It is fairly generally
agreed that this part of John's record is a kind of
after-inspiration. The main narrative closed with the
comprehensive statement of 20:30,31.
We have to try to see
why John should have had this reaction from his closure
and should have felt constrained to append this further
episode with its several aspects. He evidently felt it
important and necessary to do so. Hence it must not fail
to register with us as being something more than an
afterthought or a sudden recollection of an omission.
Firstly, we must
realize that what is here is a part of Luke's emphatic
statement: "To whom he also shewed [presented]
himself alive after his passion by many proofs, appearing
unto them by the space of forty days, and speaking the
things concerning the kingdom of God" (Acts 1:3).
This, then, is an
integral part of the purpose of the forty days. The
Lord's definite purpose in that period (which was
probationary and testing: the number forty always
indicates that in the Bible) was - on the one side to
detach His Church (here represented in another symbolic
number - seven) from an old, purely earthly, sentient and
natural relationship with Himself, and on the other side
to establish a new basis of that relationship and
service, that is, a heavenly, spiritual, and universal.
John had just written
concerning Mary's sudden recognition of her Lord,
probably by the way in which He spoke her name (20:16).
He said to her: "Take not hold on me." This
would at least imply that the old relationship and its
physical form (Mary had anointed His feet and head) no
longer obtained, but had changed. It was now a spiritual
one entirely. John's Gospel is the one of spirituality;
he called the miracles of Jesus "signs,"
meaning that they were intended to signify spiritual
truths and principles and not to be just mighty acts. So
this last part of the record is full of spiritual
principles. These we must grasp.
Having seen, then, that
the first principle is the new kind of relationship, let
us take that a step further. This new basis requires that
the men of the new dispensation be spiritual men, and
their work is to be spiritual work. This is exceedingly
testing to the natural man. Indeed, he cannot stand up to
it. Until he receives the Holy Spirit as an indwelling
reality, and so becomes a spiritual person basically, all
attempts to cope with spiritual things will be defeated.
"The natural man cannot know the things which are
spiritual," said Paul (1 Cor. 2:14). Now this is
borne out in the case of the central figure in the circle
of disciples in our chapter.
It would seem evident
that the new phase or form of things, which had come in
with the Lord's resurrection - appearances and
disappearances, was too much for Peter. He was no
mystic. There was nothing of that in his makeup. He was
just one of the very practical type, with whom policy is
often more than principle. Things must just "come
down to earth," and be "black and white";
one must "call a spade a spade." "Let's
see exactly where we are," they say. "It is
ends that matter, not so much how you reach them."
To such, anything that cannot be defined in obvious
explanation is not real; indeed it is most
So Peter, not made for
this "uncertain" and "illusive" kind
of life, cannot bear it longer, and he says: "I go a
fishing." "That is practical and tangible,
anyway, and we do have some qualification in that realm -
we are at home there." Sensitiveness and imagination
are not the strong points of this temperament. It rides
roughly over delicate ground. Rough seas, and the
practical features of a fisherman's life, are more in
keeping with this disposition than tender lambs and
foolish sheep. Indeed, it would sooner beard lions than
So "I go a
fishing" is the reaction from the seeming uncertainties
of the spiritual life. Peter was going to learn
differently before long. Peter seems to have had a
magnetic influence over others. Even the more spiritual
John seems to have been affected by him. Although John
had just recently outrun Peter to the tomb, his
sensitiveness kept him from doing more than look in. But
following up, puffing and blowing, came Peter, and he,
without any such delicate restraint, "entered
in." "Then entered in therefore the other
disciple also." Unconscious influence! And so on
this other occasion the rest said: "We also come
There is a strange and
notable anomaly about this particular type of person.
With all the physical venturesomeness, initiative,
aggressiveness, and even self-confidence, there is the
contrast between physical and moral courage, to say
nothing of spiritual courage. Peter is a well-known
example, and the particular instances need not be pointed
out. This representative seven will learn the fundamental
lesson of the new age which had dawned.
So "they went
forth, and entered into the boat; and that night they
took nothing." "That night"!
We now have the
background set for the message of the important
"afterthought" or new urge of John in this
"appendix" (?). But let us note at this point
that a very great deal of spiritual value, enlargement,
adjustment, and eternal significance may be bound up with
frustration and disappointment. "That
night" was a turning point. There is often
Providence in reverses. Success along natural lines might
seriously jeopardize or sabotage the whole spiritual
intention of God! So, whether it be in a swift and almost
immediate setback, or in a long-drawn-out sapping of
gratification, a slow realization forced upon us that we
are getting nowhere in the things that really matter, the
faithfulness of God makes reverses and abortive labor one
of His ways of deep education.
