By the Sea of Galilee
Breakfast by the Sea (John 21:1-14)
Some time later Peter, Thomas, Nathanael, James, John, and two other disciples were together in Galilee. They had finally left Jerusalem as Jesus had told them repeatedly to do (Matthew 28:10). While there they remained active while waiting for Jesus. Peter decided to go fishing and the rest decided to join him. Fishing on the Sea of Galilee, as mentioned before, is done at night. A net is spread in the water and a lamp is hung over the water. Fish, attracted to the light, swim near and are caught up in the net. On this particular night, the men had no luck in catching fish.
With the coming dawn, they returned to shore and saw someone standing there. It is likely because of the dim light that they did not immediately recognize him. The man called out and asked if they had any food, and they replied, “No.” The man suggested putting their net down on the right side of the boat. The suggestion appeared to be ridiculous because it was now light and they were close to shore. It was neither the proper time or place to catch fish. We don’t know why they followed the suggestion of a stranger; perhaps they thought he saw something they had missed, but, nevertheless, they did as directed. The net filled with so many fish that they could not get it out of the water.
It was at this moment that John realized that the man on shore was Jesus and he told Peter. Likely John remembered the similar incident recorded in Luke 5:1-11. Peter threw his outer garment, a linen shirt typically worn by fishermen, back on, tied it tightly, and dived into the sea. While it was typical for a fisherman to be shirtless while working, Peter did not wished to appear before the Lord half-naked. As typical, impetuous Peter would not wait for the boat to reach shore, but had to go first.
The boat was about 350 feet from the shore. The disciples had to drag the net because they could not get the catch into the boat, and besides it was a small boat.
Coming ashore, they found a fire prepared with bread and fish already cooking on it. This changes the nature of Jesus’ earlier question of whether they had any food. Jesus was asking for food, but offering to supply them. Jesus told them to bring some of the fish they caught to add to the meal. Dragging the net to shore, Peter found that there were 153 fish in the net. Though the net wasn’t designed to hold that many fish, it remained undamaged from the load and the dragging.
Though they knew it was Jesus, no one dared to question him. Implied is the simple fact that they would have liked for Jesus to confirm what they had concluded, but they did not dare risk even a mild rebuke from the one they loved so deeply.
When the food was cooked, Jesus shared it with the disciples. This was the third appearance of Jesus to a group of disciples which John had witnessed.
Feed My Lambs (John 21:15-17)
After breakfast, Jesus asked Peter, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me more than these?” The question is as ambiguous in Greek as it is in the English. “These” can refer to the objects around them, the fish, the boats, and Peter’s love for his occupation. But it also can be a reference to the other disciples, making it a reference back to Peter’s claim that he would be more devoted than anyone else (Matthew 26:33). Now that Peter faced the extent of his own weakness, Jesus asks him was ready to put him first. The Greeks had three different words for “love,” and the word Jesus used was agapas, that is a devoted love that gives even if it isn’t returned. Peter replies that Jesus knows that he loves him, but the word for “love” that Peter used was a different Greek word. It is word philo, a word referring the relationship between close friends. Though Peter has brashly declared himself a devote follower in the past, now in this intimate setting with his own failure still fresh in his mind, Peter takes the humble course. Jesus asked for strong devotion and Peter felt he could only offer a deep friendship. Jesus tells him that he then must feed his lambs. Jesus is instructing Peter that if he truly loved him, he must show it by teaching (feeding) the new followers of Christ (the lambs).
Jesus asks the question again, and Peter affirms that he has a strong friendship with Jesus. To this Jesus tells him to tend his sheep. Tending is the act of shepherding sheep, watching over them and keeping the sheep from straying.
For a third time Jesus asks Peter if he loved him, but this time Jesus uses the same word that Peter had been using, the love of a close friend. Peter is grieved that Jesus would ask again after he had affirmed his love twice before. He tells Jesus that he knows all things, so he must know that he loves him as a dear friend. Peter invites Jesus to see into his heart to know the sincerity of his friendship. To this Jesus tells him to feed his sheep. It isn’t just the new converts who need teaching, the older members of the flock need teaching as well.
Why ask three times? Recall that Peter denied the Lord three times on the night of his betrayal – a very bitter pill for Peter to swallow. Jesus gave Peter a chance to cancel it before his brethren by declaring his love for him three times, though Peter probably didn’t realize the significance until later. And he gives Peter a task that he fulfills (I Peter 5:1) by describing what it means to be an elder among God’s people.
A Glimpse of the Future (John 21:18-23)
Jesus tells Peter that as a young man he could gird himself and go where he desired, alluding back to Peters quick exit from the boat to get to Jesus. But when he is old he will be girded about the hands by others and lead where he does not wish to go. By this Jesus is saying that Peter would become a prisoner when he becomes old and forced to go where he would not (Acts 12:3-4). Peter had earlier stated his willingness to die for his Lord and Jesus is stating that he would have the opportunity in his later years. He had told Peter earlier that he could not come after him then (John 13:36). Now he is inviting Peter to follow him even into death later. In this Jesus is telling Peter that his denial was forgiven and that he had great deeds to perform for the Lord in his future.
It appears that Peter and John were close friends. They shared a fishing business and we often see them together in the gospels. Knowing that he would one day die for the Lord, Peter asks what would happen to his friend John. But Jesus refuses to tell Peter. It should not matter to Peter and the choices he must make whether John or any one else would share a similar fate. If Jesus chose to have John live until he returned, it still would not change what Peter must face.
John points out that this statement was misunderstood by many, who took it to mean that John would not die until the Lord returned. John points out that this is not what Jesus said. Jesus never promised John that he would not die. He was only saying to Peter it doesn’t matter to Peter’s life how long Jesus chooses to let John live. As it was, we know from history that John did die, though he was the last of the apostles to do so.
Final Words (John 21:24-25)
This same disciple, John, affirms that the book he had just written is true. The “we” refers to John and others disciples can all affirm the accuracy of John’s record (John 19:35; III John 12). The book, by no means was intended to be a complete record of everything Jesus had done. John speculates that if everything were written there would not be enough room in the world to hold the books. It is a figure of speech, a hyperbole, and yet it emphasizes the point that Jesus did a great number of deeds from which John only selected a few to discuss in his book. John focused on what people needed to know to believe that Jesus was the Christ (John 20:30-31) and his careful choice painted a beautiful picture (Proverbs 25:11).
Appearance before more than five hundred (I Corinthians 15:6)
In his list of various appearances of Jesus, Paul mentions that Jesus appeared before over five hundred disciples. This is another event which we donít have details. Some suspect that it occurred in Galilee since Jesus sent word to the disciples, not just the apostles, to meet him in Galilee (Matthew 28:7, 10).