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The Gospel of John: Revealing the Invisible God 

A Bible Study by Fred Kenison

 

Chapter 21


 

 

The seventh miracle: Jesus helps the disciples fish

Jesus and Peter converse (21:15-25)

 

Summary Highlights of Chapter 21

 

 

This book is a verse-by-verse commentary.  To go to the commentary for any particular verse in Chapter 21, please click on a number below.

 

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

11

12

13

14

15

16

17

18

19

20

21

22

23

24

25

         
     

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The eighth miracle: Jesus helps the disciples fish

 

21:1     After these things Jesus manifested himself again to the disciples at the sea of Tiberias. And he manifested [himself] to them thus:

 

After these things refers to those events surrounding his crucifixion and resurrection. Manifested comes from thanero-oo, which means,

"To make manifest or visible or known what has been hidden or unknown, to manifest, whether by words, or deeds, or in any other way" (Thayer, p. 648).

 

As past scriptures in John have shown, Jesus could disguise himself in some manner whenever he wished. He could also make himself known in whatever manner he wished. To Mary, the Magdalene, in the garden, he appeared to be the gardener. In the locked room where the disciples were gathered, Jesus appeared to them as a man of flesh and bone (note carefully that he did not include blood, since he now has a body fitted for the spirit, and it has no need of blood, as the soul is in the blood).

 

The next verse will indicate how he manifested himself to them "at the sea of Tiberias."  Tiberias was a city situated on the shore of the sea of Galilee; therefore, the sea of Tiberias was the sea of Galilee.

 

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21:2     There were gathered together Simon Peter, and Thomas called Didymus, and Nathanael from Cana of Galilee and the [sons] of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples.

 

Seven of the 11 disciples were gathered here at the sea of Galilee.

 

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21:3     Simon Peter says to them, I go to fish. They say to him, We also come with thee. They went forth and went up into the ship immediately, and during the night they took nothing.

 

Simon Peter reverted to his previous occupation as a fisherman. This was some time after Jesus had appeared to them in the locked room. Therefore, they may not have been expecting him to appear to them at this time. Regardless, they had no inkling as to when, or if, he would appear again.

 

Apparently, a boat was still available to Peter even though he had walked away from his old way of life three years earlier in order to follow Jesus.

The others also decided to go fishing with Peter. This seemed to be in the evening, as the scripture says, "During the night they took nothing. " They went fishing, but apparently they did not catch any fish.

 

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21:4     And morning already having come, Jesus stood on the shore; however, the disciples knew not that it is Jesus.

 

Jesus once more made himself visible to his disciples. However, like Mary in the garden, they did not know if it was Jesus they saw. Perhaps they were too far from shore to see clearly, or perhaps he did not allow them to know who he was. Remember, they were still in the boat, and Jesus was standing on the shore.

 

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21:5     Therefore, Jesus says to them, Little children, have ye any food? They answered him, No.

 

Therefore, refers back to the previous verse where it was revealed that the disciples knew not that it was Jesus. Because of this, Jesus began a dialogue in order to reveal himself to them. First, he asked, "Have ye any food?"  Or, did you catch any fish? They answered No, we have not caught anything.

 

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21:6     And he said to them, Cast the net to the right side of the ship, and ye shall find. Therefore, they cast, and they were no longer able to draw it from the multitude of the fishes.

 

The disciples, who were followers and believers of Jesus, had gone out on their own. They were given holy spirit as an interim measure. But, instead of being led by holy spirit, they had gone forth in the power of the flesh to go fishing. They had caught nothing.

 

Jesus told them to "cast the net to the right side of the ship," that they would find fish there. They did as they were instructed, and "they were no longer able to draw it from the multitude of the fishes."

 

This incident illustrates more about spiritual success than it does material success of one's endeavors. Believers are to operate under the aegis of holy spirit in all aspects of their lives, even as the disciples should have done, and did not.

 

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21:7     Therefore says that disciple whom Jesus loved to Peter, It is the lord. Therefore, Simon Peter having heard that it is the lord, he girded on his upper garment, for he was naked, and cast himself into the sea.

