Follow with Renewed Purpose

O Love that Will Not Let Me Go

John 21

An Identifying miracle 21:1-6

Seven Disciples decide to go fishing <96> Peter, Thomas, Nathanael, James and John, and two others. Peter led the way, and they replied, <93>We will go with you.<94> It is quite striking how consistent this dynamic of Peter<92>s decisiveness followed by the others<92> consent is played out in the gospels.

They catch nothing – They had fished al night, but every throw of the net, no matter which side of the boat, no matter the depth of the water, failed to bring in fish. This failure was certainly the design of Providence in order to set the stage for this appearance and commissioning.

Just as morning broke, Jesus appeared and inquired about their success in fishing. Had they caught anything? Unable to say anything other than the obvious, having nothing to show for all their efforts, they answered simply, “No.”

Jesus, in the imperative mood, tells them to cast the net on the right side of the boat, with the promise that they would find some. Given the nature of all that is at stake in a life of Christian discipleship this is a small thing; it does illustrate, however, that a command from Jesus always implies the fulfillment of a promise.

Apparently, they immediately comply and Jesus performs a miracle as in Luke 5:4-11 in a similar circumstance. Remember also Jesus’ authority over the fish when he used one to provide a coin to pay the temple tax (Matthew 17:27).

Perhaps also something similar to John 6:1-14 [Also Matthew 14, Mark 6, and Luke 9].

One might also observe that the fruit of their fishing totally depended on Jesus’ rule over nature. Even so, his prior promise in Luke 5:10 that “from now on you will catch men,” totally depended on his rule over the covenant of grace.

A Joyful recognition – 21:7-13

A. Recognizing the nature of this miracle, perhaps more quickly than the others, John told Peter, “It is the Lord.” Peter lost all concern about the fish and, putting on his outer garment, jumped into the sea. This is probably the fourth time that Jesus has appeared in Peter’s presence since the resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:5; John 20:19, 26). It is the third time that he has appeared to all the disciples.

B. Jesus had prepared a fire and bread, and asked for some of the fish that he might prepare breakfast for these weary men. Several particularities of this event deserve mentioning.

1. John carefully points out that none of the men doubted who this was. They knew it was the Lord. Credible testimony as well as accumulation of evidence is an important aspect of the case that John builds throughout this book.

2. This was a charcoal fire; this was the kind of fire around which Peter warmed himself when he denied the Lord. This was purposeful by Jesus, doubtless, for such incidental things generate memories and emotion. His restoration and a concentrated personal commission would come in a setting reminiscent of his denial.

3. It involved the feeding of the disciples with bread and fish, even as he had done in the feeding of the five thousand, and the four thousand after which they had conserved the remnant. He identified himself with the infallible ability to meet every need they had.

An Honest and Humble Appraisal of Love 15-17 – We are not told if there was conversation during breakfast, but this post-breakfast conversation is highly encouraging.

Jesus asked Peter if he loved him more than the tools which had given him a productive and secure life in the past. 15  He uses the word agapaw.

Peter responds, with recognition of Jesus’ knowledge of his heart, with a word filew an exalted word for true love and friendship, but clearly not as unreserved and disinterested as agapaw; This probably came from a well-established self distrust, and not from a conscious lack of genuine love.  Peter uses agapate in 1 Peter 1:8;  in 1 Peter 1:22, he uses both words [noun form filadelfian] and agaphsate.

Jesus repeats the question and Peter responds the same way 16

Jesus repeats the question using Peter’s response word, making Peter grieve;  Peter affirms Jesus omniscience as a way of expressing his sincere awareness that he cannot speak without Jesus’ knowledge that his response is true. Though this episode was trying to Peter, Jesus saw his need of the uncovering of the layers of hesitance and doubt that assaulted his conscience. He was making Peter verbalize the reality of his love for Christ. Jesus wanted Peter to overcome his halting in a willingness to affirm this love, that he might know that, though he was sinful and given to some degree of inconsistency, the love of Christ was inextricably rooted in his heart. He was illustrating the truth to which John later testifies, “We love, because he first loved us.”

After each response, Jesus issues a call as he had to all on the occasion in Luke 5;  It is a call to place the task of gospel ministry above their former life as well as above their present life. It is clear that much of what will be done in the proclamation of the gospel and the formation of the church will focus on Peter. See his actions in the book of Acts at Pentecost (Acts 2), distribution of gifts of benevolence and detecting purposeful deceit (Acts 5:3, 9) in Samaria (Acts 8:14ff), at the house of Cornelius (Acts 10), Jerusalem council (Acts 15:7).

1. Jesus shows Peter that in the pursuit of this calling, he will indeed follow his master, for as Jesus was taken and put to death, so will Peter. He was early imprisoned with the threat of death but was delivered (Acts 5:18ff and Acts 12:1-19), but the time would come when he would not be delivered.

2. John’s comment is that in this death he would glorify God. The death of the saints is precious in the sight of the Lord and is a testimony to their preference for the presence of Christ to any of the supposed comforts and advantages of this life. The degree to which Peter was taught by the Lord to treasure the purifying effect of suffering may be seen in the rich doctrinal narrative of 1 Peter.

3. Immediately upon telling him that he would die at the hands of his enemies, of those that opposed the ministry to which he was being called, of those that would impose on him their will against his, Jesus reconfirms his call to Peter. This is a marvelous transformation that we can observe. When Jesus last made a prediction about Peter, it pointed to his failure to remain steadfast though Peter professed the courage to die; here we see Jesus predicting Peter’s courage to die, even though he is manifesting hesitance and having to be dragged along by Jesus’ insistent revelation of the love Peter has for Christ.

4. After telling him plainly that this call would cost him his life, Jesus reiterated, “Follow me.”

Each must give an account

Peter seeks to divert Jesus’ intense scrutiny and commission to someone else, John 21:20-22. In pointing to John, Peter recognized the peculiarly strong bond of friendship that existed between John and Jesus. He also anticipates that John will be deeply involved in the progress of the gospel during the apostolic era. (e.g. Acts 3:2; 4:13, 19; Galatians 2:9).

Jesus refuses to be diverted, and pursues Peter relentlessly, telling him not to be concerned with what his will is for John.  He, Peter, will not give an account for John but only for himself (22).

John closes his narrative by identifying himself with that disciple that Jesus and Peter are discussing and affirming that his testimony is true. One must see this affirmation in light of how John identifies the authority of the apostolic witness in 1 John 4:4-6. The number of events that could have been recorded of the life of Jesus would indeed be massive, so John testified. That renders his process of selection all the more important and significant for the demonstration of his claim in 20:30-31.


Jesus’ humanity subsequent to the resurrection was in tact

His divine power and knowledge still operated within his resurrected humanity

Jesus has the right and intrinsic worthiness to ask for our unalloyed love

Jesus has the right and power to determine both our life and our death

Tom has most recently served as the Professor of Historical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He previously taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he was Professor of Church History and Chair of the Department of Church History. Prior to that, he taught at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. Along with numerous journal articles and scholarly papers, Dr. Nettles is the author and editor of fifteen books. Among his books are By His Grace and For His Glory; Baptists and the Bible, James Petigru Boyce: A Southern Baptist Statesman, and Living by Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles H. Spurgeon.
Get Founders
in Your Inbox
A weekly brief of our new teaching resources.

"*" indicates required fields

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Teaching BY TYPE
Teaching BY Author
Founders Podcasts