John 21
Calvin's Commentaries
After these things Jesus shewed himself again to the disciples at the sea of Tiberias; and on this wise shewed he himself.

1. After these things Jesus manifested himself again to the disciples at the sea of Tiberias; and he manifested himself thus. 2. Simon Peter, and Thomas, who is called Didymus, [225] and Nathanael, who was of Cana of Galilee, and the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples, were together. 3. Simon Peter saith to them, I am going to fish; they say to him, We also go with thee. They went forth, and entered into a ship immediately; and that night they caught nothing. 4. And when it was morning, Jesus stood on the shore; and the disciples knew not that it was Jesus. 5. Jesus saith to them, Children, have you ally thing to eat? [226] They answered him, No. 6. But he said to them, Cast the net on the right side of the ship, and you will find. They cast it, therefore; and now they were not able to draw it for the multitude of fishes. 7. Therefore the disciple whom Jesus loved saith to Peter, It is the Lord. When, therefore, Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he girded his coat about him, (for he was naked,) and threw himself into the sea. 8. And the other disciples carne in the boat, (for they were not far from land, but about two hundred cubits,) dragging the net with fishes. 9. As soon, then, as they came to land, they saw a fire burning, and fish laid on it, and bread. 10. Jesus saith to them, Bring some of the fish which you have now caught. 11. Simon Peter, therefore, went up, and drew the net to land, full of great fishes, a hundred and fifty-three; and although they were so many, the net was not broken. 12. Jesus saith to them, Come and dine. And not one of the disciples dared to ask him, Who art thou? knowing that he was the Lord. 13. Jesus therefore cometh, and taketh the bread, and giveth it to them, and fish likewise. 14. This is now the third time that Jesus manifested himself to his disciples, after that he was risen from the dead.

1. After these things Jesus manifested himself again. The Evangelist still labors to prove the resurrection of Christ, and relates, that he appeared to seven disciples, among whom he mentions Thomas, not out of respect to him, so much as because his testimony ought to be the more readily believed in proportion to the obstinacy of his unbelief. The Evangelist enters sufficiently into detail; for he carefully collects all the circumstances which contribute to prove the truth of the history. We have formerly mentioned that the Lake of Tiberias, according to the Hebrew custom, is called the Sea of Tiberias.

3. I am going to fish. That Peter gave his attention to fishing, ought not to be regarded as inconsistent with his office. By breathing on him, Jesus had ordained him to be an Apostle, as we saw a little before; but he abstained from the exercise of the apostleship for a short time, till he should be clothed with new power. For he had not yet been enjoined to appear in public for the discharge of his office of teaching, but had only been reminded of his future calling, that he and the others might understand that they had not in vain been chosen from the beginning. Meanwhile, they do what they were accustomed to do, and what belonged to men in private life. It is true that Paul, in the midst of his employment as a preacher, gained the support of his life by his own hands, but it was for a different reason; for his time was so arranged, that the labors of his hands did not withdraw him from teaching. Peter and his companions, on the other hand, give themselves up entirely to fishing, because they are not hindered from doing so by any public employment.

And that night they caught nothing. God permitted them to toil to no purpose during the whole night, in order to prove the truth of the miracle; for if they had caught any thing [227] what followed immediately afterwards would not have so clearly manifested the power of Christ, but when, after having toiled ineffectually during the whole night, they are suddenly favored with a large take of fishes, they have good reason for acknowledging the goodness of the Lord. In the same manner, also, God often tries believers, that he may lead them the more highly to value his blessing. If we were always prosperous, whenever we put our hand to labor, scarcely any man would attribute to the blessing of God the success of his exertions, all would boast of their industry, and would kiss their hands. But when they sometimes labor and torment themselves without any advantage, if they happen afterwards to succeed better, they are constrained to acknowledge something out of the ordinary course; and the consequence is, that they begin to ascribe to the goodness of God the praise of their prosperity and success.

