This is the second video in a series entitled, “Real Solutions to Real Problems.” In this presentation you will learn from the Bible three transforming principles for overcoming failure.
All Scriptures are from the New King James Version Bible unless otherwise noted. Digital images are used with permission from Goodsalt.com, Good News Productions International and College Press Publishing / FreeBibleimages.org, John Paul Stanley / YoPlace.com, or they are creative common licenses.
“So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth.” Revelation 3:16
Jesus now speaks to the last of the seven churches. “And to the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write, ‘These things says the Amen, the Faithful and True Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God.’ ” (Revelation 3:14).
“Laodicea was a large and prosperous city forty miles southeast of Philadelphia where many wealthy people retired, thereby establishing it as a renowned banking center. A medical center specializing in eye salve and a prominent wool industry famous for its glossy black garments added to its material prosperity. Because they lived in the midst of this affluent city, the believers dwelling there also became affluent. Unfortunately, these believers allowed their wealth to ruin their effectiveness for Christ, and they did not even know it! Because of their outward wealth they had no clue as to their inward poverty. Therefore, the Judge of the churches sends a stern rebuke in their direction to move them to repent as well as an invitation to open the door to close fellowship with Him once again.”1
“Ancient pagans had hundreds of false gods to choose from, but modern pagans who may have rejected the worship of idols still have one false god that controls their lives: self. Self-expression, self-confidence, self-worth, self-reliance—these concepts all revolve around the myth that human beings have an inexhaustible source of strength within themselves. Such worthy people, of course, have trouble attributing all worth to God, which is the very definition of worship!
“Sadly, Christians aren’t immune to the disease of self-reliance. When believers in Christ rely on their own strength for good works, operating by the power of the flesh rather than by the power of the Spirit (Gal. 3:3), they produce ineffective and useless works. When believers think their own resources are sufficient, they glow with pride. And when believers look to themselves to provide for their own needs, they shine with self-sufficiency. Christ’s messages to the seven churches in Asia come to a close with a tragic letter to the self-sufficient, self-righteous, self-serving church in Laodicea. In their inexhaustible wealth and independent spirit, the Laodiceans were severely rebuked by the One who knew them better than they knew themselves. In fact, the Lord didn’t state a single word of commendation—only stinging reproof. That church suffered from pervasive self-reliance, hypocritical works done in their own strength, and an apathetic attitude toward the authority of Christ. Sadly, Christ’s hard words for Laodicea resonate with relevance for many churches and Christians today.”2
Jesus refers to Himself as “the Amen” (lit. truly)3 because the Laodicean church needed the truth. As “the Faithful and True Witness,” Jesus would provide a faithful and true assessment of their spiritual condition (3:14a). “The Laodiceans had a reputation for saying and doing whatever was necessary to preserve their own well-being. In contrast with them, Jesus spoke the truth.”4
Christ also refers to Himself as “the Beginningof the creation of God” because this church was self-sufficiently wealthy, and they needed to be reminded that everything they possessed was from their Creator God (3:14b). When churches forget this truth, they can begin to feel entitled to whatever they want. They can easily seek to be in control instead of yielding to God’s control.
Non-Trinitarians think this phrase (“the Beginningof the creation of God”) means Jesus is a created being. But the Greek word translated “Beginning” (archē) means the “First Cause” of God’s creation. 5Jesus is the Creator or originating source of creation (Revelation 1:18; 2:8; 3:21; 5:13; cf. John 1:3; Colossians 1:15-16; Hebrews 1:2), not the first creature to be created. 6
Laodicea had suffered a severe earthquake that destroyed it, but its prosperous citizens had subsequently rebuilt it, without the aid of Rome. The Laodiceans were creative, but Jesus Christ alone was the Creator (cf. John 1:3; Colossians 1:15-16). 7 Jesus could also give them the spiritual wealth they so desperately needed in their current state of spiritual impoverishment. 8
Jesus then rebukes this church for being indifferent. “15 I know your works, that you areneither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. 16 So then, because you arelukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth.” (Revelation 3:15-16). These believers in Jesus wereneither refreshing (“cold”)nor soothing or stimulating (“hot”). They were “lukewarm.”
“This rebuke would have been especially meaningful to this church, for water was piped to the city from Hierapolis, a few miles north. By the time the water reached Laodicea, it was lukewarm!” 9
“Nobody orders a lukewarm drink. They want iced tea or hot coffee. In the spiritual realm, God finds tepidness unappealing as well.”10
Because the Laodicean Christians had no cool water for the spiritually thirsty people around them (cf. John 4:13-14) and they were not hot enough spiritually to stir up one another’s faith, 11 God was disgusted with them. He said, “I will vomit you out of My mouth.” Christ’s response to this self-reliant, self-righteous, and self-serving church was about the least flattering response you could receive, especially from the only Person in the universe Whose opinion matters the most. Essentially Jesus was saying,“You make me sick!”12
The phrase “I will vomit you out of My mouth,” cannot be a reference to the loss of salvation because that would contradict John’s other writings (cf. John 3:15-16; 4:10-14; 5:24; 6:35-40; 10:28-29; 11:25-26; I John 5:1, 13). The Bible tells us that the gifts of God are irreversible. “For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.” (Romans 11:29). God promises eternal life as a free gift to all who believe in Jesus Christ (John 3:16; Romans 6:23). Since “the gifts … of God are irrevocable” (Romans 11:29) and eternal life is a “gift of God” (Romans 6:23), then eternal life is “irrevocable.” When a person believes in Christ for His gift of eternal life, it cannot be given back to God nor taken back by God no matter how the believer lives because it is irreversible or permanent (John 3:16; 6:35-40; 10:28-29; 11:25-27; Romans 8:31-39; et al.). God did not save us from hell because of our goodness (cf. Romans 4:5; Ephesians 2:8-9; Titus 3:5-7), and He will not abandon us because of our sinfulness (cf. John 6:37; Hebrews 13:5).
One of my mentors, Zane Hodges, thought it possible that the Lord is referring here to the Rapture or sudden removal of the church from the earth (Revelation 4:1-4; cf. I Thessalonians 4:13-5:11). The Lord Jesus will be so disgusted with the indifference and self-reliance of Christians at the end of the Church age (Laodicea is the last church listed during this age), that He will vomit them up to heaven through the Rapture (Revelation 4:1-4). Then He will start all over in the Tribulation with the Two Witnesses preaching the gospel of the kingdom during the first half of the 7-year Tribulation (Revelation 11:1-13) followed by the worldwide witness of the 144,000 Jewish evangelists in the second half of the Tribulation (Revelation 7:1-17; 14:1-5).
Not only does Jesus give these seven local churches warnings and encouragements that are as applicable today as they were in the first century, these letters also “prove to be prophetic of the history of Christianity following their writing. Most Christians in the first century may not have seen this, but one can hardly deny it now. It has become increasingly obvious as church history has unfolded. Chapters 2 and 3 are therefore prophetic, as are the rest of the chapters of Revelation.”13
This is known as “the Historico-Prophetical View.” Proponents of this view understand the seven churches in Revelation 2 and 3 existed in the first century, and what characterized each of them has represented other local churches in various locations throughout church history. However, they also reveal the history of the church from the time John wrote to the Rapture in seven successive periods. 14
Constable writes, “A general scheme of the periods of western civilization that correspond to the conditions described in each of the letters to the seven churches is as follows: 15
Prior to the Rapture of the church (Revelation 4:1-4), Jesus gives some serious advice to this self-reliant church: “17 Because you say, ‘I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing’—and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked— 18 I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich; and white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see.” (Revelation 3:17-18). Because the Laodiceans had become materially wealthy they thought they “had need of nothing,” including God (3:17a). The Laodiceans were materially “rich”; Christ says they are “poor” spiritually (3:17b). Laodicea had a world-famous medical center that was known for treating eye disease; Jesus informs them that they are “blind” spiritually (3:17c). Laodicea was a center for manufacturing clothing; Jesus declares that they are “naked” spiritually (3:17d). These believers were spiritually destitute, and they did not even know it.
“Here Jesus debunks a prominent lie of prosperity theology: being materially successfulmeans God has blessed you. Not so. The Laodiceans said, I’m rich; I have become wealthy and need nothing. But the external appearance of prosperity was not indicative of the condition of their hearts or their level of fellowship with God. They were spiritually uncommitted, carnal, and compromising. As Jesus put it, they were wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked spiritually.”16
“Because their self-estimate was so deeply flawed, the Lord gave them counsel as to exactly what they needed to do. Their ability to pull out of their disastrous spiritual condition rested on their paying the price they needed to pay spiritually.” 17
If someone told us that everything about us makes him want to vomit, we would not expect to hear from that person again. 18 But as “the Faithful and True Witness,” the Lord Jesus also continues to extend love and grace to His church no matter how unappealing her spiritual condition is. Christ counsels them to be faithful by instructing them to “buy” three things (3:18). Obviously, this is not talking about our salvation because Christ has already bought that through His sacrificial death on the cross (cf. I Corinthians 6:20; 2 Peter 2:1). 19 In addition, salvation is a free gift which cannot be bought (Revelation 21:6b; 22:17b; cf. Romans 4:5; 6:23b; Ephesians 2:8-9). But in Revelation 3:18, Jesus is speaking figuratively when He counsels them to “buy” three things that these complacent and carnal Christians need:
– “gold refined in fire” which represents eternal rewards that stand the test of the Judgment Seat of Christ (cf. I Corinthians 3:11-15). They were to be faithful to Jesus by having faith that is tested by fire (I Peter 1:6-7).
– “white garments.” Their shameful nakedness was to be clothed, not by purchasing the sleek black wool that was made in Laodicea, but by buying “white garments,” which refer to being faithful to Christ through righteous conduct and serving God (Revelation 19:8), not out of selfish motives, but in a way that pleases the Lord (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:3, 9-10).
– “eye salve.” Instead of purchasing the eye salve that was produced and sold in Laodicea, they were to buy a spiritual “eye salve” that would enable them to see more clearly on a spiritual level and remain faithful to Christ. For this to happen, they must see their desperate need to get into the Word of God and to ask God’s Spirit to help them understand and apply it to their lives (cf. John 9:6; James 1:22; 1 John 2:20, 27). 20
The church of Laodicea is typical of the modern church which denies its spiritual needs and is content with its beautiful buildings and all the material things money can buy. Notice that verse 18 does not tell us the purchase price for these items. We are not told how much the refined gold, white garments, and eye salve will cost us. The Lord Jesus will tell us this in the next verse.
The believers at Laodicea may have felt Jesus was being overly harsh with them, so Christ reminds them, “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten.” (Revelation 3:19a). Jesus’ rebuke of them is evidence of His love. If He did not love them, He would not rebuke them in their spiritually lukewarm condition. But Christ wants the best for them (and us), so He tells them what they need to hear, even though it may be painful for them.
If the Laodiceans did not listen to Jesus, His love for them would lead Him to “chasten” them. The word “chasten” (paideuō) literally means “child-training.”21 It refers to correcting or instructing a child. 22 It is always an activity of God toward Christians, not non-Christians (cf. Hebrews 12:5-11). 23
“The church at Laodicea is typical of a modern church quite unconscious of its spiritual needs and content with beautiful buildings and all the material things money can buy. This is a searching and penetrating message.”24
Jesus then says, “Therefore be zealous and repent.” (Revelation 3:19b). How does a church or individual Christian buy gold refined in fire, white garments, and eye salve? That is, how does an indifferent church become spiritually healthy and earn eternal rewards? By being “zealous” for good works and “repenting.”
All Christians are to be known in the church and in their community as people who are zealous for good works – who are eager to please God. What do you have zeal for in your Christian life? A nice house? A car? A well-kept home? A large retirement plan? An attractive appearance? A bigger church building? These things are not wrong in and of themselves. But the number one aim in our lives should be to please God – to love Him above all else and our neighbor as ourselves (Matthew 22:37-39).
The word “repent” (metanoeō) refers to a change of mind or way of thinking. 25 The Laodiceans needed to change their minds and realize they did not have it all together spiritually and that their lives were not pleasing to the Lord. Whatever we are doing that is not pleasing to the Lord is to be corrected. We are to confess that it is wrong to God (I John 1:9) and start doing what we know is pleasing to Him.
The Laodiceans are to repent of their self-sufficient, half-hearted service, and remain faithful to Christ, fervently serving Him. Hence, when Christians are zealous for good works and repent of wrong attitudes and actions, they will…
– lay up refined gold or eternal rewards that stand the test of the Judgment Seat of Christ (3:18a; I Corinthians 3:8-15).
– be clothed with the proper white garments or righteous conduct that will glorify Christ in eternity (3:18b; cf. 3:5; 19:8).
– be able to see properly on a spiritual level (3:18c; cf. Matthew 5:8; Hebrews 12:14).
Jesus says, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock.” (Revelation 3:20a). Many Christians have mistakenly understood this verse to refer to salvation. But we have already seen that the “churches” in Revelation 2 and 3 refer to genuine Christians. In the context, the Lord Jesus has been talking about works, not faith; He has been addressing service, not salvation; He has exhorted us to be zealous for good works and repent of works that sicken the Lord.
The Lord is now saying if a church invites Christ in for dinner, He will come, and they will have fellowship together (3:20a). This verse is not to be taken literally. This is not a literal “door,” just as verse 18 was not to be taken literally. Amid their self-sufficient attitude, the Laodiceans had shut the Lord Jesus out from their church. The word “stand” (3:20a), literally means “I have taken My stand.”26 It emphasizes a persistent dealing with the church. Christ persistently seeks intimate fellowship with this self-reliant church that has shut Him out. Hence, He asks permission to enter the church and re-establish fellowship with them.
