Do You Love Me?
James A. Gunn
John 21:1-25
Preached on June 11, 2006
Copyright © 2006 James A. Gunn
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John Ch. 19-21
John 21

1 After these things Jesus showed Himself again to the disciples at the Sea of Tiberias, and in this way He showed Himself: 
2 Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of His disciples were together.
3 Simon Peter said to them, "I am going fishing." They said to him, "We are going with you also." They went out and immediately got into the boat, and that night they caught nothing.
4 But when the morning had now come, Jesus stood on the shore; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus.
5 Then Jesus said to them, "Children, have you any food?"
They answered Him, "No."
6 And He said to them, "Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some." So they cast, and now they were not able to draw it in because of the multitude of fish.
7 Therefore that disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, "It is the Lord!" Now when Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his outer garment (for he had removed it), and plunged into the sea.
8 But the other disciples came in the little boat (for they were not far from land, but about two hundred cubits), dragging the net with fish.
9 Then, as soon as they had come to land, they saw a fire of coals there, and fish laid on it, and bread.
10 Jesus said to them, "Bring some of the fish which you have just caught." 
11 Simon Peter went up and dragged the net to land, full of large fish, one hundred and fifty-three; and although there were so many, the net was not broken.
12 Jesus said to them, "Come and eat breakfast." Yet none of the disciples dared ask Him, "Who are You?" — knowing that it was the Lord.
13 Jesus then came and took the bread and gave it to them, and likewise the fish.
14 This is now the third time Jesus showed Himself to His disciples after He was raised from the dead.
15 So when they had eaten breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon, son of Jonah, 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." 
16 He said to him again a second time, "Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?"
He said to Him, "Yes, Lord; You know that I love You."
He said to him, "Tend My sheep." 
17 He said to him the third time, "Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?" Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, "Do you love Me?"
And he said to Him, "Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You."
Jesus said to him, "Feed My sheep. 
18 Most assuredly, I say to you, when you were younger, you girded yourself and walked where you wished; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish." 
19 This He spoke, signifying by what death he would glorify God. And when He had spoken this, He said to him, "Follow Me." 
20 Then Peter, turning around, saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following, who also had leaned on His breast at the supper, and said, "Lord, who is the one who betrays You?" 21 Peter, seeing him, said to Jesus, "But Lord, what about this man?"
22 Jesus said to him, "If I will that he remain till I come, what is that to you? You follow Me." 
23 Then this saying went out among the brethren that this disciple would not die. Yet Jesus did not say to him that he would not die, but, "If I will that he remain till I come, what is that to you?" 
24 This is the disciple who testifies of these things, and wrote these things; and we know that his testimony is true.
25 And there are also many other things that Jesus did, which if they were written one by one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that would be written. Amen. (NKJV)

Beginning in March of 2004 and now after sixty previous messages we come to the end of this exposition of John’s Gospel. This exposition was not intended to be exhaustive because I do not possess the language skills to do original work. However, I do have access to about twenty commentaries on John’s Gospel and also use computer resources that allow me to look up words in the languages of the Bible.

In the first ten chapters of John I drew heavily on commentaries by Charles D. Alexander which are available to you on

Also, I used William Hendriksen, J. C. Ryle, and Arthur Pink. One of the most helpful commentaries was “Behold the Lamb” by Ray Summers.

The reason that I am telling you this is because unless a preacher is gifted in the original languages and he also has a firm grasp of the Scriptures from Genesis to Revelation he is bound to use the work of other men.

Of course I know a few preachers, none of whom are in this local church, who do not study anything in the way of commentaries and still try to preach. I have never heard one of those men who I thought had anything worthwhile to say. Even the Apostle Paul studied.

2 Timothy 4:13
13 The cloke that I left at Troas with Carpus, when thou comest, bring with thee, and the books, but especially the parchments.  KJV

So from the likes of me you get a distillation of commentaries that I study and then filter through over thirty-seven years of continuously reading through the Bible from Genesis to Revelation and I am still learning.

