John 21:20-25 – Peter and John (and John?)

John 21:20–25 (ESV) — 20 Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them, the one who also had leaned back against him during the supper and had said, “Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?” 21 When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, “Lord, what about this man?” 22 Jesus said to him, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!” 23 So the saying spread abroad among the brothers that this disciple was not to die; yet Jesus did not say to him that he was not to die, but, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?” 24 This is the disciple who is bearing witness about these things, and who has written these things, and we know that his testimony is true. 25 Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.

Throughout the last two chapters of John, we are invited by John to see an interesting back and forth between him and Peter.

(1) John 20:3–5 (ESV) — 3 So Peter went out with the other disciple, and they were going toward the tomb. 4 Both of them were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 And stooping to look in, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he did not go in.
·  Peter then arrived and without hesitation went into the tomb.
·  Then John went in and believed.
·  John thought about it – Peter acted.
·  But neither understood how Scripture taught that the Messiah was to rise.

(2) John 21:7 (ESV) — 7 That disciple whom Jesus loved therefore said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his outer garment, for he was stripped for work, and threw himself into the sea.
·  Here John discerns the identity of the man on the shore as Jesus.
·  Peter responds to this knowledge with abandon.
·  Again, John is portrayed as perceiving and Peter as acting.

It is after this scene that Jesus begins the process of restoring Peter as the lead disciple.
·  I don’t think it is coincidence that Peter preaches the first new covenant, post-Pentecost sermon in Acts 2.
·  And following this we have today’s text and a third back and forth with Peter and John.

(3) John 21:20–21 (ESV) — 20 Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them, the one who also had leaned back against him during the supper and had said, “Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?” 21 When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, “Lord, what about this man?
·  Peter just learned that his call to follow Jesus will involve persecution and death.
·  We see here that Jesus’ conversation with Peter and His restoration of Peter took place as they walked along the beach.
·  And apparently, for whatever reason, John was following them.
·  Peter notices this and wants to know – “what about him” – “Lord, what about this man?

The Peter/John interactions and our text shed some insight onto three things that I want to look at.
·  (1) The nature of Peter and John’s relationship.
·  (2) The nature of Peter and John’s “following”.
·  (3) Rumors swirling in the Christian community related to Peter and John’s “following”.


(A) Peter and John – Relationship:
These two men were business partners and friends.
·  Luke 5:9–10a (ESV) — 9 For he and all who were with him were astonished at the catch of fish that they had taken, 10 and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon.
·  This of course means that Peter and John most likely lived in the same town.
·  And likely had known each other for a long time.
·  Along with Peter’s brother Andrew and John’s brother, James.

John 13:24–25 (ESV) — 24 so Simon Peter motioned to him to ask Jesus of whom he was speaking. 25 So that disciple, leaning back against Jesus, said to him, “Lord, who is it?”
·  John’s extremely close relationship to Jesus (he was the one seated next to Jesus and “leaning back against Jesus”) was only rivaled by his relationship with Peter.
·  D.A. Carson suggests that for Peter to signal to John in this context, “assumes a certain intimacy between the beloved disciple and Peter”.
·  This makes sense given John and Peter’s history together.

And as Acts shows, these two men clearly got along with each other.
·  In Acts, we see Peter and John joined at the hip speaking the Gospel.
·  Peter and John were preaching in Acts 3.
·  Peter and John were described as having “boldness” in Acts 4.
·  Peter and John were sent to Samaria together as the Gospel took off there in Acts 8.

Yet, as revealed in our text and in John 20 and 21, the two men were very different.
·  And wisely, because of these differences, Jesus called them to different styles of “following”.

(B) Peter and John – Following:
So, as we said, Jesus makes clear the nature of Peter’s following.
·  Perhaps then, Peter, not just out of selfish concern but out of concern for his dear friend asks about John’s future.
·  In fact, Carson says that the relationship shared by Peter and John “makes Peter’s question more comprehensible, if not more justifiable. His own prognosis is not very good: for Peter the cost of discipleship will be high. What about him? – D.A. Carson.
·  It is “natural for him to be curious” about the ministry of his friend – Beasley-Murray.
·  Given what we know about Peter and John, we need to be careful about seeing them as competitors.

