Appearances to the Apostles
In our last chapter we looked at John's description of the Lord's death, burial and resurrection. We noticed that he spent little time describing the details of these things focusing rather on the reaction of various individuals to these events.
- Pilate who condemned Him.
- The soldiers who tortured and mutilated His body and in so doing fulfilled prophecy.
- Joseph and Nicodemus who buried Him.
- Mary Magdalene who was the first disciple to discover the empty tomb after His resurrection.
- Peter and John who were the first Apostles to see the evidence of His resurrection at the empty tomb.
- And once again, Mary Magdalene who returned to the tomb and was the first to actually see and speak to Jesus after His resurrection.
John examines all of these as he describes their varying degrees of faith as they witness and are affected by every stage of the Lord's death, burial and resurrection.
As we pick up John's gospel in chapter 20:19, we will see how John describes Jesus' actual appearance and interaction with His Apostles after His resurrection.
The Bible records at least eleven appearances by Jesus after His resurrection:
- Appearance to Mary Magdalene (Mark 16:9-11; John 20:11-18)
- Appearance to the other women with her (Matthew 28:8-10; Mark 16:8)
- Appearance to Peter (Luke 24:34; I Corinthians 15:5)
- Appearance to two disciples on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:34)
- Appearance to the Apostles without Thomas (Mark 16:14; Luke 24:36; John 20:19-23)
- Appearance to the Apostles with Thomas (John 20:24-29)
- Appeared to the Apostles by the Sea of Galilee (John 21:1-24)
- Appearance to the Apostles on the mountain to give the great commission (Matthew 28:16-20; Mark 16:15-18; I Corinthians 15:7)
- Appearance to 500 and James (l Corinthians 15:6-7)
- Appearance to the Apostles at the moment of His ascension (Mark 16:19; Luke 24:50-53; Acts 1:9-12)
- Appearance to Paul the Apostle after His ascension (I Corinthians 15:8)
These may not be the only appearances, but they are the only ones that the Bible records. John in his final chapters only chooses to describe 4 of the 11 appearances, and then makes a few summary statements to end his gospel.
Jesus appears to the Apostles 20:19-23
John has already described Jesus' first appearance to Mary Magdalene and now switches the scene to the Apostles. In the meantime, the Lord has appeared to the other women, and privately to Peter.
Vs. 19-20 – So when it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and when the doors were shut where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, "Peace be with you." And when He had said this, He showed them both His hands and His side. The disciples then rejoiced when they saw the Lord.
Note that even if the Apostles knew about the resurrection from the reports of the women, Peter, and the disciples from Emmaus, they were still frightened and confused, holding up in locked quarters. They feared being killed by the Jews in the same way their leader was. If He could be killed, how could they survive? Note also that Peter is not able to calm their fears, even with the news and proof of Christ's resurrection.
Jesus simply appears among them. He is no longer limited by human weakness and now demonstrates the power of His glorified state.
He greets them with a common greeting, but coming from Him a greeting that means so much more. His appearance will truly bring peace to their troubled hearts. They are convinced it is He and not a ghost or some hallucination or dream when He shows them the scars on His hands and side. This is the first time they rejoice, they did not at the news given to them by the others concerning the resurrection.
Vs. 21-23 – So Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you; as the Father has sent Me, I also send you." And when He had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit.If you forgive the sins of any, their sins have been forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they have been retained."
In these verses Jesus does three important things:
- He commissions them on behalf of the Father to continue His work of calling all men to God.
- He gives them the Holy Spirit to dwell within them thus fulfilling His promise to them in chapter 16. They had already been baptized to fulfill God's command through John the Baptist, now that Jesus is risen they receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. After they begin to preach the gospel, those who respond will receive the same gift of the Holy Spirit from Jesus in the waters of baptism (Acts 2:38).
- He grants them the authority to carry out the great commission. Through their preaching and teaching, sin will be forgiven or retained depending on the response of the hearers.
The appearance to Thomas – vs. 24-29
The next appearance occurs a week later, to the Apostles again but this time with Thomas present.
Vs. 24-25 – But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples were saying to him, "We have seen the Lord!" But he said to them, "Unless I see in His hands the imprint of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe."
John explains Thomas' reluctance to believe. His disbelief does not drive him to sin or to abandon his fellow Apostles. He merely sets conditions on God before he will completely accept the news of Christ's resurrection. "I will believe it when I see it."
Vs. 26-29 – After eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors having been shut, and stood in their midst and said, "Peace be with you." Then He said to Thomas, "Reach here with your finger, and see My hands; and reach here your hand and put it into My side; and do not be unbelieving, but believing." Thomas answered and said to Him, "My Lord and my God!" Jesus said to him, "Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed."
Jesus appears again and provides the proof Thomas requires. He admonishes Thomas and encourages him to believe. Thomas shows his belief by declaring his faith and worshipping Jesus. This is another way of demonstrating our faith, by worshipping the Lord.
