Chapter 21 has a definite tacked-on feeling to it. There’s the restoration of Peter. There’s a refutation of a rumor about the author. And that’s about it.
The chapter certainly contains the words of Jesus, but it seems more about recording how Jesus restored Peter after his denials and correcting a rumor about how long the author might live. It really is as though the Gospel proper ended at the end of chapter 20 (which reads like the ending), and then the last chapter was added to pick up a couple of issues of concern to the author.
After all, the last two verse of chapter 20 read like the end of a book —
(John 20:30-31 ESV) 30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; 31 but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
That’s especially true given that Jesus does another miracle at the beginning of chapter 21 — which is a little surprising given the end of chapter 20.
The lessons for everyone in chapter 21 are to fish for men and to follow Jesus. The meaning of “follow me,” in context, is a little fearsome — even terrifying. In light of John 13:36-37, Jesus was telling Peter to follow him all the way to the cross.
We are repeatedly told the same thing.
(1Jo 3:16 ESV) 16 By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.
(Eph 5:2 ESV) 2 And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
What would Jesus do? Well, Jesus would die for someone who doesn’t deserve it. And if we miss this lesson, we miss the heart of John.
You see, the logos and the truth is that Jesus reveals to us the true nature of God, and so we can become like God by becoming like Jesus. And this brings eternal life.
As we covered in the Creation 2.0 series, sin is departure from the image of God found in Jesus. Therefore, obedience is found in conforming to the image of God found in Jesus. It’s not complicated.
John, therefore, like the rest of the Bible, presents us with a choice. We can either follow Jesus by becoming more and more like him. Or not.
To believe in Jesus is to become loyal to him, to be faithful to him, and to trust his promises to the point that we really do these things. It’s not about memorizing the Nicene Creed or knowing 21 proofs for the Trinity. Those would be good things, but that’s not the point John is making.
In fact, while John is chock full of Trinitarian passages, it’s not really written to address 4th Century doctrinal controversies. The point of the passages that show how close Jesus and God are is to (a) assure us that to know Jesus is to know God and (b) show us how we can be close to God just as Jesus is.
We become close to Jesus — become one with Jesus — by becoming like him in our willingness to wash feet and follow Jesus wherever he goes, even to the cross. Humility, even to the point of washing the feet of Judas — is the key to everything, because God — who is omnipotent and omniscient and omni-everything — washes the feet of those who betray him. That’s his nature.
And we are called to take on that nature and so grow so close to Jesus and God that we can be one with both of them. As our brothers and sisters do the same, we draw closer to each other, and the unity reaches from Christian to Christian and congregation to congregation — even denomination to denomination.
How do denominations unite? Well, by following Jesus into humility and death. By surrendering pride and taking up crosses of service, submission, sacrifice, and suffering. Rather than sneering at those less knowledgeable, we wash feet.
Jesus told Peter to feed his sheep. Leadership, thus, is heavily based on teaching God’s word to God’s children. For some reason, the 21st Century church seems to want to minimize the role of elders as teachers of the gospel — perhaps because we’re so tired of bad Bible lessons that don’t focus on Jesus and following him.
If we were to read Peter’s teachings in Acts, we’d find that his sermons are extremely Jesus-centered, focused heavily on faith in Jesus as Messiah, and not all about pop psychology or moralism.
We see the results of Peter’s teaching in an early church that remained a single congregation despite all the practical problems brought about by a church of thousands with no email, no telephones, and no databases. I have no idea how they organized themselves. It must have been incredibly challenging just to be sure everyone had a house to visit for meals and instructions!
But unity was the order of the day, as was generosity, hospitality, and Bible study at the feet of their leaders. That’s surely an excellent plan for today.