Jesus answers Peter’s question - “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!
·  No doubt this response is curt and “sharp in tone” – Beasley-Murray.
·  But the reason for this appears not to be a condemnation of jealousy on the part of Peter.
·  “There is no belittling of either disciple” – D.A. Carson.
·  “There is no hint of a desire to denigrate Peter in the interest of the Beloved Disciple” – Beasley-Murray.

The reason seems to be twofold:
·  (1) Extol the value of different “followings”.
·  (2) Extol the value of your “following”.

“The one thing that matters is that [Peter] should follow his Lord…as the risen Lord guides him and reveals his unfolding task, till the final call to follow him in a death to the glory of God” – Beasley-Murray.
·  “One of them may be called to strategic pastoral ministry (vv. 15–17) and a martyr’s crown (vv. 18–19), and the other to a long life (v. 22) and to strategic historical-theological witness, in written form” – D.A. Carson.
·  “For Peter, Christlikeness is found in martyrdom (cf. 21:19 with 12:33); for the beloved disciple, Christlikeness manifests itself in witness grounded in unparalleled intimacy with Jesus (cf. 21:20, 24 with 13:23)” – Kostenberger.

·  “Peter is called to pastoral ministry and martyrdom, John to a long life and strategic, written witness—both callings are vital and equally important (Carson 1991: 681). In a personal lesson on discipleship, Jesus tells Peter to be content with his own calling and to leave that of others to him. This, in turn, becomes a general lesson relevant also for the readers of the Gospel” – Kostenberger.

The relevance to us is enormous.
·  Jesus chided Peter, “what is it to you?
·  And then repeated His earlier words, “You follow me!

The legitimacy and value of our “following” is known by a comparison to other peoples “followings”.
·  The legitimacy and value is found in a parallel to the two points above.
·  (1) Value your “following” as it should be – ordained by God.
·  (2) Don’t be in the habit of comparing/concerning yourself with other styles of “following”.
o   But how well you are committed to excellence in your “following”.

BTW – there is another implication of this that hit home for me.
·  I often feel “inadequate” or “guilty” because as an American my Christian “following” is not as costly as my Chinese brothers and sisters, for example.
·  I think Jesus’ words to Peter apply here.
·  I did not “born” myself in America – Jesus did.
·  I did not “born” myself into a well-off family – Jesus did.
·  I need to embrace these elements of my “following” and praise God for them.
·  And I need to understand that these things can be both a benefit and detraction from my “following”.
·  But I need to “follow” in this context – unashamedly.

(C) Peter and John – Rumors:
John 21:23 (ESV) — 23 So the saying spread abroad among the brothers that this disciple was not to die; yet Jesus did not say to him that he was not to die, but, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?”

This is a remarkable insight into the writing of this Gospel.
·  Obviously, as years went by, there was a problem.
·  Many wrongly believed that Jesus said John was not going to die.
·  Yet as verse 23 states, Jesus was merely making a point that if John’s “following” means he will not die until Jesus comes back, so be it.
·  This fact is no concern of Peters.

We obviously don’t know why this falsehood began.
·  Jesus obviously did not say this.
·  But clearly John felt the need to correct it and he did so in his Gospel.
·  This rumor, then, must have been causing some serious problems to warrant this commentary.
·  Interestingly, Kostenberger suggests that, “It is not impossible that these final verses were penned by John’s disciples subsequent to his death in order to counter the charge that Jesus’ prediction had been proven erroneous by John’s death” – Kostenberger.
·  If so, this does explain why it shows up at the end of a Gospel.


John 21:24–25 (ESV) — 24 This is the disciple who is bearing witness about these things, and who has written these things, and we know that his testimony is true. 25 Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.

It is here that we learn that the “disciple whom Jesus loved” is the eyewitness who wrote the Gospel of John.
·  Interestingly, this is the only Gospel that claims that eyewitness authorship.
·  We know Luke’s source was Paul.
·  We know Mark’s source was primarily Peter.
·  And, “Matthew was particularly modest in writing his gospel account. He always refers to himself in the third person and nowhere speaks of himself as the author” – John MacArthur.

So who was John, the eyewitness, the disciple whom Jesus loved?

