Setting the Rumor Straight: John 21:15-25

Focus Passage: John 21:15-25 (NIV)

15 When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”

“Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”

16 Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”

17 The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Feed my sheep. 18 Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” 19 Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!”

20 Peter turned and saw that the disciple whom Jesus loved was following them. (This was the one who had leaned back against Jesus at the supper and had said, “Lord, who is going to betray you?”) 21 When Peter saw him, he asked, “Lord, what about him?”

22 Jesus answered, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.” 23 Because of this, the rumor spread among the believers that this disciple would not die. But Jesus did not say that he would not die; he only said, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you?”

24 This is the disciple who testifies to these things and who wrote them down. We know that his testimony is true.

25 Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.

Read John 21:15-25 in context and/or in other translations on BibleGateway.com!

In John’s final story of his gospel, he shares the origins of a rumor that had likely spread for decades about this special disciple’s life. We don’t know if John was the youngest disciple, or if God simply gifted him with more years than the other followers, but the rumor had spread that Jesus would return before John’s death.

Actually, the rumor was more along the lines of John remaining alive until Jesus’ return. Perhaps this gave greater push for spreading the gospel message in the second half of the first century. If you knew that it was up to your generation to finish God’s mission, and that the world was going to end after the second-last member of your generation died, would that make you extra motivated to complete the mission?

It apparently helped the disciples and the early church, because with the Holy Spirit’s power, they expanded rapidly throughout their known world. But the rumor was more a lie than the truth.

After Jesus shared with Peter about the sort of death he would experience, “Peter turned and saw that the disciple whom Jesus loved was following them … When Peter saw him, he asked, ‘Lord, what about him?’” (v. 20-21)

Peter’s question asks about John’s death. Perhaps Peter was wanting to compare himself to the other closest follower of Jesus, or maybe Peter simply wanted to learn how one of the other key disciple’s lives would end.

But Jesus’ response is tricky. Jesus simply states, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.” (v. 22)

This prompts the rumor that John would be alive when Jesus returned, and that John would not die. But John at the close of his gospel states the truth: “Jesus did not say that he would not die; he only said, ‘If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you?’”. (v. 23)

Jesus’ statement to Peter about John’s death is a statement about the importance of keeping our relationship with Jesus personal and strong – and not playing comparison games with others. Jesus wants Peter to focus on Peter and His relationship, and not worry about the relationship that any of the other disciples had. This is emphasized with Jesus echoing His earlier re-invitation by saying “You must follow me.” (v. 22)

Following Jesus must be a personal decision. It must be something each of us decides to on an individual level, and it must be something we recommit to personally each day we are alive. Jesus emphasizes that our relationship with Him should not be based on someone else’s relationship, or on anything anyone else has said or done.

Is John alive in heaven right now? The answer to this question is irrelevant to us. What matters instead is whether we have placed our focus onto our own relationship with Jesus that leads us towards our own eternal life with God.

This thought was inspired by studying the Walking With Jesus "Reflective Bible Study" package. To discover insights like this in your own study time, click here and give Reflective Bible Study a try today!

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