Jesus and the Miraculous Catch of Fish

John 21: 1-14

DIG: Where are these seven apostles in this scene? Why did Peter return to the profession of fishing? Compare this story with Luke 5:1-11. Why do you think Christ might repeat this type of miracle now? What effect would it have on Kefa? Where did Messiah get the fish in verse 9? When didn’t Jesus just use some of the fish caught by the apostles and brought ashore? How did the Lord’s preparing them breakfast relate to what He did for them in John 13:1-17?

REFLECT: Where do you go to get away from it all? How does ADONAI meet you there? What does God use to get your attention and get through to you when He needs to reestablish contact? To what lengths do you go to, to reach Christ?

After reassuring Thomas that He had truly risen from the dead, the Master appeared again to His apostles by the Sea of Galilee, also known as the Sea of Tiberius, or the Lake of Gennesaret. This was the seventh appearance of Jesus after His resurrection. We have no way of knowing how long after the resurrection this took place, but it was not likely more than a month (Acts 1:3). It happened this way: Seven talmidim, Simon Peter, Thomas (also known as Didymus), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other talmidim were together (Yochanan 21:1-2). Five of the Eleven are named, while another two apostles are left anonymous.

It is clear that the talmidim still did not fully understand the nature of their future ministry. For three-and-a-half years they had followed their Great Rabbi, learning from Him and fully expecting Him to reign as King Messiah. But suddenly, in a matter of hours, everything changed. He was arrested, tried, judged, crucified and laid in a tomb. When Jesus was buried so were their expectations. And when He emerged it seemed like their dreams were left behind like His grave clothes. They were in a state of limbo. The Lord had died, but He was no longer dead. The Master had breathed the Ruach HaKodesh on them (John 20:21-22). But as David indicated, the Spirit would come and go (Psalm 51:11) before Shavu’ot (Acts 2). Therefore, they could comprehend the Lord’s teaching in the next forty days before Jesus ascended up to heaven (Acts 1:9); however, they were without daily leadership. The messianic Kingdom, it seemed, was not going to be what they had hoped for, so their future was uncertain. Nothing remained as it had been before.1683

Human nature cannot abide in limbo for long. Consequently, when we can’t go forward, we cannot help but return to the familiar. Simon Peter said to the others, “I’m going (Greek: hupago) out to fish (John 21:3a). Here the Greek word is used to denote the final departure of one who ceases to be another’s companion. Thus, this was Simon’s formal announcement after the informal meeting that the talmidim had, presumably in his home, to the effect that he was abandoning his preaching commission received from the Lord Jesus, breaking his relationship with Him so far as future ministry was concerned.

And the ten other apostles said: We’ll go with you” (John 21:3b). This was a crisis. Here is one of the chief apostles, not only deserting his preaching commission to go back to the fishing business, but leading six other talmidim with him to do the same thing! It is reasonable to assume that the others would follow him. These men had been training to preach the Gospel and carry on the work of saving souls after Messiah had ascended to heaven. Should they desert their great commission, God’s work on earth would be stopped.

This was a masterstroke of Satan. He could not tempt Savior in the wilderness. He could not keep Jesus from going to the cross. He could not coax Him to come down from the cross to save Himself. He could not keep His body in the tomb and therefore the blood of Christ had already purchased salvation. Now, if there was to be no preaching of the Good News of salvation, the great dragon reasoned, the plan of redemption for lost sinners would fail. How would Yeshua meet this new challenge?1684

The first step in bringing His renegade apostles back to their preaching ministry was to make their business a failure. So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing (John 21:3c).

“What was I thinking?” Peter mumbled to himself. Why did I run? But Simon had run. He had turned his back on his best friend and ran. We don’t know where. Kefa may not have known where. He found a hole, a hut, or a vacant shed. He found a place to hide and he hid.

So Simon was in the boat, on the Sea of Galilee. Once again he’s fished all night and caught nothing. His thoughts are interrupted by a shout from the shore.

This was not an accident and actually was a very teachable moment by Jesus. Early in the morning, the Lord stood on the shore. But like Mary Magdalene and the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, Peter and John did not recognize Him at first because of He appeared in His glorified body.

He called out to them: Children (Greek: paidia), haven’t you any fish? The Lord’s question, translated in Greek, anticipates a negative response. It was if He said, “So, you haven’t caught anything, right?” Moreover, He called them children. Paidia is the plural form of the word for small child and can be used as an affectionate address. Simon and Yochanan looked up. Probably someone from the village. “No,” they answered (John 21:4-5 NASB).

