John 21

Chapter twenty-one concludes John’s gospel with a final appearance of Jesus not mentioned in the Synoptics. There is no indication given of how much time had passed between the chapter twenty appearances and this one (not more than forty days, Acts 1:3). However, Peter was unsure how to proceed or what was supposed to happen, so he went back to the thing he knew best: fishing (John 21:1-14). Early the next morning “Jesus stood on the beach” as they came back in with no catch. He told them to cast the net right where they were, and they brought in a whole load. (The fact that John pointed out 153 fish is a bizarre detail that has stumped many commentators over the years.) At this, John told Peter that it was Jesus, and Peter jumped out of the boat and swam to shore. In what must have been a surreal moment for these seven apostles, Jesus invited them to have a private breakfast with him, featuring fish and bread over a charcoal fire. John noted that this was only the third time they had seen him as a group, although he had made other personal appearances.

Following breakfast Jesus turned his attention to Peter, the one who had boldly declared his unwavering support and blatantly denied the Savior while he was being interrogated (John 21:15-19). In an amazing example of tough grace, Jesus restored Peter, one step at a time. The three calls have an obvious comparison to the three denials. Each time Jesus asked Peter to recant his denials, he also reinforced Peter’s commissioning. He finished by foretelling the method of Peter’s death – tied up and stretched out, which Church history shows to have been crucifixion.

Peter turned the conversation to John, asking how he would die (John 21:20-23). Jesus stated that was none of Peter’s concern, and that John could live until Jesus’ return if that’s what Jesus wanted. This was blown out of context to mean that John would not die, which is not what Jesus said.

John concluded his writing with the famous reminder that it contains only a selection of Jesus’ actual ministry (John 21:24-25). With a line reminiscent of great writers like C.S. Lewis, John thoughtfully mused, “If every one of them were written down, I suppose the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.”

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Daniel Goepfrich

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