The traditional contender for the job is John the brother of James.
·  Authorship, “relates historically to John the apostle, the son of Zebedee” – Kostenberger.
·  However, John the apostle’s authorship is not certain.
·  There was another disciple of Jesus named John that some believe could also be the author.
·  Richard Bauckham advocates this alternative authorship.

We know from Irenaeus that the John who wrote “John” lived until at least 98 AD.
·  “Irenaeus says he lived into the reign of Trajan, which began in 98 CE” – Richard Bauckham.

We know from Papias that there were two disciples of Jesus named John.
·  “I shall not hesitate also to put into properly ordered form for you (sing.) everything I learned carefully in the past from the elders and noted down well, for the truth of which I vouch. For unlike most people I did not enjoy those who have a great deal to say, but those who teach the truth. Nor did I enjoy those who recall someone else’s commandments, but those who remember the commandments given by the Lord to the faith and proceeding from the truth itself. And if by chance anyone who had been in attendance on the elders should come my way, I inquired about the words of the elders — [that is,] what [according to the elders] Andrew or Peter said (eipen), or Philip, or Thomas, or James, or John, or Matthew, or any other of the Lord’s disciples, and whatever Aristion and the elder John, the Lord’s disciples, were saying (legousin). For I did not think that information from books would profit me as much as information from a living and surviving voice (Eusebius, Hist. Eccl. 3.39.3-4)” – Quote from Papias from Richard Bauckham.

And we see in Papias’ words a distinction between John the brother of James and John the elder.
·  Additionally, Papias also called the “elder John” a disciple of Jesus.
·  In other words, he was a long lived eyewitness of the ministry of Jesus.
·  This is certainly intriguing but not a ditch to die in.

I merely want to point this out to demonstrate just how rich the Gospel of John is as both a Gospel of Jesus Christ and as an historical document full of awesome implications for church history.
·  It is no wonder that so many – Kostenberger, Carson, Bauckham and others – have invested so much time into this Gospel, its meaning and history.
·  It is for these reasons that we spent the last 2.5 years diving deep into its pages.
·  I hope that our time in Gospel has borne much fruit.
·  It certainly did for me!


John 21:15-19 – Love and Suffering

John 21:15–19 (ESV) — 15 When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” 16 He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” 17 He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, 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 everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. 18 Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” 19 (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me.”

In this very familiar text, I want us to see two things.
·  The first is that the text is apparently not about what we usually think it is about.
·  And the second is that this text, in its cultural context, serves as an apologetic for the apostolic life of suffering and death.


I want to start off by quoting Kostenberger, Carson and Beasley-Murray concerning the use of the word “love” in this text.
·  “The fact that there are two different verbs for “love” used in the present passage has led some to believe that ἀγαπάω (agapaō) and φιλέω (phileō) are distinct in meaning, but this is doubtful for at least two reasons” – Kostenberger.
·  “Commonly it is argued that agapaō is the stronger form of ‘to love’, but so powerfully has Peter had his old self-confidence expunged from him that the most he will claim is the weaker form—even when Jesus draws attention to the point, using the weaker form himself when he asks the question for the third time. This accounts for the distinction the niv maintains between ‘truly love’ and ‘love’. This will not do, for at least the following reasons…” – D.A.Carson.
·  “We have seen the improbability of the variety of terms having any major significance…” – Beasley-Murray.

The reasons Kostenberger and Carson give are as follows:
·  (1) John uses the two terms interchangeably throughout his Gospel.
·  (2) The LXX uses the two terms interchangeably.
·  (3) In the NT agapao is “not always distinguished by a good object” – D.A. Carson.
o   In 2 Timothy 4:10, Demas agapao the present age.
·  (4) In their semantic ranges, “they do not specify a different kind of love” – D.A. Carson.
·  (5) John’s writing style consists of using “minor variations for stylistic reasons” – D.A. Carson.
o   Bosko vs. Poimaino (feed/take care of)
o   Arnia vs. Probata (lambs/sheep)
o   Oida vs. Ginosko (you know)

If they are right, then every sermon I have heard on this text has been off the mark.
·  Which, given the preparation of most preachers, is not surprising.
o   When you teach application instead of text, anybody can go off course.
·  However, this insight from Kostenberger and Carson raises a new question.
·  What is this passage about?

