John 21:2
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.
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(2) There were together Simon Peter, and Thomas called Didymus.—It is most probable that we have here the names of all in the group of seven who were Apostles, and that the two unnamed persons were disciples in the wider sense in which the word is often used by St. John (John 6:60; John 6:66; John 7:3; John 8:31; John 18:19). If they were Andrew and Philip, which has been supposed from John 1:40; John 1:43, it is not easy to understand their position in the list, or the absence of their names.

Thomas is not named by the other Evangelists, except in the lists of the Apostles. (Comp. John 11:16; John 14:5; John 20:24 et seq.)

Nathanael is named only by St. John. (Comp. Notes on John 1:45 et seq.) He is probably to be identified with the “Bartholomew” of the earlier Gospels; this latter name being a patronymic. (Comp. Note on Matthew 10:3-4.) The descriptive note “of Cana in Galilee” is added here only.

The sons of Zebedee are not elsewhere given by St. John as a description of himself and his brother, but this is the only place in which he names himself and his brother in a list with others. In St. Luke’s account of the earlier draught of fishes, the “sons of Zebedee” are named as partners with “Simon” (John 5:10). Their position here agrees with the Johannine authorship of the chapter. In the lists in the other Gospels, and the Acts of the Apostles, James and John are uniformly prominent in the first group.

(2) The mistake having been made, the obvious correction after St. John’s death would have been simply to record that event. The correction of the text would place these words within his lifetime.



John 21:2

This chapter, containing the infinitely significant and pathetic account of our Lord’s appearance to these disciples by the Sea of Tiberias, is evidently an appendix to the Gospel of John. The design of that Gospel is complete with the previous chapter, and there is a formal close, as of the whole book, at the end thereof. But whilst obviously an appendix, this chapter is as obviously the work of the same hand as wrote the Gospel. There are many minute points of identity between the style of it and of the rest of the work, so that there can be no difficulty or doubt as to whence it came. This enumeration of these seven disciples, regarded as being the work of John himself, seems to me to be significant, and to contain a good many lessons. And I desire to turn to these now.

I. First of all, the fact that they were together is significant.

How did they come to hold together? How had they not yielded to the temptation to seek safety by flight, which would have been the natural course after the death of their Leader on a charge of treason against the Roman power? The process of disintegration had begun, and we see it going on in the conduct of the disciples before the Resurrection. The ‘Shepherd was smitten,’ and, as a matter of course, ‘the sheep’ began to ‘scatter.’ And yet here we find them back in Galilee, in their old haunts, and not trying to escape by separation, which would have been the first step suggested to ordinary men in an ordinary state of things. But where everybody knew them, and they knew everybody, and everybody knew them to be disciples of Jesus Christ, thither they go, and hold together as if they had still a living centre and a uniting bond. How did that come about? The fact that after Christ’s death there was a group of men united together simply and solely as disciples, and exhibiting their unity as disciples conspicuously, in the face of the men that knew them best, this forms a strange phenomenon that needs an explanation. And there is only one explanation of it, that Jesus Christ had risen from the dead. That drew them together once more. You cannot build a Church on a dead Christ; and of all the proofs of the Resurrection, I take it that there is none that it is harder for an unbeliever to account for, in harmony with his hypothesis, than the simple fact that Christ’s disciples held together after He was dead, and presented a united front to the world.

So, then, the fact of the group is itself significant, and we may claim it as being a morsel of evidence for the historical veracity of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

II. Then the composition of this group is significant.

Taken in comparison with the original nucleus of the Church, the calling of which we find recorded in the first chapter of this Gospel, it is to be noticed that of the five men who made the Primitive Church, there are three who reappear here by name-viz. Simon Peter, John and Nathanael, and Nathanael never appears anywhere else except in these two places. Then, note that there are two unnamed men here, ‘two other of His disciples’; who, I think, in all probability are the two of the original five that we do not find named here-viz. ‘Philip and Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother’-both of them connected with Bethsaida, the place where probably this appearance of the risen Lord took place.

So, then, I think, the fair inference from the list before us is that we have here the original nucleus again, the first five, with a couple more, and the couple more are ‘Thomas, who is called Didymus’-and we shall see the reason for his presence in a moment-and the brother of John, one of the first pair.

