John 21:15-25 Peter Restored

John's Gospel Commentary by Robert Brow ( 2000

In the previous section we noted that the first edition of John's Gospel ended with the purpose of the book (20:31). The first part of chapter 21 was therefore an appendix that John added to fill out what the other Gospel writers and he himself had said about the Messiah's resurrection body. Now we have a second part of the appendix which focuses on Simon Peter.

The other Gospels had described Peter's assurance that he would never deny his Lord (Matthew26:33-35, Mark 14:29-31, Luke 22:33-34). They then describe Peter's denial (Matthew 26:57-58, 69-75, Mark 14:53-54, 66-72, Luke 22:54-62).

As we saw in the comments on 18:13-18, 25-27, John wanted us to know that he himself had obtained permission for Peter to come into the courtyard of the house of the deposed high priest Annas. And he adds the fact that it was "the woman who guarded the gate" (18:16) and had let them in who recognized Peter, and he flatly denied that he was a disciple of Jesus.

In the previous chapter we saw how Simon Peter and John had run to the tomb (20:2-10). Paul adds that the Lord appeared to Peter before appearing to the other apostles (1 Corinthians 15:5). Peter was present on Easter Sunday evening when the Messiah came as they were gathered behind locked doors (20:19-21). He was also present a week later on what we called Thomas Sunday (20:26-28). And in the first part of this chapter we have seen how Peter put on his fisherman's coat, jumped into the water to wade to the land, and then went back to haul in the net full of 153 huge fish.

Peter therefore had no doubt that he had seen the Lord's resurrection body on three different days. But we can imagine he wondered if he could ever be forgiven for the enormity of his threefold brazen denial that he had been a disciple of Jesus. And he would certainly wonder if Jesus words could still apply, "You are Peter (Greek Petros the rock, Aramaic Kyphas, as in 1:42) and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it." (Matthew 16:18-19).

Certainly Satan had succeeded in making the leader of that church deny he ever knew its founder. As Jesus had said to him,"Simon, Simon, listen! Satan has demanded to sift all of you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your own faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned back, strengthen your brothers" (Luke 22:31).

This final section is therefore the account of Peter's restoration after that breakfast on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. And the book ends with the assurance of someone who knew the writer very well, that John was indeed the author of the book, and that he had not exaggerated. In fact if all was written that could be written about Jesus, the Messiah, the Son of God, "the world itself could not contain the books that would be written" (21:25)..

21:15-17 "When they had finished breakfast" suggests that the breakfast was not hurried. And now the Messiah asks Peter the question: "Do you love me more than these?" Some think he was asking whether Peter loved him more than his fishing business? It seems more likely that he is picking up on Peter's words, "Though all become deserters because of you, I will never desert you" (Matthew 26:33).

The use of the one English word "love" in the NRSV misses the change in Greek verbs from "do you love me with agape love" (21:15, agapas me) to Peter's answer "you know that I love you with affection love" (21:17 philo se).

Similarly in English it is hard to convey the meaning of the two New Testament Greek verbs for loving. The messiah first asked "do you love me?" (21:15 agapas me?), then "a second time" asked again "do you love me?" (21:16 agapas me?), but the third time the question was "do you love me with affection love" (21:17phileis me?) This change in the verbs that Jesus used saddened Peter, and he said "Lord, you know everything; you know that I have affection for you (21:17).

The NRSV translation also misses the change from "feed my lambs" (21:15arnia) to "shepherd my young sheep" (21:16 probatia), and then to "feed my young sheep" (probatia 21:17) Peter has this in mind when he wrote to the elders of the churches "tend (shepherd) the flock of God that is in your charge" (1 Peter 5:2).

We may never grasp the deep meaning of this after-breakfast interchange on the shore of the Lake of Galilee, but we might make a guess. In the church feeding lambs and shepherding young sheep can only be spiritually effective if there is first a deep agape love for the Messiah. In his Epistle John will define this kind of love as: "Agape loved ones (Agapytoi), let us have agape love for one another, because agape love is from God, and everyone who has agape love has been born from God" (1 John 4:7). And "If we have agape love for one another, God lives (abides) in us, and his agape love is perfected in us" (1 John 4:12). And again "We love with agape love because he first loved us with agape love" (1 John 4:19).

Whatever the meaning of the words, we know that the Messiah gently got Peter to come back on track. And in less than three weeks Peter would be explaining the meaning of the events of the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:14) and as a result 3,000 persons were baptized (Acts 2:41).

21:18-19 But John reminds us that, though he was restored, Peter's work would be very costly, and he would be taken into a death he would not have chosen ("taken you where you do not wish to go") By tradition Peter was executed in Rome by Nero's orders in AD 64, but that does not prove he died by crucifixion. He could have died by being tied to a stake and set on fire, or eaten by a lion (many Christians died under Nero in both of these ways). But even in such horrifying persecutions, which still occur in our days, we remember that "the blood of the martyrs in the seed of the church." Which is why John comments on "the kind of death by which he would glorify God."

The completion of John's Gospel after Peter's execution in AD 64 but before the siege and fall of Jerusalem (AD 70) seems likely. The synoptic Gospels record Jesus' prophecy of the fall of the city and destruction of the temple (Matthew 24:1-3, Mark 13:1-4, Luke 21:5-7). And John refers to this in the future (see note on 21:22), so a completion date for the appendix in chapter 21 about AD 65 seems possible. Many scholars date John's Gospel very much later, even in the second century, but without any plausible evidence for this (as demonstrated by Bishop John A.T.Robinson, Redating the New Testament, London: SCM Press, 1976. This footnote to John Robinson is incidentally the only one offered throughout this commentary, which is a preacher's reflection rather than a scholarly review of the vast literature in the field).

21:20 Again John gives his anonymous signature (as in 13:23-24, 19:26, 21:7)

21:21 Peter's has been warned of his unwelcome end (21:18), and wonders what will happen to his companion, John?

21:22 "Till I come" (in the model offered on this site, e.g. Advent Comings of the Lord Among the Nations) refers to the coming of the Messiah in the destruction of Jerusalem, see Commentary on Matthew23:36, 24:27, 30,37,42, 50).

21:23 John wants to correct the rumor that Jesus had promised John would live until his coming. But in fact it seems likely that John might still have been alive in AD 70.

21:24-25 See the notes above that introduce this section. Obviously this was written by another church member, not by John himself.