John 21:21
Peter seeing him saith to Jesus, Lord, and what shall this man do?
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(21) Lord, and what shall this man do?—The motive prompting this question was probably that of loving interest in the future of his friend. It may well be that the two friends, in the sadness of the dark days through which they had passed, had talked together of what their Master’s predictions of the future meant, and had wondered what there was in store for themselves. They knew the world was to hate them as it had hated Him, and they never knew what its hatred for Him was. One of them had learnt that he was to follow his Lord in death as in life, and he now sees the other following them as they draw apart from the group, and would fain know the future of his friend as he knew his own.



John 21:21 - John 21:22

We have seen in a former sermon that the charge of the risen Christ to Peter, which immediately precedes these verses, allotted to him service and suffering. The closing words of that charge ‘Follow Me!’ had a deep significance, as uniting both parts of his task in the one supreme command of imitation of his Master.

But the same words had also a simpler meaning, as inviting the Apostle to come apart with Christ at the moment, for some further token of His love or indication of His will. Peter follows; but in following, naturally turns to see what the little group, sitting silent there by the coal fire on the beach, may be doing, and he notices John coming towards them, with intent to join them.

What emboldened John to thrust himself, uncalled for, into so secret an interview? The words in which he is described in the context answer the question. ‘He was the disciple whom Jesus loved, which also leaned on His breast at Supper, and said, Lord! which is he that betrayeth Thee?’ He was also bound by close ties to Peter. So with the familiarity of ‘perfect love which casteth out fear,’ he felt that the Master could have no secrets from him, and no charge to give to his friend which he might not share.

Peter’s swift question, ‘Lord! and what shall this man do?’ though it has been often blamed, does not seem very blameworthy. There was perhaps a little touch of his old vivacity in it, indicating that he had not been sufficiently subdued and sobered by the prospect which Christ had held out to him; but far more than that there was a natural interest in his friend’s fate, and something of a wish to have his company on the path which he was to tread. Christ’s answer, ‘If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? Follow thou Me!’ gently rebukes any leaven of evil that there may have been in the question; warns him against trying to force other people into his groove; with solemn emphasis reiterates his own duty; and, in effect, bids him let his brother alone, and see that he himself discharges the ministry which he has received of the Lord.

The enigmatical words of Christ, and the long life of the Apostle, which seemed to explain them, naturally bred an interpretation of them in the Early Church which is recorded here, as I believe, by the Evangelist himself, to the effect that John, like another Enoch at the beginning of a new world, was to escape the common lot. And very beautiful is the quiet way in which the Evangelist put that error on one side, by the simple repetition of his Master’s words, emphasising their hypothetical form and their enigmatical character: ‘Jesus said not unto him, He shall not die; but if I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee?’

Now all this, I think, is full of lessons. Let me try to draw one or two of them briefly now.

I. First, then, we have in that majestic ‘If I will!’ the revelation of the risen Christ as the Lord of life and death.

In His charge to Peter, Christ had asserted His right absolutely to control His servant’s conduct and fix his place in the world, and His power to foresee and forecast his destiny and his end. But in these words He goes a step further. ‘I will that he tarry’; to communicate life and to sustain life is a divine prerogative; to act by the bare utterance of His will upon physical nature is a divine prerogative. Jesus Christ here claims that His will goes out with sovereign power amongst the perplexities of human history and into the depths of that mystery of life; and that He, the Son of Man, ‘quickens whom He will,’ and has power ‘to kill and to make alive.’ The words would be absurd, if not something worse, upon any but divine lips, that opened with conscious authority, and whose Utterer knew that His hand was laid upon the innermost springs of being.

So, in this entirely incidental fashion, you have one of the strongest and plainest instances of the quiet, unostentatious and habitual manner in which Jesus Christ claimed for Himself properly divine prerogatives.

Remember that He who thus spoke was standing before these seven men there, in the morning light, on the beach, fresh from the grave. His resurrection had proved Him to be the Lord of death. He had bound it to His chariot-wheels as a Conqueror. He had risen and He stood there before them with no more mark of the corruption of the grave upon Him than there are traces of the foul water in which a sea bird may have floated, on its white wing that flashes in the sunshine as it soars. And surely as these men looked to Christ, ‘declared to be the Son of God with power, by His resurrection from the dead, ‘they may have begun, however ‘foolish and slow of heart’ they were ‘to believe,’ to understand that ‘to this end Christ both died and rose and revived, that He might be the Lord both of the dead and of the living,’ both of death and of life.

