By this time, Jesus has been crucified and resurrected, and has revealed Himself to the Twelve Disciples personally at least twice. Chapter 20 ends with verses 30-31: "Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name." Sounds fairly final, doesn't it? It sounds like John is signing off. So the first big question about chapter 21 is: why is it even there at all?
After this Jesus revealed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias, and he revealed himself in this way. Simon Peter, Thomas (called the Twin), Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples were together. Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing. (John 21:1-3 ESV)When Jesus first called the Disciples, most of them were fishermen. He never told them to return to being fishermen, at least not fishers of fish. Don't they sound discouraged in these verses? They seem at a loss as to what to do with themselves, so they decide to go back to what they know. Why were they so discouraged? Jesus had risen from the dead! The text doesn't really say... all we can do is speculate.
Just as day was breaking, Jesus stood on the shore; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, “Children, do you have any fish?” They answered him, “No.” He said to them, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in, because of the quantity of fish. (John 21:4-6 ESV)Why would the Disciples obey such stupid advice from a stranger? Granted, it had worked for them once, but in that case they had been listening to Jesus' teachings and may have had some idea that He was something special. This was just some stranger yelling at them from the shore... why would they even entertain the idea of doing what he was saying? They didn't even realize it was Jesus yet:
That disciple whom Jesus loved therefore said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his outer garment, for he was stripped for work, and threw himself into the sea. (John 21:7 ESV)Why didn't anyone but John (he calls himself "That disciple whom Jesus loved" in his Gospel) figure out that it was Jesus? It was so like the other time that Jesus had given them a miraculous catch that it should have been unmistakable. I also wonder if Peter might have been thinking that maybe he would be able to walk on the water again, but then when he didn't got too embarrassed to just climb back into the stupid boat!
When they got out on land, they saw a charcoal fire in place, with fish laid out on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” (John 21:9-10, ESV)Where did Jesus get His charcoal? Did He buy some on the way? Did He materialize it out of thin air?
How did He start the fire? Matches? Lightning?
Where did Jesus get His fish? Did He go fishing and catch them? Did He call them out of the sea and they just jumped out? Did He materialize them out of nowhere when He materialized His charcoal?
Why didn't He bring enough fish? Why did He need to get some from the Disciples' catch?
So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, 153 of them. And although there were so many, the net was not torn. (John 21:11 ESV)The risen-from-the-dead Jesus Christ is sitting there with them cooking them breakfast. Who's the nut who's counting fish?
When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” (John 21:15 ESV)"Do you love me more than these..." what? Other disciples? Tasty fish sandwiches? I wish I could see what Jesus was pointing at when He said that.
(I won't even TRY to sort out all of the interpretations of why Jesus used different words for "love" and "lambs/sheep" in the Greek version of this passage. That ground's been covered a zillion times already!)
Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me.” (John 21:18-19 ESV)Isn't it weird that John recorded this? It seems like a rather personal moment to me. We have historical accounts of the fates of the Disciples (including Peter), but the Bible doesn't really record them. I wonder if the whole reason this chapter is even in the Bible at all is because people had heard that Jesus said John would not die until Jesus returned (see the next few verses) and John just wanted to set the record straight.
Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written. (John 21:25 ESV)Now, what's more mysterious than ending a book about Jesus that way? "There's a lot more to tell, but I'm going to quit right now. Good luck finding out the rest of it!" And maybe John is hyperbolizing a little bit, but I think back to my life (and I'm older than Jesus was when He died) and if someone managed to write down everything that I've ever done, the book would most definitely not fill up the entire world. So either this is a bit of an exaggeration, or Jesus was a much busier fellow than anyone has realized.
But you know, I think the mystery is perfect for the last chapter of the last of the Gospel accounts. It's a good reminder that although we can know lots of things about Jesus, we're never going to know everything. There's always going to be something we don't understand, because Jesus is God. And God is something more than we are. Even if someone did write that world-filling book, and even if we read it cover to cover — there would still be more to know. Jesus Himself was a mystery which was revealed (see Ephesians 3:1-13) but I think the mystery that is Jesus probably always going to be a little bit bigger than our created human brains can handle.
That's OK with me. I love a good mystery!
(This post was named after a Michael Card song (Listen on Spotify or Rhapsody) which I think captures the mysterious flavor of the story quite well!)
Is this chapter mysterious to you? Do you have questions about it that I haven't answered, or answers to my questions? A personal theory about the sheep and the lambs, or Peter's prophecy, or Jesus' charcoal fire? Sound off below by clicking the "Comment" link!