The Gospel of John

J. N. Darby.

<47021E> 356

(Notes and Comments Vol. 6.)

John 21

I cannot help thinking that [chap. 21] is the exhibition of the resurrection power of the ministry of Jesus. But I think it has a further meaning. The former manifestations of Jesus were personal; peace, and Church mission, and character. I have spoken sufficiently on that as to this reference to believing on Jesus, and the mission of faith by the Spirit; Church position, its advantage, faith's advantage, over sight. There it is witness; here it is not witness, but gathering power. Now certainly in a sort this was true in apostolic ministry, and so had its proportionate realisation.

The power of resurrection did bring in a great multitude, but it has surely a further force. When Peter once before on the Lord's manifestation let down his net at the Lord's word, his net brake. Here it is specifically noticed, for all they were so many his net did not break. Now, it is true that, preached by the apostles, there was a large ingathering compared with the testimony of the unrisen Jesus; but surely it has, as the former, to the Church position, having received the Holy Ghost, to the work of Jesus in the world, calling them to dine, and therefore primarily applied to the Jews. When they were first called the net brake, and filling the ships they began to sink; but now the real time of the full manifestation of the power of the Lord Jesus' resurrection, being the latter day among them, when, after the interval, from His manifestation in Church reception, they go alone to fish again. That night they toil to no purpose; but in the morning Jesus, unawares to them, is on the shore. Under the direction of the yet unknown Saviour they fill their nets; and now they are no longer broken. They could not however draw it then for the multitude of fishes, and the Lord is discovered to them by the discerning thought of John, well acquainted with Him in the spirit of love. Peter leaves the ship, and joins Him on hearing it from him; and they drag consequently the net to shore, full of great fishes and unbroken. They were in a "small ship" now, and but one (which note). Nor were they far from shore. But there was already food, fishes prepared, brought, not by them, there; as to which they had nothing to say; but Jesus was there, and all was ready to their sitting down to eat before Him; that is, prepared. They were charged to bring of their gains; and then, when dragged to shore, they found what they had gathered, had caught. Till they got to shore out of the ships they did not see the fire and the fishes there, and bread.

357 -16-18. Manifestation to the remnant called by name, though sinners; but not now taking His Kingship, for He must ascend first. Verse 19 to the end, His revelation to the Church, and its character. Here the revelation of the future ingathering brought to shore; called to dine; Jesus then there gathering; brought to shore, and yet Jesus having fish prepared there with Him already, the fruit of other toil and power. And though I have said "Jews," it is not necessarily that all shown ashore were Jews, but that it was a Jewish work, after a bidding, though not a known manifestation, of the Lord. Then in work there shall be no net breaking, but the netful drawn to shore. Jesus' words: "Which ye have now taken."

There is something very peculiar in the manner of our Lord's revelations. How John and Peter are ever together in their interest in the Lord, and so in each other! It gives a peculiar interest to the relation of the circumstances in which they were engaged. There is always decency in reverence.

Then this word "cometh" shows Jesus not at the place till they were come there, though the fire, etc., was prepared. Then He is present with them in the same familiar kindness as heretofore at supper. It was the same Jesus. He then personally joins them. All this, it appears to me, is the Lord's dealing with the Jews in the latter day. It is quite clear that these were the direct simple testimony to the Lord's resurrection; but I cannot help thinking that the allusion to the Jewish Church and latter day manifestation of the Lord are here.

358 -15. The commission given to Simon is one of much importance. Conferred in grace in retrospect of his fall, it showed to all the manner of graciousness. But the Lord is paramount in grace, and confers as well as restores, abounding in His own riches, as well as patient to our defects; and whether in Paul or Peter, our utter weakness and evil is shown as fitting for service; denying or destroying the Lord, man's preparation for preaching Him and feeding the sheep. There is much more here therefore than mere restoration. He restores his heart as towards Him, on the unrejected appeal to His own knowledge of him, that knowledge now more fully owned, which had known him about to deny Him. The same knowledge now constituted him before the Church the feeder of His lambs, etc. It is again, we may remark, personal, not entitling, but calling by name; as when He said, "Thou art Peter"; so now, "Feed." But "poimaine" (shepherd) is a different thing from "boske" (feed), and it mars it to translate it the same; for "poimaine" means all the care of leading, guiding, protecting from wolves, etc., as in Acts 20:28-29; the whole care of those taken forth, exposed to danger. Then afterwards, "Feed my sheep."

