John 21


John 21:1 After these things Jesus showed Himself again to the disciples at the Sea of Tiberias, and in this way He showed Himself:  2 Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, 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 are going with you also." They went out and immediately got into the boat, and that night they caught nothing.


The first appearances of Jesus occurred around Jerusalem, but His appearances recorded in this chapter happened sometime after the 8th day of His resurrection. The apostles had made their way to Galilee because that is where the disciples were told to meet Jesus on a mountain at appointed time (Mt. 28:16ff). Before that appointed time came, seven of the apostles with two being unnamed decided to go fishing when Peter said, “I am going fishing”.


Many speculations have been made about this incident. Some think the apostles were trying to go back to their old jobs of fishing, while others think they were just trying to catch some fish to eat or sell. Whatever their reason for fishing that night it turned out to be a big disappointment because they did not catch anything.


John 21:4 But when the morning had now come, Jesus stood on the shore; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus.  5 Then Jesus said to them, "Children, have you any food?" They answered Him, "No."  6 And He said to them, "Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some." So they cast, and now they were not able to draw it in because of the multitude of fish.  7 Therefore that disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, "It is the Lord!" Now when Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his outer garment (for he had removed it), and plunged into the sea.  8 But the other disciples came in the little boat (for they were not far from land, but about two hundred cubits), dragging the net with fish.


The sun was just coming up when Jesus was standing on the shore, but the disciples could not see that it was Him. There are several reasons they could not have recognized him.


  1. The sun was just coming up so it would be difficult to recognize someone under that condition.
  2. They were not expecting Jesus to be there.
  3. They were about 100 yards from the shore.


Jesus affectionately calls His disciples children and them if they had any food, and they answered “no”. I have no doubt that Jesus already knew the answer to His question. He then instructs them to throw their net on the right side of the boat so they can catch some fish. Some like to discount this event by saying that Jesus was able to see the group of fish from where He was standing as any person could do. However, this is not true because just like His disciples were too far away to recognize Him it would be difficult if not impossible for any person to see a group of fish under the water from 100 yards away. At best a person might see some fish jump out of the water from that distance.


While John is known for its seven miracles of Jesus, as I have pointed out before there are other events recorded that could certainly qualify for being a miracle and this one of them. These men knew how to fish yet they caught nothing all-night, but Jesus causes them to catch 153 fish in one throwing. These fish made the net so heavy they could not haul it into their boat. Instead, they had to drag it behind their boat to the shore.


In verse 7, this miraculous catch caused John to realize that it was the Lord on the shore and he told Peter this. I do not know what made John come to this realization, but I speculate that he was reminded of when Jesus did this before back when He first asked them to give up their fishing job to follow Him. We read about this in:


Luke 5:4 When He had stopped speaking, He said to Simon, "Launch out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch."  5 But Simon answered and said to Him, "Master, we have toiled all night and caught nothing; nevertheless at Your word I will let down the net."  6 And when they had done this, they caught a great number of fish, and their net was breaking.  7 So they signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink.  8 When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus' knees, saying, "Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!"  9 For he and all who were with him were astonished at the catch of fish which they had taken;  10 and so also were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. And Jesus said to Simon, "Do not be afraid. From now on you will catch men."  11 So when they had brought their boats to land, they forsook all and followed Him.


When John told Peter that it was the Lord, Peter grabbed his outer garment and put it back on, and He jumped in the water and swam to shore. Peter could not wait to be next to Jesus. The other disciples made their way back to the shore in their small boat pulling all those fish with them.


John 21:9 Then, as soon as they had come to land, they saw a fire of coals there, and fish laid on it, and bread.  10 Jesus said to them, "Bring some of the fish which you have just caught."  11 Simon Peter went up and dragged the net to land, full of large fish, one hundred and fifty-three; and although there were so many, the net was not broken.


We have no idea what was going through their heads, but it is possible that when Peter saw the fire of coals it reminded him of how he was warming himself around the fire as Jesus was being tried by the Jews and how he later denied Jesus three times. Seeing the fish and bread may have reminded the disciples of how Jesus fed thousands of people on two different occasions with a little bread and fish.


