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Simon Peter Encounters The Risen Christ, "Do You Love Me?" Gospel Analysis

 EASTER 3C  John 21:1-19

The following Bible study is from a larger course entitled, THE LIFE OF CHRIST: A Study in the Four Gospels. This 54 week course for the laity will be available for congregations in 2007.

Basic text for the course: SYNOPSIS OF THE FOUR GOSPELS, Kurt Aland, English Edition, P. 336-337

The Gospel of John: John's Story of the Resurrection

The Gospel of John is the only gospel in which we have a full description of the resurrection stories. The other three gospels are more fragmented in their telling of the resurrection story, but John’s gospel gives us his complete version of these events.

Earlier in this course, we have consistently said that John was a reliable and credible eyewitness who gave us numerous juicy historical details of events in Jesus’ life e.g. Jesus walking in the portico in the temple in the season of winter or the detailed description of a bowl of full of vinegar near the foot of the cross on Good Friday. In this particular gospel story for today, we are going to hear other juicy historical details from the Jesus story e.g. “cast your nets over the right side of the boat,” “sitting before a charcoal fire,” “a hundred yards from land,”  “large fish,” “153 of them,” etc.

John, “the other disciple,” “the beloved disciple,” was the only disciple at the crucifixion to report to us the lurid details of that event; he was also present on Sunday morning to give us the fascinating details of the resurrection stories. It was as if we had a reporter on the scene for both Good Friday afternoon and Easter Sunday morning. That reporter’s name was John. He was also present during the gospel story for today on the Sea of Tiberias.

#367. The appendix to John: Jesus at the Sea of Tiberias. Peter and the beloved disciple. Final authentification

John 21:1-25

 John, chapter 21, does feel like an appendix, but we are also aware that John 21 is included in the three great, early Greek manuscripts of the New Testament e.g. Alexandrinus, Sinaiticus, and Vaticanus. This chapter has always been thought of as “Bible.” That is, this great story of the resurrection was not a later addition to the oldest canon but was part of all three great, ancient Greek manuscripts.

This entire narrative is about the rehabilitation of Peter who denied Jesus three times in the courtyard of Caiaphas. In this resurrection story, Peter is the central character who professes his love for Jesus three times, as if to atone for his three previous denials.

-After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples.  Circle the word, “showed.” And write the word, “revealed.” Circle the word, “again.” This is the third time in the Gospel of John that Jesus revealed himself to his disciples. The first was to Mary Magdalene in the garden and the second was to the other disciples and doubting Thomas. See John 21:14 to know that this was the third resurrection appearance in John’s gospel.

-By the Sea of Tiberias; This is the Sea of Galilee or Lake Galilee. Only in John’s gospel is it called the Sea of Tiberius. John 6:1. We don’t know how the disciples got back up north eighty miles to the Sea of Galilee after the events of Good Friday and Easter. But this scene occurs not in Jerusalem and its environs, but it occurs eighty miles up north. The disciples are back home on their home turf. By reading the story too quickly, you may not realize that the location of this story is eighty miles north of Jerusalem and occurs on Lake Galilee.

-And he showed himself in this way. This will be a story of the Risen Christ revealing himself to his disciples.

-Gathered there together were Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples. Count them up: there are seven disciples. Write the number: seven disciples. Nathaniel was part of the inner twelve disciples and we heard about him in John, chapter 1. The sons of Zebedee are James and John. The “John” is the beloved disciple, the unnamed author of the Gospel of John.

-Simon Peter said to them, ‘I am going fishing.’ Peter was back to his old home and his old lake and his old fishing grounds and he and his old buddies were going fishing.

-They said to him, ‘We will go with you.’ They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing. We can see all these fishermen out in a boat. It must have been a big boat to get all seven disciples in it. Previously in an earlier lesson, we studied archeological data which showed us a boat from 2000 years ago. This ancient boat was found on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, and that boat was twenty-six feet long and could handle fifteen people. Yes, all those disciples all could have been in one boat.

-Just after daybreak, We are at the crack of dawn.

-Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Initially, the disciples did not recognize Jesus. We will soon discover that the boat was a hundred yards out in the water; and from a hundred yards, a person often doesn’t recognize the identity of someone on shore. We remember the theme that Mary Magdalene did not immediately know the true identity of Jesus when he appeared to her. That same theme will occur on the road to Emmaus in the Gospel of Luke where two disciples did not recognize the risen Christ as he walked along the road with them. 