-17. Strange man! He who went on (left to himself) to deny the Lord thrice without stint, is grieved because he is asked thrice, "Lovest thou me." Yet what grace in it! He did know all things. Happy for Peter, He knew and saw only the good, His Father's work now. It is a great thing to say, "Thou knowest that I love thee."

If it be asked, What means "touton" (than these)? I say, Everything except Christ, the Lord Jesus Christ.

This was the general care of ministration; not mission, but ministry. Authoritative commission before, it was suffering for and content to glorify God now, in authority of mission and governance. I cannot help thinking here again that the reference to Peter is the founding of the care and ministry of the Church of God in the circumcision, and its apostolate. And I suspect that the triple charge refers to the triple circumstances in which the Church or ministry was set: Jewish remnant, scattered and abroad, and Jewish remnant, etc., again. There was the promise withal that he would be given to follow (in the strength of Christ's resurrection, what he could not do when Jesus had to suffer) Jesus, as he had spoken before. It should be the subjection of his will, not voluntary acting.

359 The whole of Peter here seems to represent the ministry as standing on Jewish ground, and of direct association with the Lord. John, on the other hand, as before now, signifies general or Gentile Church ministration. If the Lord choose it to tarry till He comes, that was nothing; Peter had his own association with the Lord; he was to follow Him.

There seems also to be a progress in the way the Lord questions Peter, though Peter's association is constant: "Lovest thou me more than these?" "More than these"; the things in which he was occupied during the absence of the Lord, to which he had turned after he had lost Him on his denial. He had seen Him since, but it is manifest he was receiving a quite fresh, redintegrated commission to him as a person: "Simon, son of Jonas." And when there is any denial or failure to the Lord, though we may even go on again in His company, there must be this redintegration, "conversion." From hence his service springs.

The next question is, "Lovest thou me?" Then, "Hast thou affection for me?" hast thou thine heart in Me? as, "Lord, he whom thou lovest is sick."

Peter's assertion moreover is uniform. "Knowest" (ginoskeis, v. 17), is a stronger word than "knowest" (oidas, vv. 15, 16), denoting recognition. But, save setting the circumcision at the head in ministry, and the triple character of it, there is more in this than the Lord yet gives me to see. The sheep primarily are the Jewish remnant; but there are others not of that fold, we find, where the Lord's special love rests. When this is drawn out towards Him thus He turns it: Feed (care for) My sheep.

The double portion of the Church, then; death, and tarrying till Jesus come, one following Him, the other if His will; and it may be a more toilsome service, but His will. Love to Jesus may lead us to death; but Jesus' love so tasted may often set us in ministry where we might be glad to follow Him so. The circumstances of John were left comparatively dark; merely "If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee?" But Peter was to be more specially identified with the Lord in circumstances. The apostle therefore, or the Lord, does not explain this; only denies its applicability to the reverse of what Peter's was personally, as though it referred to his personal death. We know that John continued till the whole system of the Church was broken up (see beginning of Revelation); and therefore, as it were, to the Lord's coming. The rest was only prophesied apostasy till He come. Thus he stood as the representative of the system; as Paul of its energy in commencement. We have an instance here of the falseness of drawing conclusions here from Scripture. The point was not denying the conclusion (What has God to do with it?) but "Jesus said not to him."

360 This is always the answer. It was not a part of the conception of the Church in its strength in Jewish association to be cognisant of its positive endurance in any continued or protracted form. It was merely thrown out, as in the compass of divine will, to be shown by that will, not the professed purpose in character in which the Church was set forth (which note) as in Adam's innocence. Yet the purpose, as so dependent, is darkly thrown out. It is not merely, "What is that to thee?" but, "If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee?" It did not affect the duty on which the call to Peter rested, nor affect the position in which he was placed. There might be other and wider scenes of God's purpose, but the command of God, and place of the apostle, rested on what was thus spoken to him. After state might show the concern and use which the Lord had for another instrument, person or things.

