From:  Busy Person’s Guide to John 11 to 21                                  Return to Home 

By Roland H. Worth, Jr.  © 2019


All reproduction of text in paper, electronic, or computer

form both permitted and encouraged so long as authorial

credit is given and the text is not altered.








Busy Person’s Guide to the New Testament:

Quickly Understanding John


(Volume 2:  Chapters 20 to 21)








Chapter Twenty




The First Disciples See the Empty Tomb (John 20:1-9):  1 Now very early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been moved away from the entrance.  So she went running to Simon Peter and the other disciple whom Jesus loved and told them, “They have taken the Lord from the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!” 

Then Peter and the other disciple set out to go to the tomb.  The two were running together, but the other disciple ran faster than Peter and reached the tomb first.  He bent down and saw the strips of linen cloth lying there, but he did not go in. 

Then Simon Peter, who had been following him, arrived and went right into the tomb.  He saw the strips of linen cloth lying there, and the face cloth, which had been around Jesus’ head, not lying with the strips of linen cloth but rolled up in a place by itself. 

Then the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, came in, and he saw and believed.  (For they did not yet understand the scripture that Jesus must rise from the dead.)

--New English Translation (for comparison)  



            20:1     Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene went to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb.          After the Sabbath was over, in the dark hours of Sunday morning, Mary Magdalene went to the burial tomb only to find that the stone blocking the entrance had been removed and that there was no body within.  The posted Roman guard that is referred to in the other gospels is not mentioned; if still present she would have had someone to ask about why the tomb was empty. 

            Sidebar on the others who go unmentioned here, but who were present:  Matthew has, ‘Mary Magdalene and the other Mary;’ Mark has, ‘Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome;’ Luke has, ‘The women which had come with Him from Galilee’ (Luke 23:55), and enumerates them in Luke 24:10, as ‘Mary Magdalene, and Joanna, and Mary the mother of James, and the others with them.’  John speaks of only one of the group, who was specially prominent.”  (Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers)  Her being specified could, alternatively, mean that she made her way there a few minutes ahead of the rest of the group--or even separately.  Different people travel at different speeds and when all know where they are going, this would cause no alarm among them.  They would all arrive about the same time but not at the same time. 

            Sidebar on how John implies what is only explicitly mentioned in other accounts:  Thus (1) although, unlike the Synoptists, he says nothing of the stone that was rolled to the door of the sepulcher, yet (verse 1) he refers to the fact that (τὸν λίθον) the stone was taken up or away.  (2)  Although he says nothing of the two groups of women, yet he implies that Mary Magdalene was not alone at the sepulcher (οὐκ οἴδαμεν):  "We know not where they have laid him."  With far greater particularity than Luke (Luke 24:12), he describes Peter's visit to the sepulcher, and gives further details of facts which occurred at more than one interview between our Lord and his apostles, of which Luke and Mark had given a more shadowy outline (cf. here verses 19-25 with Luke 24:36, etc.; Mark 16:14).”  (Benson Commentary)  


            20:2     Then she ran and came to Simon Peter, and to the other disciple, whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken away the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid Him.”  She ran to the disciples and informed them of her discovery, interpreting it in the most natural way:  After all the vile and needless abuse He had gone through, the body being stolen for nefarious purposes fit perfectly with the unscrupulous actions that had already happened.  Theoretically “they” could be friendly forces but why in the world would “they” undertake such an action when there was already an excellent burial site and the move would involve a violation of the Sabbath as well?  It would have been absurd.  Not to mention these closest followers of the Lord not being informed of the action!  


            20:3     Peter therefore went out, and the other disciple, and were going to the tomb.  So they both ran together, and the other disciple outran Peter and came to the tomb first.  With the shock of hearing the words these two--the unidentified “disciple” nearly always assumed to be John, the author of this account--promptly left to investigate.  The other disciple arrived at the tomb first since he had run the fastest. 

            (A small piece of historical trivia that tells us that whatever Peter’s other strengths were, this was one ability he lagged in.  The other alternative is the common assumption that Peter was significantly older than John.)

            No mention is made of any of the other apostles following with them.  This could mean that these two were the easiest immediately found or that she regarded them as the most appropriate to investigate what in the world was happening. 


            20:5     And he, stooping down and looking in, saw the linen cloths lying there; yet he did not go in.  Perhaps John was waiting for Peter to catch up out of common courtesy toward a friend if nothing else.  Even so there would be a natural hesitancy against rushing in--this was a burial tomb after all--but that did not stop him from noting what could be seen from the entrance.

            Sidebar on the Greek usage of “stooping down and looking in:”  “In the Greek this is expressed in a single word, which occurs again [in] John 20:11 and Luke 24:12, in a literal sense, of ‘bending down to look carefully at;’ and in a figurative sense in 1 Peter 1:12 and James 1:25. . . .  In [the apocryphal book of Sirach [Ecclesiasticus] 14:23 it is used of the earnest searcher after wisdom. . . .”  (Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges)


            20:6     Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb; and he saw the linen cloths lying there,   In contrast to John, Peter did not hesitate and went inside.  There could be seen immediately the burial clothes--the large pieces which were “linen cloths” that had been wrapped around the body.  If the body had been stolen one would have assumed all of this would have been carried away at the same time with the possible exception of the head cover, that being removed to verify who it was. 


            20:7     and the handkerchief that had been around His head, not lying with the linen cloths, but folded together in a place by itself.  The head covering was also present, but separate from the rest, folded neatly.  Even in the theft scenario, no one would have folded it up this way for it would indicate that they were concerned that everything was left in good order.  None of this fits a stolen body scenario.  And a resurrected body would not need these either.  Just as Lazarus’ burial materials were discarded after resurrection so were Jesus’.


            20:8     Then the other disciple, who came to the tomb first, went in also; and he saw and believed.  When the second disciple finally entered the tomb he saw the same evidence “and believed.”  No guard.  No body.  Neat burial clothes left.  What else but resurrection could explain this evidence so well?  However. . . .   


            20:9     For as yet they did not know the Scripture, that He must rise again from the dead.  Yes John “believed” (verse 8), but believed what?  This verse tells us that he did not yet recognize that the Scriptures required the resurrection to occur.  So the reference would seem to have to be that he did so on the basis of the available evidence, i.e., whether Scripture had spoken of it or not.  Facts are facts and the evidence added up to a resurrection.  The evidence from the prophetic source was not understood till later.

            Less likely, though certainly not impossible, is that links are beginning to appear in his mind between the resurrection and Jesus’ own references to His death and conquest of death.  Jesus had certainly given indications that this event would occur though they did not grasp the significance of the teaching at the time.  For example, He had spoken of God’s temple being raised in three days as a Divine “sign” (John 2:18-22).  He had also spoken of both laying down His life and taking it up again (10:17-22).  “When He had risen from the dead, His disciples remembered that He had said this to them; and they believed the Scripture and the word which Jesus had said.” (verse 22). 


