John 21:20-25
Et Cetera
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall

John 21:20 (Holman) So Peter turned around and saw the disciple Jesus loved following them. That disciple was the one who leaned back against Jesus at the supper and asked, “Lord, who is the one that’s going to betray you?”

At the end of verse 19, Jesus had said, “Follow Me.” He then evidently began to walk away from the camp fire. Peter was to follow as a symbol of what the rest of his life would be – a following of Jesus.

Peter, however, reverted to his old habit of taking his eyes off Jesus. He turned and saw our author following close behind. This was John the beloved, the one who had rested his head in the bosom of the One who had come from the bosom of the Father (1:18).

John 21:21 When Peter saw him he said to Jesus, “Lord – what about him?”

One thing that makes it hard for us to follow Jesus is our desire to snoop into other people’s lives. Peter had received harsh news; he will suffer and die for Jesus.

The Apostle wanted to know if others were going to face the same afflictions. Peter was curious, will he suffer alone, or will others share his fate?

The Apostle was slipping back into the bad habit of wanting to manage other people’s lives. Peter had been restored, but still was not perfect. “They that dream of perfection here suffer a merry madness” (Trapp).

John 21:22 “If I want him to remain until I come,” Jesus answered, “what is that to you? As for you, follow Me.”

We sense an obvious tone of reproof in Jesus’ voice. The Master was not interested in satisfying Peter’s curiosity. What happened to another disciple was not Simon’s business. Impulsive Peter had to realize some things were outside his realm of authority.

Jesus rules in the affairs of people. “The hands that were nailed to the cross turn the keys of death and Hades” (Maclaren).

We have the right to look at others only when the motive is love. It is one thing to ask, “What shall I do for this person?” and quite another to ask, “What shall this person do?” The former question is needed, the latter presumptuous.

Fortunately, Peter learned his lesson well. The sting of this rebuke may have helped prompt his later writing of these words: “None of you, however, should suffer as a murderer, a thief, an evildoer, or as a meddler” (I Peter 4:15).

John 21:23 So this report spread to the brothers that this disciple would not die. Yet Jesus did not tell him that he would not die, but, “If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you?”

John here dealt with an error that arose in the early church. The beloved friend of Jesus became the darling of Jesus’ church. John became highly venerated. Even the disciples seemingly never begrudged the special place John held in the eyes of Jesus and His people. Evidently they all loved him too. Because he lived long, and due to Jesus’ words in our text, some began to think John would never die, that he would live until Jesus returned.

John did not live until the return of Jesus, but did live a long gentle life. Peter’s life was one of action, consummated by martyrdom. He was a fighter. John was tender, the kind of person to whom Jesus could entrust His mother.

John became a man of deep thoughts and much contemplation. He walked close to God and wrote this Gospel, the Holy of Holies of the New Testament. He came to know his Lord so well that he was able to perceive, “God is love.” To his communion with Jesus we owe this blessed book, “the pure diamond that hangs at the end of the golden chain let down from Heaven” (Maclaren).

John lived some sixty-five years after the death of Jesus, long enough to hear of the violent deaths of all the other Apostles, including that of his own brother James. Extreme old age makes one a solitary figure. Friends become fewer and fewer. The years would have left John a man with no peers.

John may have often felt the cross he bore was no less heavy than those borne by his martyred comrades. We know he had longings to go home and be with Jesus. His truest yearnings were revealed in his words, “Amen! Come, Lord Jesus!” (Revelation 22:20).

How appropriate that the one most loved by Jesus and the other Apostles would be the last to enter glory. It was so arranged that all the Apostles would be able as a whole group to welcome their beloved home.

John 21:24-25 This is the disciple who testifies to these things and who wrote them down. We know that his testimony is true. And there are also many other things that Jesus did, which, if they were written one by one, I suppose not even the world itself could contain the books that would be written.

John dropped his pen, saying many other things could have been written. This beautiful climax causes the book to end with an “et cetera.” This lovely hyperbole tells us there is much about Jesus we can never know.

John did not write all he knew about Jesus. He had to make a few choices from the mountain of material available. If all had been written down, we would have to spend all our time reading rather than serving.

Our knowledge of God, at best, is partial. When dealing with the life of Jesus, we feel ourselves standing on the shore of a boundless ocean. What we see is nothing compared to what lies beyond the horizon.

I am grateful for the Gospel of John. We owe a debt of gratitude to those who conveyed it to us. An unusual silence pervaded the Monastery of Jarrow in the north of England on the evening of May 26, 735 A.D. The monks were speaking in anxious whispers. One of their aged priests was nearing death, his breathing slow and labored.

Near his bed a young scribe sat with an open scroll and a pen in his
hand. Looking with affectionate tenderness in the face of the dying man, The scribe said, “Dear Master, only one chapter remains, but the exertion is too great for you.”

“It is easy, my son, it is easy,” the dying priest replied, “take your pen, write quickly; I know not how soon my Maker will take me.” Sentence after sentence, feebly uttered, was written by the scribe. There was eventually another long pause. The old priest seemed totally exhausted.

The scribe spoke, “Dear Master, only one more sentence.” The priest’s final words were pronounced slowly and painfully. Finally, the scribe was able to say, “It is finished.”

After the dying saint repeated, “It is finished,” he said, “Lift my head; place me in the spot where I have been accustomed to pray.” With tender care he was placed where he desired. Clasping his hands, and lifting his eyes heavenward, he said, “Glory be to the Father, to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost!” With these last words he passed away. Thus died the venerable Bede, who on his deathbed completed the first translation of the Gospel of John into Anglo-Saxon, mother language of our own native tongue.

As we end this series of sermons on the Gospel of John, we honor Bede, who labored that we might have this precious Gospel in our own language. Can we imagine English literature without the Gospel of John? Who could measure the devastation we would sense at the loss of John 3:16? To know and enjoy the Gospel of John is one of the highest delights of Bible Study. We are grateful for Bede, and an array of others, who made this book available to us.