Jesus said to him, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to you? follow you me.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee?—The answer must be taken as reproving the spirit which would inquire into another’s life and work, with the effect of weakening the force of its own. Here, as in all the earlier details of St. Peter’s life, his character is emotional, earnest, loving, but wanting in depth, and not without self-confidence. The words “Follow Me,” the meaning of which he has not missed, may well have led him to thoughts and questions of what that path should be, and the truth may well have sunk into the depth of his heart, there to germinate and burst forth in principle and act. But he is at once taken up with other thoughts. He is told to follow, but is ready to lead. He would know and guide his friend’s life rather than his own. To him, and to all, there comes the truth that the Father is the husbandman, and it is He who trains every branch of the vine. There is a spiritual companionship which strengthens and helps all who join in it; there is a spiritual guidance which is not without danger to the true strength of him that is led, nor yet to that of him who leads.
The word rendered “tarry” is that which we have before had for “abide” (see John 12:34, and comp. Philippians 1:25 and 1Corinthians 15:6). It is here opposed to “Follow Me” (in the martyrdom), and means to abide in life.
The phrase, “If I will that he tarry till I come,” is one of those the meaning of which cannot be ascertained with certainty, and to which, therefore, every variety of meaning has been given. We have already seen that the Coming of the Lord was thought of in more than one sense. (Comp. especially Notes on Matthew 16:28 and Matthew 24; and see also in this Gospel, Note on John 14:3.) The interpretation which has found most support is that which takes the “coming of the Lord” to mean the destruction of Jerusalem, which St. John, and perhaps he only of the Apostles, lived to see. But the context seems to exclude this meaning, for the mistake of John 21:23 would surely have been corrected by a reference to the fact that St. John had survived, and wrote the Gospel after, the “coming of the Lord.” The interpretation which the next verse itself suggests is that our Lord made no statement, but expressed a supposition, “If I will,” “If it even be that I will;” and this both gives the exact meaning of the Greek, and corresponds with the remainder of our Lord’s answer. He is directing St. Peter to think of his own future. and not of his friend’s; and He puts a supposition which, even if it were true, would not make that friend’s life a subject for him then to think of. Had our Lord told him that St. John should remain on earth until His coming, in any sense of the word, then He would have given an answer, which He clearly declined to give.
Follow thou me.—The pronoun “thou” is strongly emphatic. “Thy brother’s life is no matter for thy care. Thy work is for thyself to follow Me.”John 21:22-23. Jesus saith, If I will that he tarry — Without dying; till I come — With power and great glory, to execute the judgment I have threatened on mine enemies. Till then he certainly did tarry, and who can say when or how he died? What is that to thee — Or to any one else? Follow thou me — Mind thou thine own duty, and endeavour to prepare for thine own sufferings, and pry not, with a vain curiosity, into the secret events which may befall him or any other of thy brethren. Then — As this answer was not rightly understood; went this saying abroad among the brethren — That is, among the other followers of Christ; (our Lord himself taught them to use that appellation, John 20:17;) that that disciple should not die; and the advanced age to which he lived gave some further colour for it; yet Jesus said not unto him — Or of him; He shall not die — Not expressly. And St. John himself, at the time of writing his gospel, seems not to have known clearly whether he should die or not; but, If I will, &c. — He only said the words expressed before, which, if St. John understood, he did not think proper to explain.Philippians 1:24-25; 1 Corinthians 15:6.
Till I come - Some have supposed this to refer to the destruction of Jerusalem; others to the day of judgment; others to signify that he would not die a violent death; but the plain meaning is, "If I will that he should not die at all, it is nothing to thee." In this way the apostles evidently understood it, and hence raised a report that he would not die. It is remarkable that John was the last of the apostles; that he lived to nearly the close of the first century, and then died a peaceful death at Ephesus, being the only one, as is supposed, of the apostles who did not suffer martyrdom. The testimony of antiquity is clear on this point; and though there have been many idle conjectures about this passage and about the fate of John, yet no fact of history is better attested than that John died and was buried at Ephesus.
What is that to thee? - From this passage we learn:
1. that our main business is to follow the Lord Jesus Christ.
2. that there are many subjects of religion on which a vain and impertinent curiosity is exercised. All such curiosity Jesus here reproves.
