Part 95 – John 21:21
“What about him?” asked Peter, referring to his close friend ‘the disciple that Jesus loved’, probably John, the writer of this gospel. His question will have been of but small interest when Peter asked it but had become of much greater significance over fifty years later when John had died or it became clear he could not live much longer. (That there was this interest behind the reported question suggests someone else was working with John on this chapter.) Several things Jesus had said had seemed to suggest that he would return before all the disciples had died. One of them is quoted here, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.” Earlier he had said in Mark 9: 1 “Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see that the kingdom of God has come with power.” They had failed to realise that the Kingdom had come quietly when the King, Jesus, came and more openly at his death and resurrection. Unfortunately the idea is still around that we can work out when the kingdom will come in its full splendour even although Jesus warned that “about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” Don’t be one of those misled by folk with more concern for their own apparent cleverness in working out the details of his return than their ability to hear what he actually said.
There is another important point to be learned from this passage. Jesus had just told Peter in verses 18, 19 “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.” Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God.” That is a strong hint that Peter would die by crucifixion as Jesus had done, and as he in fact did about 30 years later. Peter wanted to know whether John would suffer the same fate. Whether that was from concern for his much younger friend or from a sense of wanting to protect him or from a hope that he would not share such a singular privilege (as Peter saw it) is not clear.
This is significant for us, as is the reply of Jesus. In all probability some few of those who read or hear this will live in a country where you are in danger of martyrdom because you hold to a faith that the majority do not agree with. Most of you will not be in such a dangerous situation but can expect to die a natural death when your days are done. For us of the second sort the interesting question is: will we be in some sense second class citizens of the kingdom to come behind those who have been martyred? The clear implication of the reply of Jesus in verse 23 “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you,” is ‘no’ I simply have something different for you to do.
I always feel a bit uncomfortable singing hymns like the one that says ‘All to Jesus I surrender … ‘ when I know perfectly well that I am surrounded by folk who have no real intention of surrendering anything if they can possibly help it, and I am not at all sure about myself either! It seems to me that the really important thing is when I receive a direct challenge from the Lord to do something – how do I respond? I do not have to concentrate on the big things in life that may never come my way, but how do I respond to the small things: what will I not do; what work promotion will I not seek; where will I actually go in the here and now; rather than some grand gesture.
What about you? Do you agree with that attitude? Or how else will you confront the challenges of life for the sake of your Lord and Master?
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