It is very remarkable the way the Lord discloses, and yet conceals, His will here, and opens out the force and meaning, I apprehend, of this, and the nature and time of the protraction of the dispensation; specially knowing the use made, in point of fact, of John, active after. For it was not Paul, the inceptive energy of the Church, whom we find ministering the Churches in Asia at their (real) close, but John. That was set aside, and he became the witness of the character of its protraction through and onward, till the meeting-point of the Lord's coming indeed, with the (moral) judgment and prophecy (providential chiefly) meanwhile; and then the great result; that is, the awful system formed. The real secret of what it was to result in, which begins from Revelation 12 properly; and compare this, verses 21, 22. The real result with the Lord, God and the Lamb; and then [the] close of all, which [is] in Revelation 2:1, etc.

361 But if all the things of His glory were written the world indeed would not contain the books. Amen.


As to the order in John: there is in the whole gospel a regular order and definite presentation of subjects.

Chapter 1. The Being and Person and excellency of the blessed Lamb is shown, and His relative place also with God, with the world, the Jews, with John, with the Father, and the position of the disciples with Him as manifested, and so with the law; the consequent blessing in us; the whole Being and relationship of Christ. He is the Word. The revelation of the Father by the Son is the way we know God. Then comes the actual address of John to the Jews as to what he was. The previous statement was of what John was relative to Christ's position from what He was in the world; here as Jewishly coming after Him.

- 29-34. His testimony to what Christ was; Lamb of God, manifest to Israel; Son of God, proved so, not by resurrection here, but anointing.

- 35. First, John's disciples joining Him as the Lamb of God, and finding Him who is the Messias.

- 43. The next day Jesus gathering disciples for Himself; and, lastly, guileless Israelites, found and known under the fig-tree, owning Him as Son of God and King of Israel, and henceforth the glory of the Son of Man; the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man present therefore on earth; the third day [chap. 2] the day of resurrection. This is the association of the Church, a new character; His (Jewish) mother cast aside; the water turned into the wine of the kingdom. It is not introduced consecutively (for Nathanael properly includes the earthly part, and consequences of it), but a separate statement to show the Church, and withal in a certain sense the Jewish marriage of Christ. We belong, as it were, to the third day. Verse 12 seems to show, after the purpose in the Church was manifested or set about, that mother, brethren, Jesus and disciples were all together; which was just His earthly ministry in that place which was exalted (though really in heart His city) and should be brought low. Then comes His royal, clearing righteousness in His Father's house. His resurrection (for His body was really the temple of God) was the sign of His authority, and thus therefore was the ground of faith. Another point was now opened, the way of entrance into this kingdom. They must have a new life and nature, be born again. Many believed on Him through miracles; but it was not to be trusted, it was only what was in man.

362 But [chap. 3] there was a remnant wrought upon, hindered where true, and not merely fleshly owning, but in whom fleshly righteousness was good for nothing (and here the real work of the Spirit begins in its truest, yet necessary, work) and with this Jesus coming from heavenly places, having seen and having communion with that which He now revealed from God, and all things of the Father in His hand according to the glory He had seen, and so the Kingdom in two parts: earthly things, for which Jews (for it also hung on resurrection in "the sure mercies," and was really with God) must be born again, as the prophets testified, for the real enjoyment under God of the earthly things. Besides, the Son of Man must be lifted up, not received of the Jews now (His miracles only affected what was in man), and so be the door of heavenly things; fit men for them too, even eternal life; enable them to enjoy them according to the love in which, as Son of God, He was given. Then the judgment. It was the rejection of the Son; but, as He was the Light, it was the proof of all previous and other darkness.

All this passed previous to the Lord's entrance on His public ministry. We have then his public testimony to the Lord's service and ministry, His relationship, not merely His Person as brought out in type in the circumstances. John disclaims blessedly whatever was not given from above. Man can only receive what is thus given him: "I am sent before him; he is the bridegroom, and has the bride." It is Jewish. It was John's joy to see Him; but He came from above, and was above all. What He has seen (with the Father, and heard, the words given Him, see chap. 17) He testifies. No man receives it. He is sent of God; His words are the words of God, and acknowledging them is acknowledging that God is true; a divine revelation of God to the soul. Man does not receive it; for what He speaks as a Man is without measure of the Spirit in testimony to Him; is not Scripture, but the manner of the Holy Ghost's presence. He was present, and whose power He was given. He was the Son with the Father; had all things, as such, at His hand. Life was through faith in Him, eternal life, that is, in the Son. When the Son was not believed, the wrath (not of the Father, but) of God rested on hum.

