Jesus and Abundant Life
A Bible Study of the Gospel of John
Jesus and Peter – John 21
“Do you love Me?”
We are drawing to the close of our study of the Gospel of John. We have seen Jesus promise of Abundant life and from examining this gospel, the nature of that abundant life. We are now in the fifth and last segment of this great Gospel:
I. Jesus’ Prologue: Who is Jesus? Jesus is God, the Word made Flesh – John 1
II. Jesus’ Proof: Seven Signs Identifying Jesus as God – John 2 - 11
III. Jesus Personally – John 12-17
IV. Jesus’ Passion and Resurrection – John 18-20
V. Jesus and Peter – John 21
We have looked at John’s inspired gospel account and identified Jesus as God. We have seen the seven representative signs or miracles of Jesus that identify Him as God and Savior. We have looked at Jesus personally as He washed the disciple’s feet and shared prophetically about the ministry of the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, who was to soon come upon them. We have looked at the last week of Jesus ministry. Now one final chapter that will complete the abundant life pictured by Jesus.
As we come to the close of this gospel Jesus will pose a question to the Apostle Peter. It is an important question and the level of its importance is seen in Jesus’ emphasis of it by restating it to Peter three times. What is that question? It is “Do you love Me?” That question strikes to the heart of every person. To every person and especially those who desire to serve Jesus, He asks, “Do you love Me?”
John 21 (NKJV)
After these things Jesus showed Himself again to the disciples at the Sea of Tiberias, and in this way He showed Himself: 2 Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of His disciples were together. 3 Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We are going with you also.”
There must have been quite a bit going on in the mind of Peter. There was some unfinished business that was troubling Peter. It was glorious that Jesus had risen from the dead. Jesus defeated death! That’s fantastically hopeful. Jesus had proven true to His word. Everything Jesus said would happen happened, just like He said it would. But Peter was a different story. He had promised to stand by Jesus. He had promised to die for Jesus. But when the rubber met the road Peter denied Jesus; he denied Him three times. Now what? Where was Peter’s relationship with Jesus? How did Jesus feel about him? Would Jesus still include Peter in His plans even though he had terribly failed Him? Would Peter simply return to his old life as a fisherman? Yes, there was a lot on Peter’s mind. And maybe there was a lot on the minds of Thomas, Nathanael, James and John the sons of Zebedee and the two other unnamed disciples who joined Peter in fishing. They had denied Jesus too, just like Peter; although less flamboyantly.
They went out and immediately got into the boat, and that night they caught nothing.
Seeking some self respect by returning to their old familiar work didn’t pan out as they had hoped. They thought they had failed as disciples of Jesus. Now they couldn’t even succeed at fishing!
4 But when the morning had now come, Jesus stood on the shore; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus.
The disciples were discouraged. They tried to distract themselves from their discouragement by doing something familiar to keep their mind off of their problems. But that didn’t work. But what they did apparently do was move away from Jesus enough in their mind that when He came they didn’t recognize Him. Isn’t that just like us? We get discouraged; respond by trying to get our mind off things by doing something, anything, and then when Jesus comes, we don’t recognize Him. Watch out for that.
5 Then Jesus said to them, “Children, have you any food?” They answered Him, “No.”
Unlike Mary Magdalene who recognized Jesus by His voice (John 20:16), when Jesus called to the disciples they didn’t pick up on Who it was who was calling them. They had let their discouragement divert them from Jesus.
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.
Jesus is merciful. He doesn’t hold grudges. And when we are discouraged and down in spirit so much so that we don’t’ or cant’ recognize His voice, He has a way of making His presence known. The disciples had labored unsuccessfully and unfruitfully through the night until morning. With a word of instruction from Jesus their fortunes were changed. What is good to see and the way out of a condition of discouragement and diversion from the Lord and the ability to hear His voice is that they immediately obeyed. They had labored long and hard, but they were humble enough to respond to instruction. That paved the way for them to see and recognize and experience the Lord once again. Humble obedience always paves the way to deeper contact with Jesus.
Jesus makes His presence known with fruitfulness. The disciples caught a net breaking abundance of fish where they in their own strength hadn’t caught anything before. There is a difference between that attempted in our own strength and that done in the strength of the Lord. In our own strength we labor to fruitlessness. In the strength of the Lord we labor in fruitfulness.
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. 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. 9 Then, as soon as they had come to land, they saw a fire of coals there, and fish laid on it, and bread. 10 Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish which you have just caught.”
Oh how the disciples must have had their spirit lifted as they saw Jesus and swam to Him. They must have rejoiced to hear Him tell them to bring some of their fresh catch of fish. Jesus wanted to eat with them; just like old times! Jesus was inviting them to fellowship; a sign of reconciliation and forgiveness.
