Chapter 28: John 20–21

New Testament Student Manual, 2014


Introduction and Timeline for John 20–21

John chapters 20 and 21 record John’s account of the Savior’s post-Resurrection ministry. John recorded the discovery of the empty tomb and the Savior’s appearance to Mary Magdalene and later that day to ten of the Apostles. Upon hearing of the resurrected Savior, Thomas, who had been absent, said, “Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, … I will not believe” (John 20:25). Eight days later Thomas received that opportunity, at which time Jesus taught, “Blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed” (John 20:29). John recorded the Savior’s appearance to His disciples on the shore of the Sea of Tiberias (Galilee) and His charge to Peter to “feed my sheep” (John 21:15–17). John stated his purpose in recording these appearances: “These are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name” (John 20:31).

lesson 28 timeline

Commentary for John 20–21

John 20:1–10. At the Empty Tomb

When Peter and John looked in the tomb, they saw “the linen clothes lie, and the napkin [a separate piece of cloth], that was about his head, not lying with the linen clothes, but wrapped together in a place by itself” (John 20:6–7). That is, the grave clothes were in the same position they had been in when they were placed around Jesus’s body—still wrapped, conforming to the general outline of His body, but now empty, with the head cloth in its place above the linen strips that had wrapped the body.

Elder Bruce R. McConkie (1915–85) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles explained: “Together they view the grave-clothes-linen strips that have not been unwrapped, but through which a resurrected body has passed. And then, upon John … the reality dawns first. It is true! They had not known before; now they do. It is the third day! Christ is risen! ‘Death is swallowed up in victory.’ (1 Cor. 15:54.)” (Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 3 vols. [1965–73], 1:842).

These details about the position of the grave clothes rule out the possibility that Jesus’s body had been taken by grave robbers or Jewish leaders conspiring to prevent claims of a resurrection (see Matthew 28:9–15; John 20:2, 13). Anyone interested in stealing Jesus’s body would have either unwrapped it, leaving the linens behind in a heap, or taken the body while it was still wrapped.

Up to the moment when Peter and John looked into the empty tomb, they had not fully comprehended the scriptural witnesses declaring that the Messiah would rise from the dead as an immortal Being. But in that moment they came to know by the power of revelation and personal experience that Jesus was resurrected.

He Is Risen

He Is Risen, by Dan Burr. After hearing from Mary Magdalene that Jesus’s body was missing from the sepulchre, Peter and John ran to the empty tomb (see John 20:1–4).

John 20:11–18. The Resurrected Lord Appeared to Mary Magdalene (see also Mark 16:9)

Mary Magdalene, or Mary of Magdala, likely came from a town called Magdala on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee. According to Mark 16:9 and Luke 8:2, the Savior cleansed her of “seven devils.” She was a disciple of Jesus Christ and “became one of the closest friends Christ had among women” (James E. Talmage, Jesus the Christ, 3rd ed. [1916], 264). She is the only person mentioned in each of the four Gospels as a witness to the Crucifixion, burial, and empty tomb.

Why Seek the Living among the Dead?

Why Seek the Living among the Dead? by Jan Astle

President James E. Faust (1920–2007) of the First Presidency taught that the Savior’s appearance to Mary Magdalene reflects His esteem for women: “No woman should question how the Savior values womanhood. The grieving Mary Magdalene was the first to visit the sepulchre after the Crucifixion, and when she saw that the stone had been rolled away and that the tomb was empty, she ran to tell Peter and John. The two Apostles came to see and then went away sorrowing. But Mary stayed. She had stood near the cross [see Matthew 27:56; Mark 15:40; John 19:25]. She had been at the burial [see Matthew 27:61; Mark 15:47]. And now she stood weeping by the empty sepulchre [see John 20:11]. There she was honored to be the first mortal to see the risen Lord” (“Woman, Why Weepest Thou?” Ensign, Nov. 1996, 54).

John 20:16. “Rabboni”

The Aramaic word Rabboni, used by Mary to address the resurrected Savior, is used only twice in the New Testament. In John 20:16, the King James translators retained the Aramaic word and John’s translation for his readers, which is “Master.” In Mark 10:51, the word is translated as “Lord.” The title Rabbi was used for respected teachers among first-century Jews. Rabboni, a more lofty form of the title Rabbi, was a title that was rarely used and was usually reserved for highly esteemed teachers who had both divine knowledge and authority to teach others.

