The Pulpit Commentary

John 21:1-25 (John 21:1-25)

3. The epilogue, answering to the prologue. The post-resurrection life corresponds with the pre-incarnate energy of the Logos.

1. Long and sustained controversy has prevailed on the question of the authenticity and apostolic authorship of this chapter even among those who admit the Johannine authorship of the rest of the Gospel.

2. Among those who accept to the full the authenticity, there are many critics who urge that it is not an integral portion of the Gospel, but a later appendix, that the document terminated, on its first composition, with John 20:30 , John 20:31 , and that the chapter before us is dictated from a different motive—that whereas the first twenty chapters formed a collection of notable "signs" of the Messiahship and Divine Sonship of Jesus, adapted to produce true faith and thereby confer eternal life on the believer, the present chapter is structurally disposed on different lines, with a diverse motive, and has its own conclusion.

3. The purpose is variously conceived by those who agree to regard it as an appendix.

Once more, it is contended by many who admit the composition of the twenty-first chapter to be by St. John, that he was here producing a striking epilogue to the whole, which answers in many ways to the prologue in the first chapter; that as the prologue illustrates

(a) the pre-incarnation energy and presence of the Loges ( John 1:1-5 ), so we have hero the idea of the post-resurrection energy and presence of the "Son of God" in the work of the Church, watching, waiting, guiding, helping, co-operating with his own, "who received him, and to whom he gave power to become sons of God;"

(b) that as in John 1:6 we have the various methods by which the οἱ ἴδιοι receive and bear witness to the archetypal light, from John the Baptist to the company of the regenerated, so here from John 1:14-19 we have a representation of the principle of witness, the powers and ends of holy love, the methods and law of Divine pleasing; and

(c) that as in John 1:14-18 the prologue sets forth his first coming in the flesh full of grace and truth, in John 1:20-23 the risen Lord predicts and to a certain extent defines the second coming. This is a very attractive, if somewhat conjectural, series of comparisons. It cannot be said that these analogies do not exist. The correspondence consists in the two sets of facts rather than in the art of the writer. The true representation of the efficacy of the Lord's resurrection-life and ascended majesty is contained historically in the "Acts," which are far more certainly "Acts of the Risen Lord" than "Acts of the Apostles," and are contained prophetically in the Revelation of St. John. We have in this appendix or epilogue to the Gospel, indications and specimens of the kind of intercourse which prevailed between Jesus and his disciples during the forty days, and a specimen which, after the manner of John, made the deepest and most ineffaceable impression upon his own mind. It was, indeed, the third appearance to the apostles after his resurrection, but not the last. M'Clellan, in his special dissertation on the subject, treats with great warmth and vigorous denunciation the theory of the Gospel being concluded with John 20:1-31 ., and of the subsequent addition by the apostle of John 21:1-25 . His arguments are little better than assertions, based upon the translation or paraphrase which he gives of the πολλὰ μὲν οὖν , etc., of John 20:30 . This is as follows: "' Accordingly ( οὖν ), whilst it is true ( μὲν ) that Christ wrought many other miracles in the presence of his disciples, besides ( καὶ ) those which are written in the Holy Scriptures of this book, yet ( δὲ ) these which are recorded, are recorded with this special object, that ye may believe in Christ [though ye have not seen him], and that believing, ye might have life in his Name.'

"The appropriateness of the position and language of the comment in reference only to this one particular incident is obvious; and the conclusion theory tumbles to the ground. With it," he adds with characteristic impetuosity, "deservedly perishes the dangerous appendix theory concerning John 21:1-25 ." After enumerating numerous theories with derogatory comment, he adds, "But for the hypothesis that the Gospel originally ended with John 20:1-31 ., the theory (of its being an appendix) would never have been heard of, and with the utter collapse of that hypothesis, it is shattered to atoms! So perish, we may firmly believe, one after another, the conceits of ' modern criticism.'" Of course, the two ideas stand and fall together. No words are needed to vindicate one of these positions without the ether. It is unfortunate that, in paraphrasing the clause on which the conclusion rests, Mr. M'Clellan should have begged the question at issue by introducing a phrase which gives the apostolic comment a specific reference to the words of Jesus as addressed to Thomas, and omitted the weighty reference to the whole of the proof which demonstrates that "Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God." This able commentator often forces on his reader the contradictory of his own conclusions.

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John 21:15-19 (John 21:15-19)

(2) The revelations to be made in the services dictated by love and issuing in martyrdom. The confession made by Simon Peter, and the charge given to him.

