Luther’s Notes on the Gospel: St John the Apostle (December 27)

John 21:19-24
New King James Version

 19 This He spoke, signifying by what death he would glorify God. And when He had spoken this, He said to him, “Follow Me.”
20 Then Peter, turning around, saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following, who also had leaned on His breast at the supper, and said, “Lord, who is the one who betrays You?” 21 Peter, seeing him, said to Jesus, “But Lord, what about this man?” 22 Jesus said to him, “If I will that he remain till I come, what is that to you? You follow Me.” 23 Then this saying went out among the brethren that this disciple would not die. Yet Jesus did not say to him that he would not die, but, “If I will that he remain till I come, what is that to you?” 24 This is the disciple who testifies of these things, and wrote these things; and we know that his testimony is true.

Luther’s Explanatory Notes

19 This spake he, signifying by what death he should glorify God. And when he had spoken this, he saith unto him, Follow me.

Three questions to Peter. Christ asks Peter three times, whether he loved him, and Peter answers three times, “Yea, Lord, thou knowest that I love thee,” and Christ bids him three times, “Feed my sheep.”

The manner of Peter’s death. There upon he announces to him his death, and says to him : Verily, verily, I say unto thee, “When thou wast young,” etc. Then immediately this gospel follows: “Follow thou me,” as if he would say, As this is to come to pass, then remember and follow me; yield thyself willingly unto death. For that this following signifies death, is plain enough, and all the disciples also understand it thus, as the Evangelist says: “This spake he signifying by what death he should glorify God.” Here the Lord gives the reason why he should die; for Christ had to die; therefore we must all travel this way unto death. But this is the right following, that we be of like mind with the Lord Christ, and that we are ready, without any opposition, when God says, You must die. But this will go hard, when he is told, “Another shall gird thee, and carry thee whither thou wouldest not.” It will also be hard for us; but this shall help and comfort us, that Christ himself was sorrowful even unto death.


20 Then Peter, turning about, seeth the disciple whom Jesus loved following; which also leaned on his breast at supper, and said, Lord, which is he that betrayeth thee? 21 Peter seeing him saith to Jesus, Lord, and what shall this man do? 22 Jesus saith unto him, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? Follow thou me.

Lord what shall this man do? Here a remarkable teaching is given us, which we should well take to heart, when Christ says to Peter: Follow me, as if he had said: Look at me and hear what I tell you; he does not wish that he should see where John would remain. It is a necessary and wholesome teaching, that every one should wait to hear what is bidden him, and to take care of his own vocation. It is a common mistake that we look upon the works of the saints, to see how they walked, and also try to walk as they did, and imagine it was excellently well done. No, says Jesus, not so, take care of your own works, do what I tell you ; he, (John,) will take care of his part. God cares not for works, but for obedience. 1 Samuel 15:22.

23. Then went this saying abroad among the brethren, that that disciple should not die; yet Jesus said not unto him, He shall not die; but, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee?

The saying that John should not die. Though John only is named, as the disciple whom Jesus loved, and who should not die, as they imagine, yet not one of them murmurs or envies him on that account, but: “A saying went abroad among the brethren;” they talked of it as brethren, and wished him well. And this is no small virtue, which many great people lack. This is a common plague, that every one is dissatisfied with his own condition, and sighs for that of another, as though that were better.

“Yet Jesus said not unto him, he shall not die; but if I will, that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee?” The Evangelist says, Jesus has not said he should not die; and yet he does not say that he should die, he leaves it therefore undecided.

Mystical Interpretation. — Let us take John as faith, or the inner life of the soul in faith; St. Peter as works, or the outward life in works; yet so that they are not separated from each other in one man. God does not contract his doctrine so narrow that it can be referred to one class of people only, and not to all.

Now, what the contemplative life is John points out in verse 20. That it is the disciple whom Jesus loved, who also leaned on his breast at the supper, and said, “Lord, which is he that betrayeth thee?” In these words the true kind of faith is collectively pointed out.

First, that the disciple does not name himself; for faith makes no names.

Secondly, he is the disciple whom the Lord loved; for Christ loves none but those who have faith.

Thirdly, he it is, “who leaned on the Lord’s breast at the supper.” O, what a great thing it is, that faith has the heart of Christ; that is, has all the treasures of Christ and all right understanding.

Fourthly, this is the disciple who said to Jesus: “Lord, which is he that betrayeth thee?” This means, that only faith knows the false doctrines and the false works; and yet not until it inquires into it and at tends to it. It will become known to the disciple who diligently searches into it.

But faith must also be succeeded by love. Of this Peter is here an example. This is nothing else than to serve the neighbor as faith realizes that God hath served us. Now, we see what it means, that John should remain and Peter should follow. (v. 22.) Faith remains till Christ comes, then it ceaseth; but the work must perish and be despised.

Luther’s Explanatory Notes on the Gospels, pp. 403-404.

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