6. Cast the net on the right side of the ship. Christ does not command with authority and power as Master and Lord, but gives advice like one of the people; and the disciples, being at a loss what to do, readily obey him, though they did not know who he was. If, before the first casting of the net, any thing of this sort had been said to them, they would not have so quickly obeyed. I mention this, that no one may wonder that they were so submissive, for they had already been worn out by long and useless toil. Yet it was no small proof of patience and perseverance, that, though they had labored unsuccessfully during the whole night, they continue their toil after the return of daylight. And, indeed, if we wish to allow an opportunity for the blessing of God to descend on us, we ought constantly to expect it; for nothing can be more unreasonable than to withdraw the hand immediately from labor, if it do not give promise of success.

That Simon Peter Was Naked, is a proof that the disciples had labored in earnest; and yet they do not hesitate to cast the net again to make another trial, that they may not neglect any opportunity. Their obedience to the command of Christ cannot be ascribed to faith; for they hear him speak as a person who was unknown to them. Now, if we dislike our calling, because the labor which we undertake appears to be unproductive, yet, when the Lord exhorts us to steadiness and perseverance, we ought to take courage; in the end we shall obtain a happy result, but it will be at the proper time.

And now they were not able to draw it [228] Christ here exhibited two proofs of his Divine power. The first consisted in their taking so large a draught of fishes; and the second was, when, by his concealed power, he preserved the net whole, which otherwise must unavoidably have been broken in pieces. Other circumstances are mentioned, namely, that the disciples find burning coals on the shore, that fishes are laid on them, and that bread is also prepared. As to the number of the fishes, we ought not to look for any deep mystery in it. Augustine enters into ingenious reasonings about the statement of the number, and says that it denotes the Law and the Gospel; but if we examine the matter carefully, we shall find that this is childish trifling.

7. Therefore the disciple whom Jesus loved saith to Peter. The Evangelist shows, by his example, that it is our duty to raise our hearts to God, whenever we succeed in any thing beyond our expectation; because we ought instantly to remember that this act of kindness has flowed from the favor of Him who is the Author of every blessing. That holy recognition of the grace of God, which dwelt in the heart of John, led him also to the knowledge of Christ; for he does not perceive Christ with his eyes, but, being convinced that the great multitude of fishes has been brought to him by the hand of God, he concludes that it was Christ who had guided his hands. But, as John goes before Peter in faith, so Peter afterwards excels him in zeal, when, disregarding personal danger, he throws himself into the lake. The rest follow in the ship. True, all come to Christ at length, but Peter is actuated by a peculiar zeal in comparison of the others. Whether he crossed over to the shore by walking or by swimming, is uncertain; but let us rest satisfied with knowing that the act of leaving the ship and going on shore was not the result of folly and rashness, but that he advanced beyond the others in proportion to his zeal.

10. Bring some of the fishes which you have now caught. Though the net was filled in a moment, without any great labor on their part yet the taking of them is not ascribed by Christ to the disciples, thus, we call the bread which we daily eat, OUR bread, and yet, by asking that it may be given to us, we acknowledge that it proceeds from the blessing of God, (Matthew 6:11.)

12. And not one of his disciples dared to ask him. It may be inquired, What hindered them? Was it shame arising from reverence, or was it any thing else? But if Christ saw that they were in a state of uncertainty, he ought to remove their doubt, as he had done on many other occasions. I reply, there was no other reason for shame, but because they were not sufficiently certain that he was the Christ; for it is not usual with us to inquire about matters that are doubtful and obscure. The Evangelist, therefore, means that the disciples did not ask Christ, because they were afraid of doing him wrong; so plain and manifest were the signs by which he had made himself known to them.

14. The third time. The number three refers to the distance of time. Christ had already appeared to his disciples more than seven times, but all that had been transacted in one day is included in one manifestation. The Evangelist, therefore, means that Christ had been seen by the disciples at intervals, in order to confirm their belief of his resurrection.


[225] "Qui est dit Gemeau;" -- "who is called Twin."

[226] "Avez-vous quehtue petit poisson k manger?" -- "Have you any little fish to eat?"

[227] "S'ils eussen, fait quelque prinse de poissons;" -- "if they had had any take of fishes."

[228] In the Latin original of the Commentaries, the illustration of this clause comes before that of the 7th verse; but I have consulted the convenience of the reader, by following the French version, which, in this respect, may be supposed to give us the latest thoughts of the Author., and in which this clause is restored to its natural order. -- Ed.