            An extremely lesser possibility is that the disciple “believed” that a tremendous wonder had occurred but not in the sense of a “resurrection” as the term is normally used—think in terms of the miraculous removal of the body from earth instead.  In defense of this one might think of John 3:14.  There Jesus had spoken of how “as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up.”  Although interpreted as a sign of the means of death (i.e., crucifixion) it theoretically  could be taken as a promise that God would ultimately vindicate Him by removing Him from the earth itself as well.  Even this way Jesus had established His authoritative credentials by God restoring Him to life by this means. 

           An interesting intellectual construct but a comparison of this phrase with similar usage makes that approach untenable:  In John 8:28 the language is used of the means of death rather than a rescue from it:  “When you [not God] lift up the Son of Man.”  Similar usage of the language is also found in John 12:32-33:  It was “signifying by what death He would die”--not His triumph over death.         


            The least probable scenario is that he only now fully believed the report of the empty tomb.  If they were not already far along in accepting the truth of that shocking news, why did they come at all--especially as fast as they did, running (verse 4)?



Mary Magdalene Sees Both Angels and the Resurrected Jesus (John 20:10-18):  10 So the disciples went back to their homes. 11 But Mary stood outside the tomb weeping.  As she wept, she bent down and looked into the tomb.  12 And she saw two angels in white sitting where Jesus’ body had been lying, one at the head and one at the feet. 

13 They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” Mary replied, “They have taken my Lord away, and I do not know where they have put him!”  14 When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus.

15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?  Who are you looking for?”  Because she thought he was the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will take him.”  16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.”  She turned and said to him in Aramaic, “Rabboni” (which means Teacher). 

17 Jesus replied, “Do not touch me, for I have not yet ascended to my Father. Go to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’ ”  18 Mary Magdalene came and informed the disciples, “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them what Jesus had said to her.     --New English Translation (for comparison)



            20:10   Then the disciples went away again to their own homes.  “Their own homes,” argues that these two disciples either owned or had available one or two residences that they could freely rely on in Jerusalem.  Returning there for a while before talking with the other disciples makes considerable sense:  Unquestionably something very strange had happened, even accepting John’s growing recognition that it involved the promised resurrection.  Their minds would wonder:  What happens now?  What were they supposed to do next?  If He’s been resurrected, when will we see Him?

            Not to mention that since Jesus’ mother was now in John’s care, he would passionately wish to convey the good news to her as well.


            20:11   But Mary stood outside by the tomb weeping, and as she wept she stooped down and looked into the tomb.  Mary Magdalene (cf. verses 1, 18) had brought word back to the apostles about the missing body.  Her reappearance at the tomb argues that she had followed them back to it though at a slower speed.  Though quite capable of running (as she had in verse 2 to make the report), tiredness would surely have slowed her down in making the return leg.  What she would not have expected was to find the site barren of the two apostles:  An empty tomb and the disciples who came to check into it not present either.  Faced with further mystification, was there anything else she could do?


            20:12   And she saw two angels in white sitting, one at the head and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain.  That there were two people quietly sitting in the tomb had to startle her since they were clearly not the two apostles who left before her.  Not to mention their unexpected clothing. 

            Coloring for clothes was widely available but the quality of the color hinged upon the amount of money one could afford.  Even the poorest man’s clothing came with a certain tinge of color.  If nothing else, it inherently reflected whatever shade the material used for it had come in.  White clothing was a prestige item, however--requiring much effort to accomplish the necessary bleaching and to retain that color under repeated use. 

            Hence the color visually conveyed the message that these were important people even though there was no way for her to yet know they were angels:  There is not the slightest hint that they had wings.  Although angels are sometimes depicted as having such, in other cases--such as those who went into Sodom and Gomorrah to retrieve Lot--they clearly did not or some observer would surely have drawn attention to the fact.  Furthermore, if they always/normally had wings it would have been impossible to “unwittingly entertain angels” (Hebrews 13:2).         


            20:13   Then they said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?”  She said to them, “Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him.”  Even in death, she still considers Jesus as worthy of the appellation “Lord:  Alive or dead, He is deserving of great respect.  This time the words are more personal however:  To Peter she had spoken of “the Lord” (verse 2) while here she speaks of “my lord.”  She is crying (“weeping”) because the body has disappeared and she has no idea of where it has been moved to--or who to ask for the information.  What more natural reaction could she have to a situation wholly out of her control?     


            20:14   Now when she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, and did not know that it was Jesus.  He was clearly in such a form that she had no visual hints of the true identity.  Through her tear filled eyes (verse 13), He is simply another stranger.  Also there must have been nothing immediately noticeable in the voice to give her a hint.  For us it is hard to imagine Jesus without a powerful and distinctive voice, but He certainly wasn’t using either on this occasion.  So far as she could tell, this was simply a stranger and another source she could desperately beg information from.     


            20:15   Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?  Whom are you seeking?”  She, supposing Him to be the gardener, said to Him, “Sir, if You have carried Him away, tell me where You have laid Him, and I will take Him away.”  He repeated the question of the angels:  Facing a woman in tears, especially at such an early hour of the day, anything else would have been absurd.  From her standpoint, the most likely person to be around in ordinary work clothes--note that the garments are conspicuously not called white (in our culture think “dress clothes”)--she assumes that he must be the man in charge of taking care of the garden.  If anyone she encounters is likely to know anything it would surely be him--someone it would be the responsibility of to stay at the garden the bulk of his time.


            20:16   Jesus said to her, “Mary!”  She turned and said to Him, “Rabboni!” (which is to say, Teacher).  Speaking her name, she must have recognized that this was the Teacher she so revered.  No mention is made of His appearance changing; presumably the identification was initially made on the basis of voice alone--supported by His identification of who she was.  The actual stranger she initially thought Him to be would have had no idea of her name.  But once she heard the word and how it was said, she knew.   

           Although Mark tells us that “He appeared first to Mary Magdalene (16:9), it is only John who provides us the details.  He simply shows the first appearance to us rather than describing it as such.


            20:17   Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to Me, for I have not yet ascended to My Father; but go to My brethren and say to them, ‘I am ascending to My Father and your Father, and to My God and your God.’   Grasping at Him—to confirm the reality of what she saw and, surely, with a touch of determination not to permit Him to leave—Jesus had to protest that He could not stay for long.  He must ascend to the Father, which implies that there was additional business that needed to be dealt with that day.   

            It was important for her to see Him, but that was only part of what was on the day’s agenda.  In fact it was fine for her to hug Him briefly, but wrong to “cling” indefinitely--that would hinder the other things that needed to be done.  Matters that could not be taken care of while on earth.  What these were we are not informed of.  If we were, I wonder whether we would even comprehend.