3. that Jesus will take care of all his true disciples, and that we should not be unduly solicitous about them.
if I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? meaning, that if it was his pleasure that he should live, not till his second coming to judge the quick and dead at the last day, but till he should come in his power and take vengeance on the Jewish nation, in the destruction of their city and temple by the Romans, and in dispersing them through the nations of the world; till which time John did live, and many years after; and was the only one of the disciples that lived till that time, and who did not die a violent death; what was that to Peter? it was no concern of his. The question was too curious, improper, and impertinent; it became him to attend only to what concerned himself, and he was bid to do:
follow thou me; whence it may be observed, that it becomes the saints to mind their duty in following Christ, and not concern themselves in things that do not belong to them. Christ is to be followed by his people as their leader and commander; as the shepherd of the flock; as a guide in the way, and the forerunner that is gone before; as the light of the world; as the pattern and example of the saints, and as their Lord and master; and that in the exercise of every grace, as humility and meekness, love, zeal, patience, and resignation to the will of God; and also in the discharge of duty, both with respect to moral life and conversation, and instituted worship, as attendance on public service, and submission to ordinances; and likewise in enduring sufferings patiently and cheerfully for his sake. Saints are under obligation to follow Christ; it is their interest so to do; it is honourable, safe, comfortable, and pleasant, and ends in happiness here and hereafter.Jesus saith unto him, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? follow thou me.
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)John 21:22. Jesus gives, in virtue of His personal sovereignty over the life and death of His own (comp. Romans 14:9), to the unwarranted question, put by Peter, too, not merely out of curiosity, but even from a certain jealousy (Chrysostom, Erasmus, Wetstein, and several others import: out of particular love to John), the answer: that it does not at all concern him, if He have possibly allotted to John a more distant and happier goal, and leads him, who had again so soon turned away his gaze from himself, immediately back to the task of ἈΚΟΛΟΎΘΕΙ ΜΟΙ imposed upon him, John 21:19.
ΜΈΝΕΙΝ] Opposite of the ἈΚΟΛΟΥΘΕῖΝ, to be fulfilled by the death of martyrdom; hence: be preserved in life. Comp. John 12:34; Php 1:25; 1 Corinthians 15:6; Kypke, I. p. 415 f. Olshausen (and so substantially even Ewald) arbitrarily adds, after Augustine, the sense: “to tarry in quiet and peaceful life.”
ἕως ἔρχομαι] By this Jesus means, as the solemn and absolute ἜΡΧΟΜΑΙ itself renders undoubted, His final historical Parousia, which He, according to the apprehension of all evangelists and apostles, has promised will take place even before the passing away of the generation (see note 3 after Matthew 24), not the destruction of Jerusalem, which, moreover, John far outlived (τινὲς in Theophylact, Wetstein, Lange, and several others, including Luthardt, who sees in this destruction the beginning of the Parousia, in opposition to the view of the N. T. generally, and to John 21:23); not the world historical conflict between Christ and Rome, which began under Domitian (Hengstenberg); not the carrying away by a gentle death (Olshausen, Lange, Ewald, after the older expositors, as Ruperti, Clarius, Zeger, Grotius, and several others); not the leading out from Galilee (where John in the meanwhile was to remain) to the scene of Apostolic activity (Theophylact); not the apocalyptic coming in the visions of John’s revelation (Ebrard); not the coming at any place, where John was to wait (Paulus)! See rather John 14:3; 1 John 2:28; 1 John 3:2. On ἕως ἔρχομαι (as 1 Timothy 4:13), as long as until I come, see Buttmann, Neut. Gr. p. 199 [E. T. p. 231]. In σύ μοι ἀκολ., σύ bears the emphasis, in opposition to the other disciples.
 Comp. Luthardt: “only loving interest for his comrade,” to which, however, the reproving τί πρὸς σέ, ver. 22, does not apply.
