of John came from an outside source.

Jesus' Conversation with Peter Most of the Gospel of John is written simplistically and are based on tradition. The conversation with Peter in 21:12-19 is much different being highly stylized and Johannine. Jesus takes on a pastoral role for Peter. "Clearly Peter is the leading figure among the twelve in John and in the other Gospels," (Smith 395). Jesus begins by asking if Peter loves him more than his materials such as his fishing equipment. Another interpretation is whether Peter loves Jesus more than the other disciples. This specific excerpt can be interpreted by whether Peter loves Jesus more than Peter loves the other disciples. "The other disciples are clearly present. The question therefore seems to contemplate Peter's leadership or superior rank, whether during Jesus' ministry or later," (Smith 396).

Peter 21:15-17

Jesus asks in verse 15, "Simon, Son of John, do you love Me more than these?" Some believe that the "more than these" is referring to the fishing gear near by. However, others believe that Jesus is asking "Do you love these disciples more than Me?" And lastly, some believe that Jesus is asking "Peter, do you love me more than these other disciples do?" The last belief seems to have quiet a bit of irony to it. In John 13:37 Peter boasts and says "I will lay down my life for you." Matt 26:33 and 14:29 are also cross references to Peter proclaiming his loyalty to Jesus. The irony behind this is that Jesus is trying to say "Peter after denying me 3 times, which I foreshadowed, can you still testify that you do love me more than these other disciples?" The overall message of this part of the last chapter is to show "Peter’s complete restoration to a position of apostolic leadership after his threefold denial" (Harris III). Three times Peter denies Christ, and three times Peter proclaims his love for the Lord and then Jesus commands Peter three times to tend His sheep. With that said, Peter's faith has been completely restored to fellowship.

The Beloved Disciple

Again in Chapter 21 John makes reference to this mysterious figure of "the beloved disciple." Many have speculated as to the identity of the disciple, from John himself, to Thomas, and even Mary Magdalene, several possibilities have been offered. The obvious problem with such speculation is that John apparently intended for the disciple to remain anonymous and would likely not have left deliberate clues as to his identity. Whatever the case may be, the disciples appearance here in the questionable epilogue to John's gospel is somewhat curious. D. Moody Smith points out that Peter is concerned with the disciple's presence as they have been shown to be rivals of sorts throughout the gospel and apparently Peter was always trying to measure up. Jesus rebukes Peter and tells him to worry about his own discipleship and not the discipleship of others. There is then a curious passage that seems to suggest a certain degree of unrest within the Christian community at the time relating to the time frame of Jesus' return, "Jesus answered, 'If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.' 23 Because of this, the rumor spread among the brothers 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?'" Whether John is changing a prevalent tradition in light of subsequent facts, or if he is simply pointing out the misunderstanding is not clear and is impossible to know. What is clear is that the early Christians in John's community seemed to have some expectation relating to the return of Jesus as being in the very near future.

Symbolism: It is fascinating that there were 153 fish caught in the apostles’ nets. The significance of the number 153 is noteworthy. Does it signify the different types of fish they caught or is it more symbolic? The emphasis in the story, however, is purely on how many fish there were and the fact that the net did not break. On the simplest level, these details speak of the abundance that our gracious God provides and how he also enables the abundance to be received. Perhaps the number 153 relates to the "apostles' mission to catch men (converts), and that is the number they were seeking? Also the untorn net could symbolize or represent the church(New American Bible, 1174).