John's Gospel, a New Look, Number 23: Chapter 21 the Resurrection Appearances
John's Gospel. A New Look - Number 23: Chapter 21-The Final Appearances of Jesus.
At the end of chapter 20 John obviously comes to the end of his gospel account by stating his aim: "......that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name" (John 20:31). But then almost as an afterthought John continues with a chapter that deals with Jesus' final appearances to his disciples, and mainly with his interaction with Peter.
Back in Galilee a group of the disciples had joined Peter to go fishing, but they caught nothing. Early in the morning after a fruitless night's fishing, Jesus appears on the shore and greets them by calling them friends. He then asks "Haven't you any fish?" Their negative reply is answered from the shore: "Cast your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some". So they try and undoubtedly are hugely surprised by their great catch.
Peter, always the impetuous one, jumps off the boat when John realizes and says, "It is the Lord." Peter leaves the other disciples to take care of their huge and unexpected catch, but then returns to help them. So the group, after completing their task, joins Jesus for a breakfast of fish and bread cooked over a coal fire, as was the custom in that area. John knows the exact number of fish that they had caught, showing his emphasis to detail.
Though the disciples recognise who this person is, they have trouble recognising Jesus in his post resurrection form. "None of the disciples dared ask him, who are you? They knew he was the Lord." (Verse 12) So in an almost mirror repeat of the last supper, Jesus hands them first bread and then fish. John reminds the readers that this was the third appearance after the resurrection.
The actual form that Jesus takes after the resurrection is somewhat of a mystery and it is Luke who gives us more insight as he explains how Jesus invites them to feel his hands and feet- and explains to them that a ghost "does not have flesh and bones", Luke 24:39.
Then comes the account of the amazing discussion that Jesus had with Peter. Jesus asks Peter , in an almost formal way: "Simon son of John, do you truly love me more that these?" It is interesting to speculate as to who the "these" are - the other disciples or the fish? After all, Peter had returned to his fishing companions to do what he obviously loved, that is, fishing.
Be that as it may, Jesus uses the word agape for love. That means much more than a love that implies "I like you as a friend". It means loving someone completely to the extent that you will give your life for them. The word used in John 3:15,16 for God's love for us. "God so loved the world that he gave his only Son....". Peter answers in the affirmative using a different word for love, phileo. This is a friendship love. Again Jesus repeats the question with the same answer. Then the third time of asking, Jesus changes the word to phileo. Do you even love me as a friend? A question that upsets Peter.
Perhaps in this exchange as Jesus finally asks Peter, do you love me in this "lesser" way , he is reminding Peter of the denial at His arrest. Implied is the fact that when Peter denied Jesus he certainly did not love Him in practice as either in "agape" love or even with a "phileo" love. It is also interesting that at the denial of Jesus, Peter stood in the palace courtyard at a fire, and now in the cold early morning on the shore of Galilee they sit around the fire to have this discussion.
In reply to Peters answer on each occasion Jesus instructs him to "Feed my lambs", "Take care of my sheep", "Feed my sheep"; an instruction that Jesus gave to all the disciples as recorded in Matthew 28:18,19, in another form. Peter does this powerfully on the day of Pentecost as recorded in Acts chapter 2.
John continues this final chapter with an explanation of what Jesus told Peter about his future life. That he would also die and in that way glorify God. Then follows a clarification concerning a misunderstanding about whether John would not die before the return of Jesus.
John signs his Gospel of with an assurance that what he has written is true and reliable, reminding the readers that Jesus did many other things that are not recorded in this account.
Surely anyone reading this Gospel with an open mind will be convinced that what John wrote is true, and so fits into the stated aim that John had in mind when penning it: "to believe and in believing have life".