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May 21, 2007
This chapter is kind of an epilogue to John's Gospel. John is the only one who mentions this story. The disciples were sitting around, and Peter said, "I am going fishing." And the rest of them say, "We will go with you." Now a lot of people make a big deal out of the fact that Peter and the disciples go fishing. They say the disciples were abandoning Jesus. I don't think that's necessarily the case. After all, this is after Jesus had appeared to them at least twice. More likely they were just bored, since Jesus apparently wasn't around all the time, and they were looking for something to do. Also, they were probably broke. When they were with Jesus, they lived off the contributions people gave, and they may have had some of their own money as well. But now, Jesus wasn't doing His regular ministry, and they needed to make some money.
Anyway, they were out all night fishing, and caught nothing. They see a man on the shore asking if they have caught anything. They were probably used to people coming in the morning and asking if they caught anything. Then Jesus says "Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some." (21:6) John, "the disciple whom Jesus loved," first recognizes that it's Jesus. Peter jumps out of the boat and swims to the shore to meet Jesus. That's not the reaction of someone that had abandoned Jesus in disappointment.
After they have breakfast, then comes the confrontation between Peter and Jesus. Jesus asks, "Do you love me more than these?" and then twice asks "Do you love me?" Lots and lots of people make a huge deal out of the fact that Jesus uses the word "agape" for love in the first two questions, and then Peter responds with the word "phileo." The last question, Jesus uses the word "phileo." If you've heard sermons on this passage I'm sure it's been explained to you, but just in case, agape is an unconditional love, and phileo is a fraternal love between friends or family.
First of all, throughout his writings John interchanges "agape" and "phileo." Secondly, and I admit this is not that great an argument, Jesus and Peter would not have spoken Greek to each other. They would have spoken Aramaic. But anyway, I think it is more significant that Jesus asks Peter three times, the same number of times Peter denied. John mentions that "Peter was grieved" (21:17) when Jesus asked him the third time. Jesus then gives a prophecy about Peter's life: "'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.' (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.)" (21:18-19) "Stretch out" was a term for crucifixion among 1st century Jews. Christian tradition tells us that Peter was crucified in Rome upside down. Jesus' words here seem to confirm that.
Then Peter gets busy to change the subject. He points to John and says, "Lord, what about this man?" (21:21) Jesus doesn't humor Peter that much: "If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!" (21:22, ESV) It is easy to be jealous of others. We think God is being unfair to us when something good happens to someone else. But God has an individual plan for each of our lives. Instead of trying to right the world, we need to just follow God's plan and do what He wants us to do. God will set things right in the end. He doesn't need our help or advice. If we believe God is loving, sovereign and just, we will trust Him to bring the right circumstances in our lives.