Christ then says, “If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me” (Revelation 3:20b). Notice that Jesus says He will come “in to” (two words) the person, not “into” (one word) the person. The Greek verb translated “come in” (eiserchomai) accompanied by the preposition translated “to” (pros) means “to come or go to someone.” This construction occurs eight times in the New Testament (Mark 6:25; 15:43; Luke 1:28; Acts 10:3; 11:3; 17:2; 28:8; Revelation 3:20) and each time it means to enter into a building and stand in front of a person. 27 Whenever “come in” (eiserchomai) is used of entrance into a person it is followed by the Greek preposition eis (Mark 9:25; Luke 8:30; 22:3; John 13:27) and refers to demon possession. The preposition eis deals with “the idea of entry, whereas pros tends to stop short of going up to (without entry).” 28 The result of Christ’s entrance “to” the person is a common meal shared – “I will… dine with him, and he with Me.” The Greek verb “dine” (deipnēsō) indicates that this is the main meal of the day, the one to which an honored guest would be invited. 29
This verse is speaking of entrance into a building toward a person, not entrance into a person. Jesus will not force His way into a church. Christ is saying that He will come in the church toward the believer who repents (hears His voice and opens the door of the church) and eat dinner with him, that is, have intimate fellowship with him.
How does one open the door so that Christ can come and fellowship with him? By being zealous for good works and repenting of the works that made the Lord Jesus vomit (3:19b).
“Christ’s invitation here is not for lost sinners to believe in Him for the free gift of eternal life, but for His disobedient children to get close to Him once again. If any of these lukewarm believers did open the door to Him, Christ promises, ‘I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me.’ This is a promise that they will enjoy close fellowship with Him once again.” 30
“With Christ on the outside, there can be no fellowship or genuine wealth. With Christ on the inside, there is wonderful fellowship and sharing of the marvelous grace of God. This was an appeal to Christians rather than to non-Christians. This raises the important question concerning the extent of one’s intimate fellowship with Christ.”31
Christ then promises, “To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne.” (Revelation 3:21). The believer who “overcomes” by humbly and zealously submitting to Christ in fellowship and service until the end of his life, will be able to “sit with” Him on His throne, as Jesus was humble and zealous in submitting to His Father’s will and was rewarded with sitting down with His Father “on His throne.” This promised reward assures the overcomer of close fellowship with Christ forever by receiving the honor of sharing His royal throne. This is a conditional reward because it is dependent on overcoming as Christ did. 32 Just as Christ overcame death by humble and dependent submission to His Father’s will, the Laodiceans can overcome their self-sufficiency and enjoy ruling with Christ by humbly and dependently submitting to Christ in fellowship and service.
The use of αὐτός (“to him”) in Revelation 2:17, 17, 27 and 3:21 indicates a restrictive kind of reference to the overcomer. It is a specific and restrictive way of showing that ruling with Christ applies only to the victor or overcomer, 33 not to every believer in Jesus.
“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” (Revelation 3:22). Only those Christians who “hear what the Spirit says to the churches” will be able toappropriate Jesus’ promise and live as “overcomers” so they may receive this ultimate reward of reigning with Christ in His coming Kingdom on earth. If they are lukewarm and then repent of the works that sickened the Lord Jesus and are zealous for good works, then they can receive the privilege of reigning with Christ in His future Kingdom on earth. The Lord Jesus uses rewards here, as with the other six churches, as a motivation to conquer sin and slackness—not as a motivation to salvation. 34
At the outset these faithful believers will rule with Christ on earth for a thousand years during the millennial kingdom (cf. Revelation 20:6). Throughout eternity they will reign with Christ on the new earth (cf. Revelation 21:10-11; 22:1-2). 35
As we read about the possibility of ruling with Christ in the future, we may not be verymotivated by the thought of reigning with Christ or having rulership in the future world. Joseph Dillow has some key things to say about this.
“Those who have not persevered in faith, who have denied their King now will have feelings of deep shame and regret because they took Him for granted and wasted their lives. The pain will be acute, and there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
“…Some may not find the motivation of rewards as significant in their walk with God as the other motivations… That said, it seems to me, that all of us should consider this biblical emphasis to live with the end in view.
“Furthermore, the notion of reigning with Christ… should not be trivialized as if it means various administrative positions in a kingdom or being a mayor of a city. The theme is much broader, and the vision more glorious. What is signified by these expressions is not so much administrative positions as the joy of participating with the Messiah in the final destiny of man, to serve Him and minister with Him in the millennium and the future world. We aspire to higher position because we can then be more effective in the service of our King… We will have greater opportunity to serve Him, to demonstrate our love and gratitude to Him, and to extend the knowledge of His love and goodness throughout the cosmos. To miss that is to miss much.” 36
If we find ourselves indifferent toward the things of God like the Laodicea Christians, it is not too late for us to change. Even if we haven’t been doing well in our service for Christ thus far, we can start today. The Laodiceans were not doing well, yet the Lord holds out the possibility that they might rule with Him in the future if they will be zealous for good works and repent of the works that sickened the Lord Jesus.
In recovery programs like AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) or ACOA (Adult Children of Alcoholics), while not perfect programs, they do have a lot to commend them. One of their slogans is very appropriate for this passage. It says, “Denial is not a river in Egypt.”
The Lord Jesus does not want us to be in denial. He wants us to acknowledge when we fall short and be zealous for good works. He wants us to aim to please Him in all that we do or say. If you want to be an overcomer, you will have to go all the way with Jesus Christ. You may say, “But it is too hard, and I am not getting any credit now.”
Let me tell you about Henry Morrison, a missionary to Africa. He was coming home from Africa on a ship which was also carrying former President Theodore Roosevelt. When the ship docked in New York City, thousands of people were there to greet Roosevelt. But no one was cheering for Morrison.
Henry Morrison had served the Lord for forty years in Africa. As he watched the crowds greet Theodore Roosevelt, he became dejected to think he had served the Lord all those years and yet no one was there to greet him.
Morrison said that as he walked down the gang plank in a depressed mood, a voice whispered to him, “Henry, don’t worry. You are not home yet.”Then he said he saw a vision of multiplied thousands of Africans standing at the gates of heaven, those whom he had reached for Christ, applauding as he entered the pearly gates.
So if people are not recognizing you down here, if you are not getting any applause right now, don’t worry. You are not home yet. Remember what Jesus Christ has waiting for you if you remain faithful to Him. He will richly reward you with intimate fellowship with Him forever by giving you the honor of sharing His royal throne.
In summary, Christians who repent of their self-sufficient and half-hearted service for the Lord, and humbly and zealously submit to Christ in fellowship and service until the end of their lives, will be richly rewarded with a share in Christ’s glorious reign in His coming Kingdom (3:14-22).
Prayer: Lord Jesus, You are the Faithful and True Witness Who alone is qualified to judge the self-reliant and self-serving church. You know that much of the modern church in America is a lot like the church of Laodicea. We have become lukewarm with complacency and self-reliance. We no longer seek to preach the gospel of grace to all people. Instead, we are captivated by our big, beautiful buildings and all the things that our money can buy. We are driven by our own desire for comfort instead of compassion for those who are perishing without You. This lukewarmness will eventually cause You to remove Your church from the earth via the Rapture so You may start over with the Two Witness at the beginning of the Tribulation. Lord Jesus, forgive us for the areas in our lives that have become lukewarm with apathy and complacency. Please enable us to repent of the works that disgust You and empower us to do good works for and with You until we go to be with You in heaven. We pray that we would keep the door of our hearts open to You so we may enjoy intimate fellowship with You now and be the channels through which Your blessings overflow to all with whom we come into contact. Thank You for reminding us that our eternal life is secure in Your finished work on the cross, but our eternal rewards depend on how we live the Christian life now on earth. No matter what the spiritual health of other believers or churches may be, You call us to be faithful and to keep You at the center of our lives if we are to receive the ultimate reward of sitting with You on Your throne in Your glorious Kingdom. In Your mighty and majestic name, Lord Jesus, we pray. Amen.
1. Bob Vacendak; Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Zane Hodges; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach. The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1514.
2. Charles R. Swindoll, Insights on Revelation, (Swindoll’s Living Insights New Testament Commentary Book 15, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2014 Kindle Edition), pp. 109-110.
3. Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature: Third Edition (BDAG) revised and edited by Frederick William Danker (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000 Kindle Edition), pg. 53.
4. Tom Constable, Notes on Revelation, 2017 Edition, pg. 56.
5. Bauer, pg. 138.
6. Archibald Thomas Robertson, A. T. Robertson’s Word Pictures in the New Testament (with Bible and Strong’s Numbers Added!), 6 Volumes (E4 Group, 2017 Kindle Edition), Kindle Locations 214976-214978.
7. Constable, pg. 56.
8. Vacendak, pg. 1514.
9. John F. Walvoord, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Epistles and Prophecy, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, (David C Cook, 2018 Kindle Edition), pg. 164.
10. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman, The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 2376.
11. Vacendak, pg. 1514.
12. Swindoll, pg. 113.
13. Constable, pg. 61 cites M. J. Brunk, “The Seven Churches of Revelation Two and Three,” Bibliotheca Sacra 126:503 (July- September 1969), pp. 240-46.
14. Constable, pg. 63 cites John Peter Lange, ed. Commentary on the Holy Scriptures. 12 vols. Reprint ed., (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1960. Vol. 12: James-Revelation, by J. P. Lange, J. J. Van Oosterzee, G. T. C. Fronmuller, and Karl Braune. Enlarged and edited by E. R. Craven. Translated by J. Isidor Mombert and Evelina Moore), pg. 139; Arno C. Gaebelein, The Revelation (New York: Publication Office “Our Hope,” 1915), pg. 33; J. B. Smith, A Revelation of Jesus Christ Edited by J. Otis Yoder (Scottdale, Pa: Herald Press, 1971, pp. 61-62; William Kelly, Lectures on the Revelation, New ed., (London: A. S. Rouse, 1897), pg. 24; Frederick A. Tatford, The Patmos Letters (By the Author, 1969; reprint ed., Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, n.d.), pg. 106; F. W. Grant, The Prophetic History of the Church (New York: Loizeaux Brothers, Publishers, n.d.); Joseph A. Seiss, The Apocalypse (Charles C. Cook, 1900; reprint ed. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1973), pg. 64; C. I. Scofield, ed., Scofield Reference Bible (1917 ed.), pp. 1331-32; Harry A. Ironside, Lectures on the Revelation (New York: Loizeaux Brothers, 1946), pp. 35-36; John F. Walvoord, The Revelation of Jesus Christ (Chicago: Moody Press, 1966), pg. 51; J. Vernon McGee, Thru the Bible with J. Vernon McGee. 5 Vol. 5 (Pasadena, Calif.: Thru The Bible Radio; and Nashville: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 1983), pp. 900-926.
15. Constable, pg. 63.
16. Evans, pg. 2376.
17. Vacendak, pp. 1514-1515.
18. Swindoll, pg. 114.
19. The word “buys” (agorazō) is the same word used to refer to Jesus’ payment for sin on the Cross (I Corinthians 6:20; 2 Peter 2:1).
20. Vacendak, pg. 1515.
21. Robertson, Kindle Location 215197.
22. Bauer, pg. 749.
23. EvanTell’s The Evangelism Study Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2014), pg. 1387.
24. Walvoord, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Epistles and Prophecy, pg. 164.
25. Bauer, pg. 640.
26. The Greek verb, hestēka, is a perfect indicative which means I took My stand in the past and continue to take My stand in the present.
27. Mike Cocoris, Evangelism: A Biblical Approach (Chicago: Moody Press, 1984, pp. 82-82.
28. Ibid, pg. 83 cites C.F.D. Moule, An Idiom Book of New Testament Greek, (Cambridge at the University Press, 1953), pp. 67-68.
29. Walvoord, The Revelation of Jesus Christ, pg. 98.
30. Vacendak, pg. 1515.
31. Walvoord, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Epistles and Prophecy, pg. 164.
32. William Ross, “An Analysis of the Rewards and Judgments in Revelation 2 and 3,” Dallas Theological Seminary ThM Thesis, 1971, pg. 50.
33. Richard Benedict, “The Use of Νικάω in the Letters to the Seven Churches of Revelation,” Dallas Theological Seminary ThM Thesis, 1966, pg. 42.
34. Evans, pg. 2377.
35. Vacendak, pp. 1515-1516.
36. Joseph Dillow, Final Destiny: The Future Reign of The Servant Kings:Fourth Revised Edition (Grace Theology Press, 2018 Kindle Edition), pp. 1039-1040.
“21 Peter, seeing him, said to Jesus, ‘But Lord, what about this man?’” John 21:21
Last time in John 21, we finished focusing on the feeding stage of discipleship where Peter began to minister to others out of his own brokenness and love for Jesus (John 21:15-19). The risen Lord Jesus appeared to Peter after His death and resurrection to reaffirm Peter’s leadership position as one of His apostles. After Peter had publicly denied knowing Jesus three times, Jesus gave Peter three opportunities to confess his love for Jesus (John 21:15-17). After Peter did this, Jesus tells Peter how he is going to die, and then he tells Peter to follow Him (21:18-19). Peter knows now that following Jesus means he is going to have to die. Jesus knew Peter was affectionately drawn to Him, but now Jesus tells Peter to be totally committed to following Him without any reservations. According to church tradition, Peter would ask for crucifixion upside down because he felt unworthy to suffer as Jesus had. This is followed by the focusing stage found in John 20:20-22.