John 20:17–18. “Touch Me Not; for I Am Not Yet Ascended to My Father”

The Resurrection

The Resurrection, by Harry Anderson

After Mary recognized the risen Savior, the first thing He said to her was, “Touch me not” (John 20:17). Elder Bruce R. McConkie helped us understand the meaning and importance of Jesus Christ’s statement to Mary:

“The King James Version quotes Jesus as saying ‘Touch me not.’ The Joseph Smith Translation reads ‘Hold me not.’ Various translations from the Greek render the passage as ‘Do not cling to me’ or ‘Do not hold me.’ Some give the meaning as ‘Do not cling to me any longer,’ or ‘Do not hold me any longer.’ Some speak of ceasing to hold him or cling to him, leaving the inference that Mary was already holding him. There is valid reason for supposing that the thought conveyed to Mary by the Risen Lord was to this effect: ‘You cannot hold me here, for I am going to ascend to my Father.’ But the great message that was preserved for us is Jesus’ eternal relationship to his Father. ‘My’ Father and ‘your’ Father—Elohim is the Father of all men in the spirit, and of the Lord Jesus in an added and special sense. He is the Father of both Jesus’ spirit and his body. ‘My’ God and ‘your’ God—and again Elohim is the God of all men, but in Jesus’ case, though he himself is a God and has all power, though he is a member of the very Godhead itself, yet is he everlastingly in subjection to the same God who is our Father” (The Mortal Messiah: From Bethlehem to Calvary, 4 vols. [1979–81], 4:264–65).

Jesus Christ’s appearance to Mary Magdalene makes clear that after His Resurrection, there would be a respectful separation between the mortal disciples and the immortal Christ. Jesus’s appearance also clarifies that He did not go directly into the presence of God the Father after His death. In the same way, after we die, our spirits will go to the world of spirits and await the time when they will be reunited with our physical bodies. The Book of Mormon prophet Alma declared: “Now, concerning the state of the soul between death and the resurrection … the spirits of all men, as soon as they are departed from this mortal body, yea, the spirits of all men, whether they be good or evil, are taken home to that God who gave them life” (Alma 40:11). To be “taken home” to God does not mean that our spirits will go immediately into God’s presence, but rather that they will go into the spirit world, which is under His direction and control.

John 20:19–23. The Resurrected Savior Met with His Apostles

Sometime during the evening of the day the Savior was resurrected, ten of the twelve Apostles met behind closed doors “for fear of the Jews” (John 20:19). Jesus suddenly appeared in the room, showing that resurrected beings are not bound by physical obstacles. President Joseph Fielding Smith (1876–1972) taught: “Resurrected bodies have control over the elements. How do you think the bodies will get out of the graves at the resurrection? When the Angel Moroni appeared to the Prophet Joseph Smith, the Prophet saw him apparently come down and ascend through the solid walls, or ceiling of the building. … It was just as easy for the Angel Moroni to come to the Prophet Joseph Smith down through the building as it was for our Savior to appear to his disciples after his resurrection in the room where they were assembled when the door was closed. … How could he do it? He had power over the elements” (Doctrines of Salvation, comp. Bruce R. McConkie, 3 vols. [1954–56], 2:288).

John 20:22. “Receive Ye the Holy Ghost”

In both Hebrew and Greek, the word spirit also carries the meanings “breath” and “wind” (compare John 3:8). Elder Bruce R. McConkie explained, “Jesus ‘breathed on them,’ which probably means that he laid his hands upon them as he uttered the decree: ‘Receive the Holy Ghost.’”

Elder McConkie used the experience of the Apostles to illustrate that there is a difference between the bestowal of the gift of the Holy Ghost and actually enjoying that gift: “They thus received, but did not at that moment actually enjoy, the gift of the Holy Ghost. … The gift of the Holy Ghost is the right, based on faithfulness, to receive the constant companionship of this member of the Godhead; and this gift is conferred by the laying on of hands following baptism. This gift offers certain blessings provided there is full compliance with the law involved; everyone upon whom the gift is bestowed does not in fact enjoy or possess the offered gift. In the case of the apostles the actual enjoyment of the gift was delayed until the day of Pentecost. (Acts 2.)” (Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 1:857).