 Comp. Godet, who, strangely enough, finds here an allusion to the fact that John remained at rest in the boat, and with his comrades (except Peter) towed the full net to land, where Jesus was. This allusion again includes the other, that John, in the history of the development of the founding of the church, received “a calm and collected part.” And with this Godet finally connects: At the great gospel draught of fishes in the Gentile world, where Peter at the beginning stood foremost, “John assisted thereat until the end of the first century, a type of the whole history of the church, and here begins the mystery—perhaps he is therewith associated in an incomprehensible manner until the end of the present economy, until the vessel touches the shore of eternity.” Thus, if we depart from the clear and certain sense of the words, we fall into the habit of phantasy, so that we no longer expound, but invent and create.John 21:22. To which Jesus replies with a shade of rebuke, Ἐὰν … μοι. Peter, in seeking even to know the future of another disciple, was stepping beyond his province, τί πρός σε; σύ ἀκολούθει μοι. Your business is to follow me, not to intermeddle with others. Cf. A Kempis’ description of the man who “neglects his duty, musing on all that other men are bound to do”. De Imit. Christi, ii. 3. Over-anxiety about any part of Christ’s Church is to forget that there is a chief Shepherd who arranges for all. This part of the conversation might not have been recorded, but for a misunderstanding which arose out of it.22. If I will] Christ died and rose again that He might become the Lord and Master both of the dead and the living (Romans 14:9). He speaks here in full consciousness of this sovereignty. For the use of ‘I will’ by Christ comp. John 17:24; Matthew 8:3 and parallels, Matthew 26:39. While the ‘I will’ asserts the Divine authority, the ‘if’ keeps the decision secret.
that he tarry] Better, that he abide; it is S. John’s favourite word which we have had so often (John 1:32-33; John 1:39-40, John 2:12, John 3:36, John 4:40, &c., and twelve times in chap. 15) . S. Peter’s lot was to suffer, S. John’s to wait. For ‘abide’ in the sense of remain in life comp. John 12:34; Php 1:25; 1 Corinthians 15:6.
till I come] Literally, while I am coming. The words express rather the interval of waiting than the end of it. Comp. John 9:4; Mark 6:45. This at once seems to shew that it is unnecessary to enquire whether Pentecost, or the destruction of Jerusalem, or the apocalyptic visions recorded in the Revelation, or a natural death, or the Second Advent, is meant by Christ’s ‘coming’ in this verse. He is not giving an answer but refusing one. The reply is purposely hypothetical and perhaps purposely indefinite. But inasmuch as the longer the interval covered by the words, the greater the indefiniteness, the Second Advent is to be preferred as an interpretation, if a distinct meaning is given to the ‘coming.’
what is that to thee?] The words are evidently a rebuke. There is a sense in which ‘Am I my brother’s keeper?’ is a safeguard against curiosity and presumption rather than a shirking of responsibility.
follow thou me] ‘Thou’ is emphatic, contrasting with the preceding ‘he,’ which is emphatic also.John 21:22. Λέγει, saith) The Divine counsels respecting believers are more concealed than respecting the ungodly. Comp. John 21:20, as to the traitor.—ἐὰν, if) Never did the Lord give an unmixed repulse to His friends, however unseasonable their question might be. For which reason, not even in this instance does He repress Peter with unmixed sternness, but intimates, under the exterior repulse, something of kindness: even as also the αὐτὸν, he or him, which is relative, is more gentle than if He had used τοῦτον, this person, which is demonstrative, in His reply to him. Therefore there is an ambiguity both weighty, and at the same time pleasing, in effect: For the conditional if does not affirm, if Jesus’ words are to be taken of the full completion of His second advent: His words hold good, even absolutely, if they are taken of the first beginnings of His advent. And, indeed, the brethren felt that the if was not altogether, in its rigid strictness, employed by the Lord: although they ought not to have set it aside wholly: John 21:23.—αὐτὸν, that He) So indicative of what was about to happen to Him is given to John, who was less forward to ask the question (for even on the former occasion he had not asked until he was prompted [by Peter] to do so [ch. John 13:24], John 21:20), but who, notwithstanding, wished to ask it. More is revealed to those who are less disposed to pry curiously.—θέλω, I will) Implying the power of Jesus as to the life or death of His people: Romans 14:9, “To this end Christ both died, and rose, and revived, that He might be Lord both of the dead and living.—μένειν, remain, tarry) ‘remain’ on earth. 1 Corinthians 15:6, “The greater part remain unto this present.” On the contrary, the dead are termed ἀπελθόντες, those who have departed. Augustine interprets it expectare, “to await:” expectation or awaiting no doubt follows as the consequence of remaining: but the notion of remaining continues without sacrifice of truth.