 

"That disciple whom Jesus loved" was the humble way John, the writer of this gospel, chose to identify himself. He was the first to recognize that it was Jesus who was standing on the beach and talking to them. But, it was the rambunctious Peter who reacted first. When he heard that "it is the lord," he put on his upper garment and jumped into the sea. None of the other disciples ever acted as rashly as Peter so often did.

 

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21:8     And the other disciples came in the small ship, for they were not far from the land, but somewhere about two hundred cubits, dragging the net of fishes.

 

The other disciples were probably as happy to see Jesus as Peter was. They simply showed more restraint in the way they reacted. They "came in the small ship for they were not far from land."  Being close to land may have been reason enough for Peter to decide to swim to shore instead of staying with the boat.

 

They were only "about two hundred cubits from land."  A cubit is approximately 18 inches (1Ā½feet) in our measurement, so they were about 300 feet from shore when they caught the multitude of fishes. The other disciples rowed the boat while dragging the heavy net full of fishes.

 

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21:9     Therefore, when they went up on the land, they see a fire of coals lying and fish lying on [it], and bread.

 

Jesus had already built a fire, and had fishes cooking before the disciples came to shore. John did not say how he managed this. Perhaps this was another of his miracles.

 

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21:10     Jesus says to them. Bring of the fishes which ye took just now.

 

Preachers often claim that this group of verses refers to fishing as though it were the catching of souls to be saved. However, since the scriptures plainly teach that everyone is already "saved" by the grace of The God, that interpretation must be incorrect.

 

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21:11     Simon Peter went up, and drew the net to the land, full of a hundred and fifty-three large fishes; and though there were so many, the net was not rent.

 

Simon Peter, ever the active disciple, "went up and drew the net to the land."  He must have also been one of the strongest disciples. Why, though, was he the only one to draw the net to land?

 

Even though "there were so many large fishes, the net was not rent."  Since this was noted in the scriptures, this, in itself, must have been a miracle.

 

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21:12     Jesus says to them, Come ye, dine. But none of the disciples ventured to ask him, Who art thou? Knowing that it is the lord.

 

When Jesus invited the disciples to dine, "none of his disciples ventured to ask him, Who art thou?"  This implies that he appeared to them differently than he had previously. If he had appeared to them in his resurrected, glorified body, as he had in the upper room, then they would have had no question as to his identity. Nevertheless, they knew it was Jesus.  John had recognized him first. Peter had immediately jumped into the sea and swam to be with him.

 

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21:13     Therefore, Jesus comes and takes the bread and gives to them, and the fish in like manner.

 

The usual manner in which Jesus presented the bread to his disciples was to break bread with them. In so doing, the disciples became assured that this was Jesus who had manifested himself to them. Manifested means to show someone or something to others. Here, Jesus was manifested, or appeared to them as himself.

 

Trench (p. 285) says this about the word manifest.

"There is a significance in the words showed himself, or manifested himself, which many long ago observed...no other than this, that his body after the resurrection was only visible by a distinct act of his will. It is not for nothing that in language of this kind all his appearances after the resurrection are related (Mark xvi. 12, 14; Luke xxiv. 34; Acts xiii. 3; I Cor. xv. 5-8). It is the same with angelic and all other manifestations of a higher heavenly world. Men do not see them; but they appear to men; ...being only visible to those for whose sakes they are vouchsafed, and to whom they are willing to show themselves."

 

Another quote from Trench (p. 285) is quite significant.

"If we regard John 1:1-14 as the prologue, this we might style the epilogue of his gospel. As that set forth what the Son of God was before He came from the Father, even so this, in mystical and prophetic guise, how He should rule in the world after He had returned to the Father."

 

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21:14     This is now the third time Jesus was manifested to his disciples having been raised from among [the] dead.

 

John mentioned three occasions since his resurrection when Jesus had appeared to his disciples. The first time was in the evening of the day of his resurrection, when he appeared to them in the room where they had locked themselves within (see John 20:19). The second time was eight days later when he again appeared to them in the same room, this time when Thomas was present. The third time was here on the seashore.

 

"Having been raised from among [the] dead" is a statement which uses the Greek word ek, or "out from among" the dead [ones]. Jesus was a kind of first-fruits to The God. He was not left among all the other people who had died and were now awaiting the resurrection of their bodies at the second coming of Jesus.

