John 20 – 21

The Resurrection and Appearances of Christ
John 20 – 21
Christ's Resurrection. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is vital to Christianity because it is the proof that our sins are gone, and that God is satisfied with the work of Calvary. The Lord rose bodily from the dead, not merely in spirit, as some have taught through the ages. When Paul summed up the gospel that he preached, he said that he preached Christ who died, was buried, and had risen from the dead; 1 Corinthians 15:3-4; 17, Romans 10:9. When comparing Christianity to other religions we should ask ourselves: where is Confucius? Where is Buddha? Where is Muhammad? They are all dead. We have a Savior who was raised from among the dead - His tomb is empty. Christ's suffering and death was the payment of our debt, but His resurrection is the receipt that proves our debt was paid; “raised for our justification” (Rom. 4:25). Not only is the resurrection critical to justification, but Paul shows that it is also critical to the resurrection of believers, because Christ is "risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept" (1 Cor. 15:20). It is really a cornerstone of the Christian faith; "but if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins" (1 Cor. 15:17). What would we have for our faith if the gospels said nothing of Christ's resurrection?

The Lord Appears to Mary Magdalene (20:1-18)

And on the first day of the week Mary of Magdala comes in early morn to the tomb, while it was still dark, and sees the stone taken away from the tomb. 2 She runs therefore and comes to Simon Peter, and to the other disciple, to whom Jesus was attached, and says to them, They have taken away the Lord out of the tomb, and we know not where they have laid him. vv.1-2 The Stone Rolled Away. Mary Magdalene come to the tomb in the early hours (probably between 4 AM and 6 AM) while it was still dark. It was “on the first day of the week”, which began at our 6 PM of the previous day. It shows her devotion to Christ! Mary Magdalene (of of whom the Lord cast seven demons, representing complete bondage) is characterized by affection for and devotion to Christ. Mary of Bethany on the other hand is characterized by intelligence as a result of nearness to Christ. It was she who anointed the Lord’s body for burial in John 12. Mary of Bethany is conspicuously absent from the Lord’s tomb; she had already prepared Jesus’ body for burial! But was see in Mary Magdalene a strong devotion to Christ; an attachment that could not be broken by death! She found the stone rolled away from the tomb, and ran immediately to Simon Peter and John (who styles himself “the other disciple, to whom Jesus was attached”) to tell them the body of Jesus was gone. She jumped to a conclusion that the body was stolen; “They have taken away the Lord out of the tomb, and we know not where they have laid him.” Her mind did not comprehend the possibility of resurrection. Notice that the resurrection of Christ took place in the night time, when man could not see. Like the three dark hours on the cross, this too was a scene not intended for the eyes of man, when “Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father” (Rom. 6:4).
3 Peter therefore went forth, and the other disciple, and came to the tomb. 4 And the two ran together, and the other disciple ran forward faster than Peter, and came first to the tomb, 5 and stooping down he sees the linen cloths lying; he did not however go in. 6 Simon Peter therefore comes, following him, and entered into the tomb, and sees the linen cloths lying, 7 and the handkerchief which was upon his head, not lying with the linen cloths, but folded up in a distinct place by itself. 8 Then entered in therefore the other disciple also who came first to the tomb, and he saw and believed; 9 for they had not yet known the scripture, that he must rise from among the dead. vv.3-9 Peter and John at the Tomb. Peter and John ran together to the tomb. It is noted that John outran Peter, but waited for Peter to enter the tomb first. The key to understanding John’s speed (apart from his natural youth, likely between 17 and 20 years) may be in the way John styles himself; “the other disciple, whom Jesus loved” (v.2). Appreciating the Lord’s love for us will produce far more spiritual energy than our own determination to follow Christ. However, John’s timidity held him back from entering the tomb, or perhaps his respect for Peter as an older man, and this meant John had only a partial picture; “he sees the linen cloths lying”. Peter’s boldness led him straight in, and he had the fill picture; “the linen cloths lying, and the handkerchief which was upon his head, not lying with the linen cloths, but folded up in a distinct place by itself”. These details are given to show that Jesus’ body was not stolen away hurriedly. He rose from the dead in a controlled and orderly fashion!1 John followed Peter inside, and he also saw the empty tomb, the state of the grave-clothes, and he too believed that Jesus’ body was truly gone. While no doubt it is inferred that Peter believed, it says here John believed. But they believed when they saw the signs, not because of the Word of God. It says that both Peter and John “had not yet known the scripture, that he must rise from among the dead”. We might wonder how this could be, seeing that Jesus had told them, or others in their presence, many times (John 2:18-22; Matthew 12:39-40; 16:21; John 10:17, 18). It is one thing to hear the scripture, but another thing to know them. How far the belief in v.8 goes is hard to day. It would seem that they believed Mary’s report, but did not really grasp that Jesus was risen; “But Peter, rising up, ran to the sepulchre, and stooping down he sees the linen clothes lying there alone, and went away home, wondering at what had happened” (Luke 24:12).2 It would seem that Peter and John required not only the negative proofs that the body of Jesus was gone, but the appearance to the risen Lord to make them truly understand what Jesus had said.