—ἕως ἔρχομαι, until I come) i.e. until I shall in very deed be coming in glory, and so John will be able to testify of Me in this Present, Behold He cometh [Revelation 1:7]. The time of the Lord’s coming succeeds immediately after the destruction of Jerusalem: Matthew 23:39; Matthew 24:29, note: which advent John obtained the privilege of describing in the Apocalypse. The principal apostles of the twelve were the two, Peter and John: the former, laid the foundation; the latter, the crowning topstone: if a third is to be added, it is James, the first martyr of them, who, moreover, was present also at this feast, rather than at the conversation. The cross was promised in this place, to Peter; to John was promised in an enigmatical manner, that great Apocalypse. And as it were the middle point between this discourse of the Lord and the death of John, was the martyrdom of Peter: the years 30, 67, and 98 of the received era, claiming to themselves respectively these three important events. It is only in this point of view that the antithesis is more fully to be perceived: Peter by death follows Jesus in His departure out of the world: John 21:19, note: but John remains in the world, until He, the same, comes. In truth, the ministry of John, in writing and sending the Apocalypse, is equal [in point of patient suffering] to the cross endured by Peter, by reason of the very severe ordeal of trials to be endured by the former in the meanwhile: Revelation 1:17; Revelation 10:9-10. Nor was the writing of the Apocalypse less profitable to the Church, than Peter’s martyrdom. John, according to the prophecy, was about to remain in life, after having outlived all dangers, until the fit time should arrive, when, almost all his colleagues being long ago dead, the Jewish state overthrown, and the Christian Church established, he was to be the minister of the Apocalypse, the beginning and ending of which is that constantly recurring and solemn expression, He cometh, I come, Come, ch. Revelation 1:7, Revelation 22:20, etc. For it was becoming that the Apocalypse should not be published sooner, and yet that it should be published by an apostle. Wherefore the promise which was formerly given to John, in conjunction with others, Matthew 16:28, (where see the note on the different succession steps of the coming), is now in this passage confined to John alone, in a remarkable, preeminent, and unprecedented manner. Often a thing is said then to come to pass, when it is vividly presented before us as about to be: see note on Acts 13:33. [God said this at the time that the Psalm was composed, speaking of it as a thing then present, because it was then represented as about to be]: for which reason the Lord is said to come in that most vivid, prophetical, and apocalyptical representation. And not only in vision, but in the eyes and feeling of John, and thenceforward after that most solemn denunciation, and most especially at the actual time of John’s death, and subsequently, He is in actual fact rather coming, than about to come. For whilst John remained, the fulfilment began to come to pass, the trumpet having been given even to the seventh angel himself, Revelation 11:15, note. And just as all the forty days after the Resurrection were days of Ascension (John 20:17, note), so at a very brief interval after the Ascension is the time of the Coming to judgment, inasmuch as no other step interposed between, Acts 1:11 [wherein the second coming is joined immediately with the Ascension]: For the sitting at God’s right hand does not differ from the Ascension, except in so far as the actual state differs from the act. Therefore Christ expects, and is ready, Hebrews 10:13; 1 Peter 4:5. In the mention of His coming, all the events on this side of it which the Apocalypse contains, are included. There is one last hour, upon which also the coming of Antichrist falls, 1 John 2:18. Immediately after the Apocalypse, John departed and died (Comp. Luke 2:26; Luke 2:29, Simeon), after great afflictions, by a natural death; as Daniel did, ch. John 12:13; with whom John had much in common. In fine, that sentiment, until John shall write the Apocalypse, could be put forward in these words with as much truth and literal strictness as characterized John at the time when, in writing the Apocalypse, he wrote that the Lord comes. Thus both the forerunners and messengers of the coming of the Lord, His first and His second, were of the one name, John the Baptist and John the Apostle. The history of the Old Testament is arranged by the lives of the patriarchs and kings, and by the weeks of Daniel: whilst the Apocalypse has predicted the periods of the New Testament history, which was about to follow after. The whole of the golden chain is completed in the middle, first by the life of Jesus Christ, then next by the remaining of John, who also alone of the Evangelists has recorded all the Passovers and the years intervening between the baptism of Christ and the time of this discourse: He alone of all has acted the part of a chronologer of all the times of the New Testament. See how great was the dignity conferred on the beloved disciple.—τί πρός σε; what is that to thee?) This brings back the curiosity of Peter to order; but at the same time it much more intimates, that his course would be already ended, whilst John was still doing his work, and was subserving the advent of the Lord. The martyrdom of Peter was consummated several years before the destruction of Jerusalem: that destruction had the Lord’s advent subsequent to it.—σὺ, thou) A weighty and merciful command.—ἀκολούθει μοι, follow Me) The future is contained in the Imperative: Give all thy attention to that which belongs to thee: leave to him (that disciple) what belongs to him. Similarly the Lord’s words concerning John, intimated not only what the Lord wishes to be done, but what is about to be.
What is that to thee (τί πρός σε;)?
Literally, what as concerns thee?
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