These two Apostles’ later history was full of proofs that Christ’s claim was valid. Peter is shut up in prison and delivered once, at the very last moment, when hope was almost dead, in order that he might understand that when he was put into another prison and not delivered, the blow of martyrdom fell upon him, not because of the strength of his persecutors, but because of the will of his Lord. And John had to see his brother James, to whom he had been so closely knit, with whom he had pledged himself to drink the cup that Christ drank of, whom he had desired to have associated with himself in the special honours in the Messianic Kingdom-he had to see him slain, first of the Apostles, while he himself lingered here long after all his early associates were gone. He had, no doubt, many a longing to depart. Solitary, surrounded by a new world, pressed by many cares, he must often have felt that the cross which he had to carry was no lighter than that laid on those who had passed to their rest by martyrdom. To him it would often be martyrdom to live. His personal longing is heard for a moment in the last words of the Apocalypse, ‘Amen! even so, come, Lord Jesus!’-but undoubtedly for the most part he stayed his heart on his Lord’s will, and waited in meek patience till he heard the welcome announcement, ‘The Master is come and calleth for thee.’

And, dear friends! that same belief that the risen Christ is the Lord of life and death, is the only one that can stay our hearts, or make us bow with submission to His divine will. He who has conquered death by undergoing it is death’s Lord as well as ours, and when He wills to bring His friends home to Himself, saith to that black-robed servant, ‘Go, and he goeth; do this and he doeth it.’ The vision which John saw long after this on another shore, washed by a stormier sea, spoke the same truth as does this majestic ‘I will’-’He that liveth and became dead and is alive for evermore,’ is by virtue of His divine eternal life, and has become in His humanity by virtue of His death and resurrection the Lord of life and death. The hands that were nailed to the Cross turn the keys of death and Hades. ‘He openeth and no man shutteth; He shutteth and no man openeth.’

II. We have here before us, in this incident, the service of patient waiting.

‘If I will that he tarry, what is that to thee? Follow thou Me.’ Peter is the man of action, not great at reflection; full of impulse, restless until his hands can do something to express his thoughts and his emotions. On the very Mount of Transfiguration he wanted to set to work and build ‘three tabernacles,’ instead of listening awed to the divine colloquy. In Galilee he cannot wait quietly for his Master to come, but must propose to his friends to ‘go a fishing.’ In the fishing-boat, as soon as he sees the Lord he must struggle through the sea to get at Him; whilst John sits quiet in the boat, blessed in the consciousness of his Master’s presence and in silently gazing at Him verily there. All through the first part of the Acts of the Apostles his bold energy goes flashing and flaming. It is always his voice that rings out in the front, whether preaching on the Pentecost Day, bringing healing to the sick, or fronting the Sanhedrim. His element is in the shock of conflict and the strain of work.

John, on the other hand, seldom appears in the narrative. When he does so he stands a silent figure by the side of Peter, and disappears from it altogether before very long. We do not hear that he did anything. He seems to have had no part in the missionary work of the Church.

He ‘tarried,’ that was all. The word is the same-’abide’-which is so often upon his lips in his Gospel and in his Epistles, as expressive of the innermost experience of the Christian soul, the condition of all fruitfulness, blessedness, knowledge and Christ-likeness. Christ’s charge to John to ‘tarry’ did not only, as his brethren misinterpreted it, mean that his life was to be continued, but it prescribed the manner of his life. It was to be patient contemplation, a ‘dwelling in the house of the Lord,’ a keeping of his heart still, like some little tarn up amongst the silent hills, for heaven with all its blue to mirror itself in.

And that quiet life of contemplation bore its fruit. In his meditation the deeds and words of his Master slowly grew ever more and more luminous to him. Deeper meanings came out, revealing new constellations, as he gazed into that opening heaven of memory. He reaped ‘the harvest of a quiet eye’ and garnered the sheaves of it in his Gospel, the holy of holies of the New Testament; and in his Epistles, in which he proclaims the first and last word of revelation, ‘God is love’-the pure diamond that hangs at the end of the golden chain let down from Heaven. Often, no doubt, his brethren thought him ‘but an idler in the land,’ but at last his ‘tarrying’ was vindicated.

Now, dear brethren! in all times of the world’s history that form of Christian service needs to be pressed upon busy people. And there never was a time in the world’s history, or in the Church’s history, when it more needed to be pressed upon the ordinary Christian man than at this day. The good and the bad of our present Christianity, and of our present social life, conspire to make people think that those who are not at work in some external form of Christian service for the good of their fellows are necessarily idlers. Many of them are so, but by no means all, and there is always the danger that the external work which good, earnest people do shall become greater than can be wholesomely and safely done by them without their constant recourse to this solitary meditation, and to tarrying before God.

