Have you ever worried about your life? Perhaps you asked yourself: When am I going to die? Or how am I going to die? We usually don’t think about those things but maybe you’ve had health concerns or heard a tragic story.
Would it help if God told you when and how you were going to die?
At the end of John’s Gospel, Jesus and Peter have a personal conversation which ends with Jesus telling Peter how Peter would die: “when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go” (21:18). In case we fail to grasp the meaning of Jesus’ words, John’s explanation follows: “This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God” (v. 19). And then on the heels of that grim prediction, Jesus adds the command, “Follow me” (v. 19).
Peter now knows that he is going to grow old and that he is going to be killed. He has the information that many people would love to have, but what does he do next? He wants more. He wants to know how his fellow disciple would die so he asks, “Lord, what about this man?” (v. 21).
Instead of answering Peter’s question directly, Jesus gives Peter the information that really matters: “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!” (v. 22).
Jesus begins, “If it is my will.” Jesus is in control of the length and conclusion of the other disciple’s life. Jesus was saying, “Peter just as I’ve decided that you will grow old and die in this way, I’ve also determined how long he will live.” Yes, we have a role to play with exercise, rest, and nutrition, but if we could peer into the core of the duration of our earthly existence we would find the will of Jesus.
Second, Jesus continues “that he remain until I come.” Peter has just heard how his life will end and he’s thinking, “OK, so that’s how my life will end, but how will his life end?” By using the phrase, “that he remain until I come,” Jesus is saying, “It falls within the realm of my power to keep him alive so that he doesn’t even have to die.” Paul makes this same point when he asserts that believers who are alive when Jesus returns will not experience death (1 Thess. 4:17). Life, death, and life without death is Jesus’ decision.
Third, Jesus asks, “what is that to you?” Peter tried to turn Jesus’ attention away from him, but it didn’t work. Jesus responds to Peter’s question with a question of his own: “Why does the fate of the other disciple matter to you? That’s for me to decide.”
Finally, Jesus repeats the command he gave earlier with the personal pronoun added for emphasis, “You follow me!” Instead of worrying about others, Peter needs to focus on Jesus. The question that really matters is not, “What about him?” but “What about me? Am I following Jesus?”
We don’t need to worry about the duration of our lives because Jesus’ will is governing them.