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The Conclusion of the Gospel
The introduction of the Gospel, ch. John 1:1-18, goes up to the eternal existence of Jesus. In the conclusion, now lying before us, John communicates what refers to the continuation of His Divine-human being in the Church, founded upon His death and His resurrection. So also Matthew and Mark closed their Gospels with an express reference to the missionary work of the Apostles. This closing chapter forms a transition from the Gospels to the Acts. First, in vers. 1-14, we have the missionary work of the Apostles, and their heavenly reward. Then, in vers. 15-17, the institution of Peter in his pastoral office; in 18-23, the prediction of their final departure made to the two most eminent Apostles, Peter and John; and finally, in vers. 24, 25, the proper epilogue, in which John announces himself as the author of the Gospel, affirms his own trustworthiness, and alludes to the reason why he had communicated only a selection of facts.
The notion that ch. 21 is a postscript has sprung from a lack of insight into the construction of the Gospel. It leads to the assumption of a fortuitousness in the composition which is altogether unworthy of the apostolical character, and inconsistent with the tenor of this Gospel; and it altogether fails to give any reason why the Apostle did not strike out the conclusion in ch. John 20:30-31, after the addition of the postscript had rendered it unsuitable.
Ver. 1. “After these things Jesus showed Himself again to the disciples at the sea of Tiberias; and on this wise showed He Himself.”—“After these things;” μετὰ? ταῦ?τα , the transition formula so common in John: comp, ch. John 2:12, John 5:1; John 5:14, John 6:1. The ἐ?φανέρωσεν ἑ?αυτόν (comp. φανέρωσον σεαυτόν , ch. John 7:4) intimates that the risen Lord was ordinarily inaccessible and invisible to His disciples; that He had entered into a manner of existence altogether different from His earlier life: compare the ἐ?φανερώθη in Mark 16:12; Mark 16:14. Jesus had earlier manifested forth His hidden glory, ch. John 2:11; now His person has become hidden, and it never could be discovered or met unless it voluntarily came forth from its seclusion. To the manifestation here corresponds the appearance in the midst when the doors were shut, ch. John 20:19; John 20:26. Both intimate plainly that the present corporeity of Jesus was altogether different from the former. He who could appear with closed doors was not confined to the region of sensible observation; He was then only manifest when it pleased Him to enter that domain, so that the dim eyes of flesh ( Job 10:4) might be able to discern Him.
The disciples at the two former appearances were the Apostles, and so were they here.
The sea of Tiberias; a denomination peculiar to John among the Evangelists: comp. on ch. John 6:1. Ἐ?πί is literally as in ch. John 6:19, and means simply “on the sea.” The bank is, in Biblical phrase, on or over the waters; hence על very frequently in Hebrew: e.g. Psalms 1:3. And as ἐ?πί is here Hebraistically used, so ἀ?πὸ? in ver. 6, corresponding to the Heb. מן of the cause.
The second ἐ?φανέρωσεν is not to be supplemented by ἑ?αυτόν
He showed Himself—but, in allusion to the first Galilean sign, ch. John 2:11, by τὴ?ν δόξαν αὐ?τοῦ? . The mention of Nathanael in ver. 2, pointing to that same first sign, is in favour of this view. The word, needing its object and standing without it, represents as it were an express reference to that first sign. “He showed Himself thus, οὕ?τως , is not a needless diffuseness of narration, but intimates by its circumstantiality the importance of the facts and the attention they claim. It is the manner of Scripture, from Genesis downwards, to draw attention to the importance of events by this kind of repetition and circumstantiality. Thus “he lifted up his eyes and looked” is always, as in Genesis 18:2, said when the matter is of great moment, and attention was to be drawn to its importance. So in John we have, for example, “These things therefore the soldiers did,” ch. John 19:24. Both seem to stand for a Nota Bene.
According to Matthew 28:7, the angel gave the women a commission that they should go tell the disciples, “Behold, He goeth before you into Galilee.” That the going before does not mean going earlier than they, but a going before them as Pastor and Guide, is plain from a comparison with the Lord’s saying in Matthew 26:32, the fulfilment of which the angel announces to be at hand. (Fritzsche: Ecce jam fit quod declaratum est, προάγει . This verb, in the sense of preceding any one. Matthew 21:9, Mark 11:9, Luke 18:39, is used as here with the accusative of the person. Matthew 2:9, Mark 10:32, καὶ? ἦ?ν προάγων αὐ?τοὺ?ς ὁ? Ἰ?ησοῦ?ς .) “I will go before you” forms in Matthew 26:32 the antithesis to the scattering of the flock caused by the death of the Shepherd; but this meaning it could have only on the supposition that the going before was His leading the regathered flock to Galilee. If, therefore, we perceive that the gathering of the flock was, according to Matthew, to be the condition of Christ’s going before them, and to precede the departure into Galilee,—if He was to lead His gathered flock to Galilee, after having gathered them simply and alone by revealing Himself to them, and convincing them of the reality of His resurrection,—then we must assume that the silence of Matthew as to the manifestation of Christ, recorded by the other Evangelists, in the midst of the Apostles on the evening of the day of resurrection in Jerusalem, was not due to his ignorance of the fact, but to his design to give prominence to those records by which Isaiah’s prophecy, quoted in his ch. John 4:15-16, concerning the glorification of the neighbourhood of the Galilean sea, might be shown to have been fulfilled. On the other hand, in perfect harmony with the commission quoted by Matthew 28:10, “Go tell My brethren that they go before Me into Galilee,” the manifestations of the Lord in Jerusalem, as recorded by John, were limited in their design to the full conviction of the Apostles that Christ was risen; with the single exception of ch. John 20:21-23, where something is said that must have been spoken emphatically at the first meeting with the Apostles. The proper intercourse with the Apostles, the “speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God,” Acts 1:3, was reserved, even according to John, for Galilee. We have here the beginning of that discourse concerning His kingdom. The contents of this chapter are well described by those words of Luke, in Acts 1:3.
Ver. 2. “There were together Simon Peter, and Thomas called Didymus, and Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, and the sons of Zebedee, and two other of His disciples.”
All the names mentioned here are introduced with a definite reason. In the case of Simon, his surname Peter hinted that reason. The first of the Apostles could not be wanting; and it is in keeping with this, that in the entire narrative he has the first place. Hence he necessarily opens the list. Why Thomas was associated with him, is shown by the clause “called Didymus:” comp. on ch. John 11:16. The key to the mention of Nathanael is furnished by the clause “of Cana in Galilee.” That could not have been intended to make Nathanael more known; for in ch. 1 it was not said that Nathanael was born in Cana, although immediately after the narrative of the meeting between Christ and him we read of the marriage at Cana. Nathanael of Cana was important to the Evangelist, as a representative of the first miracle by which Jesus manifested forth His glory in Cana: comp. ch. John 2:11. Our present manifestation forms the counterpart of that first Galilean miracle. This end is kept in view by the additional clause, “of Galilee.” If it had been intended only to note the origin of Nathanael, that would have been inadequate or needless. There was no Cana out of Galilee; and Cana had been three times mentioned as Cana of Galilee, ch. John 2:1; John 2:11, John 4:46. Considering how economical of repetitions the Evangelist is, we cannot regard this as merely a repeated statement of Nathanael’s country. The clause was almost equivalent to an express reference to the earlier passages. Why the presence of John and his brother is expressly mentioned, is explained by their designation as “sons of Zebedee.” Zebedee is never elsewhere mentioned in the Gospel of John. With the same appellation of sons of Zebedee (the indefinite expression, οἱ? τοῦ? Ζεβεδαίου , is here designedly used in order to intimate that a more exact definition of their relation is found elsewhere), these two brothers appear in connection with the first fishing at the commencement of our Lord’s ministry, the counterpart of which is the fishing in this chapter, deriving its interpretation from the earlier one, and having “I will make you fishers of men” in common with it: comp. Matthew 4:21-22; Mark 1:19-20; Luke 5:10. The two unnamed brethren must at any rate have been Apostles; for μαθηταί stands before and after, ver. 14, of the disciples in a narrower sense, the Apostles; and Apostles were especially concerned in this fishing, which symbolized their future apostolical work. The reasons which are discernible for the mention of the five names lead us to suppose that the silence preserved as to the names of the other two was not a disparaging silence. They were not named, only because there was no particular reason for it; and to have named them would have been to obscure the design in the naming of the five. For the rest, they are as good as named; and the Evangelist might reckon upon their being detected. When Peter went a fishing, his brother Andrew would needs accompany him: comp. Matthew 4:18; Mark 1:29; Luke 6:14; John 6:8. And where Andrew was, there we should expect Philip: comp. ch. John 1:45, John 12:22; Mark 3:18. The latter we might expect with all the more confidence, as he was connected also with Nathanael or Bartholomew by a very close bond: comp. John 1:46; Matthew 10:3; Luke 6:14.
