Scripture Characters

"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? Peter seeing him saith to Jesus, Lord, and what shall this man do? Jesus saith unto him, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? Follow thou me." JOHN xxi. 20-22.

IT is no ordinary friendship that we are tracing, no common-place acquaintanceship or familiarity, when we make a study of the intimacy between Peter and John. How the friendship first arose whether from contiguity and neighbourhood of residence, or similarity of occupation, or community of taste, or, as we might say, mere accident and casual circumstances it would be idle to conjecture, and not very profitable, even if it were possible, to discover; nor need we regret much our inability to determine the probable nature and degree of their fellowship, before they met with Jesus and became his followers.

Afterwards, as we have seen, they had enough of experience in common to knit them together in the closest and most confidential union. Their common alacrity in consenting together to forsake all for Christ and to wait upon his ministry, their common sight of his glory on the mount, and their common participation in his agony in the garden, these formed bonds of mutual sympathy as strong as they were strange. And a certain subdued congeniality of temper, amid great diversities, calling forth the same kind of rebukes on the part of their Master, as well as the same kind of lessons and encouragements, was fitted to make them intimately and thoroughly one. The real value of this unity may be seen most evidently, as it appears to us, First, In what passed between them as their Master’s life on earth drew towards its close; and, Secondly, In the brief but emphatic notice of the separation awaiting the two friends, with which, after his resurrection, the Lord wound up his conversation with Peter concerning John.

I. The close of their Master’s life brought Peter and John very much together. As Jesus drew near to the city to eat his last Passover, these were the two disciples whom he sent on before him to make the needful preparation: "And he sent Peter and John, saying, Go and prepare us the Passover that we may eat" (Luke xxii. 8). At the paschal supper itself, when Jesus, troubled in spirit, made the melancholy announcement that one of the twelve should betray him, amid the blank astonishment and dismay that sat on every face, as, looking one to another, they doubted of whom he spake, we find Peter beckoning, or making a signal, to the disciple whom Jesus loved, that he should ask the Lord, on whose bosom he was leaning, "Lord, who it?" a trifling incident in itself, but characteristic, the one hand, of Peter’s readiness of resource, for it was quite like him to suggest the expedient that might end the terrible suspense; and, on the other hand, indicating the footing on which the two apostles were, and the sort of telegraphic and electric understanding that subsisted between them: "Now there was leaning on Jesus' bosom one of his disciples, whom Jesus loved. Simon Peter therefore beckoned to him, that he should ask who it should be of whom he spake. He then lying on Jesus' breast saith unto him, Lord, who is it? Jesus answered, He it is to whom I shall give a sop, when I have dipped it. And when he had dipped the sop, he gave it to Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon" (John xiii. 23-26).

Let us imagine such a sympathy as this would imply, between Peter and John. Let us conceive of the beloved disciple himself reposing on the bosom of his Master, and drinking in his words of deep sorrow, yet of infinite love as he catches the eye of his anxious and excited friend. A momentary suspicion flashes through his mind, as he detects some trembling perhaps some vacillation in the eager look. Instantly he is aroused; and taking advantage of his position and of his Master's acknowledged partiality, he hastens to set a bursting heart at rest, and to relieve Peter of his fears.

From the supper there is an adjournment to the garden, where together they are found yielding to the oppressive sorrow of the scene. And immediately thereafter, there follow in quick succession, like the incidents in a dream, the arrest of Jesus, his trial, his crucifixion, and his burial. And all throughout this tragedy, Peter and John are together. If John be indeed the young man of whom Mark speaks (xiv. 51, 52), who fled, leaving his upper garment, as he was laid hold of in following Jesus, he soon repented and returned. For there is little doubt that he was the individual who introduced Peter into the palace of the high priest (John xviii. 15, 16). We gather this from the style and manner of the description, compared with this evangelist's usual way of indicating himself. What interest or influence he had with the high priest's officers, or how he was known to the high priest himself, does not appear. It is supposed by some, that Zebedee, his father, was a man of wealth and consideration, and that, personally, John held a somewhat distinguished rank or position among his countrymen. But be that as it may, he has evidently the means of entering himself into the hall where his Master is to be tried, and of procuring admission for his companion and friend (John xviii. 15, 16).

