In this 21st and final chapter of John’s gospel, we see how the Apostle Peter had two déjà vu experiences that would serve as faith builders for the rest of his life and ministry. Yesterday it was the second incredible catch of fish he had experienced with Jesus nearby, and today it will be a challenge while staring into a fire.
15 When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”
“Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”
16 Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”
17 The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Feed my sheep. 18 Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” 19 Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!”
Recall the exact scene where Peter denied Christ three times – he was recognized and identified while warming himself with others around a fire. And now, in this scene of being with Jesus who had a fire going for the fish to be cooked, Jesus asks Peter three questions. There could be no doubt in Peter’s mind that he was being challenged in regard to his moment of great failure. Certainly any possibility of doubt is removed when the question is asked a third time – the text saying that he was greatly saddened by this repetition.
Much has been made of the two different Greek words for “love” that are used – “phileo” on the first two occasions, whereas “agapao” is used in the last question. The former speaks of a brotherly affection, whereas the latter of a deep and pure love. This device is to emphasize that on the final occasion the question was likely asked of Peter, “Do you LOVE me?”
There was no hiding truth from the Son of God. Peter knew that Jesus knew he truly loved him, but likely he was unsure of his fitness to carry out the commission of feeding Christ’s flock. Yet Jesus went through this to restore Peter to service which would prove extraordinary.
It would involve death however – in the end, crucifixion … as prophesied here by Jesus. The promise of God for those who follow is not that they will be spared even the worst experiences of life, but that God will enable them to endure through anything. It really is a “take up your cross” experience to live for the Lord.”
20 Peter turned and saw that the disciple whom Jesus loved was following them. (This was the one who had leaned back against Jesus at the supper and had said, “Lord, who is going to betray you?”)21 When Peter saw him, he asked, “Lord, what about him?”
22 Jesus answered, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.” 23 Because of this, the rumor spread among the believers that this disciple would not die. But Jesus did not say that he would not die; he only said, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you?”
Peter sees John right there at that moment and asks about what is to become of him. Jesus rebukes this lack of focus and concern beyond Peter himself. Christ essentially says, “If he lives so long that he remains even until the time I return, what business it that for you?” Jesus was not indicating that John would live through to the actual return – the way the story was related and errantly repeated over time.
24 This is the disciple who testifies to these things and who wrote them down. We know that his testimony is true.
25 Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.
There is a lot of information written in the Gospels about Jesus Christ. Yet John is saying that if everything that was said and done were to have been written and talked about, it would be beyond the books of the world to hold these truths. Indeed, even as it is, the Scriptures and the work of God are bottomless to know – beyond ever fully grasping.
But what can be known and taken from this passage today is that though we, like Peter, are prone to repeated failures, we may find forgiveness and restoration in Christ as we are repentant. This is because Jesus was God Up Close. He came to pay the penalty for sin; he shows us what God is like – the true bridegroom, temple, well, healer, bread, light, shepherd, vine, lamb, and above all – the true Life!
This brings us to the end of our 45-day adventure through John’s gospel. Chris Wiles and I trust that it has been an enriching experience for you. Our next series begins on January 12th and will talk about the idea of “exile” – of living in perilous times. We will look a good bit into some of the Old Testament prophets with some great biblical themes and timeless applications for our lives.
May you have a blessed Christmas season!