Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
The seven “signs” of John’s Gospel lead to believing Jesus is the Messiah, God’s Son, and is found by believing in Him. This faith is not an end, but a beginning. Work has to be done; believers have a worldwide mission to fulfill.
John 21:1 (Holman) After this, Jesus revealed Himself again to His disciples by the Sea of Tiberias. He revealed Himself in this way:
After His resurrection, Jesus prepared the Twelve for when He would no longer be with them in the flesh. He had been appearing and disappearing, weaning them from His physical presence. Back home, at the Sea of Galilee, called by the Romans the Sea of Tiberias, their training resumed.
John 21:2 Simon Peter, Thomas (called “Twin”), Nathanael from Cana of Galilee, Zebedee’s sons, and two others of His disciples were together.
While waiting for Jesus to re-appear, seven disciples gathered together. Interestingly, John placed the two who had failed Jesus the most at the head of the list. One had denied, the other doubted. One was explosive, the other despondent. Peter never looked an inch beyond his nose; he always leaped before he looked. Thomas was overly cautious, always looking too long before he leaped.
Nevertheless, they are mentioned first. Both were better men now. Sin confessed and forsaken helps us climb. Peter was more humble. Thomas was staying near the Apostolic leaders. He would not be an absentee again.
Peter and Thomas had been welcomed warmly “back to the fold” by their fellow disciples. Let the Church always be ready to receive with open arms the penitent. When a sinner says, “I repent,” we must say, “I receive you.”
Nathanael was also present. John wrote good things about him. He was guileless, sincere, straightforward, the kind of person Jesus liked (JN 1:47).
Also present were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, known as the sons of Thunder. They had shown bigotry, wanting to invoke destructive vengeance on a Samaritan village. They were ambitious, craving to sit at Jesus’ right and left in His kingdom. Living with Jesus had softened them. John became of all the 12 the one most like Jesus. Many painters have portrayed a significant truth by making John’s face almost identical to Jesus’.
We don’t know who the other two disciples in attendance were. They remind us, there is always a place in the church for nameless people. We do not have to be famous, brilliant, or multi-talented to belong. In fact, the unrecognized ones have always been the main strength and backbone of a church.
These seven were waiting for Jesus to come. Since He was a bit slow in coming, time hung heavily on their minds. They did not know what to do with themselves. Idle boredom made them restless. Waiting would have been especially hard for impulsive Peter. Ever a bundle of restless energy, he always needed something to do. It is easy to imagine his sitting for a while, soon fidgeting, and before long on his feet pacing the floor. Suddenly, he exploded, interrupting the small talk with one loud yell, “I cannot stand this; I have to do something; let’s go.” Peter knew what to do to occupy his mind.
John 21:3a “I’m going fishing,” Simon Peter said to them. “We’re coming with you,” they told him.
After the Resurrection, fishing seems anticlimactic, but, it did not sound outlandish to the six. Peter’s spontaneous plan evoked a unanimous response. They all needed to occupy their minds. Also, “silver and gold had they none.” They needed the work. Fishing was for them employment, not recreation.
Peter decided the best thing to do till Jesus came, was to go back to their work. He was right; no need to be idle or sad. Going ahead with the regular routine of daily tasks was good. They were wise to return to their former occupation. The way to please God is to do our regular routine unless we have sufficient reason not to do. Keep at our work. We do not need hermits or lazy believers.
John 21:3b-5 They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing. When daybreak came, Jesus stood on the shore. However, the disciples did not know it was Jesus. “Men,” Jesus called to them, “you don’t have any fish, do you?” “No,” they answered.
Night was considered the best time for fishing, but this evening all efforts were in vain. God kept them from catching anything. He had a vital lesson to teach them at dawn. He wanted them to be shocked at the next morning’s miracle.
At sunrise Jesus appeared at the seaside. In the misty dawn, the disciples did not recognize Him. Jesus spoke as if interested in buying what they had caught. They said they had been unsuccessful (Amazing! Honest fishermen!).
John 21:6 “Cast the net on the right side of the boat,” He told them, “and you’ll find some.” So they did, and they were unable to haul it in because of the large number of fish.
Jesus directed them to cast their net on the right side. Whichever side Jesus directs us to is always the “right” side. It is always correct to do His commands.
Fishermen are not always open to suggestions, but after a wasted night, anything would be worth trying. Their obedience resulted in a haul of fish too heavy to pull out of the water. They had to drag it behind in the water.
John 21:7a Therefore the disciple, the one Jesus loved, said to Peter, “It is the Lord!”
John’s eyes had not told him it was Jesus, but one tug at a fully weighted net caused immediate recognition. A love-filled heart recognized the proof of a Friend nearby. John knew this was a miracle. It was all the evidence he needed. The eagle-glance of love saw the Divine. This laden net had to be the touch of his Master. We can almost hear John catching his breath as he gasps, “It is the Lord.”
John came to see this dramatic moment as being used by Jesus to teach the disciples some valuable lessons. Now that they believed Jesus was the Messiah, God’s Son, and had found life in Him, they were to be about the business of sharing with others what they had discovered. They, like all believers, were to be fishers of men, catching sinners by the net of the Gospel.
This fishing incident told them what they were to do, and what their task would be like. One, many nights will be full of exhausting hard work resulting in failure. If involved in God’s work, expect disappointments aplenty. It is no accident the Bible commands us to be not weary in well-doing. We toil in Satan’s domain, on a midnight sea, and often come up with an empty net, or nothing but sea weed and mud.
A second lesson John learned this early morning was, Jesus is always nearby watching. We cannot see Jesus, but He is always near us, watching. Many nights will bring us despair, but we must remember, Jesus is on the shore nearby.
Jesus was not in the boat, an apt reminder that for Him the tossings of life were over. Having finished His work on Life’s stormy sea, He stood on a safe, quiet shore, but we still have perilous, discouraging work to do. We are not left to labor alone. Jesus has not forsaken us. We are at sea, He is on the shore, but true communion exists between us. While we toil, He toils with us; He watches us, interested in what we are doing. He shares our work on the restless sea.
Three, John learned, since the Pilot of Galilee is guiding us, a bad night can result in a good morning. Joy often comes in the morning. Disappointments are grievous, but also gracious. God works in them, guiding us to Himself through them. For believers, there will always be mornings of rich discovery. They may not come as often as we like on earth, but will assuredly come abundantly in Heaven. For believers, the best is always yet to come. A day will come when “there shall be no more sea.” Night and nothing will be replaced by dawn and delight.
Four, this fishing trip illustrated Jesus’ words, “you can do nothing without Me” (JN 15:5). However hard we labor, unless God blesses, our efforts are in vain.
These well-trained men had been fishing all their lives, but they had to learn, henceforth they must not trust in their own abilities. Doing in His strength what He says to do is what brings success.
The genius and essence of Jesus’ Kingdom is the King. The Lord’s presence in our midst gives the Church power. She is strong, because a King shouts in her midst. King Jesus’ representative, the Holy Spirit, empowers the Church.
Jesus performed miracles in His incarnate body, and now does the same through His followers. We are His fellow-laborers, vessels through which His power flows. Christianity is God present as an active Agent affecting the world through His people. His guidance and power among us are everything. In no other way can we enjoy success. In all we do, ever say, “It is the Lord!”