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Of all the resurrection appearances of Jesus, doubtless the one that probed Peter most deeply is the one reported in John 21.
It starts off with seven disciples going fishing, catching nothing overnight, and then pulling in a vast catch at Jesus’ command. It continues with a breakfast over coals on the beach (John 21:1–14). There follows the memorable exchange that reinstates Peter after his ignominious disowning of his master.
(1) In the interchange between Jesus and Peter (John 21:15–17), the interplay of two different Greek words for “love” has convinced many commentators that there is something profoundly weighty about the distinction (though the distinction itself is variously explained). For various reasons, I remain unpersuaded. John loves to use synonyms, with very little distinction in meaning. The terms vary for feed/take care/feed, and for lambs/sheep/sheep, just as they varied for “love.” In John 3:35, the Father “loves” the Son, and one of the two verbs is used; in John 5:20, the Father “loves” the Son, and the other of the two verbs is used—and there is no distinction in meaning whatsoever. Both verbs can have good or bad connotations; everything is determined by context. If we are to probe the significance of this exchange between Jesus and Peter, we shall have to depend on something other than the interchange of the two Greek verbs. So drop the “truly” in John 21:15 and 16 (which is the NIV’s way of trying to maintain a distinction between the two verbs).
(2) “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” (John 21:15, italics added). Does “these” refer to “these other disciples” or to “these fish”? In Matthew 26:33, Peter boasts that he will never fall away, even if all the other disciples do. That boast is not reported in John’s gospel, even though John records Peter’s awful denials. Alternatively, since the men have just been fishing, perhaps “these” refers to the fish. But if so, why pick only on Peter, and not on all seven disciples? On balance, I suspect this passage is reminding Peter of his fateful boast, and this is one of the passages that provides a kind of interlocking of accounts between John and the Synoptic Gospels. Is Peter still prepared to assert his moral superiority over the other disciples?
(3) Three times Jesus runs through the same question; three times he elicits a response; three times he commissions Peter. As the denial was threefold (John 18:15–18, 25–27), so also are these steps of restoration. Peter is “hurt” by the procedure (John 21:17); the next verses show he still retains streaks of immaturity (see vol. 1, meditation for March 31). But while Jesus here gladly restores a broken disciple who has disowned him, he makes him face his sin, declare his love, and receive a commission.
Both of our primary readings for this last day of the year convey hope.
The first, 2 Chronicles 36, depicts the final destruction of Jerusalem. The Babylonians raze the city and the leading citizenry are transported seven or eight hundred miles from home. But the closing verses admit a whisper of hope. Babylon does not have the last word. Decades later the Persian empire takes over and becomes the regional superpower, and Cyrus the king authorizes the return of the exiles to Jerusalem and the construction of a new temple. Historically, of course, the Persians established this policy for all the peoples that the Babylonians had transported: they were all permitted to return home. But the chronicler rightly sees the application of this policy to Israel as supreme evidence of the hand of God, and a new stage in the history of redemption that would bring about the fulfillment of all God’s promises.
The hope depicted in the second reading, Revelation 22, is of a superior order. The opening verses complete the vision of Revelation 21. The blessedness of the consummation turns on such matters as these: the water of life flows freely from the throne of God and of the Lamb; all the results of the curse are expunged; God’s people will constantly see his face, i.e., they will forever be in his presence; there are no more cycles of night and day—again, the point is moral, not astronomical, i.e., there will be no more cycles of good and evil, of light and darkness, for all will live in the light of God.
Granted the sheer goodness and glory of this sustained and symbol-laden vision of the consummation and the triumph of redemption, the rest of the chapter is largely devoted to assuring the reader of the utter reliability of this vision, and therefore of the absolute importance of being among those “who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city” (Rev. 22:14). Here, then, is the ultimate hope, such that if one turns away this time, there is no more hope. There is only a fearful anticipation of final wrath. We are not there yet, the author says, but the climax is not far away, and when it comes, it will be too late.
The resurrected and exalted Jesus, the one who is the Root and Offspring of David and the bright Morning Star (Rev. 22:16), solemnly declares, “Behold, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End” (Rev. 22:12–13).
36:1 The people of the land took Jehoahaz the son of Josiah and made him king in his father's place in Jerusalem. 2 Jehoahaz was twenty-three years old when he began to reign, and he reigned three months in Jerusalem. 3 Then the king of Egypt deposed him in Jerusalem and laid on the land a tribute of a hundred talents of silver and a talent1 of gold. 4 And the king of Egypt made Eliakim his brother king over Judah and Jerusalem, and changed his name to Jehoiakim. But Neco took Jehoahaz his brother and carried him to Egypt.
5 Jehoiakim was twenty-five years old when he began to reign, and he reigned eleven years in Jerusalem. He did what was evil in the sight of the LORD his God. 6 Against him came up Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon and bound him in chains to take him to Babylon. 7 Nebuchadnezzar also carried part of the vessels of the house of the LORD to Babylon and put them in his palace in Babylon. 8 Now the rest of the acts of Jehoiakim, and the abominations that he did, and what was found against him, behold, they are written in the Book of the Kings of Israel and Judah. And Jehoiachin his son reigned in his place.