The high importance of this event is indicated in the artistic grouping of those concerned in it. The number seven is divided, as commonly in the Apocalypse, into three and four. At the head of the three stands Peter; Thomas, the divided, in the middle; on one side of him the man of rock, on the other Nathanael, the true Israelite without guile, ch. John 1:48. At the head of the four stand the sons of Zebedee, with Peter, the Apostles of the more intimate circle. The seven are moreover divided again: Peter at the head, then three pairs. The number seven is fixed; but that it was not a fortuitous number, is plain from the details of this grouping. Similarly exact is the grouping in Revelation 6:15. Other examples of the significance of number in the Gospel of John have been collected in my Commentary on the Apocalypse (vol. ii. Clark’s Trans.).
The seven represented the collective apostolical circle (comp. ver. 14), with Paul included, so far as he was later received with full rights into this circle. They were a majority; only four of the Apostles were wanting; and the more intimate circle was complete. It is remarkable, that in the catalogue of the Apostles, Matthew 10:2-4, the seven here numbered as present take precedence of the absent ones.—“And two other of His disciples” may be compared with “and two of His disciples,” ch. John 1:35.
Ver. 3. “Simon Peter saith unto them, I go a fishing. They say unto him. We also go with thee. They went forth, and entered into a ship immediately; and that night they caught nothing.”
It was shown, in ch. John 1:43, that Matthew 4:18-22 does not indicate the Apostles’ having entirely abandoned their vocation. They still pursued it, so far as their new vocation left them time. Augustin refers to Paul, who, with all his superabundant apostolical labour, victum manibus suis transigebat. From the resurrection to Pentecost there was an interval to the Apostles wherein they might appropriately seek their maintenance with their own hands. Gregory the Great says justly, however: “Peter returned to his fishing, but Matthew did not return to his tax-gathering. There are things which cannot be applied to altogether without sin, to which after conversion we cannot return.” “They went forth” from the town in which Peter resided: Capernaum, according to Matthew 17:24; Matthew 17:27; Bethsaida, the fishing town of Capernaum: comp. on ch. John 6:3, according to ch. John 1:45. “Immediately:” εὐ?θύς (comp. ch. John 13:32, John 19:34) appeared superfluous to many transcribers, and hence was omitted. But it intimates, in keeping with “all the night” in Luke 5:5, the long continuance of the fruitless labour. If the Apostles as soon as they met, thus before the coming of night proper, entered the ship, their unrewarded labour must have lasted through the night. Πιάζω occurs in John six times, besides this passage, and ver. 10; never in the first Gospels.
The detail with which the incident is recorded, has in it something “un-Johannean,” if we fail to discern the symbolical character of the whole; but that symbolical design gives weight to things otherwise inconsiderable. The argument, that John must in that case have expressly declared this symbolical character, is ungrounded; for here, no less than in the record of the blighted fig-tree, of which no interpretation is given, the symbolical meaning is plain enough to all thoughtful and reflecting readers, and such only had John in view. The Old Testament gives us, with regard- to this, a plain hint, in Ezekiel 47:9-10: comp. on ch. John 1:43. If the fishes there were men, to be brought to life by the Messianic salvation, then the fishers could only be the messengers of that salvation, who gather the living into the kingdom of God, and lead them into the fellowship of the Church. The word which our Lord spake at the first fishing, ‘‘ I will make you fishers of men,” applies to the present fishing; for John always presumes upon the records of the three Evangelists being known. We have a key also in the parable of the net in Matthew 13. Accordingly the sea signifies the world, the net the kingdom of God, in its capacity to receive men into itself. But the demonstration that we have here before us an allegory in act, lies in this, that the narrative only in this point of view is clear, luminous, and significant in every particular; and that thus only it is suitable to the character of an epilogue, to which only that pertained which was transitional from the Gospel to the history of the Acts. If we reject the spiritual interpretation, the narrative of vers. 1-14 has certainly a strange aspect; and we must, if we would be sincere, confess that we would rather pass over it. The emphasis would then fall upon the fact that Jesus generally manifested Himself to His disciples, and not upon the communications which He made to them; nor can we then see precisely why the narrative stands in the epilogue; and moreover, the demarcation is disturbed which separates the appearances of Jesus in Galilee from those in Jerusalem. The doubts which have been entertained as to the genuineness of ch. 21 have their root in the inability to discern this spiritual meaning,—an inability natural enough to those who are not trained by the exposition of the Old Testament to understand the New. Those who yield to such doubts, however, are obliged to confess, that the record is throughout and entirely Johannean in its cast.
That Simon Peter’s energy took the initiative in regard to this ordinary fishing, was an intimation that he would take the lead of his brethren in the spiritual fishing also. But when he only intimates his own firm resolution, expecting the free determination of the rest, we are led to presume that his precedence would not be in the spiritual domain a primacy of tyranny; that it was not one established formally by rule, but that it was to result from that pre-eminence of energy which would attach the others to himself in free subordination and joyful recognition of the gift imparted to him by the Lord.—“And that night they caught nothing:” on the first fishing Simon said, “We have toiled all the night, and have taken nothing.” As the fact was in both cases brought about by Divine disposal, we are led at once to assume that it was eminently significant. A passage in the Old Testament, which is here as it were dramatically expounded, gives us the solution. In Isaiah 49 the prophet depicts, vers. 1-3, the vocation and destiny which the Lord appointed to His servant, the Messiah. In ver. 4 he exhibits the contradiction between the mission and its result: the people of the covenant, to whom it was first addressed, requite that faithful labour with ingratitude! “Then I said, I have laboured in vain; I have spent my strength for nought and in vain:” Sept. Κενῶ?ς ἐ?κοπίασα , καὶ? εἰ?ς μάταιον καὶ? εἰ?ς οὐ?δὲ?ν ἔ?δωκα τὴ?ν ἰ?σχύν μου . In compensation for refractory Israel, the Lord gives His Servant for an inheritance the heathen, who also in Ezekiel are the proper object of the fishing: the fishes there also are won from the dead sea of the heathen world. The historical commentary is found in the Acts (comp. especially ch. Acts 13:46), and in Romans 11:9-11, according to which Israel as a people despised the Gospel salvation, and only a small proportion of individuals received it. Night signifies, in the symbolism of Scripture, an unsaved state—comp. on ch. John 13:30, John 11:9-10—and thus here the fruitlessness of work. Weitzel (in his valuable treatise On the Testimony borne by the fourth Evangelist to himself, S. and K. 49) gives us the right interpretation, when he sees in the fact a “type of the long fruitless labour of the original Apostles among the Jews, after the first sudden pentecostal successes.” An objection has been raised against this view, that it represents the abundant success among the Gentiles as vouchsafed to the original Apostles, whereas it was vouchsafed to Paul; but Galatians 2:9, which is appealed to, affords no support to that notion, inasmuch as that verse only treats of a temporary arrangement. Peter in Rome, John in Ephesus, proved that the contrary was the truth. The impossibility of the permanent limitation of the original Apostles to the Jews, is evident from the conclusion of Matthew’s Gospel. Moreover, the entire contrast between the original Apostles and Paul is based on error. We have already shown that the disciples present at this fishing represented the collective apostolical circle, and that as including Paul with his abundant labour, which was vouchsafed to him only as a member of the body combined under Peter as its head.
Ver. 4. “But when the morning was now come, Jesus stood on the shore; but the disciples knew not that it was Jesus.”
Morning is the type of dawning salvation: comp. on ch. John 20:1; Psalms 30:6; Psalms 59:17; Psalms 90:14; Psalms 143:8. For πρωΐας , comp. ch. John 18:28, John 20:1, in both cases πρωΐ . We have in Matthew 27:1 the full πρωΐας δὲ? γενομένης literally. That passage and Matthew 20:1 are the only two besides this in the New Testament where πρωΐ occurs; and both times in a connection where the guilt and the rejection of the Jews are spoken of, when the new day of Christ’s glorification breaks among the Gentiles: comp. ἡ? ἀ?ποβολὴ? αὐ?τῶ?ν καταλλαγὴ? κόσμου , Romans 11:15; and τῷ? αὐ?τῶ?ν παραπτώματι ἡ? σωτηρία τοῖ?ς ἔ?θνεσι , Romans 11:11.—“On the shore:” the combination of ἔ?στη and εἰ?ς is as in ch. John 20:19; John 20:26. Here Jesus stands on the margin. At the first fishing, Luke 5:4, He went up into the ship; in ch. John 6:19, He came to the disciples on the sea. That He here remained standing on the bank, points to the fact that now, withdrawn from the sea of the world. He belonged to another stage of being. To Him applied what will one day be true of all His people, “There was no more sea,” Revelation 21:1 (compare my commentary on this passage). That He was on the bank, and His disciples on the sea, was an illustration of His word, ch. John 17:11, “I am no longer in the world, but these are in the world.” In the parable of the net, in Mark 13, the margin signifies in ver. 48, according to ver. 49, the future state, the “end of the world.”
