Through the Bible in One Year

Day 182

John 21:15-25

We now come to the end of John’s Gospel.  And John chooses to end his Gospel differently than Matthew, Mark and Luke, because we do not see an account of Jesus giving the great commission nor do we see an account of Jesus’ accession into heaven.  However, what we do see is Jesus reinstating Peter after he had denied Jesus those three times before his enemies.

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.”

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.”

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.”—21:15-17

The dialogue between Jesus and Peter is one of the most famous exchanges in the Bible.  This encounter must be read in conjunction with Peter’s threefold denial.  Just as Peter denied Jesus three times in the presence of their enemies, now Peter must affirm his love for Jesus in the presence of their friends.  Jesus used Peter’s full name to underscore the seriousness of the exchange.  In the light of the burning coals, Jesus asked Peter if he loved him.  Jesus had masterfully recreated the scene where not too long before Peter had denied him as he warmed himself by a fire.  Jesus was likely asking Peter if he loved him more than the other disciples loved him.  Earlier Peter had asserted confidently that he would lay down his life for Jesus regardless of what the others might do.  The fact that Jesus asked him the same question three times grieved Peter.  He knew he had denied Jesus three times.  And Jesus made sure that Peter understood that loving him means caring for his people.  By calling his people his “sheep,” Jesus reminded Peter that he is the Good Shepherd.  Jesus replied to each of Peter’s responses with a call to service.

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.” Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!”—21:18-19

Jesus next called Peter to suffering and death.  Peter’s commission was followed by a prophecy.  The early church understood this to be a reference to Peter’s death by crucifixion.  Just as Christ’s death brought glory to God, so would Peter’s.  By the time John wrote his Gospel, Peter had already glorified Christ in martyrdom.  Peter’s earlier words that he would lay his life down for Jesus were fulfilled.

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?”) When Peter saw him, he asked, “Lord, what about him?”

Jesus answered, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.” 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?”—21:20-23

Peter was concerned about what would happen to the beloved disciple (John).  Jesus made it clear that what would happen to with the beloved disciple (John) was none of Peter’s business.  Peter was to concentrate on following him.  A misunderstanding of Jesus’ words led to a rumor that John would not die before Jesus’ second coming, and we see that John then had to clarify Jesus’ point.

This is the disciple who testifies to these things and who wrote them down. We know that his testimony is true.

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.—21:24-25

It is difficult to know if these final words are the words of John’s disciples authenticating the veracity of the beloved disciple’s witness or if they are the words of John referring to himself indirectly and in the third person.  The difficulty remains with the use of the first-person plural “we know.”  It is possible that John is referring to himself and his disciples or to himself and his readers.  The final verse reminds us that, though historical knowledge of Jesus is limited, we have been given all we need to know in the biblical accounts of his life.

To end our discussion of John’s Gospel we are going to dig deeper into Jesus’ one on one conversation with Peter while they sitting beside that fire.  And we are going to dig deeper in this one on one conversation because this one on one conversation between Peter and Jesus sums up the message that John has been trying to convey over the last twenty plus chapters.  And that message is all about love.

It is hard to imagine a more important question that Peter could have ever faced than whether he truly possessed a devoted love for his Lord.  Though Jesus’ repeated question may have puzzled Peter or even hurt his feelings, the Lord was really showing compassion for the disciple who had recently denied him.  Jesus knew that even though Peter was emotionally enthusiastic, his commitment would not last if he was not confident of his love for Christ.  Which leads us to two big take aways from this one on one conversation between Peter Jesus.

  1. Two Greek words for “love” are used in this conversation.  The first (used in Jesus’ first two questions) is “agapao,” which speaks of an intelligent, thoughtful and purposeful love involving the entire personality, but primarily a decision of the mind and will.  The other word is “phileo,” which speaks of a warm, natural and more spontaneous sense of feeling and affection—a more emotional love.  Through these two words, Jesus points out that Peter’s love must be more than a commitment of his mind, but also of the heart.  It must be a love motivated by both purpose and personal attachment.
  2. All of Christ’s followers face this same question.  The main issue is note, “Are you willing to do anything for God” or “Do you love others?”  The primary question that Jesus wants all of his followers to answer is this: “Do you truly love me?”  A deep and heartfelt love for God is the only effective motivation for serving him.  As Christ’s disciples, our primary calling is to be with him, to know him and to love him.  Out of that love relationship comes the motivation and power to fulfill our God-given purposes in life, no matter what we have to endure along the way.

Jesus’ description of his followers as lambs and sheep suggests four things. (1) We need pastoral care from loving, capable and faithful leaders.  (2) We need to feed constantly on God’s Word.  (3) Since sheep have a wandering nature, we need repeated guidance, protection and correction from God and others he may use in our lives.  (4) We must continue to be loyal disciples, which means follower, disciplined learners and students, of Jesus Christ.

To wrap all this up, Jesus sees love as the basic qualification for Christian service.  Other character qualities and requirements are needed (see 1 Timothy 3:1-13), but none of them can take the place of love for Christ and for others, which is the point that John was trying to get across through out his Gospel and that is why John’s Gospel is so different then Matthew, Mark and Luke.  Because you see Matthew, Mark and Luke were written to prove that Jesus was and is the promised Messiah, and yes John’s Gospel does have that as a purpose that is not the primary purpose of John’s Gospel.  For you see, the primary purpose of John’s Gospel is to show everyone who reads it, that God loves them so much that he was willing to send his “one and only” Son to die in their place so that they can live a life free from sin.  And more importantly that this love you have been shown by your loving Heavenly Father will in turn lead you to show that love to others.  And that is the transformation that we will see happening to Jesus’ disciples as move into Acts tomorrow.

Tomorrow’s Bible Readings:

2 Kings 20:1-22:2, Acts 21:18-36, Psalm 150:1-6 and Proverbs 18:9-10


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