Thus, then, to the original little group that had gathered round Him at the first, and to whom He had been so often manifested in this very scene where they were standing now, He is revealed again. There, along the beach, is the place where James and John and Simon and Andrew were called from their nets three short years ago. Across yonder, on the other side of the lake, is the bit of green grass where the thousands were fed. Behind it is the steep slope down which the devil-possessed herd rushed. There, over the shoulder of the hill, is the road that leads up to Cana of Galilee, which they had trod together on that never-to-be-forgotten first morning, and from which little village one of the group came. They who had companied with Him all the time of His too short fellowship, and had seen all His manifestations, were fittingly chosen to be the recipients of this last appearance, which was to be full of instruction as to the work of the Church, its difficulties, its discouragements, its rewards, its final success, and His benediction of it until the very end of time. It was not for nothing that they who were gathered together were that first nucleus of the Church, who received again from their Master the charge to be ‘fishers of men.’

And then, if we look at the list, having regard to the history of those that make it up, it seems to me that that also brings us some valuable considerations. Foremost stand, as receiving this great manifestation of Jesus Christ, the two greatest sinners of the whole band, ‘Simon Peter, and Thomas, which is called Didymus,’ the denier and the doubter. Singularly contrasted these two men were in much of their disposition; and yet alike in the fact that the Crucifixion had been too much for their faith. The one of them was impetuous, the other of them slow. The one was always ready to say more than he meant; the other always ready to do more than he said. The one was naturally despondent, disposed to look ahead and to see the gloomiest side of everything-’Let us also go that we may die with Him’-the other never looking an inch beyond his nose, and always yielding himself up to the impulse of the moment. And yet both of them were united in this, that the one, from a sudden wave of cowardice which swept him away from his deepest convictions and made him for an hour untrue to his warmest love, and the other, from giving way to his constitutional tendency to despondency, and to taking the blackest possible view of everything-they had both of them failed in their faith, the one turning out a denier and the other turning out a doubter. And yet here they are, foremost upon the list of those who saw the Risen Christ.

Well, there are two lessons there, and the one is this-let us Christian people learn with what open hearts and hands we should welcome a penitent when he comes back. The other is,-let us learn who they are to whom Jesus Christ deigns to manifest Himself-not immaculate monsters, but men that, having fallen, have learned humility and caution, and by penitence have risen to a securer standing, and have turned even their transgressions into steps in the ladder that lifts them to Christ. It was something that the first to whom the risen Saviour appeared when He came victorious and calm from the grave, was the woman ‘out of whom He had cast seven devils,’ and the blessed truth which that teaches is the same as that which is to be drawn from this list of those whom He regarded, and whom we regard, as then constituting the true nucleus of His Church-a list which is headed by the blackest denier and the most obstinate and captious sceptic in the whole company. ‘There were together Simon Peter and Thomas, which is called Didymus,’ and the little group was glad to have them, and welcomed them, as it becomes us to welcome brethren who have fallen, and who come again saying, ‘I repent.’

Well, then, take the next: he was ‘Nathanael, of Cana in Galilee’; a guileless ‘Israelite indeed,’ so swift to believe, so ready with his confession, so childlike in his wonder, so ardent in his love and faith. The only thing that Christ is recorded as having said to him is this: ‘Because I said. . . believest thou? Thou shalt see greater things than these.’ A promise of growing clearness of vision and growing fullness of manifestation was made to this man, who never appears anywhere else in Scripture but in these two scenes, and so may stand to us as the type of the opposite kind of Christian experience from that stormy one of the doubter and the denier-viz. that of persistent, quiet, continuous growth, which is marked by faithful use of the present amount of illumination, and is rewarded by a continual increase of the same. If the keynote to the two former lives is, that sin confessed helps a man to climb, the keynote to this man’s is the other truth, that they are still more blessed who, with no interruptions, backslidings, inconsistencies, or denials, by patient continuousness in well-doing, widen the horizon of their Christian vision and purge their eyesight for daily larger knowledge. To these, as to the others, there is granted the vision of the risen Lord, and to them also is entrusted the care of His sheep and His lambs. We do not need to go away into the depths and the darkness in order to realise the warmth and the blessedness of the light. There is no necessity that any Christian man’s career should be broken by denials like Peter’s or by doubts like Thomas’s, but we may ‘grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour.’ ‘So is the kingdom of heaven, first the blade, then the ear, after that the full corn in the ear.’

Then, still further, there were here ‘the two sons of Zebedee.’ These were the men of whom the Master said that they were ‘sons of thunder,’ who, by natural disposition, in so far as they resembled one another {which they seem to have done}, were eager, energetic, somewhat bigoted, ready with passionate rebukes, and not unwilling to invoke destructive vengeance, all for the love of Him. They were also touched with some human ambition which led them to desire a place at His right hand and His left, but the ambition, too, was touched with love towards Him, which half redeemed it. But by dwelling with Him one of them, at least, had become of all the group the likest his Master. And the old monastic painters taught a very deep truth when, in their pictures of the apostles, they made John’s almost a copy of the Master’s face. To him, too, there was granted in like manner a place amongst this blessed company, and it is surely a trace of his hand that his place should seem so humble. Any other but himself would certainly have put James and John in their natural place beside Peter. It must have been himself who slipped himself and his brother into so inconspicuous a position in the list, and further veiled his personality under the patronymic, ‘the sons of Zebedee.’