In His response the Lord admonishes Thomas because he refused to believe based on the sight and witness of others (the women, Peter, the disciples from Emmaus, the other Apostles), he wanted to see for himself.
While Jesus was with them this was possible and the Lord graciously granted Thomas' demand, such is the Lord's love and mercy. However, in the future, faith would be based on the sight and witness of others (the Apostles and their writings) and Jesus pronounces a blessing on those who would believe in this way. Thomas was there, he saw, but the blessing Jesus pronounces does not include him, only those, like us, who believe without seeing.
Conclusion and Summary #1 – 20:30-31
Vs. 30-31 – Therefore many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.
John ends his gospel, for all intents and purposes, in verse 29. He ends it with a proclamation of faith from one who has seen the evidence before him. One last example of the cycle of faith we have seen repeated over and over again in his gospel.
His first closing, therefore, is a summary statement that describes what the purpose of his book was. The things written in this book are only a portion of the miracles, teachings, events in the life of Jesus, but they have been recorded as a witness to bring the reader into the cycle of faith.
All the stories of faith or disbelief lead up to asking the reader himself to decide if he or she will be counted among the believers or the disbelievers.
Appearance to the Apostles by the sea – 21:1-24
In chronological order this would be the seventh time Jesus appeared but John selects this as his third example. It is unusual that after his concluding and summary statement John would add another description of Jesus' interaction with the Apostles after his resurrection. Some scholars say that this chapter was added by someone else at another time. Biblical research shows, however, that no copies of John's gospel have ever been found without the 21st chapter. This means that it has always been in this format. John, then, is the author of chapter 21 but the manner in which it was written may have varied from the first 20 chapters. We will discuss this later. Chapter 21 could be considered an "epilogue," the part that comes after the main story.
Vs. 1 – After these things Jesus manifested Himself again to the disciples at the Sea of Tiberias, and He manifested Himself in this way.
John sets the scene and the event that will take place. Note that Jesus appears in Jerusalem, in Galilee and in between; to women, to men, to individuals, groups, indoors, outdoors, night and day over a period of 40 days. Unlike other religious leaders or prophets where there is just one appearance and it is usually to only one person in a secluded spot. Jesus appears everywhere to many.
Vs. 2-3 – Simon Peter, and Thomas called Didymus, and Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, and the sons of Zebedee, and two others of His disciples were together. Simon Peter said to them, "I am going fishing." They said to him, "We will also come with you." They went out and got into the boat; and that night they caught nothing.
The Apostles are still together but are waiting for the next step in their ministry: they have seen the Lord and they have received the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
Peter is agitated, impatient with all of this waiting so he decides to go back to the familiar task of fishing. They may have needed money or food because their supporters may have gone into hiding after the crucifixion. A familiar scene begins to develop as they fish all night and catch nothing.
Vs. 4-6 – But when the day was now breaking, Jesus stood on the beach; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. So Jesus said to them, "Children, you do not have any fish, do you?" They answered Him, "No." And He said to them, "Cast the net on the right-hand side of the boat and you will find a catch." So they cast, and then they were not able to haul it in because of the great number of fish.
Jesus again appears and calls out to them regarding their catch and they respond to Him by trying the other side of the boat. The miracle is instantaneous as a full catch is made on the other side of the boat.
Vs. 7-8 – Therefore that disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, "It is the Lord." So when Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put his outer garment on (for he was stripped for work), and threw himself into the sea. But the other disciples came in the little boat, for they were not far from the land, but about one hundred yards away, dragging the net full of fish.
Much like Mary Magdalene whose grief and anxiety kept her from recognizing the Lord, Peter's focus on the task at hand prevents him from recognizing the Lord until John points Him out. Peter's enthusiasm cannot wait for the boat as he plunges into the sea to make his way to the shore. The others follow in not wanting to lose the catch.
Vs. 9-11 – So when they got out on the land, they saw a charcoal fire already laid and fish placed on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, "Bring some of the fish which you have now caught." Simon Peter went up and drew the net to land, full of large fish, a hundred and fifty-three; and although there were so many, the net was not torn.
They had caught fish but Jesus already had a fire going with fish and bread prepared for them! The better translation of what Jesus says to them is, "...before you eat with Me, go take care of the fish you have caught."
They have caught a lot of fish that are not yet sorted. Their breakfast is cooking so Jesus tells them to take care of the catch. They do so and after the smaller or inedible fish are thrown back in, 153 fish are kept. There is no symbolism in the number of fish. John provides these small details to complete the vividness of the scene, the very real and natural activity that was taking place in an extraordinary moment. A regular fishing trip and a regular breakfast with a regular group except that Jesus, the resurrected Lord, is present. In other words, the event is extraordinary but not bizarre or dreamlike.
Vs. 12-14 – Jesus said to them, "Come and have breakfast." None of the disciples ventured to question Him, "Who are You?" knowing that it was the Lord. Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and the fish likewise. This is now the third time that Jesus was manifested to the disciples, after He was raised from the dead.
