Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
After these things Jesus shewed himself again to the disciples at the sea of Tiberias; and on this wise shewed he himself.
Joh 21:1-23. Supplementary Particulars.
(That this chapter was added by another hand has been asserted, against clear evidence to the contrary, by some late critics, chiefly because the Evangelist had concluded his part of the work with Joh 20:30, 31. But neither in the Epistles of the New Testament, nor in other good authors, is it unusual to insert supplementary matter, and so have more than one conclusion).
1, 2. Jesus showed himself again—manifested himself again.
and on this wise he manifested himself—This way of speaking shows that after His resurrection He appeared to them but occasionally, unexpectedly, and in a way quite unearthly, though yet really and corporeally.
There were together Simon Peter, and Thomas called Didymus, and Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, and the sons of Zebedee, and two other of his disciples.
2. Nathanael—(See on Mt 10:3).
Simon Peter saith unto them, I go a fishing. They say unto him, We also go with thee. They went forth, and entered into a ship immediately; and that night they caught nothing.
3-6. Peter saith unto them, I go a fishing—(See on Lu 5:11).
that night … caught nothing—as at the first miraculous draught (see on Lu 5:5); no doubt so ordered that the miracle might strike them the more by contrast. The same principle is seen in operation throughout much of Christ's ministry, and is indeed a great law of God's spiritual procedure with His people.
But when the morning was now come, Jesus stood on the shore: but the disciples knew not that it was Jesus.
4. Jesus stood—(Compare Joh 20:19, 26).
but the disciples knew not it was Jesus—Perhaps there had been some considerable interval since the last manifestation, and having agreed to betake themselves to their secular employment, they would be unprepared to expect Him.
Then Jesus saith unto them, Children, have ye any meat? They answered him, No.
5. Children—This term would not necessarily identify Him, being not unusual from any superior; but when they did recognize Him, they would feel it sweetly like Himself.
have ye any meat?—provisions, supplies, meaning fish.
They answered … No—This was in His wonted style, making them tell their case, and so the better prepare them for what was coming.
And he said unto them, Cast the net on the right side of the ship, and ye shall find. They cast therefore, and now they were not able to draw it for the multitude of fishes.
6. he said unto them, Cast the net on the right side of the ship—no doubt, by this very specific direction, intending to reveal to them His knowledge of the deep and power over it.
Therefore that disciple whom Jesus loved saith unto Peter, It is the Lord. Now when Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he girt his fisher's coat unto him, (for he was naked,) and did cast himself into the sea.
7-11. that disciple whom Jesus loved, said, It is the Lord—again having the advantage of his brother in quickness of recognition (see on Joh 20:8), to be followed by an alacrity in Peter all his own.
he was naked—his vest only on, worn next the body.
cast himself into the sea—the shallow part, not more than a hundred yards from the water's edge (Joh 21:8), not meaning therefore to swim, but to get sooner to Jesus than in the full boat which they could hardly draw to shore.
And the other disciples came in a little ship; (for they were not far from land, but as it were two hundred cubits,) dragging the net with fishes.
8. the other disciples came in a little ship—by ship.
As soon then as they were come to land, they saw a fire of coals there, and fish laid thereon, and bread.
9. they saw—"see."
a fire of coals, and fish laid thereon, and bread—By comparing this with 1Ki 19:6, and similar passages, the unseen agency by which Jesus made this provision will appear evident.
Jesus saith unto them, Bring of the fish which ye have now caught.
10. Jesus saith unto them, Bring of the fish ye have now caught—Observe the double supply thus provided—His and theirs. The meaning of this will perhaps appear presently.
Simon Peter went up, and drew the net to land full of great fishes, an hundred and fifty and three: and for all there were so many, yet was not the net broken.