-Jesus said to them, ‘Children, you have no fish, have you?’ They answered him, ‘No.’ How did Jesus, from a hundred yards off shore, know that they didn’t have any fish? This theme of Jesus “knowing everything” is woven throughout the stories of Jesus. For example, in advance, before it happened, Jesus knew he was going to suffer and be “lifted up” onto a Roman cross. He also knew in advance that he was going to be raised on the third day. Yes, the gospels tell us that Jesus knew everything including that the disciples didn’t have any fish in their boat even if they were a hundred yards off shore.

He also calls his disciples “children” and he does this repeatedly in the book of I John.

-He said to them, ‘Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.’ So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish. The right side of the boat. Circle the word, “right.” It is another juicy little historical detail by an eyewitness. Fish often gathered in large schools in Lake Galilee (and other lakes and the ocean) and it seems the disciples were into a large school of fish…on the right side of the boat. Jesus knew where the fish were. This was/is another example of his omniscience that he demonstrated in the Gospel of John. 

-That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, Underline it. Circle it. Here is the author of the fourth gospel. He refers to himself as the disciple whom Jesus loved. John knew that Jesus loved him.

-‘It is the Lord!’ John is the one who first understands what is happening. We also recall that John believed in the Risen Christ even though he only had seen the empty tomb and not the Risen Christ himself. When Peter and John burst into that tomb, it was John who first believed, even before Peter. Here is John again. He was the first one of the disciples to recognize the true identity of the man standing on the seashore. 

Notice that Jesus is called “Lord” again. Repeatedly, the people who believe in Jesus call him “Lord” and the Apostle John wants us to address Jesus as Lord in our lives. Circle the word, “Lord,” every time that you see it in John 21, and you will have eight circles. 

-When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on some clothes, for he was naked, and jumped into the sea. There is one commentary about the Gospel of John that stands heads and shoulders above all commentaries. Raymond Brown, a Catholic scholar, wrote this commentary. Brown tells us that Peter was not literally naked or in the buff but that the Greek word can also mean, “lightly clad.” Near the word, “naked,” write the word, “lightly clad.” It was a fisherman’s smock and “Peter tucked it into his cincture so that he could swim more easily and he dove into the water.” You can feel the details in this scene written by John, the beloved disciple because he was there, recording what he saw. The Apostle John was our detective on the scene during Good Friday, Easter morning and now later on Lake Galilee/Tiberias.

You can also feel the impulsiveness of Peter. We remember the impulsiveness of Peter from other stories. We recall Peter on the Mount of Transfiguration and putting his foot in his mouth, speaking before he thought, and impulsively wanting to build three tabernacles. We recall Peter wanting to walk on water and impulsively getting out of the boat and sinking. We recall Peter in the Garden of Gethsemane impulsively drawing his sword and cutting off the ear of the high priest. We recall Peter at the charcoal fire on late, late Thursday night at the home of Caiaphus and impulsively swearing a blue streak when a woman identified him as a follower of Jesus. In this situation in the resurrection appearance on the Sea of Tiberias, Peter impulsively jumps into the water and begins to swim to shore while the rest of the disciples come in the boat as it towed the net full of fish.

-But the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, Again and again, John gives us several good historical details. The other disciples remained in the boat. The net was full. The boat was dragging in the net which was full of fish.

-For they were not far from the land, only about a hundred yards off. Literally, the boat was 200 cubits off the land. A cubit was a Jewish measurement. We translate the 200 cubits and it was about one hundred yards off the land. This is a nice historical detail. See the footnote at the bottom of the page that says this.

-When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, Circle the word, “charcoal.” We also recall that Peter was near a charcoal fire in the home of Caiaphus, the high priest, the night that Peter denied Jesus three times. We are getting warm. That is, the clue is being laid for us. This resurrection story is about Peter who previously denied Jesus three times and is now going to be asked by Jesus three times, “Do you love me?” There are two charcoal fires in John: here and on the night in which Peter denied Jesus three times. Again, this is a nice historical detail.

-With fish on it, and bread. It was like the resurrected Christ was going to have fish and bread for breakfast. We recall a similar resurrection story from the Gospel of Luke that the resurrected Jesus took a piece of boiled fish and ate it so the disciples could see that he was not a bodiless ghost.

-Jesus said to them, ‘Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.’  So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, You can see the historical detail. It was Simon who went on board and hauled the net to shore. Like always, it was Peter who was making the first move.

