John 20: 11 – 21: 25; Luke 24: 13 – 53; Acts 1: 1 – 11.
This exclusive respite with His disciples on the shores of Galilee or Tiberias, about a day and a half’s journey north of Jerusalem, was deliberate (Matt 28:10). Forty days was no mean stretch of time, but given the traumatic three days before, it illustrated God’s deep compassion and understanding of human psychology, amidst betrayal and abandonment.
Jesus’ primary concern, immediately following His resurrection, was to those who were particularly devastated by His demise: its suddenness and vindictiveness, with a failed judicial system. His first appearances were to the faithful and distraught women, who were at His crucifixion and burial, including Mary Magdalene (Matt 28:8-10; Mark 16:913); next, to Cleopas and his companion, possibly leaving a tad too soon for Emmaus (Luke 24:13-27); and then to His disciples (Luke 24:36-44). By this time too, it was critical that the malicious rumours swirling around the disappearance of His corpse, together with His disciples’ anxieties of possible further obfuscation with the authorities over the stolen body, and doubts of His resurrection had to be quashed. Although Thomas’ innate disbelieve was not humanly outlandish, his example was used to illustrate a pervasive doubt among many at the time (Jn 20:24-29).
The record of events around the Sea of Galilee appeared to be sparse, and John’s Gospel seemed absorbed with the Lord’s dealings with Peter (Jn 21:1-23). Jesus’ initial focus at Galilee was to minister healing to a group of acutely traumatized individuals; potential apostolic material, but presently guilt-ridden and despondent. We also know that fishing became a familiar past time as the disciples were on home ground, 120 kms away from the distressing ‘Jerusalem triggers,’ and able to unwind and recover under the watchful eyes of their Saviour. The familiar environment of unhurried and secure routines was an apt panacea for anxious-ridden souls. It would not be unexpected for the Lord to first provide reassurance of His continued personal commitment to them and a reaffirmation of His teachings on the kingdom of God (Acts 1:3); to make plain to them the bearing of the saving events of His passion and triumph, over the many salient lessons taught to them earlier.
As a leading apostle, Peter’s denial soon after Jesus’ arrest totally shattered him (Jn 18:12-27), and this was an obvious concern to the Lord. He was probably keen to communicate forgiveness and to restore Peter’s relationship with Himself and his fellow disciples. This, He immediately did on His arrival by the shores at daybreak (Jn 21). After breakfast, He drew Peter into a conversation by eliciting from him his focal motivation in being Christ-centred. Peter, head strong and driven, was against the Lord’s sacrifice (not untypical of our natural near-sighted focus on mere human leadership – being hero-centred; Matt 16:21-23), was to shed his self-absorption, to love his Lord whole-heartedly, which Jesus clearly specified was synonymous with loving and discipling those who belonged to Him. However, the critical impetus to the discipling process was the empowering agent of the Holy Spirit, Who epitomizes the living presence of Jesus Christ within, and Who would thrusts the disciples into apostolic service with the birth of the church soon after (Jn 20:22-23; Acts 1:8). John’s emphasis on the ministry of the Holy Spirit in his Gospel is particularly salient with the ascension of Jesus (Jn 14:16-17,26; 16:7-15), and we ought to note His importance not only in any ministry within the church community and missions, but also in all that we think, say and do! Jesus’ penetrating word (Heb 4:12-13) to Peter ought to unremittingly resonate through our own life, “Do you love Me more than these?”