The talmidim had been in this situation before. These men had spent a wasted night on the sea when Yeshua instructed them to recast their nets. When their obedience netted them a record catch, He promised them similar success in ministry (see Cj - Come, Follow Me, And I Will Show You How to Fish for People). Now, after so much had happened, their resurrected Lord had once again instructed them to recast their net. Surely one of them would figure out who the man on the shore was.

The voice yells back: Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some. What a miracle! The Lord was about hundred yards away from them (Yochanan 21:8). In American football this would be from goal line to goal line, yet they heard Him plainly. Normally, throwing your fishing net to one side of the boat or the other would not make any difference. But John looks at Kefa. What’s the harm? So out flew the net. Simon wraps the rope around his wrist to wait. But there is no wait. The rope pulls taut and the net catches. Peter sets his weight against the side of the boat and begins to bring in the net, reaching down . . . pulling up . . . reaching down . . . pulling up. When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish (John 21:6).

The second step in bringing His maverick apostles back in line was to direct a large school of fish into the net that was thrown into the right side of the boat. The Lord did not merely see a large school of fish from a hundred yards out. He is the Creator! And His creation obeys Him. Just as the animals obeyed and came two by two into Noah’s ark, He caused these fish to swim into the apostles’ net.

Kefa kept on working but he was so intense with the task he missed the Messenger. John didn’t. Then John said to Peter, “It is the Lord” (Yochanan 21:7a)! The moment is déjà vu. This had happened before. The long night. The empty net. The call to let down the nets for a catch (Luke 5:4). Fish flopping on the floor of the boat. Wait a minute. Yochanan lifts his eyes to the man on the shore. “It’s Him,” he whispers.

Then louder. “It’s Yeshua.”

Then shouting. “It’s the Lord, Simon. It’s the Lord!”

Peter turned and looked. The Meshiach has come. Not Jesus the teacher, but Yeshua the Supreme Commander of Life and Death. Christ the victor over darkness. The Son of God was on the shore . . .

If Yochanan was the first to recognize Messiah, Kefa was the first to act. As soon as Simon Peter heard John say, “It is the Lord,” he put on his outer robe that he had removed so that he could work more efficiently (and girded his chiton, or undergarment between his legs and around his waist) and plunged into the water. Simon’s action helps us to recall that night on the stormy Lake of Gennesaret when the Savior walked on the waves toward the boat that carried the weary apostles (see Fp - Jesus Walks on the Water). It was Peter who said: Lord, if it’s You, tell me to come to You on the water. Kefa was just as desperate to get to the Lord then as he was now.

Meanwhile, the other talmidim rowed to shore in a small row boat that was attached to the large fishing boat, towing the net full of fish, for they were not far from shore, about a hundred yards (Yochanan 21:7b-8).

Simon plunges into the Gennesaret, swims to the shore, staggers out wet and shivering and stands in front of the friend he betrayed. When they landed, it suddenly because clear to them that the fish they caught were not needed because Jesus already had fish for them. They saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread (Yochanan 21:9). Both are aware of the last time Kefa had stood near a fire (see Lk – Peter Denies Jesus Three Times). Peter had failed God, but now God had come to him.

For one of the few times in his life, Peter is silent. He stepped onto the shore as quietly as if he were entering the Most Holy Place in the Temple. Words were useless. In fact, the moment was too holy for words. God is offering breakfast to the friend who betrayed Him. And the rugged fisherman is once again finding grace at the cross.

What do you say at a moment like this? What do you say at a moment such as this?

It’s just you and God. You and God both know what you did, and neither of you is proud of it. What do you do? What can you possibly do?

You might consider doing what Simon Peter did. Stand in God’s presence. Stand in His sight. Stand still and wait. Sometimes that’s all a soul can do. Too repentant to speak, but too hopeful to leave . . . we just stand.