John continues his very matter-of-fact like description of a very special moment as the Apostles sit quietly eating the food Jesus has prepared for them. They know who He is and how exceptional this all is and John adds that this is Jesus' third appearance to them as a group. John is the only gospel writer to describe all three appearances of Jesus to the Apostles as a group without other people present: without Thomas, with Thomas, and near the Sea of Galilee.
Vs. 15-17 – So 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, "Tend My lambs." He said to him again 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, "Shepherd My sheep." He said to him the third time, "Simon, son of John, do you love Me?" Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, "Do you love Me?" And he said to Him, "Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You." Jesus said to him, "Tend My sheep.
We know that Jesus has already appeared to Peter alone (Luke 24:34; I Corinthians 15:5) but have no information on that meeting. Since Jesus has already included him among the faithful Apostles when He told the women to "...tell His disciples and Peter" (Mark 16:7), we can surmise that Peter received forgiveness for his sin of denial at that time. He was also with the Apostles when Jesus appeared and gave them the Holy Spirit and authorized them to go into the world as Jesus was sent into the world (John 20:19-23).
This dialogue between them, therefore, was recorded to publicly restore him, confirm his apostleship and ministry, and acknowledge his repentance and approval by the Lord. He does this by asking three questions:
Question #1: Do you love Me more than these?
This is a reference to his former boasting self ("I am ready to die for you"), a claim that his love was superior to the other Apostles. Jesus asks, "Is your love still greater than these?"
Answer #1: Peter, humbled by his past failures, answers more in line with the truth. The Lord knows the extent of his love. He no longer claims any more than what the Lord knows to be true. To this more honest and realistic response Jesus gives him the commission of pastoral leadership. This does not make Peter the leader of the Apostles; he is not to feed the other Apostles, he is to lead and feed the flock (believers) like the other Apostles. They had not betrayed Jesus as he had done, they did not need to be restored to their apostolic role as he did.
Question #2: Do you love Me?
This time there is no comparison to others. After all that has happened (the denials) do you really love Me? Peter's actions were not born of love, but out of fear and self-preservation.
Answer #2: Peter answers in the same way, putting his confidence in Jesus and the Lord's ability to see Peter's heart, knowing that the love he does have is true.
Jesus builds on this to point Peter again to the flock directing him to invest his love of Jesus into the care of the flock. In other words, this is how you will prove your love for Me: take care of My sheep. The first command redirects Peter to his task, the second gives him the motivation for it.
Question #3: Jesus asks a third time about his love.
Answer #3: Peter's anguish is based on the fact that this third question makes clear the purpose for all the questions, and that is to purge the three previous denials in a public way. Peter left the circle of the apostleship with three categorical denials of the Lord. Jesus reinstates him publicly with three affirmations of love, and confidence that Jesus knows his heart. The Lord finishes again with an admonition to care even for the smallest and weakest of His flock. Now that Peter knew about failure, weakness and total dependence, he was ready to care for these same souls within the family of God.
Vs. 18-24 – Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were younger, you used to gird yourself and walk wherever you wished; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands and someone else will gird you, and bring you where you do not wish to go." Now this He said, signifying by what kind of death he would glorify God. And when He had spoken this, He said to him, "Follow Me!" Peter, turning around, saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them; the one who also had leaned back on His bosom at the supper and said, "Lord, who is the one who betrays You?" So Peter seeing him said to Jesus, "Lord, and what about this man?" Jesus said to him, "If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow Me!" Therefore this saying went out among the brethren that that disciple would not die; yet Jesus did not say to him that he would not die, but only, "If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you?" This is the disciple who is testifying to these things and wrote these things, and we know that his testimony is true.
These verses are self-explanatory, even meant to clear up confusion that existed before the book of John was written (80-85 AD). Jesus prophesizes the kind of death Peter would experience, a martyr's death. He had boasted that he was willing to die this way before his denials, now Jesus tells him that he will. (Peter was martyred in Rome in 64 AD by Nero, crucified upside down.) Now that he was reinstated, his future death for Christ would glorify God.
Jesus bids Peter to follow Him away from the others and John is seen behind. Peter questions Jesus about John and his future. Jesus answers that John's future is in His hands just like Peter's, and if the Lord wants him to remain alive until the second coming, this is out of Peter's hands.
John explains that the early disciples understood this to mean that John would definitely be alive until Jesus returned. He corrects this error by saying that if Jesus wanted this, it would be so, but this was not a promise. He identifies himself as the witness of the events and writer of the book in order to erase any doubts the reader might have.
Conclusion and Summary #2 – 21:25
Vs. 25 – And there are also many other things which Jesus did, which if they were written in detail, I suppose that even the world itself would not contain the books that would be written.
John's second summary closes the book but leaves open the question of Jesus' life and work. There is enough here to base a decision of belief, but this is definitely not all there is. There is more that you do not know about than what has been recorded, but these other things, like what has been written here, you will have to accept by faith.