There were together Simon Peter, and Thomas called Didymus, and Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, and the sons of Zebedee, and two other of his disciples.
Simon Peter saith unto them, I go a fishing. They say unto him, We also go with thee. They went forth, and entered into a ship immediately; and that night they caught nothing.
But when the morning was now come, Jesus stood on the shore: but the disciples knew not that it was Jesus.
Then Jesus saith unto them, Children, have ye any meat? They answered him, No.
And he said unto them, Cast the net on the right side of the ship, and ye shall find. They cast therefore, and now they were not able to draw it for the multitude of fishes.
Therefore that disciple whom Jesus loved saith unto Peter, It is the Lord. Now when Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he girt his fisher's coat unto him, (for he was naked,) and did cast himself into the sea.
And the other disciples came in a little ship; (for they were not far from land, but as it were two hundred cubits,) dragging the net with fishes.
As soon then as they were come to land, they saw a fire of coals there, and fish laid thereon, and bread.
Jesus saith unto them, Bring of the fish which ye have now caught.
Simon Peter went up, and drew the net to land full of great fishes, an hundred and fifty and three: and for all there were so many, yet was not the net broken.
Jesus saith unto them, Come and dine. And none of the disciples durst ask him, Who art thou? knowing that it was the Lord.
Jesus then cometh, and taketh bread, and giveth them, and fish likewise.
This is now the third time that Jesus shewed himself to his disciples, after that he was risen from the dead.
So when they had dined, Jesus saith to Simon Peter, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my lambs.

15. When, therefore, they had dined, Jesus saith to Simon Peter, Simon (son) of John, lovest thou me more than these? He saith to him, Yea, Lord, thou knowest that I love thee. He saith to him, Feed my lambs. 16. He saith to him again the second time, Simon (son) of John, lovest thou me? He saith to him, Yea, Lord, thou knowest that I love thee. He saith to him, Feed my sheep. 17. He saith to him the third time, Simon (son) of John, [229] lovest thou me? Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, Lovest thou me? And he said to him, Lord, thou knowest all things: thou knowest that I love thee. Jesus saith to him, Feed my sheep. 18. Verily, verily, I tell thee, When thou wast young, thou girdedst thyself, and walkedst whither thou wouldest; but when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch out thy hands, and another will gird thee, and will carry thee whither thou wouldest not. 19. And this he said, signifying by what death he should glorify God; and when he had spoken this, he saith to him, Follow me.

15. When, therefore, they had dined. The Evangelist now relates in what manner Peter was restored to that rank of honor from which he had fallen. That treacherous denial, which has been formerly described, had, undoubtedly, rendered him unworthy of the apostleship; for how could he be capable of instructing others in the faith, who had basely revolted from it? He had been made an Apostle, but it was along with Judas, and from the time when he had abandoned his post, [230] he had likewise been deprived of the honor of apostle-ship. Now, therefore, the liberty, as well as the authority, of teaching is restored to him, both of which he had lost through his own fault. And that the disgrace of his apostacy might not stand in his way, Christ blots out and destroys the remembrance of it. Such a restoration was necessary, both for Peter and for his hearers; for Peter, that he might the more boldly execute his office, being assured of the calling with which Christ had again invested him; for his hearers, that the stain which attached to his person might not be the occasion of despising the Gospel. To us also, in the present day, it is of very great importance, that Peter comes forth to us as a new man, from whom the disgrace that might have lessened his authority has been removed.

Simon (son) of John [231] lovest thou me? By these words Christ means that no man can faithfully serve the Church, and employ himself in feeding the flock, if he do not look higher than to men. First, the office of feeding [232] is in itself laborious and troublesome; since nothing is more difficult than to keep men under the yoke of God, among whom there are many who are weak, others who are wanton and unsteady, others who are dull and sluggish, and others who are slow and unteachable. Satan now brings forward as many causes of offense as he can, that he may destroy or weaken the courage of a good pastor. [233] In addition to this, we must take into account the ingratitude of many and other causes of disgust. No man, therefore, will steadily persevere in the discharge of this office, unless the love of Christ shall reign in his heart, in such a manner that, forgetful of himself and devoting himself entirely to Christ, he overcomes every obstacle. Thus Paul declares this to have been the state of his own feelings, when he says,

The love of Christ constraineth us, judging thus, that if one died for all,
then all must have been dead,
(2 Corinthians 5:14.)