Last of all come ‘two other of His disciples,’ not worth naming. Probably, as I have said, they were the missing two out of the five of the first chapter; but possibly they were only ‘disciples’ in the wider sense, and not of the Apostolic group at all. Nobody can tell. What does it matter? The lesson to be gathered from their presence in this group is one that most of us may very well take to heart. There is a place for commonplace, undistinguished people, whose names are not worth repeating in any record; there is a place for us one-talented folk, in Christ’s Church, and we, too, have a share in the manifestation of His love. We do not need to be brilliant, we do not need to be clever, we do not need to be influential, we do not need to be energetic, we do not need to be anything but quiet, waiting souls, in order to have Christ showing Himself to us, as we toil wearily through the darkness of the night. Undistinguished disciples have a place in His heart, a sphere and a function in His Church, and a share in His revelation of Himself.

III. The last point that I touch is this, that the purpose of this group is significant.

What did they thus get together for? ‘Simon Peter saith, I go a fishing. They say, We also go with thee.’ So they went back again to their old trade, and they had not left the nets and the boats and the hired servants for ever, as they once thought they had.

What sent them back? Not doubt or despair; because they had seen Jesus Christ up in Jerusalem, and had come down to Galilee at His command on purpose to meet Him. ‘There shall ye see Him, lo! I have told you,’ was ringing in their ears, and they went back in full confidence of His appearance there. It is very like Peter that he should have been the one to suggest filling an hour of the waiting time with manual labour. The time would be hanging heavily on his hands. John could have ‘sat still in the house,’ like Mary, the heart all the busier, because the hands lay quietly in the lap. But that was not Peter’s way, and John was ready to keep him company. Peter thought that the best thing they could do, till Jesus chose to come, was to get back to their work, and he was sensible and right. The best preparation for Christ’s appearance, and the best attitude to be found in by Him, is doing our daily work, however secular and small it may be. A dirty, wet fishing boat, all slimy with scales, was a strange place in which to wait for the manifestation of a risen Saviour. But it was the right place, righter than if they had been wandering about amongst the fancied sanctities of the synagogues.

They went out to do their work; and to them was fulfilled the old saying, ‘I, being in the way, the Lord met me.’ Jesus Christ will come to you and me in the street if we carry the waiting heart there, and in the shop, and the factory, and the counting-house, and the kitchen, and the nursery, and the study, or wherever we may be. For all things are sacred when done with a hallowed heart, and He chooses to make Himself known to us amidst the dusty commonplaces of daily life.