In the next scene Peter is walking along with Jesus away from the other disciples who had gathered for breakfast on the beach. “Then Peter, turning around, saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following, who also had leaned on His breast at the supper, and said, ‘Lord, who is the one who betrays You?’ ” (John 21:20). Not wanting to miss any of Jesus’ teachings, John, “The disciple whom Jesus loved,” was following a short distance behind Jesus and Peter. John was already doing what Jesus commanded Peter to do – he was following the Lord Jesus. The relationship between Peter, John and Jesus is a most interesting dynamic. Peter is the Lord’s obvious choice as leader of the disciples, but John is Christ’s closest friend. Surely the memory of the Last Supper is fresh in Peter’s mind. The future leader of the church had to depend upon John to find out who would betray their Lord (John 13:21-26).
So, when Jesus solemnly predicts Peter’s future crucifixion on the cross (John 21:18-19), Peter’s immediate reaction is what John could expect. “Peter, seeing him, said to Jesus, ‘But Lord, what about this man? ‘ ” (John 21:21). Peter had just learned from Jesus that following Christ would cost him his life. Now he wondered what John could expect. “What about John, Lord? You are asking me to follow You unto death… What about him? Aren’t you going to give him the same responsibilities and perils as I?” It seems like Peter is comparing his relationship with Jesus to John’s relationship with Jesus? “I always knew you liked John best, Lord, and he would have it better than me.”
Let me ask you this: Who is your John? Who is it that you present to the Lord and ask, “What about this person, Lord? Why does he or she have it so good when I have got it so bad? Their marriage is marvelous but mine is miserable. His ministry is soaring while mine is stalling. He gets all the attention, but nobody even notices me.” Or “It seems they never have any problems, but we are drowning in ours. It just isn’t fair!” we say. Do you struggle with this? You don’t like God’s will for your life, so you focus on His will for another’s life. If we cannot control God’s will for our own lives, we will try to control His will for another person’s life – and on and on it goes, the games we play with the Lord.
From this we learn that the first way to follow Jesus without reservation is to AVOID COMPARING OURSELVES WITH OTHER FOLLOWERS OF CHRIST (JOHN 21:20-21). When Jesus instructs us to do something we are uncomfortable with, it is easy to avoid it by focusing on His will for someone else. This is what Peter was doing when he asked Jesus what John could expect. When we start comparing God’s will for us with His will for another Christian, we can easily start to feel sorry for ourselves. Why me? Self-pity can quickly lead to failure to follow Jesus. Why? Because if we are using all our energy on self-pity, we will not have any energy left over to follow Christ. Self-pity takes all the energy that we have and more. It drains the energy right out of us.
The great thing about Jesus is that He knows our future. He knew what Peter was going to face in his life as he followed the risen Lord Jesus. So, He told Peter about the difficulties he was going to face in advance (John 21:18-19). Although God has not told us specifically that we are going to be crucified in the future like He did with Peter, He has told us that we can expect “hatred” (John 15:18-19; 16:1-4) and “tribulation” (John 16:33) in the world. Following Christ includes pain and suffering. To think otherwise is unrealistic.
Therefore, the apostle Paul wrote when he was in prison for preaching Christ, “For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake.” (Philippians 1:29). Suffering for Jesus’ sake is purposeful, not purposeless. God uses suffering in our lives for our good and for His glory. “As believers in Christ the Philippians could expect to suffer for Him as did Paul. Suffering for Christ matures a believer (James 1:2-4), and Christ will reward those who persevere through suffering (Matthew 5:10-12; Romans 8:17b).”1
When Peter’s focus was directed toward Christ’s will for John, it reminds me of something significant about Peter. His problems always came when he got his eyes off Jesus. For example, when Peter and the other disciples were caught in a storm and Jesus walked on water to them, Peter got out of the boat and began to walk on the water toward Jesus (Matthew 14:22-29). But when he took his eyes off Jesus and onto the wind and waves, he began to sink in the Sea of Galilee (Matthew 14:30). After Jesus predicted His upcoming death and resurrection, Peter gets his eyes off Jesus and onto the success the disciples are having (Matthew 16:21-22), so Jesus chastises him, “Get behind Me, Satan! You are an offense to Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men.” (Matthew 16:23). When he takes his eyes off Jesus and onto his fears, he denies Jesus three times in the courtyard (John 18:15, 25, 27). And then when he takes his eyes off Jesus and focuses on another disciple, he is drawn away again (John 21:20-21). He is setting himself up for another failure.
Whenever we compare ourselves to another Christian, we are setting ourselves up for failure? Why? Because God doesn’t intend for us to be carbon copies. Just like no two snowflakes are alike, no two people are alike. We are not in competition with anybody else. It can be tough for us as Christians to believe we are unique because there are two competing pressures in the world:
First, the pressure of conforming in everything – peer pressures, advertising, pressures to conform to be alike. We are pressured to do what others do; to look like others look.
Then there is the pressure of comparing. In America, we have made comparing a science. In this competitive environment, we compare everything – how we look, our clothes, our cars, our homes, our intelligence, our background, social and economic status – as if it really matters. You are unique and nobody can be like you so why compare?
The Bible says that since we are all unique, we should not compare ourselves. “Each person should judge his own actions and not compare himself with others. Then he can be proud for what he himself has done.” (Galatians 6:4NCV). Don’t compare yourself to others; just be proud of what you have done by the grace of God.
Also, when we compare ourselves to others, there will always be someone worse off -which can lead us to become prideful. Or there will be someone better off – which can lead to discouragement. Either way, we become more vulnerable to failure.
None of us are responsible for another’s commitment to Christ, only our own. When it comes to doing God’s will, God has not said we must answer for anyone else except ourselves. When we stand before the Judgment Seat of Christ in the future to receive rewards from Jesus, “each of us shall give account of himself to God” (Romans 14:10-12). We won’t stand before Christ to give an account of other Christians. We will only speak for ourselves when Jesus asks us to tell Him what we did with what He gave us.
If you have never been tempted to look at another believer and focus on somebody else, you probably have not been a Christian more than ninety seconds. The truth is it is a temptation in all our lives. Jesus is reminding us to keep our eyes on Him, not on someone else. When our eyes are locked onto Christ, we will find unspeakable joy, peace, and life.
Prayer: Lord Jesus, we must confess that all of us can fall into the comparison trap just like Peter did, especially when Your will for our lives is difficult for us to accept. It is easier to focus on Your will for another’s life when Your will for our lives is not what we want. Forgive us our Lord and our God, for focusing on Your will for others instead of Your will for us. Lord Jesus, we want to follow You. It does not matter to us what other disciples do. It doesn’t matter to us what other Christian leaders do. We are not following them. We are following You. So, Jesus, tonight, we renew that simple commitment to follow You no matter what the cost. In Your matchless name we pray Lord Jesus. Amen.
1. Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Zane Hodges; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach. The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1081.
“This He spoke, signifying by what death he would glorify God. And when He hadspoken this, He said to him, ‘Follow Me.’ ” John 21:19
When studying Peter’s life, Dr. Charlie Bing identified several different stages of discipleship. 1 First, there is the finding stage where Peter finds Jesus the Messiah-God and puts his trust in Him for the gift of eternal life (John 1:40-2:11). This is followed by the following stage which involves submitting to Jesus’ purpose of living to reach the lost (Mark 1:16-18). Third, is the forsaking stage when Jesus taught the importance of wholehearted trust and obedience to Him, especially in evangelism (Luke 5:1-11). Fourth, is the failing stage when God uses failure to equip us to strengthen others (John 13:36-38; 18:15-17, 25-27; cf. Luke 22:31-32, 61-62). Then there is the feeding stage when Peter begins to minister to others out of his own brokenness and love for Jesus (John 21:15-19). This is followed by the focusing stage in John 20:20-22. Currently we are looking at the feeding stage.
So far, we have learned in this feeding stage that for the the risen Lord Jesus to use us to make a difference in peoples’ lives after we fail, we must…
– Make loving Jesus our first priority (John 21:15).
– Receive His forgiving grace into our hearts for our greatest sins (John 21:16-17).
Prior to Jesus’ crucifixion, Peter denied knowing Jesus three times when standing around “a fire of coals” in a courtyard in front of Annas’ house (John 18:17-18, 25, 27). After His resurrection while standing around “a fire of coals” on the beach (John 21:1-14), Jesus asked Peter three times if he loved Him (John 21:15-17). Each time Peter affirmed his love for Jesus, Christ commanded him to feed or tend to His sheep to indicate that Peter was forgiven and restored to his position of leadership. Jesus was going to use Peter’s failure to help others grow in their love for Jesus. And He wants to do the same thing in our lives.
After restoring Peter to leadership, Jesus warns Peter of what his love and service for Jesus will cost him. After Peter told Jesus, “Lord, You know all things” (John 21:17b), Jesus demonstrated that as God, He truly did know all things when He said, “Most assuredly, I say to you, when you were younger, you girded yourself and walked where you wished; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish.” (John 21:18).
Jesus contrasts Peter’s youthful freedom with the restrictions he will experience in old age. As a young man (“when you were younger”), Peter dressed himself and went wherever he wanted (“you girded yourself and walked where you wished”). But a day would come when he is old (“when you are old”) and he would no longer have control over his life and activities. He would live to an old age in which he would have to depend on others to dress him and to provide an arm on which he could lean. 2
When Jesus says, “you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you,” He is using a “euphemistic reference to crucifixion in the Roman world.”3 “This stretching took place when the Roman soldiers fastened the condemned person’s arms to the crosspiece of his cross. This often happened before they led him to the place of crucifixion and crucified him.”4 To be carried or led “where you do not wish” is clearly a reference to death. 5
John confirms this when he explains, “This He spoke, signifying by what death he would glorify God.” (John 21:19a). Peter’s commitment to follow Jesus would ultimately mean martyrdom. “Peter had formerly confessed his commitment to lay down his life for Christ (cf. 13:37). Someday he would indeed follow through on that commitment and by so doing he would glorify God.” 6
Tertullian, an early church leader (C. A.D. 212), reports that Peter was crucified in Rome under Nero (Scorpiace 15) around 64-67 A.D. 7 “Clement of Rome (ca. A.D. 96) wrote that Peter died by martyrdom (1 Clement 5:4; 6:1).” 8 Another early church leader, Origen, stated that Peter was crucified with his head down because he did not feel worthy to suffer as Jesus had. 9
Jesus refers to Peter’s death as that which “would glorify God.” Peter, who had struggled with pride and prayerlessness, was learning through his failure to depend more and more on the risen Lord Jesus. Later in life, he would be so in tune with God’s will and purposes that even in death he would magnify the character and reputation of God. 10 Instead of trying to control his future as he had tried formerly to do, he would commit his future to the risen Lord’s control.
“The long painful history of the Church is the history of people ever and again tempted to choose power over love, control over the cross, being a leader over being led.”11
“Peter later wrote that Christians, who follow Jesus Christ faithfully to the point of dying for Him, bring glory to God by their deaths (1 Pet. 4:14- 16). He lived with this prediction hanging over him for three decades (cf. 2 Pet. 1:14).”12
After Jesus tells Peter how he is going to die, John writes, “And when He had spoken this, He said to him, ‘Follow Me.’ ” (John 21:19b). Here again Jesus is giving Peter an invitation to follow Him. He is inviting Peter to step it up in his commitment to Christ. There is always a sense in which a disciple can grow deeper in his commitment to Christ. For Peter to fulfill his love for the Lord and provide spiritual care for other Christians, he must follow Jesus. The same is true for us. So, the final way for the risen Lord Jesus to use us to make a difference in peoples’ lives after we fail, is to RENEW OUR COMMITMENT TO FOLLOW JESUS NO MATTER WHAT THE COST (John 21:18-19).
These words to follow Christ take place 2 ½ years after Jesus’ initial invitation to follow Him (Mark 1:16-18). Now these words have a lot more significance. Peter knows now that following Jesus means he is going to have to die. These words are much weightier than Jesus’ other invitations to follow Him. But this is the feeding stage, and it depends on our love for Christ.
The night before His crucifixion, we saw Christ’s loving service to others when He washed the disciples’ feet (John 13:1-16). He then said to them, “34 A newcommandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. 35 By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you havelove for one another.” (John 13:34-35). When you see the purpose God has given us – to love other people, to serve them, to feed them – it is hard to go back to doing the old things we used to do. Before Jesus said, “feed My sheep,” the question He asked was, “Do you love Me?” (John 21:15-17). He didn’t ask, “Peter will you walk on water for Me?… Peter, will you fight for Me?… Peter, will you build monuments in My name?” No, He asks Peter, “Do you love Me?”
What’s the most important qualification for ministering to God’s people? Loving the Lord Jesus. If you don’t have a love relationship with Christ, you are not going to have His love for His people. John writes in his first epistle, “7 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. 8 He who does not love does not know God, for God is love. 9 In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. 10 In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” (I John 4:7-11). When Jesus died on the cross, He was shouting out to you and me: “I love you!” When we receive God’s love for us through Jesus Christ, we can then share His love with others.
The person who has this kind of love is “born of God and knows God.”(I John 4:7b). The phrase “born of God” refers to a Christian. Before you can ever produce this kind of love in your life, you must first be born of God. How? The Bible says you must simply believe or trust in Jesus Christ. “Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God.” (I John 5:1). Notice that you are not born of God by following Christ, keeping God’s commandments, being baptized with water, surrendering to Christ, or living a good, moral life. No, the only condition to be born of God is believing in Jesus Christ alone, not behaving.
The moment we place our trust in Jesus for eternal life, we become God’s child and God comes to live inside us and love us always. As we get to know Him and trust Him, He pours His love into our lives so we can begin to love others (cf. Romans 5:5).
But if we are going to develop loving relationships after we become Christians, we must refill ourselves with God’s love daily. The person who loves God’s way is “born of God and knows God.” Once we have begun a relationship with God by trusting in Jesus as our Savior, the key is to stay close to Jesus. Get to know Him. Staying close to God is not complicated.