10 The disciples therefore went away again to their own home. 11 But Mary stood at the tomb weeping without. As therefore she wept, she stooped down into the tomb, 12 and beholds two angels sitting in white garments, one at the head and one at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain. vv.10-12 Two Angels. The Spirit of God brings out a helpful contrast between the two disciples (Peter and John) and Mary. The disciples believed that Jesus was risen, but this knowledge was not enough to hold them at the tomb; they “went away again to their own home”. Mary on the other hand was ignorant of the resurrection. All she knew was that the body was gone, but her affection for Christ was superior to the disciples. She stood outside the tomb, weeping. Her heart was so attached to Christ that nothing could distract her attention. Christ Himself was her home; she had no other place to go, and she entered the tomb. The sight that greeted her was “two angels sitting in white garments, one at the head and one at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain”. This reminds us of the very construction of the ark (Ex. 25:19-20), two angels, one at the head and the other at the foot of the mercy seat, looking down at the mercy seat, looking for the sprinkled blood. These two angels were looking down at the place where the body of Jesus had lain; the work had been finished, and as proof of it, the dead Christ was raised from among the dead!
How many angels were there? By comparing all four gospels we see that there were two angels. The soldiers saw only one angel in the night. Mary Magdalene saw two angels "while it was yet dark" (John 20:1). After sunrise, the other Mary and Salome saw one angel outside the tomb saying "Come, see the place..." (Matt. 28:6) and another inside saying "Behold the place" (Mark 16:6). The other women saw two angels after they arrived (Luke 24:4). How many angels were there? Two. However, the two are not always mentioned together.
13 And they say to her, Woman, why dost thou weep? She says to them, Because they have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid him. 14 Having said these things she turned backward and beholds Jesus standing there, and knew not that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus says to her, Woman, why dost thou weep? Whom seekest thou? She, supposing that it was the gardener, says to him, Sir, if thou hast borne him hence, tell me where thou hast laid him, and I will take him away. 16 Jesus says to her, Mary. She, turning round, says to him in Hebrew, Rabboni, which means Teacher. vv.13-16 Jesus Appears to Mary Magdalene. The angels asked Mary why she was weeping. Her simple reply revealed both her ignorance, and her deep affection for Christ. The cause of her weeping was that she could no longer have the Jesus she had come to love. She was ignorant of His resurrection. She was weeping because she did not understand what had taken place. So Jesus approached Mary, and asked “Woman, why dost thou weep? Whom seekest thou?” Mary thought thought He was “the gardener”, and apparently turned back toward the tomb (v.16). Her ignorance blinded her as to this One’s true identity. She was looking for one who had died, not One who had risen!3 One word was all that Jesus needed to turn her around again; “Mary”. His sheep knew His voice, when He called her by name. She turned, and saw the Lord. We need to be reoriented as well. We need to realize that Jesus is risen, and that He is not just the gardener. He would then explain (vv.17-18) what wonderful changes had taken place. But the beautiful lesson with Mary is this: affection for Christ is met by gracious revelation.
Are You Seeking a Risen Jesus? Often in the experience of a young convert, especially a person who was saved from a legal background, there is something similar to Mary’s experience. In her sorrow, she failed to grasp the reality of Christ’s resurrection. She was grasping after a dead Christ, because that was all she had known. When a soul first realizes that all their rules and regulations are wiped away in the cross of Christ, there is a sense of loss. They feel that, in a sense, their life is over; “They have taken away my Lord”. How am I going to get along without those things? The solution is to realize that Jesus is risen! Our association with Him is on resurrection ground, not on the ground of nature or man’s religion. Are you looking for a Jesus “after the flesh” (2 Cor. 5:16)? In the new creation, we don’t know Christ in that way. This is the message that the book of Hebrews presents! We have something better in Christianity.
17 Jesus says to her, Touch me not, for I have not yet ascended to my Father; but go to my brethren and say to them, I ascend to my Father and your Father, and to my God and your God. 18 Mary of Magdala comes bringing word to the disciples that she had seen the Lord, and that he had said these things to her. vv.17-18 The Message from the Risen Christ. Although Mary was not the most intelligent disciple, her devotion shines brightest of them all! And as God “is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him” (Heb. 11:6), this wonderful message – the greatest that man has ever heard – was committed to Mary. The message that Jesus gave to Mary, part of which she was to bring to the disciples (a picture of the assembly) has several parts:
  1. “Touch me not”. Mary was not touch the Lord because although He was the same Person she had come to love, He was not what she was grasping after. Before the cross, Christ was presented to Israel as their Messiah, the One who could make good Israel’s hopes. But as Christians, we are not to persist in thinking of the Lord as only an earthly Messiah (see 2 Cor. 5:16). Note: it isn’t that the Lord didn’t want human contact (v.27; Matt. 28:9; Luke 24:39), but rather He was making a symbolical point to Mary.
  2. “Not yet ascended”. The glorification of Christ (and the consequent sending of the Holy Ghost) is in view. It is as a glorified man in heaven that Christ is the head of the Church. The spirit of our Lord was with the Father after He died, but ascension implies that He would go to the Father bodily.
  3. “Go to my brethren”. The disciples are associated with Christ in resurrection as His “brethren”. In Christianity we are brought into the new creation race of which Christ is the head; “For both he that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified are all of one: for which cause he is not ashamed to call them brethren” (Heb. 2:11).
  4. “My Father and your Father, my God and your God”. The disciples are given to share Christ’s own relationship with God as Father. This truth is of paramount importance; that we know God as our Father. This is not a relationship that Old Testament saints enjoyed. Abraham and Isaac knew God as El-Shaddai. Israel knew God as Jehovah. But we can call God our Father; “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Eph. 1:3). This is true because we have eternal life, and the Holy Spirit as the power of that life. It is this truth that gathers the disciples together (v.19; see John 11:52).