-Full of large fish, Circle the word, “large.” We fishermen often mention the word, “large,” as we describe the fish that we caught. We are usually proud of it. The words “full” of “large” fish are nice juicy historical details. Again and again we have said that John is a fine eyewitness who gives us the truth of the situation before him or he is a cunning liar, a fabricator of details of scenes in order to create the illusion of historical authenticity.

-A hundred fifty-three of them; According to Raymond Brown, the best scholar and exegete on this text, interpreters have argued for centuries about the meaning of the number, 153. Nobody can find any legitimate and reasonable interpretation of the number 153. Brown finally concludes that an “authentic eyewitness … was present.” What does the number 153 mean? Nothing except that an eyewitness was present who counted the number of fish. “How many fish did you catch today?” We can understand that question and answer.

-And though there were so many, the net was not torn. The net in Luke 5 was torn but not this one.

-Jesus said to them, ‘Come and have breakfast.’ This is another earthy detail.

-Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, ‘Who are you?’ because they knew it was the Lord. That makes sense to us. We would keep our mouths shut too, wondering what was happening. Once again, the disciples think of Jesus as “the Lord.”

-Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. Some scholars suggest that this event was like Holy Communion but with fish rather than wine. I don’t think so. John 6 is clearly the most powerful passage in the New Testament about Holy Communion, when Jesus says “whoever ends my flesh and drinks my blood will never die.” This passage in John 21 is not about the Eucharist, from my point of view.

-This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead. Circle the word, “third.” In the Gospel of John, the first resurrection appearance was to Mary Magdalene in the garden. The second resurrection appearance was to the disciples and then doubting Thomas with the disciples. This was the third resurrection appearance: to the disciples on the Sea of Tiberias or Lake Galilee.  John was counting the number of resurrection appearances and wants us to count with him, as a way of organizing the events which have recently unfolded.

-When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, Now, we are getting to the point of the story. This story is about the rehabilitation of Simon Peter.

We know that Peter will become the spiritual leader in the church in Rome, the largest and most influential of the congregations in the early church. We know that Peter became the first pastor of the Church of Rome, its first leader, its first bishop. Also from church history, we know that Peter was crucified upside down in Rome under the persecutions of Emperor Nero in about 65-67 CE. But the story in John 21 occurs on the Sea of Tiberias thirty years before Peter became the first pastor of the church in Rome. The Apostle John would have known all of this.

-‘Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?’ Underline, “more than these.” And write “boats, nets, fish, food, family, friends.”  My guess is that Jesus was referring all of these things that were there on the shore. Why did Peter deny Jesus three times in the first place? Wasn’t it to protect his skin, to protect his own life? Wasn’t it because he instinctively did not want to die? Why didn’t Peter want to die? I think it was because he, like all of us, loved life and the things of this life such as family, friends, fish, boats, nets, etc.  Peter loved this life and he didn’t want to die. It is simple as that. That is why I think Peter denied Jesus in the first place. He loved the things of life way more than the possibility of his premature death.

Jesus also asks us that same basic question: Do you love me more than these? Do you love me more than your family, your friends, your occupation? This is a personal question for each one of us. We, too, like Peter, will come to that time and place in our lives when Jesus asks us that fundamental question: Do you love me more than these things and people?

-He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’ Good. Peter has it right.  It is wise to finally come to the point in your life where you love God/Jesus/the Lord more than your earthly possessions and relationships. Simon calls Jesus his Lord.

-Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my lambs.’ Peter becomes the good shepherd who is to feed and care for the Christian flock. That is what the faithful church of Christ always does: feeds and cares for the flock. If you love Jesus, you feed the flock. The flock of Jesus are like little lambs and need to be fed the Word, Jesus, the Bread of life.

The metaphor is about sheep and shepherds. What is the Latin word for “shepherd?” Pastor. The Latin word for shepherd is “pastor.” And what is a mark of a good pastor? To feed the lambs and the sheep. What does a good pastor feed the lambs and the sheep? The Word of God, Christ, the Scriptures, the Bible.

Baby lambs are contrasted with adult sheep in this text. Lambs are baby sheep. Pastors are to feed the lambs of the congregation. The lambs are the children of the congregation who need to be fed the Word of God which is Jesus and the Bible. The lambs, the children of the parish, are normally fed by their parents, Sunday School teachers, Christian friends, pastors and others.

