Jesus And The Miraculous Catch Of Fish


‘Afterward Jesus appeared again to his disciples, by the Sea of Galilee. It happened this way: 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 21:1-3

In John 21:1-14 we read about the miraculous draught of fishes. The ‘Sea of Galilee’ was probably better known by this name to readers outside Palestine, John 6:1, ‘Lake of Gennesaret’ Luke 5:1.

Jesus ‘revealed’ Himself means He manifested, disclosed, showed Himself. Obviously, those weren’t subjective visions that John is reporting, but actual appearances of the One who had been crucified, 1 John 1:1.

There are seven ‘disciples’ present and five are identified, the mentioned disciples, are Peter, John, Thomas, Nathanael, James and two others who were out fishing, not all of the 11 were fishermen.

Peter’s literally saying, ‘I am going to fish’ gives no indication of a motive.

Was it to be just one fishing expedition, or did he intend to resume his former profession?

One suggestion says, while they were waiting for the promise of the Holy Spirit, they still found it proper to be usefully employed. Another suggestion is, that they were probably waiting in Galilee for the appointed meeting with Christ on the mountain. The truth is, the reason isn’t revealed.

The action has now moved to Galilee where Jesus had told the women to tell the men to go and it seems as if the fishing trip was a spur of the moment decision, probably to help relax them after the difficulties they had lately experienced.

Although they were experienced fishermen and they tried all night, they caught nothing.

‘Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realise that it was Jesus. 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.’ When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish.’ John 21:4-6

‘Early in the morning’, dawn ended the customary time for fishing, ‘Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realise that it was Jesus.’ Were their eyes kept from recognising Him as we find in Luke 24:16? John says nothing to suggest that.

The disciples were about 100 yards from the shore, but they didn’t recognise the man standing on the shore. John 21:8, it wasn’t fully light, there could have been a morning midst, perhaps they were preoccupied with their fishing. There need be no miraculous explanation for their lack of recognition.

This seems a common thing after Jesus’ resurrection, people didn’t recognise Him. Mary at the tomb, the disciples on the road to Emmaus.

The term ‘friends’ in John 21:5 is ‘paidia’, the same word is used in 1 John 2:13 / 1 John 2:18. Jesus ask the question, ‘haven’t you any fish?’ and their answer, ‘No’, and His advice, ‘Throw your net on the right side, and you will find some’, all were shouted across the 100 yards of water separating them.

When they cast as He directed, they were unable to haul in the net ‘because it was so full of fish’. The Bible doesn’t give a reason why He wasn’t recognised here, only when the great catch of fish was netted did John realise who it was. Sometimes people standing on the shore can see better than those in the boat!

‘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. The other disciples followed in the boat, towing the net full of fish, for they were not far from shore, about a hundred yards. When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread.’ John 21:7-9

John was the first to recognise this ‘stranger’ is Jesus, ‘it is the Lord’. Peter was the first to act, ‘jumped into the water’, his impulsive nature was evident, and he was anxious to get to Jesus immediately.

He ‘put on his clothes’, ‘ependutes’, upper garment, a fisherman’s jacket, outer garment, coat. He was stripped for work, probably wearing only a loincloth. The Jews regarded giving a greeting as a religious act, which couldn’t be performed unless one was properly clothed.

Peter belted his fishermen jacked around him with instinctive reverence for the presence of His Master. Such details are a good indication that the writer was an eyewitness to the event.

They had a great catch, the weight of which would normally split the net but here divine intervention prevented the net from splitting. The disciples joined the Lord on the shore and it appears they still didn’t recognise Him as they dared not ask if it was Jesus.

Some people regard the fire, fish and bread to have been provided supernaturally. They note that ‘fish,’ ‘a little fish’, ‘opsarian’ but there is really nothing in the text which suggests that this was a miracle, and it would be uncharacteristic of Jesus to work one when no urgent need existed.

‘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

Jesus says, ‘Bring some of the fish that you have just caught’ would most naturally suggest some of that being added to what was already cooking on the fire. Again, some people see here ‘a miracle of multiplication’, as in John 6:11, whilst others seem to be arguing for an unnecessary miracle.

153 Fish

The 153 ‘large fish’ have been the subject of incredible explanations.

1. They were only counted when brought to shore, meaning that the full number or the saved will only be known when we get to Heaven.

2. There were only 153 different kinds of fish, so the people then believed, and this great catch meant that the Lord’s ‘net’, the church, will take in all.

3. The number 153 stands for all ‘who either by Law or grace have been moved to come to Jesus Christ’.

Augustine originated this explanation and so, 10 stands for the Law, it had 10 commandments, 7 is the number of grace, the seven-fold gifts of the Spirit, 10+7=17, and 153 is the sum total of all the figures, 1+2+3+4+5 etc., up to 17.

This is the same kind of totally unjustified spiritualism which sees some special significance in the 6 water pots of cans, it would be just as logical to see the special significance in the 100 yards, 200 Cubits, of John 21:8.

It was the common practice to count the fish for the purpose of sharing out the catch. This, the count, along with the other details, ‘large fish’, ‘net not torn’ and distance from land are all details an eye-witness would naturally record. Even apart from inspiration, the whole incident was indelibly imprinted on John’s memory.

‘None of the disciples dared ask him, ‘Who are you?’ They knew it was the Lord. Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish.’ John 21:12-13

John had first recognised Him, John 21:7, now they all ‘knew’ it was Him, indicated that they knew by experience, not by sight, yet none dared to ask Him who He was! They are convinced that He is the Lord, yet feel that He is changed, and reverence restrains them from curious questions.

Jesus looks after them, a breakfast they would never forget, after fishing all night He saw that they were tired, cold and hungry and fulfilled their needs. Their risen Lord waited on them and served each of them.

‘This was now the third-time Jesus appeared to his disciples after he was raised from the dead.’ John 21:14

John has already recorded three appearances prior to this and this comes seventh in the ten recorded appearances in the four Gospels, but this is the third time He appeared to the apostles as a group.

1. John 20:19-25

2. John 20:26-29

3. John 23:1-23