John 21:1-14 Fishing

John's Gospel Commentary by Robert Brow ( 2000

The first edition of this gospel ended at the end of the last chapter, and John concluded it with his statement of why the book was written (20:30-31). This final chapter was added as a postscript in a second edition and, whoever was the scribe that edited it, he assures us that it was indeed written by John the Apostle (21:24-25).

In the previous chapter John described the resurrection body of Jesus as he appeared to the disciples on the first two Sundays that we might call Easter Sunday and Thomas Sunday. This chapter gives us a detailed account of an appearance in Galilee. On Easter morning the women were told "He is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him" (Matthew 28:7, Mark 16:7).

Our chapter begins "After these things." The Feast of Unleavened Bread celebrations lasted a full week (Exodus 12:15), so the earliest the disciples would have been able to leave for Galilee was early on the Monday after Thomas Sunday. It would have taken at least five days for the group of disciples to walk the ninety to a hundred miles from Jerusalem to the Sea of Galilee. They would have wanted to keep sabbat and attend their home synagogues on the Saturday. After sundown Peter felt it was time to get back to work, and said "I am going fishing." And John remembers they all said "We will go with you" (21:3-4), and they caught nothing all night. That would mean Jesus appeared to them early on what we will call Fishing Sunday.

Luke tells us that Jesus "presented himself alive to the apostles by many convincing proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God" (Acts 1:3). But John wants us to understand that the risen Lord did not appear continuously every day, but rather after certain intervals. "This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he rose from the dead" (21:14 "was raised," see note on the section 19:31-42).

That suggests that Jesus may have deliberately appeared to his disciples on successive Sundays. This would get them used to the idea that he would meet with them as they gathered on "The Lord's Day" (20:19, 26, Acts 20:7; Revelation 1:10). And the Day of Pentecost was again on a Sunday.

Other resurrection body experiences of Jesus are given to us in the New Testament. So in "Eight Sundays from Easter to Pentecost"   ( - under Sermons) I very tentatively offered a rough guess of what might have happened on each Lord's Day:

EASTER SUNDAY Matthew 28:1-10, Mark 16:1-8, Luke 24:1-43, John 20:1-23

THOMAS SUNDAY John 20:26-29 Doubting Thomas is convinced

FISHING SUNDAY John 21:1-25 Breakfast by the lake and Peter restored

NATIONS SUNDAY Matthew 28:16-20 The great commision on the mountain

CONVENTION SUNDAY 1 Corinthians 15:6 Paul says that 500 gathered for this

FAMILY SUNDAY 1 Corinthians 15:7 Jesus' brother James and all the apostles

APOSTLES' SUNDAY Acts 1:15-25 120 gather to replace Judas

HOLY SPIRIT SUNDAY Acts 2:1-41 All gathered for the Day of Pentecost

What is usually called Ascension Day marks the end of 40 days of resurrection body appearances (Acts 1:3, 13:41), and by tradition it is celebrated on a Thursday.

Our listing of references makes clear that the Messiah appeared at intervals (21:14). Two of these appearances were on a Sunday, the Day of Pentecost was a Sunday, and in each case the disciples were gathered as a group. If we are right about Jesus appearing for breakfast on the third Sunday morning (21:14), we can guess he told them to gather the next Sunday on the Mountain for the Great Commission. And there he may have made the rendez-vous to gather the 500 together for the first Christian convention in Jerusalem the next Sunday (1 Corinthians 15:6). And then there was the invitation to James, the Lord's brother, to join the disciples the next Sunday (1 Corinthians 15:7)

21:1 As suggested in the notes above, the words "again" and "the third time" (21:14) suggest that the fishing expedition may have been after sundown on Saturday. By the Jewish method of counting the day began in the evening (followed by the morning, Genesis 1:5, 8, 13, 19, 23, 31), so they fished all night and had breakfast with Jesus on Sunday morning (21:9).

Herod Antipas named his capital city after the Roman emperor Tiberius, and so the Sea of Galilee was also called the Sea of Tiberias.

The words "showed himself again" and "he showed himself in this way" are important to show that the Messiah was alive and at hand for the forty days (Acts 1:3) but he only revealed himself in bodily form on some of those days (21:14).

21:2 Six disciples went out fishing. These were probably the original group of five that joined Jesus when he was baptized by John (1:35-49), but Thomas (20:20-28) has joined them.

21:3 By the end of the five day walk from Jerusalem, perhaps followed by embarrassing questions in the synagogue on the Saturday ("What are you going to do now? Are you going to work for a living?"), Peter decides it is time to get back to his fishing business. And the other five join him in what must have been a fairly big fishing boat. They kept casting their net all night but did not even catch a minnow.

21:4-5 John clearly remembers the figure on the beach as they came in towards land in the early dawn. He asked the common question people ask of fishermen. "Did you catch anything?" and they had to say "no."

21:6 When the stranger told them to cast the net "to the right side of the boat" John assumed he could see a shoal of fish there. But suddenly the net filled with what turned out to be 153 large fish (21:6), and there was no way they could haul that in to the boat..

21:7-8 John again gives us his anonymous signature (as in 13:23, 18:15, 19:26) to indicate that he was the one who said to Peter "It is the Lord." Another eye witness observation was that Peter was stripped naked for work (perhaps with an undershirt on), and his immediate reaction in the presence of the Messiah was to reach for his ependutyn (fisherman's coat, not "some clothes" as in NRSV).

Then impulsively as usual he left the other five in the boat, and jumped into the shallow water to wade the hundred yards towards Jesus. John explains that they had to row the boat slowly towards the shore with the net full of huge fish being pulled behind them

21:9 To the disciples' astonishment a charcoal fire (what we would call a hibachi or barbecue) was burning with fish and bread already cooking.

21:10-11 Jesus told them to add some of the fish they had just caught. So Peter went back into the boat, and hauled the net out of the water and on to the land. Later John remembers they counted 153 large fish, which would be totally unexpected in the Sea of Galilee where fish are mostly medium size to small. And equally astonishing was the fact that their net, made for ordinary-sized smaller fish, was not in any way torn.

21:12 As if it was the most common thing in the world, the stranger cooked the fish and then said "come and have breakfast." John indicates his sense of puzzlement and wondering whether the stranger could really be the Jesus he had known and loved so closely by adding "None of the disciples dared ask him, 'Who are you?' because they knew it was the Lord."

21:13 When Jesus "came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish" John must have thought back to the feeding of the 5000 and the boy who had "five barley loaves and two little fish" (6:9). The fact that Jesus' resurrection body can light a fire, cook breakfast, and have breakfast with friends (as in Luke 24:41-42), is obviously very important to John. It was an essential component of his expectation of the richness of life in his own resurrection body (see his vision that "People will bring into it the glory and honor of the nations" Revelation 21:22-26m). And what could be more wonderful than all the ways people of different nations and cultures enjoy eating together in their families, at thanksgivings, Christmas, weddings, birthday celebrations, parties, banquets, etc. This aspect of Narnia life is powerfully captured by C.S.Lewis in The Chronicles of Narnia.

21:14 For "the third time" see the notes above, and the comment on "again" (21:1.).

Having commented on this so obviously eye-witness account by the beloved disciple, I can only conclude that he was either the biggest liar who ever wrote eye-witness biography, or what he described so vividly is totally irrefutable evidence that the Jesus he knew so well appeared in his resurrection body. And that body, though still carrying the medals of the battles he fought (see notes on 20:25), is the prototype of the perfected resurrection body we will enjoy.

John 21:15-25  Peter Restored