My first experience with an epilog was the 1960s TV show Dragnet. It told you what happened to the criminals arrested in the episode. I like it when movies do that too. One of the best is at the end of the 1973 movie American Graffiti. Its epilog is particularly poignant. So is John's.
An epilog tells you how proceeding events changed things overall. How did the preceding betrayal, desertion, denial, trial, conviction, crucifixion, death, and resurrection of Jesus change things overall? John shows us this in the third word of our text. John says, "Afterward Jesus appeared." I prefer the NASB "manifested Himself," the ESV "revealed Himself, or the NKJ "showed Himself." All of these have translated the reflexive pronoun "himself" which shows that Jesus had to do something for the disciples to see Him physically.
This has changed since Easter. No longer do the disciples "see" Jesus as they could see any other physical thing just by turning their eyes to look at it. If Jesus doesn't manifest Himself, they don't see Him. This Greek word appears 3 times in our text. The first sentence says, "Jesus manifested Himself." The second sentence says, "He manifested Himself this way," and the last sentence says, "This was the third time Jesus manifested Himself to the disciples after being raised from the dead."
The Holy Spirit wishes to emphasize this change. Every time Jesus appears after Easter, the Holy Spirit uses this same language. Descriptions of angels appearing use the same kind of language. Post-Easter it takes a specific act of Jesus' will for people to see Him. We see this in our text in more than just the word "manifest." When Jesus is first manifested on the seashore, the insert says "but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus." NASB, ESV, and KJV all translate "know" not "realize." It's the word for know that means "know by revelation." It's not that they didn't realize it was Jesus or couldn't know it was Him. They couldn't know without being told. And we can't either.
The epilog shows us that after Easter Jesus wills to make Himself known to sinners in His Word. Here in our text, John is the first to know it's Jesus and it's through His Word. Again the insert doesn't help you see this. After Jesus had asked about their lack of food, after He had commanded them to cast their net on the right side of the boat and promised them a catch, after His Word came to pass, the text says: Not "Then the disciple saidIt is the Lord," but "Therefore, the disciple saidIt is the Lord." "Then" implies "this" happened and "then" that. "Therefore" makes it clear John came to the conclusion of who Jesus was based on what He had said.
You who keep thinking if Jesus really did rise from the dead why isn't He appearing to me heed this epilog? The Post-Easter appearances of Jesus always happen this way. Jesus is first made known by His Word. It's the Word of the angels at the tomb that first reveal the risen Jesus to the women. It's the Word of the women that first reveal the risen Jesus to the apostles. It's the Word of Jesus that burned in the hearts of the disciples on the road to Emmaus that led them to know Him in the Breaking of Bread.
The result of Jesus suffering, sighing, dying, and rising is a big overall change. The epilog makes this clear, but my favorite part of epilogs is when they tell you what happened to specific people. I dare you to keep a dry eye when watching the epilog of American Graffiti. John's is not sad but it's accurate to a "t."
John is still contemplative. As he doesn't burst into the Easter tomb but stands outside and looks in, as he rests on Jesus at the Last Supper, so here we find him thinking on Jesus' Words. Maybe Peter had forgotten about the miraculous catch of fish 3 years earlier but John hadn't. There too they had been up all night and caught nothing. Jesus had commanded them to go into the deep and let down their nets for a catch, and the promised catch had been there. Even as he's throwing the net John is thinking, and therefore, he says to Peter, "It is the Lord."
The epilog shows us John is still contemplative, and Peter still impulsive. John opens the epilog by stating it's going to be about how Jesus manifested Himself to the disciples on the Sea of Tiberius. He then lists the disciples who were there. Then out of no more context than this Peter blurts out, "I go to fish." And when he hears and believes the Word that it is the Lord, what does Peter do? He puts on his outer garment and swims to shore. You think it's easy swimming 100 yards in a wet garment? But Peter who years earlier had cried out for the Lord to save him from drowning, throws himself into the water for a 100 yard swim. Then when Jesus tells all of them to bring some of their catch who jumps up before anyone else and drags the net in himself? Peter.
