Category Archives: JOHN 21:1-14

The disciples are taught lessons about fishing for men.

JOHN 21:1-14

THE WORDS OF THE BIBLE, THE CHRISTIAN SCRIPTURES, AS FOUND IN THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO JOHN CHAPTER 21, VERSES 1 TO 14:

21:1  After these things Jesus shewed Himself again to the disciples at the sea of Tiberias; and on this wise shewed He Himself.
21:2  There were together Simon Peter, and Thomas called Didymus, and Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, and the sons of Zebedee, and two other of His disciples.
21:3  Simon Peter saith unto them, I go a fishing. They say unto him, We also go with thee. They went forth, and entered into a ship immediately; and that night they caught nothing.
21:4  But when the morning was now come, Jesus stood on the shore: but the disciples knew not that it was Jesus.
21:5  Then Jesus saith unto them, Children, have ye any meat? They answered Him, No.
21:6  And He said unto them, Cast the net on the right side of the ship, and ye shall find. They cast therefore, and now they were not able to draw it for the multitude of fishes.
21:7  Therefore that disciple whom Jesus loved saith unto Peter, It is the Lord. Now when Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he girt his fisher’s coat unto him, (for he was naked,) and did cast himself into the sea.
21:8  And the other disciples came in a little ship; (for they were not far from land, but as it were two hundred cubits,) dragging the net with fishes.
21:9  As soon then as they were come to land, they saw a fire of coals there, and fish laid thereon, and bread.
21:10  Jesus saith unto them, Bring of the fish which ye have now caught.
21:11  Simon Peter went up, and drew the net to land full of great fishes, an hundred and fifty and three: and for all there were so many, yet was not the net broken.
21:12  Jesus saith unto them, Come and dine. And none of the disciples durst ask Him, Who art thou? knowing that it was the Lord.
21:13  Jesus then cometh, and taketh bread, and giveth them, and fish likewise.
21:14  This is now the third time that Jesus shewed Himself to His disciples, after that He was risen from the dead.

John tells us in verse 14 that he is recording three manifestations of the Lord Jesus to His disciples after His resurrection.  He also tells us of the manifestation to Mary Magdalene, but that was to her alone.  Each of the four gospel writers is selective in telling us of these post-resurrection appearances, and in each case they serve the purpose for which the particular gospel is written.  It is the apostle Paul who gives us the complete list in 1 Corinthians 15:5-8.  Complete, that is, as to men, because the context is about the preaching of the gospel, which is the task of the brothers.  The sisters often excel at bearing witness privately, as Mary Magdalene and others did in connection with the resurrection, for it was these who were chosen to bring the news of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus to the disciples.  But it is not their role to publicly preach the gospel, hence their exclusion from Paul’s list.

John is a true evangelist, and wrote his gospel so that men might believe, 20:30,31.  But a reading of those two verses will show that they are in a rather strange place.  They represent a summary of the motive John had in writing the gospel, but do not come at the end of the gospel, where we might expect to find them.  This suggests that they may form a link between what goes before and after them.  In the previous verses, the Lord has manifested Himself to His disciples, breathed on them with the words, “Receive ye the Holy Spirit”, and has sent them forth “as My Father hath sent Me”, verse21.  So this is the official commission of the apostles to go into the world as the Lord had gone into the world.  But Thomas was not present at that meeting, and this serves to introduce a further manifestation of the Lord eight days later.  He so deals with Thomas that he is constrained to confess, “My Lord and My God”.  The lesson is clear, that those sent forth by the Lord do so with a view to testifying of His authority and His Deity.
John then inserts his reason for writing, which also becomes the basis of the preaching of the apostles when they went forth.

When we come to chapter 21, we find four further truths are brought out, as follows:
1.  Verses 1-14  That of the Lord’s complete control over the gospel preaching and its results.
2.  Verses 15-17  That of the need for love to the Lord to motivate those who go forth for Him.
3.  Verses 18-23  That the life’s work of each servant is under the control of the Lord.
4.  Verses 24,25  That the gospel is so full and wonderful that all the books in the world could not exhaust it.

Part 1.  Verses 1-14  The Lord’s complete control over the gospel preaching and its results.

21:1  After these things Jesus shewed Himself again to the disciples at the sea of Tiberias; and on this wise shewed He Himself.