Ah! Little did John think when he executed for Peter this commission of common civility that the issue was to be so disastrous and deplorable. But the trial goes on. Peter is betrayed into the cowardly sin of denying his Master; and John, who was instrumental unadvisedly in introducing him to the scene of temptation, has the deep mortification of witnessing his friend's disgrace. But he catches a glimpse of what is in the eye of the Lord, as he turns and looks upon Peter. And he sees, also, the tears ready gushing, as he goes out, from the smitten penitent's eye. Shall we say that he makes haste to follow him? Or rather, as we shortly after find John at the foot of the cross, receiving the charge which, in the midst of all his own agony, the son of Mary committed to him, "Mother, behold thy son; Son, behold thy mother," shall we say, that after leading that mother to his own house, and soothing her poignant grief as best he might, he bethought himself of his fallen friend, and went in search of Peter, whom he had seen, under the piercing yet melting glance of their common Master's eye, going out to weep bitterly? Certain it is that we find Peter and John together on the morning of the resurrection (John xx.1, 2). And they are together, as it would seem, not casually or suddenly, but by design and on set purpose. Have they been together all the time, since their Lord was laid in his silent tomb? And how have they been spending that dismal interval? Christian friendship! How precious art thou! When the Saviour is in the grave, and Peter, disconsolate and despairing, is brooding over his base treachery and that last look of the Holy One, which, beaming with kindness, all the more on that account cut him to the heart, thou, Divine Consolation! Thou bringest to him one dearer than a brother; younger in years, but how tender in sympathy! It is John; who amid the overwhelming sorrow of that hour with the grief of witnessing the cruel torture of Him who loved him full in his bosom, and upon his hands the care of her who was now to be his mother, as she had been the mother of his Lord has yet leisure to remember the claims of brotherly affection, and to seek out and console his fallen but much loved friend.

We might here give imagination the reins; but we forbear. The sacred history has wrapt in deep and unbroken gloom the period that intervened between the burial and the resurrection of the Lord; nor is it for us to break the silence of these nights and that day, when it might seem as if all creation were hushed in intense expectancy till it should be seen whether Heaven or Hell had gained the victory, whether the sacrifice so marvellously offered would prove fruitless, or would win acceptance and salvation. But the fact that, during that awful pause, John was with Peter, and that they were found together on the third morning, is in itself enough it speaks volumes. What might be their converse, who can guess? "We did trust" they might be sadly saying one another, "that it was he that should have redeemed Israel." But he is gone, - it may be for ever; and all seems to be lost. Hope is withered, and, for our consolation, memory is all that now remains; - memory, John, of that last endearment at the supper; in Peter, that last offence at the trial. And yet, friendship blend the two. The bosom on which John leaned; the eye that looked upon Peter, are now common in the retrospect to both. They mourn, in their sad bereavement and bitter penitence, together.

And now the morning is come. The dreary Sabbath is over, and the first day of the week begins to dawn. The friends are together still, when the strange tidings reach them of the women having gone to the tomb and found it empty, and having received a message from angels. Together the two disciples rush, with eager feet, to verify the news. The youthful John outstrips his partner in the race, and is first at the empty sepulchre; where he pauses to gaze, and wonder, and mourn. The more impetuous Peter, arriving breathless at the spot, waits not a moment to reconnoitre outside, but promptly leads the way within. John as promptly follows. And in a moment the minds of both are opened to an apprehension of the marvellous event that has occurred. Together they own the Scriptures fulfilled, as the light of the glorious doctrine of the resurrection flashes simultaneously on their understandings; and, wondering at their former blindness, they encourage one another in the belief that the promised Christ must indeed rise again from the dead, and that this Jesus, their beloved Master, is the Christ. The whole scene is as characteristic as it is interesting and instructive (John xx. 1-10).