For, though he means that love with which Christ hath loved us, and of which he hath given us a proof by his death, yet he connects with us that mutual love which springs from the conviction of having received so great a blessing. Ungodly and false teachers, on the other hand, are pointed out by him in another passage by this mark, that they do not love the Lord Jesus, (1 Corinthians 16:22.)

Those who are called to govern the Church ought, therefore, to remember that, if they are desirous to discharge their office properly and faithfully, they must begin with the love of Christ. Meanwhile, Christ openly testifies how highly he values our salvation, when he employs such earnest and striking language in recommending it to Pastors, and when he declares that, if the salvation of their flock be the object of their earnest solicitude, he will reckon it a proof of the ardor of their love to himself. And, indeed, nothing could have been spoken that was better fitted for encouraging the ministers of the Gospel, than to inform them that no service can be more agreeable to Christ than that which is bestowed on feeding his flock. All believers ought to draw from it no ordinary consolation, when they are taught that they are so dear and so precious in the sight of the Son of God, that he substitutes them, as it were, in his own room. But the same doctrine ought greatly to alarm false teachers, who corrupt and overturn the government of the Church; for Christ, who declares that he is insulted by them, will inflict on them dreadful punishment.

Feed my lambs. The word feed is metaphorically applied by Scripture to any kind of government; but as the present subject is the spiritual government of the Church, it is of importance to observe what are the parts of which the office of pastor or shepherd consists. No idle rank is here described to us, nor does Christ bestow on a mortal man any government to be exercised by him in a confused manner according to his own pleasure. In expounding the Tenth Chapter, we have seen that Christ is the only Pastor or Shepherd of the Church. [234] We have seen also why he takes this name to himself. If, is, because he feeds, that is, he governs his sheep, because he is the only true food of the soul. But because he employs the agency of men in preaching doctrine, he conveys to them also his own name, or, at least, shares it with them. Those men, therefore, are reckoned to be Pastors in the sight of God, who govern the Church by the ministry of the word under Christ, who is their Head. Hence we may easily infer what is the burden which Christ lays on Peter, and on what condition he appoints him to govern his flock.

This enables us plainly to refute the wicked adherents of the Church of Rome, who torture this passage to support the tyranny of their Popery. "To Peter" they tell us, "in preference to others, it is said, Feed my sheep " We have already explained the reason why it was said to him rather than to the others; namely, that being free from every disgraceful stain, he might boldly preach the Gospel; and the reason why Christ thrice appoints him to be a pastor is, that the three denials, by which Peter had brought on himself everlasting shame, may be set aside, and thus may form no barrier to his apostleship, as has been judiciously observed by Chrysostom, Augustine, and Cyril, and most of the other Commentators. Besides, nothing was given to Peter by these words, that is not also given to all the ministers of the Gospel.

In vain, therefore, do the Papists maintain that he holds the highest rank, because he alone is specially addressed; and, granting that some special honor was conferred on him, how, I ask, will they prove from this that he has been elevated to the primacy? Though he were the chief among the apostles, does it thence follow that he was the universal bishop of the whole world? To this it must be added, that all that Peter received does not belong to the Pope any more than to Mahomet; for on what ground does he claim to be Peter's heir, and what man of sound understanding will admit that Christ here bestows on him any hereditary right? Yet he wishes to be reckoned Peter's successor: I wish he were so. None of us hinders him from loving Christ, and from taking care to feed his flock; but to take no concern about loving Christ, and to throw aside the office of feeding, and then to boast of being Peter's successor, is excessively foolish and absurd. Now, as Christ, in assigning to Peter the duty of teaching, did not intend to erect a throne for an idol or for a murderer of souls, that by means of it he might miserably oppress the Church, so he stated in a few words, what kind of government of the Church he approves. This removes the mask from all the mitred bishops, who, satisfied with a mere theatrical display and an empty title, claim for themselves the authority of bishops.

16. Feed my sheep. Christ does not give to Peter and others the office of feeding all sorts of persons, but only his sheep or his lambs. He elsewhere describes who they are whom he reckons to belong to his flock.