He had said to them before the Crucifixion: ‘When I sent you forth without purse or scrip, lacked ye anything? And they said, Nothing.’ And then He said, as changing the conditions: ‘But now he that hath a purse or scrip, let him take it.’ As long as He was with them they were absolved from these common tasks. Now that He had left them the obligation recurred. And the order of things for His servants in all time coming was therein declared to be: no shirking of daily tasks on the plea of wanting divine communications; keep at your work, and if it last all night, stick to it; and if there are no fish in the net, never mind; out with it again. And be sure that sooner or later you will see Him standing on the beach, and hear His voice, and be blessed by His smile.John 21:2. There were together — Namely, in one house; Simon Peter, and Thomas, &c. — Doubtless they often met and conversed together about the great things which they had seen and heard during the three years in which they had attended on Christ as his disciples, and especially concerning the late events of which they had been eye-witnesses, namely, the death and resurrection of their Master. And Christ chose to manifest himself to them when they were assembled; not only to countenance Christian society, but that they might be joint witnesses of the same matters of fact, and so might corroborate one another’s testimony. Here were seven together, to attest what follows. One of these was Thomas, who is named next to Peter, as if he now kept closer to the meetings of the apostles than ever, in consequence of the rebuke and advice he had received from Christ. Another was Nathanael, whom we have not met with since we considered the first chapter of this gospel. Some, however, think he was the same with Bartholomew, one of the twelve. The two not named are supposed to be Philip of Bethsaida, and Andrew of Capernaum.21:1-14 Christ makes himself known to his people, usually in his ordinances; but sometimes by his Spirit he visits them when employed in their business. It is good for the disciples of Christ to be together in common conversation, and common business. The hour for their entering upon action was not come. They would help to maintain themselves, and not be burdensome to any. Christ's time of making himself known to his people, is when they are most at a loss. He knows the temporal wants of his people, and has promised them not only grace sufficient, but food convenient. Divine Providence extends itself to things most minute, and those are happy who acknowledge God in all their ways. Those who are humble, diligent, and patient, though their labours may be crossed, shall be crowned; they sometimes live to see their affairs take a happy turn, after many struggles. And there is nothing lost by observing Christ's orders; it is casting the net on the right side of the ship. Jesus manifests himself to his people by doing that for them which none else can do, and things which they looked not for. He would take care that those who left all for him, should not want any good thing. And latter favours are to bring to mind former favours, that eaten bread may not be forgotten. He whom Jesus loved was the first that said, It is the Lord. John had cleaved most closely to his Master in his sufferings, and knew him soonest. Peter was the most zealous, and reached Christ the first. How variously God dispenses his gifts, and what difference there may be between some believers and others in the way of their honouring Christ, yet they all may be accepted of him! Others continue in the ship, drag the net, and bring the fish to shore, and such persons ought not to be blamed as worldly; for they, in their places, are as truly serving Christ as the others. The Lord Jesus had provision ready for them. We need not be curious in inquiring whence this came; but we may be comforted at Christ's care for his disciples. Although there were so many, and such great fishes, yet they lost none, nor damaged their net. The net of the gospel has enclosed multitudes, yet it is as strong as ever to bring souls to God.There were together - Probably residing in the same place. While they were waiting for the promise of the Holy Spirit, they still found it proper to be usefully employed. Their Master had been taken away by death, and the promised Spirit had not descended on them. In the interval - before the promised Spirit was poured upon them - they chose not to be idle, and therefore returned to their former employment. It is to be remarked, also, that they had no other means of support. While with Jesus, they were commonly supplied by the kindness of the people; but now, when the Saviour had died, they were cut off from this means of support, and returned to the honest labor of their early lives. Moreover, they had been directed by the Saviour to repair to a mountain in Galilee, where he would meet them, Matthew 28:10. This was probably not far from Lake Galilee, so that, until he came to them, they would naturally be engaged in their old employment. Ministers of the gospel should be willing to labor, if necessary, for their own support, and should not esteem such labor dishonorable. God has made employment indispensable to man, and if the field of labor is not open in one way, they should seek it in another. If at any time the people withhold the supply of their needs, they should be able and willing to seek support in some other honest occupation. 2. Nathanael—(See on [1924]Mt 10:3). All the disciples were either there in several places, or going thither, according to Christ’s direction before mentioned: but either these seven were there before the rest; or else they lodged together, or near one another; so as these only are here mentioned as being together at this time, and so witnesses of this miracle which followeth. There were together,.... In one place, in one house, in some town, or city of Galilee, not far from the sea of Tiberias; nor, as very likely, far from the mountain where Christ had promised to meet them. Simon Peter, who though he had denied his Lord, dearly loved him, and truly believed in him, kept with the rest of his disciples, and was waiting for another interview with him:

and Thomas, called Didymus; who, though for a while an unbeliever with respect to the resurrection of Christ, was now fully assured of it, and, for the future, was unwilling to lose any opportunity of meeting with his risen Lord.

And Nathanael of Cana in Galilee; an Israelite indeed, in whom there was no guile. Dr. Lightfoot thinks he is the same with Bartholomew, and so one of the eleven. The Syriac version reads it, "Cotne", and the Persic, Catneh of Galilee; no doubt the same place is meant, where Jesus turned water into wine, of which Nathanael was an inhabitant:

and the sons of Zebedee; who were James, whom Herod killed with the sword, and John, the writer of this Gospel:

and two other of his disciples; who are thought to be Andrew and Philip; which is very likely, since they were both of Bethsaida, John 1:44 a city in Galilee, and not far from the sea of Tiberias. Andrew is particularly mentioned by Nonnus: so that here were seven of them in all; four of them, according to this account, being wanting; who must be James the less, the brother of our Lord, Judas called Lebbaeus, and surnamed Thaddaeus, Simon the Canaanite, or Zealot, and Matthew the publican.

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.
John 21:2. ἧσαν ὁμοῦ, seven of the disciples had kept together, Simon Peter, Thomas, Nathanael, further designated as ὁ ἀπὸ Κανᾶ τῆς Γαλιλαίας, not to remind us of the miracles wrought there (Reynolds), nor “without any special design” (Meyer), but to emphasise the ὁμοῦ by showing that even though not belonging to the lake-side Nathanael remained with the rest. John indicates his own presence with his usual reserve, οἱ τοῦ Ζεβεδαίου.2. There were together] Probably all seven belonged to the neighbourhood; we know this of four of them.

