Disciples go fishing
- 21:1 Jesus visited the disciples again, this time by the Sea of Galilee.1
- 21:2 Seven disciples were there:
Thomas who was nicknamed the Twin,
Nathaniel from the village of Cana in Galilee,
the sons of Zebedee,2
and two more disciples.
- 21:3 Simon Peter told the others, “I’m going out to do some fishing.” The others said, “We’ll join you.” So they all went out in a boat and spent the night fishing. They caught nothing.
- 21:4 The disciples were still in the boat when daylight broke. Jesus stood on the shoreline, but the disciples didn’t recognize him.
- 21:5 Jesus called out to them, “Hey boys, you didn’t catch any fish, did you?” They yelled back, “No.”
A fishing tip from Jesus
- 21:6 Jesus told them, “Toss your net off the right side of the boat and you’ll catch some fish.” So they threw the net over there and they caught so many fish they weren’t able to pull the loaded net back into the boat.
- 21:7 That’s when the disciple Jesus loved3 told Peter, “It’s the Lord!” Peter was working naked at the time. He quickly threw on his tunic and jumped into the water.
- 21:8 The other disciples came in with the boat, which was about 100 yards4 from shore. Alongside the boat they towed the net full of fish.
Jesus cooks breakfast
- 21:9 When they got to shore, they saw a fish breakfast cooking on a charcoal fire. Bread was waiting there, too.
- 21:10 Jesus told them, “Bring over some of the fish you just caught.”
- 21:11 So Simon Peter went over to the boat and helped drag the net ashore. Trapped inside were 153 large fish—enough to tear the net apart, yet the net held together.
- 21:12 Jesus told the disciples, “Come on over and have some breakfast.” Not one of the disciples could work up the courage to confirm his identity by asking, “Who are you?” But they knew he was the Lord.
- 21:13 Jesus gave them some bread and fish to eat.
- 21:14 This was the third time Jesus visited the disciples after his resurrection.
Jesus to Peter: “Do you love me?”
- 21:15 When breakfast was over, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love5 me more than these other men do?”6 Peter answered, “Yes, Lord, I love you. You know that.” Jesus said, “Take care of my lambs.”
- 21:16 Again Jesus asked, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter answered, “Yes, Lord. You know I love you.” Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”
- 21:17 For a third time Jesus asked, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was getting upset about Jesus asking him essentially the same question three times in a row: “Do you love me?” Peter said, “Lord you know everything there is to know. Come on, you know I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Take care of my sheep.
Jesus predicts Peter’s future
- 21:18 Listen up, Peter, because this is the truth. When you were young, you dressed yourself in whatever clothes you wanted to wear and you went wherever you wanted to go. But when you get old, you’re going to have to stretch out your hands. You’ll wear the clothes other people put on you and they’ll take you where you don’t want to go.”
- 21:19 Jesus said this to give Peter a hint about the way Peter would die honoring God. 7 Then Jesus told him, “Follow me.”
- 21:20 Peter turned around and saw that the disciple Jesus loved was following them. This was the disciple who, during the last supper before the crucifixion, leaned over to Jesus and asked, “Lord, who’s going to betray you?”8
- 21:21 Peter asked Jesus, “Lord, what’s going to happen to him?”
- 21:22 Jesus said, “What’s it to you? If I wanted him to stay alive until I came back, what difference would that make to you? Your focus is on following me.”
Rumor about the mystery disciple
- 21:23 Out of this conversation, a rumor developed and spread among believers everywhere. The rumor was that the disciple Jesus loved would never die. But that’s not what Jesus said about him. Jesus had simply used him as an example by saying, “If I wanted him to stay alive until I came back, what difference would that make to you?”
- 21:24 This is the disciple who witnessed all of this and who wrote it down. We know he’s an eyewitness who is telling the truth.
- 21:25 Jesus did much more than is being reported here—as if anyone could possibly report it all. If someone wrote down everything he did from beginning to end, it would fill more books than the world can hold.
The writer identifies it as the Sea of Tiberias, another name for the freshwater lake where several of the disciples had worked as fishermen: brothers Peter and Andrew and brothers James and John, the sons of Zebedee.
Also, many scholars say John 21 was not part of the original Gospel. The word choices and writing style are quite a bit different than those of the earlier 20 chapters.
James and John.
See notes for 13:23; 19:26.
About 91 meters.
In Greek, the original language of the Gospel of John, and the international language of the day, “love” was agape. It means an unconditional, whole-hearted love. Peter answers with the Greek word phileo, a love between friends, and a version of “like.” Jesus repeats the question in 21:16, getting the same answer from Peter. When Jesus asks a third time, in 21:17, he uses phileo and Peter responds with phileo.
A more literal translation of the question: “… Do you love me more than these?” Scholars are left guessing what Jesus meant by “these.” Do you love me more than you love your friends here? Do you love me more than a fish breakfast? Do you love me more than you love fishing naked all night long? Some scholars speculate Jesus was calling Peter out for his previous bragging assertion: “Even if everyone else deserts you, I won’t!” (Matthew 26:33). In fact, not only did Peter desert Jesus, he denied even knowing him three times. And a chicken called him out for that: John 18:37.
Some early Christian writers said Romans crucified Peter upside down in Rome during Nero’s persecution of Christians in the mid-AD 60s, three decades after the crucifixion of Jesus.
The Miraculous Catch of Fish, as some scholars call it, shows up in John 21 as after the Resurrection. But in Luke 5:1-11, the net-busting Catch takes place early; the miracle caused Peter, James, and John to quit fishing. “They left everything and followed Jesus” (5:11). That’s nothing like the miracle in John 21. What should we do about this apparent inconsistency?
Resurrected Jesus told the disciples earlier, in Jerusalem, he was sending them out on a mission, as his Father had sent him (20:21). So, what are they doing fishing in Galilee? What does that seem to say about the disciples, if you read this scene from only John’s Gospel?
There’s another odd thing about John’s fishing story. Jesus apparently didn’t look like Jesus. “Not one of the disciples could work up the courage to confirm his identity by asking, ‘Who are you?’ But they knew he was the Lord” (21:12). What do you make of that?
Jesus asked Peter three times if Peter loved him. What do you make of the flow of the conversation and the word choices for the different brands of “love”?
Jesus: “Do you love [agape, unconditional, whole-hearted love] me?”
Peter: “Yes, Lord…I love [phileo, love between friends, a version of “like”] you.”
Jesus: “Do you agape me?”
Peter: “Yes, Lord…I phileo you.”
Jesus: “Do you phileo me?”
Peter: “I phileo you.”
As a hint that Peter would die on a cross, John’s Gospel quotes Jesus saying, “When you get old, you’re going to have to stretch out your hands. You’ll wear the clothes other people put on you and they’ll take you where you don’t want to go” (21:18). Why would Jesus beat around the bush like that?
LIFE APPLICATION. Jesus gave Peter hints that Peter would die crucified. Then Jesus said, “Follow me” (21:19). That’s a tough road Jesus was asking Peter to take. What’s one of the toughest roads you or someone you love (agape) has had to take? And what sense, if any, did you get that Jesus was there with you?