            Sidebar:  Note that He is quite willing to call His followers “My brethren” in spite of His glorified nature.  Hebrews 2:11 might be considered a kind of commentary on this:  For both He who sanctifies and those who are being sanctified are all of one, for which reason He is not ashamed to call them brethren.”              


            20:18   Mary Magdalene came and told the disciples that she had seen the Lord, and that He had spoken these things to her.  She naturally carried this report back to the other disciples.  It was the “greatest good news” imaginable and was so important that the report needed to be shared even if they were skeptical.

            Thus as Mary’s love seems to have been the first to manifest itself (verse 1), so the first Manifestation of the Risen Lord is granted to her.  It confirms our trust in the Gospel narratives to find this stated.  A writer of a fictitious account would almost certainly have represented the first appearance as being to the [the mother of Jesus], or to Peter, the ‘chief of the Apostles,’ or to John, the ‘beloved disciple,’ or to the chosen three [Peter, James, and John as on the Mount of Transfiguration].  But these are all passed over, and this honor is given to her, who had once been possessed by seven devils, to Mary of Magdala, ‘for she loved much’ [Luke 7:47].”  (Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges)



On the Evening of the First Resurrection Day, Jesus Appears in the Room with the Apostles Though They Are Behind Locked Doors (John 20:19-23):  19 On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the disciples had gathered together and locked the doors of the place because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders.  Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 

20 When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.  21 So Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. Just as the Father has sent me, I also send you.” 

22 And after he said this, he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.  23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven; if you retain anyone’s sins, they are retained.”

--New English Translation (for comparison)



            20:19   Then, the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in the midst, and said to them, “Peace be with you.”  That “evening”—i.e., the entire day had passed away in the meantime.  The “doors were shut”—surely with the implication of locked and secured.  So soon after the crucifixion they were afraid that their gathering spot might be raided by their enemies.  After the murderous scheme to get Jesus crucified, it was elementary caution to fear the worst.  Jesus Himself had warned, “If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you” (John 15:18). Secure premises would either stop or delay any enemies. 

            Furthermore they had much to discuss.  The empty tomb, the resurrection appearances.  Hard to believe even having witnessed it themselves or through those they regarded as trustworthy.  They had to recognize that something incredible had happened, but had trouble grasping what it all meant and implied for the future.  Would we have been any different?

            And then appears the one person who can provide them answers.  Jesus did not do something mundane like knock at the door.  To prove He was not only alive but had powers beyond even what He exhibited during His ministry, He simply appeared--unannounced in their midst. 

            Sidebar on Jesus’ ability to routinely alter His appearance and abilities especially after the resurrection:  This fact [of a sudden and unexpected appearance within the room] is noted here and in John 20:26, and the obvious intention is to point out that the appearance was preternatural.  The body of the risen Lord was indeed the body of His human life, but it was not subject to the ordinary conditions of human life.  The power that had upheld it as He walked upon the Sea of Galilee (John 6:16-21) made it during those forty days independent of laws of gravitation and of material resistance.  (Compare . . . Luke 24:15-16 [‘their eyes were restrained, so that they did not know Him’]; Luke 24:31[‘Then their eyes were opened and they knew Him; and He vanished from their sight’]; Luke 24:39 [‘Behold My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself.  Handle Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see I have]).”  (Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers)


            20:20   When He had said this, He showed them His hands and His side.  Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord.  To prove that they were not hallucinating or confusing Him with a look-alike, He showed them both the wounds in His hands and side.  The initial appearance surely startled them because of its unexpectedness.  This “visual and touchable confirmation” of His identity produced outright “glad[ness]” among them, however--it made them “very happy” (CEV), “filled with joy” (Weymouth), “they rejoiced” (NASB, NET).  Luke speaks of how they were so happy they didn’t want to believe what they were seeing (Luke 24:41)!  Today we would use the idiom, “It seemed too good to be true.”


            20:21   So Jesus said to them again, “Peace to you!  As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.”  He wished God’s “peace” on them and promised that as God had “sent” Him into the world, so also He would send them throughout the world.  Here only the fact of sending is referred to; in Matthew 28:18-20 the full universal scope of their commission is provided.


            20:22   And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.  To prepare them for their mission, He symbolically gave them the Spirit (which they later received literally in Acts 2).  By doing so He prepares their minds for the future mission they will be carrying out.  The Cause is not over; it is only beginning.

            If more than this is intended, it is probably that they were now to fully embrace and retain the “holy” (= purified) “spirit” that God intended them to have.  In other words their own inner nature is under consideration.  By doing this they would be exemplars of moral behavior and be able to make judgment on human actions given them by revelation of the Divine Spirit (next verse) without the danger of hypocrisy being thrown at them.


            20:23   If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”  As the result of receiving the Spirit’s guidance, they would be able to both forgive and refuse to forgive sin.  They did so by both defining what is honorable and what is immoral and by revealing how one was to go about seeking forgiveness.  The Spirit’s role in this was pivotal:  they were not acting on their own initiative or decision but in fulfillment of the Spirit’s direct guidance in what they said and taught.  Hence what was true of Peter (Matthew 16:19) was also true of the rest of the apostles as well, “whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 18:18).  Note that the authority was given to all the apostles; not just to Peter alone for all were inspired by God in their teaching.

            The forgiving / retaining is the result of how the listener either accepts and embraces the condemnation of their sin (via behavioral change) or rejects and refuses to alter course.  Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers argues:  On individual words in this verse it is important to note that in the better text the tense of that rendered ‘are remitted’ is a strict present, while that rendered ‘are retained’ is in the perfect-present.  The difference is not easy to preserve in English, but the thought seems to be, ‘Whosesoever sins ye remit—a change in their condition is taking place—their sins are being remitted by God; whosesoever ye retain—their condition remains unchanged—they have been, and are retained.’   Heed the message through prayer and a changed life or remain stagnant in the ongoing sin.  The choice is forced on no one.



Even the Cynical Thomas Is Convinced that Jesus Has Been Physically Resurrected (John 20:24-31):  24 Now Thomas (called Didymus), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came.  25 The other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”  But he replied, “Unless I see the wounds from the nails in his hands, and put my finger into the wounds from the nails, and put my hand into his side, I will never believe it!”

26 Eight days later the disciples were again together in the house, and Thomas was with them.  Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!”

27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and examine my hands.  Extend your hand and put it into my side.  Do not continue in your unbelief, but believe.”  28 Thomas replied to him, “My Lord and my God!”  29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are the people who have not seen and yet have believed.”

30 Now Jesus performed many other miraculous signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not recorded in this book.  31 But these are recorded so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.     --New English Translation (for comparison)



            20:24   Now Thomas, called the Twin, one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came.  Although the bulk of the apostles were present, they lacked at least this one.  We have no idea of why that was the case.  Happenstance is as good an explanation as any--personal obligations to take care of, not feeling well, or other things entirely. 