This image works for me: I picture my life as a bucket. I must have my bucket filled. And God’s love is like a fountain. The more I refill that bucket, the more I must share with others. If you have been a Christian for a while, you can probably tell when your bucket is empty. You are easily irritated or angered. It is difficult to let go of past hurts and to trust someone who has hurt you. It is tough to expect the best of him or her. Perhaps you can’t stand being in the same room with the person. All of these are indications that you need to be refilled with God’s love.
You say, “How do you do it?” Spend time with Jesus. Hang out with Him. Read what He has written in the Bible. Talk to Him about what you are reading and feeling. You may even want to write it down in a journal. Treat Jesus like a close friend, and you will become His close friend. And when you get closer to Jesus, you will discover that you are more able to love those who matter to you.
Can you see this? Is this making sense? Can you see why you need God’s love to love others? Some of you may be saying to yourselves, “Okay, so God commands us to love one another, but what does God’s love look like?” Look in I John 4:9-10:“9 In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. 10 In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.”
First, we see that God’s love is selfless. His love gives without expecting anything in return. Often, we give to get. That is not God’s love. If Jesus had been selfish, He would never have left heaven or if He had come to earth, He would have packed His bags and left at the first sign of rejection. But He didn’t. He endured incredible suffering because He came to give, not to get. If God’s love is controlling our lives, we will be givers, not getters.
Second, God’s love is sacrificial. He not only gives, but He gives sacrificially. He “sent His only begotten Son into the world.” If it were possible, would you sacrifice your only child so that a serial killer could live? “No way!” Nor would I. But that’s exactly what God did when He sent His perfect Son to die for undeserving sinners like you and me. Who else would die for you except someone who loves you that much!
Third, God’s love is unconditional – “not that we loved God, but that He loved us.” God’s love was not a response to our love. He loved us even if we never loved Him. God loves us when our walk of faith is weak or when it is strong. He sticks with us in the good times and the bad. Nothing about us makes God love us. He loves us because it is His nature to love. If God waited for us to love Him first, He would still be waiting. Thank God that He loved you and me first. His love does not require that we love Him back. Likewise, we are to love others even if they do not love us back. Is this easy? It’s impossible without Christ. Will we trust the Lord to love those who are difficult to love through us? So, when we experience God’s love, we naturally want to share that love with the people we love. Did you follow that? To become a more loving person we need to receive God’s love and refill ourselves with God’s love.
Lastly, we must reflect God’s Love to Others. “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” (I John 4:11). In other words, if God loved us with this selfless, sacrificial, unconditional love when we were least deserving, then we ought to love each other in the same way. Maybe our love cannot be as perfect as Jesus’ love, but it can grow in that direction. This is to be our goal.
So, this feeding stage in John 21:15-19, involves God using broken people to feed His sheep. God uses the lessons we have learned from our past failures to strengthen others. We minister out of our brokenness to others. As a pastor once said, “Before God can use a man greatly, He must hurt him deeply.” That’s the lesson of this feeding stage.
It is one thing for Jesus to say, “Follow Me into joy and goodness when everything is going to be great!” But it is another thing for Christ to look at Peter and say, “Follow me and I will lead you to die in the same way that I died.” Jesus is not saying that every Christian is going to die by crucifixion. But He does demand more of us the longer we follow Him as His disciple.
“Obedience to Jesus’ command, Follow Me, is the key issue in every Christian’s life. As Jesus followed the Father’s will, so His disciples should follow their Lord whether the path leads to a cross or to some other difficult experience.”13
Prayer: Precious Lord Jesus, we want to follow You. It won’t be easy. You never promised that it would be. So, Jesus, right now we refresh our simple commitment to follow You. Not just to listen to You or be around You or even say to You, “I love You.” But to follow You and Your leading in our lives. Lord, we know that where You lead is where we will find lasting joy. Whether you lead us to a cross to be crucified or to some other difficult trial, where You lead us is where we will find significance. Where You lead us is where we will find life. So, Jesus, we just say these simple words to You, “I will follow You.” Please give us the grace to do this, for apart from You we can do nothing. In Your mighty name we pray Lord Jesus. Amen.
1. Adapted from Charlie Bing’s articles, “The Making of A Disciple,” Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society, Autumn 1992; “Are Disciples Born or Made?” GraceLife, November 2007; “Peter as a Model Disciple,” GraceNotes – no. 21 all retrieved on July 13, 2021, at www.gracelife.org.
2. J. Carl Laney Moody Gospel John Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), pg. 382.
3. Tom Constable, Notes on John, 2017 Edition, pg. 399 cites Ernst Haenchen, A Commentary on the Gospel of JohnVol. 2 (Translated by Robert W. Funk. Edited by Robert W. Funk and Ulrich Busse. 2 vols. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1984), pp. 226-27; C. K. Barrett, The Gospel According to St John: An Introduction with Commentary and Notes on the Greek Text (2nd ed. Philadelphia, Westminster Press, 1978), pg. 585.
4. Constable, pg. 399 cites G. R. Beasley-Murray, JohnSecond ed., Word Bible Commentary series (Waco: Word Books, 1987), pp. 408-409.
5. Laney, pg. 382.
6. Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Zane Hodges; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach. The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 569.
7. Laney, pg. 382; Constable, pg. 399 cites Brooke Foss Westcott, The Gospel According to
St. John: The Authorised Version with Introduction and Notes (1880, London: James Clarke & Co., Ltd., 1958), pg. 304.
8. Constable, pg. 399 cites Ante-Nicene Christian Library: Translations of the Writings of the Fathers, 1:11.
9. Constable, pg. 399 cites The Ecclesiastical History of Eusebius Pamphilus, 2:25; 3:1 and Westcott, The Gospel According to St. John, pg. 304; Laney, pg. 382 also cites Eusebius in Historia Ecclesiastica 3:1.
10. Laney, pg. 382.
11. Constable, pg. 399 cites Henri J. M. Nouwen, In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership, pg. 60. This book deals with this episode in Peter’s life most helpfully, especially for Christian leaders.
13. Edwin A. Blum, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Gospels, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, (David C Cook, 2018 Kindle Edition), pg. 704.
“He said to him the third time, ‘Simon, son of Jonah, 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 all things; You know that I love You.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed My sheep.’ ” John 21:17
Twelve-year-old Kurt never missed a game of his Little League team, but he didn’t get to play much because of his small size and lack of coordination. The coach never let him play more than the two innings a game required by league rules. Even with Kurt’s participation, the team won many games and qualified for the playoffs. After the last practice before the playoff game, the coach drew Kurt aside and said, “Kurt, just don’t show up on Saturday for the game. It will be better for the team if you are not there.” A dejected twelve-year-old left the field that day.
Peter also felt the sting of despair. He had denied the Lord three times and swore that he was not one of His followers while in the courtyard in front of Annas’ house (John 18:17, 25, 27). After Jesus’ resurrection, Peter may have thought Christ no longer wanted him on His team, so he returned to fishing. Because of his failure, Peter may have felt unworthy to serve as a leader any longer. Perhaps he thought his public denials of Jesus disqualified him as a follower of Christ.
All of us can probably relate to this. We, too, have failed Christ and we feel unworthy to be on His team. We might think our sin is unforgivable or unredeemable. We fear that Jesus would not want us on His team. But please understand that Jesus never says to a repentant child of God, “Don’t show up.” Christ always gives a second chance to those who seek His forgiveness.
We are learning from John 21:15-19 how the risen Lord Jesus can use us to make a difference in peoples’ lives after we fail. Last time we discovered He can do this when we make loving Him our first priority (John 21:15). Three times Peter had said he did not even know the Lord Jesus, now three times after breakfast, he would say he loved the Lord. Jesus asked Peter, “Do you love [agapaō] Me more than these?”(John 21:15a). When Peter replied, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love [phileō] You,” Jesus said to him, “Feed My lambs.” (John 21:15b).
The word Jesus used for “love” is agapaō and is often used of God’s unconditional sacrificial love. But the word Peter used for “love” is phileō and refers to a brotherly and affectionate love that is between close friends. But Christ does not stop with this one question.
“He said to him again a second time, ‘Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?’ He said to Him, ‘Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.’ He said to him, ‘Tend My sheep.’” (John 21:16). Again, Jesus begins with “Simon, son of Jonah,” to emphasize the importance of what He was about to say to Peter. Jesus uses the same word for “love” (agapaō) to ask Peter a second time, only He drops off the “more than these” to encourage a more positive response. 1 “In His first question the Lord challenged the superiority of Peter’s love. In His second question the Lord challenged whether Peter had any love at all.” 2
Peter replied using the same words as the first time, “Yes, Lord; You know that I loveYou.” Again,Peter appeals to Jesus’ knowledge as proof of his love for Jesus, not his own former behavior. Before Jesus’ crucifixion, Peter had proudly claimed that his love for and commitment to Jesus was superior to that of the other disciples (Matthew 26:33, 35; Luke 22:33; John 13:37). But after his failure and denials, Peter now exhibits more humility.
Seeing Peter’s humility, Jesus says, “Tend My sheep.” The word for “tend” (poimaínō) in the original Greek language means “to watch out for other people, to shepherd, of activity that protects, rules, governs, fosters … in the sense of lead, guide, or rule.” 3 This word means “to be a shepherd” or “take care of” flocks. Both Paul and Peter use this word to speak of the spiritual responsibilities of church leaders (Acts 20:28; I Peter 5:2). 4 The word for “sheep” (probata) is a diminutive form of the more common word for sheep, probaton, and means “little sheep.”5 It is quite possible Jesus is referring to believers who are not yet fully mature in their faith.
John then tells us, “He said to him the third time, ‘Simon, son of Jonah, 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 all things; You know that I love You.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed My sheep.’ ” (John 21:17). For a third time, Jesus says, “Simon, son of Jonah,” to emphasize the extreme importance of what He was about to say. When Jesus asks, “Do you love Me?” He uses the same word for “love” (phileō) that Peter used.
John notes that “Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, ‘Do you love Me?’ ” The word for “grieved” is lupeō which means “to become sad, sorrowful, distressed.” 6 Was Peter hurt because Jesus used the same word for love (phileō) that Peter had used or was he hurt because Jesus asked him a third time if he loved Him? I believe Peter was hurt because when Jesus asked him a third time, it reminded Peter of his three denials. 7 Peter had denied knowing Jesus early in the morning when standing around “coals of fire” (John 18:15-18, 25-27), and now Jesus was asking him three times if he loved Him early in the morning while being around “coals of fire” (John 21:1-17).
“Seeing Peter humbled, Jesus came down to Peter’s level and met him where he was. Peter was grieved. His three denials of his Lord had now been matched by a question from his Lord repeated three times: ‘Do you love me?’ It broke Peter’s heart.”8
All Peter could do is say, “Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.” This time Peter appeals to Jesus’ omniscience (“You know all things”). “When Peter wasproudly self-assured about his ability to stand fast at a critical moment, Jesus knew that he would actually crack under pressure (see 13:37-38). He knew Peter’s heart better than Peter did. The grieving disciple understood that now. And since Jesus knew all things, Peter was convinced that Jesus also knew that Peter loved him in spite of his prior failure.” 9
It may have also grieved Peter that Jesus was asking him questions that He already knew the answers to. 10 But these questions from Jesus were for Peter’s benefit, not the Lord’s benefit.
After Peter told Jesus a third time that he loved Him, Jesus said, “Feed My sheep.” Here Jesus uses the word boskō (“feed”) from verse 15, and the word probaton (“sheep”) from verse 16. Three times Peter had denied knowing Jesus. And now three times Peter affirms his love for Jesus and three times Jesus commissioned Peter to feed His lambs or sheep. This whole scene was intended to show Peter that he is completely forgiven and restored to his position of leadership! Imagine Peter’s joy when for each of his three denials, Christ commissioned him to feed or shepherd His sheep. Peter knew he was forgiven, and he would serve Christ until his dying day!
Peter reminds us, that no matter how great a Christian is, he or she may fall away from the Lord. And when they do, they need to know that Christ always gives a second chance to His humble followers.
Jesus gave Peter three opportunities to say “I love you” to erase the three-fold denial that had happened in the courtyard the night before Christ’s crucifixion. The truth is Simon Peter failed Jesus miserably. But Jesus Christ forgave him magnificently!
Jesus wants to do the same for you and for me. Failure is overcome by forgiveness. There is no other way. If we want to make a difference in peoples’ lives, we must learn this important lesson. Sometimes we try to overcome our failures by trying harder or being “better” Christians. But trying harder or trying to be “better” Christians only makes things worse. Our failures are always overcome by the forgiving grace of Jesus Christ.
Jesus gave Peter three opportunities to declare his love for Him because He wanted him to take His forgiveness into his heart where it really mattered. It is one thing to know about the forgiveness of Christ. But it is another thing to take it to heart.
There may be many of us, if the truth were known, who know about the forgiveness of Jesus Christ. We know in our heads that He died on the cross for all our sins, and on this basis, He is willing to forgive all our sins. We even know that when we trusted Christ for His gift of eternal life, Jesus promised to forgive all our sins (Acts 10:43; Colossians 2:13-14).
But when it comes to the worst sin in our lives that we can look back on, the truth is many of us have not taken Jesus’ forgiveness to heart yet. Oh, we know we have eternal life by virtue of believing in Jesus (I John 5:13). But we have not heard Jesus say, “I forgive you” yet in that area of our greatest sin. Maybe that is the reason God brought you to this page, to hear Him say, “I forgive you,” so you can take it into the depths of your heart and soul.
Keep in mind that Peter had believed in Jesus three years before Christ’s crucifixion (John 1:35-2:11; 6:69). And when Peter came to faith in Christ, Jesus changed his name from Simon to Cephas, which means a stone or rock (John 1:42). Why did Jesus change his name? Because Jesus knew the leadership role that Peter would play when He saw Peter in rough form. Peter would become a rock-solid leader among leaders.
