Read John 21:1-14
The last chapter ended with a purpose statement for the entire Fourth Gospel. This chapter bridges the gap with a word that makes me wonder: afterward. After how long? Jesus showed the disciples definitively that the resurrection was more than a prophecy, it was genuine. He was quite alive. But what did they do with this information?
The chapter starts with this:
Simon Peter, Thomas (also known as Didymus), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples were together. “I’m going out to fish,” Simon Peter told them, and they said, “We’ll go with you.” So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing. John 21:2-3
I have an idea, let’s go fishing! Jesus appeared to His disciples in the locked room, talked to them, perhaps explained how His resurrection worked, the guards, the stone was rolled away, and more. I’m just guessing, of course. My point is they heard from Jesus. It was His voice speaking to them once again. The impossible was possible after all.
I’d love to ask John, “How long was afterward?” Is chapter 21 an Epilogue of sorts? Both chapters 20 and 21 end with concluding remarks, so it seems that we are privileged to have a few additional stories to fill in a few gaps. The first story covered in this section shows that Jesus does have a sense of humor.
The men are perhaps 100 yards from the shore when Jesus sneaks up on the scene.
He called out to them, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?” “No,” they answered. He said, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.” John 21:5-6a
I wonder if they merely said “no” to the man walking along the beach. I imagine they were a bit ticked off at this point. Thomas was giving Peter a hard time for suggesting they go fishing. Nathanael and the Zebedee brothers were tired of the fruitless effort. Now this wiseguy from the beach has a great idea.
Perhaps it was Peter that suggested they follow the man’s advice. What could it hurt to try one more time?
When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish. Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, “It is the Lord,” he wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water. John 21:6b-7
John was the first to figure out it was Jesus enjoying the moment. Peter gets excited and jumps out of the boat, wishing he really could walk on water, and makes his way to the beach while the rest of the crew managed the fish and steered for the shore.
Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish you have just caught.” So Simon Peter climbed back into the boat and dragged the net ashore. It was full of large fish, 153, but even with so many the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” John 21:10-12
153 Fish — Let’s Have Breakfast
At this point, I suspect you’re waiting for me to explain the number 153 with such eloquence that you’ll make an appointment with the nearest tattoo artist, right? I actually thought about it, but I think the truth behind the number will remain a mystery. Go ahead and Google the question, then come back here for the rest of today’s story. Here’s my favorite answer:
“Large quantities of ink have gone into explaining why there should be 153 fish. At the purely historical level, it is unsurprising that someone counted them, either as part of dividing them up amongst the fishermen in preparation for sale, or because one of the men was so dumbfounded by the size of the catch that he said something like this: ‘Can you believe it? I wonder how many there are?'” D.A. Carson (see reference below)
John tells us this is the third time Jesus appeared to the disciples since His resurrection. On this occasion, He breaks break and has a meal with His friends. I’m really in awe of this event. Jesus is resurrected but doesn’t seem to be in a hurry at all. The balance of the world is in His hands, yet He is willing to take the time to sit down and eat with these men who will change the world.
There is much work to do, but we don’t have to run around as the world depends on every twitch of each muscle. One of the lessons here is to move with confidence that Jesus’ timing is better than mine. As I think back on the previous 20 chapters, I don’t recall a point where Jesus displayed any anxious movements. Here’s the thing, if we fully believe that the Spirit is alive and well within us, that our DNA has truly changed to include that of God the Father, how can we be anxious?
I’m not recommending we sit back and watch God do His work, but I am suggesting we do the work before us with confidence. Remember, He called us His friends and promised He would be with us always.
Cast your net again. Try the other side this time. These all sound like words of action, not complacency. Do your work and anticipate His blessing.
Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. John 21:13
Reference: D.A. Carson, The Gospel according to John (Pillar NT Commentary; Eerdmans, 1990), p. 672.