Yet no matter how gifted a man may be and no matter how much preparation he makes unless the Holy Spirit blesses his preaching it is a tiresome endeavor.

So as we come to the last chapter in John, Chapter 21 presents a small problem. Chapter 20:30-31 seems to be a conclusion to the Gospel of John.

And truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book; 31 but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.

John tells us why he wrote this book and that would make an excellent conclusion. 31 but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.

What are you to believe?

Do you believe that Jesus of Nazareth is that divine person referred to in John Chapter One?

John 1:1-5
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
2 He was in the beginning with God.
3 All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. 4 In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.
5 And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.

Do you believe that Jesus of Nazareth is the One in John 1:14?

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.

Do you believe that Jesus of Nazareth told Nicodemus the truth when He said in John 3:3:

“Amen, amen, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”

Do you believe that Jesus of Nazareth, after saving Nicodemus, a religious and lost Pharisee, revealed Himself as Messiah to a prostitute who came to Jacob’s Well to draw literal water and went home filled with the Holy Spirit and living water?

Do you believe that Jesus of Nazareth told a man who had been lame for 38 years to “Take up your bed and walk”?  And that the man got up and walked?

Do you believe that Jesus of Nazareth is the True Bread sent down from heaven and do you know what Jesus means when He says?

John 6:53-58
53 Then Jesus said to them, "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. 
54 Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. 
55 For My flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed. 
56 He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him. 
57 As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who feeds on Me will live because of Me. 
58 This is the bread which came down from heaven — not as your fathers ate the manna, and are dead. He who eats this bread will live forever." 

The Roman Catholics in the same way that the Pharisees took literally what Jesus said about eating His flesh and drinking His blood, make the absurd claim that they can change bread into flesh and wine into blood. They completely misunderstand that Jesus is referring to abiding in His Word and His teaching, as eating His flesh and drinking His blood.

Does not Jesus explain Himself in John 6:63?

60 Therefore many of His disciples, when they heard this, said, "This is a hard saying; who can understand it?"
61 When Jesus knew in Himself that His disciples complained about this, He said to them, "Does this offend you? 
62 What then if you should see the Son of Man ascend where He was before? 
63 It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life. 
64 But there are some of you who do not believe." For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were who did not believe, and who would betray Him.
65 And He said, "Therefore I have said to you that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted to him by My Father." 

We could go through the Gospel of John to see what we are to believe about Jesus of Nazareth:

31 but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.

Now let’s take a brief look at Chapter 21.

John 20:31 is not the end of the book.

Chapter 21 is a postscript added by John the apostle. There is no evidence that the first twenty chapters were ever circulated without chapter 21.

There is no need to get exercised with the arguments that someone besides the Apostle John wrote Chapter 21.

What does Chapter 21 add to the book?

1. It shows that a risen Christ is still interested in His church.

2. It points His disciples back to His deity.

3. It restores Peter who had denied Christ.

4. Establishes God's providence, e.g. Peter's death, and clarifies a rumor about John the apostle.

In John 21:1-14 Jesus Appears to the Seven Disciples.

(1, 2) Cf. Acts 1: This is a specific manifestation of the risen Lord to these seven disciples.

Acts 1:1-3
1 The former account I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and teach, 2 until the day in which He was taken up, after He through the Holy Spirit had given commandments to the apostles whom He had chosen,
3 to whom He also presented Himself alive after His suffering by many infallible proofs, being seen by them during forty days and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God.

(3) Peter is a man of action and he must be doing something. Some say Peter "quit the ministry." Others point out that he still had to make a living. It may be that Peter thought that he was not qualified to serve as a pastor because of his denial of Christ. It may be that Peter was waiting for Jesus to join them here in Galilee as He said He would.

Matthew 26:31-35
31 Then Jesus said to them, "All of you will be made to stumble because of Me this night, for it is written:
'I will strike the Shepherd,
And the sheep of the flock will be scattered.' 