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.
When Jesus blesses our efforts He stretches us (like the net) but He doesn’t break us. He holds together the instrument used to bring His production and fruit.
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. 13 Jesus then came and took the bread and gave it to them, and likewise the fish. 14 This is now the third time Jesus showed Himself to His disciples after He was raised from the dead.
Jesus, resurrected, is still the Servant serving the disciples. He had washed their feet (John 13), now He was cooking them a meal. It’s part of Jesus’ divine nature to serve. Service is not something Jesus did for mere effect and instruction. Serving is part of who Jesus is and it should be prat of who we are. Later in John’s inspired book of Revelation Jesus will say, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me” (Rev. 3:20). The disciples have heard Jesus knocking and they are open to Him. He will then dine with them in sweet fellowship.
15 So when they had eaten breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me more than these?”
Fellowship is more than mere physical feeding. Fellowship is more than food. Fellowship is spiritual nourishment; edification. Jesus has physically fed the disciples, now He moves to the heart of one of their leaders by asking Him an all important question.
It’s interesting how Jesus addresses Peter. Jesus addresses Peter as “Simon.” The name “Simon” means hear or listen. By addressing Peter as “Simon” and not as “Peter,” (which means stone) perhaps Jesus was trying to get His attention. Peter had heard but he certainly hadn’t been a rock of faith.
Another reason for Jesus addressing Peter as “Simon” is that by using his pre-call name and not the name Jesus gave Peter after his calling (Mark 3:16), Jesus was insinuating that Peter’s threefold denial was acting in accord with his old nature and not his new one of discipleship. By addressing Peter as “Simon” all three times in His questions to him, it must have penetrated the heart of Peter and convicted him of his sinful denial of Jesus.
There are some church groups that emphasize loving God as the means of attaining eternal life and salvation from sin. But we don’t get to heaven by love. That would make heaven something we earn or worked toward. That is counter to what the gospel states. Salvation, eternal life, forgiveness of sins is something we received by faith in Jesus as a gift of God’s grace. Sin separates us from God. We can’t know God when we are living in sin or before we have accepted Jesus as Savior. Before we accept Jesus as Savior we are spiritually dead (Eph. 2:1-3). We can’t know Jesus when we are living in our sins. And you can’t love someone you don’t know. Therefore it is impossible to love your way into God’s kingdom. We don’t have the capacity to love Jesus before we are born again by the Holy Spirit (John 3). It is the Holy Spirit who pours out God’s love into our heart that enables us to love Jesus (Romans 5:5). Therefore we must first be born again and experience our second birth which is spiritual before we can love. That is what we see in the context of the gospel of John. We see the disciples born again (John 20:22). Then and only then do we see Jesus address their love for Him in John 21.
By addressing Peter as “son of Jonah” and linking him with that prophet perhaps Jesus was subtly pointing to Peter’s departure from His calling. Jonah initially rebelled against God’s call and went in the opposite direction by sea. It took a great storm and three days in a fish to bring Jonah to his senses and turn him around (cf. Jonah).
Then the question, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me more than these?” What does “these” refer to? Since “these” can be translated with either a masculine or neuter gender grammatically if the neuter is used it would refer to the great catch of fish Peter had just made - “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me more than these fish; these material things of your labor.” If it is masculine, Jesus would have been referring to the other disciples – “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me more than these other men; other disciples.” Either way, the point made by Jesus is that He is addressing Peter’s love for Him and whether or not he loves Jesus more than anyone or anything else. Peter is being drawn into a self-examination as to whether he loves Jesus first and foremost. Jesus is addressing Peter’s love for Him and whether or not Jesus was the top priority in his life or was it material things or other people instead. Our usefulness and effectiveness in Jesus’ plans is determined by the level of priority we give Him in our life.
The word “love” (Greek agape) used by Jesus here is the highest form of love. This “love” is defined in loving like Jesus; humbly, sacrificially, with a servant’s heart (John 13:15, 34-35). Jesus was therefore asking Peter whether or not he had heard and remembered His teaching on His disciples identifying mark; loving “as I have loved you.” That is a challenging question! Do you love Jesus as He has loved you?
He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.”
Peter’s response, on the surface, seems to be a good response. But when we look at the word Peter used for “love” it exposes a shortcoming in his walk with the Lord.
When Peter says, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You” the word he uses that is translated in our English as “love” is the Greek phileo. Phileo means to have affection for, like, kiss. Phileo means “love” but it is a lesser kind of love than what Jesus used in His question to “Simon, son of Jonah.” We might demonstrate the difference between the two words with the following sentences:
· “I love (phileo) this cake, but I love (agapeo) my wife.”