11. Peter went up—into the boat; went aboard.
and drew the net to land full of great fishes, an hundred and fifty and three; and for all there were so many, yet was not the net broken—The manifest reference here to the former miraculous draught (Lu 5:1-11) furnishes the key to this scene. There the draught was symbolical of the success of their future ministry: While "Peter and all that were with him were astonished at the draught of the fishes which they had taken, Jesus said unto him, Fear not, from henceforth thou shalt catch men." Nay, when first called, in the act of "casting their net into the sea, for they were fishers," the same symbolic reference was made to their secular occupation: "Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men" (Mt 4:18, 19). Here, then, if but the same symbolic reference be kept in view, the design of the whole scene will, we think, be clear. The multitude and the size of the fishes they caught symbolically foreshadowed the vast success of their now fast approaching ministry, and this only as a beginning of successive draughts, through the agency of a Christian ministry, till, "as the waters cover the sea, the earth should be full of the knowledge of the Lord." And whereas, at the first miraculous draught, the net "was breaking" through the weight of what it contained—expressive of the difficulty with which, after they had 'caught men,' they would be able to retain, or keep them from escaping back into the world—while here, "for all they were so many, yet was not the net broken," are we not reminded of such sayings as these (Joh 10:28): "I give unto My sheep eternal life, and they shall never perish, neither shall any pluck them out of My hand" [Luthardt]? But it is not through the agency of a Christian ministry that all true disciples are gathered. Jesus Himself, by unseen methods, gathers some, who afterwards are recognized by the constituted fishers of men, and mingle with the fruit of their labors. And are not these symbolized by that portion of our Galilean repast which the fishers found, in some unseen way, made ready to their hand?
Jesus saith unto them, Come and dine. And none of the disciples durst ask him, Who art thou? knowing that it was the Lord.
12-14. none … durst ask him, Who art thou, knowing it was the Lord—implying that they would have liked Him just to say, "It is I"; but having such convincing evidence they were afraid of being "upbraided for their unbelief and hardness of heart" if they ventured to put the question.
Jesus then cometh, and taketh bread, and giveth them, and fish likewise.
13. Jesus … taketh bread—the bread.
and giveth them, and the fish likewise—(See on Lu 24:30).
This is now the third time that Jesus shewed himself to his disciples, after that he was risen from the dead.
14. This is the third time that Jesus showed himself—was manifested.
to his disciples—His assembled disciples; for if we reckon His appearances to individual disciples, they were more.
So when they had dined, Jesus saith to Simon Peter, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my lambs.
15-17. when they had dined, Jesus saith—Silence appears to have reigned during the meal; unbroken on His part, that by their mute observation of Him they might have their assurance of His identity the more confirmed; and on theirs, from reverential shrinking to speak till He did.
Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these?—referring lovingly to those sad words of Peter, shortly before denying his Lord, "Though all men shall be offended because of Thee, yet will I never be offended" (Mt 26:33), and intending by this allusion to bring the whole scene vividly before his mind and put him to shame.
Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee—He adds not, "more than these," but prefixes a touching appeal to the Saviour's own omniscience for the truth of his protestation, which makes it a totally different kind of speech from his former.
He saith unto him, Feed my lambs—It is surely wrong to view this term as a mere diminutive of affection, and as meaning the same thing as "the sheep" [Webster and Wilkinson]. It is much more according to usage to understand by the "lambs," young and tender disciples, whether in age or Christian standing (Isa 40:11; 1Jo 2:12, 13), and by the "sheep" the more mature. Shall we say (with many) that Peter was here reinstated in office? Not exactly, since he was not actually excluded from it. But after such conduct as his, the deep wound which the honor of Christ had received, the stain brought on his office, the damage done to his high standing among his brethren, and even his own comfort, in prospect of the great work before him, required some such renewal of his call and re-establishment of his position as this.
He saith to him again the second time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my sheep.
16. He saith to him … the second time … lovest thou me, &c.—In this repetition of the question, though the wound was meant to be reopened, the words "more than these" are not repeated; for Christ is a tender as well as skilful Physician, and Peter's silence on that point was confession enough of his sin and folly. On Peter's repeating his protestation in the same words, our Lord rises higher in the manifestation of His restoring grace.
my sheep—It has been observed that the word here is studiously changed, from one signifying simply to feed, to one signifying to tend as a shepherd, denoting the abiding exercise of that vocation, and in its highest functions.
He saith unto him the third time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? Peter was grieved because he said unto him the third time, Lovest thou me? And he said unto him, Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee. Jesus saith unto him, Feed my sheep.
17. He saith unto him the third time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? Peter was grieved because he said the third time, &c.—This was the Physician's deepest incision into the wound, while yet smarting under the two former probings. Not till now would Peter discern the object of this succession of thrusts. The third time reveals it all, bringing up such a rush of dreadful recollections before his view, of his "thrice denying that he knew Him," that he feels it to the quick. It was fitting that he should; it was meant that he should. But this accomplished, the painful dialogue concludes with a delightful "Feed My sheep"; as if He should say, "Now, Simon, the last speck of the cloud which overhung thee since that night of nights is dispelled: Henceforth thou art to Me and to My work as if no such scene had ever happened."