My sheep, says he, hear my voice, and follow me; they hear not the voice of a stranger,
(John 10:5, 27.)

True, faithful teachers ought to endeavor to gather all to Christ; and as they cannot distinguish between sheep and wild beasts, they ought to try by all methods if they can tame those who resemble wolves rather than sheep. But after having put forth their utmost efforts, their labor will be of no avail to any but the elect sheep; for docility and faith arise from this, that the heavenly Father delivers to his Son, that they may obey him, those whom he elected before the creation of the world. Again, we are taught by this passage, that none can be fed to salvation by the doctrine of the Gospel but those who are mild and teachable; for it is not without reason that Christ compares his disciples to lambs and sheep; but it must also be observed, that the Spirit of God tames those who by nature were bears or lions.

17. Peter was grieved. Peter undoubtedly did not perceive the object which Christ had in view, in putting the same question so frequently; and therefore he thinks that he is-in-directly accused, as if he had not answered with sincerity. But we have already showed that the repetition was not superfluous. Besides, Peter was not yet sufficiently aware how deeply the love of Christ must be engraven on the hearts of those who have to struggle against innumerable difficulties. He afterwards learned by long experience, that such a trial had not been made in vain. Those who are to undertake the charge of governing the Church are also taught, in his person, not to examine themselves slightly, but to make a thorough scrutiny what zeal they possess, that they may not shrink or faint in the middle of their course. We are likewise taught, that we ought patiently and mildly to submit, if at any time the Lord subject us to a severe trial; because he has good reasons for doing so, though they are generally unknown to us.

18. Verily, verily, I tell thee. After having exhorted Peter to feed his sheep, Christ likewise arms him to maintain the warfare which was approaching. Thus he demands from him not only faithfulness and diligence, but invincible courage in the midst of dangers, and firmness in bearing the cross. In short, he bids him be prepared for enduring death whenever it shall be necessary. Now, though the condition of all pastors is not alike, still this admonition applies to all in some degree. The Lord spares many, and abstains from shedding their blood, satisfied with this alone, that they devote themselves to him sincerely and unreservedly as long as they live. But as Satan continually makes new and various attacks, all who undertake the office of feeding must be prepared for death; as they certainly have to do not only with sheep, but also with wolves. So far as relates to Peter, Christ intended to forewarn him of his death, that he might at all times ponder the thought, that the doctrine of which he was a minister must be at length ratified by his own blood. Yet it appears that in these words Christ did not speak with a view to Peter alone, but that he adorned him with the honourable title of Martyr in presence of the others; as if he had said, that Peter would be a very different kind of champion from what he had formerly shown himself to be.

When thou wast younger. Old age appears to be set apart for tranquillity and repose; and, accordingly, old men are usually discharged from public employments, and soldiers are discharged from service. Peter might, therefore, have promised to himself at that age a peaceful life. Christ declares, on the other hand, that the order of nature will be inverted, so that he who had lived at his ease when he was young will be governed by the will of another when he is old, and will even endure violent subjection.

In Peter we have a striking mirror of our ordinary condition. Many have an easy and agreeable life before Christ calls them; but as soon as they have made profession of his name, and have been received as his disciples, or, at least, some time afterwards, they are led to distressing struggles, to a troublesome life, to great dangers, and sometimes to death itself. This condition, though hard, must be patiently endured. Yet the Lord moderates the cross by which he is pleased to try his servants, so that he spares them a little while, until their strength has come to maturity; for he knows well their weakness, and beyond the measure of it he does not press them. Thus he forbore with Peter, so long as he saw him to be as yet tender and weak. Let us therefore learn to devote ourselves to him to the latest breath, provided that he supply us with strength.

In this respect, we behold in many persons base ingratitude; for the more gently the Lord deals with us, the more thoroughly do we habituate ourselves to softness and effeminacy. Thus we scarcely find one person in a hundred who does not murmur if, after having experienced long forbearance, he be treated with some measure of severity. But we ought rather to consider the goodness of God in sparing us for a time. Thus Christ says that, so long as he dwelt on earth, he conversed cheerfully with his disciples, as if he had been present at a marriage, but that fasting and tears afterwards awaited them, [235] (Matthew 9:15.)