To get at this, we need to keep the following context in mind:
·  “The question of Jesus is conditioned by the relationship that had existed between Jesus and Peter during the ministry of Jesus and the peculiar rupture of it at the trial of Jesus…” – Beasley-Murray.

In other words, Peter had been the bold, brash and “out front” disciple of Jesus.
·  But at Jesus’ Trial he retreated.
·  He “forfeited all right” to be a disciple of Jesus – Beasley-Murray.
·  John 13:38 (ESV) — 38 Jesus answered, “Will you lay down your life for me? Truly, truly, I say to you, the rooster will not crow till you have denied me three times.
·  Three times Peter publicly denied, in front of John even, that he was a disciple of Jesus.
·  He refused to “lay down” his life for Jesus at that time whether literally or metaphorically.

So it should come as no surprise that to reestablish Peter’s role (for Peter’s sake) as the lead disciple, Jesus would ask Peter if he loves Jesus more than the other disciples three times.
·  Jesus is restoring Peter each time He asks the question.

And Peter’s love of Jesus will be borne out by a number of things.

(1) “Peter’s love for his Lord is to be made manifest in his care for the Lord’s flock” – Beasley-Murray.
·  And by his lifelong service to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
·  Jesus’ call to Peter was to:
o   Feed my lambs” (vs. 15)
o   Tend my sheep” (vs. 16)
o   Feed my sheep” (vs. 17)
·  And after revealing these things to Peter, Jesus caps if off with:
o   Follow me” (vs. 19)

And Jesus’ call to Peter to care for His sheep alludes back to the OT.
·  Jeremiah 3:15 (ESV) — 15 “ ‘And I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will feed you with knowledge and understanding.
·  Jeremiah 23:4 (ESV) — 4 I will set shepherds over them who will care for them, and they shall fear no more, nor be dismayed, neither shall any be missing, declares the Lord.

Did this call on Peter stick?
·  1 Peter 5:1–4 (ESV) — 1 So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: 2 shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; 3 not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. 4 And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.
·  He definitely got it!

(2) And, in contrast to Jesus’ words in John 13:38, Jesus affirms that Peter’s restored, post-resurrection love for Jesus will this time lead Peter to give His life for Christ – literally and metaphorically.
·  when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go” (vs. 18).
·  This language, “stretch out your hands” refers to crucifixion.
·  John affirms this with his commentary in verse 19.
·  And this text also reminds us of these words to Peter.
·  John 13:36 (ESV) — 36 Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, where are you going?” Jesus answered him, “Where I am going you cannot follow me now, but you will follow afterward.”


Peter’s obedient walk to Jesus’ call on his life was going to mean at least two things:
·  His life is not his own (vs. 18)
o   His life is Jesus’.
o   He is to serve Jesus the rest of his days.
o   This service involves suffering.
·  And as we just said, He will die as a result (vs. 19)
o   Something we know he thought about.
o   2 Peter 1:14 (ESV) — 14 since I know that the putting off of my body will be soon, as our Lord Jesus Christ made clear to me.

In 1 Peter, Peter demonstrates how connected service of Christ is with suffering.
·  1 Peter 3:14–17 (ESV) — 14 But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, 15 but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, 16 having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. 17 For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.
·  This verse, the apologists’ mantra, is asking us to give a defense of our faith.
·  But in context, a defense is needed for a particular reason.
·  And the reason is that followers of Jesus are suffering.

Paul makes the same characterization about a life spent serving Christ and His church.
·  2 Corinthians 1:3–7 (ESV) — 3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. 5 For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. 6 If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. 7 Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort.

Paul even alludes to this in Ephesians:
·  Ephesians 3:11–13 (ESV) — 11 This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord, 12 in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him. 13 So I ask you not to lose heart over what I am suffering for you, which is your glory.

And like Peter, Paul understood that a defense of the faith was needed because of this suffering.
·  In other words, Paul had to explain why his life was full of suffering and not “blessing”.

