Teaching on the Gospel of John by Rev. Dr. Nadine Burton

“Do You Love Me?”

John Chapter 21

In this last chapter, Jesus shows himself again to the disciples. This is the third time since his resurrection that he shows himself to them. According to Boring and Craddock, “the enumeration does not count John 20:11-18; Mary Magdalene is not here counted as a disciple, here used as the equivalent of the apostle, differently from the way it is used in the body of the Gospel.”[i] This trend became prevalent in the early Catholic church and Pauline Christianity, represented by Paul in the writings in Timothy.

This time, the disciples are on the sea of Tiberias, also noted as the sea of Galilee. Peter decided to go fishing, and some of the other disciples joined him. “It is difficult to conceive that the Simon Peter who had received the Holy Spirit directly from Jesus and has been commissioned for the Christian world mission now decides to return to his old life as if nothing had happened.”[ii] They fished the entire night and caught nothing. Just after daybreak, Jesus showed up and asked them if they had caught any fish. They told him no. He instructed them to cast the net off the right side of the boat, and they would find some fish. When they cast the net, they could not haul it in because of the great catch of fish. The Disciple whom Jesus loved recognized that it was Jesus and told Peter. When Peter hears that it is the lord, he jumps into the sea and swims to shore. “Peter is again first on the scene, but again the Beloved Disciple is the first to have insight into what really happened.”[iii]  The other disciples stayed in the boat and dragged the catch of fish, as they were not far from land.

By the time the disciples got to shore, they saw a charcoal fire with fish on it. Jesus asked them to bring some of the fish. Peter hauled the fish (one hundred and fifty-three to be exact), and the net still did not break. “The disciples, who have been called ‘fishers of men’ now draw in a large number of all kinds of fish…here is an expression of the inclusiveness of the Johannine church that includes Jew and Gentile, slave and free, male and female, and a plurality of Christian traditions.”[iv] Jesus encouraged the disciples to come and have breakfast. He took the fish and bread and gave it to them. They did not dare ask if it was Jesus because they knew it was him.

When they finished eating breakfast Jesus turned his attention to Peter. He asked him three times if he loved him. The first time Jesus asked him if he loved him more than the other disciples. Peter’s first response was, “Yes, Lord, you know I love you.” Jesus’ response was for him to feed his lambs. The second time Jesus asked him, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?”  Simons responds, “Yes, Lord, you know I love you.” Jesus’ response to him was to tend his sheep. Finally, Jesus said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” Peter felt hurt this time because this was the third time he asked him this question, which could be a reminder that Peter denied Jesus three times. This time he responds, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.”

Jesus responds for Peter to feed his sheep. “Love for Jesus is expressed in care for his flock. Peter is here three times, commissioned to shepherd the flock of God. Petrine leadership of the whole church as a symbol for its apostolicity and unit was becoming dominant in some streams of Christianity in John’s time.”[v] Remember that John’s community revered the beloved Disciple over Peter. However, Peter’s leadership gained respect in the universal church. What does this tell us about leadership? “The beloved Disciple has never denied Jesus but has always been following. He was present when Peter denied Jesus but remained faithful. He was the only male Disciple present at the cross when others had fled.”[vi]

Jesus then begins to explain what happens in the care of a young person and an older person, signifying that when he gets old, someone else will have to take care of him. The scripture explains that Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which he (Peter) would glorify God, via “stretch out your hands.” By the time the fourth gospel was written, Peter had died a martyr’s death in Rome, according to reliable tradition, crucified upside down in Nero’s arena, at the site where the basilica named for him was later built.[vii] After these sayings, Jesus said to him, “Follow Me.” This command reminds us of the call to discipleship in all four Gospels. It is good news for all of us that Jesus goes out of his way to restore us and renew our commission to serve him.[viii]   

Peter turned and saw the Disciple whom Jesus loved and asked Jesus, “What about Him?”  Jesus responds, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? Follow me.”  The rumor mill picked up this saying and thought Jesus meant that this Disciple would not die. However, that is not what Jesus said. This is the explanation that the writer gives to this explanation. It is the same one whom Jesus loved, and the same one testifying to the things that were written in this gospel. “The Beloved Disciple did not die a martyr’s death, but in his long life he became the mediator of the word of the living Christ that continues to call the church into being and send it forth on its mission.”[ix] The gospel writer ends by saying that there are so many other things that could have been written, and if they were written, the world would not be able to contain the books that would be written. “While this may be an exaggeration, it may indicate that there were other books written containing Jesus’ life and teaching.”[x]

This is the last chapter in the gospel of John. It has been a journey to walk through these past twenty-one chapters over the last year. I have grown in my understanding and imagination in reading and chronicling the life of Jesus, His death, burial and resurrection, and the disciples. Along with the brilliance of Fred Craddock and Eugene Boring’s interpretative lens, I was most intrigued by Jesus’ interactions with the religious leaders. Jesus did not have as many issues with folk outside of the synagogue, temple, and government places, as he did with religious leaders. He healed those who desired it and some who didn’t know they needed it. He ushered in a new way of life for those who would believe in His truth and the truth of His Father. He modeled the unity between him and his Father and promised after his earthly departure that he would send another comforter to walk with them and all those who believed in his name. John explicated his Christology, as an eyewitness to his mission – that he truly was and is the Son of God. And that’s that on that!


[i] Boring and Craddock, pg. 361.

[ii] Ibid., 360.

[iii] Ibid.

[iv] Ibid., 361.

[v] Ibid.

[vi] Ibid.

[vii] Ibid.

[viii] Ibid.

[ix] Ibid., 362.

[x] Ibid.