The stress and bustle of our everyday life; the feverish desire for immediate results; the awakened conviction that Christianity is nothing if not practical; the new sense of responsibility for the condition of our fellows; the large increase of all sorts of domestic, evangelistic, and missionary work among all churches in this day-things to be profoundly thankful for, like all other good things have their possible dangers; and it is laid on my heart to warn you of these now. For the sake of our own personal hold on Jesus Christ, for the sake of our progress in the knowledge of His truth, and for the sake of the very work which some of us count so precious, there is need that we shall betake ourselves to that still communion. The stream that is to water half a continent must rise high in the lonely hills, and be fed by many a mountain rill in the solitude, and the men who are to keep the freshness of their Christian zeal, and of the consecration which they will ever feel is being worn away by the attrition even of faithful service, can only renew and refresh it by resorting again to the Master, and imitating Him who prepared Himself for a day of teaching in the Temple by a night of communion on the Mount of Olives.

Further, there is here a lesson of tolerance for us all. Practical men are always disposed, as I said, to force everybody else into their groove. Martha is always disposed to think that Mary is idle when she is ‘sitting at Christ’s feet,’ and wants to have her come into the kitchen and help her there. The eye which sees must not say to the hand which toils, nor the hand to the eye, ‘I have no need of thee.’ There are men who cannot think much; there are men who cannot work much. There are men whom God has chosen for diligent external service; there are men whom God has chosen for solitary retired musing; and we cannot dispense with either the one or the other. Did not John Bunyan do more for the world when he was shut up in Bedford Gaol and dreamed his dream than by all his tramping about Bedfordshire, preaching to a handful of cottagers? And has not the Christian literature of the prison, which includes three at least of Paul’s Epistles, proved of the greatest service and most precious value to the Church?

We need all to listen to the voice which says, ‘Come ye apart by yourselves into a solitary place, and rest awhile.’ Work is good, but the foundation of work is better. Activity is good, but the life which is the basis of activity is even more. There is plenty of so-called Christian work to-day which I fear me is not life but mechanism; has slipped off its original foundations, and is, therefore, powerless. Let us tolerate the forms of service least like our own, not seek to force other men into our paths nor seek to imitate them. Let Peter flame in the van, and beard high priests, and stir and fight; and let John sit in his quiet horns, caring for his Lord’s mother, and holding fellowship with his Lord’s Spirit.

III. Lastly, we have here the lesson of patient acquiescence in Christ’s undisclosed will.

The error into which the brethren of the Apostle fell as to the meaning of the Lord’s words was a very natural one, especially when taken with the commentary which John’s unusually protracted life seemed to append to it. We know that that belief lingered long after the death of the Apostle; and that legends, like the stories that are found in many nations of heroes that have disappeared, but are sleeping in some mountain recess, clustered round John’s grave; over which the earth was for many a century believed to heave and fall with his gentle breathing.

John did not know exactly what his Master meant. He would not venture upon a counter-interpretation. Perhaps his brethren were right, he does not know; perhaps they were wrong, he does not know. One thing he is quite sure of, that what his Master said was: ‘If I will that he tarry.’ And he acquiesces quietly in the certainty that it shall be as his Master wills; and, in the uncertainty what that will is, he says in effect: ‘I do not know, and it does not much matter. If I am to go to find Him, well! If He is to come to find me, well again! Whichever way it be, I know that the patient tarrying here will lead to a closer communion hereafter, and so I leave it all in His hands.’

Dear brethren! that is a blessed state that you and I may come to; a state of quiet submission, not of indifference but of acquiescence in the undisclosed will of our loving Christ about all matters, and about this alternative of life or death amongst the rest. The soul that has had communion with Jesus Christ amidst the imperfections here will be able to refer all the mysteries and problems of its future to Him with unshaken confidence. For union with Him carries with it the assurance of its own perpetuity, and ‘in its sweetness yieldeth proof that it was born for immortality.’ The Psalmist learned to say, ‘Thou shalt afterward receive me to glory,’ because he could say, ‘I am continually with Thee.’ And in like manner we may all rise from the experience of the present to confidence in that immortal future. Death with his ‘abhorred shears’ cuts other close ties, but their edge turns on the knot that binds the soul to its Saviour. He who has felt the power of communion with the ever-living Christ cannot but feel that such union must be for ever, and that because Christ lives, and as long as Christ lives, he will live also.