“The disciples knew not that it was Jesus:” so precisely of Mary Magdalene, ch. John 20:14, “And she knew not that it was Jesus.” Here again our Lord appeared “in another form,” because it was not His will to be recognised at once. In this manner the impression upon the disciples would be deepened; at the same time they would be led into a perception of the truth, that Jesus was always with them, although their eyes might not always be able to discern Him.
Ver. 5. “Then Jesus saith unto them, Children, have ye any meat? They answered Him, No.”—Τέκνα : thus does the Lord address the disciples in Mark 10:24. Παιδία is distinguished from this here. Τέκνα might be adults; παιδία , on the contrary, designates the age of childhood: comp. Luke 1:80, to τὸ? δὲ? παιδίον ηὔ?ξανε , Luke 2:40; 1 Corinthians 14:20. Παιδία is the term by which age addresses youth, authority those subordinate, and wisdom the ignorant and inexperienced: comp. 1 John 2:13; 1 John 2:18. Jesus here by the term παιδία assumes the position of καθηγητής , Matthew 23:8, which was appropriate to Him, especially in relation to the fishing of His Apostles. The diminutive form gives the expression a certain tenderness.
Προσφάγιον , what was eaten with bread. Jesus condescends to the language of the fishermen who ordinarily ate only fish with bread: compare what was said upon ὀ?ψάριον , ch. John 6:9. This last word could not be used here; for that in John always signifies the individual article of food eaten with the bread, the single fish: comp. ch. John 6:9, δύο ὀ?ψάρια , ver. 11, and vers. 9, 10, 13 of the present chapter. But here the general idea of food eaten with the bread was meant. “Have ye any meat?” μὴ? stands where a negative answer is presupposed or expected (Winer, 453). Jesus shows by the style of the question that He knew how the matter was, and indeed wished it otherwise. The οὔ? of the disciples, confirming His supposition, is followed by an intimation of the way in which they might alter the state of things. That Jesus put the question for His own sake, that He would have fish for Himself, is shown by a comparison with Luke 24:41, and yet more definitely by ver. 10, where, after the state of things was changed, He caused the fish to be brought forward which the disciples had taken. As formerly He hungered for the fruit of the fig-tree, so now does He hunger for the fishes which the disciples might have taken, but had not; not for the natural fishes as such,—the risen Redeemer had no need of bodily food, and vers. 9, 12, 14 show that that would not have been wanting to Him,—but for the men whom the fishes signified: comp. ch. John 4:7, where our Lord says to the woman of Samaria, “Give Me to drink.” Jesus would spiritually eat of the food which the disciples had provided, and they, on the other hand, should eat of His food.
Ver. 6. “And He said unto them, Cast the net on the right side of the ship, and ye shall find. They cast therefore; and now they were not able to draw it for the multitude of fishes.”
The ship signifies the Church, the net her missions. The left side is, in the Divine fishery, the side of the Jews, the right side that of the Gentiles. The right is the better hand, and therefore the right side is the good side. The meaning of the name Benjamin, the son of the right hand, is, “His father loveth him,” Genesis 44:22, and, “the beloved of Jehovah,” Deuteronomy 33:12: compare my commentary on Psalms 80. In Genesis 48 the youth on whom the right hand was laid is more blessed than he on whom the left. “The right hand,” says Gesenius (Thes. ימין ), “boni ominis erat.” Because the right hand is the better. Matthew 5:20, the Lord places His sheep on the right hand and the goats on the left. The multitude of the fishes here represents the “great multitude which no man could number, out of every nation, and tribe, and people, and tongue,” Revelation 7:9. That the disciples without hesitation acted on the suggestion of the Unknown, shows that His being had for them an imposing majesty.
Ver. 7. “Therefore that disciple whom Jesus loved saith unto Peter, It is the Lord. Now, when Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he girt his fisher’s coat unto him (for he was naked), and did cast himself into the sea.”
The thoughtful John first recognises the Lord; the energetic Peter, who on another occasion. Matthew 14:28, said, “Lord, if it be Thou, bid me come unto Thee on the water,” casts himself into the sea to reach Him. We see here that the primacy of Peter had its limits, that it extended no further than the energy of action came into consideration. As here, so certainly in later times, he heard John, and in many things listened to him in his Christian vocation. Ὁ? κύριός : John so designates Jesus before His resurrection only twice: comp. on ch. John 13:23. Thus he names the risen Saviour also in ch. John 20:18; John 20:20; John 20:25; John 20:28, and several times in the sequel of this chapter. Διαζώννυμι occurs in John only here and ch. John 13:4-5. The middle voice signifies “Gird oneself.” Τὸ?ν ἐ?πενδύτην is the accusative of closer definition, so frequent in Hebrew: comp. τὸ?ν ἀ?ριθμόν , ch. John 6:10 (Winer). It does not mean that he drew on the garment, but that he girded himself in it: therefore he was already clothed with it. “He was naked” explains this girding: the connection shows with what restriction we must take the “naked.” It can refer only to the circumstance that Peter was not provided with the outside garment, the ὑ?ποδύτης . The ἐ?πενδύτης (comp. ἐ?πενδύσασθαι , superinducere, 2 Corinthians 5:4) intimates by its very name that it took a subordinate place in the clothing. That naked stands often for slight clothing, needs no further demonstration: Grotius has done all that is necessary to show that the idea of absolute nakedness is to be repelled, even if Genesis 3:7; Genesis 3:21 were not sufficient. Peter had on him a mere wrapper. Theophylact says, “a linen shirt, such as the Phoenician and Syrian fishermen were wont to wear.” This in his labour he had worn ungirt; but now he girded himself, the better to swim. Swimming is suggested by the “throwing himself into the sea.” As to any further preparation of his person in order to appear fitly before the Lord, the text says nothing, whatever the expositors may say.
The Apostle enters into this detail because this sudden decision of Peter symbolized the gift which was afterwards developed in the government of the Church. With the same impetuous promptitude with which he threw himself into the Galilean sea, he afterwards threw himself into the sea of the world. Always to be first, not to leave the initiative to others, and even to restrain those who take it, seems to be one of the first marks of a vocation to govern the Church. Our verse might be applied to the present spirit of church government in evangelical Germany. It cannot be in this respect according to the heart of Jesus; were it so. He could not have placed Peter at the head of His Apostles.
Ver. 8. “And the other disciples came in a little ship (for they were not far from land, but as it were two hundred cubits), dragging the net with fishes.”—Γάρ explains and justifies the disciples’ having come, without following Peter’s example, to shore. So slight was the distance from the land, that the difference between them could not be great. Their justification is completed by the σύροντες , “dragging the net.” Peter did right in leaving the ship, and the others did right in remaining. The exact statement of the distance on the lake corresponds to that in ch. John 6:19. John here, as in Revelation 21:17, measures by ells. The peculiar use of ἀ?πό with the meaning “distance from” is only found in John, in the Gospel and the Apocalypse: comp. on ch. John 11:18; with the “about fifteen furlongs off” corresponds very strictly the “as it were two hundred cubits” here. Πλοιάριον is here used; previously πλοῖ?ον . We find the same interchange between the two words in ch. John 6:17 seq.
Ver. 9. “As soon then as they were come to land, they saw a fire of coals there, and fish laid thereon, and bread.”—Ἀ?νθρακιαί is only here and ch. John 18:18. On κειμένην , comp. ch. John 2:6, 19, 29; on ἐ?πικείμενον , ch. John 11:38. Ὀ?ψάριον is used by John only of single fishes; and the one fish is suggested by the single loaf. John describes simply in genuine historical manner what he with the rest found. As to whence the fire of coals, the fish and the bread, came, he keeps silence; just as in ch. John 20:19; John 20:26 he limits himself to saying that Jesus came when the doors were shut, without travelling beyond the sphere of his observation to enter into the question as to how the Lord came. The supposition that Jesus provided these things as men do, rests upon a misconception of the new sphere in which the risen Lord moved. If Jesus was, in truth, “The Lord,” there is no reason for bringing down the fact by such explanations into the region of ordinary life. Jesus, who, according to ch. 6, fed thousands in the days of His flesh with five loaves and two fishes; at whose command, according to Matthew 17:27, Peter caught the fish with the stater in its mouth; who, at the first Galilean miracle, turned water into wine,—retained here also the name of “Wonderful,” which the ancient prophecy had given Him.
