The Gospel of John has a double ending. If we stopped reading at the end of chapter 20, we would be perfectly satisfied. Jesus has revealed himself as the resurrected savior, Thomas’s confession is the great theological conclusion, Jesus is both Lord and God. John 20:30-31 read like the conclusion to the book as John tells us the main reason for writing the Gospel in the first place, that we might believe that Jesus is the Son of God and that by believing, we might have life in his name.
But there are some unresolved questions – what about Peter? We know that he has declared himself to be the most faithful disciple, willing to be arrested and killed alongside his Lord. Yet when Jesus was arrested Peter makes a lame attempt to defend Jesus (only to be rebuked for attacking with a sword). He then makes his famous three denials, failing to make good on his commitment to follow the Lord all the way to the cross.
Yet the reader knows that Peter did “comeback” from his great failure and the despair which he must have experienced in the days between the cross and the resurrection. Peter is well known as a preacher of the Gospel from the book of Acts. By the time John was written, the readers must have known that Peter had been executed by Nero in Rome. According to tradition, he was crucified upside-down some time after the Great Fire destroyed large portions of Rome.
This conclusion to the Gospel of John is about the Restoration of Peter to fellowship with Jesus. Peter needs to experience forgiveness and grace from his Lord, so Jesus gives him the opportunity to express his love and commitment. When Jesus calls his disciple Peter to “follow me” he is calling all disciples of Jesus to follow to the very end.
There are numerous parallels between this story and Peter’s denial in John 18. Once again Peter is beside a coal fire (ἀνθρακιά, a noun used only in John 18:18 and 21:9). Peter will have three opportunities to declares his loyalty to Jesus, except this time he will respond positively each time. But there are also parallels to Luke 5:1-11, the first miraculous catch of fish. At the beginning of his ministry Jesus called Peter to be a fisher of men by showing them where to cast their nets. After Jesus tells Peter that he is calling him to fish for men, Peter, James and John “leave everything and followed” Jesus (Luke 5:11).
The last words to Peter are significant: Follow Me! The past becomes the present once again, since these were among the first words Jesus said to Peter (John 1:43, 13:36-38). Jesus defines Peter’s relationship as following his Lord, just as he did when he called Peter as a disciple in Luke 5.