            Some suspect that there is a piece of Biblical data that might point us in a specific direction, however:  there was something of an inherent moodiness in the man.  Evidence of this would be the fact that he regarded going to Jerusalem as a death sentence for one and all:  “Let us also go, that we may die with Him” (John 11:16).  Pessimism “confirmed” by the Lord’s death could easily have led to such despair that he simply did not wish to remain around them as much as the others wanted to be together.  


            20:25   The other disciples therefore said to him, “We have seen the Lord.”  So he said to them, “Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.”  When he was informed of what they had seen, he expressed his deep skepticism and said that he would believe their report only if he personally witnessed and verified what they were saying.  It wasn’t so much that he distrusted them as that he regarded this as so important (and improbable?) that he needed first-hand evidence as well.

            Sidebar:  Although Romans may not uniformly have used nails to attach the upper body to the cross, this reference proves that in Jesus’ case they unquestionably were used.  Since there was no logical reason to treat the other two prisoners differently, they would have been used on the others as well.


            20:26   And after eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them.  Jesus came, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, “Peace to you!”  We are not told whether they met daily throughout this period nor, if they did, whether Jesus had appeared to them again.  The only thing we know for a certainty is that this time Thomas present.

            “Eight days” would make it on a Sunday and commentators often find this as the first step toward regular Sunday gatherings by the Lord’s disciples.


            20:27   Then He said to Thomas, “Reach your finger here, and look at My hands; and reach your hand here, and put it into My side.  Do not be unbelieving, but believing.”  Thomas had insisted that he had to personally verify that Jesus had indeed appeared so Jesus challenges him to do exactly that:  Accept the evidence of your own eyes and touch.  “Do not be unbelieving, but believing.”  It is impossible fully to express the play upon these two words.  Ἄπιστος is not so much a worthless, untrustworthy person, as one who has settled down into an abiding condition of unbelief; and πίστος is not simply ‘believing,’ but ‘ trustworthy,’ ‘trusty,’ and ‘trustful.’   (Pulpit Commentary)    

            (Just as there are some people who are “believers” in one thing or another without evidence, there are yet others who are chronic unbelievers and no amount of evidence will ever convince them to change their minds.  Jesus urges Thomas not to be in that category.)


            20:28   And Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!”  Thomas could only react to the tangible evidence with a vocal, “My Lord and my God!”  Some dismiss them as a mere spontaneous outburst, without any “literalism” intended.  Yet in its actual setting—seeing and touching a Man who had been dead and was now alive . . . over a week after the death . . . one who had spoken both of approaching death and resurrection—how could Thomas have meant either term except in a very literalistic sense?

            Sidebar on the passage as evidence of the deityship of Jesus:  “In this passage the name God is expressly given to Christ, in his own presence and by one of his own apostles.  This declaration has been considered as a clear proof of the divinity of Christ, for the following reasons:

            “1.  There is no evidence that this was a mere expression, as some have supposed, of surprise or astonishment.

            “2.  The language was addressed to Jesus himself--‘Thomas  . . . said unto him.’

            “3.  The Savior did not reprove him or check him as using any improper language.  If he had not been divine, it is impossible to reconcile it with his honesty that he did not rebuke the disciple.  No pious man would have allowed such language to be addressed to him:  Compare Acts 14:13-15; Revelation 22:8-9.

          “4.  The Savior proceeds immediately to commend Thomas for believing; but what was the evidence of his believing?  It was this declaration, and this only.  If this was a mere exclamation of surprise, what proof was it that Thomas believed?  Before this he doubted.  Now he believed, and gave utterance to his belief, that Jesus was his Lord and his God. . . .”  (Barnes’ Notes) 


            20:29   Jesus said to him, “Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed.  Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”              If Thomas was to be praised for believing upon the basis of first hand evidence, those who had to rely upon the testimony of those witnesses were also “blessed.”  The apostles being sent throughout the world was to provide first hand testimony to all who would listen.


            20:30    And truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book;   Although John had narrated various miracles of Jesus these were but a fraction of the “many” that had been witnessed by the apostles and others. 

            The Pulpit Commentary suggests:  The ‘many’ and ‘other’ refer to those signs with which his readers may be familiar from other sources, and, as it seems to us, in other (βιβλία) books. We have seen throughout how thoroughly alive the evangelist is to the minutest details of the synoptic narrative [such as, for example, implying knowledge of other events he himself does not take time to describe].  The word ‘many’ seems most accurately to include more than the few appearances after His resurrection which are not mentioned by John, but which are recorded by the synoptists, and the ‘other’ refers most probably to signs of a different class from those which he has selected.

            “The ‘signs’ written in this book are those central facts which formed the theme and starting-points of his discourses.  ‘Signs’ do not necessarily mean miraculous works (ἐργα), but all ‘indications’ or ‘tokens’ of His higher nature and Divine commission, such as his appearance in the synagogue of Nazareth; the cleansing of the temple, which had so powerfully affected the mind of Nicodemus; the repeated assertion of His pre-existence and eternal glory; the feeling of the officers of the Sanhedrin, that ‘never man spake like this Man;’ the effect produced by his lofty claims to be ‘Lord of the Sabbath’ and ‘greater than the temple;’ the [assertion] of power to forgive sins; the discomfiture of the deputation from chief priests and elders; the collapse of the Roman soldiers; and all other proofs of his supreme authority.”


            20:31   but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.  The written testimony of the eyewitnesses themselves (as in the current gospel) and of those who committed their words to writing on their behalf (as the gospel of Mark does for Peter) were intended to convince the listeners of Jesus’ status in regard to two important facts:

            First, as “Christ” (= the God Anointed One; the regal King over God’s spiritual kingdom; the long promised Messiah).

            Second, as “Son of God” (carrying with it the idea of deityship; cf. verse 28).  Were He not the latter He could not be the former, although men have failed to see this.  Some had been looking for a mere Prophet and Wonder-worker—a second Moses or a second Elijah; others had been looking for an earthly King and Conqueror—a second David or a second Solomon. These views were all far short of the truth, and too often obscured and hindered the truth.  Jesus, the Lord’s Anointed, must be and is not only very man but very God.  Compare 1 John 4:14-15.”  (Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges) 

            By “believing” these things eternal spiritual life would be produced in the believer.  This would be because such a believer would heed the admonitions and encouragements that Jesus had bequeathed to them and all succeeding generations. 









Chapter Twenty-One




In Galilee at the Sea of Tiberias, Jesus Unexpectedly Appears and Has Breakfast with the Apostles (John 21:1-14):  After this Jesus revealed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias. Now this is how he did so.  Simon Peter, Thomas (called Didymus), Nathanael (who was from Cana in Galilee), the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples of his were together.  3  Simon Peter told them, “I am going fishing.”  “We will go with you,” they replied.  They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing. 

