Theme: The Beginning and End of John’s Gospel
In this week’s lessons, we look at Jesus’ conversation with Peter in John 21, where he restores Peter after his denial, and commissions him for useful service.
Scripture: John 21:15-22
Here in John 21 we come to Peter. Now this, of course, is not the first time he has appeared in this Gospel, but here in this chapter we have the most important incident involving Peter that the Apostle John records. I suppose a few words about this chapter are in order as we begin, because it does seem a strange chapter. To anybody who’s made his or her way through the Gospel to this point, it seems to be something just tacked on. Now that is not what is really happening. It does belong here. The problem really is that we sense that we’ve reached a great climax at the end of chapter 20, in verse 28, when Thomas says to Jesus, “My Lord and my God.” That’s what it’s all been leading to.
And John points that out in case we’ve missed it, because the final verses of the chapter say that he has chosen to include in this Gospel the things that he has in order that you might be led to that same confession as well. The reason we are told about Jesus Christ is that we might believe that he is indeed the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing we might have life in his name. So we are called to make the same profession that Thomas made.
Now with that kind of a peak and that kind of a climax, we look at this chapter and we ask why in the world is that here? If we were to expect anything at this point, it would be an account of the ascension. And yet, John doesn’t tell about it.
Well, I want to suggest that the key to understanding this chapter is to recognize that it is parallel to the first part of chapter 1. If you outline the Gospel the way some people do, you find a prologue in John 1:1-18, and then the body of the Gospel divided into two parts. The first is what is called the Book of Signs, including chapters 1-12, and the second part, known as the Book of the Passion, which is chapters 13-20. And then at the very end, chapter 21, you have an epilogue. So the epilogue at the end parallels the prologue at the beginning.
And yet, it’s not just in the structure that this is significant. You see an important thematic connection as well. In the prologue you have reference not only to the incarnation, but also to the preincarnate existence of Jesus Christ, the Word. What does chapter 21 tell us? Well, that is a post-resurrection ministry of Jesus Christ. Now when you begin to pick up what is happening here, you begin to see that what is put here in chapter 21 is a picture of what Jesus Christ is continuing to do in his church now during the present age. So in the prologue you have what he was doing before he came to earth, in the body of the Gospel you have a description of what he did while he was here, and then in chapter 21, the epilogue, what he’s doing after his resurrection, and also now after he has ascended into heaven. What he is doing, both after his resurrection and now from his throne in heaven, is teaching things that are lessons for us as we live now in the church age.
You might ask what’s in this chapter. You can divide it up in different ways, but there are a few lessons that are obvious. First of all, there’s the lesson that is an illustration of John 15:5. In the fifteenth chapter Jesus told his disciples that he is the vine, they are the branches, and they have to be in him to be fruitful. Then he put it negatively. He went on to say that without him they can do nothing.
That’s what we have here. There are the disciples going out to fish and they fish all night. They’re accomplished, experienced fishermen, yet they catch nothing. You see, as Jesus said in John 15, “Apart from me you can do nothing.”
What is said to be the climax of John 20, and how does that fit with why John says his Gospel was written?
What thematic connection is made between the prologue of John 1 and the epilogue of John 21?
What is the first lesson drawn from chapter 21?