The Light Dawns: Peter Is Reconciled to Jesus (A Study of John 21:4–9)

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When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 In the temple courts he found people selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. 15 So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. 16 To those who sold doves he said, “Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!” 17 His disciples remembered that it is written: “Zeal for your house will consume me.” (John 2:13-17

It is dawn, and Peter and his fishing buddies are still in the boat, still on the water, still haven’t caught anything. Perhaps it was the distance from shore, but in any case the disciples do not recognize the man standing on the seashore. He yells to them: “Friends [paidia probably with the sense “young lads” here], haven’t you any fish?” When they say no, he says, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” Without protest, they do as the stranger on the shore suggests, and with dramatic results. The catch is so huge that they can’t haul it into the boat. Suddenly, it dawns on the spiritually perceptive one what is going on, and the Beloved Disciple blurts out: “It is the Lord!” No sooner had the Beloved Disciple said this than Peter wrapped his outer garment around him and dove straight into the water, heading for shore. It would appear that Peter had some unfinished business with Jesus, and he desperately wanted an opportunity to be fully reconciled to Jesus and back in his good graces. When a fisherman by trade and inclination says, “To heck with the largest catch ever in the Sea of Galilee” and dives into the water and swims to shore, there is obviously something else urgent on his mind.

Fortunately for the other disciples left with the unenviable task of hauling the mother lode to shore, we learn that they were only about one hundred yards out in the water. And this brings us to a dramatic moment in this story that an alert hearer or reader would not miss. There are only two places in the entire Gospel of John where we hear about a charcoal fire. The last place is here in John 21, but the first place is in John 18:18, where we find Peter warming his hands by a charcoal fire, and about to deny Jesus three times. As I have said before, nothing in this gospel is purely incidental. It has been very carefully put together. Peter denied Jesus by a charcoal fire, and he will be restored beside one. One wonders if Peter himself made the mental connection. In any case, it is not a surprise that what follows is very emotional.

Questions for Reflection

  1. Fishing is an enterprise that often requires the patience of Job. Why do you think Jesus initially suggested that he would make the disciples “fishers of human beings”? Which is easier, catching fish or hooking people?
  2. I n this narrative we see again Peter the impulsive and emotional one, and the Beloved Disciple, the perceptive one, as at the garden tomb. How much do you think pure human personality affects one’s relationship with the Lord?
  3. Why do you think Jesus called the disciples “lads” or even “little children”?

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Dr. Witherington joined the Asbury Seminary faculty in 1995. A prolific author, Dr. Witherington has written more than 40 books and six commentaries. He is a John Wesley Fellow for Life, a research fellow at Cambridge University and a member of numerous professional organizations, including the Society of Biblical Literature, Society for the Study of the New Testament and the Institute for Biblical Research. In his leisure time, Dr. Witherington appreciates both music and sports. It is hard to say which sound he prefers: the sophisticated sonance of jazz sensation Pat Metheny or the incessant tomahawk chant of the Atlanta Braves faithful. A graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill, he is a dedicated Tar Heels basketball and football fan. He and his wife, Ann, have two children.

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