Ver. 10. “Jesus saith unto them. Bring of the fish which ye have now caught.”
John speaks of the fishes, ἰ?χθύες , vers. 6, 8, 11. Jesus describes the same thing by another word, προσφάγιον , ver. 5, ὀ?ψάρια here. The difference had some significance. The disciples spoke as in the style of fishermen; Jesus for him who was to eat. He regards the fish only in the light of food.
Why did the Lord cause His disciples to bring of their fish?—not that they might serve, together with the one fish which already lay on the fire of coals, for the disciples’ repast. The symbolical character of the whole incident opposes this; as also does ver. 13, which shows that the disciples ate only of that one fish and one loaf which were provided already before the landing of the net. That important circumstance, further, would not have been omitted. Manifestly the end was answered, when the fish, or rather one representing the whole, was brought to Jesus; for nothing more was done with them. The fishes were regarded under the aspect of food, as the very term used has shown. But materially the Lord did not eat of them any more than the disciples. This shows that they bore a symbolical character. If they represented men or nations gathered into the kingdom of God, then our Lord’s eating was simply spiritual: it signified the Lord’s participation in the fruit of His servants’ labours, the joy which their labour would provide for Him in the future: comp. Jeremiah 15:16, “Thy words were found, and I did eat them; and Thy word was unto me the joy and rejoicing of mine heart,” where eating is equivalent to the finding pleasure in it, as the succeeding words show. Ezekiel says, ch. John 3:3, concerning the Divine revelation, “Then did I eat it; and it was in my mouth as honey for sweetness.” This spiritual eating which His disciples were to prepare for Jesus, was to be the condition on which their own eating should depend. So Isaac ate of his son’s venison before he blessed him: that was the condition of the paternal blessing, that he should first show himself a son by providing the venison; and in the enjoyment of the venison the blessing was uttered.
Ver. 11. “Simon Peter went up, and drew the net to land full of great fishes, an hundred and fifty and three: and for all there were so many, yet was not the net broken.”
The same word, ἀ?νέβη , is used, Mark 6:51, for entering the ship. Peter must first go up into the ship, in order to release the net which adhered to it. He performed this task, doubtless, not alone: he, however, was the chief personage; and his act only is mentioned, because he was the centre of the spiritual fishery which was here symbolized. In this spiritual fishery the drawing of the net to land signified, according to Matthew 13:48-49, the “end of the world,” and what will take place then. Accordingly, Peter here represents not the mere individual apostolate, but at the same time the whole ministry of teaching and preaching, which has continued that apostolate from age to age. The net full of fishes represents not merely the “first-fruits of the Gentiles,” as they were gathered in by the Apostles themselves, but the whole “fulness of the Gentiles,” their πλήρωμα , Romans 11:25, as it is to be gathered down to the end of the world: comp. Matthew 24:14. It follows from this as a direct consequence, that we must not limit our views here to the Apostles as individuals.
That the number one hundred and fifty and three must have a deep significance, is urgently felt by all who discern the symbolical meaning of the whole; otherwise the minuteness of specification would have a character of pettiness: comp. Bengel. It is bootless to object that the historical character of the chapter must suffer if we make the number here of any importance. For the distinction between the great fishes, which alone are reckoned, and the little ones, is a mere passing allusion; so that there is a certain latitude allowed here for theological speculation. The deep meaning of the number was acknowledged in ancient times. Jerome suggested that there were a hundred and fifty-three kinds of fishes, and that it was thereby signified that the Church was a net which received of every kind. But it cannot be established that any one in ancient times counted precisely that number of genera; not to say that such an enumeration was current at the time (Lampe), which however it must have been on that supposition. Then again there is absolutely no analogy for such a natural-historical allusion. All such secret hints in John’s Gospel and in the Apocalypse remain within the domain of Scripture. Grotius perceived rightly that the number had some connection with 2 Chronicles 2:17: “And Solomon numbered all the strangers that were in the land of Israel, after the number wherewith David his father had numbered them; and there were found an hundred and fifty thousand, and three thousand and six hundred:” comp. 1 Kings 9:20. On the “strangers,” Kimchi remarks: “The remnant of the Canaanites, who were no longer given over to the worship of false gods.” It has been shown, in the commentary on Zechariah 9:7 (Christology, vol. iii. Clark’s Trans.), that proselytes were here spoken of; and that the reception of strangers in Israel during David’s life was a type of the future entrance of the fulness of the Gentiles among the people of God. As our present passage is related to 2 Chronicles 2:17, so is Revelation 13:18 related to Ezra 2:13. Without the Old Testament key, both passages entirely baffle us. The objection, that John omits the six hundred of the calculation in Chronicles, has but little force. John counts one fish for every thousand; and therefore an incomplete thousand would go for nothing.
Τοσούτων , so great in number: comp. on ch. John 12:37. The “net broken” stands in no antithesis to Luke’s “and their net brake,” ch. John 5:6. There it was only its being in danger of breaking,—a danger which, as we read, was at once obviated. But here also there is the urgent danger of breaking, as is evident from the τοσούτων ὄ?ντων . Where all is significant, this trait also is of moment. Grotius discerned in it a “presage of the wonderful unity of those who should be gathered into the Church by the labour of the Apostles.” Of this we can the less doubt, because already, in John’s time, the word σχίσμα was also established to denote divisions in the Church (comp. 1 Corinthians 1:10; 1 Corinthians 11:18; 1 Corinthians 12:25), and is used in John’s Gospel itself for spiritual discord: ch. John 7:43, John 9:16, John 10:19. The words are of very considerable importance, as we are all too much inclined to look at the divisions which seem to exist, and to forget the bond of unity that is there. We need not take refuge from the visible in the invisible Church, any more than we need fly from the past and the present into the “millennial reign.” The net was never broken, οὐ?κ ἐ?σχίσθη ; and it is better for us to purge our eyes, that we may see the unity which still obtains in the Christian world. One Lord, one Spirit, one baptism, one Holy Scripture, the common heritage of the three confessions of the ancient Church,—all these show that, despite all σχίσματα , springing from the τοσούτων ὄ?ντων , the necessary concomitants of so many nations with all their peculiarities brought into one fellowship, there is yet an indissoluble bond of unity that encircles the whole Christian Church.
Ver. 12. “Jesus saith unto them. Come and dine. And none of the disciples durst ask Him, Who art Thou? knowing that it was the Lord,”—Δεῦ?τε : comp. ch. John 4:29. Ἀ?ριστάω signifies here, as in Luke 11:37, and like ἄ?ριστον , Matthew 22:4, Luke 11:38; Luke 14:12, the chief meal of the day, the midday repast. This was never in ordinary life bound strictly to the hour; and the symbolical character of all here makes the precise hour of the less importance. An “early morning meal,” however, is unsuitable to the meaning of the event. The phrase and the symbol here go hand in hand, and both point to something later than the early repast. It was only to the mid-day meal and the supper that guests were wont to be invited.—Ἐ?ξετάζειν is stronger than ἐ?ρωτᾶ?ν : although the disciples were sure that it was the Lord, yet they would gladly have heard from His own lips, for blessed confirmation and more full assurance, had not the Lord’s majesty restrained them. In the presence of that majesty, the question seemed to them to have a derogatory character. The ἐ?τόλμα shows that the words εἰ?δότες , κ .τ .λ ., were to represent the question, not as superfluous, but as unbecoming. They durst not demand satisfaction of the Lord, as of an indifferent person.
Ver. 13. “Jesus then cometh, and taketh bread, and giveth them, and fish likewise.”
