Because of this, the rumor spread among the believers that this disciple would not die. But Jesus did not say that he would not die; he only said, "If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you?" (John 21:23)
The word "rumor" indicates a misunderstanding of the nature of Jesus' statement.
Did Jesus really say "return" at all?
No. In fact, the Greek word being translated to "return" here is ἔρχομαι (erchomai). According to the lexicon, this word means "to appear, make one's appearance, come before the public." When used metaphorically, the word means: "to come into being, arise, come forth, show itself, find place or influence" and "be established, become known, to come (fall) into or unto."
In fact, the concept of "return" is being inferred here by ecclesiastical translators who failed to understand the spiritual nature of Jesus' statements regarding his followers reuniting with him in the spiritual realm after they left the physical world.
The metaphorical use of the word ἔρχομαι (erchomai) is also used by Jesus within the Lord's prayer - and also mistranslated to "come:"
"... Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven..." (Matt. 6:10)
In this reference, Jesus is not speaking of God's kingdom literally "coming" - or even "returning." The statement speaks of the kingdom of God becoming present in ones life: Allowing one to live within a particular consciousness - of being one of God's loving servants.
We can also see this mistranslation with this statement:
“And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.” (Mark 14:62)
Here we can see clearly that if Jesus is "sitting" he cannot also be "coming" as would be applied to traveling. Again, the word ἔρχομαι (erchomai) is referring to becoming present somewhere - "to appear."
We can see this mistranslation (and misinterpretation) even more clearly in another statement made by Jesus regarding his coming appearance:
"Then will appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven. And then all the peoples of the earth will mourn when they see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory." (Matt. 24:30)
Again it is obvious that "when they see" relates to Jesus' presence - rather than "coming" on the "clouds of heaven."
In fact, this entire statement goes to the very root of the misinterpretation of Jesus' presence in heaven. These verses (Mark 14:62 and Matt. 24:30) - usually quoted out of context of Jesus' statements before and after - have been used by ecclesiastical institutions and their teachers to teach that Jesus will be seen riding through the sky on clouds as the world is coming to an end.
Yet this is not true in the physical sense they teach of it. We have reviewed and broken down the meaning of this misinterpreted text of Matt. 24:30 within its context here.
But the bottom line, as explained in detail with Matt. 24:30, is that Jesus is speaking of his followers reuniting with him at the time of death. The words "heaven" and in "clouds of heaven" are being taken from οὐρανός (ouranos), which means, according to the lexicon, "the region above the sidereal heavens, the seat of order of things eternal and consummately perfect where God dwells and other heavenly beings."
This is quite obviously not the same sky we see above us in the physical world. This is the metaphysical "heaven" - the spiritual realm.
And "the peoples of the earth" in Matt. 24:30 are not people living on the earth. The term comes from φυλαὶ τῆς γῆς - meaning "tribes of earth" - better defined as "people of materialism."
Jesus is functionally speaking of his becoming present (or appearing) to his followers at the time of death - after they leave their physical bodies and return to the spiritual realm. And those who choose not to follow him will "mourn" when they realize - after the death of their physical body - that Jesus truly is God's representative. Jesus also expressed this when he said:
"And this is the will of Him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all those He has given me, but raise them up at the last day." (John 6:39)
At the time of death of the physical body - as is repeatedly taught in the scriptures - our lives will be judged, and we will go to our next destination according to our life's activities and consciousness.
This is called "judgement day." The day - or moment - that each of us is judged for our life's activities and consciousness.
Yet sectarian institutions and their teachers have tried to make it seem that everyone will face "judgement day" at the same moment in time - some day in the future. And wait in a limbo state until that time if they happen to die beforehand. They have speculatively imagined a single day in all of time where every single person who has ever existed will be judged - all at once. This is a ridiculous assumption.
This would mean that every single person - billions upon billions of people - who have ever lived on the planet - will have to wait around somewhere for this single day to come. Where are all these people waiting? Some among these sectarian institutions have created a speculative explanation called purgatory - as though these billions of people are all floating around in limbo for thousands of years - all awaiting that single day when Jesus will ride across the sky (they imagine on horseback) over the clouds.
This confounding assumption has a very large problem. If all those billions of people who have already died are in purgatory - some place we can obviously not see around us and doesn't exist physically on the planet - then how will they be able to see Jesus riding across the sky on horseback? Their bodies are dead and decomposed - along with their eyes. So how can they see Jesus in the sky if their eyes have decomposed?
The reality is that this entire assumption of Jesus' physical "second coming" has been speculatively pieced together by those who misidentify themselves with the physical body along with sectarian teachers that have used Jesus' statements to create fear in people in order to increase their number of followers.
Just consider the list of just some of the ecclesiastical teachers who have predicted the "end of the world" and Jesus' "second coming" with the particular date:
Hilary of Poiniers: 365 AD (the date predicted)
Saint Martin of Tours: 375 to 400 AD
Sextus Julius Africanus: 500 AD
Gerard of Poehlde: 1147 AD
John of Toledo: 1179 AD
Joachim of Fiore: 1205 AD
Pope Innocent III: 1284 AD
Melchior Hoffman: 1533 AD
Benjamin Keach (Baptist): 1689 AD
William Whitson: 1736 AD
The Shakers (Ann Lee): 1792 AD
Charles Wesley (Methodist): 1794 AD
Margaret McDonald: 1830 AD
Joseph Smith (Mormon): 1832 and 1891 AD
William Miller (Millerites): 1843 and 1844 AD
Ellen White (Seven Day Adventists): 1850, 1856 and "early 1900s" AD
Mother Shipton: 1881 AD
Watchtower Bible and Tract Society (Jehovah's Witnesses): 1914, 1915, 1918, 1920, 1925, 1941, 1975, 1994 and others more recent.