A Synopsis of Events. By comparing all four gospels, we get a comprehensive outline of the events that unfolded surrounding the resurrection of Christ, the angelic appearances, and the appearances of Christ. Often these passages are picked at by infidel scoffers to undermine faith in the Divine record. When we study it, all the details fit together perfectly, and yet each gospel maintains its own slant. Following is a brief synopsis. On what was our Saturday evening, at "the dusk of the next day after sabbath", the two Marys came to the sepulchre, and then went home (Matt. 28:1). Apparently, they brought spices with them (Mark 16:1), and left them there. Early the next morning "when it was still dark" (John 20:1), Mary Magdalene came and saw the stone removed and the body gone. She ran to tell Peter and John. Peter and John came to the tomb to investigate, but did not know the scripture, and therefore remained dumbfounded. They returned home. However, Mary remained by the tomb weeping. She stooped down to look in and saw two angels, one at the head and the other at the foot of where the Lord had lain (John 20:12). This was a special vision, which only Mary Magdalene saw. The two angels asked her why she was weeping. Then the Lord appeared to Mary Magdalene in the garden (although she didn't recognize Him at first), and told her to go to the disciples and declare that He was about to ascend to His Father and their Father, to His God and their God. Mark 16:10 makes it clear that Jesus "appeared first to Mary of Magdala". Then, after "the rising of the sun", the other Mary and Salome arrived (the three are grouped together in the synoptic gospels). One angel was outside the tomb, which Matthew notes as saying "Come, see the place where the Lord lay." Mark speaks of the other angel (called a man) sitting at the right side of the place, who says "Behold the place where they laid him". Both angels are accounted for. Mary the wife of Cleopas and Salome (Joanna) get a different message from Mary Magdalene; "But go, tell his disciples and Peter, he goes before you into Galilee; there shall ye see him, as he said to you" (Mark 16:7). Then other women arrived who had travelled from Galilee, grouped with the former three, but called "the others with them" (Luke 24:10). These women apparently brought more spices in addition to those brought by the women on the previous evening (Luke 24:1). These ones also stood dumbfounded for a moment, and then "two men suddenly stood by them in shining raiment" (Luke 24:4). It would be the same two angels, now together again. These other women receive still yet a different message; more of a rebuke for their not believing the Lord's words. All the women went together to the eleven apostles (Luke 24:10). At first, they ran with the mixed emotions of fear and joy. But then Jesus met them on the way, saying "Hail" (rejoice), and "fear not" (Matt. 28:8-10). The women delivered their respective messages, but the eleven refused to believe them (Mark 16:11). Peter rose up, and perhaps a few others with him (Luke 24:24), and went to the tomb again, but was still bewildered; i.e. he "wondered at these things" (Luke 24:12). When Peter returned from his second visit, the Lord met him and had a private interview (Luke 24:34). After that, the Lord appeared to the two on the road to Emmaus (Mark 16:12; Luke 24:13-35), and then "that same day at evening" to the apostles gathered behind closed doors (John 20:19).

The Lord’s First Appearance to the Disciples: The Assembly Pictured (20:19-23)

19 When therefore it was evening on that day, which was the first day of the week, and the doors shut where the disciples were, through fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in the midst, and says to them, Peace be to you. v.19 The Lord Appears. It was at the very end of that first day of the week, the resurrection day, when Jesus appeared to the disciples. There are many things in this verse that typify a change. The Sabbath, which was so prominent in Judaism, is set aside in Christianity, and now the highlight of the believer’s week is the first day of the week; which we believe is the same day called “the Lord’s day” (Rev. 1:10). The Sabbath looked forward to Israel’s rest in the Millennium, but the first day of the week looks back on the resurrection of Christ as the beginning of a new creation. We find also that “the doors shut where the disciples were, through fear of the Jews”. It seems that the testimony of Mary brought the disciples together, but the fear of the Jews made them shut the doors. Likely the disciples feared they would become a target of persecution as well. But the doors being shut symbolizes a change for the disciples as well: a separation from Judaism. The doors were closed on that religious system that cast out the Son of God. If only the church had kept this doors closed! When Jesus appeared, He “came and stood in the midst”. It is amazing the closed doors were no impediment to the resurrection-body of Jesus! “It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body” (1 Cor. 15:44). Notice that Jesus appeared “in the midst”. The Lord Jesus is the focal point in Christianity; the Shepherd of one flock, the gathering center of the Church (Matt. 18:20). The disciples were afraid, but Jesus says “Peace be to you”. No doubt there was a peace of heart and soul that the disciples needed at that time, but in a broader sense, the resurrection of Christ is the foundation of our peace with God (Rom. 4:24 – 5:1). This peace it is connected with the Lord showing them His hands and side. Note that this expression became a standard greeting among early believers, and is found in the introduction of many New Testament epistles.
20 And having said this, he shewed to them his hands and his side. The disciples rejoiced therefore, having seen the Lord. v.20 The Lord Identifies Himself. The Lord then identified Himself to the disciples by showing to them “his hands and his side”. They say the marks of the cross upon His body. It is amazing that God saw fit that those marks would be there even in resurrection; even in His “body of glory” (Phil. 3:21)! The marks in the Lord’s hands and side proved that it was really Him. The disciples knew that Jesus was truly risen from the dead, but their joy was at seeing Him again; “The disciples rejoiced therefore, having seen the Lord”. This is also typical of Christianity in general. We look back on the finished work of Christ, and this gives us reason to rejoice!
21 Jesus said therefore again to them, Peace be to you: as the Father sent me forth, I also send you. v.21 The Disciples’ Sent Forth. Jesus again spoke those words to His disciples; “Peace be to you”. The first instance (v.19) seems to be in connection with the disciples own state of soul, and the second (v.21) is in connection with the commission that Jesus would give the disciples; “as the Father sent me forth, I also send you”. It is like the Lord was giving the disciples the shoes of peace, with which they might shod their feet (Eph. 6:15). We might ask, what had the Father sent the Son to do? “And we have seen and do testify that the Father sent the Son to be the Savior of the world” (1 John 4:14). The disciples would be sent forth with the message of the gospel, and it is on the basis of peace with God. In a sense the theme of the gospel is the Son as the Sent One of the Father, to speak the words, do the works, and reflect the character of the Father; and now a similar mission is given to the disciples.
