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?” Peter, seeing him, said to Jesus, “But Lord, what about this man?” Jesus said to him, “If I will that he remain till I come, what is that to you? You follow Me.” 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?” (John 21:20-23)
The Two Thousand Year Old Disciple
Following the resurrection of Jesus, the eleven remaining apostles were still struggling to understand the plan God prepared to establish the church, teach all nations and bring the grace of salvation through Christ. Jesus would spend a brief forty days with the disciples teaching and exhorting them for the work they were preparing to do. When Jesus died the apostles were in shock. This was heightened more when Jesus rose from the dead and stood before them. Now during this time before Pentecost, the Lord is instilling in the men the reason He choose them to carry out His message. To witness the death and resurrection of Jesus would have been sufficient reason to never doubt or question the will of the Father but the weakness of men always has a way to creep into the mind of man.
One morning as Jesus was eating breakfast with His disciples, He upbraided Peter to commit himself fully to the Lord. In a series of questions Jesus revealed the struggles the apostle was having in finding courage to be wholly devoted to the work of God. Simon Peter was grieved because the Lord was challenging him in such a manner. When the Lord finished, Peter seemed to want to justify himself and he points out John, the beloved disciple and asked the Lord what would happen to him. This is a common defensive tact to divert attention away from the one who is being admonished to someone else. Peter wanted the spot light away from his character and chose John as a possible victim of the attention of Jesus. The Lord would not have it. Peter was told how he would die and now Peter wants to know how John is going to die. If the Lord is going to tell the apostle how he would die then Peter wanted to know how everyone was going to die. The answer by Jesus is telling. In fact, the Lord simply tells Peter it is none of his business what happens to John. If it was the will of God that John remains alive until the coming of the Christ, it would be done. In our day that would make John more than two thousand years old. Imagine talking to a two thousand year old man who was just as active and vibrant as a thirty-year-old man. God could do that if He willed. There is no doubt.
John points out in his own gospel that for a long period of time some thought Jesus meant the apostle would not die – which was not the case. The aged apostle was banished to the isle of Patmos and died in his old age. Jesus never intended to suggest God would have a reason to keep John alive until the second coming but the answer of Jesus to Peter was two-fold: Peter, it is none of your business what happens to John; furthermore God can do what He wants to do. Hard lesson to learn sometimes. After witnessing the death of Jesus and experiencing the joy of the resurrection, Peter still had a long way to go in growing his faith to trust in the word of God. Meddling in matters that pertain to the will of God is not a place for any man to tread. The mind of God is far above the wisdom of men. How the Lord carries out His will, what His will is, the reasons for doing what He does when He does – that is the business of the Lord alone and no man should presume to challenge the will of God – at least not without consequence. The Lord invites questions but not challenges to His sovereignty. A two-thousand-year-old man would prove to all men that God’s word is absolute. John died as did all the apostles. What is given to man today is a two-thousand-year-old message: Jesus Christ and Him crucified. If one does not believe in Him, a two-thousand-year-old man would not convince them either.