Jesus came at the head of the disciples, from the net brought to the shore to the fire of coals. After the disciples had received Him as their guest. He took the place of host. Grotius: “He showed Himself to be Paterfamilias to the Church, whose it was to give every man his portion.” The feast which He gave them consisted only of one fish and one loaf; the loaves were in those days small, and the fish was not a large one. This was sparing hospitality (Bengel is wrong: “satiavit omnes”), if we forget the symbolical character of the whole; rather the scantiness of the fare was intended to intimate that its end was not in itself, but that it signified something different, something higher. It has been regarded as meaning, that Jesus provides for His disciples in the present life (compare “The labourer is worthy of his hire,” Matthew 10:10); but such an interpretation is far from satisfactory, inasmuch as it makes Christ’s hospitality but small towards His people; and moreover, it is altogether refuted by the fact that the meal did not take place until the net was drawn to the shore. We must therefore carry the interpretation into the next world. The meal signified the heavenly reward of faithful labour: compare “Great is your reward in heaven,” Matthew 5:12, and “He that reapeth receiveth a reward, and gathereth fruit unto life everlasting,” ch. John 4:36. This heavenly reward is often introduced under the figure of a feast, which Jesus provides for His people, Luke 12:37; Luke 22:30, “That ye may eat and drink at My table in My kingdom;” Matthew 26:29; Matthew 22:1 seq., Matthew 25:10; Revelation 7:17; Revelation 19:9. The Apostles here received not merely a symbol, but also an earnest of that heavenly feast. Regarding this entirely symbolical meaning, we understand how it was that the breaking of bread was wanting, Luke 24:30; and more than that, the benediction and thanksgiving: comp. ch. John 6:11. These took place only in feasts which were limited in their design to themselves. Here, where the meal represented benefits which were not to be imparted until a future state, they would have been out of keeping. The purport of the entertainment also explains the circumstance, that Jesus Himself did not eat: He did not say, “Let us dine;” but, “Come and dine.” The Apostles all the while spake not a word. They knew that they had to do with the majesty that must be waited for to begin. Silence was appropriate to this meal; speech would have obscured its symbolical meaning. The feast interpreted itself.
Ver. 14. “This is now the third time that Jesus showed Himself to His disciples after that He was risen from the dead.”
In this connection the disciples are the disciples in the stricter sense,—the majority of the apostolical circle, represented by their most eminent members. To them Christ had appeared only twice before—on the evening of the resurrection, and eight days afterward. The manifestation to Mary Magdalene, to Peter, to the Emmaus disciples, come not here into view. John enumerates only the manifestations which were granted to the apostolical college. He further indicates, that there were afterwards other appearances, which John, however, would not record. John counts elsewhere also, ch. John 2:11, John 4:54, which latter passage has close affinity with the present, so far as the expression goes. Even when he does not expressly enumerate, he evidently attaches much importance to number; as is plain from the fact, that he narrates three miraculous occurrences in Judea, four in Galilee,—seven in all. On ἐ?γερθεὶ?ς ἐ?κ νεκρῶ?ν , comp. ch. John 2:22, John 12:9; John 12:17.
Ver. 15. “So, when they had dined, Jesus saith to Simon Peter, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou Me more than these? He saith unto Him, Yea, Lord; Thou knowest that I love Thee. He saith unto him. Feed My lambs.”
John speaks of Simon Peter: Jesus addresses him as Simon, son of Jonas. The reason lay not in any allusion to Peter’s denial, which might be supposed to have tendered him unworthy of his other name. During the whole of this colloquy there does not occur the faintest allusion to the denial of Peter. Such allusions have been introduced and forced upon the text by expositors. Peter’s denial—of which too much every way is made—was long over. Even Stier, who holds fast the current notion, is obliged to confess, “There is no trace, in vers. 3, 7, of any timorousness in Peter’s entrance into the apostolical circle.” The true reason of the address is rather to be sought in a comparison with ch. John 1:43: “Thou art Simon, the son of Jonas; thou shalt be called Peter.” To the second clause there corresponds here, “Feed My sheep.” The promotion would have been anticipated, the condition of that promotion would have been lowered in significance, if Simon had at the outset here received the appellation Peter. He is remanded back, as it were, into his natural position, in order that he may be exalted out of it into new dignity. Hitherto he had been only Peter designate. Now he was to be inducted into his office as Peter. The designation is, so to speak, pretermitted, in order to lay all the stress upon the condition of it. So also, in Matthew 16:17, the Lord first addressed Peter as Simon Barjona, and announced to him that He would make him Peter. Those who explain the omission of the name Peter by a reference to his denial, rend our passage violently from its connection with ch. John 1:43 and Matthew 16:17.
Jesus asks Peter if he loved Him more than these, the other disciples. The question about the more takes it for granted that there was conceded to Peter a position excelling that of all the rest (comp. Matthew 16:18),—that he was to be truly Peter, the rock upon which the Church was to be built, the pastor of the flock of Christ.
The Lord might have said, “Thou lovest Me more than these, therefore feed My sheep.” That this was the actual fact, is plain from his having the flock committed to him. From the presence of the result, we may argue the presence of the condition on which that result depended. But in naming the condition, the Lord puts it in the form of a question; and that because the loving more was not a fixed and unalterable experience, but something that might at any time be lost, something that must be preserved and increased by watching and praying, something that was always questionable, and therefore matter of earnest self-examination,
Asher, in Deuteronomy 33:24, is spoken of as the most favoured among his brethren, and as blessed before the sons. The same might have been said of every other son of Jacob. Each was such in his own sphere. So also love to Jesus has its various spheres. Which of these spheres comes into notice here, must be estimated by the position which Peter was to assume. Peter had just shown that his love was more energetic in one particular direction than that of the others, inasmuch as he threw himself into the sea while the others followed after in the ship. This constant girding himself in the service of the Lord, comp. ver. 18, was his loving more than the rest. The government of the Church demanded pre-eminently a practically energetic and effective love. In this Peter was superior to John, even as Martha was to Mary.
Peter assures the Lord that he loved Him; he says nothing about “more than others.” He knew well that he might, in a certain sense, answer in the affirmative (comp. 1 Corinthians 15:10, where, instead of “I have laboured more than they all,” it might have been “I have loved more than they all”); but the affirmation would not pass his lips, because he felt how much in other respects he fell behind his fellow- Apostles, and John especially. But while m one point his answer lagged behind the question, in compensation it went before it in another. Peter substituted for the ἀ?γαπᾶ?ν the φιλεῖ?ν , which rather denotes the tenderness of love: comp. on ch. John 11:5. Probably he used רחם , diligere ex intimis visceribus, with allusion to the beginning of Psalms 18, “I will love Thee heartily, O Lord, my strength.”—“Thou knowest” refers to Psalms 40:10, where the singer, after the assurance of his thankful love, says, “O Lord, Thou knowest,” precisely as here. That Peter really meant the Supreme Lord by his Κύριε ,—to which in the original יהוה corresponds, rendered by the Septuagint here, as commonly, Κύριε ,—is evident from what follows, “Thou knowest all things,” ver. 17: to know all things is the prerogative of the Lord God alone. The design of the appeal to the omniscience of the Lord, was the same as in the psalm. In my commentary there I observed: “‘O Lord, Thou knowest,’ intimates how easily we may delude ourselves and others by the semblance of readiness for God’s praise. Let us see to it always that we can appeal to the omniscience of God in this matter.” “Lord, Thou knowest,” occurs also in Ezekiel 37:3; but this passage does not stand in such close relation to our present one. It is the original of the “Lord, Thou knowest,” in Revelation 7:14.
Jesus says first, “Feed My lambs:” ἀ?ρνίον , the diminutive of ἀ?ρνή . On occasion of the second and third questions, He substitutes the usual πρόβατα , sheep. The ἀ?ρνίον , occurring elsewhere only in the Apocalypse, points back to Isaiah 40:11, where it is said of Jehovah the Good Shepherd, “He will gather the lambs in His arms.” Christ, Jehovah manifest in the flesh, commits His tender lambs, when He leaves the earth, to Peter. The spiritual sheep are at the same time lambs, needing tender and vigilant care;” if overdriven, they may soon die.”—“My lambs:” Christ is the “chief Shepherd,” 1 Peter 5:4, whose own the sheep are, John 10:12; He commits His sheep to Peter as His chief pastor; He again commits them, 1 Peter 5:1-3, to the presbyters as the under-shepherds, for that is involved in his styling himself their ‘ fellow-elder (comp. my Comm. on the Revelation).
Instead of Βόσκω , Jesus the second time uses ποιμαίνω . Βόσκω , the Latin pasco, is properly to pasture: care for their own nourishment is one of the first obligations of the good shepherd: compare “shall find pasture,” ch. John 10:9. Ποιμαίνω is more general, and signifies the whole pastoral care. The third time our Lord recurs to βόσκω , to impress it thoroughly upon Peter, that he must make this portion of his pastoral office his main and first concernment.
Chap. John 21:15-23
Jesus commits to Peter the care of His flock, and exhorts him to labour after that love which is the necessary condition of the worthy discharge of his duty. He foreannounces also by what death, in the discharge of that duty, he should glorify God, and answers his question as to the end which would befall his fellow-disciple John.
With this general glance at the future development of the Church, is fitly connected his institution in office whom Jesus, when He first met him, ch. John 1:43, described as the rock on which He would build His Church.