John 20:23. Authority to Remit and Retain Sins

The “keys of the kingdom of heaven” that the Savior had earlier bestowed on the Apostles gave them the power to bind or loose on earth and in heaven (Matthew 16:19; 18:18). The Savior used similar language as He instructed the Apostles about their authority to remit or retain sins (see John 20:23). This same apostolic power is always found in the true Church. Hence, the Lord said to Joseph Smith: “I have conferred upon you the keys and power of the priesthood … ; and whosesoever sins you remit on earth shall be remitted eternally in the heavens; and whosesoever sins you retain on earth shall be retained in heaven” (D&C 132:45–46).

John 20:24–29. The Resurrected Lord Appeared to the Eleven Apostles, Including Thomas

President Howard W. Hunter (1907–95) discussed Thomas’s reluctance to believe that Jesus had been resurrected unless he first received physical evidence:

The Doubtful Thomas

The Doubtful Thomas, by Carl H. Bloch

“We think of Thomas as one who had traveled and talked with the Master, and who had been chosen by him. Inwardly we wish that Thomas could have turned toward the future with confidence in the things which were not then visible, instead of saying in effect, ‘To see is to believe.’ …

“A week later, the disciples were again together in the same house in Jerusalem. This time Thomas was with them. The door was closed, but Jesus came and stood in the midst of them and said, ‘… Peace be unto you.

“‘Then saith he to Thomas, Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing.’ (John 20:26–27.)

“The record does not indicate that Thomas accepted this invitation—this loving rebuke by the Lord. Thomas could see the print of the nails and the wound of the spear. He only answered: ‘… My Lord and my God’ [John 20:28]. Now he believed, but Thomas had missed the highest form of faith.

“‘Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed’ [John 20:29].

“This occurrence stands as one of the great lessons of all times. Thomas had said, ‘To see is to believe,’ but Christ answered: ‘To believe is to see’” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1962, 22–23).

President Gordon B. Hinckley (1910–2008) quoted John 20:25 and then likened the experience of Thomas to modern times: “Have you not heard others speak as Thomas spoke? ‘Give us,’ they say, ‘the empirical evidence. Prove before our very eyes, and our ears, and our hands, else we will not believe.’ This is the language of the time in which we live. Thomas the Doubter has become the example of men in all ages who refuse to accept other than that which they can physically prove and explain—as if they could prove love, or faith, or even such physical phenomena as electricity.”

President Hinckley then quoted John 20:26–29 and continued: “To all within the sound of my voice who may have doubts, I repeat the words given Thomas as he felt the wounded hands of the Lord: ‘Be not faithless, but believing.’ Believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the greatest figure of time and eternity” (“Be Not Faithless,” Ensign, May 1978, 59).

While Thomas has traditionally been referred to as “doubting Thomas,” other scriptures affirm his love for the Savior and devotion to Him (see John 11:16). Numerous early Christian writings state that after the Resurrection, Thomas preached the gospel throughout Syria, Mesopotamia, and India. Tradition holds that Thomas died as a martyr in India around A.D. 72.

John 20:27. The Savior Retained the Wounds of the Crucifixion

Jesus Christ

Jesus has retained the wounds in His hands and in His feet.

The scriptures suggest several possible reasons why Jesus Christ has retained the wounds of the Crucifixion in His hands, feet, and side: to substantiate His literal, physical Resurrection (see John 20:19–20, 24–28); to testify that He is the Messiah of whom the prophets wrote (see 3 Nephi 11:11–17); to identify Himself as the Messiah to the Jews in the last days (see Zechariah 12:9–10; D&C 45:51–52); and to assure the faithful of His power to save and bless (see D&C 6:34–37). Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles taught further about why the Savior retained the wounds of His Crucifixion:

“Even though the power of the Resurrection could have—and undoubtedly one day will have—completely restored and made new the wounds from the crucifixion, nevertheless Christ chose to retain those wounds for a purpose, including for his appearance in the last days when he will show those marks and reveal that he was wounded ‘in the house of [his] friends’ [Zechariah 13:6; D&C 45:52].