After these things Jesus shewed Himself again to the disciples- He is going to manifest some further feature of Himself that will encourage them as they go forth into the world for Him. 
At the sea of Tiberias- John tells us in 6:1 that the sea of Galilee is the sea of Tiberias.  He does not mention Galilee here, to emphasise the word Tiberias.  Tiberias the town was founded by Herod Antipas in about AD 20, and named in honour of Tiberius Caesar.  It was a very Gentile city.  Galilee became known as the Sea of Tiberias.  The name is therefore one that has strong suggestions of Gentile culture, power, and influence, and no doubt John chooses this name to emphasise the contrast between the power of the world and the power of Christ.  The disciples have been sent into a world opposed to God, and they need superior power on their side.  The incident that follows shows them that they do have Divine power on their side, but only when they come to an end of their own power.
And on this wise shewed He Himself- to shew means to make apparent, so there is some feature of the Lord Jesus that has been present all along, but which is going to be highlighted.  It is His Lordship, and the word “Lord” occurs seven times in the chapter.
The section revolves around fishing, then food, then feeding sheep, all must be done under His Lordship if it is to be glorifying to Him.

21:2  There were together Simon Peter, and Thomas called Didymus, and Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, and the sons of Zebedee, and two other of his disciples.

There were together Simon Peter- they were not together as a company of disciples expecting the Lord to be in the midst.  They are together because they have the common interest of fishing.  Peter is always mentioned first in the lists of the apostles, but here he is first in that he takes the initiative to go fishing.  He is the one who needs to learn a lesson from the incident that follows.  The fact that he instigated the fishing expedition makes it even more a lesson for Peter.
And Thomas called Didymus- usually the list of disciples begins with Peter, and then follows Andrew his brother, and then James and John, as in Matthew 10:2, or Peter, then James and John, and then Andrew, as in Mark 3:16-18.  This is the only place where Thomas is mentioned next to Peter.  It serves to highlight the fact that just a little while before Thomas had confessed Christ to be his Lord and his God, whereas Peter had denied Him.  That failure is about to be dealt with publicly.  It has already been dealt with privately, Mark 16:7; 1 Corinthians 15:5.
And Nathanael of Cana in Galilee- how striking that Peter is associated with the two disciples that are noted for their bold confession of Christ, for Nathanael had exclaimed, “Thou art the Son of God; Thou art the King of Israel, John 1:49, and he had done this before he had seen a miracle or heard a discourse.  Peter must have felt that his own denial was all the more appalling, for he had been privileged to see the miracles and hear the doctrine.
And the sons of Zebedee- John does not list the twelve apostles, so he did not have to mention his own name in that connection.  Here he disguises himself as one of the sons of Zebedee, who was the owner of a fishing business, and James and John were with him in it, Mark 1:19,20.   Later on he will be described as usual in the gospel, as the “disciple whom Jesus loved”, verses 7 and 20.  The leading thought here is that he is a fisherman.
And two other of his disciples- if these had been apostles they surely would have been named.  Their common bond with the others was their faith in Christ on one level, and their vocation as fishermen on a lower level.  It does serve to remind us that though the initial preaching of the gospel was entrusted to the apostles, it was not long before others were engaged in it.  It also serves to show that the ongoing work of evangelisation does not depend on any supposed apostolic succession.

21:3  Simon Peter saith unto them, I go a fishing.  They say unto him, We also go with thee.  They went forth, and entered into a ship immediately; and that night they caught nothing.

Simon Peter saith unto them, I go a fishing- some have criticised Peter for this, suggesting that it shows that he was disillusioned, and wanted to go back to his old ways.  But we should remember that there is no rebuke from the Lord when He meets them later, and in fact He uses the incident to teach them a much-needed lesson.  Of course this was not a hobby with these men, but their means of livelihood. 
They say unto him, We also go with thee- they respond to Peter’s leadership.  His leadership in better things will be established in this incident. 
They went forth, and entered into a ship immediately- the Lord will skilfully turn this readiness to work into service for Him.  It is good if there is a willingness to serve the Lord, and immediate response to His commands.
And that night they caught nothing- this is the critical thing, for they are being taught that if they act independently of Christ they will fail.  They had had this experience before, and they knew how the Lord had stepped in then, and they caught a great haul of fishes, see Luke 5:4-11.  That incident had been the means of them being commissioned to be with Him, and go forth to preach the gospel of the kingdom.  Now they have been sent forth to preach the gospel of God’s grace.

