Chapter 21:1-14 (ESV) - After this Jesus revealed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias, and he revealed himself in this way. Simon Peter, Thomas (called the Twin), Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples were together. Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.
Just as day was breaking, Jesus stood on the shore; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, “Children, do you have any fish?” They answered him, “No.” He said to them, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in, because of the quantity of fish. That disciple whom Jesus loved therefore said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his outer garment, for he was stripped for work, and threw himself into the sea. The other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, but about a hundred yards off.
When they got out on land, they saw a charcoal fire in place, with fish laid out on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, 153 of them. And although there were so many, the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and so with the fish. This was now the third time that Jesus was revealed to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.
Question to consider: Where else do we read of Jesus commanding the disciples to cast their nets to the other side of the boat to catch fish?
The first twenty chapters of this gospel contained John’s witness of the signs done by Christ which point to Him as the Son of God. John provided this witness to those who did not get the chance to see Jesus before He went to be with the Father. In it John desired to drive home the point that Jesus came in the flesh and has given us the Holy Spirit so that we may love and serve one another like Christ has loved and served us.
We can regard this last chapter as an epilogue to the account to let us know of a third appearance to the disciples in which Peter was restored to ministry. Although all of the disciples fell away, it was Peter who denied having known Jesus to the point of calling the curse of God down upon himself if he were lying. To us, it almost seems like a bookend to Peter’s discipleship because we know from Luke’s account that Peter first believed after Jesus gave him and the boys a miraculous catch of fish after having worked all night with no success.
If ever I had the opportunity to ask John about the time after the resurrection, it would be to ask why all of his descriptions of Jesus were so mysterious. Why did Jesus seem to shroud Himself from everyone until a familiar moment when He was revealed? Was it the idea that Jesus only made Himself known to those who belonged to Him? Was it because He looked completely different after the resurrection?
I suppose it doesn’t matter much in the grand scheme of things, but it definitely mirrors our experience with Christ. Those who have come to know Christ can see Him and His mercy all throughout the scriptures and wonder how it is that so many seem to miss Him. As Jesus once said, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” (John 10:27)
I also am curious as to where Jesus went in between these encounters. Luke mentioned in Acts that Jesus appeared to them several times over the course of the 40 days that followed Passover, and ten days after He ascended into heaven, the Holy Spirit produced a great spiritual harvest at Pentecost. Paul seemed to quote an early creed in his first letter to the Corinthians (chapter 15) about the appearances made by Christ during those 40 days. Maybe Jesus was appearing to His brothers and sisters or to those who had come to faith in Samaria or the Decapolis.
We don’t know exactly how much time had passed before this encounter, but after Thomas believed, it appears that they went back to Galilee and decided to take Peter’s boat out to do some fishing. After a long night with nothing to show for it, Jesus was waiting for them on the shore. I think it’s weird the ESV has Jesus calling them “children”. Instead, we should read the statement more like, “Hey boys! Catch any fish?” Obviously, Jesus knew they didn’t catch anything, but it provided Him the opportunity to tell them to cast the net on the right side of the boat. This is just a personal opinion, but I could see this being a running joke among the disciples ever since Jesus did the original miracle.
The idea of someone instructing a professional fisherman to try the other side of the boat would be like asking a mechanic to go ahead and kick the bumper to get a truck to start. The big question is why on earth the disciples agreed to do it. Maybe after having experienced the original miracle, they no longer dismissed the idea that God could be speaking through a stranger on the beach. This time, instead of asking Jesus to depart, Peter leapt into the water and dragged the nets to shore.
Dear Lord, thank You for meeting us at our point of failure and difficulty and teaching us to rely on You. For we know that Your grace is sufficient for us, and Your power is made perfect in weakness. Amen.