When it was already very early morning, Jesus stood on the beach, but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus.  So Jesus said to them, “Children, you don’t have any fish, do you?”  They replied, “No.”  He told them, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.”  So they threw the net, and were not able to pull it in because of the large number of fish.

Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!”  So Simon Peter, when he heard that it was the Lord, tucked in his outer garment (for he had nothing on underneath it), and plunged into the sea.  Meanwhile the other disciples came with the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from land, only about a hundred yards.

When they got out on the beach, they saw a charcoal fire ready with a fish placed on it, and bread.  10 Jesus said, “Bring some of the fish you have just now caught.” 

11 So Simon Peter went aboard and pulled the net to shore. It was full of large fish, one hundred fifty-three, but although there were so many, the net was not torn.  12 “Come, have breakfast,” Jesus said.  But none of the disciples dared to ask him, “Who are you?” because they knew it was the Lord. 

13 Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish.  14 This was now the third time Jesus was revealed to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.

--New English Translation (for comparison)



            21:1     After these things Jesus showed Himself again to the disciples at the Sea of Tiberias, and in this way He showed Himself:   For the final chapter the scene shifts from Jerusalem to events that occur after they returned to Galilee and were at the Sea of Tiberias.  Known more often to us as the “Sea of Galilee,” this other identification would have been far more common among Gentiles.

            John alone uses this name.  The return of the disciples from Jerusalem to Galilee is commanded [in] Matthew 28:7; Mark 16:7.  They returned to Jerusalem soon, and remained there from the Ascension to Pentecost (Acts 1:4).  Matthew notices only the appearances in Galilee, Luke and Mark only those in Jerusalem.  John gives some of both groups.”  (Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges)  


            21:2     Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of His disciples were together.  “The sons of Zebedee” were James and John and they were “partners” in the fishing business with the apostle Peter (Luke 5:10).  Thomas was the one who was most skeptical of the reality of the resurrection in the previous chapter (20:24-25).  Nathanael had at first been skeptical that any true religious leader could come out of Nazareth (John 1:46).  Here we learn that he was from “Cana in Galilee,” the sight of Jesus’ first miracle.  These five were definitely apostles.  The other two are probably not since they are left nameless and since they are simply described as if part of the broader group of “disciples.”  Those who are inclined toward apostolic identities, typically suggest Andrew and Philip.

            Sidebar on the naming of Nathanael of Cana:  “It is very commonly believed that Nathanael and Bartholomew are the same person.  The evidence for that belief is as follows:  [1]  John, who twice mentions Nathanael, never introduces the name of Bartholomew at all.  Matthew 10:3, Mark 3:18 and Luke 6:14 all speak of Bartholomew, but never of Nathanael.  It may be, however, that Nathanael was the proper name and Bartholomew (son of Tholmai) the surname of the same disciple, just as Simon was called Bar-Jona and Joses, Barnabas.  [2]  It was Philip who first brought Nathanael to Jesus, just as Andrew had brought his brother Simon, and Batholomew is named by each of the first three evangelists immediately after Philip, while by John he is coupled with Philip precisely in the same way as Simon with his brother Andrew and James with his brother John.  [3]  It should be observed, too, that as all the other disciples mentioned in the first chapter of John became apostles of Christ, it is difficult to suppose that one who had been so singularly commended by Jesus, and who in his turn had so promptly and so fully confessed Him to be the Son of God, should be excluded from the number.  [4] Again, that Nathanael was one of the original twelve is inferred with much probability from his not being proposed as one of the candidates to fill the place of Judas.”  From:  Nathanael” in Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature, edited by John McClintock and James Strong (1880)


            21:3     Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.”  They said to him, “We are going with you also.”  They went out and immediately  got into the boat, and that night they caught nothing.  As typically happened in this body of water, they chose to fish at night (as in Luke 5:5) since the fish tended to rise toward the surface as the waters cooled.  They could then be rapidly sent out to market in the morning while still fresh.  Except when in direct service to the Lord, the need to have a “cash flow” remained one of their priorities.

            Unfortunately for them, this was one of those nights when they caught nothing at all.  The probability of a catch was no guarantee there actually would be one--not even in a lake as large and abundant with fish as this one.


            21:4     But when the morning had now come, Jesus stood on the shore; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus.  While they were finishing their fishing in the early hours of sunlight, it happened that Jesus was standing on the shore, waiting their return, though He did not show Himself in a form that they would immediately recognize.  Think in terms of the disciples traveling on the road to Emmaus in Luke 24:13-34, especially verses 16 and 31--though in at least that case it was not His actual appearance that was changed as their ability to recognize who it was. 

            Others refer the lack of recognition to a combination of distance from shore, human tiredness after a long night, and that there was not yet enough light available to see well.  Perhaps even “a morning mist,” suggest some.  Compare the ESV’s rendering “just as the day was breaking” or NET’s “very early morning.”    


            21:5     Then Jesus said to them, “Children, have you any food?”  They answered Him, “No.”  Both query and response were quite natural.  They were in a boat, obviously having fished, and the normal probability was that they had had some success.  They candidly responded that that had not been the case.  One needs no great imagination to suspect a very natural human “grouchiness” in that admission.


            21:6     And He said to them, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.  So they cast, and now they were not able to draw it in because of the multitude of fish.  The suggestion that they cast their net on a specific side of the boat argues either that they could be observed with the nets out on the other side or that they had drawn the nets in after what they thought was the final effort of the night.  Probably with a shrug of the shoulders and a few shared words among themselves--“Why not?  It can’t do any harm”--they decided to make this final effort.  The heretofore unrecognized individual had predicted that their situation would change if they did so and he was proved right as they were rewarded with a catch so abundant that they were unable to pull the nets all the way in.


            21:7     Therefore that disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!”  Now when Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his outer garment (for he had removed it), and plunged into the sea.  Due to the suggestion being proved correct even though it was far from certain—not to mention the extraordinary size of the catch as well—John cried out who it had to be.  Peter immediately recognized that John was right:  such counsel could only have come from the Lord.  Not only these factors may have been at work:  In their own memories they could also be recalling how once before they received similar advice from the Lord--and being reward then, also, with an abundant catch (Luke 5:3-10).

            Pulling on his outer clothes, Peter plunged into the water and swam ashore.  The outer clothes would have routinely been taken off to assure that they weren’t messed up by the night’s anticipated heavy work.

            Sidebar:  “for he had removed it” is, more literally (as in the KJV), “he was naked;” “he had taken his clothes off” (Good News Translation).  The terminology was not used in the modern sense of nudity but in the sense of lacking the outer garments; today the idea would be roughly paralleled in noting that he worked “in his underwear.”  But this “underwear” functioned as work garments.  The idiom is also found in other passages of King Saul (1 Samuel 19:24) and Isaiah the prophet (Isaiah 20:2).   