21:4  But when the morning was now come, Jesus stood on the shore: but the disciples knew not that it was Jesus.

But when the morning was now come- if fish are not caught during the night they will probably not be caught during the day.  Their failure is total, as it needed to be, so that the lesson they are about to be taught will impress them permanently. 
Jesus stood on the shore- He will show them that He can do from the shore what they totally fail to do as experienced fishermen from their boat.
But the disciples knew not that it was Jesus- this was literally true, but they are going to find that as He manifests Himself, they will know Him in a better way spiritually. 

21:5  Then Jesus saith unto them, Children, have ye any meat? They answered Him, No.

Then Jesus saith unto them, Children- this word is translated like this three times in the New Testament.  The second time is in Hebrews 2:13, where we hear the Lord Jesus say, “Behold I and the children whom God hath given Me”.  This is a quotation from Isaiah 8:18.  Isaiah had the task of warning the wicked king Ahaz of impending captivity at the hands of the Assyrians.  As a sign to Israel, Isaiah was instructed by God to name his two sons in a particular way.  One was to be Shear-jashub, a name which means “A remnant shall return”, and the other, Maher-shalal-hash-baz, which means “In making haste to the spoil he hasteneth the prey”.  So when Isaiah said to the nation, “Behold, I and the children which God hath given me”, they were a “sign and a wonder” to Israel.  Maher-shalal-hash-baz was testimony that the Assyrian would indeed hasten to invade the land, and take them as a prey.  The other son, however, was God’s promise that even though that happened, a remnant would return from captivity.  So the idea is of successful outcome after seeming disaster.  If the disciples thought on these lines, they would see that the one who stood on the shore was able to bring triumph out of disaster, whether the trivial matter of a night of fruitless fishing, or the very important matter of successful evangelism after the one who is preached had been rejected and crucified. 
The third time the word “children” is found as a translation of this word is in Hebrews 2:13, where we read, “Forasmuch as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, He also Himself likewise took part of the same”.  This tells of the complete authority of Christ over the Devil, who had the power of death.  Both references to children therefore are an assurance of the complete control of the one to whom they are related spiritually. 
The word children expresses the vulnerability of the disciples in the face of disaster.  Indeed, the particular Greek word used here is also used of the Lord Jesus when He was eight days old, Luke 21.  It is also distinguished from ‘men’ in Matthew 14:21, showing that the thought in John 21 is of their vulnerability.  But their relationship with Christ in resurrection would bring them through.
Whether the disciples realised these truths at the time is doubtful, but as they thought about them afterwards they would have been greatly encouraged, especially in times when they seemed to not be very successful in their role as fishers of men.
Have ye any meat?  The question is prefaced with a Greek word which shows that the answer is going to be more or less in the negative.  He gently indicates that He knows their situation.  It is a genuine question in that He wants them to declare what the situation is, and enable them to confess the full extent of their failure.
The word meat was used in former times for any sort of food, so, for instance, the offering of Leviticus 2 was called a meat offering, even though there was no animal flesh involved.  Here, the question is about fish.  It shows that the Lord recognised that their fishing expedition was not a money-making venture, but was prompted by the very real need to support their families.  If Peter and Andrew had really wanted to return to their old life, they could have rejoined their father in his fishing business.
They answered Him, No- what else could they say?  It is true that they were far enough from the shore to prevent someone seeing their boat was empty, but they answer honestly.  They confess the situation with their own mouths.  We cannot hide anything from the Lord, even if we try.

21:6  And He said unto them, Cast the net on the right side of the ship, and ye shall find. They cast therefore, and now they were not able to draw it for the multitude of fishes.