Another will gird thee. Many think that this denotes the manner of death which Peter was to die, [236] meaning that he was hanged, with his arms stretched out; but I consider the word gird as simply denoting all the outward actions by which a man regulates himself and his whole life. Thou girdedst thyself; that is, "thou wast accustomed to wear such raiment as thou chosest, but this liberty of choosing thy dress will be taken from thee." As to the manner in which Peter was put to death, it is better to remain ignorant of it than to place confidence in doubtful fables.

And will lead thee whither thou wouldst not. The meaning is, that Peter did not die a natural death, but by violence and by the sword. It may be thought strange that Christ should say that Peter's death will not be voluntary; for, when one is hurried unwillingly to death, there is no firmness and none of the praise of martyrdom. But this must be understood as referring to the contest between the flesh and the Spirit, which believers feel within themselves; for we never obey God in a manner so free and unrestrained as not to be drawn, as it were, by ropes, in an opposite direction, by the world and the flesh. Hence that complaint of Paul,

"The good that I would I do not, but the evil that I would not, that I(do,"
(Romans 7:19.)

Besides, it ought to be observed, that the dread of death is naturally implanted in us, for to wish to be separated from the body is revolting to nature. Accordingly, Christ, though he was prepared to obey God with his whole heart, prays that he may be delivered from death. Moreover, Peter dreaded the cross on account of the cruelty of men; and, therefore, we need not wonder if, in some measure, he recoiled from death. But this showed the more clearly the obedience which he rendered to God, that he would willingly have avoided death on its own account, and yet he endured it voluntarily, because he knew that such was the will of God; for if there had not been a struggle of the mind, there would have been no need of patience.

This doctrine is highly useful to be known; for it urges us to prayer, because we would never be able, without extraordinary assistance from God, to conquer the fear of death; and, therefore, nothing remains for us but to present ourselves humbly to God, and to submit to his government. It serves also to sustain our minds, that they may not altogether faint, if it happen at any time that persecutions make us tremble. They who imagine that the martyrs were not moved by any fear make their own fear to yield them a ground of despair. But there is no reason why our weakness should deter us from following their example, since they experienced a fear similar to ours, so that they could not gain a triumph over the enemies of truth but by contending with themselves.

19. Signifying by what death he should glorify God. This circumlocution is highly emphatic; for though the end held out to all believers ought to be, to glorify God both by their life and by their death, yet John intended to employ a remarkable commendation for adorning the death of those who, by their blood, seal the Gospel of Christ and glorify his name, as Paul teaches us, (Philippians 1:20.) It is now our duty to reap the fruit which the death of Peter has yielded; for it ought to be imputed to our indolence, if our faith be not confirmed by it, and if we do not keep the same object in view, that the glory of God may be displayed by us. If the Papists had considered this end in the death of the martyrs, that sacrilegious and detestable invention would never have entered into their minds, that their death contributes to appease the wrath of God, and to pay the ransom for our sins.

And when he had said this. Christ here explains what was the design of that prediction of a violent death. It was, that Peter might be prepared to endure it; as if he had said, "Since you must endure death by my example, follow your leader." Again, that Peter may the more willingly obey God who calls him to the cross, Christ offers himself as a leader; for this is not a general exhortation by which he invites him to imitate himself, but he speaks only of the kind of death. Now, this single consideration greatly soothes all the bitterness that is in death, when the Son of God presents himself before our eyes with his blessed resurrection, which is our triumph over death.


[229] "Simon (ills) de Jona;" -- "Simon (son) of Jonas."

[230] "Depuis qu'il avoit este lache et desloyal;" -- "since he acted the part of a coward and a traitor."

[231] "Simon (fils) de Jona;" -- "Simon (son) of Jonas."

[232] "La charge du Pasteur;" -- "the office of Pastor or Shepherd."

[233] "De tons bons pastcurs;" -- "of all good pastors."

[234] See [15]Vol. 1, p. 394.

[235] "Mais qu'il faloit puis apres qu'ils se preparassent, pleurer et jeuner;" -- "but that afterwards they must be prepared to weep and fast."