Ver. 16. “He saith to him again the second time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou Me”? He saith unto Him, Yea, Lord; Thou knowest that I love Thee. He saith unto him. Feed My sheep.”
The second question differs from the first, in that Jesus omits the “more than these.” Peter again substitutes for ἀ?γαπῶ? his φιλῶ? . Not until he had done this twice, does our Lord take up his φιλῶ? into His question, as if in recognition of it. Πάλιν is connected with δεύτερον also in ch. John 4:54. “Again” indicates that Jesus went beyond the first question;” a second time” points forward to the third in ver. 17. The reading πρόβατία , here and ver. 17 is merely an imitation of ἀ?ρνία . Πόβατίον is not known in the Old Testament, or in the Septuagint, or in the Apocrypha. Everywhere we have only πρόβατα and ἀ?ρνία : the latter in the Sept. of Jeremiah 50:45, and Psalms 113:4; Psalms 113:6.
Ver. 17. “He saith unto him the third time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou Me? Peter was grieved because He said unto him the third time, Lovest thou Me? And he said unto Him, Lord, Thou knowest all things; Thou knowest that I love Thee. Jesus saith unto him. Feed My sheep.”
Jesus asks thrice, because three, the first number of completeness, is the signature of emphasis: therefore for the same reason that John in ch. John 19:35, gave a triple assurance of the fidelity of his narrative. As in the Old Testament the number three, in a number of cases, occurs with this meaning (comp. e.g. the priestly benediction, the triple Holy in Isaiah 6), and as the New Testament presents undeniable instances of the same (comp. 2 Corinthians 12:8), there is no reason to assume any special reference to the triple denial of Peter. There is but a connection of form between the two; and in the case of the denial, the number three was the number of completeness. Peter is grieved. The triple question of his Lord showed that there was a distrust of his love, and Peter felt how well-grounded that distrust was: comp. “I am a sinful man, O Lord,” Luke 5:8. But though with sorrow, he can also with confidence appeal to the Searcher of hearts for the sincerity of his love.
That Jesus, by a threefold repetition, and therefore with the strongest emphasis, represents love to Himself as the great requirement for feeding the flock of God; that He does not mention the love of God, which in the Old Testament law is the one thing supreme,—can be explained and justified only on the ground of Christ’s perfect and absolute divinity: not acknowledging His divinity, “we cannot but regard it as an invasion of the rights of Him who will not give His honour to another. Concurrently with “Lovest thou Me? our Lord speaks only of His sheep, while in the Old Testament the flock of Jehovah is always spoken of.—“Lord, Thou knowest all things,” absolutely transcends the creaturely sphere. To know all things is ever in the Old Testament the prerogative of God: comp. e.g. Psalms 7:10. That Jesus shared this prerogative, Peter had variously experienced in fact. We have a parallel generally in ch. John 16:30, where the Apostles say, “Now we know that Thou knowest all things:” comp. also ch. John 2:24.
Ver. 18. “Verily, verily, I say unto thee. When thou wast young, thou girdedst thyself, and walkedst whither thou wouldest: but when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, and carry thee whither thou wouldest not.”
The delivery to Peter of his office is followed by a foreannouncement of the sufferings which he would have to endure in the discharge of it, and of the issue which was reserved for him: Luke 9:31; 2 Peter 1:15. The foreknowledge of this departure was part of Peter’s preparation for his duty; it served also to still in him all lust of dominion, to extinguish in him all desire to “lord it over God’s heritage,” 1 Peter 5:3: moreover, it drove him to seek from above all needful help for so perilous an office. (Grotius: “How difficult an office he received! The matter was one that involved the sacrifice of liberty and life.”)—Νεώτερος , younger, is the comparative: the point of comparison must be sought only in the γηράσῃ?ς that follows, “became old.” Accordingly the whole period is included from the present until old age, and the death of crucifixion to ensue. “Thou wast,” ἦ?ς , is to be explained on the ground that Jesus looks back over Peter’s life from its end. If we overlook this, and refer the ἦ?ς , not to the ideal, but to the actual past, the whole long and important space between the youth of Peter and his death fails to come into view. The expression would also be somewhat harsh, since it was in this very interval that Peter’s girding himself was so momentous for the Church, while the girding of the actual past was not brought into consideration. “Thou girdedst thyself” stands in undeniable relation to the girding of himself in ver. 7. In that act the Lord beheld a symbol of the unrestrained energy with which Peter would strongly and independently execute his vocation. Men gird themselves when they go to labour or travel (Buchner: “We gird ourselves when we prepare and raise ourselves to undertake something difficult”): comp. “Let him gird himself and serve me,” Luke 17:8; Exodus 12:11, 2 Kings 4:29; Acts 12:8, where the angel said to Peter, “Gird thyself, and put on thy sandals.” In Proverbs 31:17, the girding the loins runs parallel with strengthening the hands.
The opposite of “Thou girdedst thyself, and wentest whither thou wouldest,” is, “And another shall gird thee, and lead thee whither thou wouldest not.” The contrast must be simply the general one between independence or unrestrained energy, and dependence or passiveness. To substitute binding for girding is in itself inadmissible, as girding is never used in that sense; and it is further opposed by the antithesis. We then read “shall bring,” not “shall lead:” in order to make the passiveness more emphatic, comp. the φέρειν in relation to Christ on His way of suffering, Mark 15:22. The “Other” is not expressly defined. The only point was to express the contrast of autonomy, or self-rule, and heteronomy, or the rule of others. The “not willing” refers to the sensitive flesh, shrinking even in those most advanced in the spiritual life: comp. Matthew 16:22-23.
We have not yet remarked on the ἐ?κτενεῖ?ς τὰ?ς χεῖ?ράς σου . Were this not there, we should have only the general antithesis of activity and passiveness, self-rule and the rule of others. But “Thou shalt stretch forth thine hands,” standing first, points to the special fact in which the heteronomy and the passiveness would be shown. We cannot doubt that his crucifixion is meant; for the Crucified is speaking to Peter, whose feelings had been ineffaceably impressed by the outstretched hands which he had so lately seen. Any other interpretation must tend to embarrassment; no other outstretching of the hands can be safely thought of. The stretching out of the hands is elsewhere noticed as a characteristic of crucifixion: compare the classical passages in Wetstein. Artemidorus mentions, as belonging to crucifixion, τὴ?ν τῶ?ν χειρῶ?ν ἒ?κτασιν ; and Plautus says, Dispessis manibus patibulum cum habebis. Finally, the “Follow Me” points to the cross, vers. 19, 22, compared with ch. John 13:36, where Jesus had said to Peter, “Thou shalt follow Me afterwards:” thus we have here the unfolding of the hint already given there. The Lord makes prominent this particular point in the crucifixion, because in it impotence and restriction were most clearly exhibited. The hands are the instruments of action; they being bound, all action ceases. Passiveness being the state generally indicated, this must also, in the crucifixion, be made prominent.
If “thou shalt stretch forth thine hands” refers to the crucifixion, we have a clue to the meaning of “another.” The punishment of the cross was specifically Roman, ch. John 18:32. The Romans inflicted it on Christ; and His servants would have to endure it at their hands.
This utterance is referred to by Peter in his second Epistle, ch. John 1:14. We must not interpret that of any new revelation. Peter combines the event we now dwell upon with the circumstances of time. But still plainer is 1 Peter 5:1, where he, in prospect of martyrdom, terms himself the μάρτυς τῶ?ν τοῦ? Χριστοῦ? παθημάτων . Then had the fulfilment of this present prophecy already begun. The Epistle was written from Babylon—that is, Rome in its capacity as an enemy of the people of God—at a time when Satan already went about as a roaring lion seeking whom he might devour, ch. John 5:8. Witness of the sufferings of Christ was the Apostle, inasmuch as he would represent those sufferings in a living image.
The crucifixion of Peter is attested to us by the most trustworthy testimonies; among others by Tertullian, who says, Petrus passioni Dominicae aequatur: compare also Eusebius, Hist. Ecc. ii. 25. Peter was, so far as we know, the only one among the Apostles who suffered the same death as our Lord.
The appearance to James, which Paul mentions in 1 Corinthians 15, forms the complement to that which here concerns Peter, and presently afterwards John. (Compare, for the chronological position of this appearance, my treatise on the Supposed Contradictions in the Narration of the Resurrection of Jesus and the Appearances of the Risen Lord.) This manifestation to James probably referred to the departure which he also had to expect.
Ver. 19. “This spake He, signifying by what death he should glorify God. And when He had spoken this, He saith unto him, Follow Me.”