Little more remains to be added on the subject of this friendship between Peter and John. That it was prolonged into their future lives and ministries, after the Church began to be formed, is sufficiently apparent from the history in the book of Acts. Thus, we read of Peter and John going up together to the temple, on the occasion on which the lame man was healed, "at the gate which is called Beautiful" (Acts iii. 1-11). Again, we see them cast into prison together, and then brought before the council to be examined. And we have their joint reply, so nobly given when they were "commanded not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus:" "Peter and John answered and said unto them, Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye" (Acts iv. 19). We find them, also, associated together in a mission to the Church in Samaria which Philip was instrumental in planting: "Now when the apostles which were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent unto them Peter and John: who, when they were come down, prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Ghost" (Acts viii. 14, 15). And finally, along with James, "Cephas and John" are mentioned by Paul as joint pillars in the church at Jerusalem; and, in that character, giving to him and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship (Gal ii. 9).

Thus throughout, to the very last, we have incidental traces, slight in themselves, but significant when taken together, of the close association and constant personal intimacy of these two holy men. And we feel justified therefore, on the whole, and upon scriptural grounds, in the view which we have been giving of this close and blessed friendship between Peter and John.

II. But we cannot conclude without adverting, in connection with this subject of the friendship of these apostles, to a few points brought out in the concluding chapter of John's Gospel; and especially to what is there recorded as having passed between Peter and his Master, relative to the fate of John.

The very writing of this chapter, it would almost seem, is to be regarded as a tribute of friendship, on the part of John, to the memory of his beloved and now departed comrade, Peter. It was, as is generally believed, the last task on earth of the disciple whom Jesus loved, to prepare his Gospel. Moved and inspired by the Holy Ghost, he gave to this work the latest days of his lengthened life. And what more congenial occupation could he have had assigned to him? He had addressed to the Church at large, as well as to individuals, letters of warning, affectionate and faithful, against the deadly errors of that time, when men were already beginning to deny, or explain away, all the reality of the atonement made by Christ, and the renewal wrought by the Spirit. He had put on record the revelation of all things about to happen on the earth, down to the era of the Lord's appearing in glory, and the establishment of his glorious heavenly kingdom. And now, on the near verge of the grave, with his foot on the very confines of the eternal world, he is summoned to live over again, in inspired recollection, and in minute detail, those three youthful years of his personal fellowship with the Lord, which to him are worth uncounted ages. Blessed toil! Nay, rather rapturous enjoyment! How does he throw his whole soul into it, and linger over it, feeling as if he never could have done!

Notice, for instance, the close of the 20th chapter: "And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence his disciples, which are not written in this book: but 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" (ver. 30, 31). Plainly, the venerable writer was then laying down his pen. It is the formal finishing of the book. But he cannot tear himself away; he cannot bring himself to say, "Farewell." There are more last words to utter; there is a postscript - an appendix - a supplement to add. He resumes the pen; he has omitted something of interest and value; he has to rear a monument more durable than brass, not only to his Master, but to his Master's friend, and his own.

For who can doubt that it is partly, at least, as a memorial of Peter that this extra matter in the 21st chapter is given? The whole chapter is about Peter. And with what exquisite tact and taste, with what tenderness and what truth, is Peter sketched to us in this affecting picture! We see him standing beside John on the vessel's side, when, at the command of Jesus, as yet unrecognised, the net is let down, and the multitude of fishes taken. John is the first to discern who this seeming stranger is; and his eager whisper to Simon Peter, "It is the Lord," is characteristic of the disciple whom Jesus loved. Equally characteristic is it of Peter himself that he is the first to act on the hint, and impetuously cast himself into the sea, in his haste to meet the Master whom he had so recently denied.

Ah! The blessedness of that bitter weeping! How is it turned into joy! But for those gracious, relenting drops, of which the Lord's eye, as he turned and looked on him, unlocked the fountain and source within, Peter must have shrunk from encountering him again. He must have fled, like Judas, to despair and suicide. But now there is an attraction in the very Saviour whom he has pierced, drawing Peter towards him. He hastens to embrace him: and well is his haste recompensed! In the interview that follows, the Lord addresses himself to Peter alone. All the past is buried in oblivion; forgiveness begets love; much forgiveness, much love. The fallen apostle is restored; the shepherd's crook is again put into his hand, the martyr's crown is suspended over his head. And it is John who tells it all! ( xxi.15-18.)