 

 

The eight miracles cited by john

Changing the water into wine.

Healing the sick child.

Healing the impotent man at Bethesda.

Feeding the five thousand.

Walking on the sea.

Opening of the eyes of the blind man.

Raising Lazarus from the dead.

The heavy net full of fishes.

 

 

Jesus and Peter converse

 

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21:15     Therefore, when they had dined, Jesus says to Simon Peter, Simon[son] of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these? He says to him, Yea, lord; thou knowest that I have affection for thee. He says to him, Feed my lambs.

 

After they had dined, Jesus queried Peter about his love, agape, for him. This love is that of the will by which one wishes the best for one. Jesus wanted to know if Peter loved him more than these, or the other disciples.

 

With this question, Jesus was setting himself apart from the disciples, not as being one of them, but as their superior. They had been traveling around together as ordinary human beings, but now that relationship had changed. Jesus had been resurrected out from among the dead ones, and this made him something over and above the disciples.

 

Peter's answer was not in direct response to the question which had been asked. Jesus asked him if he loved (agape) him more than the others. Peter answered, "Yea, lord; thou knowest that I have affection for thee."

 

Affection comes from phileo, not agape. Phileo is used to describe the feelings one would have for close friends or family members, and is based upon emotion, not an act of the will as is agape. Agape is a more abiding love, and less subject to change than phileo.

 

After Peter answered him, Jesus said, "Feed my lambs."  Feed comes from boske, referring to an act of the herdsman who tends to the flock.

 

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21:16     He says again to him a second time, Simon [son] of Jonas, lovest thou me? He says to him, Yea, lord; thou knowest that I have affection for thee. He says to him, Shepherd my sheep.

 

First, Jesus told Peter to tend to his lambs, or little ones. Next he told him to "shepherd my sheep," or the full grown ones. He was to feed the lambs so they would grow, but he was to shepherd, or guide, the full grown ones.

 

Jesus asked Peter the same question as previously, and Peter gave the same answer as previously. Phileo, however, is much less of a commitment than agape. So, Jesus continued to press Peter a third time.

 

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21:17     He saith unto him the third time, Simon, [son] of Jonas, hast thou affection for me? Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, Hast thou affection for me? and said to him, lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I have affection for thee. Jesus says to him, Feed my sheep.

 

It is not certain why Jesus used the word phileo in his third question, instead of using agape as he had before. Perhaps, knowing Peter's stubbornness, Jesus chose to resolve the impasse by asking what Peter was willing to acknowledge at that time.

 

Peter "was grieved," or saddened that Jesus persisted in questioning him about his love, and he told Jesus "thou knowest all things."  This in itself was an admission that Peter accepted Jesus as being more than the other disciples with him.

 

Again, the admonition of Jesus to Peter was, "Feed my sheep."  This time Jesus used the word feed, rather than shepherd, as he did before. Mature followers also need to be fed. If there is any shortcoming in the organized religions of today, it is a lack of feeding the flock from the word of The God.

 

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21:18     Verily, verily, I say to you, When you were younger you girdest yourself, and walkedst where thou didst desire; but when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, and bring [thee] where thou dost not desire.

 

When Jesus wanted to emphasize the truth of something, he used the words, "verily, verily" as an introduction to his comment.

 

Jesus drew a parallel between Peter's physical prowess when he was young, and how things would change when he got older. Now, Peter can do as he wishes, but after he has grown old, he would be taken to places he did not desire to go.

 

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21:19     But this he said signifying by what death he should glorify The God. And this having said, he says to him, Follow me.

 

The interesting part of this verse is the words, "by what death he should glorify the god."  The death of those who follow the lord does indeed glorify The God. Psalms 116:15 says,

"Precious in the sight of the lord is the death of his saints."

 

Ecclesiastes 7:1 also speaks to this subject when it says,

"A good name is better than precious ointment; and the day of death than the day of one's birth."

 

The fear of death is inherent in the fleshly nature. But, to those who realize all that was accomplished for them in the death of Jesus, the Christ, death should take on a whole new dimension. Fear of death should be erased.

 

Jesus also instructed Peter, "to follow me."  Earlier (John 13:36), Jesus had told Peter,

"Where I go thou art not able to follow me now, but afterwards thou shalt follow me."