Verily, verily, I say unto thee, When thou wast young, thou girdedst thyself, and walkedst whither thou wouldest: but when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, and carry thee whither thou wouldest not.
18, 19. When thou wast young—embracing the whole period of life to the verge of old age.
thou girdedst thyself, and walkedst whither thou wouldest—wast thine own master.
when … old thou shalt stretch forth thine hands—to be bound for execution, though not necessarily meaning on a cross. There is no reason, however, to doubt the very early tradition that Peter's death was by crucifixion.
This spake he, signifying by what death he should glorify God. And when he had spoken this, he saith unto him, Follow me.
19. This spake he, signifying by what death he should glorify God—not, therefore, a mere prediction of the manner of his death, but of the honor to be conferred upon him by dying for his Master. And, indeed, beyond doubt, this prediction was intended to follow up his triple restoration:—"Yes, Simon, thou shall not only feed My lambs, and feed My sheep, but after a long career of such service, shalt be counted worthy to die for the name of the Lord Jesus."
And when he had spoken this, he saith unto him, Follow me—By thus connecting the utterance of this prediction with the invitation to follow Him, the Evangelist would indicate the deeper sense in which the call was understood, not merely to go along with Him at that moment, but to come after Him, "taking up his cross."
Then Peter, turning about, seeth the disciple whom Jesus loved following; which also leaned on his breast at supper, and said, Lord, which is he that betrayeth thee?
20, 21. Peter, turning about—showing that he followed immediately as directed.
seeth the disciple whom Jesus loved following; which also leaned on Jesus' breast at supper, and said, Lord, which is he that betrayeth thee?—The Evangelist makes these allusions to the peculiar familiarity to which he had been admitted on the most memorable of all occasions, perhaps lovingly to account for Peter's somewhat forward question about him to Jesus; which is the rather probable, as it was at Peter's suggestion that he put the question about the traitor which he here recalls (Joh 13:24, 25).
Peter seeing him saith to Jesus, Lord, and what shall this man do?
21. Peter … saith to Jesus, Lord, and what shall this man do?—What of this man? or, How shall it fare with him?
Jesus saith unto him, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? follow thou me.
22, 23. Jesus saith to him, If I will that he tarry fill I come, what is that to thee? follow thou me—From the fact that John alone of the Twelve survived the destruction of Jerusalem, and so witnessed the commencement of that series of events which belongs to "the last days," many good interpreters think that this is a virtual prediction of fact, and not a mere supposition. But this is very doubtful, and it seems more natural to consider our Lord as intending to give no positive indication of John's fate at all, but to signify that this was a matter which belonged to the Master of both, who would disclose or conceal it as He thought proper, and that Peter's part was to mind his own affairs. Accordingly, in "follow thou Me," the word "thou" is emphatic. Observe the absolute disposal of human life which Christ claims: "If I will that he tarry till I come," &c.
Then went this saying abroad among the brethren, that that disciple should not die: yet Jesus said not unto him, He shall not die; but, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee?
23. Then went this saying abroad among the brethren, that that disciple should not die—into which they the more easily fell from the prevalent expectation that Christ's second coming was then near at hand.
yet Jesus said not unto him, He shall not die—The Evangelist is jealous for His Master's honor, which his death might be thought to compromise if such a misunderstanding should not be corrected.
This is the disciple which testifieth of these things, and wrote these things: and we know that his testimony is true.
Joh 21:24, 25. Final Close of This Gospel.
24. This is the disciple which testifieth of these things, and wrote these things—thus identifying the author of this book with all that it says of this disciple.
we know that his testimony is true—(Compare Joh 19:35).
And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written. Amen.
25. And there are many other things which Jesus did—(Compare Joh 20:30, 31).
if … written every one, I suppose—an expression used to show that what follows is not to be pressed too far.
even the world itself would not hold the books, &c.—not a mere hyperbolical expression, unlike the sublime simplicity of this writer, but intended to let his reader know that, even now that he had done, he felt his materials so far from being exhausted, that he was still running over, and could multiply "Gospels" to almost any extent within the strict limits of what "Jesus did." But in the limitation of these matchless histories, in point of number, there is as much of that divine wisdom which has presided over and pervades the living oracles, as in their variety and fulness.