            21:8     But the other disciples came in the little boat (for they were not far from land, but about two hundred cubits), dragging the net with fish.              The others refused to abandon their fish and brought the boat in, dragging behind the net full of the huge catch.  Unable to get them into the boat, they now exercised muscle power to pull it onto the beach for counting and separation.  (A task that was far easier than upwards and into the boat.)

            Sidebar:  Although “cubits” is quite accurate, it is not an immediately understood measurement to our ears.  In modern English it would be rendered “about a hundred yards” (NIV).  Note also the description of the vessel as a “little boat;” i.e., the clear implication being that there were also far larger ones also used on the Lake.


            21:9     Then, as soon as they had come to land, they saw a fire of coals there, and fish laid on it, and bread.  A fire was already going and fish and bread cooking on it for them.  In other words, there was some already laid on but not enough to fully fill them all up (as the injunction in the next verse shows). 

            Numerous speculations have been hazarded about the method employed by our Lord to prepare this meal.  The early Fathers, Chrysostom, Theophylact, with Grotius, have appealed to Christ's creative power.  Luthardt thinks of the ministry of angels.  Some have suggested that Peter prepared the hasty repast during the interval that elapsed between his landing on the shore and the approach of the boat.”  (Pulpit Commentary)

            Due to the omission of any external help being mentioned, a miracle seems best to fit the narrative.  “We need not be curious in inquiring whence this fire, fish, and bread came, any more than whence the meat came which the ravens brought Elijah [in 1 Kings 17: 4-7 or which the angel of the Lord brought him in 1 Kings 19:5-8]. He that could multiply the loaves and fishes that were, could make new ones if He pleased, or turn stones into bread, fish, or flesh.  We may take comfort from this instance of Christ’s care of His disciples; persuaded He has wherewith to supply all our wants, and knows what things we have need of.”  (Benson Commentary)


            21:10   Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish which you have just caught.”  Jesus told them to add to what was already cooking by bringing Him some of the fish they had just brought ashore.  After all, they had worked all night and they deserved a hearty meal rather than just a “snack.”  This would also give them further time to absorb just how large the catch had been and how it was accomplished without doing any harm to the netting.


            21:11   Simon Peter went up and dragged the net to land, full of large fish, one hundred and fifty-three; and although there were so many, the net was not broken.  The whole situation defied the normal:  There were fish when hours of work proved there should be none; they were there in abundance; and they were all or overwhelmingly “large fish”--the kind a household would most prefer.  Any normal catch would have garnered a major number of small ones which would have been thrown back into the Lake to try to catch again when they grew larger.  Factor in also the fact that the net had not broken in spite of the large catch.

            This was not only a demonstration of the power of our Lord, but a kind supply for them and their families.  It was, likewise, an emblem of the great success which should attend them as fishers of men.  (Benson Commentary)  Beyond things like this one should proceed cautiously with making further symbolic lessons from this piece of Jesus’ history--or any other for that matter.  As the Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges wisely puts it:  Symbolical interpretations of Scripture are of three kinds:  (1)  Fanciful and illegitimate.  These are simply misleading:  they force into plain statements meanings wholly unreal if not false; as when the 153 fishes are made to symbolize Gentiles, Jews, and the Trinity.  (2)  Fanciful but legitimate.  These are harmless, and may be edifying:  they use a plain statement to inculcate a spiritual lesson, although there is no evidence that such lesson is intended.  (3)  Legitimate and divinely intended.  In these cases the spiritual meaning is either pointed out for us in Scripture (Luke 5:10), or is so strikingly in harmony with the narrative, that it seems reasonable to accept it as purposely included in it.  Of course it requires both spiritual and intellectual power to determine in any given case to which class a particular interpretation belongs. . . .”  


            21:12   Jesus said to them, “Come and eat breakfast.”  Yet none of the disciples dared ask Him, “Who are You?”—knowing that it was the Lord.  After that task of hauling in the fish was completed, Jesus invited them to share the food that was cooking.  They all hesitated to ask who it was, though part of their minds recognized that it had to be Jesus. 

            Perhaps we today would word what was happening this way:  “They knew who it was but feared to put it into words” . . . as if fearing that doing so would cause the experience to come to an end.  Very illogical, perhaps, but still very human.  The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges handles their attitude this way:  A mixture of perplexity, awe, and conviction.  They are convinced that He is the Lord, yet feel that He is changed, and reverence restrains them from curious questions.”  There are times when there simply isn’t anything right to say so “you keep your mouth closed” and see what will happen next.  


            21:13   Jesus then came and took the bread and gave it to them, and likewise the fish.  Jesus shared the bread and the fish with the apostles as He had suggested they partake.  We speak freely of the “Last Supper;” perhaps here we should speak of “The Last Meal [Breakfast] Jesus Cooked!”  Although we read repeated New Testament references to Jesus’ bodily presence at meals and feasts--including the marriage feast at Cana near the beginning of this gospel--there are few explicit references to His actually partaking of the food Himself at such gatherings.  But since that was the purpose of such gatherings--to eat--we rightly take for granted that He participated.  The most explicit reference to such behavior is found in the Lord’s contrast of John’s behavior with His own:  John came neither eating nor drinking but “the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a winebibber, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ ”--Matthew 5:18-19.      


            21:14   This is now the third time Jesus showed Himself to His disciples after He was raised from the dead.  We could take this to mean that this is the third time in John’s selection of incidents--which would certainly explain why appearances mentioned in the other gospels aren’t counted in his total.  This won’t work however.  Even John himself records that the Lord appeared to Mary Magdalene (20:11-14) and “the same day at evening” appeared to a gathering of the apostles (20:19).  Then “after eight days” He made a second appearance to them (20:26).  Making this the fourth incident if he is counting all the appearances he mentioned, but only the third that he describes if he has in mind a gathering of the apostles.  Hence His numbering is based upon that group being at the forefront of his mind.



Jesus Enquires of Peter How Deeply He Loves Him (John 21:15-19):  15 Then when they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these do?”  He replied, “Yes, Lord, you know I love you.” Jesus told him, “Feed my lambs.”  16 Jesus said a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?”  He replied, “Yes, Lord, you know I love you.”  Jesus told him, “Shepherd my sheep.” 

17 Jesus said a third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?”  Peter was distressed that Jesus asked him a third time, “Do you love me?” and said, “Lord, you know everything.  You know that I love you.”  Jesus replied, “Feed my sheep.  18 I tell you the solemn truth, when you were young, you tied your clothes around you and went wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and others will tie you up and bring you where you do not want to go.”

