John is the gospel of glory. It speaks of the glory of the Father (John 7:18, 9:24, 11:4, 11:40, 12:28, 12:43, 13:32: 17:1). It tells the glory of the Son (John 1:14, 2:11, 5:41, 8:54, 12:41, 13:32, 17:1, 17:5, 17:22, 17:24). It tells of the glory imparted to believers in God through Christ (John 5:44, 12:43, 17:22).
The word glory is nearly archaic. In biblical usage it speaks of a weighty magnificence, greatness, splendor, dignity. The Westminster Shorter Catechism, one of the great defining documents of the English Reformation, tells of the “chief end of man: to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” To glorify God means simply to speak what is true of his greatness, or to make his true nature manifest, to display it for all to see.
The closing scene in the gospel of John displays the glory of forgiveness, of feeding, and of following to the very end. (I don’t usually alliterate, but I can’t help noticing that a complete message on this chapter would start with fishing and fellowship.)
Peter had betrayed Jesus three times after Jesus’ arrest (John 18:15-27), an episode that could end in no other way than in shame, guilt, and bitter weeping (Mark 14:66-72). Jesus gave him three opportunities after his resurrection to re-affirm his love (John 21:15–17). What’s not apparent in English is that Jesus wasn’t badgering him. The first two times Jesus asked, “Do you love me?” he used the Greek word agapé, meaning unconditional, pure, God-like love. Peter answered each time with the Greek word philéo, meaning the love of friendship, or brotherly love. So the first two exchanges were,
“Peter, do you love me with deep, pure, unconditional love?”
“Yes, Lord, I love you with brotherly, friendship love.”
The third time, however, Jesus asked him in a way that Peter could genuinely answer yes: “Peter, do you love [philéo] me?”
Peter was “hurt” that Jesus asked again; but it seems significant that Jesus adapted to his level of readiness, and that he gave him as many opportunities to affirm Christ as he had denied him. It was a moment of forgiveness and reconciliation following a great betrayal. God is like that.
More than that, Jesus entrusted Peter with a mission: to “feed my lambs . . . take care of my sheep . . . feed my sheep.” He could have said, “Peter, I forgive you, but as far as any place of duty or significance in my kingdom, you’re sidelined. I could never trust you again.” Instead he gave him a place of leadership, which we see Peter expressing right after Jesus’ departure to heaven, in Acts 12:15, and even more so in Acts 2:14ff.
Jesus could not have done that had he not himself paid the price for Peter’s forgiveness. His death on the cross is the basis for every person’s reconciliation with God. Nor would Jesus have entrusted Peter with the mission he gave him, had he not known that Peter would have the power of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:8) to enable him. Surely the resurrection itself gave Peter courage, too.
And finally, Jesus predicts where following him would take Peter. Church history tells us that the “stretching out” in John 21:18 was fulfilled when Peter was crucified in Rome for his faithfulness in following Christ — which brings us back to glory (John 21:19): “This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.”
I have been reading true accounts of men and women in our day who have glorified God by following him to the point of danger, disease, and even torture and death. Soon I’ll review this incredible book, called The Insanity of God: A True Story of Faith Resurrected. For now let me simply way that these believers’ message is that it is a matter of great joy to be able to glorify God so. It’s not that God is self-centered or conceited. Rather it is that these followers of Christ knew (and know) who God is, and that his glory is great enough to be worth following him to the end. They proclaim his greatness by living in light of its truth.
It’s an unfamiliar message here in the West, and I pray it remains that way, although I know that Christians in the persecuted world pray the opposite: that we in the West would come to know the depth of life in Christ that can only be realized by living it out under pressure.
To glorify God is our chief end. God deserves our glory; he gives glory back even though we don’t deserve it. This, too, is a mark of his greatness and his glory. May the greatness of his name be made known to all!
I didn’t skip Luke in this series, by the way. I’m going in sequence still — and Luke’s last record of Jesus speaking is in Acts 1