So, then, the inclusive
lesson of this chapter is that of -
Difference Between the Natural and the Spiritual
Natural disposition. Natural ability. Natural direction.
Natural energy. Natural courage. It is so evident that
the coming of the Spirit on the Day of Pentecost meant a
change in this whole realm. Note that this was just the
point at which things went astray. The Lord had
"charged them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to
wait for the promise of the Father" (Acts 1:4).
Peter said: "I go a fishing." Jesus had said
much about the coming Holy Spirit. Peter said
"I," and they said "We." Very well,
then, there can only be "nothing" along that
line! This is the age of the Holy Spirit, and apart from
His absolute government the story must be one of toil for
nothing where the Church is concerned.
Peter seems to have had
little capacity for the spiritual he seems to have broken
down at that point all along. See such instances as:
"Lord, thou shalt never wash my feet"; "Be
it far from thee, Lord: this shall never be unto
thee"; etc. But this capacity came in a new and
wonderful way with the Holy Spirit. The same was true on
all the other points mentioned above.
The Lord turned this
many-sided difference upon one point, both in the
symbolic act and in a final word. The point was -
Subjection to the Lordship of Christ
All the natural grounds
of assurance being exhausted - training, experience,
facility, ability, the suitable season, etc. - the Lord
issued a challenge. It was a critical moment. All natural
arguments would have been naturally justified in flouting
But it may have been
the last resort of a forlorn hope, or something in the
tone and manner of the command they obeyed.
Peter ever stands out
afterward as the man who, when Christ prevailed, moved
into a new fullness in a new realm - I leave you to
follow that out. He is the great example of
the principle that subjection to Christ is the way of
spiritual fullness. This was the lesson of the early
morning - the new day. This was the Lord's meaning when
He said: "Truly, truly, I say unto thee, When
thou was young, thou girdedst thyself, and walkedst
whither thou wouldest: but when thou shalt be old,
thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall
gird thee, and carry thee whither thou wouldest
The Lord knew Peter -
that there was, and always would be, that element in him
of "thou wouldest" or "wouldest
not," but that in progressive and final submission
he should "glorify God."
In this Lordship of
Christ two further factors existed.
One, the whole question
of the nature and quality of his love for Christ. It is
so well known that in His threefold challenge to Peter
(verses 15-17) the Lord used one word for love, while
Peter used another and a lesser. We do not enlarge upon
this, beyond pointing out that the quality of love is
tested by our ability to let go to the Lord and empty
ourselves of ourselves before Him.
The other thing is that
Flows from Subjection and Love
The Lord had more than
once sought to inculcate this principle with His
disciples - notably in the feet-washing incident (chap.
12). It was the principle of His own coming and
service. Through Paul it came out in its fullness (Phil.
2:5-8). He, our Master, emptied and humbled Himself, and
became the Good Shepherd, laying down His life
for the sheep. It was actuated, not by
"fondness," but by "love." Not by
protestations of love (as with Peter), but by proved and faithful
- undenying - love.
This is the heart of
this dialogue between the Master and the servant; the
Chief Shepherd and the under-shepherd, in our chapter.
As we have said, it
represents a change of disposition in Peter. Some
thoughtful, patient and humble care is required to
"feed my sheep," "Feed my lambs," and
impulsive, erratic, blustering hotheadedness will not do;
neither will self-will and self-confidence.
So the "third
time that Jesus was manifested to the disciples, after
that he was risen..." (vs. 14) taught them the great
principles of the new age of the Spirit into which they
1. Christ can, and
must, be known only after the Spirit now, not after the
2. When we have become
spiritual men and women by having received the Spirit,
this is actually a more real way of knowing Him.
3. Working in the flesh
from our own impulses; reactions or lapses from this
heavenly resurrection position into natural efforts and
energies, will result in "nothing."
4. The Lord, in mercy
and grace, does not leave us finally in the despair of
such failure, but even allows or orders the failure, to
teach us the lesson that the way of abundant fullness is
that of resurrection life and power.
5. The absolute
Lordship of Christ is the supreme and inclusive law of
life and service in this age, involving our utter
6. That law may mean
work for which we are not naturally qualified, or to
which we are not temperamentally disposed, but for which
ability comes by the fullness of the Spirit.
7. Although the
situation is so strange and mysterious to all our natural
make-up, and we need new and other capacities, yet it is
more potent, fruitful and permanent than all that we
could do on the level of human natural abilities.