19 (Now Jesus said this to indicate clearly by what kind of death Peter was going to glorify God.)  After he said this, Jesus told Peter, “Follow me.”     --New English Translation (for comparison)



            21:15-17 (Overview):  So when they had eaten breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me more than these?”  He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.”  He said to him, “Feed My lambs.”  16 He said to him again a second time, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?”  He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.”  He said to him, “Tend My sheep.”  17 He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?”  Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, “Do you love Me?”  And he said to Him, “Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.”  Jesus said to him, “Feed My sheep.

            Three times Jesus asked Peter whether He “love[d]” Him.  In the first case (vs. 15) it is “more than these”—perhaps referring to the apostles, but far more likely to the fish and bread since the relative degree of love of the various disciples was a question even Peter would likely have hesitated to answer.  (Though he edges close to it in Matthew 26:33).  In the other two cases it is simply the more limited question “do you love Me?”

            Some see a significance in the shift in the terms translated “love” by Jesus in the first two inquiries and how Peter responded with a Greek synonym that was not as broad or deep in meaning.  Only in the last exchange do the two use the same word.  Perhaps such minute distinctions were in Jesus’ mind.  On the other hand it is more likely that Jesus simply thought it best to demand of Peter a three-fold affirmation of faith to match his three-fold repudiation of faith at the time of the Lord’s arrest and trial.  Not surprisingly, having the same basic question raised three times caused Peter to feel “grieved” (vs. 17).

            Jesus instructed Peter to both “feed” (vss. 15, 17) and “tend” the sheep (vs. 16).  Similarly, Jesus referred to the flock as both “lambs” (verse 15) and “sheep” (verses 16, 17).  The shift in underlying Greek terminology is worth noting but unfortunately has been used to spin elaborate distinctions between the two forms of nurturing and the two types of animals.  It seems far wiser to emphasize the generalization that Peter was to do his duty toward all the flock of God in all the forms it might require.  If much beyond this basic principle were intended, one would anticipate it being spelled out either here or in other passages.


            21:15   So when they had eaten breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me more than these?”  He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.”  He said to him, “Feed My lambs.”  He speaks to him by name, the more to affect him, as He did when he warned him of a great approaching trial (Luke 22:31).  He doth not call him Cephas, or Peter, a name signifying strength or stability, for he had lost the credit of that; but gives him his original name, Simon, adding, however, Son of Jonas, as He had called him when he pronounced him blessed, Matthew 16:17.”  (Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers)  

            By trade Peter was a professional fisher.  His income and maintenance of self and family were rooted in regularly plying this trade--and doing so successfully.  Hence Peter had an economic duty to his family but he also had a moral and spiritual duty toward Jesus and His followers.  To fulfill that, he needed to provide “food” (teaching and encouragement) to the disciples as they needed it.         


             21:16    He said to him again a second time, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?”  He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.”  He said to him, “Tend My sheep.”  The second raising of the question, in essence, challenges the apostle:  “Do you really love Me?”  He is giving him a second chance to consider it.  This time Jesus omits the “more these these” (i.e., the other apostles).  That kind of “superior” love had failed in the night of betrayal--remember the thoroughly unjustified bravado of the apostle (Matthew 26:35; John 13:37).  Will it happen again?  That doesn’t hinge on the comparative love of the various apostles but on that of Peter alone.

            And Peter again insists that he has that kind of affection and loyalty toward his Lord.  If that is the case, then there is the obligation to “tend” His spiritual sheep--provide their oversight, their nourishment, their encouragement . . . whatever it is that they need which he could provide. 

            Tending implies more of guidance and government than feeding does. The lambs, which can go no distance, scarcely require guidance, their chief need is food.  The sheep require both.”  (Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges)     


            21:17   He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?”  Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, “Do you love Me?”  And he said to Him, “Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.”  Jesus said to him, “Feed My sheep.  By the third query it is hard to imagine that Peter is not--on some level--remembering his own threefold denial of Jesus.  It is as if to heal that breach he is being called to make a threefold reaffirmation of His loyalty and service to the Lord.

            Indeed, the entire setting for these words may have been designed to bring back the broader and once faithful service he had previously provided:  By the side of the lake after casting his net into the sea had Peter first been called to be a fisher of men (Matthew 4:19).  The lake, the very spot on the shore, the nets, the boat, would bring back to his mind in all their fullness the thoughts of the day which had been the turning-point of his life.  By the side of the ‘fire of coals’ (see . . . John 18:18, the only other place where the word occurs) he had denied his Lord.  As the eye rests upon the ‘fire of coals’ before him, and he is conscious of the presence of the Lord, who knows all things (John 21:17), burning thoughts of penitence and shame may have come to his mind, and these may have been the true preparation for the words which follow.”  (Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers)

            Peter insists--in his profound embarrassment?--that Jesus already “knows” this.  Once more we have two words for ‘know’ in the original and only one in the A.V. . . . .  The first ‘knowest’ (oidas) refers to Christ’s supernatural intuition, as in John 21:15-16: the second ‘knowest’ (ginôskeis) to His experience and discernment; Thou recognisest, perceivestseestthat I love Thee.  See . . . John 2:24-25.”  (Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges)


            21:18   Most assuredly, I say to you, when you were younger, you girded yourself and walked where you wished; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish.”  As to Peter’s own future, Jesus warned that when he was young he was able to go where he wanted when he wanted.  When he grows old he will not have that freedom of movement and others will be in charge of what happens to him.  One commentator simply sees here “an expression for the helplessness of age.”  In other words it can easily be read as a prediction that he would live to an old age and suffer the physical disabilities—and reliance on others—that go with it.   

            On the other hand, this text has often been taken in the negative sense of his arms being “stretche[ed] out” on a cross to die.  However note the order of the expressions:  Jesus speaks of the hands being “stretched out,” while another “girds you,” and he is “carried” where he does not wish to go.  In crucifixion events were in a different order:  going to the place you don’t want to go (i.e., to the place of crucifixion) / arms stretched out (so they can be attached to the cross) / then actual girding to the cross.  In other words the final event referred to here would actually be the first if execution is in mind. 

            If the language is to be applied to death by crucifixion at all, then the expressions would apply (as in the text’s order) to the arms being “stretched out” on the cross; then comes the “girding” to the cross; then comes the cross or the crossbar being lifted up into the air as he is “carried” where he does not want to go.  Although that is not impossible, it is still a very unexpected way of expressing the idea of crucifixion.


            21:19   This He spoke, signifying by what death he would glorify God.  And when He had spoken this, He said to him, “Follow Me.”  In spite of all the physical limitations that Jesus had described, Peter would still live and act the way he should.  By doing so his “death . . . would glorify God:  He would endure the harsh infirmities of old age with such faith and perseverance that it would deeply impress others. 

            In its own way that would be as challenging as martyrdom.  With martyrdom you normally knew when you were going to die, but in this kind of prolonged old age agony, one could never tell when the liberation of death would arrive.  In death and until then, his orders were simple:  “Follow Me.”

