John 21 - IVP New Testament Commentaries

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Later Disciples Bear Witness to the Beloved Disciple's Witness

The reference to the Beloved Disciple (vv. 20-23) leads right into an identification of him as the disciple who testifies to these things and who wrote them down (v. 24). As the author of this Gospel, the Beloved Disciple fulfills Jesus' commission to those who were with him to be witnesses to him (15:27). The word wrote does not necessarily mean John actually did the writing. Indeed, one tradition of the church names his scribe as Prochorus. Or perhaps there were a number of disciples involved. But wrote does mean the Beloved Disciple is at least directly responsible for what was written, just as Pilate was responsible for the title on the cross (19:22). This Gospel claims to be an eyewitness account.

Next is an attestation to this witness: We know that his testimony is true (v. 24). Some think this is the Beloved Disciple bearing witness to himself, but the editorial "we" is followed by a first-person plural pronoun (cf. 3:11; 1 Jn 1:2, 4), not a third-person singular as here (his). So this is the testimony of John's disciples, probably the leaders within the churches or at least those who have helped with the production of the Gospel. It is not clear on what grounds they bear witness. Were some of them also eyewitnesses who can certify the accuracy of the information, or are they testifying that the Spirit has confirmed to them the truth of what John has said (cf. 1 Jn 2:27)? If it is the latter sense, then we today can join our testimony to theirs and to that of Christian brothers and sisters throughout the ages who have found the truth of this Gospel confirmed by the living Jesus through the Spirit.

This Gospel, which is so full of cryptic sayings and deeds, ends with one last enigma. After the we of verse 24, who is this I in verse 25? Are these the words of a further redactor, beyond the work of the disciples in view in verse 24? Or is this first-person singular pronoun merely part of the hyperbole (Brown 1970:1129)? Or is this the Beloved Disciple himself, who now "feels free to make an overt self-reference" (Carson 1991:686)? Or is this neither the Beloved Disciple himself nor the disciples who have helped with the Gospel but the scribe who has taken it down (cf. Rom 16:22, Michaels 1989:364)? It would be fitting for a scribe to conclude with a reference to all the books that would be written! One's view of the identity of this person will be determined in large part by how one thinks the Gospel came to be produced. For my own part, the last option mentioned is attractive, but there can be no certainty on this matter.

This final voice adds one last witness to the greatness of Jesus. Such hyperbole may be a literary convention (Talbert 1992:264; Moloney 1998:562), but in this case it is quite literally true, for there is no limit to the riches that are in Christ Jesus. Jesus is the very presence of God come into our midst. All authority has been given to him, and judgment is in his hands. He is quite strict regarding obedience, but he is full of mercy. He has revealed the Father, overcome the prince of this world and taken away the sin of the world. He also washed his disciples' feet and served them breakfast. No human being has ever dreamed up such a God--we have a hard enough time remaining true to the witness he has left us through his servants, in particular, through John, the Beloved Disciple.

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Jesus Appears Again to His Disciples

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