All of these "prophesies" were wrong. These teachers and institutions scared the crap out of their followers by telling them the end of the world was coming on a particular date, and they were wrong. This means they misled their followers. They lied to them. They said they knew something but they didn't.
Now are we supposed to believe these teachers when they teach us their other interpretations of scripture? Are we supposed to trust them on how they represent Jesus' teachings?
These ecclesiastical sectarian teachers are deceivers. They assume their professional preaching positions in exchange for comfortable housing and salaries and claim they know the truth when they don't. They are wolves in sheep's clothing. Jesus spoke of these:
"Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?' Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!' (Matt. 7:21-23)
Note the "'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name..." This is precisely what they are doing in Jesus' name: "Prophesy" means to predict the future. Predicting the end of the world or Jesus' "second coming" is a prophesy.
Consider again the meaning of ἔρχομαι (erchomai) - "to appear" - and the word οὐρανός (ouranos) meaning the spiritual realm -"heaven." Jesus is speaking of being present for his disciples at their time of death. At their time of death he will appear - be present - before them to escort them back to the spiritual realm, where he will be be present with them in the company of the Supreme Being.
Given the real meaning of ἔρχομαι (erchomai) and οὐρανός (ouranos) we can offer a more appropriate translation for Jesus' statement in John 21:22:
"If it is willed that he remains until reuniting with me, what is that to you? You must follow me."
There is no word "alive" in the original Greek of John 21:22. This has been injected into the translation. The word θέλω (thelō) - being translated to "I want" - actually means "to will, have in mind, intend." Is Jesus saying it is his will? Not necessarily. We might infer it, but it would more accurately understood as being God's will, confirmed by Jesus praying to God:
"Yet not as I will, but as You will.” (Matt. 26:39)
Remember that Jesus is responding to Peter's question about this disciple:
Peter turned and saw that the disciple whom Jesus loved was following them. (This was the one who had leaned back against Jesus at the supper and had said, "Lord, who is going to betray you?") When Peter saw him, he asked, "Lord, what about him?" (John 21:20-21)
And before this, Jesus was speaking to Peter regarding how he would die:
Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. (John 21:19)
Thus it is clear that Jesus is speaking of a personal reuniting between Peter and himself.
The word ἔρχομαι (erchomai) - "to appear" - is being used in conjunction with Peter's death in this verse because Jesus is speaking of Peter being reunited with Jesus - just as two friends will speak of seeing each other again at a particular point in the future. Yes, Jesus will appear to Peter - at the point where Peter's physical body dies, and Peter's spirit-person will rise from the physical body and leave it behind to decompose.
But this appearance is not just a show: Jesus is speaking specifically of being reunited with Peter within the spiritual realm at the time of Peter's death.
Each of us will rise from the physical body at the time of death - confirmed by hundreds of thousands of cases of clinical death, where a person whose body is revived recalls floating up over their dead body after it clinically died. They accurately describe the events taking place around their body even though the body's eyes were closed and their brain was legally dead. So who was looking down upon the body? The spirit-person who dwelled within the physical body. We cannot see this spirit-person with our physical eyes because it lies on another plane of existence.
We might refer to another verse that discusses this same element, yet slightly differently:
"Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom." (Matt. 16:28)
Just like John 21:22, Jesus is speaking of being present rather than "coming" "in his kingdom" in Matt. 16:28. How could a person "come" "in his kingdom" anyway?
This verse uses the phrase γεύσωνται θανάτου - translated here to "taste death." But the word θανάτου - translated to "death" here means, according to the lexcon, "the death of the body - that separation (whether natural or violent) of the soul and the body by which the life on earth is ended" but also "with the implied idea of future misery in hell." and "the power of death - since the nether world, the abode of the dead, was conceived as being very dark, it is equivalent to the region of thickest darkness i.e. figuratively, a region enveloped in the darkness of ignorance and sin."
Those who are able to return to the spiritual realm and see Jesus' presence there, are escorted back to the spiritual realm without "tasting [spiritual] death."
So we can see here that Jesus is discussing death from a metaphorical - and spiritual - aspect. We can compare this with another statement of his:
“Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:60)
Here we find that Jesus is speaking of physical death and metaphorical death at the same time - metaphorical in the sense that those who are mourning over the physical body's death are "dead" spiritually.
Jesus is discussing a spiritual relationship. A loving relationship. When someone sees Jesus as his is, they are seeing his loving relationship with the Supreme Being. This is the secret of Jesus' teachings. He is teaching love of God and he is God's perfect lover. Thus to see Jesus "in His kingdom" is to see Jesus' intimate loving relationship with the Supreme Being.
But in John 21:23, Jesus is also speaking of practicalities. While Peter will be reunited with Jesus at the time of death of Peter's body - when Peter's spirit-person rises from the body (resurrection) - the other disciple will "remain." This means that the other disciple will not be returning to the spiritual realm as quickly as Peter will. He will be remaining within the physical world.
But Jesus also clarifies that this is not Peter's concern: "what is that to you?"
Jesus is chastising Peter for not focusing on his own personal relationship with Jesus and God:, as he states: "You must follow me."
In fact, the writer of the Book of John then indicates that he was indeed, that disciple:
This is the disciple who testifies to these things and who wrote them down. We know that his testimony is true. (John 21:24)
It also states about this disciple: ...the disciple whom Jesus loved... (John 21:20) - again revealing Jesus' loving relationships with his dedicated students.
In his love for Peter, Jesus instructed Peter: "You must follow me."
And what does following Jesus mean? It means to follow his teachings. And what was Jesus' most important teaching?
“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment." (Matt. 22:37-38)