Is it not fitly reserved for John to tell it? He, as well as the other evangelists, is to record his friend's fall; but he alone is to have the satisfaction of recording his friend's recovery. Was ever monument to friendship more precious? Was ever friendship more worthy of such a monument? Nor is it, we may well believe, without emotion, that in winding up his whole history once more, John notices proof of affectionate interest which Peter gave, when, in the very midst of such close personal dealing of the Lord with his conscience, and such peculiar experience as might have engrossed his whole soul, he yet found leisure to remember his friend. Peter might have been excused had he thought merely of himself in such a crisis. But that was not his nature. The beloved disciple is beside him; and, as if remembering and returning the kind service rendered on the night when during supper John questioned the Lord at Peter's suggestion "Who is it, Lord?" Peter now, on his part, asks the Lord concerning John, "And what shall this man do?" ‘What is to become of him? He has been lovely and pleasant to me in life; are we, in death, to be divided? Thou hast engaged me to love thee, and thou knowest that I love thee, good cause hast thou given me to love thee, and none but thee. Thou hast assigned to me my work: and most welcome work it is, to feed thy lambs, to feed thy sheep. Thou hast warned me of the death by which I am to glorify God; and though not now so foolhardy as once I was, and so ready to volunteer myself for martyrdom, I shrink not from what thou appointest. Thou hast given me that command, including all promises and all grace, "Follow me;" and, Lord, thou wilt enable me to follow thee even unto death, and through death to glory. But what of my friend my more than brother, whom thou, Lord, lovest, who leaned on thy breast at supper? Following thee, must I be parted from him? We were together when thou didst call us, at the first, to forsake all and follow thee; and together we left all the world behind, that we might bear thee company, and wait on thee. We have been together, he and I, ever since; and on that dreary day when thou wast in the tomb, and I, a miserable sinner, had seen, as I imagined, the last of thee, and seen thee in that look of thine that cut me to the heart, what, oh! What would have become of me, but for his sympathy with me in my unutterable sorrow? And now, can I be blamed for wanton or impertinent curiosity when I ask thee to satisfy me as to the future course of that friendship which hitherto has run so deep? It is not that I hesitate about following thee, it is not that I draw back even from a cross like thine own; but this man, good Lord, what of him? One word to alleviate the anxiety of friendship - of such a friendship; and I am ready - I am thine for ever!'

Can it possibly be an answer of stern reproof that the Lord, in such circumstances, returns to such an inquiry on the part of one with whom he has been dealing so closely and so graciously, "If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? Follow thou me?" Nay; we confidently say it is not, - it cannot be so intended. We cannot believe that the Lord designs to upbraid Peter, or take otherwise than in good part the affectionate solitude of his friendly interest in John.

Some, indeed, would have this to be a rebuke of Peter's unwarrantable curiosity, a check given to his inquisitive turn of mind, which made him eager to learn the appointed destiny of a brother, instead of acquiescing in what the Lord had told him respecting his own. And in this view many edifying practical lessons may, no doubt, be deduced respecting the sin and folly of prying, or seeking to pry, into our neighbours' circumstances and affairs, and the propriety of attending to what more nearly concerns ourselves.

But there is surely more in this reply of our Lord than a mere censuring of his disciple's inquisitiveness. No doubt, it must have been sufficiently irritating, if at a time when his Master was dealing so very graciously, and so very pointedly, with his own soul, Peter manifested the spirit of a mere busybody in other men's matters. Still, anything like even the appearance of severity, after so tender a scene, jars on the feelings which that scene awakens. Peter's question respecting John may have been dictated by some other and better motive than idle curiosity; and the answer of the Lord may have been designed to convey, not only a hint against the indulgence of such a temper, but a weightier and deeper lesson. It was as a warm friend, and not a frivolous, gossiping interloper, that Peter was moved, at such a crisis, to think of John so affectionately, and to inquire so earnestly, "What shall this man do?" And it was this friendly interest in a brother's fate that the Lord meant, not to suppress, but to turn into a right and comfortable channel, when he gave the somewhat abrupt and oracular response, "If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? Follow thou me" (xxi. 22).