Therefore, to the soul thus abiding in Christ that alternative of life or death which looms so large to us when we have not Christ with us, will dwindle down into very small dimensions. If I live there will be work for me to do here, and His love to possess; if I die there will be work for me to do there too, and His love to possess in still more abundant measure. So it will not be difficult for such a soul to leave the decision of this as of all other things with the Lord of life and death, and to lie acquiescent in His gracious hands. That calm acceptance of His will and patience with Christ’s ‘If’ is the reward of tarrying in silent communion with Him.

My dear friend! has death to you dwindled to a very little thing? Can you say that you are quite sure that it will not touch your truest self? Are you able to leave the alternative in His hands, content with His decision and content with the uncertainty that wraps His decision? Can you say,

‘Lord! It belongs not to my care,

Whether I die or live’?

The answer to these questions is involved in the answer to the other:-Have you trusted your sinful soul for salvation to Jesus Christ, and are you drawing from Him a life which bears fruit in glad service and in patient communion? Then it will not much matter whether you are in heaven or on earth, for in both places and states the essence of your life will be the same, your Companion one, and your work identical. If it be ‘Christ’ for me to live it will be ‘gain’ for me to die.


21:20-24 Sufferings, pains, and death, will appear formidable even to the experienced Christian; but in the hope to glorify God, to leave a sinful world, and to be present with his Lord, he becomes ready to obey the Redeemer's call, and to follow Him through death to glory. It is the will of Christ that his disciples should mind their own duty, and not be curious about future events, either as to themselves or others. Many things we are apt to be anxious about, which are nothing to us. Other people's affairs are nothing to us, to intermeddle in; we must quietly work, and mind our own business. Many curious questions are put about the counsels of God, and the state of the unseen world, as to which we may say, What is this to us? And if we attend to the duty of following Christ, we shall find neither heart nor time to meddle with that which does not belong to us. How little are any unwritten traditions to be relied upon! Let the Scripture be its own interpreter, and explain itself; as it is, in a great measure, its own evidence, and proves itself, for it is light. See the easy setting right such mistakes by the word of Christ. Scripture language is the safest channel for Scripture truth; the words which the Holy Ghost teaches, 1Co 2:13. Those who cannot agree in the same terms of art, and the application of them, may yet agree in the same Scripture terms, and to love one another.What shall this man do? - This question probably means, "What death shall he die?" But it is impossible to ascertain certainly why Peter asked this question. John was a favorite disciple, and perhaps Peter suspected that he would have a happier lot, and not be put to death in this manner. Peter was grieved at the question of Jesus; he was probably deeply affected with the account of his own approaching sufferings; and, with perhaps a mixture of grief and envy, he asked what would be his lot. But it is possible, also, that it was from kindness to John - a deep solicitude about him, and a wish that he might not die in the same manner as one who had denied his Lord. Whatever the motive was, it was a curiosity which the Lord Jesus did not choose to gratify. 21. Peter … saith to Jesus, Lord, and what shall this man do?—What of this man? or, How shall it fare with him? Do is not in the Greek, nor possibly is so properly added: the sense is, What shall become of this man? What shall be his fate? What shall he suffer?

Peter seeing him, saith to Jesus,.... Peter took a great deal of notice of John, and very likely understood, that he meant by his rising up and following Christ, to signify his readiness for service and suffering in the cause of Christ: and therefore says,

Lord, and what shall this man do? The phrase in the original is very short and concise, "Lord, and this what?" The Arabic version renders it, "and this, of what mind is he?" it looks as if he was of the same mind with me to follow thee; but it is better rendered by us, "what shall this man do?" in what work and service shall he be employed, who seems as willing as I am to serve thee? or it may be rendered thus, "and what shall this man suffer?" shall he suffer at all? and if he shall, what kind of death shall he undergo? what will become of him? what will be his end? how will it fare with him? this he said, partly out of curiosity, and partly out of concern for him, they two being associates and intimates, who had a strong affection for each other.

Peter seeing him saith to Jesus, Lord, and what shall this man do?
John 21:21. Peter, however, seeks an explanation, Κύριετί; “Lord, and this man, what of him?”

21. Peter seeing him] Peter therefore seeing him. Once more we see the intimacy between these two Apostles. When S. Peter is told to follow, S. John does so also unbidden; and S. Peter having received his own commission asks about that of his friend. Comp. John 18:15, John 20:1 [15].

and what shall this man do?] Literally, but this man, what? Not so much ‘what shall he do?’ as ‘what about him?’ What is the lot in store for him. The question indicates the natural wish to know the future of a friend, all the more natural after having been told something about his own future. Hence the ‘therefore’ at the beginning of the verse. As usual, S. Peter acts on the first impulse.

