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A summary of my lecture on John 21 follows.
Reviewing John 20, we saw that Jesus first appeared to a woman. Then, we saw the intuitive belief of the “other disciple, who had reached the [empty] tomb first” (20:8). Finally, there was the unwillingness of Thomas to believe without seeing (20:25) and the christological climactic (20: 28) when he calls Jesus “My Lord and my God”. Belief and unbelief are one of the contrasting themes we’ve seen throughout this Gospel. Many respond to Jesus’ signs with faith (Nathanael in 1: 50; many Jews in 10:38, 42; the disciples, Mary and Martha when he raises Lazarus from the dead in 11: 15, 40; and the disciples again in 14:11); many also refuse faith without signs (the Capernaum official whose son Jesus heals remotely in 4: 48; and the crowd after the feeding of the five thousand in 6: 30). In John 8:30-31 we learned that faith must mature into discipleship – if it is to prove adequate until the end; in 20: 21 the call to discipleship was made even more explicit when Jesus commissions the disciples just as the Father sent him. Chapter 21 reinforces our spiritual reality, the call to Christian discipleship. Douglas Connolly, whose study guide John, The Way to True Life we are using in our study, titles this chapter “A Walk With a Resurrected Man.”
John 21: 1-14 – The Fish Sign – Jesus again provides food for his people – just as he did in Chapter 6 when he fed the five thousand with a few loaves of bread and fish (6:11), he now helps them catch an abundance of fish (but there’s fish already on the fire too, 21: 9 ) and has breakfast prepared for them (21: 12). This semi-sign has another meaning too following up another theme from John 15: 5: Without Jesus, we can do nothing. The disciples were not able to catch any fish that night until Jesus came early in the morning.
John 21: 15- 23 – Spiritual Food – This is the famous passage where Jesus asks Peter three times “do you love me?” According to Craig S. Keener, The Gospel of John: A Commentary, vol. 2 (p. 1237): ” Clearly, Peter is an undershepherd, but he is to reflect Jesus’ concern for his sheep more than a hireling would (10: 12-13). The point of the passage has nothing to do with a supposed difference between two Greek terms for love here but everything to do with the way love for Jesus is expressed in this Gospel: obeying him (14: 15, 21), in this case by caring for his flock the way he does, which implies self-sacrifice and potentially death (10: 11, 15; 21: 18-19).” Jesus, by foretelling Peter’s future, is also comforting him; Jesus is in control. Given Jesus’ call in 20: 21, loving Jesus requires Jesus’ servants to love Jesus’ followers. We can’t love Jesus’ followers unless we abide in Jesus (8: 30-31).
John 21: 20-23 – Eyes on Christ: Peter’s question about the future of the beloved disciple and Jesus’ rebuke is a message to us: we must keep our eyes on Christ and not become divided by loyalties to church leaders. Peter and the beloved disciple have different vocations; so do we. Just as neither is to question why their vocations should be different, neither should we. We should keep our eyes on Christ and follow him in obedience, each to her own call, but loving, encouraging, and looking out for each other.
John 21: 24-25 – Purpose of John – John has included only a selection of all that Jesus did and said and the purpose for which he did this is to “summon his audience to deeper faith.”
What does all this mean for us who believe in Jesus, give our allegiance to him, and want to be like him? How do we follow Christ, imitate him, become his disciple, a servant and friend of God? Keeping Jesus commandment to love one another, R.V.G. Tasker provides an answer “Christian love must express itself in service even for the rest of Christ’s brethren, but without love for Christ that service can never be rendered.”
Reflect on Douglas Connolly’s Now or Later questions:
1) As you have studied John’s Gospel, what aspects of Jesus’ character or ministry have impressed you most?
(one answer: Jesus’ obedience not just through his 3 years recorded in the Gospels but the 30 years before that when he lived in obscurity and poverty; and his close communion with God the Father)
2) What responses have you made in your heart and life as a result of that deeper understanding?
John 20 is about the Resurrection of Jesus Christ and three of his many, many resurrection appearances. Paul writes about Jesus’ resurrection appearances in I Corinthians 15: 1-8. Here in John we learn about his (Jesus) very first appearance to Mary of Magdala and subsequent appearances to the frightened disciples hiding in Jerusalem, and again to all the disciples and Thomas, who missed him the first time and refuses to believe the other disciples.
Mary is unable to leave the empty tomb and stays on grieving. Jesus reveals himself first to her. Mary calls him “Rabboni” and clings to him; she not only needs the evidence of sight but she “clings” to him. Jesus encourages her to go and give the disciples his message.
John’s faith comes intuitively; he sees the linen cloths in the empty tomb and instantly he understands and believes – Jesus is risen. He is God. This is full, Christian faith.
The disciples, including Peter who ran to the tomb and entered it first, see Jesus when he comes to them gathered in the Upper Room in Jerusalem. They are amazed.
Thomas is the pragmatic realist; he needs the evidence of sight! Since he wasn’t there when the other disciples saw Jesus he wants to feel Jesus wounds before he will believe that Jesus is risen. Jesus does not chastise or rebuke Thomas. Instead, he invites Thomas to feel his wounds. Thomas no longer needs to touch it seems. He kneels and acknowledges Jesus as “My Lord and my God.”
Which disciple do you think you’d have been like if you’d been there?
In response to Thomas’ worship Jesus says what has been called the greatest blessing of all: Blessed are those who believe without seeing.
Self-death was briefly discussed too, especially how is it similar or different from things like random acts of kindness, service, and self-sacrifice. I need to find a good definition for this word – self-death = dying to self and living in Christ = absolute surrender to God, doesn’t seem to be clear enough.