“The wounds in his hands, feet, and side are signs that in mortality painful things happen even to the pure and the perfect, signs that tribulation is not evidence that God does not love us. It is a significant and hopeful fact that it is the wounded Christ who comes to our rescue. He who bears the scars of sacrifice, the lesions of love, the emblems of humility and forgiveness is the Captain of our Soul. That evidence of pain in mortality is undoubtedly intended to give courage to others who are also hurt and wounded by life, perhaps even in the house of their friends” (Christ and the New Covenant [1997], 258–59).

John 20:28. “My Lord and My God”

Thomas’s declaration to Jesus, “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28), reflects a theme in John—that Jesus was not just a good man, a holy man, or a miracle worker, but He was Deity. He was the Son of God. President Gordon B. Hinckley declared of Jesus:

“He, as King of Kings, stands triumphant above all other kings. He, as the Omnipotent One, stands above all rulers. …

“Towering above all mankind stands Jesus the Christ, the King of glory, the unblemished Messiah, the Lord Emmanuel. …

“He is our King, our Lord, our Master, the living Christ, who stands on the right hand of His Father” (“This Glorious Easter Morn,” Ensign, May 1996, 67).

John 20:29–31. Believing in the Witness of Others

In the Gospel of John and in other scriptures, we possess records of numerous appearances of the resurrected Jesus Christ. President Gordon B. Hinckley affirmed the reality of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ by citing some of these appearances:

video icon“Can anyone doubt the veracity of that account? No event of history has been more certainly confirmed. There is the testimony of all who saw and felt and spoke with the risen Lord. He appeared on two continents in two hemispheres and taught the people before His final ascension. Two sacred volumes, two testaments speak of this most glorious of all events in all of human history. But these are only accounts, the faithless critic says. To which we reply that beyond these is the witness and the testimony, borne by the power of the Holy Ghost, of the truth and validity of this most remarkable event. Through the centuries untold numbers have paid with the sacrifice of their comforts, their fortunes, their very lives for the convictions they carried in their hearts of the reality of the risen, living Lord.

“And then comes the ringing testimony of the Prophet of this dispensation that in a wondrous theophany he saw and was spoken to by the Almighty Father and the Risen Son. That vision, glorious beyond description, became the wellspring of this The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” (“This Glorious Easter Morn,” Ensign, May 1996, 67).

The following chart lists those people to whom the resurrected Jesus Christ appeared, as recorded in the New Testament. As John pointed out, “These are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God” (John 20:31).

New Testament Appearances of the Resurrected Jesus Christ

Reference

Persons Visited

Date or Time

Location

What Transpired

John 20:11–18; Mark 16:9

Mary Magdalene

Early Resurrection morning

At the tomb

Mary talked with Jesus.

Matthew 28:1–10; Mark 16:1–8; Luke 24:1–11

Other women

Early Resurrection morning

Somewhere between the tomb and Jerusalem

They held Jesus’s feet and worshipped Him.

Luke 24:34; 1 Corinthians 15:5

Simon Peter

Resurrection day

Not known

Not known

Mark 16:12; Luke 24:13–32

Two disciples

Afternoon of Resurrection day

On the road to Emmaus

Walked, talked, and ate with Jesus.

Mark 16:14; Luke 24:33, 36–49; John 20:19–23

Apostles and others with them

Evening of Resurrection day

A room with shut doors, somewhere in Jerusalem

Ate with Jesus, and Apostles felt His hands and feet.

John 20:26–29

Eleven Apostles

Eight days following the Resurrection

A room with shut doors, somewhere in Jerusalem

Jesus showed His wounds to Thomas.

John 21:1–23

Seven Apostles

Sometime later

Shore of Sea of Tiberias (Sea of Galilee)

Jesus fed them and instructed Peter to feed His sheep.

Matthew 28:16–20; Mark 16:15–18

Eleven Apostles

Sometime later

On a mountain in Galilee

Jesus instructed the Apostles to teach all nations.

Mark 16:19–20; Luke 24:50–53

Eleven Apostles

Just before Jesus’s ascension

Near Bethany

Jesus taught the Apostles and then ascended into heaven.

1 Corinthians 15:6

More than 500 men

Not known

Not known

Saw Jesus.

