“Then went this saying abroad among the brethren, that that disciple should not die…” (John 21:23a)
Rumors are a lot like partially melted butter. They spread easily and people love them even though it’s not good for them.
After the Lord reconciled Peter to Himself, He told the apostle about how his life would end:
“…When thou wast young, thou girdedst thyself, and walkedst whither thou wouldest: but when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, and carry thee whither thou wouldest not” (John 21:18a).
It was a delicate way of telling Peter that he had a death sentence on his life, and in that day, death was by crucifixion. Overwhelmed by the revelation, Peter turned about and seeing “the disciple whom Jesus loved following,” meaning John, he asked, “and what shall this man do” (John 21:21)?
Not missing a beat, the Lord replied: “If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? Follow thou me” (John 21:22a). If social media had existed in that day, the Lord’s remark would have broken the Internet. Rumors began to fly alleging that John would never die. I suspect that that rumor followed John throughout his ministry. He did not write his gospel until very late in his life and even now he had to take some time to clarify this nagging untruth:
“…Yet Jesus said not unto him, ‘He shall not die; but, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee?’”
Rumor has it (pun partially intended) that Einstein once said:
“A little knowledge is a dangerous thing…. So is a lot of knowledge.”
The point is, having knowledge is only part of the equation. Knowledge is good, but only when it exists in the proper context because knowledge out of context becomes rumor and rumor has a nasty way of looking like truth. When that happens, lots of time and effort must be expended trying to correct that untruth, and that is nearly impossible because not everyone gets to see the correction and of those that do, some insist on holding onto the rumor. Things like that can cause a lot of harm to people.
Perhaps the worst kind of rumor isn’t the kind started by your enemies; it’s the rumors started by your friends. Why? Because if a friend is saying something about someone they know personally, it’s assumed to be true. “Why would a friend lie?” That’s not a completely unreasonable line of logic, but sometimes friends can misrepresent the truth out of ignorance of the facts. Who knows who else heard the conversation between Peter, John, and Jesus? Other disciples were probably there and there could have been more present than just members of the twelve. Peter and the others had been out fishing. There were likely non-disciples who made up some of the fishing crew and here one of the top disciples is questioning the fate of a fellow disciple and he is asking none other than the risen Lord. That is tabloid gold! It’s easy to see how Jesus’ remark could be misunderstood. “I was there when Peter asked the Lord about John, and Jesus said John would live forever!”
What does John’s remark on the incident teach us? That we need to make sure we have the whole story and all the facts of the matter before we start to talk. Unlike the bystanders, John was actually one of the participants in that famous conversation. Of all the people on earth, he is the most reliable witness to that exchange, and he was the one who set the record straight. History confirms it. John did die. He was close to 100 when he did and by then he’d outlived all the other apostles – even the late comer Paul. But he did indeed die. Still, even in this latest of the four gospels, he felt the need to set the record straight on that old rumor. God, save us from our friends!