John 21:20-25 – Peter and John (and John?)


Throughout the last two chapters of John, we are invited by John to see an interesting back and forth between him and Peter.


(1) John 20:3–5 (ESV) — 3 So Peter went out with the other disciple, and they were going toward the tomb. 4 Both of them were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 And stooping to look in, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he did not go in.

  • Peter then arrived and without hesitation went into the tomb.
  • Then John went in and believed.
  • John thought about it – Peter acted.
  • But neither understood how Scripture taught that the Messiah was to rise.


(2) John 21:7 (ESV) — 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.

  • Here John discerns the identity of the man on the shore as Jesus.
  • Peter responds to this knowledge with abandon.
  • Again, John is portrayed as perceiving and Peter as acting.


It is after this scene that Jesus begins the process of restoring Peter as the lead disciple.

  • I don’t think it is coincidence that Peter preaches the first new covenant, post-Pentecost sermon in Acts 2.
  • And following this we have today’s text and a third back and forth with Peter and John.


(3) John 21:20–21 (ESV) — 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?

  • Peter just learned that his call to follow Jesus will involve persecution and death.
  • We see here that Jesus’ conversation with Peter and His restoration of Peter took place as they walked along the beach.
  • And apparently, for whatever reason, John was following them.
  • Peter notices this and wants to know – “what about him” – “Lord, what about this man?


The Peter/John interactions and our text shed some insight onto three things that I want to look at.

  • (1) The nature of Peter and John’s relationship.
  • (2) The nature of Peter and John’s “following”.
  • (3) Rumors swirling in the Christian community related to Peter and John’s “following”.





(A) Peter and John – Relationship:

These two men were business partners and friends.

  • Luke 5:9–10a (ESV) — 9 For he and all who were with him were astonished at the catch of fish that they had taken, 10 and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon.
  • This of course means that Peter and John most likely lived in the same town.
  • And likely had known each other for a long time.
  • Along with Peter’s brother Andrew and John’s brother, James.


John 13:24–25 (ESV) — 24 so Simon Peter motioned to him to ask Jesus of whom he was speaking. 25 So that disciple, leaning back against Jesus, said to him, “Lord, who is it?”

  • John’s extremely close relationship to Jesus (he was the one seated next to Jesus and “leaning back against Jesus”) was only rivaled by his relationship with Peter.
  • D.A. Carson suggests that for Peter to signal to John in this context, “assumes a certain intimacy between the beloved disciple and Peter”.
  • This makes sense given John and Peter’s history together.


And as Acts shows, these two men clearly got along with each other.

  • In Acts, we see Peter and John joined at the hip speaking the Gospel.
  • Peter and John were preaching in Acts 3.
  • Peter and John were described as having “boldness” in Acts 4.
  • Peter and John were sent to Samaria together as the Gospel took off there in Acts 8.


Yet, as revealed in our text and in John 20 and 21, the two men were very different.

  • And wisely, because of these differences, Jesus called them to different styles of “following”.


(B) Peter and John – Following:

So, as we said, Jesus makes clear the nature of Peter’s following.

  • Perhaps then, Peter, not just out of selfish concern but out of concern for his dear friend asks about John’s future.
  • In fact, Carson says that the relationship shared by Peter and John “makes Peter’s question more comprehensible, if not more justifiable. His own prognosis is not very good: for Peter the cost of discipleship will be high. What about him? – D.A. Carson.
  • It is “natural for him to be curious” about the ministry of his friend – Beasley-Murray.
  • Given what we know about Peter and John, we need to be careful about seeing them as competitors.


Jesus answers Peter’s question – “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!

  • No doubt this response is curt and “sharp in tone” – Beasley-Murray.
  • But the reason for this appears not to be a condemnation of jealousy on the part of Peter.
  • “There is no belittling of either disciple” – D.A. Carson.
  • “There is no hint of a desire to denigrate Peter in the interest of the Beloved Disciple” – Beasley-Murray.


The reason seems to be twofold:

  • (1) Extol the value of different “followings”.
  • (2) Extol the value of your “following”.


“The one thing that matters is that [Peter] should follow his Lord…as the risen Lord guides him and reveals his unfolding task, till the final call to follow him in a death to the glory of God” – Beasley-Murray.

“One of them may be called to strategic pastoral ministry (vv. 15–17) and a martyr’s crown (vv. 18–19), and the other to a long life (v. 22) and to strategic historical-theological witness, in written form” – D.A. Carson.

  • “For Peter, Christlikeness is found in martyrdom (cf. 21:19 with 12:33); for the beloved disciple, Christlikeness manifests itself in witness grounded in unparalleled intimacy with Jesus (cf. 21:20, 24 with 13:23)” – Kostenberger.