22 And having said this, he breathed into them, and says to them, Receive the Holy Spirit: v.22 The Breath of Resurrection Life. This is admittedly a difficult passage to understand. Many think this was either a “second quickening” or a “preliminary indwelling” of the Spirit for the disciples. Neither are true. John 7:39 tells us that the Holy Ghost would be given after Jesus was glorified, not before. It is important to see that when Jesus breathed on them saying “Receive ye Holy Spirit”, they were not receiving the Holy Ghost personally as on the Day of Pentecost. The definite article (“the”) isn’t there. The Lord Jesus was doing an action in the pattern of Gen. 2:7; “And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.” God breathed natural life into Adam, and he became a creation. Here, Christ as “the last Adam” was made a “quickening spirit” (1 Cor. 15:45), communicating His own life to the disciples, making them a new creation! As another has said, they were receiving “the energy of His own risen life”.4 It is a similar thought as “the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus” (Rom 8:2). Christ was bringing the life they already had by new birth into identification with His risen life, so forming “one plant”. This is not the personal indwelling of the Spirit, and that is why the apostles didn’t have external power for testimony through signs and miracles until Acts 2. External power for testimony had to wait until the Comforter was come (John 15:26-27). In fact, they were told by our Lord to wait in Jerusalem “until ye be endued with power from on high” (Luke 24:49; Acts 1:8). In John 20 it is an internal energy in connection with the risen life of Christ. The two events were separate in the experience of the disciples, and they are simultaneous for us who are saved after Pentecost. But the separation of the events helps us to understand the difference between the Spirit’s role as the power of our life in the Son (John 20) and the indwelling of the Spirit (Acts 2).5678
23 whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted to them; whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained. v.23 Remitting and Retaining Sins. There is a privilege and a responsibility that comes with receiving the risen life of Christ. The disciples together (the “ye”), and by extension all those thenceforward who received the resurrection life of Christ, would have the power of Christ invested in them for the administrative forgiveness or retention of sins. This cannot mean eternal forgiveness of sins, because God only can forgive sins. But in an administrative sense, Christ would lend His authority to those who shared His life, and they could act on earth in the judgment of sins. We see this more particularly connected with the local assembly in Matt. 18:15-20. We have instances of this kind of judgment in the case of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-11), Simon Magus (Acts 8:20-23), the fornicator at Corinth (1 Cor. 5:3-5,12-13; 2 Cor. 2:10), and Hymenaeus and Alexander (1 Tim. 1:20). The case of Corinth is particularly special because we have both sides of this: the binding of sin on the individual (1 Cor. 5), and the loosing of that sin (2 Cor. 2). This answers to the retaining and remitting of sins. However, in John it is not presented as an administrative exercise, but as a vibrant expression of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus in the believer. The remitting of sins comes first, and it seems to be connected with the message that the disciples would take as sent by the Lord.
Elements of the Assembly. We have many of the elements of the assembly here, although it was not yet formed because Pentecost was not come.
  1. The first day of the week (v.19)
  2. Separation from Judaism (v.19)
  3. Gathered with the Lord in the midst, etc. (v.19)
  4. Peace in the soul and in service (v.19)
  5. Looking back on the finished work of Christ, the joy resulting (v.20)
  6. Sent out to this world with the gospel of peace (v.21)
  7. Resurrection life enjoyed by the power of the Holy Spirit (v.22) 
  8. Power to remit and retain sins (v.23)

The Lord’s Second Appearance to the Disciples: The Jewish Remnant Pictured (20:24-29)

24 But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus [‘twin’], was not with them when Jesus came. 25 The other disciples therefore said to him, We have seen the Lord. But he said to them, Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and put my finger into the mark of the nails, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe. vv.24-25 Thomas’ Doubt. There was one disciple absent when the Lord appeared and said these things to the disciples. “But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came.” Perhaps Thomas was in a poor state of soul, or was otherwise downcast and pessimistic as he was known to be (John 11:16). Whatever the reason for his absence, Thomas missed out on the blessed joy that the others experienced. Thomas represents the Jewish remnant of the last days; absent when the disciples (picturing the Church) was brought into blessing. “For the Jews require a sign” (1 Cor. 1:22). The disciples did not scold Thomas, but rather told him “we have seen the Lord”. Thomas’ response in the moment was not positive, but later this testimony bore fruit in Thomas, and caused him to be present the following week. Thomas refused to believe the word of the disciples, saying “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and put my finger into the mark of the nails, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe”. The point is that he refused to believe without a physical proof.
26 And eight days after, his disciples were again within, and Thomas with them. Jesus comes, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst and said, Peace be to you. v.26 The Second Appearance. We see the grace of God to Thomas in this, that the Lord would not allow Thomas to go on in the misery of his doubt for very long. The Lord made a second appearance to the disciples, but there seems to be a special intention to restore Thomas; “his disciples were again within, and Thomas with them… Jesus comes”. Again, the Lord appeared in the midst of the disciples when the doors were shut; a magnificent testimony to the glorified state of His resurrection body! Again, the Lord’s first words to His own were, “Peace be to you”. Neither the passage of time nor the change of dispensations can change the results of the resurrection and our peace as a result! The Jewish people will come into known peace with God. But there is nothing here about the Holy Spirit or the blessed relationship with the Father.