N.T. Wright sums up Paul’s defense of Christian suffering as follows:
·  “They [some at Corinth] want him to produce letters of recommendation or accreditation; they are ashamed of his suffering (if he really was an emissary of the true god, surely he should not be subject to such indignities?)” – N.T. Wright.

This is incredibly important.
·  How can those who claim to be doing the work of this Jesus – God and Messiah – possibly “be subject to such indignities” and be right about Jesus’ identity and their Gospel claims?

And this leads us back to our John text.
·  How does our text help answer the above question?
·  Or at least provide a foundation on which to answer the above question.

To get at this requires us to understand one aspect of an aNE (ancient Near East) worldview.
·  When they, including the Jews, wrote about events they were trying to answer some principal questions.
·  For most of the aNE this question was, “‘Why should you believe that this king is a good and successful king who enjoys the support and favor of the gods and should continue to receive that support and favor?’” – John Walton.
·  For the Jews, because of their concept of Yahweh’s covenant with them, the question was a little different.
·  “Israelite historians, in contrast, appear to be asking, ‘Why should you believe that Israel has been chosen by Yahweh as his covenant people and that he is sovereign over all history and nations?’” – John Walton.

So, with the claims of certain Jews that Jesus was the Messiah and that He ushered in a new covenant, the question now is rephrased a bit.
·  “Why should you believe that the Church and her apostles have been chosen by Yahweh through Jesus as His covenant people, and that Jesus is ‘sovereign over all history and nations’?”

Additionally, because “events are presented as God’s expression of his attributes” (John Walton) the outcomes of events are seen as evidence for the claims being made to answer these questions.
·  In other words, the Jews “considered God the cause of every effect and as actively shaping events” – John Walton.
·  Jews didn’t record history to tell us what happened, but to show what God was doing.
·  “Yahweh is the driving force of history” and He is the reason history unfolds – John Walton.

And even further, “God took it upon himself not only to act, but to provide an interpretation of his acts through the prophets or Levites, communicating why they were done and what purposes they served” – John Walton.
·  In light of the claims of Jesus, the disciples/apostles were now fulfilling the role that had been the domain of the prophets.
·  They were the ones telling Jews what God had done in history through Jesus and why.
·  They were the ones that were revealing how Jesus was part of the “driving force of history”.
·  They were the ones that were explaining how the ministry they engaged in was an expression of God’s attributes.
·  They were the ones answering the principal question – “Why should you believe that the Church and her apostles have been chosen by Yahweh through Jesus as His covenant people, and that Jesus is ‘sovereign over all history and nations’?”

And it was in answering these questions that their immense persecution, suffering and death posed obstacles to being seen as legitimate – as having answered the principal question.
·  If, as we just saw, outcomes were the work of God.
·  And the apostles were making these truth claims about Jesus as Messiah and God.
·  There is a serious disconnect between what is happening to them and the picture it paints of this Jesus’ fellow ability to control history and outcomes.
·  What kind of God is your God if He claims to be the Messiah and to be ushering in the age to come when all his followers are being severely persecuted and are dying?
o   Not to mention He Himself died a humiliating death on a cross.

Profound success and blessings should be the order of the day given such claims.
·  After all, a king certainly couldn’t claim he was serving at the pleasure of a god if his reign was full of failures.
·  And if people couldn’t recognize that historical outcomes were in his favor.

So how does our text answer the questions we raised?
·  It shows us that Peter’s work as a “feeder”, “tenderer” and “follower” and the suffering and death these led to were the designs of God.
·  It shows us that the suffering and death outcomes were at the command of God.
·  This Jesus, who these guys were claiming to be God, was “ordainer” of these things.
·  These things had a specific purpose in serving the Gospel, and they were not signs of failure or disfavor with God.

These things are made even clearer with Jesus’ words to Ananias about Paul.
·  Acts 9:15–16 (ESV) — 15 But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. 16 For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.”

So it should come as no surprise that Christianity, and Paul specifically, treat suffering and persecution in a way the world finds offensive.
·  It is seen as yet another way we participate in our union with Christ.
·  It is seen, strangely, as a show of Jesus’ power.
·  Romans 6:1–6 (ESV) — 1 What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? 2 By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? 3 Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. 5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. 6 We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin.
·  2 Corinthians 12:9–10 (ESV) — 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.