Scripture Study: John 21

John 21  •  7 min. read  •  grade level: 7
We have here a fresh testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, presented to us in a mysterious way, to picture for us the Millennial gathering of Israel.
Verse 2. Peter, Thomas and Nathanael, and the sons of Zebedee are especially mentioned, with two others.
Verse 3. Simon Peter says, “I go a fishing,” and the others say, “We also go with thee.” This was their employment when Jesus met them at the first, and, as at the first, they labor all night and catch nothing. It pictures for us the human efforts of the Jews to restore themselves to their former estate. This is what we find during the period between the taking up of the heavenly saints, and His coming with them to reign; but they, and their city Jerusalem, shall be under Gentile rule till the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled. (Luke 21:2424And they shall fall by the edge of the sword, and shall be led away captive into all nations: and Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled. (Luke 21:24).)
Verses 4, 5. But the morning comes at last, and Jesus stood on the shore, only, as yet, they fail to recognize Him. Strange and mysterious this is, and different from Mary in chapter 20. There, it was in keeping with 2 Corinthians 5:1616Wherefore henceforth know we no man after the flesh: yea, though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we him no more. (2 Corinthians 5:16)—that which belonged to a new creation. Here, it is His showing Himself to the godly, remnant of the Jews, who are converted after the church is caught away. He asks, “Children, have ye any meat?” They say, “No.”
Verses 6-10. He said unto them, “Cast the net on the right side of the ship, and ye shall find.” This was a test; they obey, and now they are not able to draw the net for the multitude of fishes. The beloved disciple recognizes the Lord in it, and Peter hearing it, prepares himself for the Lord’s presence, and hurries to meet the Lord, while the rest drag the net loaded with fishes. The blessing has at last come to Israel, but the remnant of godly ones who have already confessed their sins, and the sins of the nation, are gathered first. We see this pictured in the fire, and the fish already laid thereon, and bread, and Jesus told them to bring of the fish which they had caught.
Verse 11. Then the description of the fishing is, “great fishes, an hundred and fifty and three,” and for all there were so many, yet was the net not broken. In this present time the nets brake; but in the future the fishing will be perfect, and all Israel will be gathered. It is perfect administration and divine power.
Verses 12, 13. Jesus said unto them, “Come and dine.” None of the disciples durst ask Him, “Who art Thou?” knowing that it was the Lord. Here is seen this mysterious distance between them, which marks the earthly people with their heavenly King. This we see in Thomas, who would not be convinced till his eyes saw the marks of Jesus’ crucifixion, but here their toils are turned to feasting with Himself.
Verse 14. There are three appearings here: first, to His heavenly brethren. The second, Thomas is restored, that is, the Jews as a nation. The third is the full restoration of all Israel.
Verses 15-17. Now the dinner is over, and we have a touching, heart-searching scene. Peter had boasted of his love and faithfulness to Jesus above them all; though all should forsake Him, he would follow Him to prison and to death, so he had said, and then, in the moment of trial, he had denied his Lord three times with oaths and curses, but at that look of Jesus’, he had gone out and wept bitterly. Jesus also had met him after His resurrection, and so he was ready to cast himself into the sea to meet Him without fear. But the Lord has still further blessings for him, to make him His servant.
Before public restoration to such a place, it was needful to test him as to his boastful self-confidence, so the Lord asks him the question, “Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou Me more than these?” Peter replied very humbly, “Yea, Lord; Thou knowest that I love (hast affection for) Thee.” He said unto him, “Feed My lambs.”
A second time He said, “Simon, son of Jonas, hast thou affection for Me?” He uses the word which Peter used, to test him deeper. Peter answers Him as he did before Jesus said to him, “Shepherd My sheep.”
Still the probe goes deeper, by repeating the question, till Peter is grieved, and sorely reminded of his boasted strength and self-confidence, but he can only reply, “Lord, Thou knowest all things; Thou knowest that I have affection for Thee.” Jesus answered, “Feed My sheep.”
Thus the Lord works in the soul of His servant to remove all boastfulness and confidence of the flesh, and to teach him the need of prayer and watchfulness, that he might also be able to strengthen his brethren. He does not only forgive us our sins when we confess them, but He also cleanses us from all unrighteousness, and from leaning on any false props. As with Peter, when we cannot trust ourselves, then He will use us for the blessing of others. This grace to failing saints is wonderful, in Numbers 19:1919And the clean person shall sprinkle upon the unclean on the third day, and on the seventh day: and on the seventh day he shall purify himself, and wash his clothes, and bathe himself in water, and shall be clean at even. (Numbers 19:19). The third-day-sprinkling, was as when the Lord looked at Peter, and he went out and wept bitterly. The seventh-day-sprinkling, restored to communion, as when the Lord met Peter, and gave him a visit all by himself. (1 Cor. 15:55And that he was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve: (1 Corinthians 15:5)). But this seems beyond that, and gives him a commission as His servant, and the privilege of following Him, even to prison and to death; and thus to drink from the hands of men (allowed of God), the cup his Master had drunk of.
Verses 18, 19. But Peter would have no choice in this. When he was young, he did all in natural energy; but when he would be grown old, he would stretch forth his hands, and another would gird him, and carry him whither he would not. This He spake, signifying by what death he was to glorify God. Peter, through grace, remained heartily content that it should be so, as the Lord had said, (2 Peter 1:1414Knowing that shortly I must put off this my tabernacle, even as our Lord Jesus Christ hath showed me. (2 Peter 1:14)), but grace would be given him to glorify God in life or in death. He then saith unto him, “Follow Me.” He had said it before, (Matt. 4:1919And he saith unto them, Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men. (Matthew 4:19)), but then they did not know Him as the rejected One on earth, and glorified on high; but now Peter is to follow One whom the world has cast out, and share the outcast place, for that is what it means to share with Jesus now. We also have our place with Him where He is, and there, inside the vail, with Him, we find strength to suffer and to serve in the world where He is not.
Verses 20-25. Peter, turning about, and seeing the beloved disciple following, (for that is what real love does without being told), and feeling interested, perhaps curious to know, said, “Lord, and what shall this man do?” Jesus answered, “If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? follow thou Me.” The brethren thought by that saying that John was not to die, but the evangelist warns that He did not say, “he was not to die,” but, “If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee?”
This is one of those mysterious sayings, from which we may draw some lesson, and as we look at John’s written ministry, which goes beyond the present time, we can well think of what he wrote as truth needed till Christ comes to reign. John has passed away, but he remains ministering to us through the Word. We also find in Revelation his ministry still going on, till the new heaven and the new earth are included. It was only that which was needed that was written, for God, the Word, is infinite, and the world could not contain all that is true of Him.