[236] "De laquelle Pierre devoit mourir."

He saith to him again the second time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my sheep.
He saith unto him the third time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? Peter was grieved because he said unto him the third time, Lovest thou me? And he said unto him, Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee. Jesus saith unto him, Feed my sheep.
Verily, verily, I say unto thee, When thou wast young, thou girdedst thyself, and walkedst whither thou wouldest: but when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, and carry thee whither thou wouldest not.
This spake he, signifying by what death he should glorify God. And when he had spoken this, he saith unto him, Follow me.
Then Peter, turning about, seeth the disciple whom Jesus loved following; which also leaned on his breast at supper, and said, Lord, which is he that betrayeth thee?

20. And Peter, turning about, seeth the disciple following whom Jesus loved, who had also leaned on his breast at the supper, and had said, Lord, which is he who betrayeth thee? 21. When, therefore, Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, Lord, and what shall he do? 22. Jesus saith to him, If I will that he remain till I come, what is that to thee? follow thou me. 23. Then this saying went forth among the brethren, that that disciple would not die; yet Jesus had not said to him that he would not die; but, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? 24. This is the disciple who testifieth of these things, and wrote these things; and we know that his testimony is true. 25. There are also many other things which Jesus did, which, if they were written every one, I think that even the world itself would not contain the books that would be written.

20. And Peter, turning about. We have in Peter an instance of our curiosity, which is not only superfluous, but even hurtful, when we are drawn aside from our duty by looking at others; for it is almost natural to us to examine the way in which other people live, instead of examining our own, and to attempt to find in them idle excuses. We willingly deceive ourselves by this semblance of apology, that other people are no better than we are, as if their indolence freed us from blame. Scarce one person in a hundred considers the import of those words of Paul,

Every man shall bear his own burden, (Galatians 6:5.)

In the person of one man, therefore, there is a general reproof of all who look around them in every direction, to see how other men act, and pay no attention to the duties which God has enjoined on themselves. Above all, they are grievously mistaken in this respect, that they neglect and overlook what is demanded by every man's special calling.

Out of ten persons it may happen that God shall choose one, that he may try him by heavy calamities or by vast labors, and that he shall permit the other nine to remain at ease, or, at least, shall try them lightly. Besides, God does not treat all in the same manner, but makes trial of every one as he thinks fit. As there are various kinds of Christian warfare, let every man learn to keep his own station, and let us not make inquiries like busybodies about this or that person, when the heavenly Captain addresses each of us, to whose authority we ought to be so submissive as to forget every thing else.

Whom Jesus loved. This circumlocution was inserted, in order to inform us what was the reason why Peter was induced to put the question which is here related; for he thought it strange that he alone should be called, and that John should be overlooked, whom Christ had always loved so warmly. Peter had, therefore, some apparently good reason for asking why no mention was made of John, as if Christ's disposition towards him had undergone a change. Yet Christ cuts short his curiosity, by telling him that he ought to obey the calling of God, and that he has no right to inquire what other people do.

22. If I will that he remain. It has been customary to take this sentence as detached, and to read the former clause affirmatively, I will that he tarry till I come; but this has been done through the ignorance of transcribers, not through the mistake of the translator; for he could not have been mistaken about the Greek word, but a single letter might easily creep into the Latin version, so as to alter the whole meaning. [237] The whole sentence, therefore, is a question, and ought to be read in immediate connection; for Christ intended to put his hand on his disciple, in order to keep him within the limits of his calling. "It is no concern of yours," says he, "and you have no right to inquire what becomes of your companion; leave that to my disposal; think only about yourself, and prepare to follow where you are called." Not that all anxiety about brethren is uncalled for but it ought to have some limit, so that it may be anxiety, and not curiosity, that occupies our attention. Let every man, therefore, look to his neighbours, if by any means he may succeed in drawing them along with him to Christ, and let not the offenses of others retard his own progress.