27 Then he says to Thomas, Bring thy finger here and see my hands; and bring thy hand and put it into my side; and be not unbelieving, but believing. 28 Thomas answered and said to him, My Lord and my God. 29 Jesus says to him, Because thou hast seen me thou hast believed: blessed they who have not seen and have believed. vv.27-29 Thomas Sees and Believes. The Lord does not wait long to speak to Thomas; “he says to Thomas, Bring thy finger here and see my hands; and bring thy hand and put it into my side.” How this must have shocked Thomas, to hear the Lord speaking to him in Thomas’ own words! Thomas was weak in faith, but the Lord would stoop to meet him where he was; “and be not unbelieving, but believing”. This is a simple proof that the resurrection body of Christ was indeed a physical body! Another is that the Lord ate physical food (Luke 24:43). We don’t read that Thomas actually did examine the Lord with his fingers, but immediately answered “My Lord and my God”. Perhaps the grace, majesty, and omniscience of the Lord overwhelmed him, and shamed his unbelief. Thomas did believe, and confessed that Jesus was “my Lord” (absolute authority over him), and “my God” (only object of worship). But there was a rebuke for Thomas; “Jesus says to him, Because thou hast seen me thou hast believed: blessed they who have not seen and have believed.” The more blessed place is for those who believe without seeing, because it is a higher character of belief. So it is with the gospel. We preach a Christ that this world cannot see, and He must be received by faith. It is by faith that man lays hold of the death and resurrection of Christ, without the visible proof. This could be taken as a rebuke against evidence-based evangelism. But also, we see in Thomas a picture of Israel who will believe when they see their Messiah coming in power (Zech. 12:10; Isa. 25:9), and will believe on Him after He shows them His wounds (Zech. 13:6; Song. 5:4). The unbelieving nation will be given no sign other than that of the prophet Jonas (Matt. 12:39). But the remnant will see the Lord Himself! They will own Him as their Lord and God. These are the two things that Israel rejected at His first coming; (1) they denied His Lordship saying “we will not have this man to reign over us”, and (2) they denied His deity saying “he made himself the Son of God”. But Israel will own Christ as both, but it will be a full week (eight days) after the more blessed portion of the Church has closed on earth, in which we walk by faith and not by sight (2 Cor. 5:7; 1 Peter 1:8), know God as Father (1 John 1:3), and in the place of sonship share the Son’s own relationships!
30 Many other signs therefore also Jesus did before his disciples, which are not written in this book; 31 but these are written that ye may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing ye might have life in his name. vv.30-31 The Purpose of John’s Gospel. John is now winding down his narrative, and thus remarks on the purpose of his gospel. The signs that John records (only eight) are not an exhaustible record of all that Jesus did before His disciples. But what John recorded were “written that ye may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing ye might have life in his name”. Perhaps this is why the gospel of John is recommended as a starting point for those who are interested in Christianity. The purpose of John’s gospel is thus given: (1) to set forth the glory of the Person of Christ, as the Divine Son of God, and (2) that in believing, men would have eternal life, which brings them into the circle of Divine fellowship with the Father and His Son! In other words, the gospel presents the One who is Eternal Life, and also the communication of that eternal life to believers.

The Lord’s Third Appearance to the Disciples: The Millennium Pictured (21:1-25)

The Third Appearance. There is a marked progression of events in John 20 – 21, as v.14 suggests; “This is already the third time that Jesus had been manifested to the disciples, being risen from among the dead.” We can see first of all a dispensational picture through these chapters. The first appearance when Thomas was absent is a type of the church, and the full revelation of the Father to them. The second appearance to restore Thomas is a type of the Jewish remnant, restored to the Lord after His visible manifestation. But this third appearance “after these things” is a type of the millennial ingathering from the sea of Gentiles, through the work of restored Israel on earth, pictures by the seven disciples in a boat.9 It is very striking that the scene changes to Galilee, rather than Judea. The Spirit of God causes John to write about a scene that was quite different from the scenes that John ordinarily recorded. The scene is connected with Christ’s ministry on earth, which is very similar to the synoptic gospels. This is perhaps because of the dispensational significance of the scene, which presents the work of Christ in the Millennium, gathering a multitude from the sea of the gentiles! “But if their fall be the world’s wealth, and their loss the wealth of the nations, how much rather their fulness?” (Rom. 11:12). But in addition to the dispensational overview, there are many practical lessons that come across.

After these things Jesus manifested himself again to the disciples at the sea of Tiberias. And he manifested himself thus. 2 There were together Simon Peter, and Thomas called Didymus, and Nathanael who was of Cana of Galilee, and the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples. 3 Simon Peter says to them, I go to fish. They say to him, We also come with thee. They went forth, and went on board, and that night took nothing. vv.1-3 Discouraged Disciples. The third appearing of the risen Christ to His disciples took place at “the sea of Tiberias”. This was the Roman name given to the sea of Galilee by the Emperor Tiberias, years later in the reign of the second Roman Emperor, Tiberius Caesar. The sea of Tiberias was the region where Christ spent the majority of His public ministry, and He told the disciples He would meet them there after His resurrection (Matt. 28:7). We don’t know how long after the previous appearance this took place, but it would appear that the disciples – we find seven of them mentioned here10 – were discouraged. Simon Peter often took a leading place among the disciples, and here he leads the other disciples in going back to their old occupation as fishermen; “Simon Peter says to them, I go to fish. They say to him, We also come with thee.” The Lord had called them out of that occupation to follow Him! The disciples were reverting to their old life, and God saw to it that they would not be successful; “and that night took nothing”. Why? The Lord was doing a work to restore these discouraged disciples! Sometimes the best thing the Lord can do, when we are looking to find fulfillment apart from Him, is to allow our efforts to come to nothing.