Prior to Peter’s denial of Jesus, he had been walking with the Lord over three years. But Peter failed the Lord miserably when He denied knowing Jesus three times. He was probably uncertain about having a future ministry for his Lord and Savior after his great failure. He probably felt unworthy to be Jesus’ disciple. Therefore Jesus took special time with Peter to make sure he took Christ’s forgiveness into his heart so he would not carry that burden of guilt or shame into the future.
If the risen Lord Jesus is going to be able to use us to make a difference in peoples’ lives after we fail, WE MUST RECEIVE HIS FORGIVING GRACE INTO OUR HEARTSFOR OUR GREATEST SINS (JOHN 21:16-17). If we want to take to heart the forgiveness of Christ, we need to do it the same way Peter did. We look at Jesus’ word and we let His word come into our hearts and give us the assurance that His forgiveness has restored our fellowship or closeness with God.
What does God say a Christian is to do after he or she sins? John tells us in his first epistle, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (I John 1:9). To “confess” (homologeō), means “to agree, admit, acknowledge.”11 When we confess our sins to God we are agreeing with what God says about our sin. It is not merely a mistake or weakness. It is an offense against our holy God.
And the moment we confess our sin to God, He is “faithful and just” to forgive the sin we confessed and cleanse us of all our unknown sins (“all unrighteousness”) as well. God restores us to a harmonious relationship with Himself. The word “just” (dikaios) means “righteous.” “Because of the shed blood of Christ (v 7), there is no compromise of God’s righteousness when He forgives.”12 Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross satisfied God’s “just” demand to punish all our sin. When we confess our sins, God’s cleansing is total.
It is possible that even when God forgives us after we confess our sins, we stubbornly refuse to forgive ourselves. How long does it take us to forgive ourselves? Since God is ready and willing to forgive us when we seek His forgiveness (Psalm 86:5), what gives us the right not to forgive ourselves? If you are struggling to forgive yourself after God has forgiven you, take some time to write I John 1:9 down on a piece of paper. Then insert your greatest sins for the word “sins” in that verse. Draw a picture representing this truth so it can be installed into your right (limbic) brain. Review this verse and drawing every night before you go to sleep so God the Holy Spirit can massage it down into the depths of your heart and soul as you sleep. Choose to forget what God has already forgiven.
As stated earlier, Jesus used the word phileō the third time to meet Peter where he was at. Jesus was saying to Peter (and to us), “I want to meet you where you are at and walk with you on this journey called discipleship. I want to help you grow in your love for Me. I want to give you a vision of what you can become as My grace works in and through you to feed others spiritually.”
We are not on this journey alone. We have a great and sympathetic high priest who understands our struggles and longs to come alongside us to give us the grace and mercy we need (Hebrews 4:15-16). There is probably not one of us reading this article that feels like we love Jesus Christ the way He deserves. We love Him the best we know how, yet we know there is a lot of room for growth. I hope that all of us want to grow in our love for Jesus.
Jesus said to Peter, “Do you love Me with everything you have every moment of your life?” If we are honest with ourselves, we would say to the Lord, “Jesus, I want to love You more in the way You deserve, but I fall way short of that. I need Your help.” That is sort of what Peter was saying to Jesus. So, Jesus came the third time and said, “Peter, I know you are trying to grow in Your love for Me. I want to come alongside you and help you do that.” This is what Jesus wants to do for you and me. He takes us where we are and helps us grow in the love we have for Him.
Interestingly, each time Jesus commands Peter to “tend” or “feed” His sheep, He uses present tense verbs (boske… poimaine… boske). This indicates that the feeding process is to be repeated and regular. A meal or two now and then will not develop strong sheep. Nor will a sermon now and then build strong disciples of Jesus. We need to be fed repeatedly, regularly, and often.
“Though Peter had previously thought highly of himself, he had come to adopt Jesus’s view of leadership in ministry. Peter understood that being a leader of God’s people is not about arrogantly exercising power. Therefore, he could later write to other church leaders, ‘Shepherd God’s flock among you . . . not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock’ (1 Pet 5:2-3). Peter had taken to heart Jesus’s command, ‘Shepherd my sheep.’ Sometimes God lets his people fail in order to develop them spiritually and prepare them for greater usefulness (see Luke 22:31-32).”13
Although Peter failed the risen Lord Jesus greatly, Jesus did not take Him off His team. To the risen Lord Jesus, winning men and women, and boys and girls is more important than winning games. Imagine Peter’s joy when for each of his three denials, Christ commissioned Peter to feed His sheep. Peter knew he was forgiven and restored. And he served Christ until his dying day. Jesus wants us to know and experience that we are forgiven so we can serve Him until He says it is time to come home to Him.
Prayer: Lord Jesus, many of us needed to hear this message from You. We have felt disqualified from serving You because of our past failures. We know in our heads that we are completely forgiven the moment we believed in You for eternal salvation, but our feelings keep lying to us. We have let them convince us that we are unworthy to be on Your team. Thank You so much for reminding us that our failures are not final because of Your forgiving grace. And when You forgive, You choose to forget. Teach us O Lord God to forget our past failures and to embrace Your amazing grace so we may forgive ourselves and help others to grow in their love for You. In Your precious name we pray Lord Jesus. Amen.
1. J. Carl Laney Moody Gospel John Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), pg. 381.
2. Tom Constable, Notes on John, 2017 Edition, pg. 396 cites Arthur W. Pink, Exposition of the Gospel of John Vol. 3 (Swengel, Pa.: I. C. Herendeen, 1945; 3 vols. in 1 reprint ed., Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1973), pg. 324.
3. Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature: Third Edition (BDAG) revised and edited by Frederick William Danker (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000 Kindle Edition), pg. 842.
4. Laney, pg. 381.
5. Ibid.; See also Archibald Thomas (A. T.) Robertson, Robertson’s Word Pictures in Six Volumes, (The Ephesians Four Group, 2014 Kindle Edition), Kindle Locations 78494-78496.
6. Bauer, pg. 604.
7. A. T. Roberston, Kindle Locations 78509-78510.
8. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1832.
10. Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Zane Hodges; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach. The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 569.
“So when they had eaten breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon, son of Jonah, 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.’ ”John 21:15
On October 25, 1964, the Minnesota Vikings of the National Football League were playing the San Francisco 49ers in San Francisco, CA. Carl Eller of the Vikings had just scooped up a 49er fumble and turned it into a touchdown.
Working hard to get back the touchdown, 49er quarterback, George Mira, threw a short pass into the secondary to halfback Bill Kilmer. Jim Marshall of the Vikings quickly diagnosed the play and headed for Kilmer. Marshall got there quickly when someone hit Kilmer and the 49er halfback fumbled. Reacting instinctively, Marshall hurdled a player in front of him and, on the run, picked up the loose ball. Without hesitation he began sprinting for the goal line – the Minnesota goal line sixty-six yards away.
Marshall had simply gotten mixed up. And the roar of the crowd drowned out his teammate’s shouts to turn around. Marshall ran into the end zone without opposition and then threw the football away in celebration. He began to realize something was wrong when San Francisco’s Bruce Bosely threw his arms around him, thanking him for the safety. The Viking quarterback, Fran Tarkenton, ran up and said, “Jim, you went the wrong way, the wrong way!” Marshall buried his head in his hands for a few agonizing moments and then jogged back to the bench.
Viking’s coach Norm Van Brocklin, a man with a notoriously short temper, realized that the situation was not one that called for angry words. He smacked Marshall on the backside and said, “Forget about it, Jim. Go back in there and make the fans forget.” For the rest of the game Marshall played excellent football. Minnesota went on to win 27-22. No doubt Marshall expected the coach to bench him for his blunder. But he didn’t. He gave him a second chance. He told him “To forget it. Go back in there and make the fans forget.”
Have you ever run the wrong way in your Christian life, not listening to God or to others who are trying to tell you to turn around? It happens to all of us. And we may then feel God wants to bench us and not let us back into the game. We feel like a failure and tell ourselves, “God cannot use failures.”
If you have ever felt that way, it would profit you to take a look at how the risen Lord Jesus responded to Peter in John 21:15-19 after Peter had failed the Lord in a big way. Before we look at these verses, I want to point out that discipleship is a lifelong process which includes periods of failure in our lives. If you recall, Peter had already vowed to lay down his life for Jesus’ sake when he was in the Upper Room with Christ and the other disciples (John 13:37). But Jesus then said to Peter, “Will you lay down your life for My sake? Most assuredly, I say to you, the rooster shall not crow till you have denied Me three times.” (John 13:38).
Keep in mind that Peter had already believed or trusted in Jesus for eternal life over three years earlier (cf. John 1:40-2:11; cf. 6:69). He was already a Christian. But Christ says to Peter there is going to be a period of time when he is going to deny knowing Jesus “three times.”
In John 21, seven of Jesus’ disciples were sitting around “a fire of coals” on a beach along the Sea of Galilee with Jesus after He rose from the dead (John 21:1-14). It was dawn; quiet and cool. Smoke drifted lazily from the fire as well as the aroma of freshly toasted bread and smoked fish. No doubt small talk and a few laughs occurred as they ate breakfast. Surely someone commented on how good it was to miraculously catch over one-hundred fifty large fish so quickly after Jesus instructed these fishermen to cast their net on the other side of their boat.
Suddenly the conversation stopped, and Jesus turned to Simon Peter. Their eyes met. “So when they had eaten breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me more than these?’ ” (John 21:15). When the disciples had finished eating breakfast with the risen Lord Jesus, Christ asked Peter three questions in front of his companions. These questions would probe the depths of Peter’s heart and would stand in contrast to Peter’s three denials.
You may recall the night before Jesus’ crucifixion, during our Lord’s trial, Peter had vehemently denied three times that he was associated with Jesus (John 18:17-18, 25, 27). Now the risen Lord Jesus was giving Peter a chance to redeem himself. Three times Peter had said he did not even know the Lord Jesus, now three times he would say he loved the Lord. Peter’s failure took place while standing around “a fire of coals” (John 18:18) in the courtyard in front of Annas’ house (John 18:15-16), and now his restoration would take place while around “a fire of coals” on the beach (John 21:9).
I believe Peter knew what was coming. He may have returned to fishing because of his three public denials of Jesus. He may have had doubts about his future considering his failure. He stood around this fire like a condemned man before his Judge. There was no need for a trial; the evidence was indisputable – it shouted of his conviction! Then Jesus did something amazing, so amazing that few people grasp the magnitude of the question, instead they read an accusation into Jesus’ words. 1
Jesus addresses Peter with an air of seriousness when He says, “Simon, son of Jonah.” “In the Gospels, Jesus addressed Peter this way on only the most important occasions. These were: Peter’s call to follow Jesus (1:42), his confession of Jesus as the Son of God (Matt. 16:17), and as he slept in Gethsemane (Mark 14:37). When Jesus addressed Peter this way here, Peter probably realized that what Jesus was about to say to him was extremely important.”2
Jesus said to Peter, “Do you love Me more than these?” Notice that Jesus doesn’t ask Peter if he is going to deny Him again. Nor does Christ ask Peter if he was sorry for what he had done. He didn’t interrogate Peter to find out if he was going to try harder the next time he is in a similar situation. He simply asked Peter if he loved Him. 3
Much discussion has revolved around the use of the words for “love” used by Jesus (agapaō) andPeter (phileō). Before we look at that, I want to point out something that is often overlooked in this passage. Jesus made Himself vulnerable by asking Peter if he loved Him. Haven’t all of us, at some point in time, asked someone if he or she really loves us? If we are married, we certainly have. I know I have asked my wife many times if she loved me, especially after I had offended her or deeply hurt her. I felt so vulnerable during those times. We all do in a situation like that.
Jesus made Himself vulnerable in this conversation with Peter. Peter was probably expecting Jesus do reprimand him for his public denials knowing he deserved a painful rebuke. But he hears the risen Lord Jesus ask if he loved Him. When we ask a question like that, we all put our heart right out there on the line. Even God does this with Peter!
Jesus Christ was not only vulnerable when He came to earth and lay in a manger as a Baby, or when He was faced with the failures and humanness of His disciples, knowing one of them would eventually betray Him. Nor was the cross, where He made Himself extremely vulnerable to everyone’s sin and suffering, the only place of His vulnerability. Christ’s entire life on earth was one of unguarded servanthood to humanity. “Do you love Me?” is a constant expression of Jesus’ heart.
That simple question can transform a broken heart that is overtaken by failure. It certainly changed Peter’s relationship with his Savior. And it can change ours. When Jesus asked Peter this question, He was looking beyond Peter’s behavior to his heart. Christ is focusing on Peter’s heart, not his past failure. Why? Because a person cannot change their behavior until their heart has been changed.
All too often the Christian church is preoccupied with the behaviors of its members instead of their hearts. They can be quick to condemn believers who have failed. They may constantly remind fallen Christians of their sinful behavior, while failing to offer hope and healing to them by focusing on their hearts.
Jesus was probing Peter’s heart with His questions. Peter had been preoccupied with himself earlier when he claimed to have more commitment than the other disciples (Matthew 26:31-33; John 13:37). He was focused on himself when he failed Jesus in the courtyard and began to curse and swear and weep bitterly (Matthew 26:74-75). But Jesus’ question was bringing Peter’s focus back to Him.
The truth is all of us can be like Peter. I know I can and have many times. We can get so full of ourselves, that we cannot see Jesus. We get so focused on whether we are okay and appreciated by others, that we lose sight of our love for Jesus.