1 Corinthians 15:7

James

Not known

Not known

Saw Jesus.

Acts 1:3–12

Eleven Apostles

Sometime after the Resurrection

In Jerusalem

Jesus instructed His Apostles.

Acts 7:55–56

Stephen

At time of Stephen’s martyrdom

Probably at or near Jerusalem

Just before he was stoned to death.

Acts 9:4–6; 1 Corinthians 9:1; 15:8

Paul (called Saul at that time)

Perhaps two years after the death of Jesus

Road to Damascus

Paul saw Jesus and heard His voice; Jesus called Paul to repentance.

Acts 22:17–21

Paul

Sometime after his conversion

In the temple in Jerusalem

Saw Jesus in a vision and received instruction about serving a mission to the Gentiles.

Revelation 1:9–18

John the Revelator

First century A.D., exact time not known

Isle of Patmos

Saw Jesus in a vision and heard His voice, and Jesus touched him.

John 20:31. “These Are Written, That Ye Might Believe”

picture of Jesus Christ

John recorded that one purpose of his writing was that those who read his Gospel “might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing [they] might have life through his name” (John 20:31). Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles reminded us of this objective of scripture study when he gave this instruction: “In the end, the central purpose of all scripture is to fill our souls with faith in God the Father and in His Son, Jesus Christ—faith that They exist; faith in the Father’s plan for our immortality and eternal life; faith in the Atonement and Resurrection of Jesus Christ, which animates this plan of happiness; faith to make the gospel of Jesus Christ our way of life; and faith to come to know ‘the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom [He has] sent’ (John 17:3)” (“The Blessing of Scripture,” Ensign, May 2010, 34–35).

John 21:1–22. The Savior Appeared to His Apostles in Galilee

Sea of Galilee near Capernaum

North shore of the Sea of Galilee near Capernaum. John referred to the Sea of Galilee as “the sea of Tiberias” (John 21:1).

Following His Resurrection, Jesus had promised His Apostles that they would see Him on a future occasion in Galilee (see Matthew 28:10; Mark 16:7). John recorded that sometime after the Savior appeared to His eleven Apostles in Jerusalem, Peter and six other Apostles were in Galilee. They decided to go fishing in the Sea of Galilee (which John called the Sea of Tiberias), as they had been accustomed to doing before the Lord had called them as His Apostles. The men fished all night but caught nothing. As they approached the shore, they saw a man who told them where to cast their nets. John then recognized the man as the Savior.

John 21:5. The Savior Called His Disciples “Children”

The Savior addressed the Apostles as “children” (John 21:5). The Greek word for “children” is paidia, meaning “infants” or “very young children” (see also John 4:49; 16:21). Although the Apostles had been with the Savior for several years, the Savior’s use of this word may have indicated that His disciples still needed to grow and develop in their faith. In a similar way, in 1832 the Lord told the Prophet Joseph Smith and other early members of the restored Church: “Ye are little children, and ye have not as yet understood how great blessings the Father hath in his own hands and prepared for you; and ye cannot bear all things now; nevertheless, be of good cheer, for I will lead you along” (D&C 78:17–18).

John 21:7. Was Simon Peter Really “Naked” While Fishing?

The Greek term translated as “naked” in the King James Version does not always mean “nude” but can mean “lightly clad” or “without an outer garment.” When Peter recognized the Lord, he quickly put on his outer cloak and “cast himself into the sea” (John 21:7). This detail reveals how eager Peter was to be with the Savior.

John 21:15. “Lovest Thou Me More Than These?”

While speaking about the first and great commandment (Matthew 22:36–38), Elder Jeffrey R. Holland used the interaction between Jesus Christ and Peter on the shores of Galilee to encourage us to be loyal in our love for the Savior:

video icon“After a joyful reunion with the resurrected Jesus, Peter had an exchange with the Savior that I consider the crucial turning point of the apostolic ministry generally and certainly for Peter personally, moving this great rock of a man to a majestic life of devoted service and leadership. Looking at their battered little boats, their frayed nets, and a stunning pile of 153 fish, Jesus said to His senior Apostle, ‘Peter, do you love me more than you love all this?’ Peter said, ‘Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee’ [John 21:15].

