John’s Gospel could seemingly end with 20:31, yet there is one more chapter. What is it about and why? Nearly all say that it has to do with Jesus forgiving Peter for his thrice denial of Him in chapter 18. I am not of that opinion. Chapter 21 opens with Peter announcing that he is going fishing. There were only 11 Disciples left, and Peter has just drawn 6 others to go back to fishing with him. Jesus had said early on that He was going to make them fishers of men, but here, Peter is about to practically wipe out the Apostolic band, and leave 4 to fish for men. Jesus determines to nip this in the bud immediately. They fished all night, but caught nothing.
When He shows up, He instructs them to let down their net on more time, and He fills it with 153 large fish. The typical Sea of Galilee fish was small. These 153 fish were enough to tear the net, but didn’t. The whole matter, both their not catching any fish the night before, and this catch of 153 large fish, was entirely supernatural in nature! Jesus caused all of this to happen! It was a set-up for what came next. Verses 15 thru 17 are what is key here.
Jesus asked Peter, ‘do you truly love (agape) me more than these?’ Peter, being honest, didn’t. He said, ‘Yes, Lord, you know that I love (phileo) you,’ using a lesser word for love. Jesus said, ‘Feed my lambs’, (don’t fish for yourself). He asks Peter again, ‘Do you truly love (agape) me,’ and, Peter answers the same way, ‘Yes, Lord, you know that I love (phileo) you’; still replying with a lesser love than Jesus was calling for. Jesus tells Peter, ‘Take care of my sheep’, (not your need to fish to support yourself). When Jesus asks for the third time, ‘Do you love me’, He uses Peter’s word for love (phileo), and that was what hurt, because it was a direct challenge to his claiming that he did love Jesus at least that much. Peter states it again, that he certainly does love (phileo) Jesus that much. And, so, on that basis, Jesus again tells Peter to feed His sheep, (and not to fish for himself).
The entire point of the chapter has to do with loving Jesus and serving Him in whatever capacity He would call you. Jesus wants each of us to love Him supremely, and if necessary, be willing to give up our every life’s ambition, in order to do whatever it is that we feel certain He would have us to do. Jesus needed to bring Peter to this place, as he was about to undo all the Gospel, and not take it to the world as a fisher of men, and as a pastor to feed and care for Jesus’ flock! If 20:30+31 applies to you, and you have believed and received life, then apply chapter 21 and love Jesus all that you are capable of, and ask Him what He would have you to do in service unto Him. It’s what the Book is all about!
Harold F Crowell