We have the explanation of “glorify God” in Matthew 5:16, “that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” God is glorified in the joyful death of martyrs, which can have its source only in Him, and apart from Him cannot be found. It appears that John had Peter’s saying, 1 Peter 4:16, in his eyes: “But if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; let him glorify God on this behalf,” δοξαζέτω δὲ? τὸ?ν θεὸ?ν ἐ?ν τῷ? ὀ?νόματι τούτῳ? . Martyrdom in which Christian virtue exhibits its highest bloom, appears there also to be a glorification of God. The ecclesiastical use of the phrase “glorify God” for the death of martyrs evidently sprang from this passage.—“By what death:” this cannot refer to violent death generally, but to the special kind of death; for only such a kind of death is referred to as would serve to glorify God. The genus was not death generally, but the death of martyrdom. The species of death was crucifixion only.—“Follow Me” must primarily refer to the external following, to the fact that Peter was then and there to follow Christ’s steps: this is plain from the ἀ?κολουθοῦ?ντα in ver. 20. According to that verse, the following was such as might be seen. But, on the other hand, it is obvious that “Follow Me” must also be understood of a following in the way of the cross. To this we are led by the connection, thus only established, with the words that preceded; to this we are led also by the obvious parallel of Matthew 10:38, “Whosoever taketh not up his cross, and followeth after Me, is not worthy of Me,” a word which must involuntarily have occurred to Peter’s mind when he heard the “Follow Me,” the rather as the Lord had repeated it in prospect of His own passion. Matthew 16:24; by the fact that we cannot see any sufficient end in the mere external following, which would have been without meaning to the reader, and alone would not have been mentioned by John; and finally by ver. 22, where “Follow thou Me” forms the opposite of another destiny which awaited John. The seemingly discordant views are reconciled by the assumption that the Lord primarily meant an external following, but that this had a real symbolical significance, and was to foreshadow Peter’s imitation of Christ in the death of crucifixion,—an assumption which is all the more obvious, as the whole chapter bears so pre-eminently a symbolical character. This view, represented by Grotius, will satisfy the grounds of both interpretations. The typical following would mitigate the later actual fellowship of the cross to Peter, and quell in his work all emotion of pride. In it was given to him the most emphatic memento mori.
With regard to the two points in our Lord’s words of prophecy to Peter, J. Gerhard remarks: “In the first Christ sets before him His own example in feeding the flock; in the second, His own example in the endurance of death.”
Ver. 20. “Then Peter, turning about, seeth the disciple whom Jesus loved following; which also leaned on His breast at supper, and said, Lord, which is he that betrayeth Thee?”
As Peter followed Jesus, John also followed unbidden. He understood the words of Christ; and by his following also he expressed, without dictating to his Master, his own willingness to suffer martyrdom, with especial allusion to “whither thou wouldest not” spoken by the Lord to Peter. Peter turned when he heard some one following (on ἐ?πιστραφείς , comp. ch. John 12:40, Revelation 1:12: this last passage leads to the conclusion that he had special occasion to turn. Bengel says: “He had begun therefore to follow”); and when he saw John, he was seized with a desire to have him as his companion in martyrdom, according to the saying, dulce est solamen miseris socios habere malorum. And as, in his own case, the prediction of the cross had followed so soon upon the triple “Lovest thou Me?” bethought that the disciple who stood in a peculiarly affectionate relation to Christ might lay more special claims to martyrdom than himself; and therefore he made a faint endeavour to obtain from the Lord a decree to that purpose. This was his only fault. Peter did not desire to impose upon John a death of martyrdom against his will; but the fact was, as Anton says, “Peter perceived that John would go with him.” In the words, “whom Jesus loved,” “which also leaned on His breast at supper, and said. Lord, which is he that betrayeth Thee?” John points to the facts on which the question and the desire of Peter were based. The triple number gives perfectly the motive which impelled him. First, “whom Jesus loved:” we have already shown that this formula arose out of a signification of the name of John which Jesus Himself had uttered. John could not content himself with that, however; since, as he had often used the phrase as a mere personal designation, it would not have been sufficient of itself to explain Peter’s motive. The second is, “which also leaned on Jesus’ breast at supper:” ἀ?ναπίπτειν is always used by John of placing oneself at table: comp. ch. John 6:10, John 13:12; as also in the first three Evangelists. We must therefore adhere to the same meaning here: “which also placed himself near Jesus’ breast at supper.” In the passage alluded to, John 13, the ἦ?ν δὲ? ἀ?νακείμενος εἷ?ς ἐ?κ τῶ?ν μαθητῶ?ν αὐ?τοῦ? ἐ?ν τῷ? κόλπῳ? τοῦ? Ἰ?ησοῦ? , in ver. 23, corresponds with the present; not the ἐ?πιπεσὼ?ν ἐ?πὶ? τὸ? στῆ?θος of ver. 25. We have already remarked, that the place which John occupied at the table betokened the altogether peculiar internal relation of love subsisting between his Lord and him. But the Apostle now adds in the third clause a reference to an occurrence which had exhibited, and that with regard to Peter also, the greater intimacy between Christ and John,—to the incident of ch. John 13:23-25, where Peter used the instrumentality of John in asking the Lord about the traitor. Anton’s observation here is of profound practical application: “Because the kinds of suffering, especially of bodily suffering, vary, men fall into making comparisons about it. Why should I suffer this? Why not the other? One ought not thus to look at the other. For the tempter obtains great power when children of God make such comparisons. Here is something to be guarded against diligently!”
Ver. 21. “Peter, seeing him, saith to Jesus, Lord, and what shall this man do?”
What will this man receive or suffer? He who stands so near to Thee and me will not surely be separated in death from Thee, or from me: comp. 2 Samuel 1:23. The cautionary and repelling word of Christ throws light upon the question: the blame does not fall upon the curiosity, but upon unauthorized interference.
Ver. 22. “Jesus saith unto him. If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? Follow thou Me.”
Jesus gives His express utterance concerning the end of John’s life; and beneath “If I will,” etc., lies concealed “I will.” The conditional form was introduced simply because Peter, who had ventured to prescribe laws to Christ, was not worthy to receive His utterance in the direct form. The language is that of majesty, which “suffers no invasion of prerogative, even from those standing nearest: comp. ch. John 2:4; Matthew 12:48. But the repulse was only formal. Jesus, who always entered so kindly into the wishes of His disciples (Bengel: “The Lord never inflicted a pure repulse upon His friends, however unreasonably they might ask”), did in fact respond to Simon’s request for a declaration as to the future of his fellow-disciple. His utterance was interpreted as such not only by the “brethren,” ver. 23, but also by John himself. To the same conclusion we are led by its correspondence with the utterance concerning Peter. On θέλω , Bengel says: The power of Jesus over the life and death of His people. Μένειν , remain, could in this connection only have referred to abiding in this life: comp. 1 Corinthians 15:6; Php_1:24-25 . The coming of Jesus could not have had an individual meaning in relation to John; not the coming to take him in the hour of death, ch. John 14:3, for in this sense the Lord came even to Peter. But we must find a sense in which John remained, and Peter did not, until Christ came. If the coming was one of universal import, we must needs think at once of the Lord’s coming in judgment upon Jerusalem, concerning which He had said, Matthew 16:28, “Verily I say unto you. There be some standing here who shall not taste of death until they see the Son of man coming in His kingdom:” comp. Mark 9:1; Matthew 24:34, which teaches that that generation was not to pass before the sign of the Son of man would be seen in heaven. Peter fulfilled his course in martyrdom some few years before that catastrophe: John, on the other hand, survived that great and solemn coming of Jesus. Meanwhile, we must not limit ourselves to this first phase of the historical coming of Jesus. When the Lord spoke of John’s remaining until He should come. He seems to have intimated that soon after His coming John should depart. But that will not suit the coming in judgment on Jerusalem; for John survived that event nearly thirty years. Further, it appears that the link between the abiding of John and the coming of Jesus was not a merely external one; but that before his departure John was to do his own part in connection with the coming of Christ. Now there was nothing of this sort in connection with the destruction of Jerusalem. But it is altogether decisive, that John actually survived a second coming of the Lord, which could not therefore be excluded. In his lifetime fell the beginning of the great conflict between Christ and Rome. With the Roman persecution, as it, under Domitian, partook of an ecumenical character, followed simultaneously the coming of the Lord. This is one of the fundamental principles of the Apocalypse. That book is occupied, after its first verse, with that “which should shortly come to pass.” According to ch. Revelation 1:3 and Revelation 22:10, the time was near. “I come quickly,” the Lord declares, ch. Revelation 22:7; Revelation 22:12; Revelation 22:20, Revelation 3:11, Revelation 2:5; Revelation 2:16. On Revelation 1:1 it was observed: “‘The keeper of Israel neither slumbers nor sleeps.’ ‘I am with you always unto the end of the world.’ Of these truths, the ‘shortly coming to pass’ and the ‘I come quickly’ of this book are the necessary consequence. The boundless energy of the Divine nature admits here of no delay. There is nothing of quiescence or indolent repose in God. His appearing often to linger is merely on account of our shortsightedness. He is secretly working for salvation and destruction when He seems to us to be standing aloof” (Com. on Rev. vol. i. p. 47, Clark’s Transl.). At the same crisis, when the world came with its prince, the Lord came. In this second historical coming of Christ, John was himself pars aliqua. He was the herald of His coming; and that he might be such, was the reason that the Lord willed that he should tarry. Yet not that alone: the Apocalypse is included in the coming of the Lord. In it He came with His consolation to His people, groaning under the oppression of the world’s power. That was the specific purport of the Apocalypse. Hence Ben gel says, with perfect propriety: “To Peter the cross, to John that great Apocalypse, were in mystery promised here.”
