Peter and John were the two disciples who experienced Jesus’ trial up close and were also the first of the disciples to reach the tomb of Jesus only to find it empty. Perhaps this is why we are given a short epilogue at the end of John’s account to tie up the loose ends with regards to the two friends. A sort of “where are they now” special, to help the readers connect the dots between Peter’s denial and his being the face of the Jesus movement, and John’s transformation from being the son of thunder to the meticulous writer of the Gospel of Christ from the isle of Patmos.
Sometime later Jesus appeared to His disciples again by the sea of Galilee. By this time, Peter and the other disciples who were fishermen had perhaps gone back to their hometowns and had returned to their initial trade of fishing for their livelihood. John mentions seven disciples by the sea that day, Peter, Thomas, Nathaniel, the brothers James and John, and another two unnamed disciples.
This is surely more than just a one-time activity but was now their new profession given that they were at the sea before the break of dawn. In the ancient days, this was the perfect time for fishing as it could be sold in the marketplaces early in the morning as the fresh catch of the day. But that day Peter and the other disciples were not able to catch anything just like the momentous day when he had decided to follow Jesus more than three years ago.
As they were struggling, Jesus, who was standing on the shore, called out to them asking, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?”. Now at first, they did not realise who was calling out to them nor were they able to recognise the voice of the Messiah. They probably thought that it was some passerby wanting to know about their yield. Jesus asked them to throw their nets on the right side of the boat and when they did that, all of the seven men that were in that boat, were not able to haul the massive school of fish that had trapped itself in their net.
These disciples perhaps return to their earlier profession of fishing as that is what they thought they knew how to do best. Jesus had called them for a greater task when He met them by the shores the first time around. In fact, it was a similar incident that convinced Peter to follow Jesus, who previously was only a part-time disciple. They were no longer to be fishermen but fishers of men.
Even though they had witnessed the risen Jesus, their faith was still shaking between His appearances. This last one was perhaps a while later as the disciples by now had made their way back to the northern region of Galilee. If our faith is built only on the works of Jesus, then we too will be shaken when we don’t receive the answer to our prayers or don’t feel His presence in our lives anymore. Our faith can only be rooted in Christ through complete submission to His will for our lives. If not, like the disciples, we too will keep returning to our past.
The Breakfast by the Sea
When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it and some bread. Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish you have just caught.”John 21:9-10
Even though Jesus already had some fish cooking on coal, He asked Peter to bring some from His catch too. The simple answer would be that Jesus did not have enough fish for everyone, but it seems more like a way to let the disciples bring something to the table. Granted the catch was only possible because of Jesus but by taking fish from their catch Jesus made the disciples feel more involved during that breakfast. Furthermore, receiving bread and fish from Jesus that day would have surely made them recall the miraculous feeding of the multitudes during their heyday with Him. John notes that this was the third instance of such an appearance since Jesus had risen from the dead. But no one dared question Him as they all knew by now who Jesus is.
When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”John 21:15
Among all the disciples present there, from John’s perspective, this appearance of Jesus seemed more like a teachable moment for Peter as Jesus calls out Peter individually asking him if he loved Jesus more than the rest present there. Jesus could have also meant the stack of fishes that lay next to them as Peter seemingly had turned back to his day job, forgetting Jesus’ initial call several years ago, to be a fisher of men from that moment on. Jesus seemingly asks the same question to Peter two more times.
Some think Jesus is alluding to the three times Peter denied knowing Him during His trial. However, if we look closely, we find that the intensity of the word “love” in His question gradually decreases. The first two usages of the word are agapaō which is reserved for the love one has for God. The third usage is phileō which is the love we have for each other. These switches could also be a different way of expressing the same word by the author which was native to his style of writing. However, after going through the Gospel of John, one thing that we can say about the author with certainty is that he is very meticulous when it comes to choosing the exact words to pen down his experience with Christ.
So perhaps this was not a stylistic choice but these were the exact sequence of words Jesus used to question Peter. If that is the case, then Jesus is first asking Peter if He loves Jesus in the way one should love God (agapaō). When Jesus did not get an honest answer from him, He turned the question to mean does Peter even love Jesus like he does his earthly family and friends (phileō). That hurt Peter who burst out finally with an honest response saying
“Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”John 21:17
Jesus asks Peter to feed His sheep and asks the same from us. “Feed my sheep” can mean different things to different people. To Peter, it might have meant Church plantation while for the apostle Paul it would have been the missionary journey that took him to far-off lands, spreading the Gospel. We have also been called to Feed His sheep. How we do that or who are the sheep in our scenario, will all differ based on the leading of God for our lives. It can be anywhere on the spectrum of dedicating our lives for Christ to serve others to simply living a christ-like life that shines His light on others through us. Regardless of whatever our calling might be, we must be open to listening to His voice and obeying His instructions and not simply running away at the first sign of difficulty.
Then he said to him, “Follow me!” Peter turned and saw that the disciple whom Jesus loved was following them. When Peter saw him, he asked, “Lord, what about him?”John 21:21-22
Peter responds to Jesus’ call to follow Him by asking, “What about John?”. When Jesus calls us to follow Him, our response can’t be to ask who else is following Him like we do when considering to go for an office picnic. In the Gospel of John and in the first part of the Acts of the apostle written by Luke, we see the closeness of Peter and John as they even started ministering together. A bond formed between them as the former rival fishermen became part of the inner circle of Jesus. But regardless of their friendship, Jesus had two separate yet customised plans for both men. If they had remained together then they would not have been able to carry out the will of God for their lives. John might not even have written his account of the Gospel had he hung around with Peter any longer.
We must answer our call to Jesus as individuals. We don’t want to share our blessing with others but will gladly share the burden of the call with as many people as possible. We would rather trade that burden for human sympathy and praise. We spend countless hours worrying about someone else’s call and feel jealous when we see God working through them. But when God wants to work through us we hide behind the comfort of large numbers in our fellowships. We want people to share in our burden. Some pastors want their call to be the same for their church members as well and don’t actually stop to consider that God might have a different plan for each member of their congregation. Remember that God does not work in that way. He has called each of us as individuals and not as a cult that does the exact same thing week after week. Let’s learn from what Jesus was teaching Peter that day and focus only on our calling so that we can accomplish the will of the Father during our lifetime.
V6: Why do Peter and the other disciples return to their earlier profession of fishing?
V9: If Jesus already had fish and bread why did He need more fish from the disciples’ catch?
V15: “…do you love me more than these?” what did Jesus mean by asking this question?
V17: Why does Jesus repeatedly ask the same question to Peter?
V17: What does “Feed my Sheep” mean for us?
V21: Is Peter comparing his calling with John’s? What’s wrong with such comparisons?