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John chapter 21

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1After these things Jesus shewed himself again to the disciples at the sea of Tiberias; and on this wise shewed he himself. 2There 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. 3Simon 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. 4But when the morning was now come, Jesus stood on the shore: but the disciples knew not that it was Jesus. 5Then Jesus saith unto them, Children, have ye any meat? They answered him, No. 6And 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. 7Therefore 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. 8And 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. 9As soon then as they were come to land, they saw a fire of coals there, and fish laid thereon, and bread. 10Jesus saith unto them, Bring of the fish which ye have now caught. 11Simon 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. 12Jesus saith unto them, Come and dine. And none of the disciples durst ask him, Who art thou? knowing that it was the Lord. 13Jesus then cometh, and taketh bread, and giveth them, and fish likewise. 14This is now the third time that Jesus shewed himself to his disciples, after that he was risen from the dead.

What does John chapter 21 mean?

When Jesus was first resurrected, He passed along instructions for the disciples to meet Him in Galilee (Matthew 28:5–10). He then appeared to groups of the disciples at least twice (John 20:19, 26). Eventually, the men made their way back to Galilee and are waiting for Jesus there. John refers to the body of water as the "Sea of Tiberias" (John 6:1), reserving the term "Galilee" for the region (John 21:1).

Seven men are in this group, including Peter and John. It's not clear if Peter is bored, simply needs to earn income, or thinks he's meant to return to his former profession. Either way, when he sets out for a night of fishing, these others come along. In a piece of foreshadowing, their efforts fail—they catch nothing (John 21:2–3).

Most of the disciples were fishermen before Jesus called them to ministry. Jesus used a miraculous provision of fish to draw Peter away from his boat to become a "fisher of men" (Luke 5:5–11). Now, in a similar situation, Jesus calls on the men in the boat to cast again, despite having no recent luck. In dim light, and at a distance, they wouldn't be able to clearly hear or see who it is who calls out to them. There's a good chance the men remember the earlier miracle, however. When they instantly fill their net, Peter and John fully realize who is on shore, and Peter dives overboard to swim to the beach (John 21:4–8).

Though John notes the exact number of fish caught in the net, there is no deeper meaning. This detail would have meant something to those familiar with the Sea of Galilee—probably emphasizing the large size of the catch. Now that Jesus has appeared to the disciples several times, any lingering doubts about His resurrection are gone (John 21:9–14).

When Peter bragged that he would be loyal, even when the other disciples failed (Mark 14:29), Jesus responded with a dire prediction (John 13:36–38). Peter would go on to deny even knowing Jesus—three times, and with great emphasis—in the hours before Christ was crucified (John 18:25–27). Jesus seems to remind Peter of his earlier boast, asking if Peter's love for Christ is greater than the love held by the other disciples (John 21:15).

In this conversation, Jesus twice uses the Greek term agapaō when referring to "love," while Peter uses the term phileō. These terms have distinct meanings, but they overlap enough to mean the same thing in this conversation. However, the third time Jesus asks Peter, He uses Peter's precise words. Though Peter has explicitly said he [phileō] loves Jesus, Jesus now asks Peter directly if he [phileō] loves Him. Peter clearly understands the point. This three-times-repeated question echoes his own three-times-repeated denial of Christ. It's also a subtle way of Jesus hinting that just because Peter has said something is no guarantee he'll act accordingly (John 21:16–17).

Jesus called Peter after performing a miracle of providing a catch of fish (Luke 5:5–11). He has once again duplicated that feat (John 21:4–8). Peter denied Jesus three times, and Jesus has made Peter declare his loyalty three times. Jesus now offers both encouragement and a dire prediction. Peter is once again called to follow Jesus. However, Jesus poetically notes that one day Peter will be forcibly "led," with outstretched arms. This is an indirect reference to crucifixion. While a terrible fate, this prophecy also confirms that Peter's faith will never again fail. He will be loyal to Christ, even to the point of death, just as he once bragged (John 13:37). Church tradition indicates that Peter was crucified as a martyr for his faith (John 21:18–19).

Christ's prediction of Peter's death leads Peter to a natural question. John, who only refers to himself indirectly (John 1:37; 13:23; 18:15–16; 19:26) is nearby. Peter naturally wonders what will happen to him. Jesus' response is not harsh, but it is blunt. What happens to John is irrelevant to Peter's faith; Peter simply needs to follow Christ, regardless of God's will for other people. Unfortunately, some believers misinterpret Jesus' remarks. Though He is refusing to make a prediction about John, some assume this means John will live forever—or at least until Jesus returns. John makes a point of repeating Jesus' exact words to show this was not the case (John 21:20–23).

The last verses of the gospel of John act as a signature, or a certification. These words seem to be a combination of John's own writing, the validation of a scribe, and possible the endorsement of a local church. John may have switched from an assistant recording his speech to hand-writing the end of this letter. The reference to "we know that…" confirms that others validated John's message; this might be a note included by those to whom John first gave this writing. John ends his eyewitness account by reminding the reader that no single book could contain every detail of Jesus' earthly ministry (John 21:24–25).
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