And He said unto them, Cast the net on the right side of the ship, and ye shall find- there must have been something in the tone of voice of the stranger on the shore which assured them that He was to be obeyed.  In a previous and similar incident as recorded in Luke 5:4-11, Peter had protested that they had caught nothing all night, and implied that to try again was useless.  We have nothing of that here.
They might well have reasoned that the right side of the ship was only a few feet from the left side of the ship, so wherein lay the difference?  They will come to realise that the difference lays in obedience to Him.  To cast the net in response to His command, is always to cast on the right side.
They cast therefore, and now they were not able to draw it for the multitude of fishes- the “now” of this sentence is the same “now” of verse 10, “the fish ye have now caught”; it is His intervention that makes the difference between the toiling all night and the ‘now’ of instant success.
In Luke 5 the net brake, for the simple reason that the Lord had told them to cast nets, and they only cast one.  Here, the Lord knows exactly what they will catch, and that one net will hold them all.
In this verse, and in verse 11, the word used for ‘draw’ is the same as is used in John 6:44, where the Lord says, “no man can come unto Me except the Father which hath sent Me draw him”.  He went on to say, “It is written in the prophets ‘And they shall all be taught of God’,  Every man therefore that hath heard, and hath learned of the Father, cometh unto Me”.  This suggests that the “net” which draws men to Christ, the Father’s appointed means, is the word of God.  This is why the net did not break in this incident, for the Lord said, “The Scripture cannot be broken”.  The word of God is the sure way of bringing sinners to Christ.  We are not  expected to devise clever schemes and strategies to present the gospel.  All that is needed is the setting forth of the truth of God as found in the word of God in the power of the Spirit of God.  Divine resources like these cannot fail.
The disciples were not able to draw the net, meaning they were not able to pull the fish out of the water into the boat.  It was the net that caught the fish; they were only the agents used to land the fish in the boat.  But this they could not do, another example of their powerlessness.  Their empty net during the night showed their failure, and so did their empty boat now.  In the other incident in Luke 5, they were able to bring a large catch into the boat, but not here.  Their failure is manifest. 

21:7  Therefore that disciple whom Jesus loved saith unto Peter, It is the Lord. Now when Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he girt his fisher’s coat unto him, (for he was naked,) and did cast himself into the sea.

Therefore that disciple whom Jesus loved saith unto Peter, It is the Lord- ever the man of insight, John realises from what has happened, (and no doubt helped by his experience in Luke 5 with the draught of fishes there), that the stranger can only be the Lord.  He has knowledge beyond theirs, (even though they are experienced fishermen), and also has control over the fish of the sea in their movements.  It is not too much to say that He had prevented the fish from entering their net during the night, and now He had commanded them to do so.
Now when Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord- ‘Simon’ means ‘hearing’, and he responds to the word from John. 
He girt his fisher’s coat unto him, (for he was naked,) and did cast himself into the sea- it seems strange to put clothes on to prepare to swim, but there is an over-riding consideration.  He is about to stand before the Lord, and he knows that he must be dressed suitably for His presence.  This incident teaches us that there is a dress code that is suitable for coming together.  Those who are spiritual will realise that.  Those who are carnal and do not realise it need to be instructed. Decorum should mark us as we meet together.  And there is no reason to make weekday meetings the exception.  The Lord is the same in the week as He is on Sunday.
Notice that Peter does not attempt to walk on the water here.  He has denied his Lord since he did that, and perhaps is not quite confident that he deserves to be upheld on the water as before.
And the other disciples came in a little ship; (for they were not far from land, but as it were two hundred cubits,)  As is common practice, a small vessel is used to row out from the shore to reach the bigger vessel that cannot come near to the water-line.  It would be towed behind the larger ship, to be available when needed.
This is why John adds, as an aside, the distance from the shore.  Because it was only a short distance, the water would be shallow and the larger vessel could not approach. 
Dragging the net with fishes- the disciples are presented with a problem.  They cannot draw the fishes over the side of the vessel, there are so many, (and Peter is not now in the boat so there is one less to help), and they cannot pull the net with the larger vessel because the water is too shallow, so they drag the net full of fishes through the water by means of the smaller boat, until they reach the shore.  Perhaps we could see in this that there is room for enterprise in the making known of the gospel; but there is no room for gimmicks- the little ship was perfectly orthodox.

21:9  As soon then as they were come to land, they saw a fire of coals there, and fish laid thereon, and bread.

As soon then as they were come to land- the meal was ready for them as soon as the reached the shore, showing that the Lord had not needed them in order to provide a meal.  He is the Last Adam, and the fish of the sea are under His control, Psalm 8:8. 
They saw a fire of coals there, and fish laid thereon, and bread- He knows they will be depressed, cold and hungry, and He, as ever, has the answer.  It almost seems as if they are still in the little boat when they see the fire.  The boat had grounded on the beach, but they had not yet disembarked.
Of course the fire is going to bring back memories for Peter, for he had warmed himself at the fire in the High Priest’s Palace, and then denied the Lord, Luke 22:55.  He will soon be given the opportunity to reverse that denial publicly. 