Thomas] See on John 11:16, John 14:5, John 20:24. All particulars about him are given by S. John [4].

Nathanael] See on John 1:45 : the descriptive addition ‘of Cana of Galilee’ occurs here only. S. John alone mentions Nathanael [5].

the sons of Zebedee] If one of the sons of Zebedee were not the writer, they would have been placed first after S. Peter, instead of last of those named [6]. The omission of their names also is in harmony with S. John’s reserve about all closely connected with himself [7].

two other] Some conjecture Andrew and Philip; but if so, why are the names not given? More probably these nameless disciples are not Apostles.John 21:2. Ὁμοῦ, together) in the one place, in the house, seven in all.—Θωμᾶς, Thomas) who was now the less absent than formerly (ch. John 20:24), and was the more confirmed and to be confirmed.—Ναθαναήλ, Nathanael) ch. John 1:46, note. His name here occurring in the midst of names of apostles, makes it likely he was the same as Bartholomew.—οἱ τοῦ Ζεβεδαίου, the sons of Zebedee) John therefore wrote this book; for had any one else written it, he would have named John with his brother, immediately after Peter. Also he takes it for granted as a thing known from the other Evangelists, who were the sons of Zebedee, as well as who was Zebedee.—ἐκ τῶν μαθητῶν, of the disciples) apostles or others.Verse 2. - There were together. Not the whole company of the eleven apostles; five are especially mentioned, and two are left unnamed. The five, of whom the Gospel knows much, are Simon Peter, whose twofold name denotes that, notwithstanding his grievous failure, he had not lost his faith, and still stood at the head of the company, the man of rock and the man of impetuous energy. Thomas called Didymus, whose incredulity had vanished, and whose devoted love had emerged from the depths of despondency to the loftiest faith, who had come to feel and say that the risen Christ was both Lord and God. Thomas, who had shrunk from the society of his fellow-apostles, was now closely united with them, more than he had ever previously seemed to have been. Thomas is the apostle last mentioned by the evangelist. Elsewhere he is associated with Philip of Bethsaida, and this town may have been his home. Nathanael of Cana in Galilee is mentioned by way of recalling the two miracles recorded by John as having taken place in this "Cana of Galilee" (John 2:1-12; John 4:16). The former of the miracles followed immediately on the mention of the calling of Nathanael (John 1:45). The reference to the little place in Galilee where the glory of Christ had been first of all seen and had led to the faith of the disciples, calls attention to the place and province of this manifestation, and to what was contained in the memory of one of the witnesses. And the (sons) of Zebedee - a phrase used for James and John in Matthew 20:20; Matthew 26:37; Matthew 27:56. This is the only time that Zebedee is mentioned in this Gospel; but the reason for his sons being thus designated points unmistakably to the first call of these two men to discipleship by the side of this very lake, after they had witnessed the draught of fishes, becoming from that time forward "fishers of men" (Matthew 4:21; Mark 1:19, 20; Luke 5:10). That they should here be mentioned after Thomas and after Nathanael corresponds with the reticence and modesty of the evangelist. This is still more probable if the two other disciples were μαθηταί in the broader sense. The simple fact that they are mentioned after the five apostles has been thought by some to imply that, whosoever these were, they were not of the number of the eleven. No one writing the story in the second century would, in an enumeration like this, have placed the proto-martyr James and the intimate friend of Peter, the great "light of Asia," the admitted author of the Apocalypse, and the spiritual father of Polycarp and Papias, after Thomas and Nathanael. After his manner, he (the author) here prepared for the implicit subsequent identification of the "disciple whom Jesus loved," and also the author of the Gospel, with one of the sons of Zebedee. The supposition that Andrew and Philip are meant by the "two other disciples" is not without verisimilitude, from their mention in John 1. If this were the case, both of them are practically discriminated from the "disciple whom Jesus loved" by the obvious references to them elsewhere by name, while "John" never thus signalizes himself. The mention of seven disciples reveals the love of the writer for the number "seven," with its division into two groups of three and four (see Introduction, pp. 78, 79.). And it is remarkable that, if Andrew and Philip are the unnamed ones, the seven would correspond with the first seven apostles mentioned in Matthew's enumeration (Matthew 10:2-4). Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus, Judas the brother of James, or Thaddaeus, and Simon the Zealot were not present. This, of course, rests on the hypothesis that Nathanael and Bartholomew are identical (John 1:45, note).
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