Lambs can also refer to new Christians who are babes in faith. Pastors are feed new Christians the Word of life. The first purpose of a pastor’s life, of a shepherd’s life, is to feed the lambs in the congregation.

-A second time he said to him, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ We can hear the persistent sound of Tevye’s voice from the musical, FIDDLER ON THE ROOF. “Do you love me?” is a theme song in that musical.  This is the issue. Jesus wants to be assured that Peter loves him. Jesus is not sure about the reliability of Peter’s love and so Jesus asks Peter a second time, “Do you love me?”

-He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’ Jesus wants to be assured that he is loved, just as Tevye, in FIDDLER ON THE ROOF, wanted to be assured that he was loved by his wife, Golde. There are times in our lives and in our spouse’s lives where we want assurance that we are truly loved more than any one else. That is what is going on in this text. Jesus wants the assurance that Peter loves him more than anything else in the world. Today, Jesus wants assurance from you and me that we love Jesus more than anything else in our world.

-Jesus said to him, ‘Tend my sheep.’ If you love me, take care of my sheep. Feed my sheep. Take care of the flock that is entrusted to you. The way that you show that you love Jesus is to care of the people that have been entrusted to you.

Sheep are older than lambs. Sheep are adults in the flock. Pastors are not only to feed the young lambs of the parish, but to tend both the lambs and the adult sheep of the congregation. What does it mean “to tend?” To tend is to take care of the emotional and physical needs of the lambs and sheep in one’s parish. It is to give people the “T.L.C” that such people need, especially in times of pain and crisis. This is the second purpose of a pastor’s calling: to tend the needs of the lambs and sheep in his or her parish.

-He said to him the third time, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ The story is classic. Jesus is persistent. A third time Jesus asks the same basic question that Tevye asked of Golde and we often ask of each other. “Do you love me?” Today, Jesus wants assurance from us that we love God/Jesus/the Lord more than anything else in the world.

-Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, ‘Do you love me?’ We are often hurt when someone questions our deep love for them. Peter also was hurt when Jesus persisted and asked Peter three times if Peter truly loved him. Jesus had been “burnt” in the courtyard of Caiaphas before when Peter had denied Jesus three times, so Jesus rightfully had doubts about Peter’s sincerity.

-And he said to him, ‘Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.’ Peter calls Jesus, “Lord.” Yes, it has proven to be true. Jesus, our Lord, does know everything. And Jesus does know our hearts.

-Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my sheep. That is what shepherds do. Feed the sheep. And that is what pastors also do. As we know, the word, “pastor” is a Latin word, and the word “pastor” simply means shepherd. The shepherd is to feed and care for the flock. Pastors are to be good shepherds, to feed and tend the flock that has been entrusted to us.

What does it mean for us to feed and tend the flock? We are to care for those around us in need. We are to spiritually feed each other with the Bread and wine, with the Presence of Jesus, with the Bread of life, the Word, with loving relationships. Parents not only provide food for their children’s bellies but food for their children’ s souls.

-Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. When you were young, you Peter could dress yourself, and were free to go about as you wanted, but now, Peter, you are getting older …

-But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.’(He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) Bingo. This is the point of the story. We finally got to the core. To the kernel. Jesus knows everything…including the death by which Peter was going to die, by Roman crucifixion, being lifted up onto his own cross. Jesus knew that eventually, in his old age, that Simon Peter was going to die by crucifixion. It did come true. Simon Peter died a martyr’s death, on a cross, upside down, in Rome, under Nero. Peter who had denied Jesus three times at the home of Caiaphus would be faithful to Jesus onto death. Jesus knew the future and prophesied about Peter’s future faithfulness and death.

The following are quotations from Early Church Fathers about the death of Peter in Rome:

From Clement, 96 CE, “Peter, through unrighteous envy, endured not one or two, but numerous labors and when he had at length suffered martyrdom, departed to the place of glory due to him. " Clement of Rome, The First Epistle of Clement, (A.D. 96).

From Gaius, CE 198, fragment in Eusebius' Church History, "It is, therefore, recorded that Paul was beheaded in Rome itself, and that Peter likewise was crucified under Nero. This account of Peter and Paul is substantiated by the fact that their names are preserved in the cemeteries of that place even to the present day. It is confirmed likewise by Caius, a member of the Church, who arose under Zephyrinus, bishop of Rome. He, in a published disputation with Proclus, the leader of the Phrygian heresy, speaks as follows concerning the places where the sacred corpses of the aforesaid apostles are laid: 'But I can show the trophies of the apostles. For if you will go to the Vatican or to the Ostian way, you will find the trophies of those who laid the foundations of this church.' "
Gaius, fragment in Eusebius' Church History.

