By Dr. Ben Stubblefield
Visiting assistant professor of Christian Studies, University of Mobile
DO YOU LOVE ME?
Do you? (15–17)
In many ways, John’s narrative reaches a natural conclusion in 20:30–31. This is why scholars refer to chapter 21 as John’s epilogue, bookending the prologue of John in 1:1–18.
Chapter 21 opens with a scene of the disciples fishing. I think it is reasonable to suggest that the disciples are flirting with returning to their former ways of life.
They are elated in the resurrection but unsure of what they are supposed to do next. So they turn to fishing because they are, after all, by trade fishermen. But they catch no fish until Jesus’ miracle, at which point Peter hurries to shore.
This miracle is important because it mirrors the event described in Luke 5 early in Jesus’ ministry when He calls the men to become His disciples. More importantly, it is after that great catch that Jesus initially commissions these men to lay down their nets and become “fishers of men” (Luke 5:10).
It is likely that Jesus performs this miracle after His resurrection in order to reorient, reclaim and remind His disciples of what He has called them to do. He is not done with them yet. They cannot go back to bringing fish into nets when the Lord has anointed them to bring people into the Kingdom.
As the lead apostle, Peter, who has betrayed the Lord most deeply, must undergo a similar kind of reclamation.
It was three times and over a charcoal fire that he denied the Lord. Thus, Jesus extends to him a redemption over a charcoal fire (v. 9), asking him three times if he would love, instead of deny, Him.
Will you? (18–19)
Our Lord continues to commission and prepare Peter for a future of difficulty and death.
Few of us would want to consider what kind of death looms ahead of us, and it would be difficult to get catalyzed to serve a King with faithfulness who forecasts our martyrdom. But that is exactly what Peter hears from Jesus, and that is exactly the kind of leader for the Church that he becomes.
The Lord calls to Peter, “Follow me!” Those are the same words with which Jesus began summoning His disciples, and they are fitting words with which to end His instructions to them.
At the core of Christ’s ministry, that is His invitation.
What about …? (20–23)
Here we might understand Peter to be complaining about his prognosis, but I think it is better to understand him as curious. John is very close to Jesus (13:23–25; 19:26–27). So if fellowship with Jesus will lead in time to Peter’s death, it’s normal to wonder what might happen to John.
But Jesus redirects Peter to consider his future in the Kingdom and no one else’s. Comparisons cause controversy, jealousy and greed. The Lord, therefore, reminds Peter that his job is to follow and let Him handle John.
It may seem a strangely trivial way to end a Gospel, but this moment was crucial for the early church. As Christianity expanded, there was clearly an opportunity for squabbling among its central leadership.
The early apostles could have hindered the growth of the Church by fostering their own sense of self-importance. Instead, they saw themselves as followers of Christ with a particular calling and mission to fulfill. How helpful would such an attitude be for us.
Share with others: