#Luke2Acts—Some Notes on John 14 to 21

Caravaggio - The Incredulity of Saint Thomas

Caravaggio – The Incredulity of Saint Thomas

The Twitter #Luke2Acts Bible study has just reached the final chapter of John. I have written notes from the beginning of Luke. The full list of Luke posts is found here. The full list of John posts is found here.

JOHN 14

Jesus’ charge, ‘Let not your heart be troubled,’ contrasts with his own state (13:21). It also recalls the charge given in Joshua 1:1-9. This passage and those that follow it are akin to Moses’ final address to Joshua and Israel, the testimony of the departing leader. ‘You believe in God, believe also in Me’—the relation that Jesus establishes between belief in the Father and belief in himself is significant. This also might relate to the statement concerning the people’s belief in God and Moses following the Red Sea crossing in Exodus 14:31.

‘In my Father’s house are many rooms’—what and where is the Father’s house? I believe that it is the temple (2:16) of Jesus’ body (2:21). Many read this as a reference to heaven and the eternal state. While this is part of the picture—the New Jerusalem descends from heaven in Revelation 21:2—I think that there is a more immediate fulfilment than that. I don’t believe that the place that Jesus is preparing is heaven per se. Rather the ‘place’ is his body, the Church. As we see in Revelation, the Church is prepared in heaven, but it is prepared on earth too. In order to prepare the place, Jesus must die, rise again, ascend to give the Spirit, and form the Church, bringing us into his presence by the Spirit. This interpretation is strengthened by the other references to God’s dwelling in the chapter, especially verse 23. Jesus and the Father will make their home with the believer, making them a room in the new temple that Christ is preparing.

Christ is the only way to the Father. He is the Truth (throughout the gospel he has been described as the ‘true’ version of various things—1:9; 6:32; 15:1). He is also source of eternal life, having life in himself (5:26). He is unique in all these respects. As he is the image of the Father, the only begotten Son, if you have seen Jesus, you have seen the Father. The Father is known in Christ. Christ does the Father’s works, acts with the Father’s authority, speaks his words, and the Father is in him.

Whatever the disciples ask in Jesus’ name, he will do for them, for the Father’s glory. To ask in Jesus’ name probably means to ask as representatives of his work and person in the world.

‘If you love me, keep my commandments.’ These commandments aren’t burdensome, but liberating (1 John 5:3).

Jesus will intercede for his disciples, so that they may have another ‘Paraclete’. What is a Paraclete? The word Paraclete is also found in 1 John 2:1, where we are told that Jesus is our ‘advocate’ with the Father. It seems to me that the Paraclete is a more legal concept, rather than just ‘Helper’ or ‘Comforter’, as it is often translated. The implied setting is a sort of law court or council, where both Christ and the Spirit act as our divine representatives against all accusers, particularly Satan.

As we see the Spirit described, we should see that the Spirit is like Jesus in many respects, as it is his Spirit. These verses also speak of the Spirit in a manner that supports the Spirit’s own personhood. The Spirit is currently present with them in Jesus, but will later be in them. The coming of the Spirit is related to the coming of Christ himself to his disciples (v.18). The sort of succession being suggested here is reminiscent of Elijah and Elisha, for instance. Elisha received the firstborn ‘double’ portion of Elijah’s Spirit after Elijah’s ascension (2 Kings 2:9-15). The disciples will later receive Jesus’ Spirit in like manner. Also, Elijah and Elisha’s ministry was a unity, with Elisha completing what Elijah started. There are similar themes here: the disciples will perform greater work than Jesus as they continue his mission in his Spirit (v.12).

Our love for Christ is revealed by our having and keeping his commandments (v.21). 1 John develops this point. Jesus and the Father will make their home with those who keep his word (v.23). We are the many rooms of the Father’s house. The Spirit will teach and remind the disciples of everything that Jesus had spoken, as Jesus’ representative. Jesus demonstrates that he loves the Father by obeying his Father’s commandment (v.31), just as he calls us to do (v.15, 21).

 

JOHN 15

The image of the vine was associated with Israel in such places as Isaiah 5. The vine and the olive tree (Romans 11) are also both ‘sacramental’ trees, one giving wine and the other giving oil. I do not believe that this is accidental. Jesus is the ‘true’ vine. The relationship between the Father (vinedresser) and the Son (vine) is interesting and ties in with other descriptions in the gospel. Persons are committed to the Son’s care by the Father and here also seem to be removed from it. The word that is translated ‘prunes’ in many Bible is the same word as that used for ‘cleansed’. The use of the word ‘clean’ in verse 3 follows from the reference to being cleansed in the preceding verse. The disciples are cleansed by Jesus’ word (v.3), which stands for his broader revelation and message (cf. John 14:23-24). The Father ‘cleanses’ the branches of the sacramental vine in preparation for the great eschatological wedding feast of wine.

The idea of removing branches from the tree of the people of God is similar to that found in Jeremiah 5:10-11. How are the branches cut off? Perhaps by means of persecution, which prunes existing branches for greater faithfulness and removes the branches that lack genuine life. The image of mutual ‘abiding’ (an important word in John) is very powerfully illustrated by the ‘organic union’ between vine and branches. The vine gives the branches all of their life and bears fruit through them. Apart from the vine, branches die.

The vine imagery can be helpful for understanding works in the Christian life. First of all, works are cast as fruit, in terms of blessing, harvest, and gift, rather than mere exercise of duty. Second, we have no power to produce fruit apart from Jesus. Fruit is produced as his life works itself out in our lives by his Spirit as we abide in him. Third, the Father is at work on the vine to help it to grow fruit: every person of the Trinity is active here. Fourth, bearing fruit is a (the?) central point, not just some sort of ‘salvation’ abstracted from that (I do not believe that we would truly be saved were we not rendered fruitful).

Jesus’ words must abide in us (v.7). The words of Jesus, the Word who created all things made flesh, are not like regular words, but are Spirit and life (6:63), and the words of the Father (3:34) with the power to judge (12:48), and raise the dead.

The idea that the Father wants to produce fruit through us is a remarkable one. Our bearing fruit is not some mere duty laid on us, but something which God delights and wills to accomplish through us, just as Jesus died to produce much fruit (12:24).

‘If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love’—this reverses the earlier order of 14:15. There is a circular character to be observed, a ‘gracious cycle’—as we love Jesus, we will obey his commandments: as we obey his commandments, we will grow and abide in his love. Our relationship to Jesus’ commandments should be modelled after his relationship to his Father’s life-giving command (12:49-50).

The commandments that Jesus gives us are liberating, empowering, and life-giving and designed to give us fullness of joy (v.11). We shouldn’t regard Jesus’ commandments as a treadmill of rules and limitations, but as the shape of an authorizing vocation. This vocation takes the shape of loving and laying down our lives for each other as Christ did for us. As we follow this vocation, Christ will be powerfully at work within us to produce lasting fruit for his Father.

‘You are my friends’—reminiscent of Abraham (James 2:23) and Moses (Exodus 33:11). How remarkable to be Christ’s friends! The friend is also someone who enters into another’s counsel. We aren’t just servants doing Jesus’ bidding from a distance, but are those who take an active role in shaping things, like the prophets in the heavenly council. Friendship also seems to be a particular emphasis in John’s gospel, where there are a lot of one-to-one interactions and where the cross itself is precipitated by Jesus’ healing of his friend, Lazarus.

There is something eschatological about the rich and multifaceted character of friendship, something more lasting than the divides between the generations, the sexes, the nations. Even in this age, sexual and intergenerational relationships tend to take their most mature form in the shape of deep friendship. In all of our society’s focus upon sex and its separation of generations in its idealization of youth, I love to reflect on the fact that at the last we’ll all sit together as friends. I blogged on the subject of friendship some time ago.

The hatred of the world is to be expected: it hated our Master before us. If the world loves us, it is probably a sign that something is seriously wrong. The world loves its own, but we should not be of the world.

As his people, we didn’t choose Christ. He chose us, and appointed us to bear much lasting fruit. It is a great encouragement to know that the Church’s purpose in the world rests upon something more robust than our human will and purpose.

No excuse remains to those who have seen the light and still preferred the darkness over it. Christ testifies of the Father. The Spirit testifies of Christ and through him the disciples will also testify of Christ.

 

JOHN 16

The disciples will be excommunicated from the synagogues (v.2). This suggests a sort of legal context. There is an ironic reversal here: although the disciples will be put on trial, through the work of the Spirit, it will be the world that will be on trial through their witness. The work of the ‘Paraclete’ in John is primarily ‘legal’ in character.

It is beneficial for Jesus to depart, because this leads to the sending of the Spirit, introducing a new stage of ministry (v.7). The Spirit convicts the world of sin on account of their rejection of Christ; of righteousness, because God and his people are demonstrated righteous through the heavenly advocacy of the vindicated and ascended Christ; of judgment, as Satan is condemned.

Just as Christ did not act on his own authority, but on his Father’s, so the Spirit does not act on his own authority (v.13). The Spirit will guide the Church—and the apostles more particularly—into all truth, not least through inspiring the witness of the New Testament.

‘A little while’—the time before the crucifixion—‘and you will not see me; and again a little while, and you will see me’—resurrection! I’ve commented at more length on 16:20-22 here (see my post on new birth in the gospel of John too). After the resurrection and ascension, the disciples will have greater access to the Father in Christ’s name (vv.23-24).

Praying in Jesus’ name does not mean praying for Jesus to pray for us (v.26), but, on account of Jesus, having privileged access to the Father, as we are known and loved by Him (v.28). This more direct access to the Father should be related to the advocacy of the Spirit that is at work through us.

The disciples will soon be scattered, like sheep without a sheep (v.32; cf. Matthew 26:31). ‘In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.’

 

JOHN 17

Many have characterized Jesus’ prayer as a ‘high priestly prayer’. It could be compared to the prayers and blessing of such figures as Jacob (Genesis 49) and Moses (Deuteronomy 32-33) before their deaths. It could also be seen as making us privy to Christ’s intercession for us in the heavenly council.

There is an exchange of glory between the Father and the Son (v.1). The Father is glorified in the Son and the glorification of the Son is so that the Father can be glorified. We can never play one off against the other.

Christ has been given authority over all humanity and this authority is exercised in order to give eternal life to the persons who have been given to him by the Father (v.2). Christ rules over all for our sake.

At root, eternal life is about being brought into life-giving fellowship with the one true God and his Son, Jesus Christ. Jesus has displayed his Father’s glory on the earth (v.4; cf.1:14) and finished the work he was given to do. Jesus prays that his Father would glorify him along with himself, with a glory he possessed before anything was created (v.5). In such places, I believe that we need to recognize a reference to the Holy Spirit.

Jesus’ disciples are presented as a gift from the Father to the Son. They aren’t just seen as individuals who chose to follow of their own accord, or even just as persons chosen by Jesus. They are situated in the loving bond between Father and Son. The Father is glorified in Jesus (v.1): Jesus is glorified in his disciples (v.10). Of those given to Christ, only the ‘son of perdition’—Judas—has been lost, to fulfil the Scripture. The rest are kept through God’s name. God’s name is his sign of ownership and authority over us, protecting us from rival claims.

That it is implied that Judas was given to Jesus by the Father is interesting. Judas is purposefully chosen (6:70), in full awareness that he will fall away. In fact, Judas’ falling away is itself included in God’s purpose. Judas is a vessel fitted for destruction, like Pharaoh in Romans 9, a wicked person who plays a crucial but cursed role in the precipitation of God’s future. Perhaps we should also relate him to Korah. It is interesting to observe the parallels between Judas and the apostate antichrist figure. The other occurrence of the expression ‘son of perdition’ is found in 2 Thessalonians 2:3. Should we see a relationship between the two?

The fact that the disciples are not of the world is revealed by the fact that the world has hated them (v.14). The disciples are set apart by the Father’s word, the life-giving Word/words of his Son. They are not of the world, just as Jesus is not of the world, but are sent ‘into’ the world like Jesus himself (v.18; cf. 20:21).

The unity of those who will believe on Jesus through the disciples’ word is found within the unity between Father and Son (v.21). This unity through fellowship will demonstrate Jesus’ mission to the world. 1 John 1:1-7 is important here:

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life—the life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and declare to you that eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested to us—that which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. And these things we write to you that your joy may be full. This is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.

The fellowship between the Father and the Son and the authenticity of Jesus’ mission is manifested and authenticated in the fellowship of the Church.

Jesus gives the glory given to him by the Father to believers. They are made the site of his presence and dwelling by the Spirit. Jesus wants believers to be with him where he is—in the presence of the Father. This looks forward to the future, but is also partly realized in the present, as we have fellowship with the Father in Jesus.

The Father loved Jesus before the foundation of the world. He prays that the love with which the Father loved him might be in us (v.26). Notice the 1 John themes again. Both ‘love’ and ‘glory’ seem to be treated almost as if they were concrete things in this passage. I believe that this is because the ‘love’ and the ‘glory’ being spoken of are realized in the person of the Spirit. The ‘love’ with which the Father loved the Son is the Spirit and the ‘glory’ with which he glorified him is the Spirit.

Jesus declared to the disciples the Father’s name. It is worth remembering that the temple was the place where God put his name (2 Chronicles 6:20; 20:9) and that his name was ‘in’ the Angel of the Covenant (Exodus 23:20-21). Jesus is both.

 

JOHN 18

Jesus’ crossing of the Brook Kidron should be related to David’s crossing of the brook in 2 Samuel 15:23, during Absalom’s coup. I’ve discussed the 2 Samuel background in my treatment of Luke. Judas is like Ahithophel. Ralph Smith also has some helpful reflections on John 18:1-11 here, developing some of these themes further. Jesus enters into a garden (v.1), which obviously carries all sorts of biblical resonances.

Jesus answers those coming to arrest him with the highly significant words, ‘I am’ (cf. 8:58), at which they draw back and fall to the ground, as if in worship.

Jesus’ words in verses 7-9 show his commitment to suffer on behalf of the disciples and protect them, even as they abandon him. The disciple who attacks the high priest’s servant isn’t mentioned in the other gospels, but here we are informed it is Peter. David Daube suggests that an attack upon the right ear might be intended as a disqualification for priestly service. I am not so sure. Notice that Malchus is Peter’s ‘opposite number’—both are servants of a high priest. Peter is the lead priestly assistant to Jesus, a fact that is particularly significant from this chapter onwards in John. This is the sort of laying down of his life that Peter had in mind in 13:37. He was less prepared to lay down his life in the manner that Jesus actually required of him.

Simon Peter serves as a sort of ‘high priest’ among the disciples, under Christ. While Jesus is being tried before Annas and Caiaphas, Peter is denying Jesus in the high priest’s courtyard. There is an important parallel being established. Peter stands around the fire of coals. Notice that Jesus has a fire of coals when he restores Peter in 21:9. The other disciple, presumably the disciple Jesus loved, was known to the high priest (18:15-16). He seems to have good connections and access. This might be evidence in favour of the theory that the beloved disciple is Lazarus: it would seem odd for a young Galilean fisherman to have such a connection, but Lazarus lived in Judea and was known to the Jews (Judeans).

I’ve commented upon the rest of the chapter in this post. The choice between Jesus and Barabbas and the release of Barabbas might suggest themes of the goats on the Day of Atonement. Pilate’s movement in and out to the people might also suggest that he is playing an ironic priestly role.

 

JOHN 19

I’ve commented on verses 1-16 of the chapter here and won’t repeat myself in this post.

Throughout this passage, Jesus is presented as being in control, rather than just a victim. He bears his own cross. The title above the cross is written in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin, suggesting the worldwide significance of Christ’s work and rule. Notice that two other words are translated in the passage (vv.13, 17). The title was presumably the charge that led to Jesus’ crucifixion. However, as in many places in John, there is a rich irony here, for Christ is indeed the King of the Jews. Though the chief priests object to title over Jesus, Pilate’s word is treated as final, like the Scripture it ironically fulfils.

Various scriptures are fulfilled in the crucifixion and aftermath (Psalm 22:15, 18; Exodus 12:46; Zechariah 12:10; Isaiah 53:9).

The appearance of Jesus’ mother (once again, not named) at this point is somewhat surprising, yet significant. John arguably never speaks of the virgin birth, yet birth is a constant theme of his gospel. 16:21 speaks of the cross as if it were a birth. In Revelation 12, the ‘birth’ seems to occur not at the beginning of Jesus’ life, but at the end. In Revelation 12, the woman who gives birth to the male Child has other children (verse 13; cf. Isaiah 66:7-9). The death of Jesus is like Israel giving birth. However, it is also accompanied by the giving of a new son (the archetypal disciple) to his mother. The womb of Israel is being opened and the Firstborn delivers his brethren into the arms of his mother. Christ gives the beloved disciple and his mother to each other, much as we are given to each other by Christ in his Church.

When speaking about the motherhood of Mary, our focus is generally upon her physical role in the Incarnation and Jesus’ conception and his birth in Bethlehem. The physical dimension of this is obviously significant. However, the biblical text would seem to focus upon the spiritual and symbolic role that Mary plays. The merely physical act of bearing and nursing Jesus is not the great thing: rather, the spiritual act of hearing God’s word and keeping it is (Luke 11:27-28). Mary’s bearing of Christ is presented as a fuller realization of this greater act of faith: Mary is ‘she who believed’ (Luke 1:45) and her physical bearing of Christ is fundamentally a Spiritual act, one in which the Spirit comes upon and empowers her (Luke 1:35). The physical dimension of Mary’s bearing of Christ is not highlighted in John’s gospel, but in passages such as this one, the Spiritual and symbolic aspect of it is. Mary’s motherhood here is not according to the flesh, but is a stronger, ‘fictive’ kinship of the Spirit formed by the gift of Christ.

Jesus hands over his Spirit (verse 30). Even his very moment of death seems to occur on his terms. John 7:39 speaks of the Spirit being given over when Jesus was glorified. The lifting up of Jesus on the cross was the first stage of his glorification for John so, appropriately, there is a handing over of the Spirit at this point. Blood and water come out from Jesus’ pierced side. Some have related the piercing of the side to the formation of Eve from the side of Adam. Perhaps we should also see birth imagery here. Jesus’ is the ‘belly/womb’ (7:38) from which living waters flow. Blood and water might also relate to the blood of the covenant and the water of baptism. Finally, Jesus has spoken of his body as the temple (2:19-21): as in Ezekiel 47, water that will heal and give life to the nations flows out from the temple (the torn body of Jesus might be related to the torn temple veil of other gospel accounts—cf. Hebrews 10:19-20).

As in 1:29, Jesus is once again related to the Passover Lamb (v.36; Exodus 12:46). [This reference brings up the questions of harmonization and dating regarding Passover between the Synoptics and John’s account. I am inclined to follow something like this interpretation.] Zechariah 12, from which the verse quoted in verse 37 comes, tells of repentance given to Israel through the gift of the Spirit. This also serves as the fulfilment of Jesus’ being ‘lifted up’ for all of the nations to look at as a sign bringing healing (cf. 3:14; 12:32).

It is the women and the secret disciples that come to the foreground in this chapter, when all others have fled. Joseph of Arimathea’s request for Jesus’ body is brave, involving willing association with a man crucified as a royal pretender. The quantity of myrrh and aloes brought by Nicodemus is truly remarkable and, without exaggeration, fit for a king. The kingship of Jesus has been a constant theme of the last few chapters, with John presenting the irony of the actions and words of Pilate and the Jews in this regard. Nicodemus is the first in these chapters to treat Jesus’ kingship with utmost seriousness. A new tomb, where no one had previously been laid, in the garden: all significant details.

 

JOHN 20

There have been temple themes throughout the gospel. Here the empty tomb is presented as if it were the Holy of Holies. The removed stone is, once again, like the torn veil. Angels at the head and foot of the place where Jesus’ body was laid (v.12) is reminiscent of the mercy seat (Exodus 25:19). The linen garments left in the tomb might suggest a reference to the Day of Atonement.

We should probably relate some of this to John 13:1-12. Jesus’ ‘priestly’ garments were removed before the crucifixion. He was wrapped in linen, like the high priest on the Day of Atonement. Then he puts the garments of a servant aside, taking up the glorious garments of resurrection.

The beloved disciple beats Peter to the tomb, looks but does not go in. Then Peter arrives, goes in, and then the beloved disciple follows him. This is interesting. Is Peter being cast as a sort of high priest, who must lead the way?

Jesus’ tomb was scented with myrrh and aloes, associated with love and marriage. The man and woman in the garden scene that follows with Jesus and Mary might recall Eden and Adam and Eve. I’ve commented on the rest of the passage here—where I focus upon the significance of the character of Mary Magdalene—and here—where I compare and contrast the commission in John with that in the Synoptics.

 

JOHN 21

At first glance, John 20:30-31 would seem to be the natural ending of the book, with chapter 21 being an awkward later addition. Richard Bauckham has presented a strong case that there is an intentional two stage ending of the book. He writes:

The structure of the concluding parts of the Gospel is quite coherent: there is a narrative epilogue (21:1-23) framed by a conclusion divided into two carefully designed stages (20:30-31 and 21:24-25). One reason the conclusion comes in two stages is that they serve to fence off the narrative in ch. 21 from the main narrative of the Gospel, thus indicating its status as an epilogue. An epilogue, it should be noticed, is not the same as a subsequently added appendix. While being deliberately set apart from the main narrative, an epilogue may be fully part of the design of a work. In the case of this Gospel, the Epilogue balances the Prologue at the beginning of the Gospel (1:1-18). The Prologue sketches the prehistory to the Gospel’s story, while the Epilogue foresees its posthistory. Just as the Prologue goes back in time to creation, so the Epilogue previews the future mission of the disciples, symbolized by the miraculous catch of fish, and focuses especially on the different roles that Peter and the Beloved Disciple are to play in it. The time projected by the Epilogue runs to the parousia (future coming) of Jesus. Its last words, in v. 23, are Jesus’ words “until I come,” corresponding at the other end of time to the first words of the prologue: “In the beginning” (1:1).

Bauckham observes that, while the Prologue has 496 syllables, the Epilogue has 496 words. In comparing and contrasting the two summary statements of 20:30-31 and 21:24-25, Bauckham argues that we should recognize the distinction between the ‘signs’—symbolic acts performed to reveal Jesus’ glory—spoken of in the first and the ‘things’—more general deeds—spoken of in the second.

The epilogue is a story about the failure of the disciples in their fishing, followed by a miraculous catch of fish, in a story that is similar to the story associated with the first calling of Peter, James, John, and Andrew in Luke 5:1-11. Peter takes the lead in the plan to go fishing (v.3). Jesus’ question to his disciples about whether they have any food in verse 5, might recall a similar question in the feeding of the five thousand (6:5). Once again, Jesus instructs them, and they receive numerous fish.

The beloved disciple is the first to recognize Jesus (v.7). However, Peter is the one who plunges into the sea, seeking to beat the boat to the land. The fact that he puts on his outer garment before doing so suggests some impressive feat of physical strength, especially as he then drags the net, filled with 153 fish, to the land (v.11). The beloved disciple physically outmatched Peter by some distance in the previous chapter (vv.4-6), but Peter is without equal here. Putting on the garment again might also suggest that he is returning to his office, an image of restoration.

The catching of fish is probably symbolic of the role of the Church in the mission to the Gentiles, as I observed in this Luke study. The nations are presented as the sea in the Old Testament. Peter’s plunging into the sea could be related to his leading of the way in the Gentile mission (Acts 10-11). The fact that the net was not broken suggests the capacity of the Church to fulfil its mission in the world.

That there were 153 fish caught (v.11) is an unusual detail, in which many have seen symbolism. As James Jordan argues (the link is only to the first part of the article in question), 153 is the triangular of 17. There were 70—7×10—nations mentioned in the table of nations in Genesis 10 and there were 17—7+10—nations mentioned on the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2:5-11.

I have already mentioned the prophecy of Ezekiel 47, of the healing water flowing out from the temple, in connection with John 7:39 and 19:34. Jordan suggests that it might also be relevant here, especially verses 9-10, which tells of the ‘very many fish’ that will live in the Dead Sea on account of the healing waters:

And it shall be that every living thing that moves, wherever the rivers go, will live. There will be a very great multitude of fish, because these waters go there; for they will be healed, and everything will live wherever the river goes. It shall be that fishermen will stand by it from En Gedi to En Eglaim; they will be places for spreading their nets. Their fish will be of the same kinds as the fish of the Great Sea, exceedingly many.

Jordan writes:

The Dead Sea is the boundary of the new land after the exile, and a place of contact with gentiles. The fishes are clearly gentile nations. The fact that the sea is formerly dead and now is brought to life surely indicates the influence of Restoration Israel over the nations before Christ, and points to the greater influence of the Kingdom after Pentecost.

Now, it is well known that Hebrew letters are also numbers; the first nine letters being 1-9, the next nine being 10-90, and the last five being 100-400. “Coding” words with numbers is called gematria.If we subtract the “En” from En-Gedi and En-Eglaim, since “en” means “spring,” then the following emerges:

Gedi = 17 (ג= 3; ד = 4; י = 10)
Eglaim = 153 (ע = 70; ג = 3; ל = 30; י = 10; ם = 40)

Again, this seems too close to the mark to be a coincidence. Once again, we have the number 17 (Gedi, mentioned first) and its relative 153 (Eglaim, mentioned second) connecting to the evangelization of the gentiles, symbolized by fishing.

Conclusion: The number 153 represents the totality of the nations of the world, which will be drawn in the New Creation.

Jesus has prepared a fire of coals, with fish and bread. The fish and the bread might recall the feeding of the five thousand (v.13; cf. 6:11). The fire of coals recalls the fire of coals of 18:18, by which Peter denied Jesus. The fact that Jesus asks Peter three times whether he loves him would also seem to recall Peter’s three denials.

Is the reference to Peter as ‘son of Jonah’ (v.15), a reference to his calling to the Gentiles being akin to Jonah’s call to Nineveh? Remember that Peter has just plunged into the sea.

‘Do you love me more than these’—Jesus is most probably referring to the fish and to fishing more generally. Although Peter will be a fisher of men, his primary calling is now that of chief shepherd, the one who will be the principal leader in the earliest years of the Church. Jesus here restores and commissions him.

Jesus then goes on to predict Peter’s death. The physical strength Peter has just displayed will depart and he will be girded, as Jesus was, for the utmost act of service. The suggestion is of martyrdom, specifically upon a cross (vv.18-19—‘will stretch out your hands’). There is a parallel between the death of Peter and the death of his Lord (v.19; cf. 12:33). In 2 Peter 1:14, Peter suggests that Jesus had informed him about the nature and timing of the death that awaited him.

