John 20: February 23—Restoration of disciples
Feb 16, 2014

Mark Rathel is a professor of theology at The Baptist College of Florida in Graceville.
Peter boldly, publically professed his allegiance for Jesus. If everyone else abandons you, Peter said, I will never abandon you (Matt. 26.33). Further, he brashly claimed his willingness to die a martyr’s death (John 13:37). 

Yet, the leader of the disciples denied Jesus the night before His death. The individual with a rock-like faith and understanding of Jesus (Matt. 16:15-19) failed under slight pressure. 

What did his discipleship failure mean to Peter? 

What did Peter’s discipleship failure mean to the other disciples and church?

All of us have experienced failures in terms of our obedience to Jesus. Like Peter, we fall because of pride. A believer who messes up does not lose salvation, but a fallen believer needs restoration to vibrant, faithful discipleship? 

How can we experience renewal of our faith and obedience? 

What methodology does Jesus use to restore individual believers after mistakes?

First, Jesus helps fallen believers to recall the early days of relationship with Him (John 21:1-8). Notice the steps in Peter’s restoration. First, the process of Peter’s restoration began as he obeyed. Despite Peter’s denial of Jesus, he did not stop obeying Jesus. The angel at the tomb instructed the women to tell the disciples and Peter that the resurrected Jesus would meet them in Galilee (Mk. 16:8). 

The angel specifically singled out Peter in his words as an encouragement. Peter obediently traveled to Galilee. Restoration begins as an individual obeys Jesus today. If Peter had not returned to Galilee (the Sea of Tiberias is also named the Sea of Galilee), then he never would experience restoration. Second, Jesus helped Peter to recall his failure. The term “charcoal fire” (v. 9) only occurs twice in the Bible—John 21:9 and the first denial of Peter in John 18:18. No doubt, when Peter saw the fire, he remembered his cowardice. Third, Jesus helped Peter recall a devotional time in the apostle’s life. The catch of fish described in John 21 recalls a similar event in Luke 5:1-11. At an earlier miraculous catch of fish, Peter worshiped Jesus, confessed his sinfulness, affirmed Jesus as Lord, and received a commission to serve Jesus (Lk. 5:8-10). 

At times, the way forward in our relationship with Christ is to go back in our minds to a key transformative encounter with Jesus. John states that Peter and the others got into the boat—the one definite, specific boat. Perhaps the miraculous catch of fish in John 22 involved the same boat as the miraculous catch of fish in Luke 5.

Second, Jesus calls fallen believers to repentance (John 21:15-17). Peter arrogantly professed his bold allegiance to Jesus yet denied Him. Like a skillful surgeon, Jesus probed the open wound of Peter’s denial. The process of probing the wounded heart of Peter grieved him (John 21:17). Peter denied Jesus three times. Three times Jesus asked Peter about his love. After probing into the matter of Peter’s love, Jesus assigned Peter the task of feeding and caring for the sheep. 

In essence, Jesus said to Peter—“A verbal expression of love is easy but actions speak louder than words.” A changed life demonstrates true repentance.

Many preachers mistakenly make a distinction between the two words used for love here—agape and phile—and claim that agape love is a higher God-like love. Twice Jesus asked if Peter loved him (agape). Peter responded to Jesus that he loved Him (phile). The terms are synonymous. The Pharisees loved the praise of men with an agape type love (John 12:43) and God loves humans with a phile type love (Titus 3:4). 

Jesus pointed out that true love leads to obedient responsibility. Feed and take care of my sheep! Peter charged fellow ministers with the same task (1 Pet. 5:1-2).


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