From Tertullian, 212 CE, “'We read the lives of the Caesars: At Rome Nero was the first who stained with blood the rising blood. Then is Peter girt by another (an allusion to John 21:18), when he is made fast to the cross." Tertullian, Scorpiace,15:3(A.D. 212).

-From Origen, Church History, 232 CE. " last, having come to Rome, he was crucified head-downwards; for he had requested that he might suffer this way."
Origen, Third Commentary on Genesis,(A.D. 232) fragment in Eusebius 3:1:1,in NPNF2,X:132.

From Origen, we hear that Peter had requested to be crucified upside down. Some scholars suggest that Peter thought that it would be too much of an honor for him to be crucified in the way Christ was crucified so he requested to be crucified upside down.

-After this he said to him, ‘Follow me.’ That is what the resurrected Christ wants from Peter and from you and me. The primary marks of discipleship are to know the voice of the shepherd and then follow the shepherd. The word, “follow,” is part of the metaphor of sheep and shepherds. A sheep knows the shepherd, knows the shepherd’s voice, and follows the shepherd in the narrow paths of righteousness and goodness. 

Here ends the gospel lesson for Easter 3C.

- Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them; he was the one who had reclined next to Jesus at the supper and had said, ‘Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?’ This statement feels like an appendix to the primary story. This seems to be an additional comment at the conclusion of the Gospel of John. Peter’s denial has been addressed. Now, there is a new theme. Peter, walking along with Jesus, turns around and sees John coming behind them.

-When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, ‘Lord, what about him?’ Jesus said to him, ‘If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? Follow me!’ Peter saw John walking behind himself and Jesus, and Peter then asked Jesus, “There is John walking behind us. What do you think about John?” Jesus replied, “If he remains here until I come, what is that to you? The important thing is to follow me.”

-So the rumor spread in the community that this disciple would not die. Yet Jesus did not say to him that he would not die, but, ‘If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?’ A false rumor had spread in the church that Jesus said that John, the Apostle, would not die, that John would live until the Second Coming, that John would not taste death like the rest of us mortals. This postscript is addressing this issue. It seems that a rumor had developed about John the Apostle, the beloved disciple, the author of the fourth gospel, the leader of the church in Ephesus. The rumor was that this great man and leader of the church would not die or taste death. The rumor was false. In this text, it is clearly stated to the members of the early church in Ephesus that Jesus never said that the Apostle John was to escape death.

-This is the disciple who is testifying to these things and has written them, and we know that his testimony is true. John identifies himself consistently in the third person e.g. the person whom Jesus loved or the person who has written down this information.

 “We” know his testimony is true. Who is the “we?” Some scholars suggest that these were disciples of John the Apostle who wrote down his final memoirs about Jesus and “they” knew that the testimony of their teacher, John the Apostle, was true.

The Gospel of John and I John were written in a beautiful Greek style, and many scholars wonder how a simple uneducated fisherman like John could have written in such a flowing, eloquent Greek style. It is assumed by these scholars that the Apostle John could not have had such literary skills to write such eloquent Greek narrative. To answer that question, some scholars hypothesize that the Gospel of John and I John were written by students of the Apostle John. These students were with the Apostle John in Ephesus at the close of his life. These scholars suggest that the Apostle John did not actually write down the words that compose the Gospel of John but the Apostle John dictated his gospel to his students who then wrote it down for him. Such scholars emphasize the “we” that is found here at the end of the gospel. “WE know his testimony is true.” The WE means the students who were with John and actually wrote down the gospel.

I John 1:1-4 also uses the word, “we.”  “We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life—this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to uswe declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.”

In this passage in I John, the pronoun “I” is not used but the pronoun, “we.” For many scholars, this would indicate that the Gospel of John and I John were written by a group of students who recorded what the Apostle John had seen and heard from Jesus.

-But there are also many other things that Jesus did; if every one of them were written down, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.  Here the pronoun is “I” again, indicating an individual authorship rather than a group authorship.

Jesus did many other things that were not recorded or written down. This feels like a second ending, the first ending being at the conclusion of Chapter 20.

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