This epilog should tell you something about your own Christian life. Being brought to faith in Christ makes you a new creation, rebirths you, but it doesn't change your personality. If you were contemplative or impulsive before, you're going to be after. If you were moody, upbeat, pessimistic, or optimistic before, you're going to be so afterward. The working of the Holy Spirit is shown when a person acts contrary to his personality. When the passive, contemplative person is more active and when the active, impulsive one is more passive.
So the epilog shows John is John and Peter is still Peter, and thankfully for this reason it shows Jesus is still Jesus. He still comes to them with a Word of Law to show their need. He doesn't ask, "Haven't you any fish?" He asks if they have anything to eat. The Greek tells us He asks in such a way that He knows they don't have any. Jesus says, "You don't have anything to eat, do you?" We can tell they were struck by the Law, as they should be, by their one word answer. "No!" is the strong, definite one. How are these poor slobs going to sustain themselves as Gospel preachers in the world when they couldn't even feed themselves by the trade they were born to?
Once struck by the Law, Jesus doesn't hold back the Gospel. He tells these pro-fishermen to cast the net on the right side of the boat. This sounds like the joke fisherman tell each other when one is catching and the other is not. "You're not holding your lips right." How on earth could one side of the boat be different than the other? Only if the Lord God Almighty makes it so.
And that's what Jesus promises. He commands, "You must cast on the right," and promises, "You will catch." But the Gospel of providing for them doesn't end here. Jesus piles up miracles. In the first miraculous catch, the net began to break. This time, despite all the fish being big, it doesn't. Then when they get to shore they find a charcoal fire and fish. Remember there are no corner 7-11's; you didn't carry fire around in your pocket in a lighter. And Jesus the non-fisherman with no net, no pole, no line, no boat, has on the seashore more fish than they had all night.
In an epilog, you get a glimpse of what the future will be like. That guy will spend the rest of his life in jail. That woman will marry and have a family. So what's the future look like in our text? The disciples will need forgiving, teaching, and providing for, and Jesus will be there to forgive, teach and provide. Jesus didn't go to the cross for holy people. He didn't go to the cross bearing their best intentions and efforts, but their sins. He didn't die for sinners because they promised to do better. Jesus wasn't surprised to find people sinners before or after Easter. And He wasn't surprised they needed teaching and providing for either.
Note this rather subtle point. Jesus provides for them by telling them where to fish, by not having the net broken, and by their bringing their fish to Him. They make use of physical things as Jesus commands them to and they have the promised providing for. If we let baptismal Water stay in the font and not see it running down our bodies carrying our sins away for Jesus' sake, we aren't using His means for providing for us. If we don't open our Bibles and study them, the Word He provides goes wasted. If we don't follow His "do this often in remembrance of Me," Jesus doesn't manifest Himself to us as surely, as really, as tangibly, as graciously as He did to the disciples on the seashore.
Their epilog is ours. We are no less Easter people then they were. There future is ours. We go to see Jesus wherever He manifests Himself the same way they did, either by plunging into the water which is our Baptism or by boat which is the Holy Christian Church. Stop trying to get to Jesus with your good feelings, upbeat outlook, positive thinking! Dive into your Baptism the way Peter dived into the sea and find the Lord waiting there as promised. And don't think that doing things is the way to Jesus either. No you get to Him by staying in the Church the way six of the disciples stayed in the boat.
And Jesus feeds us the way He did them. The insert gives you the idea that Jesus already had several fish and some bread when the Greek indicates that there was fish and bread, one of each. There wasn't enough to feed them all. This Spartan fare highlights how Jesus deals with His followers in the future. Since John 6, bread and fish have been used in art as a symbol of Communion. Communion doesn't look like much. It's not filling. It looks no more able to sustain us for our journey than the bread and water did that sustained Elijah for his journey. But it is. More than you need food, more than you need vitamins, more than you need medicine, you need the Medicine of Immortality, the Body and Blood of Jesus.
Our text doesn't go to the end of this incident, but like all the post-Easter manifestations of Jesus, except for the Ascension, there's no record of Him going away. That's because He doesn't. He's with us always till the end of the age manifesting Himself when, where, and how He promised. This makes the epilog not an end but a beginning. In other words, epilog is prolog. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
The Third Sunday of Easter (20130414); John 21: 1-14