· “I love (phileo) my car, but I love (agapeo) my wife.” “I love (phileo) my dog, but I love (agapeo) my wife.”
· “I love (phileo) my friends, but I love (agapeo) my wife.” (Husbands are supposed to have a greater love for their wives than for their friends. Whether or not they do is a discussion for another time.)
· “I love (phileo) my wife, but I love (agapeo) Jesus.”
As you can see in this last sentence context means everything. In comparison to Jesus, everything else is lesser loved. And truly, the more we love Jesus and live in His love, the better loved everyone else will be loved because our love and life will be in balance.
He said to him, “Feed My lambs.”
Having received a response of affection from Peter Jesus then installs the first step toward reconciliation and reinstatement of Peter as one of His apostles. Jesus is calling Peter to “Feed My lambs.” These lambs Jesus is instructing Peter to feed are His lambs. And to feed these lambs means to nourish them in what Peter has learned over the last three years in walking by the side of Jesus.
Now I believe it’s important to note that this conversation is going on in front of the other disciples. Jesus is talking to Peter around a beach site breakfast with all the other disciples that He cooked up with a miraculous catch of fish that He provided. So what Jesus is saying to Peter, the other disciples are hearing too. No doubt the other disciples are thinking of their response to Jesus questions to Peter. “Do I love Jesus with an agapeo love; the way Jesus loved me; on the cross?”
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.”
Jesus asked Peter a second time if he loved Him with an agapeo love. And a second time Peter responded that he loved Jesus with a phileo type of love. Now we see that Peter’s response is more of an admission failure or not measuring up to Jesus question. It’s as though Peter is saying, “Yes, Lord, You know that I only love you with a friendly affection and not a love like you loved me with.” Admission of sin or shortcomings precedes spiritual growth and development. Admission cultivates humility. And that’s important because God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble (1 Peter 5:5-6).
Even though Peter is not measuring up, Jesus continues His call on Peter saying, “Tend My sheep.” The word “tend” (Greek poimaino) means to herd, shepherd, tend sheep, rule, govern, care for, look after, and nourish sheep. The word “Pastor” is also derived from a form of this term. Jesus is calling Peter to pastoral ministry here. He is calling Peter to be a shepherd of the flock of God that would eventually be raised up.
The grammar of the verb “tend” also conveys the idea of you must keep doing this (Present/Active/Imperative). This was an exhortation to Peter by Jesus that Peter shouldn’t give up but he must keep on pastoring Jesus’ sheep. Jesus is telling Peter, “Keep on in ministry; don’t go fishing”
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.
It’s not an accident that Jesus asks Peter the same question three times. Peter denied Jesus three times. Each time must be addressed. And so Jesus prods deep into the heart of the fisherman to get to the heart of the problem with his love.
In His last question to Peter Jesus switches the word He uses for “love” using phileo. It’s as though Jesus is asking Peter, “Old nature Simon, son of one named after a disobedient prophet, do you really only like Me?” It grieved Peter to hear Jesus question him like this. It brought Peter face to face with his fleshly failure of Jesus. But it was necessary for Peter to address his sinful nature and what it had led him to do.
Peter’s response to Jesus’ question is a further and more deeply heartfelt admission. Peter says to his Master, “You know all things.” Peter admits he can’t hide anything from Jesus. Jesus knows all things. And then Peter admits, “You know that I love [phileo] You.” Peter admits he only likes Jesus. The sense of it is that Peter admits he hasn’t and doesn’t love Jesus as he should love Jesus.
How can Peter’s love deficiency be fixed? Can it be fixed? Those are the million dollar questions. Those questions or the gorillas in the room; these questions follow in implication. They are not directly asked but everyone there is thinking about them.
I believe this love deficiency can be fixed and that it was fixed. Why do I believe that? Well, Peter denied Jesus three times. His three denials were rooted in fear, lack of faith, and reliance on himself; the flesh. But in about fifty days from the time of this conversation with Jesus there will be a drastic change in Peter. That change will take place at Pentecost when the Holy Spirit is poured out upon the apostles and other disciples in the Upper Room (cf. Acts 1 and 2). From that point on Peter will be a fearless dynamo disciple of Jesus. He will proclaim the gospel and resurrection of Jesus to those who had crucified Jesus. And three thousand will come to the Lord as a result of his powerful, fearless preaching of the gospel of Jesus. The baptism with the Holy Spirit will make the difference in Peter. Peter’s love deficiency will be filled up as the Spirit pours agape love into His heart. From that point on the love of Christ will powerfully compel Peter in ministry to serve as an apostolic pastor of the flock of God (compare Romans 5:5, Acts 1:4-5 and 8;and 2 Cor. 5:14-21).
