Until He Returns

Peter reflects a natural curiosity about what John’s relationship with Jesus will be. But the words of Jesus in John 21:18-25 are spoken to you as well: “What is that to you. You, follow me!”

Follow Jesus in death and in life. Glorify God even in your death. Peter, who had denied Jesus three times, had just been restored by Jesus with the triple question, “Do you love me?” and Jesus’ admonition to him to feed the sheep. Then Jesus informed Peter about his future. The independent man, who dressed himself and went where he wanted, would, in his age, stretch out his hands and be led where he did not want to go. The early church took this as a reference to Peter’s death by crucifixion, not recorded in Scripture, but reported in early church history.

John does tell you that Jesus spoke these words to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Peter, who had denied his Lord out of fear for his life, would glorify him in his death. How often do you think about your death as something by which to glorify God? You may not, like Peter was, be faced with martyrdom. But your attitude towards death, a willingness to face it when it is the Lord’s will, the assurance that if, to live is Christ, to die is gain, these can all glorify God. It is still the last enemy you will face, but it is an enemy that your Lord has faced before you.

After warning Peter about the kind of suffering and death he would face, Jesus commanded him, “Follow me!” That command echoes through the years to you. Follow Jesus, regardless of the cost, wherever that may lead.

But it is not only in death that you are to follow Jesus. Glorify God in the way that you live. Peter, who apparently had been walking with Jesus, turns and sees John following them. John, ironically is doing what Peter is twice told to do—following Jesus. Peter gives in to idle, nosy, curiosity, and asks Jesus, “What about him?” Jesus’ response is a rebuke to Peter. John’s story is not Peter’s business. “What is that to you?” The first part of what Jesus says, however, (“If I want him to remain alive until I return”) starts the first recorded mistaken church tradition. John clarifies that Jesus had not said that John would not die before his return. The important word, if, was ignored in the report that circulated.

Jesus does not have a prediction about John’s death as he did for Peter. The implication seems to be that John would glorify Jesus by his life. He was probably the only apostle not to be martyred. We find him writing, not only this Gospel, but three letters (probably from Ephesus), and Revelation, from exile on Patmos.

Rarely does a death glorify God if the life that preceded it did not. Rather than speculating about how you might face the pressures of martyrdom, focus on living each day to the glory of God.

Jesus calls you to follow him because he is returning. The return of Christ was not an idea that slowly developed in the early church. Rather, it was part of the teaching of Jesus. John 1 opened with the incarnation. In John 14 Jesus promised not to leave his disciples as orphans. As John concludes his Gospel, he emphasizes the certainty of that return. The first and second coming of Christ bracket Peter’s death, John’s obedience, and your following Jesus.

The Gospel concludes with an affirmation that the testimony of John is true. The good news is factual. It is about the person of Jesus Christ. That message is important in the relativism of our post-modern age. The Apostle has recorded exactly what the Holy Spirit wanted you to know about the person and works of Jesus. Much, much more could have been written. Perhaps, as you look back at John 1:1-4, the author has in mind all the work, not just of the Word made flesh, but the mediating Word who is God from all eternity. In any case you have been given what you need to know.

Bishop Ryle ends his thoughts on this Gospel: “And now let us close the Gospel of St. John with mingled feelings of deep humility and deep thankfulness. We may well be humble when we think how ignorant we are, and how little we comprehend of the treasures which this Gospel contains. But we may well be thankful, when we reflect how clear and plain is the instruction which it gives us about the way of salvation. The man who reads this Gospel profitably, is he who ‘believes that Jesus is the Christ, and believing, has life through his name.’ Do we so believe? Let us never rest until we can give a satisfactory answer to that question!” (J. C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on the Gospels).

Why did John write these things? Your responsibility, as he emphasized to Peter in v. 22, is you follow! It is easy to get caught up in what we think those around us ought to be doing. But you need to focus on Jesus, speaking in his Word. C.S. Lewis puts it well when Aslan says, more than once, no one is told any story but his own.

Because the Lord ascended you cannot walk after him as John did that morning. But you can and you must follow him, the returning Lord.

About jwm

I serve as pastor of Trinity Presbyterian Church, Newberg, Oregon.
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