“The Savior responds to that reply but continues to look into the eyes of His disciple and says again, ‘Peter, do you love me?’ Undoubtedly confused a bit by the repetition of the question, the great fisherman answers a second time, ‘Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee’ [John 21:16].

“The Savior again gives a brief response, but with relentless scrutiny He asks for the third time, ‘Peter, do you love me?’ By now surely Peter is feeling truly uncomfortable. Perhaps there is in his heart the memory of only a few days earlier when he had been asked another question three times and he had answered equally emphatically—but in the negative. Or perhaps he began to wonder if he misunderstood the Master Teacher’s question. Or perhaps he was searching his heart, seeking honest confirmation of the answer he had given so readily, almost automatically. Whatever his feelings, Peter said for the third time, ‘Lord, … thou knowest that I love thee’ [John 21:17].

“To which Jesus responded (and here again I acknowledge my nonscriptural elaboration), perhaps saying something like: ‘Then Peter, why are you here? Why are we back on this same shore, by these same nets, having this same conversation? Wasn’t it obvious then and isn’t it obvious now that if I want fish, I can get fish? What I need, Peter, are disciples—and I need them forever. I need someone to feed my sheep and save my lambs. I need someone to preach my gospel and defend my faith. I need someone who loves me, truly, truly loves me, and loves what our Father in Heaven has commissioned me to do. …’

“My beloved brothers and sisters, I am not certain just what our experience will be on Judgment Day, but I will be very surprised if at some point in that conversation, God does not ask us exactly what Christ asked Peter: ‘Did you love me?’ I think He will want to know if in our very mortal, very inadequate, and sometimes childish grasp of things, did we at least understand one commandment, the first and greatest commandment of them all—‘Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind’ [Luke 10:27; Matthew 22:37–38]. And if at such a moment we can stammer out, ‘Yea, Lord, thou knowest that I love thee,’ then He may remind us that the crowning characteristic of love is always loyalty.

“‘If ye love me, keep my commandments’ [John 14:15], Jesus said. So we have neighbors to bless, children to protect, the poor to lift up, and the truth to defend. We have wrongs to make right, truths to share, and good to do. In short, we have a life of devoted discipleship to give in demonstrating our love of the Lord. We can’t quit and we can’t go back. After an encounter with the living Son of the living God, nothing is ever again to be as it was before” (“The First Great Commandment,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2012, 84–85).

John 21:15–17. “Feed My Lambs” and “Feed My Sheep”

Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles explained how an understanding of the Greek text deepens our knowledge of the Savior’s instructions to Peter and to us:

“In [John 21:15], the word feed comes from the Greek term bosko, which means ‘to nourish or to pasture.’ The word lamb comes from the diminutive term arnion, meaning ‘little lamb.’ …

“In [John 21:16], the word feed comes from a different term, poimaino, which means ‘to shepherd, to tend, or to care.’ The word sheep comes from the term probaton, meaning ‘mature sheep.’ …

“In [John 21:17], the word feed again comes from the Greek bosko, referring to nourishment. The word sheep was again translated from the Greek term probaton, referring to adult sheep.

“These three verses, which seem so similar in the English language, really contain three distinct messages in Greek:

“• Little lambs need to be nourished in order to grow;

“• Sheep need to be tended;

“• Sheep need to be nourished” (“Shepherds, Lambs, and Home Teachers,” Ensign, Aug. 1994, 16).

Feed My Sheep

Feed My Sheep, by Kamille Corry

Elder Marvin J. Ashton (1915–94) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles discussed how we can fulfill the Lord’s commandment to feed His sheep:

“Jesus said, ‘Feed my sheep.’ (John 21:16.) You can’t feed them if you don’t know where they are. You can’t feed them if you give them reason to resist you. You can’t feed them if you don’t have the food. You can’t feed them if you don’t have charity. You can’t feed them if you aren’t willing to work and share. …

“Those who need help come in all age brackets. Some of His sheep are young, lonely, and lost. Some are weary, afflicted, and worn with age. Some are in our own family, in our own neighborhood, or in the far corners of the world where we can help with fast offerings. Some are starving for food. Some are starving for love and concern.