363 Here [chap. 4] the ministry of the Lord properly begins, connected with life; the previous part, the most important, being prefatory; and therefore the ministry of John is introduced here thus fully again; and consequently it goes forth into the world to sinners, a worthless woman of Samaria learning not at this mountain nor Jerusalem men shall worship the Father, God being dissatisfied with all that is; much not in truth, none in Spirit, yet acknowledging His own. He is the Saviour of the world. In this, then, the Spirit, as a living Spirit of communion and sonship under the gospel principle of grace, and a Saviour to sinners, is set out the great fundamental principle, yet not forgetting the outcasts of Jacob even; and this, while thus exhibited, proving the non-reception of it by the human, the natural heart, the detection of that heart in all its ways by it, and giving life by a word, at distance, through faith. But I suspect there is more in this last of the nobleman.

Then [chap. 5] we have the Son of God brought forward in life-giving, and also judicial, power, as contrasted with the impotency of means sent, as the law, because of the very nature of the disease; the ample evidence given, however, to the Son, so as to leave man without excuse; then [chap. 6] to the place of Jesus as Son of Man, owned a Prophet, would be made a King, but taking the place of Priest, while His disciples toiled through the sea, and meanwhile (the sign of God being that He came) therefore faith in His power everything, and effectual love then proved; this by the word, "the words of eternal life"; withal God, there, with Himself; not merely as incarnate, but as slain, and so ascending up to be a Priest till He rejoined them, and they were immediately where they were seeking to be (strictly this is Jewish also).

Chapter 7. His glory, still as Son of Man; or, rather, postponement of glory, as connected with the Feast of Tabernacles and giving of the Spirit as ascended, the witness of the glory meanwhile; this specially including Gentiles: "If any man thirst." "Every man to his own," etc., Jesus to the mount of Olives, the place whence He was to go and where return, and where He prophesied in Matthew 24. Then Jerusalem; Jews put on test, as a body, by His word (chap. 8); the light of life (condemning all alike, the current of corruption) contrasted with the law ruining sinners in their hands. This was "I AM" before Abraham. They were of their father the devil.

364 Chapter 9. The power of sight by the work of Christ, removing as contrasted with natural darkness, and so His work of power as exhibited in others rejected, they saying they saw, their sin remaining. [Chap. 10.] What He was for the sheep, the Shepherd, traced from coming obediently by the door to unity with the Father; finally the question and grounds of faith stated therein. Then [chap. 11] the display of that wherein He was rejected; or which He would have there been, had He been received. First, Son of God, by resurrection in power over evil; but here by restoring the dead to this world, for to this He belonged as yet (on this ground verses 25, 26 would be true, though it will be true on a higher as to resurrection to a heavenly calling; Jesus' presence in either case, for it is the Son who is the resurrection); resolution of death, and that even of Lazarus, the consequence. Then [chap. 12] as King of Israel; then of the Gentiles; but for this death was needed; by which, however, judgment of this world and the prince of this world. Verses 35-50, the comment on this, arising from the statement of the lifting up of the Son of Man, the Christ that was to abide for ever.

Chapter 13. The glory of this looked at; that is, what place He took on His going to the Father, His new station, which was what death really led to; girt, not with a golden girdle, but the towel with which He wiped their feet; continuous love, teaching entire humiliation to serve the disciples, on being exalted on the world's rejection; no cooling of the love. Verses 3,4, washes their feet, does priestly service; then the Spirit by word, etc., for a pattern to them. The power of Satan in the evil of the flesh; the perfectness of Christ's work (vv. 31, 32) looked at in its real light; thus love shown, and so who are disciples. Disciple does not mean merely obedience, but one taught of Jesus, and who is learning, or has learnt, and practises Jesus' ways; the utter incompetency of the flesh to act on these principles. On this His departure, where the flesh could not follow Him; what was their comfort; position and dealing of the Comforter come, and Jesus' presenting them then (with the Church contrasted with the world) to the Father, and the Father to them, as He had and would.