32 But after I have been raised, I will go before you to Galilee." 

33 Peter answered and said to Him, "Even if all are made to stumble because of You, I will never be made to stumble."
34 Jesus said to him, "Assuredly, I say to you that this night, before the rooster crows, you will deny Me three times."
35 Peter said to Him, "Even if I have to die with You, I will not deny You!"
And so said all the disciples.

Matthew 28:5-7
5 But the angel answered and said to the women, "Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified.
6 He is not here; for He is risen, as He said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay.
7 And go quickly and tell His disciples that He is risen from the dead, and indeed He is going before you into Galilee; there you will see Him. Behold, I have told you."

(4) There is a “stranger” on the shore and the disciples do not know that it is Jesus.

This is similar to Mary Magdalene's experience. She thought Jesus was the gardener until Jesus spoke her name in Aramaic, “Miriam.”

(5) “Boys” or “Lads.” “Children, you have nothing to eat do you?”

The question expects a "No" answer. Jesus is not asking for Himself, as though He didn't know, He is causing them to admit their return to secular work is a failure.

Do you suppose they remember another time they fished all night and caught nothing? Cf. Luke 5:1-11 

The word translated “meat” or “food” is a word that means anything you eat with bread.

(6) Cast your net on the right side of the boat.
And they obey a stranger? They just act. (Cf. Psalm 8:8)

These men were professional fishermen but the only time the Bible tells us they caught any fish was when Jesus was with them.

Now there are so many fish in the net that they cannot draw it in.

(7) Typical of John, “the disciple whom Jesus loved,” usually understands first; Peter usually acts first! As we have explained before, John does not mean that Jesus did not love the others, it is just the way John expressed his devotion and awe that Jesus loved even him.

Peter gets to the shore. The others are behind him and drag the net loaded with fish. 

What a sight! Their every need is supplied; a bed of coals, bread and fish.

But Jesus asks for some of the fish that they had just caught.
It is not that He needed their fish. But this adds proof to the event.
They are not dreaming, “It is the Lord!”

As to the exact number of fish [153], most commentaries do not venture to offer an explanation. My favorite writer [Alexander] wrote somewhere that he would comment on the number “153” but he died before he finished his exposition of John’s Gospel.

A “natural” explanation is that the number was so large that they actually counted the fish. My account of my recent fishing trip to the Florida Everglades always includes the number of gallon bags of fish fillets [31] that we brought home.

Not having any commentary that I want to borrow from, my thought is this.

John’s Gospel is a spiritual book. Many things in John that have a literal meaning also have a spiritual meaning behind them. Recall that “eating My flesh and drinking My blood” must be interpreted in a spiritual sense.

So to me the exact number represents that the total number of the chosen people of God, the elect, is a specific number [not 153] and the fact that “the net was not broken,” [lit. there were no holes in the net] means that none of God’s elect will be lost.

Jesus says to them, “Come and break your fast [break fast].
Have the first meal of the day.”

Now for a third time Jesus multiplies fish and bread.

And John says this is the third time that Jesus showed Himself to His disciples after He was raised from the dead.

(15) After the "First food of the day."

The Lord turns to Peter to publicly reinstate him as well as the others and to entrust them with the care of the flock of Christ.

Jesus had given Simon a name that meant “a mass of rock” but now Jesus goes back to the name that means “a little stone”. Jesus is not being cruel but Peter must be restored and the chastening of the Lord is not meant to be pleasant. In his study on Pilgrim’s Progress Brother Gables points out that when Christian lost his scroll he had to go back to the place he started from. The scroll was his certificate of assurance.

Peter had boasted that he was braver than all the others and he denied the Lord Jesus three times, even cursing saying “I know not the Man!” So the Lord takes Peter back and asks him three questions.