What is there, then, in this reply? Upon what, at the time, would the full heart of Peter, eagerly and intently fasten? The saying, as we are told, gave rise to a vague rumour that John was not to die: "Then went this saying abroad among the brethren that that disciple should not die." That disciple himself is anxious to show that what Jesus said to Peter warranted no such conclusion: "Yet Jesus said not to him, He shall not die; but, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee?" (xxi. 23). What the Lord's reply to Peter did not necessarily mean, John carefully explains. What it did mean, he does not say. One thing, however, is clear; it must, at all events, have conveyed to Peter the impression, that he was to leave John behind him on the earth. Whether his beloved friend was to die at last or not, he was to be exempt from such a premature and violent death as his own was to be. ‘John, it seems, is to live on after I am gone, and in a good old age his days on earth are to close tranquilly, the current of his life flowing calmly into the ocean of eternity, either through the peaceful outlet of a natural decease or through the wide-opening portals of the gate that is to admit the King of glory.' Then be it so. Peter does not envy his friend, or grudge him any higher favour which the Lord may have destined for him. He is content, it is nothing to him; he follows Jesus.

What! Nothing to him who had but now so anxiously put the question, "What of this man?" Nothing, to be parted so cruelly from his friend whom he must leave behind, perhaps till his Master's coming again? No; for in that coming he, following Jesus, has a share. Peter may be snatched away by a bloody death before his time, John may tarry till Jesus come. But what of that? It is but a little while, and "he that shall come will come, and will not tarry." Hush then, Peter, thy earnest questioning concerning thy friend, who is to be spared when thou art taken. And thou, John, beloved disciple of thy Lord, be satisfied, if it so please him, to tarry till he come; yes, even when thy weary head would fain repose itself again on thy Master's bosom. It will be all one to thy friend and to thee, very soon. Peter has followed Jesus through martyrdom into his rest; thou tarriest, if he will, till he come. But all will be well then. Thus the parting of Christian friends may lose its sharpest pang. They part to meet again, if not sooner, at least when the Lord comes. The dying believer may be willing to depart; the survivor may be contented to remain, for the time is short, the world is passing away, and the Lord is at hand.

Am I summoned, like Peter, to follow Jesus into the unseen and undiscovered country whence no traveller ever returns? Do I leave a beloved John behind? Still, to depart and to be with Christ is far better - to be absent from the body and present with the Lord. Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints. Nor need the fate of the friend to whom I bid adieu concern me much. How long he is to tarry on this cold earth when I am gone is really nothing to me; no, not even should it be appointed to him to tarry till the Lord come. For oh! Rapturous anticipation! The Lord will come; and they that are his shall appear with him in glory; and the living, that are tarrying for him shall be changed; and all shall be for ever with the Lord! Then, let me be willing to follow Jesus, however cruel may be the death by which I am to glorify God, and however dear the friend from whom I am constrained to part. Enough for me to know, that, let my death be ever so cruel, it is but following Jesus still, following him through his tribulation into his glory; and let my friend tarry ever so long behind me, it can at the utmost be no longer than till Jesus come.

Am I called, on the other hand, like John, to witness the removal of some dear brother or venerable father in the Lord, and to tarry behind alone? Am I desolate and lonely, feeling as if life had now no object and this world no charm? Let me first call to remembrance, that "to me to live is Christ." Whosoever may be taken from me, the desire of my eyes, the delight of my soul, still all is not a blank to me. I have something left to live for; "To me to live is Christ." Then, as to those who fall asleep in Jesus, let me not ignorantly sorrow, even as others that have no hope. For if I believe that Jesus died and rose again, let me believe also that them which sleep in Jesus God will bring with him. Long time I may have to tarry after my best and dearest ones are gone. He whom they have followed through painful deaths, and whom I still seek to follow in my weary life, may will that I tarry till he come. Be it so. For he himself says, "Surely I come quickly: Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus."

Go To Chaper 16


Home | Biography | Literature | Letters | Links | Photo-Wallet