365 Chapter 14, individually or in relationship as persons; chapter 15, more corporately or as incorporated; chapter 16, the Comforter's service to the world, and in the Church; chapter 17, committal to the Father, and place with the Father; that is, Holy Father, for the disciples ("righteous" as between Him and the world) to bring out in them the witness in glory of who He was; chapters 13 and 17 might seem both priesthood; but chapter 13 is priesthood as regards the evil gathered in their walk, and therefore exercised in connection with the water and girded towel; and in chapter 17 we have their presenting in the unity and association with Himself in their new nature, and by the Holy Ghost, to the Father: one regarded service here; the other, position and acceptance there.

Chapter 4, then, the Spirit giving living communion proper to the gospel. The three previous chapters were before the close of John's ministry, or the commencement of the Lord's public; chapter 5, Sonship, Son of God; chapter 6, Son of Man in all His characters; chapter 7, the Spirit, till the glory of Him as sent manifested to the world; thus complete; chapter 8, life contrasted with the law; chapter 9, light contrasted with natural darkness; or worse, supposed light; chapter 10, care of the sheep; chapters 11, 12, vindication of Sonship, and Israelitish Kingship to Gentile dominion; death necessary; then, on exaltation, priesthood and service still; comfort by the Father, Son, and Spirit, the Church's portion known; the Church; the Spirit, conviction of the world, and in Church, and connected subjects, as flesh; chapter 17, the Church before the Father. Such is the theology of John.

Then, chapters 18 and 19, His betrayal, accusation, and death; but power and willingness here shown all through; not condemned as Son of God (for this has been in question in the whole book, and a title of power, and the controversy with the Jews sovereignly carried on, on this head, all through), but their guilt in charging Him as making Himself a King, and Son of God before Pilate, and His condemnation by the world, as He even says here, "I came into the world"; slighted as Son of God, though afraid; and condemned and rejected as King of the Jews, as Caesar's friend.

Then, in chapter 20, the Church according to the principle of its foundation, position through Christ's ascension (the kingdom not being entered for His personal owning them); enjoyment of His presence in pledge of resurrection; mission; authority by the Spirit; restoration of the Jews, as a remaining Remnant, by sight. Thus it closes.

366 Chapter 21, the closing dispensations and history of the Jewish and Gentile Churches in the persons of Peter and John.

To chapters 18-19. His Person and excellency individually. After John's ministry, chapter 4 is an introductory chapter. After chapters 18-19 in connection with the Church; chapters 14, 15, 16 and 17 have an evidently distinct character, because they are the view of Him subsequent to death and exaltation, as viewed in chapters 12 and 13. Up to chapter 10, the place of manifestation had been Jewish; that takes the sheep; chapters 11 and 12, beginning, had been the vindication against the rejecting part.


Chapter 21. What a character grace takes in the case of the restoration of Peter! At the moment the saints would have, so to speak, the greatest value in Jesus' eyes, if change there could be, when He had just redeemed them, He confides them to him who had just denied Him. How the very extent and perfectness of this grace was the spirit in which Peter had to watch over them! Grace produces thus what it seeks in affection. Being what it is towards the heart, it produces in it the conscious feeling of what it is; that is, it creates the affection by its manifestation. It was this grace of which Peter had to be the instrument. And, further, the Lord promises to Peter that he should do the very thing which he (failing in will and human strength) had failed in doing; so that the very bitterness of having failed is taken away; for he would do, not by his own will, what he had failed in doing, and so glorify God in it. How perfect this grace is!


Note also John 21:19. The administration of the kingdom of heaven closes and comes to nothing in Peter's hand, as to its special character, as it had in Jesus'; though in both all the counsel of God was accomplished. In John's case, who speaks of dwelling in God, and God in us, the essential principle of the dispensation and of life, and who can therefore hang suspended in God over its fate, in the energy of that unfailing life, when all its forms are gone. The Lord holds him thus in this suspense, unseen, apocryphal, till He come; and this was his place, and his heart's answer came quickly, for the Apocalypse looks only into a gloomy future of judgment in the Church (the bride of Christ above); for such is that book. It has no earthly blessing or form, which note. It is entirely heavenly as to the Church. He was the one who had the intimacy of Christ's thoughts as near Him, habitually on His breast; and he follows by affection, not in the command on earth (see also verse 7); he follows from affection and the power of the call addressed to Peter; but the result is, "If I will," etc.