Peter proceeds to ask about the manner of the beloved disciple’s death. This isn’t for Peter to know: rather, he must focus upon following his own calling. It is at this point that the identity of the author of the gospel is revealed to be the beloved disciple. This concluding passage presents the characters of Peter and the beloved disciple alongside each other, revealing them to have two unique and crucial callings. Bauckham writes:

The Epilogue compares and contrasts the roles of Peter and the Beloved Disciple, first in the event of the miraculous catch of fish, then in Jesus’ conversation with Peter. The Beloved Disciple, with his “It is the Lord!” (21:7), appears in the role of witness, identifying Jesus, while Peter, hauling in the net (21:11), takes the more active role in mission. In his conversation with Jesus, we then learn that Peter will have the active role of the shepherd who tends the flock and will die for it (21:15-19). The contrasting destiny of the Beloved Disciple, on the other hand, is conveyed more cryptically in Jesus’ saying, “If I will that he remain until I come…” (21:22, 23). This saying is not quoted and discussed solely for the rather banal purpose of correcting the way it had been over-literally misunderstood (21:23). The Beloved Disciple’s own Gospel does not end with the anticlimactic revelation that, contrary the way it had been over-literally misunderstood (21:23). The Beloved Disciple’s own Gospel does not end with the anticlimactic revelation that, contrary to expectations, he is going to die. Rather this saying of Jesus is given a characteristically Johannine level of hidden meaning, and this becomes clear in the second stage of the conclusion, which immediately follows (21:24-25). While the Beloved Disciple may not personally survive to the parousia, he will continue to fulfill the purpose Jesus has given him until the parousia because, as the conclusion says, that role is to witness and, moreover, he has written his witness and so his witness remains. Thus the Gospel withholds the revelation that the Beloved Disciple wrote the Gospel until this can be shown to be the hidden meaning of a cryptic saying of Jesus. This particular disciple’s writing of a Gospel is finally authorized by the explanation that he did so in fulfillment of the role that Jesus himself assigned him.

I have remarked upon the importance of the theme of witness throughout the gospel. The beloved disciple is the ideal witness and his witness is what we have received. As chief witness, paralleled to John the Witness, at the beginning of the gospel, he complements the calling of Peter as chief shepherd. In light of the extensive legal framework of the book, with its implicit and explicit trials, witnesses, advocates, judgment, and condemnation, it should be clear that the beloved disciple’s role is not merely that of recording things that have taken place in a detached fashion. Rather, the beloved disciple and his witness are active means of the Spirit’s advocacy, of the vindication of the righteous, the judgment of the world, and the testifying of Christ within the underlying legal drama of human history. As the readers of this testimony, we are left with the question of where we stand in relation to it.

About Alastair Roberts

Alastair Roberts (PhD, Durham University) writes in the areas of biblical theology and ethics, but frequently trespasses beyond these bounds. He participates in the weekly Mere Fidelity podcast, blogs at Alastair’s Adversaria, and tweets at @zugzwanged.
This entry was posted in #Luke2Acts, Bible, Holy Week, John, NT, NT Theology, Scripture, The Atonement, Theological. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to #Luke2Acts—Some Notes on John 14 to 21

  1. The 153 fish do seem to relate to gathering Gentiles into the “net.” In Jn. 21:1 the Sea of Galilee is named the Sea of Tiberias (which points to the Roman/Gentile emperor and his mostly Gentile empire). In 21:8 the net full of fish is 200 cubits (in the Greek text) from land. So maybe the 153 fish in 21:11 relate to the 200 cubits of this mostly Gentile (sea) empire. Subtracting 153 from 200 leaves 47. The number 46 came up in Jn. 2:20 for the years taken to build the temple, the center of the Jewish world. Jesus in John has been mostly in Jerusalem and this Jewish world. In 21:13 Jesus has prepared a breakfast on shore of bread and a fish. Adding this fish to the 46 could make 47 “fish” from the Jewish world, leaving 153 fish from the mostly Gentile sea of Tiberias.

  2. Pingback: Where is the house(hold) of the Father? John 14:2 redux | Mangy Dog

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