Lenten Reflections

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John 21:20-25

April 9, 2024
John 21:20-25

20 Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them, the one who also had leaned back against him during the supper and had said, “Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?” 21 When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, “Lord, what about this man?” 22 Jesus said to him, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!” 23 So the saying spread abroad among the brothers that this disciple was not to die; yet Jesus did not say to him that he was not to die, but, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?”

24 This is the disciple who is bearing witness about these things, and who has written these things, and we know that his testimony is true.

25 Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.


Peter has been beautifully reinstated and told to follow Jesus again. Then Peter looks over his shoulder and sees “the disciple whom Jesus loved” already doing just that. Peter asks, “Lord, what about this man?” “What is going to happen to him?” Some think this is an understandable question to ask. The disciples have already done so much together. Jesus has told Peter that he will glorify God by dying as a martyr. “When you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go” (verse 18). It seems perfectly natural for Peter to ask if the beloved disciple, presumably John, will share the same fate. But other commentators see more than a hint of competition in Peter’s question. Peter is all too human and easily succumbs to old patterns of thought and behavior. But Jesus responds by saying: “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!” In effect, Jesus says: “It’s none of your business.” Or as my dad used to say when we were young: “Pull your own little red wagon.”

Here we have two apostles. Both have been charged to follow Jesus, but they have been given two different callings. One is entrusted with taking good care of God’s people and will glorify God through the way that he dies. The other is called to bear witness to Jesus in another way and will glorify God through what he does. Both are necessary and vital. Neither is better or more important than the other. But as so often happens, Peter falls into the trap of comparing himself to John. It is especially sad when Christians play the comparison game. Whether out of envy or ambition, we look over our shoulder at one another. Sometimes it is as simple as wishing we could do what the other does so well. Sometimes it is as dangerous as wishing the other might falter so we can get ahead. Regardless of the motivation, Jesus’ advice to Peter is what we need to hear. We might think that if we could swap roles with another, we could do a better job. But as Tom Wright has said: “God doesn’t make casting mistakes.” God has you where he wants you. He loves you without condition. So be content. Forget the comparisons and focus on your own unique calling. Jesus’ words to you are: “You, follow me!”

Jesus tells Peter to concentrate on his own calling, but apparently, this caused a rumor to spread that John was not going to die. You can imagine how this would create a crisis within the early church. If you thought Jesus had said this and then you notice that John was getting up there in years, it would make you nervous that maybe Jesus is not going to return. Perhaps at the time of writing, all the other apostles have died and John is the only one left. John, therefore, feels it necessary to squelch the rumor. He clarifies that Jesus never said he was not going to die, but only that it was no concern of Peter’s what happened to John.

Finally, John, the beloved disciple, reveals that he is that one bearing witness to these things and the author of this book. Peter was specifically called to take care of God’s people and John was called to bear witness to Jesus. He was just the right person for the job. He was with Jesus from the beginning, and he drew especially close to Jesus over the ensuing years. John was uniquely qualified to provide us with what is perhaps the most intimate portrait of Jesus, and he assures us that his testimony is true.  He acknowledges that there are many more things that Jesus did. Were every one of them written, the world itself could not contain the number of books. No amount of books will ever exhaust the meaning of Jesus. 

What did “the beloved disciple” hope you would gain from his testimony about Jesus? Did it work?