John 21:1-25 Exploring the Passage

Below are some preliminary questions to assist in the study of this passage. For a comprehensive study of the passage, download the Study Guide (PDF download).

1. Compare this present passage of John 21 (note, especially, verses 3-6 printed below) with Luke 5:4-11 (printed below)

Simon Peter said to them, I am going fishing. They replied, We will come with you. So they went out and got into the boat; but that night they caught nothing. (4) At daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. (5) Jesus called out to them, Children, do you have any fish? They answered him, No. (6) Then he said to them, Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some. They did so, and now they were not able to haul in the net because of the large number of fish. (John 21:3-6)

When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, Go out into the deep, and let down your nets for a catch. (5) Simon answered and said, Master, we labored all night and caught nothing. However, because you say so, I will let down the nets. (6) When they had done this, they caught such a great amount of fish that their nets were breaking. (7) So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them. They came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink. (8) But Simon Peter, when he saw it, fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord. (9) He said this because he and all who were with him in the boats were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken; (10) and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. Then Jesus said to Simon, Fear not; from now on you shall catch men. (11) After they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed him. (Luke 5:4-11)

The incident described in John 21 took place “by the sea of Tiberias,” located on the west side of the sea of Galilee near the town of Tiberias. We find these men once more gathered together in their old familiar surroundings as partners and associates in the fishing industry. Now at Peter’s initiative, they set out on a fishing excursion—but the entire night is spent without success: they caught nothing. But with the first rays of early morning sunlight, the men can distinguish a solitary figure standing on the beach. The man on the beach now instructs them to cast their nets on the right side of the boat, assuring them that by so doing they will have a catch of fish. It is the beloved disciple, John, who is the first to recognize the true identity of the stranger on the beach: it is Jesus. In both Luke 5 and here in John 21 we find the disciples in the same place and engaged in the same activity—and in both instances we find the Lord Jesus seeking them out, calling them to serve Him as His disciples.

2. Why do you suppose we find the disciples reverting back to their former lifestyle and occupation?

At the conclusion of the Passover celebration in Jerusalem, it would be quite natural for the disciples to return to their homes in Galilee. Furthermore, they may still have had some fear of the Jews. But notice their failure to comprehend what Jesus had said to them (John 20:21) and their ignoring of what Jesus had commanded them (Luke 24:49). They have gravitated back to their former home and their former occupation, they are drifting back and settling into their old way of life. The “Jesus experience” is quickly wearing away; now that they have had their encounter with the risen Christ, they are settling back into the old familiar routine. Just as Jesus initially called these men to discipleship, so now He renews that call.

3. What question does Jesus ask Peter (see verse 15a printed below?) Note, also, Matthew 26:33 (printed below)

After they finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these others love me? (John 21:15a)

Peter replied, Even if all of them fall away on account of you, I never will. (Matthew 26:33)

Jesus addresses to Peter the question, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these others love me?” From the particular Greek word for “love” that He here uses, it is clear that Jesus is asking, “Peter, do you have a greater love/devotion to Me than do these other men?” Jesus is alluding to Peter’s self-confident claim he had made on the night when Jesus had announced His impending arrest (note Matthew 26:33). Note: two different Greek words for “love” are used by Jesus and Peter respectively in this dialogue. Jesus begins by using the word that connotes a devotional love; a self-giving, sacrificial love; it is the word for love that occurs in John 3:16. Peter consistently uses the word that connotes affection, warm feelings and friendship—the Greek word for “friend” is derived from this word for “love.”

4. How does Peter respond to Jesus’ question (see verse 15b printed below?)

He replied, Yes, Lord, you know that I love you. (John 21:15b)

Peter replies to Jesus’ inquiry, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you!” (Again, Peter is using the word that denotes an affectionate, friendship type of love.) Peter strongly affirms his affection for Jesus and appeals to Jesus’ own knowledge as proof of that affection—even though the actual record of Peter’s actions indicates a betrayal and denial of such affection and friendship. (Proverbs 17:17a tells us that “a friend loves at all times;” this is in striking contrast to Peter’s denial of the Lord three times on the night of His arrest and trial.) Peter chooses to ignore the record and appeals rather to Jesus’ knowledge of the deep feelings of affection and friendship that Peter holds within his heart for the Lord Jesus.

5. Describe the scene involving Peter and John recorded in verses 19c-22 (printed below). What does this tell us about Peter’s ability to carry out Jesus’ command to follow Him?

Jesus said to him, Follow me. (20) Peter, turning around, saw that the disciple whom Jesus loved was following them. (This is the one who had leaned back on Jesus’ chest at the supper and had asked, Lord, who is going to betray you?) (21) Upon seeing him, Peter asked Jesus, Lord, what about this man? (22) Jesus answered him, If I want him to remain alive until I come back, what is that to you? Follow me. (John 21:19c-22)

Jesus gave Peter the command, “Follow me.” Apparently, to impress upon Peter this renewed call to discipleship, Jesus at this point got up and began to walk away. Peter, literally heeding the Lord’s call and desiring to demonstrate his commitment, got up and began to follow Jesus. But as he does so, Peter begins to wonder about the rest of the group: he turns around, he sees John also following, and he inquires, “Lord, what about this man?” Notice what has just happened: within moments of responding to Christ’s call, Peter has failed again. He has literally stopped following Christ and has turned his back on Christ. As Peter stands there in this embarrassing position with his back to Christ and his finger pointing at John, Jesus declares, “Why should that matter to you? You follow Me!”