4 And early morn already breaking, Jesus stood on the shore; the disciples however did not know that it was Jesus. 5 Jesus therefore says to them, Children, have ye anything to eat? They answered him, No. 6 And he said to them, Cast the net at the right side of the ship and ye will find. They cast therefore, and they could no longer draw it, from the multitude of fishes. vv.4-6 The Miracle of the Net Repeated. When the disciples efforts had come to nothing, the Lord was standing on the shore, patiently waiting. They did not know it was Him! The Lord asked them, “Children, have ye anything to eat?”. This question exposed the futility of their efforts. They had to answer briefly, perhaps in frustration, “No”. The Lord’s reply is interesting, considering that He had or would shortly prepare a meal for them; “Cast the net at the right side of the ship and ye will find”. The Lord was manifesting to the disciples that He was the sovereign Son over creation. It is striking that this miracle is a repetition (with some changes) of that which Jesus did years earlier recorded in Luke 5. However, on the earlier occasion the Lord told Peter to let down the nets (plural), but he let down the net (singular) and it broke, and then the boats began to sink. Here the net enclosed a great multitude of fishes so that they could no longer draw it, but the net doesn’t break, etc. Special notice is made of that in v.11; “the net was not rent”. In the earlier scene, the ingathering of fishes was on the ground of man’s responsibility, and so there is a breakdown connected with it. But here after the resurrection, the work does not rest on man’s responsibility, because man’s responsibility has been taken up and discharged by Christ! It is a type of the work of Christ in the Millennium, carried on by the remnant of Israel (seven disciples in the boat), of sending forth the gospel of the kingdom out to the gentiles, like a net into the sea. It is interesting that the Gentile name “Tiberias” is used for the sea itself, fitting with the type. Similar to the haul of fishes, there will be great multitudes of Gentiles that will believe the gospel!
 That disciple therefore whom Jesus loved says to Peter, It is the Lord. Simon Peter therefore, having heard that it was the Lord, girded his overcoat on him (for he was naked), and cast himself into the sea; 8 and the other disciples came in the small boat, for they were not far from the land, but somewhere about two hundred cubits, dragging the net of fishes.
vv,7-8 The Disciples Come to the Shore. When John saw the miracle of the nets, he immediately connected it with the Lord, and concluded that it was indeed the Lord standing on the shore. It is notable that John again styles himself “that disciple whom Jesus loved”. Perhaps we can take a practical less from this: an appreciation of the Lord’s love for us will lead to moral discernment of His ways in our life. John knew by the character of the events (the draught of fishes) that it was the Lord’s hand at work! Peter, who had led the disciples on the fishing expedition and was no doubt excited by the events, may have be slower to realize the Person responsible. But when he heard that it was the Lord, Peter in his characteristic energy and impulsiveness, was the first to act! But in his haste Peter was still careful to be dressed appropriately in the Lord’s presence. Peter “girded his overcoat on him (for he was naked), and cast himself into the sea”. He would not wait for the boat! Peter was second to the tomb, but first to the shore. The other disciples also came with the small boat, bringing the fish to land.
9 When therefore they went out on the land, they see a fire of coals there, and fish laid on it, and bread. 10 Jesus says to them, Bring of the fishes which ye have now taken. 11 Simon Peter went up and drew the net to the land full of great fishes, a hundred and fifty-three; and though there were so many, the net was not rent. 12 Jesus says to them, Come and dine. But none of the disciples dared inquire of him, Who art thou? knowing that it was the Lord. 13 Jesus comes and takes the bread and gives it to them, and the fish in like manner. 14 This is already the third time that Jesus had been manifested to the disciples, being risen from among the dead. vv.9-14 The Disciples Come and Dine. The disciples had gone fishing for food, but when they come to the shore they find that Jesus has already prepared a cooking fire with fish and bread! It was coals, showing some time of preparation. This scene was perhaps also calculated to reach Peter’s heart: the last time he was around a fire of coals was the time he had denied the Lord (John 18:18). Typically this meal of fish would represent the Gentile remnant that the Lord will have already gotten for Himself before the Millennium begins. God does use men in His service, but He can and does work independently of man! And what Christ had prepared was what He laid before the disciples to nourish them. Yet the Lord does not despise their catch, although the miracle was His own doing; “Jesus says to them, Bring of the fishes which ye have now taken”. The net was full, and the exact number of fish is given as 153. Every individual is noted by God! He takes note of everything (Heb. 6:10). When Solomon went to build the temple, he numbered the strangers in the land of Israel and found the total to be 153,600. Perhaps this number is typical of the Gentiles that will believe the gospel of the kingdom and be blessed in the Millennium, albeit in subservience to Israel. The next words of the risen Lord to His own were simply “Come and dine”. The Lord’s desire from Genesis to Revelation is to have fellowship with His creature. Now with the cross accomplished, and on resurrection ground, the heart of God is free to go out with the invitation. The Lord served the meal of fish and bread to His disciples; ever the Perfect Servant, even in resurrection! The disciples knew who it was that provided so fully for them. They were full of deep respect (v.12) for the majesty of His Person!