After much study and a curing of time I have learned not to make too much of the difference between the two words used for love. Besides Jesus is speaking in Aramaic which does not have two words for love as does the Greek in which John is writing.

It is also true that John uses two different words for sheep and two different words for caring for the sheep. And there are three different words used for fish. So a vivid imagination could take you far astray just as trying to assign a meaning to every word in a parable instead of finding the single point of the parable.

There is certainly a difference in these two words but they are also used interchangeably and so the difference may not be as rigid as some commentaries would say.

There is agapao, the unconditional love of John 3:16.

There is phileo, the kind affection of familial [brotherly] love.

And we can learn from the play on words as long as we do not make too much of the difference.

First question and answer:

(15) "Simon, son of Jonah, Do you love [agapao] Me more than these?"

Not the boat and things, but these other men to whom you had boasted that even though they might leave, you would not. Now in the presence of these same men he must confess his love for Jesus above all.

Peter's word for love in his answer is different from the word for love that the Lord asked in His question:

Yes, Lord; You know that I phileo You.

Peter no longer compares his love with the love of the others.
But he is sure that he has similar love.

"Feed My sheep." (a)

Second question and answer:

(16) Paraphrase: "By your answer, you no longer believe that you love Me more than these. But do you really love [agapao] Me??

Again, Peter does not dare use the higher term for love.

Yes, Lord; You know that I phileo You.

"Shepherd My sheep." (b)

Third question and answer:

(17) This time Jesus uses Peter's term, phileo. Peter is grieved (not offended). Jesus even questions this lesser kind of love (affection).

Peter knows that he loves Jesus.

No hypocrite could answer the way Peter did.
But Peter has learned his lesson.

“Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.”

"Feed My dear sheep." (c)

The sheep and their care:

(15) (a) “Feed” My lambs, weak and immature, in need of food.

(16) (b) “Shepherd” My sheep, prone to wander, needing a shepherd.

(17) (c) “Feed” My Dear lambs, immature, in need of the tender love of the Word of God.

Peter is fully restored!
"Feed - shepherd - feed" "Go to it!"
(18) A prediction (prophecy), you who have been accustomed to doing as you wish will be constrained when you are old. "Stretch out hands" was used by Greeks to indicate death by crucifixion.

(19) The kind of death. Tradition says that Peter was crucified head downward. "Follow Me," not literally, but as My disciple.

Mind your own business, Peter.

(20) Peter begins to literally follow and sees John also following.

(21) Peter asks, "What about him?"
Peter had just been told how he himself would die, "what about him."

(22) A rebuke. Curiosity about another is not permitted. You follow Me!

"Til I come." Cf. Revelation Chapter One.

(23) They misunderstood what Jesus said concerning John's life.
They were telling others that Jesus said that John would not die.

John writes to correct the rumor that he would not die.

What Jesus said:

23 Then this saying went out among the brethren that this disciple would not die. Yet Jesus did not say to him that he would not die, but, "If I will that he remain till I come, what is that to you?" 

John did stay alive longer than the others. John lived until late in the first century A.D. and John saw Jesus in a vision on the Isle of Patmos where he was exiled by the Romans because of his testimony for Jesus. Jesus was crucified in about 30 A.D. [born between 7 and 4 B.C. – crucified at age 33]. John wrote Revelation in 95 – 96 A.D.

(24) "This...?"

Not Peter who is dead when this was written, but John who is still alive.

(25) What if everything that God ever did up until this time were written in books. The kosmos is not large enough to contain the books!

So I ask you, do you believe what is written about Jesus of Nazareth?

Jesus may ask you, “Do you love Me more than these?”

Jesus said, “If you love Me, keep My commandments.”

We preach the Gospel and we call on sinners to trust Jesus Christ. We do not know nor do we need to know how the Holy Spirit uses the word of the Gospel to convict of sin and brings sinners to repentance and commitment to Jesus Christ. But this I do know, that you are called on to confess Jesus Christ in a public manner and to follow Him in believer’s baptism.