“Peter is called to pastoral ministry and martyrdom, John to a long life and strategic, written witness—both callings are vital and equally important (Carson 1991: 681). In a personal lesson on discipleship, Jesus tells Peter to be content with his own calling and to leave that of others to him. This, in turn, becomes a general lesson relevant also for the readers of the Gospel” – Kostenberger.


The relevance to us is enormous.

  • Jesus chided Peter, “what is it to you?
  • And then repeated His earlier words, “You follow me!


The legitimacy and value of our “following” is known by a comparison to other peoples “followings”.

  • The legitimacy and value is found in a parallel to the two points above.
  • (1) Value your “following” as it should be – ordained by God.
  • (2) Don’t be in the habit of comparing/concerning yourself with other styles of “following”.
    • But how well you are committed to excellence in your “following”.


BTW – there is another implication of this that hit home for me.

  • I often feel “inadequate” or “guilty” because as an American my Christian “following” is not as costly as my Chinese brothers and sisters, for example.
  • I think Jesus’ words to Peter apply here.
  • I did not “born” myself in America – Jesus did.
  • I did not “born” myself into a well-off family – Jesus did.
  • I need to embrace these elements of my “following” and praise God for them.
  • And I need to understand that these things can be both a benefit and detraction from my “following”.
  • But I need to “follow” in this context – unashamedly.


(C) Peter and John – Rumors:

John 21:23 (ESV) — 23 So the saying spread abroad among the brothers 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?”


This is a remarkable insight into the writing of this Gospel.

  • Obviously, as years went by, there was a problem.
  • Many wrongly believed that Jesus said John was not going to die.
  • Yet as verse 23 states, Jesus was merely making a point that if John’s “following” means he will not die until Jesus comes back, so be it.
  • This fact is no concern of Peters.


We obviously don’t know why this falsehood began.

  • Jesus obviously did not say this.
  • But clearly John felt the need to correct it and he did so in his Gospel.
  • This rumor, then, must have been causing some serious problems to warrant this commentary.

Interestingly, Kostenberger suggests that, “It is not impossible that these final verses were penned by John’s disciples subsequent to his death in order to counter the charge that Jesus’ prediction had been proven erroneous by John’s death” – Kostenberger.

  • If so, this does explain why it shows up at the end of a Gospel.





John 21:24–25 (ESV) — 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.


It is here that we learn that the “disciple whom Jesus loved” is the eyewitness who wrote the Gospel of John.

  • Interestingly, this is the only Gospel that claims that eyewitness authorship.
  • We know Luke’s source was Paul.
  • We know Mark’s source was primarily Peter.
  • And, “Matthew was particularly modest in writing his gospel account. He always refers to himself in the third person and nowhere speaks of himself as the author” – John MacArthur.


So who was John, the eyewitness, the disciple whom Jesus loved?


The traditional contender for the job is John the brother of James.

  • Authorship, “relates historically to John the apostle, the son of Zebedee” – Kostenberger.
  • However, John the apostle’s authorship is not certain.
  • There was another disciple of Jesus named John that some believe could also be the author.
  • Richard Bauckham advocates this alternative authorship.


We know from Irenaeus that the John who wrote “John” lived until at least 98 AD.

  • “Irenaeus says he lived into the reign of Trajan, which began in 98 CE” – Richard Bauckham.


We know from Papias that there were two disciples of Jesus named John.

“I shall not hesitate also to put into properly ordered form for you (sing.) everything I learned carefully in the past from the elders and noted down well, for the truth of which I vouch. For unlike most people I did not enjoy those who have a great deal to say, but those who teach the truth. Nor did I enjoy those who recall someone else’s commandments, but those who remember the commandments given by the Lord to the faith and proceeding from the truth itself. And if by chance anyone who had been in attendance on the elders should come my way, I inquired about the words of the elders — [that is,] what [according to the elders] Andrew or Peter said (eipen), or Philip, or Thomas, or James, or John, or Matthew, or any other of the Lord’s disciples, and whatever Aristion and the elder John, the Lord’s disciples, were saying (legousin). For I did not think that information from books would profit me as much as information from a living and surviving voice (Eusebius, Hist. Eccl. 3.39.3-4)” – Quote from Papias from Richard Bauckham.


And we see in Papias’ words a distinction between John the brother of James and John the elder.

  • Additionally, Papias also called the “elder John” a disciple of Jesus.
  • In other words, he was a long lived eyewitness of the ministry of Jesus.
  • This is certainly intriguing but not a ditch to die in.


I merely want to point this out to demonstrate just how rich the Gospel of John is as both a Gospel of Jesus Christ and as an historical document full of awesome implications for church history.

  • It is no wonder that so many – Kostenberger, Carson, Bauckham and others – have invested so much time into this Gospel, its meaning and history.
  • It is for these reasons that we spent the last 2.5 years diving deep into its pages.
  • I hope that our time in Gospel has borne much fruit.
  • It certainly did for me!




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