15 When therefore they had dined, Jesus says to Simon Peter, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest [‘agápe’] thou me more than these? He says to him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I am attached [‘phileo’] to thee. He says to him, Feed my lambs. 16 He says to him again a second time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest [‘agápe’] thou me? He says to him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I am attached [‘phileo’] to thee. He says to him, Shepherd my sheep. 17 He says to him the third time, Simon, son of Jonas, art thou attached [‘phileo’] to me? Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, Art thou attached to me? and said to him, Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I am attached [‘phileo’] to thee. Jesus says to him, Feed my sheep. vv.15-17 The Public Restoration of Peter. After the dinner, the Lord addresses Peter in a very painful way in order to restore him, using his natural name, “Simon, son of Jonas”. The matter of Peter’s denial was a serious issue that needed to be dealt with, for Peter’s good and the blessing of the other disciples. The Lord had already met with Peter after His resurrection and had a private interview (Luke 24:34; 1 Cor. 15:5a). At that time the Lord appeared to Peter, a wandering sheep who had denied the Lord just days earlier, and no doubt there was a work of restoration in private. The failure of Peter was public, and so there needed to be a public restoration as well. So, the Lord asked Peter in the presence of the others, “Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these?” This is because Peter had said “Although all shall be offended, yet will not I” (Mark 14:29). He had as much as claimed to love the Lord more than the others. The Lord does not address the fruit of Peter’s failure (which Peter had already wept over), but the root of the failure; self-confidence. Notice the use of the words ‘agápe’ and ‘phileo’. The Lord would ask Peter this painful question three times, once for every time Peter had denied Him.
  1. The Lord asks Peter if he loved Him more than the other disciples. The Lord used the word ‘agápe’, which is the highest form of love. Peter was reduced to simply replying “Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I am attached to thee”. He doesn’t pretend to love Christ more than the others, and he uses the word ‘phileo’, which is more the thought of affection, rather than a settled disposition. Peter was acknowledging that it appeared outwardly than he did not love the Lord, because be had denied the Lord. It required the omniscience of the Lord to know Peter’s heart, but there was affection there. The Lord then encouraged Peter in a pastoral ministry; “Feed my lambs”.
  2. The Lord asked Peter a second time if he loved the Lord. This time, there was no reference to the other disciples. It was not a question of the superiority of Peter’s love, but if he loved the Lord at all. This was even deeper and more painful for Peter. Again, Peter replied with the same words, now recognizing that only the Lord could see the reality of his affection. Again the Lord encourages Peter, “Shepherd my sheep”.
  3. The Lord asked Peter a third time if he loved the Lord, but this time He used Peter’s own expression; “Simon, son of Jonas, art thou attached to me?” He used the word ‘phileo’, which is a lower kind of love, more like the love of a friend. The Lord was now questioning, for Peter’s benefit, whether Peter was even confident in his affection for the Lord! The Lord was reducing Peter even further, and it was painful; “Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, Art thou attached to me?” Peter’s reply shows a deeper admission of his own failure; “Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I am attached to thee”. His heart condemned him (1 John 3:20). The additional word ‘ginosko’ (objective knowledge) is used in this third response, showing that Peter is leaning harder on the sovereignty of God. Jesus then said to Peter, “Feed my sheep”.
We see the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ in this conversation with Peter, probing for the root of the failure, and yet dealing gently and with love. The three pastoral expressions are slightly different. “Feed” and “shepherd” refer to providing spiritual food and guidance to believers. “My lambs” are new converts, and “my sheep” are more mature believers. It is important to see that souls in different states of maturity require different types of food! The food itself it the same (Christ), but the presentation is a little different for lambs and sheep. This is important for Christian pastors to remember. It is significant that Peter’s two epistles have a marked pastoral character. As an application of this, there may be a moral progression in these three expressions for those who have the work of a pastor. First, to gain experience feeding young believers. Second, to shepherd the sheep, according to the wide variety of the needs of the flock, which might involve discipline (the rod and staff). Third, to feed the sheep, which having benefitted from the shepherding are prepared to receive the food more suited to maturity.
18 Verily, verily, I say to thee, When thou wast young, thou girdedst thyself, and walkedst where thou desiredst; but when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, and bring thee where thou dost not desire. 19 But he said this signifying by what death he should glorify God. And having said this, he says to him, Follow me. vv.18-19 Peter’s Desire to Follow the Lord Granted. Peter had boasted in self-confidence that he would follow the Lord unto death (Luke 22:33), but he had failed miserably in denying the Lord. The grace of Christ was such to Peter that He would grant Peter the privilege of doing what he had wished; following the Lord to prison and death! But it would not be through Peter’s own natural strength that he would accomplish this, but it would be as an old man, when his youthful energy was diminished; “When thou wast young, thou girdedst thyself, and walkedst where thou desiredst; but when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, and bring thee where thou dost not desire”. There would be nothing of self in this action. Peter’s martyrdom by crucifixion (hands stretched forth) was thus predicted by our Lord. Peter knew he would die as an old man, and this knowledge gave him peace later on (Acts 12:6). He speaks of it in his second epistle (2 Pet. 1:14). How precious, that Peter would be given the privilege of following in those very footsteps of the Savior!11 Notice that Peter’s death would bring glory to God; “he said this signifying by what death he should glorify God”. A believer can glorify God in their life and also in their death, but it is all of grace!
20 Peter, turning round, sees the disciple whom Jesus loved following, who also leaned at supper on his breast, and said, Lord, who is it that delivers thee up? 21 Peter, seeing him, says to Jesus, Lord, and what of this man22 Jesus says to him, If I will that he abide until I come, what is that to thee? Follow thou me. vv.20-22 Concerning John. The Lord had told Peter to follow him, but now Peter turns around to see John, and this proved a distraction. Peter was concerned about John’s future, and what the Lord might have to say to him. The Lord answers in an obscure way, so as to purposely leave the meaning vague. He leaves it as a hypothetical, not as a statement; “If I will that he abide until I come, what is that to thee? Follow thou me.” The Lord was telling Peter not to worry about John’s future, but rather to focus on Peter’s own responsibility in the present.