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John 21:18 (John 21:18)

Verily, verily, I say unto thee . This form of address links the pre-resurrection life to that which follows, proclaims the identity of the being and the unity of the Person of the Christ under new conditions. More than that, much solemnity is conferred on this final word of the Master. When thou wast younger than thou art now ; i.e. before thou camest under my sway; when thou wert supreme ruler of the fishing-fleet of Capernaum, with wife and family dependent on thee; when Andrew, James, and John (thy partners) were in a measure all doing thy will, following in thy train, submitting to thy behests,— thou girdodst thyself for whatever task was set before thee; thou hadst the choice of duties and pleasures; thou hadst time at thy disposal, thy method of service in thine own hands, even as now it was thy will to gird thee for the task of swimming to my feet (see Isaiah 45:5 ; Proverbs 31:17 ; 1 Kings 18:46 ; John 13:4 , John 13:5 , διαζώννυμι ; Luke 12:35-37 ; Luke 17:8 ; Acts 12:8 , περιζώννυμι ; 1 Peter 1:13 , ἀναζώννυμι . The simple verb is used here in reference to all kinds of "girding"). So that the Lord reminds him of his natural self-will, so conspicuous and prominent, the secret of all his weakness and much of his individuality. And thou walkedst whither thou wouldest ; or literally, thou wert in the habit of walking whithersoever thou weft willing or desiring to do; i.e. thine outward conduct, and the whole line of thy daily enterprise and duty, was not only an utterance of thine own self-mastery, but even thy wishes, the momentary waywardness of thy purposes, found immediate gratification. But a great change has come over thee; thou hast passed through a new experience. Already thou feelest that thou art not thine own; thy heart and strength, thy hands, thy feet, thy very girdle and sandal, are beginning to seem to thee no longer at thine own disposal. Thy self-will is checked, thy natural audacity and power of initiation are repressed into much narrower limits. Thou-hast found thyself weaker than a little child; thou art in need of this Divine principle of "love," deep and fervent, reverential as well as personal, not only to utter bold expressions of regard, but to form the very focus and new central force of thy whole being; and so it will come to pass that this new force will more than master thee; and when thou shalt be old and gray with years, thy service to that other and higher wilt shall be complete: thou wilt stretch forth thy hands in token of entire submission to the will of another, however it may be revealed to thee—whether at the instance of "the angel" or "Herod," of "Cornelius" or Nero's executioner! This remarkable phrase has often been supposed to mean the "stretching forth of the hands of the crucified" on his being appended to the cross. But such a process would follow rather than precede the "girding," which is, on such an interpretation, taken literally of the girding that preceded the nailing. There can be no doubt, from the language of St. John, that this was the final and forcible illustration of the new principle that would take full possession of Simon Peter. But meanwhile it was a long life of willing surrender to the Supreme Will which gives its highest meaning to these words. And another shall gird thee, and carry thee £ (or, bring thee) whither thou art not wishing to go . The old self-will, though it be indeed mastered, will not have utterly vanished. If it be not so, where would be the sacrifice? Even the blessed Lord himself said, "Not my will, but thine be done." Verily, even the sanctified nature of the sinless Man, prepared in the spotless womb of the blessed virgin by the Holy Ghost, anointed by the Spirit, and in living absolute union with the only begotten Son,—even he was, in human consciousness, disposed to cry, "If it be possible, let this cup pass from me," etc. We need not wonder, then, that to the very last, when the supreme will was manifested to Peter in the approaches of violent death, he should feel the will of the flesh thwarted. The exquisite legend embodied in the "Domiue, quo vadis?" (see John 13:33 ) confirms the entire representation of the character of Peter. So also does the story, preserved by Tertullian ('De Pries.,' 35; ' Ad Scorp.,' 15) and Eusebius ('Hist. Eccl.,' Ecclesiastes 3:1 ), that the apostle preferred crucifixion with his head downwards, on the plea that to be crucified as his Master was too great an honor for one that had denied his Lord.

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John 21:18-19 (John 21:18-19)

Prediction of Peter's death.

Our Lord next announces what will be the manner of the end of his disciple's ministry.

I. THE LORD HAS FIXED THE TIME OF PETER 'S END .

1. Job speaks of the days of man being determined. "The number of his months are with thee; thou hast appointed his bounds, that he cannot pass."

2. Jesus has a lordship over the life and death of his saints. "If we die, we die unto the Lord;" "He is the Lord both of the living and of the dead" ( Romans 14:8 , Romans 14:9 ).

3. The Lord's disposal of his saints' lives makes them immortal till their work is done .

II. THE LORD DETERMINES THE MANNER OF PETER 'S DEATH . It was to be a death of violence. He was to become a martyr of the Christian faith. "When thou wast young"—Peter was now a middle-aged man—"thou girdedst thyself"—possessing full liberty of life—"and walkedst whither thou wouldest"—with full freedom of movement—"but when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands"—as helpless and in the power of others—"and another shall gird thee"—as a condemned criminal—"and carry thee whither thou wouldest not." A violent death, as being unnatural, is shrunk from. But these words are to be regarded solely from the standpoint of natural feeling.

1. The apostle understood the exact nature of this prediction, as we know by his own words , "Knowing that shortly I must put off this my tabernacle, even as our Lord Jesus Christ showed me" ( 2 Peter 1:14 ).