9 Jehoiachin was eighteen2 years old when he became king, and he reigned three months and ten days in Jerusalem. He did what was evil in the sight of the LORD. 10 In the spring of the year King Nebuchadnezzar sent and brought him to Babylon, with the precious vessels of the house of the LORD, and made his brother Zedekiah king over Judah and Jerusalem.
11 Zedekiah was twenty-one years old when he began to reign, and he reigned eleven years in Jerusalem. 12 He did what was evil in the sight of the LORD his God. He did not humble himself before Jeremiah the prophet, who spoke from the mouth of the LORD. 13 He also rebelled against King Nebuchadnezzar, who had made him swear by God. He stiffened his neck and hardened his heart against turning to the LORD, the God of Israel. 14 All the officers of the priests and the people likewise were exceedingly unfaithful, following all the abominations of the nations. And they polluted the house of the LORD that he had made holy in Jerusalem.
15 The LORD, the God of their fathers, sent persistently to them by his messengers, because he had compassion on his people and on his dwelling place. 16 But they kept mocking the messengers of God, despising his words and scoffing at his prophets, until the wrath of the LORD rose against his people, until there was no remedy.
17 Therefore he brought up against them the king of the Chaldeans, who killed their young men with the sword in the house of their sanctuary and had no compassion on young man or virgin, old man or aged. He gave them all into his hand. 18 And all the vessels of the house of God, great and small, and the treasures of the house of the LORD, and the treasures of the king and of his princes, all these he brought to Babylon. 19 And they burned the house of God and broke down the wall of Jerusalem and burned all its palaces with fire and destroyed all its precious vessels. 20 He took into exile in Babylon those who had escaped from the sword, and they became servants to him and to his sons until the establishment of the kingdom of Persia, 21 to fulfill the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah, until the land had enjoyed its Sabbaths. All the days that it lay desolate it kept Sabbath, to fulfill seventy years.
22 Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the LORD stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom and also put it in writing: 23 “Thus says Cyrus king of Persia, ‘The LORD, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and he has charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever is among you of all his people, may the LORD his God be with him. Let him go up.’”
22:1 Then the angel1 showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb 2 through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life2 with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. 3 No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. 4 They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. 5 And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.
6 And he said to me, “These words are trustworthy and true. And the Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets, has sent his angel to show his servants what must soon take place.”
7 “And behold, I am coming soon. Blessed is the one who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book.”
8 I, John, am the one who heard and saw these things. And when I heard and saw them, I fell down to worship at the feet of the angel who showed them to me, 9 but he said to me, “You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your brothers the prophets, and with those who keep the words of this book. Worship God.”
10 And he said to me, “Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time is near. 11 Let the evildoer still do evil, and the filthy still be filthy, and the righteous still do right, and the holy still be holy.”
12 “Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay each one for what he has done. 13 I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.”
14 Blessed are those who wash their robes,3 so that they may have the right to the tree of life and that they may enter the city by the gates. 15 Outside are the dogs and sorcerers and the sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.
16 “I, Jesus, have sent my angel to testify to you about these things for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.”
17 The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price.
18 I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, 19 and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.
20 He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!
21 The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all.4 Amen.
4:1 “For behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble. The day that is coming shall set them ablaze, says the LORD of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch. 2 But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall. 3 And you shall tread down the wicked, for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet, on the day when I act, says the LORD of hosts.
4 “Remember the law of my servant Moses, the statutes and rules1 that I commanded him at Horeb for all Israel.
5 “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes. 6 And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.”2
21:1 After this Jesus revealed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias, and he revealed himself in this way. 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 will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.
4 Just as day was breaking, Jesus stood on the shore; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. 5 Jesus said to them, “Children, do you have any fish?” They answered him, “No.” 6 He said to them, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in, because of the quantity of fish. 7 That disciple whom Jesus loved therefore said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his outer garment, for he was stripped for work, and threw himself into the sea. 8 The other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, but about a hundred yards1 off.
9 When they got out on land, they saw a charcoal fire in place, with fish laid out on it, and bread. 10 Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” 11 So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, 153 of them. And although there were so many, the net was not torn. 12 Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. 13 Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and so with the fish. 14 This was now the third time that Jesus was revealed to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.
15 When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, 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 a second time, “Simon, son of John, 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 John, 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 everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. 18 Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” 19 (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me.”
20 Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them, the one who also had leaned back against him during the supper and had said, “Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?” 21 When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, “Lord, what about this man?” 22 Jesus said to him, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!” 23 So the saying spread abroad among the brothers2 that this disciple was not to die; yet Jesus did not say to him that he was not to die, but, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?”
24 This is the disciple who is bearing witness about these things, and who has written these things, and we know that his testimony is true.
25 Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.