Jesus asks them to bring some of the fish they just caught, and Peter dragged the net of large fish onto the shore, which indicates that Peter was strong man. We know these fish were heavy because John was surprised the net had not broken. While some numbers in the Bible have a special meaning, I do not believe there is a special meaning to the number 153.  Instead, I believe the details of this event are there to show that this event was recorded by an eyewitness.


John 21:12 Jesus said to them, "Come and eat breakfast." Yet none of the disciples dared ask Him, "Who are You?" -- knowing that it was the Lord.  13 Jesus then came and took the bread and gave it to them, and likewise the fish.  14 This is now the third time Jesus showed Himself to His disciples after He was raised from the dead.


Not only did Jesus provide the fish for them to eat, He also cooked it and served it. Even though these men knew this was the Lord, it seems they still had some doubt since John said that none of them “dared ask Him, “Who are You?””


Some say there is contradiction in verse 14 because John said, “This is now the third time Jesus showed Himself to His disciples.” It is true that Jesus had appeared more than three times before this appearance. However, John does not say this was Jesus third appearance, but his third appearance to his disciples. Apparently, John was referring to Jesus appearing to His apostles as a group for a third time. The first time would have been that night on the first day of the week when Thomas was missing. The second would have been the next Sunday when Thomas was present, and His appearance on the shore would be the third, so there is no contradiction.


John 21:15 So when they had eaten breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me more than these?" He said to Him, "Yes, Lord; You know that I love You." He said to him, "Feed My lambs."  16 He said to him again a second time, "Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?" He said to Him, "Yes, Lord; You know that I love You." He said to him, "Tend My sheep."  17 He said to him the third time, "Simon, son of Jonah, 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, "Feed My sheep.


After they ate their breakfast, Jesus asks Peter three questions and makes three statements. In these three questions, we have two different types of love being mentioned from the Greek.


1. Agapao - to have a warm regard for and interest in another, cherish, have affection for, love (BDAG Lexicon).

2. Fileo -  to have a special interest in someone or someth., freq. with focus on close association, have affection for, like, consider someone a friend (BDAG Lexicon).


In the first two questions, Jesus uses the Greek word agapao, but in the last question He uses fileo. Peter answers all three questions using the Greek word fileo. Since we have two different forms of love being used here some have said this means something significant. However, we also find two different Greek words being used by Peter for the word “know” when he answered “You know that I love You.” Two different Greek words are used for “feed” and “sheep” when Jesus said, “Feed My lambs” and “Feed My sheep.” So, if we are going to make the different types of love in these three verses significant, then we need to make these other differing Greek words significant as well. I like the explanation given by Gene Burgett:


F. F. Bruce maintains that the change in the word for love is merely a stylistic variation, and questions whether "we are intended to see such distinct significance." Bruce offers several reasons for his position.  First, though John wrote in Greek, it is highly probable that Jesus and Peter spoke in Aramaic where there is no "comparable variation of vocabulary" like the [agapao] and [fileo] variation we are examining.  Second, in the Septuagint the Greek words [agapao] and [fileo] are used interchangeably to translate the same Hebrew word.  Third, Bruce cites examples where John himself seemed to use the two Greek words for love interchangeably.  One notable example he offers is the phrase "the disciple whom Jesus loved." [Agapao] is used in John 13:23; 19:26; 21:7,20; but [fileo] is used in John 20:2.  Bruce concludes : "It is precarious, then, to press a distinction between the two synonyms here” (Denton Lectureship on John 21).


I think Jesus asked Peter if he loved Him three times because Peter denied Jesus three times even though he claimed he would not. Whatever the reason for asking this question three times, we learn that it caused Peter to be full of sorrow.


When Jesus asked Peter “do you love Me more than these?" there are two different thoughts on what Jesus is talking about. “These” could be referring to the fish they caught, and some have suggested that Jesus wanted to know if he loved Him more than his previous job of fishing. Others believe Jesus is referring to the disciples and wants to know if Peter loves Him more than them. Whatever Jesus is referring to, one thing we know for sure, He wants to know if Peter loves Him first over everything and everyone else, which we must all do if we want to be pleasing to God (Mt. 10:37).


