“Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were younger, you used to gird yourself and walk wherever you wished; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands and someone else will gird you, and bring you where you do not wish to go.” – John 21:18
There aren’t too many among us who would want to know how we were going to die. But to Peter Jesus said this “signifying by what kind of death he would glorify God” (21:19). Why would He do that? From the description, Peter would be girded by others for death by crucifixion – as Christ was. The same ignoble death that Jesus endured, would be the end for Peter.
“They dressed Him up in purple, and after twisting a crown of thorns, they put it on Him;” – MK. 15:17
The way I see it, the prophetic words of Peter’s death were a type of favor. Jesus was telling him up front the costs for loving Him. Peter knew how Satan “desired to sift him like wheat.” So Peter knew in the past that he was a marked man and that living for Christ would be difficult. But when it came time to really prove his devotion to Jesus, he denied Him and fled the scene. So now once again he is reminded how difficult it would be to follow Christ. It was a favor to Peter so there was no uncertainty as to what he is committing to. In life and in death He would demonstrate His professed love for Christ Jesus.
Now most everyone knows that Peter was bold and impetuous. He was spiritual and there is no question that he devoted Himself fully to God, but he had an immature streak about him (Pardon me a minute while I remove the log from my own eye. There we go, I’m back.). When Jesus told him what kind of death he would suffer, Peter didn’t protest or flee, but he instead turned his attention to another disciple. He looked at “the disciple whom Jesus loved [John]” and said, “Lord, what about this man?” Jesus said what a father would say to an impertinent child: he basically told Peter to mind his own business. Peter wasn’t full grown yet; at least not in the faith. He was childish. Only moments before, he had been mildly confronted and disciplined by being asked three times did he love Jesus. In that exchange, Peter’s impatience and immaturity surfaced. It says Peter was “grieved” or distressed because Jesus asked him three times (Jn. 21:17). But he had, afterall, denied knowing the Lord only days before. The questions were warranted and Peter should have humbly received them. But instead it says of him that he “grieved” over being asked if he loved Jesus. And now when Jesus is directing all of his attention on Peter, Peter redirects and risks missing something vital. Jesus wanted Peter to know what discipleship was going to costs him. As long as he worried about what would be required of others, he would never be ready for service.
If we know that we will be mistreated for being Jesus’ disciple, do we soberly accept the words and commit ourselves no matter the costs? Or do we turn out attention to other disciples and ask, “what about them?” That competitive spirit of making sure others are doing as much as we are, and enduring as much as we are, is misguided and threatens our own faith. It is foolish to be measuring ourselves against ourselves (2 Cor. 10:12). Jesus is asking us if we love Him. Jesus calls for us to confess His name even if it means paying with our very life. To know your end is the real blessing. Physical death is not the end the a faithful Christ. Remember Jesus’ words to the church at Smyrna that whoever if faithful to death will receive the crown of life. To know that end is a blessing and worth whatever it costs in this life.