When Jesus asked Peter if he loved Him, I can just picture Peter looking at the ground, probably moving some dirt around with his water-logged sandals and then saying, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” Peter seems to be saying, “Lord, when I get my head on straight and my heart isn’t so polluted, I really do love You. And I want to love You – at times more than anything else in my life. But, Lord, I really don’t know the truth about my heart most of the time. Yet You do, and that’s why Your name is Wonderful Counselor, the Mighty God.” 4
Jesus’ full question was, “Do you love Me more than these?” This was not a performance question. This was a heart question. Jesus uses the Greek word agapaō for unconditional love. This word is often used of God’s sacrificial love to do what is best for another (cf. John 3:16; I John 4:9-10).
Peter knew what Jesus meant by “these” (toutōn), but it is not as clear to us. Some suggest that Jesus is asking Peter if he loves Christ more than the fishing vocation he has returned to. I don’t take it this way.
I believe Jesus is asking Peter, “Do you unconditionally love Me more than the other disciples love Me?”“Why would Jesus ask this? Because when he had predicted that the disciples would fall away, Peter had vowed, ‘Even if everyone falls away because of you, I will never fall away’ (Matt 26:31-33). Peter had wanted Jesus to know that though the devotion of the other disciples might waver, he could count on Peter remaining steadfast. He would be the one disciple that Jesus could trust. But here, after Peter had shamefully denied Jesus three times, Jesus basically asked Peter, ‘Are you still the most committed disciple?’ ”5 Jesus is asking Peter, “Can you still affirm that you love Me more than these other disciples do?”
So, Jesus is taking Peter back to the worst failure of his life, not to condemn him, but to give him hope and to develop a new depth of intimacy with Him. 6
Peter responds, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” Notice that Peter appeals to Jesus’ knowledge as proof of his love for Jesus, not his own former behavior.7 Peter uses the Greek word phileō for “love” here. This word means “to have a special interest in someone or something … with focus on close association, have affection for, like, consider someone a friend.”8 This is the kind of love that exists between good friends. 9
Some Bible students believe that the word Peter used for love (phileō) is inferior to the word Jesus used for love (agapaō). 10 So, when Peter responded to Jesus, they believe his failures had humbled him. “Peter had claimed that his love for and commitment to Jesus was superior to that of the others. But after his failure and denial, he wasn’t willing to arrogantly say that he loved Jesus with a sacrificial love.” 11
Other Bible students believe the use of agapaō and phileō are used interchangeably in the gospel of John and do not see any actual difference in meaning. 12“The word phileō does not represent an inferior type of love. John, for example, uses phileō, to refer to the Father’s love for Jesus (5:20). Surely the Father’s love for Jesus is not some lesser love! In addition, Jesus’ love for John and for Lazarus is expressed by phileō (11:3, 36; 20:2), as is the Father’s love for the disciples and the disciples’ love for Jesus (16:27). The change was merely for stylistic considerations—much like the change from ‘Feed My lambs’ to ‘Tend My sheep’ to ‘Feed My sheep.’” 13
In the context, I prefer the former view, that Peter uses a word for love (phileō) that is not as strong because he doesn’t feel worthy of unconditional love. Peter doesn’t have enough confidence to say he loves Jesus unconditionally more than his fellow disciples do because he had just failed the Lord miserably.
How does Jesus respond to His discouraged disciple? “He said to him, ‘Feed My lambs.’ ” The word for “feed” (boskō) is used of herdsmen who feed or “tend to the needs of animals” 14 or their herds(Matthew 8:30; Mark 5:14; Luke 8:34; 15:15). The verb means “to take care of,” not merely “feed.”15
The “lambs” (arnia) refer to Christ’s followers, especially the young ones in the faith who may be prone to wander. 16 When Jesus said this, what kind of look do you think was on His face? Was he frowning or doubting? I am convinced that Jesus was smiling from ear to ear.
Jesus wasn’t done with Peter yet. Earlier he told Peter he would fish for men (Matthew 4:19; Luke 5:10), which was more of an evangelistic ministry. But now Christ is telling him to “Feed My lambs” which is more of a pastoral ministry. “Previously Jesus had referred to Himself as the Good Shepherd (10:14). Now He was committing the care of His flock to this disciple who had failed Him miserably in the past.”17
How does Jesus restore us after we fail? The first way is HE INVITES US TO MAKE LOVING HIM OUR FIRST PRIORITY (John 21:15). What motivates our lives or ministries? What motivates us to serve others? Is it the promise of a payment or reward? I’m not just talking about money, but also appreciation or approval from others. Is it the prestige of being in leadership? Is it the sense of power or control over others that motivates us?
Jesus asked Peter, “Do you love Me more than these?” Peter’s answer is, “Lord, You know that I love you.” Not “more than,” just “You know that I love You.” And Jesus says, “Feed My lambs.”
So, Jesus says if you really want to feed people, the first question is do you love Him? If God is going to use us to make a difference in the lives of other people after we fail Him miserably, we must make loving Jesus our number one priority.
Jesus is giving Peter (and us) an entirely new set of priorities for living. He uses our failures to establish new priorities in our Christian lives. It was one thing for Peter to be excited about an empty tomb on Easter Sunday. It was quite another thing to let the truth of the resurrection change the way he lived his life. It is one thing for us to come to church on a Sunday and be excited and give a standing ovation to a great song or an “Amen” to a great sermon. We may feel close to the Lord during those times. But it is quite another thing for us to let that truth change the way I treat my wife or my kids at home or the way I act at work the next day. If we are honest with ourselves, it is very difficult to make the leap between Sunday’s experience and Monday’s reality.
Jesus is helping us learn how to do this. First, He is telling us, “Make loving Me the top priority in your life. If you want to love other people, first love Me. Take time to connect with Me. That’s where the strength comes from to love others.” Take time every day to get to know Jesus. Get alone and talk to Him in prayer and listen to Him speak to you as you read and obey the Bible. We cannot get to know and love Jesus if we don’t spend time with Him.
And if we are not taking the time to know and love Jesus, we are not going to last in ministering to others. We will get burned out and dry up spiritually. Other people cannot love us the way Jesus can. Other people cannot strengthen us the way Jesus can. Make loving Christ your number one priority in life, and He will use you to make an eternal difference in the lives of other people.
Prayer: Lord Jesus, we must admit that we are a lot like Peter. We can start out relying on ourselves to remain committed to You even unto death. We get so focused on ourselves that we do not even see You. But we soon find out, like Peter did, that that is a recipe for failure. Thank You, Lord Jesus, for giving us the grace we need so that our failures are not final. Thank You for focusing more on our hearts than on our behaviors. By Your grace, we want to make loving You our top priority in life. Lord Jesus, there is no one who loves us more than You do. There is no one who forgives us more than You do. Please use us to make a difference in someone’s life today. Would You use us to do that, Lord Jesus? Would You love that person through us, our Lord and our God? Thank You for hearing our prayer. In Your mighty name we pray Lord Jesus. Amen.
2. Tom Constable, Notes on John, 2017 Edition, pg. 394.
3. Adapted from Ted Robert’s discussion in his book, Pure Desire, pp. 246-247.
4. Ibid., pp. 248-249.
5. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1831.
6. Roberts, pg. 249.
7. Constable, pg. 395.
8. Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early ChristianLiterature: Third Edition (BDAG) revised and edited by Frederick William Danker (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000 Kindle Edition), pg. 1056.
9. Evans, pg. 1832.
10. Constable, pg. 395 cites K. L. McKay, “Style and Significance in the Language of John 21:15-17,” Novum Testamentum 27 (1985):319-33; Kenneth S. Wuest, Wuest’s Word Studies from the Greek New Testament, vol. 4: “Golden Nuggets from the Greek New Testament” (by the author, 1940; reprint ed., Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1966), pp. 60-63; and Robert L. Thomas, Evangelical Hermeneutics, The New Versus the Old (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2002), pg. 227; See also J. Carl Laney Moody Gospel John Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), pg. 379 who cites William Hendriksen, Exposition of the Gospel According to John (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1953-54), 2:494-500; R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. John’s Gospel (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1942), pp. 1418-20; A. Plummer, The Gospel According to St. John (Cambridge: At the University Press, 1899), pg. 372; B. F. Westcott, The Gospel According to St. John (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1973), pg. 303.
11. Evans, pg. 1832.
12. Laney, pg. 380 cites C. K. Barrett, The Gospel According to St. John (London: SPCK, 1962), pg. 486; F. F. Bruce, The Gospel of John: Introduction, Exposition and Notes (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1983), pp. 404-405; Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John, NICNT (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1971), pg. 873; Leon Morris, Studies in the Fourth Gospel (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1969), pp. 293-318.
13. Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Zane Hodges; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach. The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 569; and see Tom Constable, Notes on John, pg. 395 where he writes, “For example, John used both agapao and phileo to describe the Father’s love for the Son (3:35; 10:17; 5:20), Jesus’ love for Lazarus (11:5, 3, 36), and Jesus’ love for the beloved disciple (13:23; 20:2). Also, he used three different Greek words to describe ‘fish’ in this passage: prosphagion, ichthus, and opsarion.”
“Then, as soon as they had come to land, they saw a fire of coals there, and fish laid on it, and bread.” John 21:9
When Jesus appeared for the fourth time after His resurrection in the gospel of John, He reminds us of several important lessons that can help us enjoy the reality of His resurrection. Together we have discovered that…
– Failure and discouragement are often connected to the risen Lord Jesus’ purpose for our lives (John 21:1-3).
– Success in our risen Lord’s eyes is not in trying harder (John 21:4-5).
– Success in our risen Lord’s eyes depends on following His will (John 21:6).
– Our primary purpose in life is to be with the risen Lord Jesus Christ Who is gracious (John 21:7-8).
Now we are ready for the fifth lesson from Jesus. After Christ miraculously enabled His seven disciples to catch more fish than they could haul into their boat, John identifies that this Stranger is Jesus and then Peter eagerly dives into the sea to swim over to Jesus on the shore of the Sea of Galilee (John 21:6-7). When the other disciples arrived on the shore with a net full of fish (John 21:8), John writes, “Then, as soon as they had come to land, they saw a fire of coals there, and fish laid on it, and bread.” (John 21:9). The disciples discovered that the Creator of the universe had fixed them breakfast on the beach. This must have smelled great to these tired and hungry fishermen who had been fishing all night.
John included an interesting detail in this verse that can easily be missed. The Greek word that is translated “fire of coals” (anthrakia) is only used two times in John’s gospel: here and in John 18:18 when Peter was in the courtyard warming himself around the fire and he denied knowing Jesus three times. The risen Lord Jesus was reminding Peter of his recent past. We can be sure of this because of the conversation Jesus will have with Peter in John 21:15-17. Peter would never forget this life-changing meal as he would even mention it in his preaching (see Acts 10:41). 1
What was going on here? If Peter was going to get over his past failures he needed to face the truth about himself. He had to stop hiding in his fishing expeditions and face up to what he had done earlier.
Peter isn’t the only one in the Bible who tried to hide from his failures. The first man and woman, Adam and Eve, hid behind fig leaves after they sinned against God in the garden of Eden (Genesis 3:1-10).
You and I can be a lot like Peter, and the first man and woman. We can easily go into hiding after we have failed our Lord. And we can hide in so many ways. We may hide behind the modern-day fig leaves of anger, busyness, careers, expensive cars or homes, hobbies, humor, ministries, sarcasm, sports, superficial interactions, theological knowledge, or even religion.
Recently I read a true story about a man who shoved his way to the head of the ticket line at the airport after his flight had been canceled. “I have to get on the next flight, and it has to be first class,” he bellowed to the agent. “I’ll be happy to help you, sir,” she replied, “as soon as I serve these folks in front of you.” The passenger was irate. “Do you have any idea who I am?” he shouted at her. Without replying, the agent picked up the airport intercom and announced to the whole terminal, “May I have your attention, please. We have a passenger who doesn’t know who he is. If anyone can help him reclaim his identity, pleasesee the agent at gate six.”2
Most of us probably would not do something as selfish as that man did in a public setting, but we have probably thought about it under similar circumstances. Like that man, we have demanded our own way in a more indirect manner while hiding from God’s work in our lives. But the amazing thing is that our risen Lord, unlike that ticket agent, lets us get away with it at least for now. But the day is coming when we will all stand before Him, unable to hide anything from Him (I Corinthians 4:5; 2 Corinthians 5:10; Hebrews 4:12-13). But God does not force us to stand openly before Him now.
As a result, some of us have been hiding areas of our lives for a long time, and that is what causes bondage. Hell always grow stronger when there is secrecy. Some of us carry heavy burdens of guilt and shame; others of us hide behind the fig leaves of anger, or our business or careers or even our ministries.
No matter how long we have been hiding, sooner or later, we are going to have to trust the Lord and admit the truth about ourselves. This is what Peter needed to do and Jesus built this fire of coals to help him do just that. As Peter stood before the fire where his risen Lord had cooked him breakfast, he was remembering his greatest failure of his life. Now Peter had many failures, but none were as great as when he denied knowing his Lord, especially after vowing to be faithful to Him even unto death (cf. John 13:37; 18:17-18, 25-27).
At some point all of us have had such a failure. And it seems unforgivable. Peter remembered standing before the fire and not just once, but three times – openly and blatantly – he denied the One Who loved him more than anyone else ever had or ever would.
Have you ever done that? We end up denying our risen Lord Jesus Who loves us more than anyone else. We end up betraying our best Friend by doing the very thing we vowed never to do.