367 One must understand with John in that intimacy if one would know the meaning of the answer. Nothing is of the recognised position of the Church on earth. That was Paul's part. As a fact, John returns thither when he says, "The Spirit and the bride say, Come." In prophecy it is judgment. Below, the Church is in mystery, and the marriage above. Peter ministers the kingdom of heaven; Paul, the house of Christ, as on earth holding a certain place. John goes up, and looks down into judgment here, and has the Church for the marriage of the Lamb above. Also in his (John's) epistle the Church has no place or standing; it is life in God in the family. His first epistle is the Father, Christ, and the family; their life. In the Apocalypse it is the throne, the Lamb in it, and servants, seals, and judgments on the earth. The Church, as spouse, takes her place by righteous judgment. The apostles rejoice in judgment. He comes forth judging, and making war.


I see more than ever a divine Person in John, and, now especially in chapter 8; so that it is the divine Person that, with the Father, gives testimony to who the Christ is. All this gives a very peculiar and very instructive character to John's gospel: the Word made flesh (chap. 1:14). Before that it was simply the divine nature in itself, and a new nature in us needed to receive the manifestation of it. Then we come to the Person of the Word made flesh. Our connection with Him is brought in, and His work in its full result in the world, and for us, as present and permanent blessing. We receive of His fulness; He is the Lamb of God; He baptises with the Holy Ghost. Then His actual connection with the world (indeed, with all things), in the government of God.

368 Note, the Person of Christ, the Word made flesh, is seen in its fulness, and we are seen now (after His work and departure) in connection with and receiving from it. This is present consciousness. What follows is testimony as to what, when the testimony was given, was not yet accomplished. But His Person runs all through.

I just add, chapter 2 completes chapter 1, save verses 23-25, which belong to the next chapter, which should begin with "But" or "Now." Then the work in us is taken up, and the work for us, from chapter 1:11-12, and 29, 36. But the Person of the Son is returned to, and withal its definitively testing power. Two points are referred to here: He has "seen and heard"; that is, what is divine and heavenly. As a Man His testimony is God's; for the Spirit is not there in measure.

In chapter 4 we have the commencement of His public ministry, which is a breach with Judaism. In chapter 5 we have the divine Quickener; Judge as Son of Man. In chapter 6 the Man come down from heaven, and dying, and going up where He was before; again showing the divine Person in the Man. In chapter 5 the divine Quickener is the Son of Man, and judges; that is, will hereafter. In chapter 6 the Son of Man, bread, and flesh and blood, for us; ascends up where He (now Son of Man) was before: chapter 5 is divine, and future; chapter 6 human, and present in grace. But if ascended He was not now for the world; and this brings in the Holy Ghost, so that chapter 7 goes with chapter 6; only the effect postponed, and the Spirit given to believers meanwhile.

The development of the giving of the Holy Ghost is from chapter 14, consequent on His going up on high; chapter 13 being the water part, on His going away, and leaving the world; though the main washing could take place while He was here in a certain aspect (this is in chapter 15), for they had received the word: chapter 15 is exceptional, what He was then in connection with the Remnant of Israel, still as Son (save the last verses). Otherwise it is very striking how everywhere He is a divine Person in and as Man, as we have noted in John 17. It is remarkable that we have not properly Pentecost in John. Passover is alluded to (chap. 6), but then, Prophet and refusing to be King, He takes the place of Priest. The Holy Ghost is referred to on the eighth day of tabernacles, when He could not show Himself to the world; but it is as dwelling in us, and outflowing.

369 From chapter 14 we have the Comforter fully taught about, but no connection with Pentecost. In chapter 6 He comes down, and goes up where He was before. But substantially it is Christ on earth, a divine Person, a Man there, which is taught, that Passover and tabernacles present. The Holy Ghost comes in, however, fully by the by as a substitute for Christ, another Comforter. This only points out that the subject of the gospel as to Christ is on earth. It is personal. The Holy Ghost is His substitute here. Hence, even, I will send Him to you from the Father.

It is not the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of God. That is official glory, not personal simply: that we have in the other gospels. He is the Lord there; and this place ever true to faith, yet in testimony confirmed and present power closed with those who were witnesses to His exaltation. And so did the Church, looked at as an immediate whole. The Comforter abides for ever. In John we know it was individual.