Do you love Jesus the way He should be loved; with agapeo love? Do you love Jesus first sand foremost? Does your life reflect that? Maybe you’ve tried to love Jesus in your own strength. Maybe you’ve discovered that in your own strength you can only muster up a phileo affection for Jesus. Maybe you’ve found that in the time of need or crisis such affection doesn’t sustain you; it only leads to failure; frustration; denial of Jesus. Have you received the empowering baptism with the Holy Spirit? Have you had the Spirit pour out His agapeo Christlike love into your heart? We don’t have to fail like Peter failed the night he denied Jesus three times. We can have our personal Pentecost right now. It is a matter of asking Jesus for such a baptism of His love and receiving it by faith (cf. Acts 2:33 and 15:8-9). Will you settle the issue now? Will you sit down in prayer with Jesus, commune with Him, answer His questions about your level of love honestly, and then receive the empowering love of the Holy Spirit?
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.” 19 This He spoke, signifying by what death he would glorify God. And when He had spoken this, He said to him, “Follow Me.”
Jesus has identified and addressed Peter’s love deficiency. Based on Luke’s inspired gospel account we know Jesus has a plan to solve that love deficiency problem of Peter and the other disciples (cf. Luke 24:49). Jesus tells Peter, “Follow Me.” And Peter will follow Jesus, first to Jerusalem where he will be empowered for ministry with the baptism with the Holy Spirit. Then he will follow Jesus the rest of his life, to Judea and Samaria and to the further most parts of the earth.
Jesus doesn’t sugar coat His calling on Peter. Jesus does with Peter what He always does with every disciple; He gets to the root of problems that hinder spiritual growth. By telling Peter he will be carried “where you do not wish” He was telling Peter persecution and hardship is a part of this calling. But Peter would follow Jesus nonetheless. Peter would walk his talk with Jesus. He had admitted he didn’t love Jesus the way he should have. Peter would continue on with Jesus. That was a prophetic word of encouragement. There was a future and hope for Peter (e.g. jer. 29:11-14). There was work to do for Peter (e.g. Eph. 2:10). Jesus wasn’t finished with Peter. Peter would still be used by the Lord. Peter will follow Jesus, in agapeo love; he will be baptized in that love by the Holy Spirit and be empowered to finish well in Christ.
Jesus isn’t finished with you either! You may have failed Jesus miserably. You may have attempted to follow and serve Jesus in your own strength only to find frustration, failure and unfruitfulness. Maybe you’ve been measuring your “success” by worldly instead of godly standards. God measures success by faithfulness (1 Cor. 4:2). We faithfully plant and water His work, but any and all increase comes from Him (1 Cor. 3:7). We can’t take credit or really give credit to anyone but God for any fruitfulness in what we do. We only measure success in our faithfulness to obey and serve the Lord in what He directs us to do. And all of our faithful efforts need to be empowered by the love of Christ. Don’t get caught up in the world’s big is better mentality. Get caught up in being faithful to God, loving Jesus supremely, and serving Him in the power He provides. Then your spiritual growth will take off and you’ll live victoriously in the power of the Spirit.
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?” 21 Peter, seeing him, said to Jesus, “But Lord, what about this man?” 22 Jesus said to him, “If I will that he remain till I come, what is that to you? You follow Me.” 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?”
There’s still a little of the fleshly carnal nature in Peter. He wants to know what’s going to happen with John. Maybe this is due to a competitive spirit. (Remember they raced to the tomb and John beat out Peter which John pointed out! – John 20:4.) But for whatever reason Peter asked about John, Jesus points him to not concern himself in other people’s affairs. Peter will have enough on his hands as he begins the journey depicted in the book of Acts.
24 This is the disciple who testifies of these things, and wrote these things; and we know that his testimony is true. 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.
John concludes his inspired gospel by testifying that his writing is an eyewitness account. He also adds that his gospel didn’t include everything Jesus said and did. All the books in the world couldn’t hold all that Jesus said and did. But this shouldn’t cause us open the door to pseudo or apocryphal writings. What the Holy Spirit wanted to be written down in the 66 books of the canon of scripture He brought to the mind of the human writers He used to write down the inspired words. We don’t need anything beyond the canon of scripture. Eternity will be time enough to find out about all the other things John alludes to here. And I can’t wait to get to heaven to look into them! May Jesus bless you with His abundant life!