Yet what does Jesus do? He cooks breakfast which included “fish” and “bread.” Why did He choose those foods? Just as the “fire of coals” would remind Peter of his past failure, so too the “fish” and “bread” would remind these seven disciples of Jesus’ miraculous feeding of the five thousand (John 6:1-13). Notice that He had already provided fish for them, in addition to cooking it for them – flame-broiled – even before the disciples got out of their boat and hauled the fish they had caught to shore. Before His crucifixion, Jesus had served His disciples by washing their dirty feet (John 13:1-17). Now He continues to serve them as their risen Lord by providing them with a warm fire and a delicious breakfast. 3
Both the fire of coals, and the fish and bread would be reminders of Jesus’ faithfulness to His disciples. Christ faithfully predicted Peter would deny Him three times (John 13:38) and he did around the coals of fire (John 18:17-18, 25-27). This would assure the disciples that Jesus would be faithful to fulfill other predictions such as His promises about preparing a place for them in heaven (John 14:1-6) and the coming of the Holy Spirit (John 14:16-18, 25-27). Jesus was also faithful to supernaturally feed over five thousand people with fish and bread (John 6:1-13), and He would continue to faithfully provide for His followers in the future. Perhaps the disciples feared that the Lord’s death would bring an end to His care for them. But this breakfast was a timely reminder He would continue to faithfully provide for all their needs.
This leads us to our fifth lesson: OUR RISEN LORD JESUS GIVES US REMINDERS OF HIS FAITHFULNESS TO CARE FOR US (John 21:9). In the Old Testament, God commanded Israel to observe different festivals to celebrate His provision for the nation in various ways (cf. Leviticus 23). 4 Each time God’s people observed these festivals, they would be reminded of God’s provision in the past so they may continue to trust Him to provide for them in the future.
In the New Testament, Jesus Himself established the Lord’s Supper to be observed in remembrance of Him, His death and shedding of blood for our sins (Matthew 26:17-19, 26-30; I Corinthians 11:23-26). Whenever we take the Lord’s Supper, it helps us to think and thank God for His great grace toward us through the Lord Jesus (2 Corinthians 8:9).
I am also reminded of Jesus’ instructions in Matthew 6 where He says, “Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” (Matthew 6:26). When we see the “birds of the air” we are reminded of how our heavenly Father takes care of them. Have you ever seen a bird get an ulcer from worrying? They don’t get anxious about their next meal because our “heavenly Father feeds them.” And since we are far more valuable to our Father in heaven than a bird, how much more will He take care of you and me!?!
Jesus also said, “28So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; 29 and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?” (Matthew 6:28-30). Flowers don’t worry about looking pretty, but not even Solomon in all his splendor could match the beauty in the fields of God’s creation. If God gives this kind of attention to birds and flowers, won’t He do much more for you and me? You and I are much more valuable to Jesus than a bird or a flower, so there is no need for us to worry about Him taking care of our needs.
As you read this article you may be realizing that you needed these reminders from the risen Lord Jesus. We are prone to forget what is most important in life. Jesus knows this and He addresses it with daily reminders of His faithfulness to provide for all our needs.
Prayer: Lord Jesus, like Peter, we can hide from our past failures in a variety of ways. And like Adam and Eve who hid behind fig leaves after they sinned, we may hide behind the modern-day fig leaves of anger, busyness, careers, expensive cars or homes, hobbies, humor, ministries, sarcasm, sports, superficial interactions, theological knowledge, or even religion. Thank You for reminding us of our past unresolved failures so we can face them and bring them to You and be restored. Lord Jesus, we can be so prone to worry about many things, especially our unmet needs. Thank You for the many reminders You give us each day that tell us we are important to You and that You will be faithful to take care of all our needs. Please renew our trust in You to do what You promise. In Your mighty name we pray. Amen.
1. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1831.
2. Ed Kittrell, Funny Business (Washington, D.C.: Georgetown Publishing House, October 1977), pg. 6.
3. Tom Constable, Notes on John, 2017 Edition, pg. 391.
“And He said to them, ‘Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.’ So they cast, and now they were not able to draw it in because of the multitude of fish.” John 21:6
After Jesus’ death and resurrection, John records several post-resurrection appearances of Jesus. In John 21:1-14, he records the fourth appearance of the risen Christ involving seven of His disciples. These verses teach us several important lessons from the risen Lord Jesus. So far we have learned …
– Failure and discouragement are often connected to the risen Lord Jesus’ purpose for our lives (John 21:1-3).
– Success in our risen Lord’s eyes is not in trying harder (John 21:4-5).
We are now ready for our third lesson from Jesus. After Peter and the six other disciples went fishing all night without catching any fish, Jesus appeared to them on the shore in the early morning, but the disciples did not realize it was Christ (John 21:3-4). When Jesus asked them, “Children, have you any food?” they replied, “No.” (John 21:5). Jesus asked this question of the disciples to help them see their own inadequacy and to prepare them for what He was about to do next.
Christ now offers these unsuccessful fishermen some advice: “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” (John 21:6a). Peter and some of the other disciples were fisherman by profession. They were no doubt irritated at their lack of success during the night. And now a Stranger on the shore was telling them how to do their job better? It takes humility for a fisherman to accept advice from a non-fisherman. But Jesus, the Son of God and Creator, knew where the fish were. Maybe the disciples thought this Stranger on the shore could see a school of fish near the surface of the water. 1 After all, He promised them a catch if they obeyed His command.
“Their nets had been hanging over the left (port) side of the fishing boat. The unknown ‘authority’ on the shore now promised that if they would ‘cast the net on the right-hand [starboard] side,’ they would catch some fish… Such a suggestion must have seemed ludicrous to these seasoned fishermen. The idea that such an insignificant change would accomplish anything was laughable. Yet amazingly the disciples followed Jesus’ orders. Perhaps it was the authoritativeness of Jesus’ command that explains their readiness.”2
Maybe they obeyed Jesus’ command because it “might have reminded Peter, James, and John that after another night without a catch the Lord Jesus had told them something quite similar that resulted in a record catch (cf. Luke 5:4-10).” 3
When the disciples obeyed Jesus’ command they were richly rewarded. John tells us, “they were not able to draw it [the net] in because of the multitude of fish.” (John 21:6b). The net was so full of fish they could not haul it back into the boat. The imperfect tense (ischuon) of the verb ischuō portrays the disciples repeatedly tugging at the heavy net. 4
Jesus was teaching these disciples the importance of obeying His Word even though they did not realize yet that it was His Word. 5 We learn from this verse that SUCCESS IN OUR RISEN LORD’S EYES DEPENDS ON FOLLOWING HIS WILL (JOHN 21:6). Only when the disciples obeyed Jesus were they successful in catching fish. What would have happened if the disciples had argued with the Stranger on the shore? What if they had said, “We have been fishing all night and have already tried that! We are the fishermen here, who are You?!” This miracle may not have taken place if the disciples had not been quick to respond to the Lord’s command.
God wants to teach us to trust Him even in areas where we have been strong in the past. Our risen Lord is reminding us that the problem when we don’t have success in our lives as believers is not our location, but who we are listening to.
Often times when I go fishing, the right spot to catch fish is usually located just beyond my reach. If I am on the shore , I think to myself, “If I could just get my lure out in the middle of the lake, that is where the big fish are.” If I am in a boat out in the middle of the lake, I say to myself, “If I get close to shore that is where I will catch a huge fish.”
Jesus is teaching us that the disciples did not have to go somewhere else. They just needed to cast their net on the other side. It was listening to Christ that made the difference. It was trusting Jesus that made the difference. Sometimes when we are experiencing failure in our lives, we think it is because of our location. So we tell ourselves, “If I just moved, if I just changed locations it would make a difference.” There may be some wisdom in that at times. But before we start moving from place to place, try to find success by listening to Jesus first. He might want to give us success right where we are at. It is not where we are, it is who we are listening to that matters the most.
We are never very far from success when we permit Jesus to give the orders. That is what made the difference in these disciples’ lives. The difference between success and failure in the disciples’ lives was letting Jesus give them advice and then following that advice.
In conclusion, the better option for success in the risen Lord Jesus’ eyes has nothing to do with “trying harder” or “giving up.” It has to do with following Christ’s will. Peter and the other disciples were learning this valuable lesson. They tried on their own to catch fish all night with nothing to show for it. But when they heard Jesus’ command and obeyed it, they caught a net full of fish that was too big to haul into their boat.
Like the disciples, it takes humility for us to listen to the Lord in areas where we are strong. The most common way Christ gives us His advice is through the Bible. Let’s take time to listen to Him and do what He says.
Prayer: Risen Lord Jesus, I am tired because I have been casting my net out again and again and again without any success. Thank You for showing me that I have not been listening to You. Lord Jesus, would You show me on which side to cast out my net? Would You show me where to put my energy? Thank You, my Lord and my God. In Your powerful name I pray Lord Jesus. Amen.
1. J. Carl Laney Moody Gospel John Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), pg. 375.
2. Tom Constable, Notes on John, 2017 Edition, pg. 389.
3. Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Zane Hodges; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach. The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 567.
“Then Jesus said to them, ‘Children, have you any food?’ They answered Him, ‘No.’ ”John 21:5
We are learning some valuable lessons from the risen Lord Jesus Christ in John 21:1-14. Yesterday we learned that failure and discouragement are often connected to the risen Lord Jesus’ purpose for our lives (John 21:1-3). While waiting for Jesus to meet them in Galilee, Peter and six other disciples decided to go fishing as they waited. John tells us that they fished all night and “caught nothing” (John 21:3b). God uses our failures and discouragement to accomplish His purpose in our lives. Jesus used the disciples’ failure to catch fish during their all-night expedition to prepare them for what He was going to do next.
We then read, “But when the morning had now come, Jesus stood on the shore; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus.” (John 21:4). The dawn had now come when Jesus appeared on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. John notes that, like Mary Magdalene (John 20:14), the disciples did not realize it was Jesus at first perhaps because they were preoccupied with their failure to catch any fish or they could not see Him clearly because of the distance between them or the morning mist hanging over the water.
“Then Jesus said to them, ‘Children, have you any food?’ They answered Him, ‘No.’ “ (John 21:5). Jesus addresses the disciples as “children” (paidia) which refers to those who are treasured in the way a parent treasures a child. 1 This is an affectionate fatherly term toward spiritual children (cf. I John 2:13, 18; 3:7). Like a loving father, Jesus was very fond of His disciples and He wants to bless them. So He asks them, “Have you any food?” The form of Jesus’ question in the Greek text assumes a negative answer; Christ expected, based on the fact that He knew, that they had not caught any fish. Why does Jesus ask them a question to which He already knew the answer? Most likely He did this to elicit a confession of failure from them so they would see their own inadequacy and their need for Jesus’ help. 2
Since the disciples did not realize this was Jesus yet, they may have thought His question was from someone who wanted to buy some fish. Jesus’ question “serves to heighten the disciples’ frustration and sense of need before the miracle occurs.”3 We can sense the disciples’ discouragement and mild embarrassment in their “No” answer. 4 Unsuccessful fishermen never like to be asked this kind of question.
We learn from this exchange that SUCCESS IN OUR RISEN LORD’S EYES IS NOT IN TRYING HARDER (John 21:4-5). The disciples had been casting their nets again and again all night long. They are thinking the way a lot of us think: “I am going to keep trying the same thing until it works. I am deeply committed to this. I know if I try hard enough and I try long enough eventually I am going to be successful.” Isn’t that the American way? Isn’t that how most of us feel in America? We may get some limited, tiny success that way.
But there is a big problem with this approach. What if we are trying hard at the wrong thing? What if we are using all our energy and all our efforts to do the wrong thing? No matter how successful we are, there is no lasting joy in it. The secret is not trying harder. We could be working for the wrong thing or for the wrong motive. I think a lot of times we think there are only two options of something we really want in life. We think it is either option number one, “Try Harder,” or option number two, “Give Up.”
Some of us have been trying so hard at some things in life that it is wearing us out. We may be trying hard to get a job or to get married. We may be trying hard to get people to like us. We may be trying hard to make a difference in our spouse’s life or in our children’s lives. Perhaps some of us are trying to overcome a bad habit or a past hurt without success. We may be trying hard to grow in our spiritual lives. We are trying to pray more and read the Bible more and go to church more often. But the harder we try the worse it gets.
Then we suddenly realize Jesus is patiently standing on the shore asking us, “How is that working for you, My child?” We hang our heads down and reluctantly say to our risen Lord, “Not so well.” Jesus permits us to try hard for a season. He lets us come to the end of ourselves so we are more prepared to listen to His advice.
God has given us a special gift that makes us open to change. It is called pain. The Lord will let our pain increase until it exceeds our resistance to change. We call this “hitting bottom.” When we hit bottom we are ready to listen to what our risen Lord has to say to us. Next time, Lord willing, we will discover a better option for success that has nothing to do with “trying harder” or “giving up.”
Prayer: Dear Lord Jesus, many of us have been up all night casting our nets again and again and again without anything to show for it. We think that the key to success is trying harder. We have been working hard to overcome our habits, hurts, and hang ups. We are doing everything we can to get people to like us. We are striving to grow spiritually by praying more, reading the Bible more, or going to a place of worship more often. And it seems that the harder we try, the worse things get. Thank You, Lord Jesus, for asking us how this “trying harder” option is working. You already know the answer, but we need to discover it for ourselves. We need to come clean with You and admit that our way does not work. Thank You, Lord Jesus, for caring enough to ask us this question. Thank You for showing us our need for You. We are ready to receive Your advice now, Lord. We are listening. In Your gracious name we pray Lord Jesus. Amen.
1. Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early ChristianLiterature: Third Edition (BDAG) revised and edited by Frederick William Danker (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000 Kindle Edition), pg. 749.
2. Tom Constable, Notes on John, 2017 Edition, pg. 389.
3. Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Zane Hodges; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach. The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 567.
“17 And He, bearing His cross, went out to a place called the Place of a Skull, which is called in Hebrew, Golgotha, 18 where they crucified Him…” John 19:17-18a
We are learning from John 19:4-42 that what happened to Jesus on the last day of His life also applies to us today. The apostle John has several images he wants to make sure that we see in the life of Jesus Christ. So far we have discovered that…
– Like Pilate, we can avoid doing the right thing because of the cost involved (John 19:4-7).
