John 21 – The Restoration of Peter

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.

8 thoughts on “John 21 – The Restoration of Peter

  1. I like what you here: “Peter needs to experience forgiveness and grace from his Lord, so Jesus gives him the opportunity to express his love and commitment,”(Long, 2012). I like how you said to experience forgiveness. Sometimes, it is hard to just believe that we are forgiven. To hear the words spoken, you are forgiven, makes it truly sink it.
    When I was a freshman in college, I was struggling a lot to forgive myself for some things that I had done in the past. I could not seem to believe that Jesus could truly forgive me. I felt like He needed me to repay Him for the things that I had done. But one night my mom was talking to me and she said, “Elle, I think you need to forgive yourself.” That night, I was read in the psalms and it was about forgiveness. I knew the Lord was speaking to me and telling me that He not only that He forgave me, but that I also need to really forgive myself for the things that I have done and to move on.
    When we know we are forgiven, we can express that joy by loving Him in different ways, such as spending time with Him in the Bible, through song and so on.
    God loves you, soo much.

  2. Peter has always been an interesting person to me and his actions throughout the Gospels. I have often admired him for his actions of walking on water. He did fall but was caught and saved when he fixed his eyes on Jesus. It is interesting to see Peter’s pride in his relationship with Jesus, but his response when his faithfulness was put to the test. He wanted to do the right thing, he wanted to be the person to save Jesus, we see this in his actions with the sword, even though that was not the right action. This was all followed up by denying Jesus all the way to the cross. Peter may be famous for these responses, but this was not the end of his story. Peter went on to preach the Gospel and was even put to death by Nero. Peter experienced Jesus’ forgiveness and grace and lived to show it for the rest of his life This is honorable and should be an example for our lives. Also, see it to be interesting Peter’s parallels in the gospel and Jesus’ example. Peter did not hold back even despite his past actions.

  3. As a Christian, I have always struggled with the idea of sinning even after I have been saved. We all do it. Why? Despite being cleansed of our sins (past, present, and future), we are still living in a sinful and fallen world that Satan is ruling. He tempts us, deceives us, and distracts us from our true purpose of honoring and glorifying God with our lives. We see Satan distract Peter from his true purpose when he denies Jesus before He was crucified. God would have been glorified at that moment if Peter would have proclaimed Jesus as Lord, but Satan distracted him with the fear of social humiliation, torture, and death. Köstenberger (2013) mentions that “supreme love for and loyalty to Jesus is the prerequisite for significant service to our Lord” (p. 184). Although Peter did not display this sort of love and loyalty towards Jesus at that moment, Jesus graciously offers forgiveness and an opportunity for repentance when He asks Peter if he loves Him three times (John 21:15-17). In doing so, Jesus “gives him the opportunity to express his love and commitment” (Long, 2012, para. 4). As Christians still living in this fallen world, we tend to make mistakes such as Peter. Our story does not end there. Jesus also offers us the same kind of opportunity each day to ask for forgiveness and express our love and commitment to Him. What a blessing it is to know that, though we are fallen and sinful, God never will say no to us when we run directly towards Him!

  4. I have always liked this interaction between Jesus and Peter at the end of the Gospel of John. Even though we know that Peter is going to go on and do great things to teach people about Jesus, it is nice to see this restoration that happens. It is sad to see that Peter, after following Jesus all this time, denied Him three times. I like that we see this conversation between Jesus and Peter and that, similar to the three times Peter denied Jesus, Peter now tells Jesus that he loves Him three times. I think that is a cool parallel that kind of symbolizes to me that the three denials are being forgiven and forgotten with each time Peter tells Jesus that he loves Him. I also really like that Jesus tells Peter to follow Him and then Peter goes on to do incredible things. Peter shows that he is fully devoted to Jesus now through the rest of his life and the actions that he does. Even when he dies, he proves that he is fully devoted to Jesus and was willing to die for Him, which is really cool to see, especially when looking at his past.

  5. It would have made sense for the Gospel of John to end after chapter 20. “John tells us the main reason for writing the Gospel in the first place, that we might believe that Jesus is the So of God and that by believing, we might have life in His name” (Long). However, there is chapter 21. In this chapter Peter comes back from his three denials of Jesus. He is given three chances to declare his loyalty to Jesus and unlike the night that Jesus was arrested, he does not deny Jesus. This demonstrates an important part of the Gospel message. We are all sinners and have messed up like Peter did. But because Jesus died on the cross for our sins and rose again on the third day, we are allowed to have a restored relationship with Him. Because of Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross and resurrection and because of His grace, those who accept the gift of salvation are forgiven. Peter went on to preach the Gospel and bring many to Christ. It doesn’t matter what you’ve done, God will still use you for His glory.

  6. While Peter views himself as strong in faith, jumping up to defend Jesus when he is arrested, going as far to try to cause harm to those who wish to arrest Jesus. His actions are quickly undone when Jesus heals the Solider and heals the ear. When Jesus tells Peter that he will deny him three times I think that Jesus is trying to humble him. When Peter hears the rooster crow, He knows that the prophecy from Jesus has come to be. Jesus’s main message is that all are worthy of forgiveness. Peter being put in the shameful position of sinning against God, put him in the position to ask for forgiveness for himself. How can a person lead others to forgiveness if they themselves are not forgiven? Jesus restores Peter so that he may lead others. By showing him the error of his ways by asking him three times to confirm his love in direct correlation to his three denials. Jesus takes it a step further so that there is no question in regard to Jesus is asking him to do. Jesus wants unwavering faith and loyalty, to serve only him and not the idols of the world. Jesus reassures Peter that he is forgiven by telling him that he will suffer for his fait

  7. Wondering what was going through someone’s mind is a common thought I have as I read Scripture. Obviously, we read what was said and sometimes even thought of, but I wonder what Jesus was thinking as he predicted Peter’s denial. I tend to forget that Jesus was human and still experienced emotion – even though he was also God. I think John did a great job at completing his mission to write about Jesus’ ministry and character. What better way to describe Jesus’ character then include the way he completely restored Peter and his denials? I relate to this kindness of the Lord a lot in my own life. There have been times where I stick with my flesh and put Christ second – basically denying him. Though as I read through John 21, where is Peter’s repentance? Vs 15 when Jesus reinstates Peter, there is great significance in the fact that he asks Peter if he loves him three times – in reference to the three denials. My thought is, though, Peter’s reaction seems pretty low key as he’s standing before someone who just died and resurrected. I think this just adds to Jesus’ character and kind heart. He still reinstated Peter and restored their relationship. I could be missing something in the text, or maybe there’s an account of Peter’s repentance in one of the synoptic gospels. Overall, I think this adds even more to the significance to God’s character: Even when we bring half-hearted repentance to the Lord, He forgives and also continues asking us to follow Him.

  8. I think this passage is interesting, especially when contrasted with Peter’s writings in his second epistle. Peter calls out false prophets and teachers, mentioning specifically that some have denied “their Master who bought them”, saying that they are bringing upon themselves a swift destruction (2 Peter 2:1). There seems to be a theme in the Bible that those who are most strongly judged are those who knowingly lead others into sin. While Peter did deny Jesus, he did so by himself, knowing it was wrong, but not encouraging others to do the same for his own benefit. Re-acceptance (or long-suffering acceptance in the face of disobedience), restoration, and re-institution into ministry is not unheard of in the face of true repentance after a period of disobedience. However, those who recognize their own disobedience and respond with acceptance and actively attempting to get others to join in their sin rather than throwing themselves upon the mercy and grace of God with heartfelt repentance are inviting destruction.

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