23 This word therefore went out among the brethren, That disciple does not die. And Jesus did not say to him, He does not die; but, If I will that he abide until I come, what is that to thee? 24 This is the disciple who bears witness concerning these things, and who has written these things; and we know that his witness is true. vv.23-24 The Distorted Word and the True Witness. The word of Christ regarding John went out, but in a distorted form. The disciples came to an understandable conclusion – that John would not die – but their conclusion was wrong. They promulgated the conclusion, rather than the Lord’s exact words. This highlights the importance of the Word of God. The idea that the early church fathers had a truer understanding of Christianity, and that their writings define the way we should interpret the New Testament, is not an accurate idea. If you asked the early brethren about what Jesus had said regarding John, you would not get an accurate response, because the word was distorted. The only recourse would be to appeal to the Word of God! This is what John underscores in v.24. John, writing in the third person and styling himself “the disciple whom Jesus loved”, states that his witness was true. The expression “we know” is what is generally Christian knowledge (see 1 John 5:18-20). John claims that his record is the Word of God.
25 And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which if they were written one by one, I suppose that not even the world itself would contain the books written. v.25 Many Other Things. The gospel of John does not contain everything that Jesus did. It is impossible for the world to contain the books that would be written, if every work was written. John’s Gospel begins with the infinitude of Christ’s Person and ends with the infinitude of His works!
  1. There may be an application of the napkin and linen clothes as well. The napkin was for the head, and the clothes were for the body. We don’t have the ascension in John’s gospel but perhaps this is a little hint that Christ the Head (napkin) would be separated from the body (linen clothes) for a short time.
  2. Some commentators suggest that Peter and John may have believed after a human order that Jesus had risen, but it was not the same as Divine faith. But Peter seems, though amazed, to have taken in the import of what he observed as well as John. They both went beyond Mary of Magdala and inferred that He must have risen; not that either Joseph and Nicodemus on the one hand, nor that the Jews or Romans on the other, had taken away the Lord’s body. On ground of the apparent facts, they rightly accounted for the disappearance of His body. But in neither was there that character of faith in His resurrection which springs from laying hold of God’s word. The former was human, the latter Divine, because in this alone is God believed, which gives Him His true place and puts us in ours. – Kelly, W. The Gospel of John.
  3. A gardener is someone who attends to the things of nature to keep life running smoothly; to maintain a place of pleasantness in a world of pain. Jesus is not merely our gardener.
  4. Kelly, William. Exposition of the Gospel of John. p.369
  5. “’The law of the Spirit of life’ is the phrase of the apostle Paul. This is the very life, as John tells us, that was here given. If in being born again (John 3) one was born of water and Spirit, much more was it here the Holy Ghost received; but it was the Holy Ghost as the Spirit of Life. It was not the Spirit of external power… What the Holy Ghost then did was simply communicating life according to its resurrection power and character through Jesus Christ, the Second man risen from the dead.” – Kelly, William. Receive ye the Holy Ghost. Lectures on the Doctrine of the Holy Spirit, Lecture 5. Bible Truth Publishers, 1975.
  6. “The Spirit as the power of life in Christ Jesus (the last Adam breathing upon them, as God once breathed into Adam’s nostrils the breath of life, would suggest strongly this connection with life) — of life now theirs (the same life as before, but) in a wholly new position in a risen Christ.” – Trench, J.A. Life and the Spirit. Words of Faith 1884, p.197-221.
  7. “The truth of risen life in Christ and the coming of the Holy Ghost are distinct; but now that both are fulfilled the divine order is the knowledge of the remission of sins and receiving the Holy Ghost, and thus the two are inseparable. Then I know, or may know, that I am in Christ; whereas the forgiveness known before by the gospel is of past sins – what my conscience needed. The life we receive is in Christ risen, but I am not consciously — much more than knowledge – in John 20:22, now that the Holy Ghost is come, till I receive the Holy Ghost. Rom. 8 puts them inseparably together.” – Darby, J.N. Letters of J.N. Darby: Volume 3, number 321. Philadelphia, 1875.
  8. “Such then is, we apprehend, the truth of this scene and action. What the disciples received in this way was the Holy Spirit as the power of life, corresponding with what we find in Rom. 8:1-11; to receive the indwelling Spirit as power, as the anointing, as well as the earnest, the seal, and the Spirit of adoption, they had yet to wait until the day of Pentecost. And hence it was not until Pentecost that they were brought into the full Christian position.” – Dennett, Edward. Scripture Notes. The Christian’s Friend, 1888.
  9. The reader will notice that the connection is immediate and marked with the two previous manifestations of the risen Lord. First, we have seen Him (after making Himself known to Mary of Magdala and sending by her a most characteristic message to His disciples) standing in their midst when gathered together, without seeing Him enter, on the first or resurrection day of the week, in their enjoyment of peace and the mission of peace in the power of the Spirit to remit and retain sins in His name. Secondly, we have seen Him eight days after meeting His disciples again when Thomas was there, representing saved Israel of the latter day who only believe by the sight of Him risen. Now we have the beautiful picture of the millennial ingathering from the sea of Gentiles, which follows the Jews returning as such to the Lord, as all prophecy leads us to expect. The third scene follows in due order the second, on which the future truth conveyed by it hangs as a consequence, as here said to be “after these things.” – Kelly, W. The Gospel of John.
  10. The fact that it says “Jesus manifested himself again to the disciples” would indicate that the disciple named “Nathanael” of Cana of Galilee is the same person elsewhere called Bartholomew. As we find in John 1, Nathanael is a type of Israel; “under the fig tree”.
  11. Historical accounts including the apocryphal Acts of Peter indicate that Peter, at the time of his martyrdom, requested to be crucified upside down. However, as v.23 shows, those early historical accounts are often unreliable.