 

These earlier words now take on a different portent. Now, Peter will follow Jesus in a death that will glorify The God. Legend holds that Peter was crucified even as was Jesus, except that he insisted on being crucified head down.

 

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21:20     But having turned, Peter sees the disciple whom Jesus loved following, who also reclined at the supper on his breast and said, Lord, who is it that is delivering thee up?

 

This verse refers to John, and provides a flashback to the history of the last supper, when Jesus was betrayed by Judas.

 

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21:21     Peter seeing him, says to Jesus, Lord, but what of this one?

 

Peter wanted to know what would happen to John. Was this query motivated by jealousy? Perhaps so, since Peter did not ask about the fate of the others. If Peter was to die for Jesus, "What about this one?" Is he also to die?

 

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21:22     Jesus says to him, If I desire him to abide until I come, what [is it] to thee? Follow thou me.

 

Jesus told Peter that his question was inappropriate, out of bounds. In essence, he told Peter that it was none of his business. Then, Jesus said, "Follow thou me."  In other words, pay attention to your own commitment and do not be concerned with John.

 

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21:23     Therefore this word went out among the brethren, That that disciple does not die. However Jesus said not to him, That he does not die; but, If I desire him to abide till I come what [is it] to thee?"

 

Gossip has not changed much over the generations. The other disciples jumped to an erroneous conclusion, and spread a false rumor. They spread the word that John would not die. Does not die is written in the present tense, which would mean that (John) the disciple loved of Jesus would never die.

 

However, that was not what Jesus actually said. The critical words were "If I desire him to abide till I come."  Jesus only used this as an example, not something that he actually desired. It was only a rhetorical question in answer to Peter's unjustified inquiry about the fate of John.

 

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21:24     This is the disciple who bears witness concerning these things and who wrote these things: and we know that his witness is true.

 

This is the clearest statement John made concerning his authorship of this gospel. "This is the disciple" refers back to Peter's question, and to Jesus' response. John claimed these comments for himself. But, as always, his humility never allowed him to use his given name. He was the one "who bears witness concerning these things, and who wrote these things."  This was his admission that he wrote only about what he had witnessed in his travels with Jesus. He then attested that "his witness is true."  Nothing that John wrote was of his own invention, but only what he had actually witnessed himself.

 

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21:25     And there are also many other things whatsoever Jesus did, which if they should be written one by one, I suppose the world itself would not even contain the books written. Amen.

 

This last verse is a colloquialism expressing the thought that many books could have been written if everything "whatsoever Jesus did" had been written down. This is not a statement of reality, but only refers to the truth that there were many more episodes in the life of Jesus which could have been written about.

 

Amen is a fitting end to this wonderful gospel given to us by the disciple whom Jesus loved. Our hope is that in some small way this study will prove helpful to those who wish to understand more of what the gospel of John was, and is, about.

 

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Summary Highlights of Chapter 21

 

#  Jesus could disguise himself in some manner whenever he wished. He

     could also make himself known in whatever manner he wished.

 

# Believers are to operate under the aegis of holy spirit in all aspects of

     their lives, even as the disciples should have done, and did not.

 

#  Jesus was a kind of first-fruits to The God. He was not left among all the

     other people who had died and were now awaiting the resurrection of

     their bodies at the second coming of Jesus.

 

#  Jesus was setting himself apart from the disciples, not as being one of

     them, but as their superior. They had been traveling around together

     as ordinary human beings, but now that relationship had changed.

     Jesus had been resurrected out from among the dead ones, and this

     made him something over and above the disciples.

 

#  Peter was to feed the lambs so they would grow, but he was to

     shepherd, or guide, the full grown ones.  If there is any shortcoming in

     the organized religions of today, it is a lack of feeding the flock from

     the word of The God.

 

# The fear of death is inherent in the fleshly nature. But, to those who

     realize all that was accomplished for them in the death of Jesus, the

     Christ, death should take on a whole new dimension. Fear of death

     should be erased.

 

# Gossip has not changed much over the generations. The other disciples

     jumped to an erroneous conclusion, and spread a false rumor: that

     John would not die.

 

 

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October 2009