Jesus also tells Peter to feed or tend the sheep or lambs, which means He wants Peter to teach the disciples about God’s Word and take care of them like a shepherd. Some have suggested that the lambs refer to the young disciples and the sheep to the older, but this is just speculation. This responsibility would fall on all the apostles and future spiritual leaders within the Lord’s body. Paul emphasized this idea to the Elders from Ephesus:


Acts 20:28 "Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.


The elders in every congregation must oversee the flock and make sure they are being fed spiritually with God’s truth.


John 21:18 "Most assuredly, I say to you, when you were younger, you girded yourself and walked where you wished; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish."  19 This He spoke, signifying by what death he would glorify God. And when He had spoken this, He said to him, "Follow Me."


After Peter confesses three times that he loves Jesus, Jesus prophecies about Peter’s death. He tells him that when he was young he girded himself, which means he took his outer garment and drew up around his waist so he could move freely, and he could walk anywhere he wanted to because no one hindered him, but when he gets old, this will not be the case. When Jesus said, “You will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish,” most believe He was signifying that Peter would be bound and led to his crucifixion.


Mr. Coffman notes:


Concerning Peter's death, tradition places it at Rome in the reign of Nero, with the detail that he was crucified head downward after his protest that he was unworthy to be crucified in an upright position like Jesus. As Lanctantius wrote of Nero:


He it was who first persecuted the servants of God. He crucified Peter and slew Paul. St. Peter, as a Jew, could thus be dealt with; St. Paul, as a Roman citizen, was beheaded. Nor did he (Nero) escape with impunity; for God looked on the affliction of his people; and therefore the tyrant, bereaved of his authority, and precipitated from the height of empire, suddenly disappeared, and even the burial place of that noxious wild beast was nowhere to be seen (Coffman’s Commentary, John 21).


Even though Peter would die a cruel death in his old age, he could take comfort from what Jesus said because his death would glorify God, which means that Peter would die for the cause of Christ.


When Jesus said, “Follow Me,” some say He meant spiritually unto his death, or it could simply mean Jesus wanted him to follow Him, which seems to be the case based on the next verses: 


John 21:20 Then Peter, turning around, saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following, who also had leaned on His breast at the supper, and said, "Lord, who is the one who betrays You?"  21 Peter, seeing him, said to Jesus, "But Lord, what about this man?"  22 Jesus said to him, "If I will that he remain till I come, what is that to you? You follow Me."  23 Then this saying went out among the brethren that this disciple would not die. Yet Jesus did not say to him that he would not die, but, "If I will that he remain till I come, what is that to you?"


Verse 20 indicates that Jesus and Peter were walking together and the disciple whom Jesus loved was following behind them, which most believe is the apostle John. Since Jesus predicted Peter’s death, he wants to know about John’s death, but Jesus did not answer his question. Instead, He teaches Peter that it does not matter what John’s fate will be because his fate will not affect how Peter will live his life, and He tells Peter, “You follow Me.” In other words, He is telling Peter not to worry about the fate of others, live your life by faith and continue to follow me. This is great advice for every Christian.


Some had distorted what Jesus said about John, and they thought John would not die until Jesus came back again, but John dispels this rumor by saying that Jesus did not say that he would not die, “but, If I will that he remain till I come, what is that to you?”


John 21:24 This is the disciple who testifies of these things, and wrote these things; and we know that his testimony is true.  25 And there are also many other things that Jesus did, which if they were written one by one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that would be written. Amen.


Verse 24 clearly shows that the Gospel of John was written by one of the apostles who witnessed these events. As I have said throughout this study, most believe that John is the author.


In the final verse of the great Gospel, John is letting his readers know that he has only recorded part of what Jesus did while He was on the earth, but the things John wrote are sufficient to prove that Jesus is the Son of God. Now it is up to those who study the evidence presented in His Gospel to either believe or not to believe. What a great ending to the Gospel of John. Amen.