The gospel text for this Sunday [John 21:1-14] is from the very last chapter of the four gospel accounts—if they are in their usual order. This fact alone helps us have a broader perspective.
The previous chapter, John 20, ended with this already broad perspective:
Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name (verses 30 & 31).
Many have thought that the account should end there. But there is more. It should be noted that all the ancient manuscripts also include the next chapter. This chapter contains the ‘third time that Jesus was revealed (John 21:14; note that the text does not say that Jesus revealed himself; there is Someone working behind the scenes.)’.
The basic text for this Sunday ends at verse 14. So there is the option of including verses 15 through 19. And the chapter goes on until verse 25. Because the reason for this chapter is given within these last verses, the entire section is given here (with the ESV translation). There is a gradual heightening of the excitement level, especially since Peter three times had recently denied he knew Jesus. And the quotation ends with a possible world full of books!
When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?’ He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’ He said to him, ‘Feed my lambs.’ He said to him a second time, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love me?’ He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’ He said to him, ‘Tend my sheep.’ He said to him a third time, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love me?’ Peter was grieved because he said to him a third time, ‘Do you love me?’ And he said to him, ‘Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my sheep. Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but 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.’ (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, ‘Follow me.’
Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them, the one who had been reclining at table close to him and had said, ‘Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?’ When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, ‘Lord, what about this man?’ Jesus said to him, ‘If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!’ So the saying spread 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?’
This is the disciple who is bearing witness about these things, and who had written these things, and we know that his testimony is true.
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.
After the 1700’s, because of the many advancements in civilization, some people were very optimistic that they could write down record about the past and therefore reconstruct it ‘as it actually happened’ (see the works of L. von Ranke). Looking at the last sentence of the quote above, there seems to be an optimism there as well. But it seems to be an optimism focused on the amazing actions of Jesus.
It also seems that the writer of this gospel account lived a while after Jesus ascended into heaven—that was certainly the tradition. (It is interesting that the word ‘saying’ that spread about the writer being around until Jesus’ return is the same Greek word for ‘word’ in the very first verses of this account; there is an important 'Word' at the very beginning of this account and a not-so-important 'word' at the very end.) And it also seems that more than one person has asked the writer not only if he would live until Jesus came back, but it seems he was also being asked for even more details about Jesus.
When a person wants what ACTUALLY happened, that person is asking for a lot. It seems that the writer of this chapter is giving them something extra, something that may not necessarily have been given so that the reader or the listener believes in the name of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and has life in that name.
Do you want something that interests you, or do you want something that saves you? Do you want something that activates your brain, or do you want something that saves your entire body? This chapter is a good reminder that it is easy for us to get distracted from the most amazing action of Jesus. That special Word was made flesh, and that flesh went to the cross and the (eventually empty) tomb for sinful mankind.