23. Then this saying went forth. The Evangelist relates that, from misunderstanding Christ's words, an error arose among the disciples, that John would never die. He means those who were present at that conversation, that is, the Apostles; not that the name brethren belongs to them alone, but that they were the first-fruits, as it were, of that holy union. It is also possible, that, besides the eleven, he refers to others who were at that time in company with them; and by the expression, went forth, he means that this error was spread in all directions; yet probably it was not of long duration, but subsisted among them, until, being enlightened by the Holy Spirit, they formed purer and more correct views of the kingdom of Christ, having laid aside carnal and foolish imaginations. [238]

What John relates about the Apostles happens every day, and we ought not to wonder at it; for if Christ's disciples, who belonged to his family and were intimately acquainted with him, were so egregiously mistaken, how much more are they liable to fall into mistakes, who have not been so familiarly instructed in the school of Christ? But let us also observe whence this fault arises. The teaching of Christ is useful, and for edification; that is, it is plain; but we obscure the light by our wicked inventions, which we bring to it from our own views. Christ had not intended to pronounce any thing certain or definite about John, but only to affirm that he had full power to decide about his life and death; so that the doctrine is simple and useful in itself, but the disciples imagine and contrive more than had been told them. Accordingly, in order that we may be safe from this danger, let us learn to be wise and to think soberly. But such is the wantonness of the human understanding, that it rushes with all its force into foolishness. The consequence was, that this very error, against which the Evangelist had expressly warned them to be on their guard, continued notwithstanding to gain currency in the world; for a fable has been contrived, that he ordered a ditch to be digged for him, and went down into it, and that next day it was found empty. We see, therefore, that we shall never cease to err, unless we unreservedly receive what the Lord hath taught us, and reject all inventions of men.

24. This is that disciple. Having hitherto mentioned himself in the third person, John now declares that it is himself; that greater weight may be attached to the statements of one who was an eye-witness, and who had fully known all that he relates.

25. There are also many other things that Jesus did. Lest any one should view his narrative with suspicion, as if it had been written through partiality, because Jesus loved him, he anticipates this objection, by saying, that he has passed over more than he has written. He does not speak of Christ's actions of every kind, but of those which relate to his public office; nor ought we to think that the hyperbole is absurd, when we bear with many figures of speech of the same kind in heathen authors. Not only ought we to take into account the number of Christ's works, but we ought also to consider their importance and magnitude. The majesty of Christ, which by its infinity swallowed up, if I may so speak, not only the senses of men, but heaven and earth, gave a miraculous display of its own splendor in those works. If the Evangelist, casting his eyes on that brightness, exclaims in astonishment, that even the whole world could not contain a full narrative, ought we to wonder at it? Nor is he at all to be blamed, if he employ a frequent and ordinary figure of speech for commending the excellence of the works of Christ. For we know how God accommodates himself to the ordinary' way of speaking, on account of our ignorance, and sometimes even, if I may be allowed the expression, stammers.

Yet we ought to remember what we formerly stated, that the summary which the Evangelists have committed to writing, is sufficient both for regulating faith and for obtaining salvation. That man who has duly profited under such teachers will be truly wise. And, indeed, since they were appointed by God to be witnesses to us, as they have faithfully discharged their duty; so it is our duty, on the other hand, to depend wholly on their testimony, and to desire nothing more than what they have handed down to us; and especially, because their pens were guided by the sure providence of God, that they might not oppress us by an unlimited mass of narratives, and yet, in making a selection, might make known to us all that God knew to be necessary for us, who alone is wise, and the only fountain of wisdom; to whom be praise and glory for ever. Amen.


[237] Calvin here throws out a conjecture, that the clause originally stood in the Vulgate, SI eum volo manere, and that by the addition of" a single letter" to the first word of the clause, some ignorant transcriber altered it to SIC eum rolo manere He declares it to be impossible that the word Sic should have found its way into the verse in any other manner, because the translator could not mistake the meaning of "the Greek word" ea'n -- Ed.

[238] "Toutes imaginations charnelles et extravagantes rejettees."

Peter seeing him saith to Jesus, Lord, and what shall this man do?
Jesus saith unto him, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? follow thou me.
Then went this saying abroad among the brethren, that that disciple should not die: yet Jesus said not unto him, He shall not die; but, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee?
This is the disciple which testifieth of these things, and wrote these things: and we know that his testimony is true.
And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written. Amen.
John Calvin's Commentaries
Text Courtesy of Christian Classics Etherial Library.

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