“If we give His sheep reasons to resist us, the feeding process becomes difficult, if not impossible. No one can teach or help with sarcasm or ridicule. Dictatorship or ‘I’m right and you are wrong’ will negate all efforts to feed a wandering sheep. A wall of resistance will be built, and no one will benefit. …

“By our actions we show our love. Expressions of affection are empty if actions don’t match. All His sheep need the touch of a shepherd who cares” (“Give with Wisdom That They May Receive with Dignity,” Ensign, Nov. 1981, 91).

John 21:18–19. “By What Death” Peter Would Glorify God

It is generally believed that Peter was put to death in Rome about A.D. 64 or 65, during Nero’s persecution of Christians (see Bible Dictionary, “Peter”). Tradition holds that Peter was crucified head downward, having protested that he was unworthy to die in the same manner as the Lord. Regardless of the exact manner in which Peter was killed, the Savior’s prophecy that Peter would “glorify God” (John 21:19) was certainly fulfilled. Both in his life and his death, Peter exemplified the kind of discipleship the Lord had invited His followers to have: “Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me” (Mark 8:34; see also the commentary for Mark 8:34–38).

John 21:20–22. “What Is That to Thee?”

Upon hearing from the Savior what lay in his future (see John 21:18–19), Peter asked what would happen to John (see John 21:21). Elder Neal A. Maxwell (1926–2004) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles used this request to caution us against comparing our circumstances in life with what the Lord has given others: “As for what God gives differentially to others, we need not be concerned. Peter, inquiring about John’s future role, was asked by Jesus, ‘What is that to thee? follow thou me.’ (John 21:22.) Sometimes, brothers and sisters, we do too much comparing and too little following. Sometimes also a few resent God’s having chosen someone else; perceiving themselves as passed over, they then go under spiritually” (“Answer Me,” Ensign, Nov. 1988, 32).

John 21:22–23. “Tarry Till I Come”

Earlier in His earthly ministry, the Savior had said, “There be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom” (Matthew 16:28). The resurrected Christ foretold that John would be one who would fulfill that prophecy and “tarry” on earth until He came again (see John 21:22–23). A more complete account of this conversation between the Savior, Peter, and John is found in Doctrine and Covenants, section 7, which is “a translated version of the record made on parchment by John and hidden up by himself” (D&C 7, section introduction). This revelation clarifies that John asked the Savior for “power over death, that I may live and bring souls unto thee,” and in response, the Savior granted John power to live until His Second Coming (see D&C 7:1–3). John thus became a “translated” being. Such beings are “changed so that they do not experience pain or death until their resurrection to immortality” (Guide to the Scriptures, “Translated Beings”; scriptures.lds.org). For more information on translated beings, see 3 Nephi 28:4–40, which affirms that three Nephite disciples experienced the same change undergone by John (see 3 Nephi 28:6).

John 21:24–25. “We Know That His Testimony Is True”

The pronoun “we” in John 21:24 suggests that others may have either assisted in the original composition of the Gospel of John or added their own testimony to a later copy of the Gospel. It was common for professional scribes to assist in the production and preservation of ancient texts of all kinds. Their roles varied, depending on the author and the scribe. Sometimes scribes wrote down what the original author said, word for word. Sometimes they assisted the author in crafting and producing a work. At other times, scribes may have noted the main points of a speaker, written the message in their own words, and then submitted it to the speaker for approval. The assistance of scribes at any stage of the production of the Gospel of John does not change its clear testimony that it originated with John, the Beloved Apostle of Jesus Christ.

    Points to Ponder

  • Ponder for a moment the Savior’s statement to Thomas, “Blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed” (John 20:29). How does the Savior’s statement apply to you and your testimony?

  • Consider John 21:15–17 and Elder Marvin J. Ashton’s quotation in the commentary for John 21:15–17. How do you think you could nurture the Lord’s “sheep” as a home teacher or visiting teacher or in your current Church calling?

    Suggested Assignments

  • John wrote that he recorded the appearances of the resurrected Christ “that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God” (John 20:31). Choose one of the Savior’s appearances recorded in John 20, and ponder how that particular account strengthens your testimony of the Savior. Briefly write your own testimony of Jesus Christ with the intent to share it with someone else.

  • Write a two- or three-page paper summarizing what you have learned about the Savior, His teachings, and His Atonement from your study of the Gospel of John. You may want to include this in your personal journal.