Bengel also says on “Follow Me:” “The future is involved in the imperative. Do thy part: leave to the survivor his.” It is only a following in the most pregnant sense that is here assigned to Peter: the following of Christ in the way of the cross, in the more general sense, pertains to all Christians; and that John’s desire, as expressed in his following with Peter, was satisfied, and that he was also a partaker of the cross of his Lord, is evident from Revelation 1:9-10. With “Follow thou Me” the colloquy ends. Here, as in Luke 24:31, it might be said, “And He vanished out of their sight.”
Ver. 23. “Then went this saying abroad among the brethren, that that disciple should not die: yet Jesus said not unto him, He shall not die; but. If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee?”
The λόγος rested upon the assumption that the coming referred to was the last coming, that with which the παλιγγενεσία was connected, Matthew 19:28: thus it was as to those then living the period of the great change, 1 Corinthians 15:51-52, and of the rapture into the air, 1 Thessalonians 4:17,—passages which probably had their influence upon the formation of this opinion. The Apostle opposes to this opinion that there was a difference between not dying and surviving till the coming of the Lord; he intimates that there was to be a coming of the Lord before the end of the present world, so that one might live till the coming of the Lord, and then afterwards die. Heumann touches the right point here: “John teaches his readers what return of the Lord was not to be understood here. Since, that is, some Christians supposed that the Lord was speaking of His coming to the general judgment, concerning which an angel said at the ascension, ‘This Jesus will in like manner come again as ye have seen Him go into heaven,’ Acts 1:11, and inferred therefore that John would not die, but remain in the world until the last day, and then be taken up with all other surviving believers into heaven,
John here testifies that Jesus had not said that he would not die. He gives it to be understood, that he, like his fellow-Apostles, would die, and consequently not survive to the last day, and the coming of the Lord in judgment; and that they therefore erred who understood the Lord’s words of that His final coming.”
John describes Christians as “brethren.” The bond of brotherhood girded the disciples of Christ from the time that the Lord had termed them His brethren, ch. John 20:17. Αὐ?τῷ? : What is said in relation to any one is in a certain sense said to him, although the words were primarily addressed to another. It is after the manner of the Old Testament: comp. e.g. Genesis 20:2, “And Abraham said of Sarah his wife. She is my sister.”
Chap. John 21:24-25
Concluding Formula of the Gospel
John 21:24. “This is the disciple which testifieth of these things, and wrote these things; and we know that his testimony is true.”
Lampe: “He names himself simply disciple, as his constant custom is.” Τούτων , ταῦ?τα , can refer only to all that from the beginning of the Gospels down to John 21:23. What Lampe further says must remain true: “Then he adds, ‘This is the disciple which testifieth of these things, and wrote these things;’ which cannot be defended from the imputation of falsehood, if any other than the Apostle affixed this chapter.” In the οἴ?δαμεν the spirit of John is one with the spirit of his readers: compare “When ye are gathered together, and my spirit,” 1 Corinthians 5:4, and 3 John 1:12, “Yea, and we also bear record; and ye know that our record is true.” The profound conviction of the truth of his testimony, of which the Holy Spirit was the source, ch. John 14:26, filled him with the assurance that it would be acknowledged as true by all who were of the truth. Not only he knew it, but the Church, all Christendom upon earth, knew it. That John’s confidence did not delude him, has been proved by the experience of all ages. All brethren, John 21:23, all sincere Christians (compare ἡ?μεῖ?ς πάντες , ch. John 1:16), have ever set to it their seal. This enlargement of personal conviction into that of the Church is extraordinarily frequent in the Old Testament. Habakkuk, for example, speaks throughout his third chapter as the microcosmos of the whole community. In the New Testament all those passages are analogous where the Apostles speak of themselves in the plural, as Romans 1:5; 2 Corinthians 1:8 seq.; 1 John 1:1 (Winer). For the reason of this so-called pluralis majestaticus is the central position of the Apostles—the fact that they were not so much individual persons, as the epitome of the Church: compare the τὸ? ἐ?ν ὑ?μῖ?ν ποίμνιον τοῦ? Θεοῦ? , 1 Peter 5:2, which makes the shepherds include as it were the flock. According to 1 John 1:3, the object of the Apostle’s declaration and teaching was, that his readers should walk in fellowship with him, and through him with the Father and His Son Jesus Christ. There also we are met by him as a central figure. The theory of another author adding his postscript, which has no ground whatever to rest upon, is refuted by the impossibility that this Gospel could have been issued without some such conclusion as we have in John 21:24-25; by the unmeaningness of οἴ?δαμεν in the mouth of one unknown; by the present participle ὁ? μαρτυρῶ?ν , and the singular οἶ?μαι , John 21:25; by the close affinity between this assurance of the truth of a testimony and ch. John 19:35; by its relation with 3 John 1:12; finally, by the correspondence of this concluding formula for the whole Gospel with the concluding formula of the main body in ch. John 20:30-31, and the circumstance that in both formulae there is contained the hint that the Gospel was only a selection from a much more abundant mass.
John 21:25. “And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written. Amen.”
Instead of ὅ?σα , quoecunque, which points to the great mass of things omitted, many MSS. have the simple ἃ? . On “which Jesus did,” comp. ch. John 2:23. John in all his books makes frequent mention of writing. For καθʼ? ἕ?ν , comp. Acts 21:19; and for οἶ?μαι , Genesis 41:1, Sept. Objection has been needlessly taken to the singular “I suppose,” because John never speaks in the singular. For there is really here no speaking in the first person, no actual obtrusion of his own personality: οἶ?μαι means no more than “so to speak.” Κόσμος is the whole world as such, and not in a moral sense. On χωρεῖ?ν , hold, comp. ch. John 2:6. Heumann is right in interjecting, “which we four Evangelists have not written;” for John everywhere takes his three predecessors into account. Here he is speaking generally of what had not been written. Much has been idly said about “hyperbole quite foreign to John’s simplicity and thoughtfulness.” But there is no hyperbole here. Internal, transcendent greatness, simply takes the array of the external—takes dimensions of space; after the precedent of Amos 7:10, where Amaziah, the priest of Bethel, says to Jeroboam, “Amos hath conspired against thee in the midst of the house of Israel: the land is not able to bear all his words:” it is not large enough; they find no place therein. That the external here only represents the internal—that we must distinguish between the thought and its clothing, is plain from the οἶ?μαι , opinor, “I suppose.” Bengel: “οἶ?μαι , opinor; the amplification is softened by this word.” The idea is that of the absolute unfitness of the world for the spiritual acceptance and use of a perfect history of Christ. Hyperbole could be alleged only if this unfitness were other than absolute. We may find many analogies in the Apocalypse (compare my Commentary). There is no more exaggeration here than in the verse of Luther’s well-known hymn, “And were the world,” etc. There also spiritual greatness is made to assume the dimensions of space. Wetstein rightly observes: “Coronis evangelio imposita respondet τῷ? προσώπῳ? τηλαυγεῖ? in principio, i. 1, 2, 3.” The world which was made by Christ is even for that reason too small to hold the perfect knowledge of Him,—all that might be said of Him. How weighty is the practical conclusion which may be drawn from the fact, that precisely these words form the conclusion of this Gospel and of the Four, of all that is delivered in the Gospel verbally written! How anxious should we be to receive this fourfold Gospel into our hearts!
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Hengstenberg, Ernst. "Commentary on John 21". Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & Psalms. https://studylight.org/
the First Week of Advent