            But what if martyrdom ultimately did come his way?  If one accepts the very ancient tradition that Peter was crucified in his old age, then what is described here would be the physical adversities that he had already suffered for a prolonged period beforehand. He had endured those stoically.  In spite of them and while still in extreme weakness, he continued to refuse to repudiate his Lord even when forced to endure that brutal Roman way of dying.  Indeed his faithfulness in death would be even more awesome because of that.          



Peter Enquires About the Future of the Author of This Book—And Many Disciples Came to Misunderstand the Answer (John 21:20-25):  20 Peter turned around and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them.  (This was the disciple who had leaned back against Jesus’ chest at the meal and asked, “Lord, who is the one who is going to betray you?”)  21 So when Peter saw him, he asked Jesus, “Lord, what about him?”  22 Jesus replied, “If I want him to live until I come back, what concern is that of yours?  You follow me!” 

23 So the saying circulated among the brothers and sisters that this disciple was not going to die.  But Jesus did not say to him that he was not going to die, but rather, “If I want him to live until I come back, what concern is that of yours?”

24 This is the disciple who testifies about these things and has written these things, and we know that his testimony is true.  25 There are many other things that Jesus did.  If every one of them were written down, I suppose the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.     --New English Translation (for comparison)



            21:20    Then Peter, turning around, saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following, who also had leaned on His breast at the supper, and said, “Lord, who is the one who betrays You?”  Peter observed John following further behind--the one who had voiced Peter’s query to the Lord about who would betray Him (13:21-25):  “Specifically which of us will do this evil deed?”  Peter had learned of his own fate (verse 19 above) and he is curious of what is the future of this friend of his. . . .     


            21:21   Peter, seeing him, said to Jesus, “But Lord, what about this man?”   Would he live long?  Would he die a martyr to the cause?  Would he continue to be as dedicated as he had been in the past?  The question is open ended and allows Jesus to comment on whatever aspect of the future He prefers to discuss.  


            21:22   Jesus said to him, “If I will that he remain till I come, what is that to you?  You follow Me.”  Jesus is clearly not happy with the query for He responded that if He wished for John to remain alive until “I come,” what business was it of Peter’s?  Peter’s duty was simpler:  “You follow me.”  If we interpreted the remarks about Peter correctly in verses 18-19, then this may carry the implication that John will live even longer than Peter.  On the other hand it may simply be a way of politely saying “It’s done of your business, actually.  What is important is that you continue to persist in your faithfulness to Me and My cause.  The rest is between Me and John.”   

            Other alternatives, sometimes by very wise commentators, have also been offered.  When Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers was written this one was often preferred:  The interpretation which has found most support is that which takes the ‘coming of the Lord’ to mean the destruction of Jerusalem, which John, and perhaps he only of the Apostles, lived to see.  But the context seems to exclude this meaning, for the mistake of John 21:23 would surely have been corrected by a reference to the fact that John had survived, and wrote the Gospel after, the ‘coming of the Lord.’  The interpretation which the next verse itself suggests is that our Lord made no statement, but expressed a supposition, ‘If I will,’ ‘If it even be that I will;’ and this both gives the exact meaning of the Greek, and corresponds with the remainder of our Lord’s answer.”


            21:23   Then this saying went out among the brethren that this disciple would not die.  Yet Jesus did not say to him that he would not die, but, “If I will that he remain till I come, what is that to you?”  Jesus’ remark was later interpreted by a goodly number as meaning that John would have an indefinitely long lifespan, surviving even to His return to earth.  If ancient church traditions are close to right, John was the last apostle to die and the fact that he had survived so long would gain credibility (in the eyes of many) to the misinterpretation he is dealing with. 

            But the author himself is here at pains to emphasize the considerable difference between such a flat out, direct prediction, and Jesus’ far more modest affirmation that “if I will,” that this would occur.  This is true even if one believes this last chapter was added by some inspired writer other than John:  If this chapter was added by another hand after the Apostle’s death it would have been natural to mention his death, as the simplest and most complete answer to the misunderstanding,” i.e., the fact of death destroys the interpretation.  (Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges)   


            21:24   This is the disciple who testifies of these things, and wrote these things; and we know that his testimony is true.  The disciple who was loved by Jesus is presented as the author of this entire work--including verses 21-23.  But then someone copying the manuscript (under instructions of the elders wherever it was located?) adds, “and we know that his testimony is true.” 

            In the context of what has just been stated (verses 21-22) the connotation is not just to the reliability of the entire work, but that the interpretation of this specific but misunderstood prophecy of Jesus is dependable.  Many were guilty of reading into it far more than was actually intended.  This should also be a warning of caution in our own exegesis lest we read into texts far more than was placed there or even can be reasonably interpreted from them.  


            21:25   And there are also many other things that Jesus did, which if they were written one by one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.  Amen.  Jesus’ many actions, teachings, and miracles were so numerous that John could only give a selection of them in this book.  If one were to attempt to record them all, they were so vast in number that even the entire world, seemingly, would not have space for all the books that would be required.  Hence the author concludes on the note that this account has deliberately been only a partial one; the data was so vast there was simply no room for all of it in one volume or even in any reasonable number.  We have been given all that is needed rather than all that we might be curious about.


            Sidebar:  Hyperbole was common in ancient society and found in other Biblical texts as well:  The statement is to be taken as it would be understood among the persons to whom it is addressed; and as no one supposes that the author means to be understood literally, so there is no deception in the case, and consequently no impeachment of his veracity or inspiration.  Thus, when Longinus said of a man that ‘he was the owner of a piece of ground not larger than a Lacedaemonian letter,’ no one understood him literally.  e meant, evidently, a very small piece of land, and no one would be deceived.  So Virgil says of a man, ‘he was so tall as to reach the stars,’ and means only that he was very tall.

            “So when John says that the world could not contain the books that would be written if all the deeds and sayings of Jesus were recorded, he clearly intends nothing more than that a great many books would be required, or that it would be extremely difficult to record them all; intimating that his life was active, that his discourses were numerous, and that he had not pretended to give them all, but only such as would go to establish the main point for which he wrote that he was the Messiah, John 20:30-31. 

            “The figure which John uses here is not uncommon in the Scriptures, Genesis 11:4 [‘let us build ourselves a city, and a tower whose top is in the heavens’]; Genesis 15:5 [‘look now toward heaven, and count the stars if you are able to number them . . .  so shall your descendants be’]; Numbers 13:32-33 [‘all the people whom we saw in it are men of great stature. . . .  and we were like grasshoppers in our own sight’]; Daniel 4:20 [‘The tree that you saw, which grew and became strong, whose height reached to the heavens and which could be seen by all the earth’].”  (Barnes’ Notes)