The Gospel of John: John 21

This is it. The final week of our study of John. We have come quite a long way from Jesus being with God before time began. He was born and spent time among humanity He was crucified because the Jewish authorities did not understand who Jesus actually was. Jesus rose from the dead and appeared to his disciples. This week, we will finish this study with a look at the third and final time John records the resurrected Jesus appearing to his disciples.

Some time after the events of the previous chapter, Peter, Thomas, Nathanael, the brothers James and John, and two other disciples went out to fish. If we look to other Gospels, we learn that all of these men were experienced fishermen; for Peter, James, and John it was their profession before spending three years following Jesus. So these men returned to the life they knew before, and in this time of chaos they needed something. Jesus had returned to them, but they still were not sure of what to do. But on this evening, they caught absolutely nothing. As they returned to the shore they saw a man looking out to them. The man shouted out to them, “Cast the net on the right-hand side of the boat and you will find a catch” (John 21:6, NASB). Giving the man’s suggestion a try they did so, and caught so much fish their nets nearly broke! Then they recognized Jesus and Peter leapt from the boat and ran to Jesus, leaving the others in the boat to bring in the fish.

“To love God does not mean to meet His needs, but rather to delight in Him and to be captivated by His glorious power and grace, and to value Him above all other things on earth. All the rest of the commandments are the kinds of things that we will do from our hearts, if our hearts are truly delighted with and resting in the glory of God’s grace.”
— John Piper

When they all arrived at shore they found Jesus with a fire roasting fish and loaves. Jesus invited them in to join with him for breakfast. After eating, an exchange happens between Jesus and Peter that seems to get lost in translation. Jesus asks Peter, “Do you love me?” To which Peter responds, “You know that I love you” (John 21:15, NASB). However the word that Jesus uses is ἀγαπάω (agapaō). ἀγαπάω means love in the sense of being wrapped up in or complete adoration. This form of love seems to be that of the love you might to expect a Christian to have with Christ. However, Peter responds with φιλέω (phileō) which roughly means to have affections for. The difference between these two words could arguably be that Jesus is asking if Peter is in love with him and Peter is responding that he likes him. But the last time Jesus asks (v. 17), he uses the same word as Peter.

“Whom should we love, if not Him who loved us, and gave himself for us?”

This is an important scene for Peter. A couple of weeks ago he openly denied knowledge of Jesus to several people within the high priest’s court. This must have really messed with Peter. In other Gospels, Peter is the one to make the first recognition of Jesus as the Messiah the Jews have been waiting for. Yet, in spite of knowing this, he chose to deny that he even knew him. Peter fled and was not even present at the time of Jesus’ death. When Jesus appeared while they were fishing, he was not the disciple that recognized him. Peter, at one point, was arguably the greatest disciple but now must have felt like the lowest. I think this is why Peter responds to Jesus the way he does. Peter tells Jesus that he likes him, but does not feel like he can be in love with him. Would someone in love with Jesus do the things that Peter had done? How is it possible to reconcile between the man Peter thinks he is and the person Jesus knows he is? This is where actions become important. Peter felt his actions did not show that he loved Jesus, but Jesus knows his heart (1 Samuel 16:7). Jesus saw him leap from the boat and swim to him because Peter was too impatient to wait to get the boat ashore. Jesus knows that Peter truly loves Jesus and is calling him to be the man that he is.

Going Forward

Do you love Jesus? I find this to be a hard question to answer. I do not feel like I would be able to use ἀγαπάω to describe my relationship with Jesus. I do not pray all the time. I do not read my Bible as often as I should. I do not talk about Jesus as much as someone who loves him ought to. But does this really mean that I do not ἀγαπάω Jesus? I think Jesus is more concerned about your heart over what you do. Maybe it is not about how many hours I spend in the Word, but how many hours do I spend showing as much love as possible. After all Jesus said the greatest commandment was to love. Maybe there are too many Christians that mistake acts of piety as their love of Jesus. Maybe you are like me and are just not sure if you actually ἀγαπάω Jesus. There is hope. Jesus meets you where you are at. He knows your heart. You might feel like you are not a great Christian, but being a person of faith is not about piety; it is about loving God and loving people.

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