2. The death of the apostle was to redound to the glory of God . "This spake he, signifying by what death he should glorify God. The martyrs glorify God

3. The martyrdom of Peter took place in the year A.D. 64. It was, therefore, now a past event which the evangelist records.

III. PETER 'S DUTY HENCEFORTH IN LIFE . "Follow me."

1. It was a solemn thought to the apostle to know the destined end of his apostolic labors.

2. This knowledge would intensify his eager zeal to work without pause during the term of life that remained to him.

3. The command to follow Christ implied

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John 21:18 (John 21:18)

The primacy of Peter.

The career of St. Peter is a striking instance of elevation from obscurity to fame. From a Galilaean fisherman he was promoted to the leadership of the college of apostles, and has for centuries been revered by a great part of the Christian world as the earthly head of the Church. The ardor of his love and the boldness of his confessions endeared him to the Master; yet his self-confidence and his temporary unfaithfulness grieved the Master's heart. In the singular alternations of feeling and conduct he reminds us of David in the older dispensation. Both have gained a position in human regard which the cold and blameless have failed to reach.

I. PETER WAS THE FIRST AMONG THE FAVORED GROUP ADMITTED TO WITNESS CHRIST 'S GLORY AND HUMILIATION . Peter, James, and John were the favored three who beheld the glory of the Son of man upon the Mount of Transfiguration, and his woe in the garden of Gethsemane. Not only is his name mentioned first, but precedence in action is on both occasions referred to him. It was he who exclaimed upon the mount, "It is good for us to be here," proposing that tents should be reared for the illustrious visitors and for their Lord. It was he who, when the foes of Jesus would have arrested him, drew the sword in the Master's defense.

II. PETER WAS THE FIRST TO BEAR WITNESS TO THE LORD 'S DIVINITY . What the others thought of Jesus at the time when he asked them, "Whom say ye that I am?" we do not know; but it is recorded that Peter promptly and boldly replied, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God." His ready apprehension of his Lord's nature, dignity, and office gave rise to the cordial acknowledgments of him to whom he testified.

III. PETER WAS THE FIRST OF THE APOSTLES TO BEAR WITNESS TO CHRIST 'S RESURRECTION FROM THE DEAD . When on the evening of the day the disciples met, the subject for wonder and for rejoicing was that the Lord had appeared unto Simon. And Paul tells us that after his resurrection Jesus was seen first of Cephas. It is recorded that, upon receiving tidings from the women, Peter with John hurried to the empty tomb; it must have been soon after this that this apostle was favored with the interview twice referred to in the New Testament.

IV. PETER WAS THE FIRST , AFTER THE DESCENT OF THE HOLY SPIRIT , TO PREACH THE GOSPEL TO HIS FELLOW - MEN . The record in the Book of the Acts is explicit upon this point. Peter, standing up with the eleven, lifted up his voice and spake forth to the people, proclaiming the Lordship and Messiahship of the Risen One, and announcing through him remission of sins to the penitent and believing. In this be was the mouthpiece of the Christian community, and the leader of the great company who published the Word of the Lord.

V. PETER WAS THE FIRST AMONG CHRISTIAN CONFESSORS TO ENDURE AND DEFY THE RAGE OF THE PERSECUTOR . In the fourth and fifth chapters of the Acts we have the record of this apostle's boldness when confronted with the enmity of the rulers among the Jews. How dignified was his demeanor, how faithful was his testimony, how patient was his endurance of hostility and of persecution for Christ's sake, the author of that book makes abundantly apparent to every reader.

VI. PETER WAS THE FIRST AMONG THE TWELVE TO WELCOME THE BELIEVING GENTILES INTO THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH . First in the case of Cornelius, and then upon the occasion of what is called the Council of Jerusalem, Peter proved himself to be possessed with the Spirit of his Lord, in whom there is neither Jew nor Gentile. It was he, occupying a position of peculiar authority and advantage, who may be said to have thrown open the gates of the Church to those of Gentile descent. Paul was indeed the apostle of the Gentiles; but if we turn aside from the speculations of the "higher criticism," and confine our attention to historical facts, we shall see it was Peter who made it possible to widen the foundations of the Church, and, without endangering unity, to receive the believers in Christ from every race and nation into the enjoyment of equal privileges and hopes.

VII. PETER WAS THE FIRST CONCERNING WHOM IT WAS FORETOLD THAT HE SHOULD SUFFER A DEATH OF MARTYRDOM FOR THE SAKE OF CHRIST . It is certainly very singular that our Lord should choose the moment when Peter made protestation of his love and devotion, and when he himself formally entrusted Peter with authority to feed the spiritual flock, as the moment for predicting his martyrdom, particularly foretelling by what death he should glorify God. His Epistles assure us that this language was not lost upon the faithful servant, but that he learned to rejoice in the prospect of partaking Christ's sufferings.—T.

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