John 21:21. Λέγει, saith) He was supposing that he alone has been ordered now to follow the Saviour.—τί, what) We find it easier to devote ourselves to the Divine will, than to lay aside curiosity respecting others, especially our equals, or those nearly so.

Verses 21, 22. - Peter then, seeing this man, saith to Jesus, Lord, and this man, what? What is the duty, place, fate, or honor of this man? Paulus and Tholuck suggest in the words the inquiry, "May not this man come now and hear our intercourse, share in my travail and the like?" Meyer supposes it to be dictated by a certain jealousy or curiosity, a consciousness of contrast between his own impetuosity and the beloved disciple's quietude and self-possession. Clearly the inquiry was not altogether pleasing to the Lord, and led him once more to reiterate the original injunction, If I will that he abide until I come, what is that to thee? Follow thou me. Do thou follow me, and cease to inquire after another's duty. Meyer considers that the μένειν is the opposite to ἀκολουωεῖν - that the latter word means "following unto death and martyrdom," while the former means "to be preserved alive," and turns to Philippians 1:25 and 1 Corinthians 15:6 in vindication. Doubtless that was the crude explanation which led to the subsequent legend of his immortality on earth, and the apostle's own disclaimer; but the word μένειν seems to be used in John 1:37, 39, 40, and in many other places, of the complement and entire fulfillment of the idea and practice of ἀκολουθεῖν - of that abiding in Christ which is the full result of heartfelt following and unquestioning submission to the Savior's will (John 15:4, 5, 10; see also 1 John 2:6, 17, 24, 26; 1 John 3:24; 1 John 4:15). Taking with these passages the corresponding and alternative use of the word to express the manner in which God, truth, or love "abides" in the child of God, it would seem as though it were the keynote of much of John's most mature experience - a fact which is very remarkably elucidated by the passage before us. Baur, Hilgenfeld, Schwegler, Strauss, have urged from this passage that the writer was contending against the Petrine tendency in the Church, by representing John as the higher and more distinguished apostle; and, according to Kostlin, a precisely opposite expression was conveyed by the unknown writer, who meant to flatter the Roman primacy, in the second century, by the dignities thus conferred upon the chief of the apostles. Both hypotheses are baseless. The beloved disciple quietly accepts here the role of "abiding," "waiting," "resting in the Lord," and admits the superior energy and constant initiation which Peter was, as a man, constrained to pursue. There is no jealousy between them, nor the hint of it. John receives more than he asks. "If I will that he abide till I come," etc., has been variously interpreted (the condition is not a simple supposition, there is a probability or uncertainty in the period of the "abiding" - the apodosis declares the as yet unuttered condition to be without bearing on Peter's immediate duty). Some have said that it means, "If I will that he enjoy the long life and the natural death of one who rests with Christ until he comes to take him home by a quiet departure, until he comes to receive him to himself" (John 14:3. So Ewald and Olshausen). This view is improbable, because most certainly in that sense, Peter too followed and tarried and abode with Christ till the day when he was taken home. Luthardt suggests that the saying, as here given and interpreted by John himself, not of physical immortality, but of the coming itself, is John's way of asserting that the Lord has come; that in the fall of Jerusalem, A.D. 70, the destruction of the theocracy, and the obvious establishment of the true kingdom in all the world was the "coming," the παρουσία, the ἔρχομαι, of which the Savior had always spoken. John "sees the coming of the Lord in that event." In this general interpretation, Stier and Hengstenberg concur. Westcott throws more light upon it by wisely emphasizing (ἕως ἔρχομαι) the coming, not as one great event, but that continuous realization of his return which is the lofty privilege of faith; and shows that in numerous places ἕως points, not so much to the ultimate consummation, as to the interval which will elapse between the commencement and the consummation of the coming (cf. John 9:4; John 12:35; Mark 6:45 (with ἀπολύει); 1 Timothy 4:13; Luke 19:2; Matthew 5:25). How frequently has Christ spoken, in the latest discourses, of coming again, to fill the sorrowing with joy, to teach in the power of the Comforter, to judge the prince of this world, to raise and quicken the dead! Such abiding is the full issue of faithful following. Surely two types of character pervade the whole dispensation the Martha and the Mary types; the faithful servant who works and trades with his talents, and the virgin who waits for the Bridegroom; and these two types both meet with appropriate advice. Simon is bidden to follow, and, occupied with busy cares of the Church, leave results to Christ; but John, who has passed into the sanctuary of holy love, is encouraged to rest patiently, and in obscurity and silence, to glory and serve by "standing and waiting." John 21:21And what shall this man do (οὗτος δὲ τί;)?

Literally, and this one what?

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