– No one has power in this world except what is given to them by God (John 19:8-12).
– The closer we get to the cross, the more clearly we see who people really are, including ourselves (John 19:13-16).
The fourth lasting lesson we learn from Jesus’ last day is that THE CROSS IS THE TOTAL EXPRESSION OF GOD’S GRACE TO US IN CHRIST (JOHN 17-18a). Before we look at today’s verses, let’s review what has happened to Jesus so far on His last day before His dead body is sealed in a tomb. Prior to His crucifixion, Jesus had already suffered a great deal. In Gethsemane, He was under such emotional distress that tiny capillaries in His sweat glands broke and mixed blood with His sweat (Luke 22:44). After He was arrested and bound, He was unjustly tried before civil and religious authorities (Matthew 26:57-68; 27:1-2; Luke 23:6-12; John 18:12-14, 19-23, 28-40). During these trials Christ was falsely accused, insulted, rejected, and physically abused. Pilate then had Jesus scourged or beaten with a short whip made of braided leather thongs to which were attached small iron balls and sharp pieces of bone (John 19:1). This scourging left Jesus’ body tattered and torn. Christ was then beaten and mocked by Roman soldiers who placed a crown of thorns on His head and a purple robe on His severely wounded back (John 19:2-3; cf. Matthew 27:27-30).
This brings us to the next image the apostle John presents to us. “And He, bearing His cross, went out to a place called the Place of a Skull, which is called in Hebrew, Golgotha.” (John 19:17). Before the soldiers had Jesus carry His cross, they removed the purple robe from Christ (Matthew 27:31) which had become adhered to the clots of blood and serum in His wounds. This would have been very painful, much like carelessly removing a surgical bandage.
When John tells us that Jesus was “bearing His cross,” we see the fulfillment of “two Old Testament symbols or types. Isaac carried his own wood for the sacrifice (Gen. 22:1-6) and the sin offering used to be taken outside the camp or city (cf. Heb. 13:11-13).” 1 So the sin of the world was placed on the innocent Lamb of God (John 1:29).
The reference to Jesus “bearing His cross” refers to the crossbeam that prisoners had to carry to their place of execution. 2 The upright part of the cross would have been out at the place of crucifixion. This crossbeam strapped to Jesus’ back would have weighed 100-150 pounds. 3 This weight would have been similar to a couple of sacks of cement.
It was a very heavy load especially for Jesus who had lost so much blood from the beating and flogging. Since Christ was very weak and faint, He could not carry this load all the way out to the place of execution. John does not tell us this because He is wanting to stress Jesus’ deity, 4 but Luke informs us that “Simon a Cyrenian,” carried Jesus’ crossbeam for Him (Luke 23:26).
The place where Jesus would be crucified was “called the Place of a Skull, which is called in Hebrew, Golgotha.” It was most likely called this because the hill’s rock formations looked like a skull. 5
John continues to describe his eyewitness picture of this when he writes, “where they crucified Him…” (John 19:18a). To help us understand the significance of John’s words, it would be beneficial for us to look at the history of crucifixion. 6
The Romans did not invent crucifixion. It was probably invented by the Phoenicians. The Phoenicians invented the cross for a very particular reason. They had a god that they served who was a god of the earth. They felt that for someone to die on the earth it would defile their god. So they ingeniously came up with a way to execute their prisoners lifted up off the earth so that they would not defile the earth. That is where it is believed crucifixion began.
Jesus made reference to His crucifixion when He said, “And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself.”(John 12:32). The interesting thing is when you look at the real cross of Christ, the God of the universe was lifted up on a cross (John 1:1-3), not the god of the earth. Jesus did not defile or condemn the earth. He came to save the world (John 3:17). That is what actually took place.
The Romans looked at the cross in a different way. Through the Egyptians and then the Romans, this idea of a cross came. The Romans saw the cross as a tool. They expertly used it as a tool of torture and punishment. They also used it as a tool to tell people if you rebel against Rome, you are going to face the cross and be put out in front for the world to see. Their suffering and their pain would endure for a long time so that when they punished their prisoners, many people would be brought under their control. That is what the Romans saw it as.
The Jewish people saw the cross as the most disgusting form of death because Deuteronomy 21:22-23 says, “If a man has committed a sin deserving of death, and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree, 23 his body shall not remain overnight on the tree, but you shall surely bury him that day, so that you do not defile the land which the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance; for he who is hanged is accursed of God.” When God put these verses in the Bible, He knew that Jesus would be cursed for our sins on the cross.
So to the Phoenician, the cross was a means of death that satisfied their belief in a god of the earth. To the Romans, the cross became an expertly used instrument of torture and control. To the Jewish people, crucifixion represented the most disgusting form of death. But to the God of the Bible, the cross reveals the glory of Christ. To the Christian, the cross reveals Jesus’ glory, especially His amazing grace and love.
When the Bible talks about Jesus dying, it simply says, “they crucified Him.” (John 18:18a). John doesn’t go into great detail. The reason for that is he did not need to because everyone in his day understood what crucifixion was all about. If I told you that somebody died by lethal injection, you would probably understand what that means. You can visualize the table and the room and the witnesses because you may have seen it on television or in an online video. We have also heard news reports about it. In John’s day, everyone would know the truth of what the cross was all about.
The Romans had refined crucifixion to such an art, we can know what happened. 7 They had executioners whose sole job it was to carry out crucifixion time after time. So as Jesus was brought up to that hill, to the place where that standing post was, the executioner would lay the cross beam behind the victim and would jerk them to the ground across the beam. The executioners wore leather aprons. And in these leather aprons there were pouches with five-inch nails and a hammer off to the side. These were the tools of their trade.
The executioner would kneel first on the right arm of the victim of the one who would be crucified. His knee would rest on the inside of the elbow. His hand would be placed on the arm of the victim so it was flat against the cross. He would feel for the hollow spot in the wrist between the bones so that no bones would be broken or arteries broken so the prisoner would be tortured as long as possible. Then he would take one of those five-inch nails and place it against that hollow place and in one sharp blow drive it into the wood through the flesh.
They would do the left hand in the same way. Then two soldiers on each side would grab the two ends of the cross beam and on the signal, raise it up and place it into the notch of the upright post. When that crossbeam was set firmly, the executioner would reach up and set the sign that described the crime this person had committed. This was very important to the Romans because they wanted to discourage others from rebelling against Rome.
Then the executioner would kneel before the cross and take the right foot of the criminal and place it over the left foot, bending it slightly upwards and nail the feet to the cross. Remember, Romans were experts at this. They had devised a means to know the exact angle at which to put the feet so the prisoner could live the longest possible time so they could endure the greatest possible agony as an example to the watching world of why not to commit this crime.
As Jesus’ feet were nailed on the cross, we become aware of two sources of pain. First, the pain in His shoulders, His arms, and His forearms of being in a “V” position. If you tried to do this for any length of time your arms would begin to cramp. This pain would begin to be greater than the pain of the nails that were in His hands and in His feet. Then the pain of the pectoral muscles – the muscles in His chest – beginning to constrict so He could breathe in but not breathe out.
John was there. He was an eyewitness. He saw what they did to Jesus Christ. But there is something that John (and other eyewitnesses) did not see. Something, however, that Jesus did see. Max Lucado shares this insight as the soldiers were nailing Jesus’ arms to the crossbeam. “Jesus turns his face toward the nail just as the soldier lifts the hammer to strike it….
“Couldn’t Jesus have stopped him? With a flex of the biceps, with a clench of the fist, he could have resisted. Is this not the same hand that stilled the sea? Cleansed the Temple? Summoned the dead?
“But the fist doesn’t clench… and the moment isn’t aborted. The mallet rings and skin rips and the blood begins to drip, then rush. Then the questions follow. Why? Why didn’t Jesus resist?
“’Because he loved us,’ we reply. That is true, wonderfully true, but – forgive me – only partiallytrue. There is more to his reason. He saw something that made him stay. As the soldier pressed his arm, Jesus rolled his head to the side, and with his cheek resting on the wood he saw … between his hand and the wood there was a list. A long list. A list of our mistakes: our lusts andlies and greedy moments and prodigal years. A list of our sins.” 8
The Bible tells us, “13 God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, 14 having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; He has taken it away, nailing it to the cross.” (Colossians 2:13-14 NIV).
Lucado continues, “The list God has made, however, cannot be read. The words can’t be deciphered. The mistakes are covered. The sins are hidden. Those at the top are hidden by his hand; those down the list are covered by his blood. Your sins are ‘blotted out’ by Jesus (KJV)…
“This is why he refused to close his fist. He saw the list! What kept him from resisting? This warrant, this tabulation of your failures. He knew the price of those sins was death. He knew the source of those sins was you, and since he couldn’t bear the thought of eternity without you, he chose the nails.” 9
Out of love for you and me, Jesus chose the nails that not only attached Him to that wooden crossbeam, but also the list of all our sins. The word “canceled” (eksaleíphō) in Colossians 2:14, was a technical term in the apostle Paul’s day when he penned this. It refers to washing a piece of parchment clean for reuse. 10 Not only was the parchment clean enough to be written on again, it showed no evidence of ever having been written on in the first place.
Jesus’ blood washed away any record of our past, present, or future sins and charges against us. This is called positional forgiveness which we receive the moment we believe in Jesus for it (Acts 10:43). That is why the cross of Christ is the total expression of God’s grace. It is through the cross that “Jesus destroyed the foundation of Satan’s strategies… 11 Satan’s methodology is one of accusation, always to increase our sense of shame which increases his control over us.”12
The truth is, no one can successfully accuse us of wrongdoing in God’s courtroom because Jesus Christ finished paying our sin debt in full when He died in our place on that cross (John 19:30; Romans 8:31-34). When we believe in Jesus, God justifies us or declared us totally righteous in His courtroom (Romans 8:33). If God pronounced that we are not guilty, then no one – not the devil, an ex-spouse, or an unforgiving boss – can reverse His verdict. No one can successfully accuse any Christian of wrongdoing in God’s courtroom because God does not even accuse us. He justifies us the moment we believe in Jesus alone (Romans 3:28, 30; 4:5; 5:1). This is what sets us free from the shame Satan wants to control us with.
As you read this, you may be thinking, “But you don’t know how badly I have sinned or how often I have sinned.”You are correct, but Jesus Christ does. Before Jesus hung on that cross, all of your sins were yet future. At the cross, God took every sin that you would ever commit and placed them all on Jesus Christ. The Lord Jesus paid the penalty for all of your sins so you could be totally forgiven the moment you believed in Christ. Forgiveness means God has removed the barrier of all your sins so you can now enjoy closeness with God.
What this means is that you can never lose your relationship with your heavenly Father. Just as you are born into your earthly family and can never cease to be your parents’ child no matter what you do, so too, when you are born into God’s family through faith in Jesus alone (John 1:12), you can never cease to be His child no matter how you live. You can sin as God’s child without ever ceasing to be His child. But your sin will break that closeness with God just as disobeying your parents breaks your closeness with them. When you sin (and we all do), you must daily confess your sins in order to maintain fellowship or closeness with Christ (I John 1:9).
Knowing that all of your sins are positionally forgiven “in Christ” is essential for experiencing victory over the devil and the world (I John 2:12-14). A good soldier cannot do his best with the fear that a mistake or two would take him off the front lines. Satan tries to get believers to focus on their past sins or worry about their future sins to weaken them when facing the world’s temptations. By focusing on Christ’s complete positional forgiveness, a believer is able to focus on knowing Christ more intimately by abiding in His Word and experiencing victory over the devil and the world (I John 2:12-14).
Prayer: Precious Lord Jesus, there is no greater expression of Your grace than the cross. When you spread your arms out on that crossbeam, You were showing the world how wide Your love truly is (John 3:16). It is wide enough for the worst of sinners and the best of sinners to be totally forgiven forever. Your love is wide enough for the whole world which includes every one of us. Sadly, others may exclude us but You never will if we come to You on Your terms (John 6:37). Thank You for demonstrating how much You loved us when You stretched one hand to the right and the other to the left and permitted the soldiers to nail them in that position so we would know that You died loving us. Thank You for canceling the list of all our sins which was between Your hands and the wooden crossbeam through the shedding of Your blood. Please use us now to proclaim Your forgiving love and grace to a lost and dying world. In Your matchless name we pray, Lord Jesus. Amen.
1. Edwin A. Blum, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Gospels, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, (David C Cook, 2018 Kindle Edition), pg. 690.
2. J. Carl Laney, Moody Gospel John Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), pg. 345; Tom Constable, Notes on John, 2017 Edition, pg. 351, cited Darrell L. Bock, Jesus according to Scripture: Restoring the Portrait from the Gospels (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House; and Leicester, England: Apollos, 2002), pg. 535.
3. Tom Holladay’s July 24, 1996 message entitled, “A Day in the Life of… Jesus Christ.”
4. Tom Constable, Notes on John, pg. 351.
5. Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Zane Hodges; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach. The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 559; cf. Edwin A. Blum, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Gospels, pg. 690.
6. Adapted from Tom Holladay’s discussion in his July 24, 1996 message entitled, “A Day in the Life of… Jesus Christ.”
8. Max Lucado, He Chose The Nails (Nashville: Word Publishing, 2000), pp. 33-34.
9. Ibid., pg. 34.
10. A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament, Vol. IV (Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1931), pg. 494.
11. Ted Roberts, Seven Pillars of Freedom Workbook (Gresham, OR: Pure Desire Ministries International, 2014), pg. 72.
12. Ted Roberts, Pure Desire (Bloomington, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 1999), pg. 83.