21:10  Jesus saith unto them, Bring of the fish which ye have now caught.

Jesus saith unto them, Bring of the fish which ye have now caught- how gracious of the Lord to allow them to associate their fish with His fish.  It symbolises His willingness to share in the great work of evangelism.  “We are labourers together with God”, 1 Corinthians 3:9.  Isaiah said, “Lord, who hath believed our report?”, Romans 10:16.  Peter brought the Word of God on the Day of Pentecost, but we read that the three thouseand converts “gladly received his word”, Acts 2:41.  The Lord prayed for those who would believe “through their word”, John 17:20.
“Ye have now caught” highlights their previous failure on their own, and their success when instructed by Him.
He asks them to bring little fish, such is the meaning of the word, as it is in the previous verse.  It would not be suitable for the disciples to bring large fish, (for they had caught many large fish), and to place them beside His small fish.  The little fish in question were considered a delicacy, and were eaten with bread.  The Lord will see to it that His guests feel welcome.  It will also be a test of obedience and a sign of humility if only little fishes are selected and brought from amongst the large fishes they had caught.

21:11  Simon Peter went up, and drew the net to land full of great fishes, an hundred and fifty and three: and for all there were so many, yet was not the net broken.

Simon Peter went up- was he still standing in the water, hesitating to come out now that he realised that John was right, and the stranger on the shore was in fact the Lord?  It seems as if the six disciples were also hesitant, and were still in the boat, for only Peter lands the fish.
And drew the net to land full of great fishes- the net was full of great fishes, but there were enough small fishes to fulfil the request of the Lord.  It would be a comparatively easy job to pull the net onto the shore now that it had been brought to shallow water.
An hundred and fifty and three- no doubt Peter did not stop to count them at first, but they must have done afterwards.  He must minister to the Lord rather than be occupied with their success.  Much has been written about this number, but perhaps its very strangeness is an indication that it is the fish that matter, and not their number.  A single soul is worth more than the gain of the whole world, Matthew 16:26. Because the number 153 does not relate to anything else in Scripture, it would perhaps represent the whole number of those who will be saved during this age of grace.
And for all there were so many, yet was not the net broken- as already noticed, the net did not break because the Lord only required them to cast one net.  In Luke 5 the Lord had said nets, in the plural, and the disciples only cast one, so it is no surprise the net broke, to demonstrate that if we only obey partially, we must only expect partial success.

21:12  Jesus saith unto them, Come and dine. And none of the disciples durst ask Him, Who art Thou? knowing that it was the Lord.

Jesus saith unto them, Come and dine- if they were still standing in the boat, then the call is to come closer and share with Him in His expression of authority and power, the loaves and the fishes.
And none of the disciples durst ask Him, Who art Thou?  They did not dare to ask Him for He had made it so obvious by His words and actions that it was He.  It would have been an insult to ask who He was, when what He had done was purposely designed to bring to their mind former incidents.

21:13  Jesus then cometh, and taketh bread, and giveth them, and fish likewise.

Jesus then cometh, and taketh bread, and giveth them, and fish likewise- we should remember that the Lord has taken the form of a servant for ever.  It is part of His nature as a man, and He expresses this by these actions.  He had said during His ministry that “Blessed are those servants, whom the Lord when He cometh shall find watching: verily I say unto you, that He shall gird Himself, and make them to sit down to meat, and will come forth and serve them”, Luke 37.
It is also a lesson to the disciples, for they are called to be servants too.  Not only are they to catch fish in evangelism, but they are to provide comfort of soul and nourishment for those saved through their ministry.

21:14  This is now the third time that Jesus shewed Himself to His disciples, after that He was risen from the dead.

This is now the third time that Jesus shewed Himself to His disciples, after that He was risen from the dead- that is, the third time John records in his gospel that He manifested Himself to disciples, as opposed to individuals, like Mary Magdalene.
The first time, 20:19-23, was to grant them peace, to give them the Holy Spirit, and to send them forth, as He had been sent forth of His Father.
The second time, 20:24-29, was to dispel unbelief, and to produce the testimony of Thomas, “My Lord and my God”, the attitude of heart that true evangelists should display.
The third time, 21:1-13, is to show His complete control over the fishing for men; that it must not be done in our own strength, and that those who serve Him well will know His reward.