Stand amazed. He has come back. He invites you to try again. This time, with Him.1685

Now Jesus takes the third step in His endeavor to bring these runaway apostles back to their responsibility of carrying on the preaching of the Gospel after He should leave the earth for heaven. He knew that He had a tired, cold, discouraged, guilty, group of men with whom to deal. Great issues were at stake. Instead of broaching the subject of their desertion, and calling them to repentance and a return to their preaching mission at once, He first saw to it that their physical needs were supplied. People are easier to reach if their physical needs are cared for, and their minds and hearts are at rest.1686

Jesus said to them: Bring some of the fish you have just caught. Christ’s invitation for them to add His fish to the fire is significant. While the Lord can do all things without the help of anyone, He invited Peter to contribute the fruit of His efforts. Yeshua wants to enjoy the victory we accomplish together, not because He needs us but because He wants us! So Simon Peter climbed back into the boat and with his comrades dragged the net ashore and witnessed the remarkable results of divine help to human effort (Jn 21:10).1687

It was full of large fish, 153, but even with so many the net was not torn (Yochanan 21:11). With a group of men fishing, the catch was presumably shared with them all. So it was necessary to count the fish before assigning the shares. There is no symbolic or allegorical significance to the number. It merely means a very large number of fish. Sometimes John records such things. In describing how Messiah turned water into wine (see Bq Jesus Changes Water Into Wine), he recorded: Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons or from 75 to 115 liters of water (John 2:6). In simply meant a lot of water.

Jesus said to them: Come and have breakfast. None of the apostles dared ask Him, “Who are you?” even though they knew it was the Lord. Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish (John 21:12-13). This image of Christ distributing the bread and the fish is no accident. It was a clear allusion to the abundance He created in the wilderness (see Fn - Jesus Feeds the 5,000). The One who had provided for them during their time with Him before the Crucifixion had promised in the Upper Room that He would continue to provide for them; and the fact of this meal substantiated Messiah’s promise that He would meet their every need. The talmidim had thought the death of Christ would end His care for them; now they had a demonstration of His continuing care. Those who feared that His death would terminate their fellowship with Him now enjoyed sweet fellowship as they ate what He had provided.1688 This was now the third time Jesus appeared to His talmidim after He was raised from the dead (Yochanan 21:14; see John 20:19 and 26 for the other two appearances).

In the congregations of God, we tend to think of full-time vocational messianic rabbis and pastors as “called” by ADONAI (and rightfully so). They are not, however, the only people called by YHVH to fulfill a divine purpose. All believers have been called to bring glory to Elohim in whatever they do. So, in reality, it is appropriate to extend the range of a “calling” to include any vocation a believer chooses to pursue. We become the message. Therefore . . .

We must come to terms with our limitations. While we should do our best and always pursue excellence, never forget that, ultimately, success is not up to us. Peter and his business partners ran a lucrative fishing business and were experts in their vocation. They had years of experience and all the right equipment, yet their net came up empty. Only with the Lord’s help did they find success. The miracle haul of fish illustrates that without the help of our Great Rabbi’s help, all our expertise and diligence will come to nothing.

We must come to terms with our priorities. All believers have been called as disciples and all are commissioned to make disciples (see Mo – The Great Commission), regardless of each person’s life’s work. Not only that, we have all been called to bring glory to ADONAI in whatever we do (First Corinthians 10:31). Consequently, students, tradesmen and women, homemakers, professionals, ministers, laborers . . . Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters (Colossians 3:23).

What is your attitude toward your life’s work? If you start the day thinking, “Ugh! Back to the ole’ grind! It’s time for a change. If a new job isn’t possible (it may require other significant sacrifices, but this is usually possible), then the change might have to be internal. Begin by committing every aspect of your job to the Lord for His purposes and His glory. “Lord, I’m Yours today. This is Your desk. This is Your office. These are Your tools. This is Your computer. Now help me become the very best worker I can possibly be. And in the process of time, let’s catch some fish. Let’s make some disciples.”

We must come to terms with our imperfection. Peter laid aside his calling to fish for people because of his failure and took up a vocation which he thought wouldn’t cause as much damage to the Kingdom. While he wanted to put it in the rear view mirror and make the best of a lesser future – Jesus met him head on. Christ didn’t deny, minimize, rationalize, or ignore Simon’s failure. Instead, He emphasized it no less than three times, each time calling the dejected apostle to: Feed my sheep. It was if the Lord was saying, “Yes, Peter, you blew it. And you’ll blow it again. Nevertheless, I want you to fulfill your calling.

Failure is inevitable. And Messiah is never surprised when we fail. It’s not as though He called us to follow Him without knowing failure! With the penalty for our sins already paid in full on the cross (John 19:30a), failure for the believer is merely a reminder to depend on Him rather than on ourselves . . . to replace self-confidence with Christ-confidence.1689

 

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