“Simon Peter went up and dragged the net to land, full of large fish, one hundred and fifty-three; and although there were so many, the net was not broken.” John 21:11
We are learning from Jesus’ fourth post-resurrection appearance in the gospel of John several important lessons that can help us enjoy the reality of His resurrection. Together we have discovered that…
– Failure and discouragement are often connected to the risen Lord Jesus’ purpose for our lives (John 21:1-3).
– Success in our risen Lord’s eyes is not in trying harder (John 21:4-5).
– Success in our risen Lord’s eyes depends on following His will (John 21:6).
– Our primary purpose in life is to be with the risen Lord Jesus Christ Who is gracious (John 21:7-8).
– Our risen Lord Jesus gives us reminders of His faithfulness to care for us (John 21:9).
– We are to accept Jesus’ invitation to enjoy His company (John 21:10).
Now we will look at the seventh lesson from the risen Lord Jesus. After Jesus supernaturally enabled His seven disciples to catch a net full of fish, six of the disciples drug the net to shore behind their boat while Peter swam over to Jesus on the shore (John 21:6-8). When they all arrived on the shore, they saw that Jesus had prepared breakfast for them consisting of fish and bread (John 21:9). In response to Jesus’ request to “bring some of the fish” they “just caught” (John 21:10), John writes, “Simon Peter went up and dragged the net to land, full of large fish, one hundred and fifty-three; and although there were so many, the net was not broken.” (John 21:11).
When John notes that “Peter went up,” 1 it suggests that Peter climbed into the boat to help the other disciples with the fish. Since the net “full of large fish” would be pulled behind the boat, Peter most likely got into the boat and stood in the stern to help retrieve the net. Then he would have jumped into the water again to help haul the net to shore. 2
Why does John mention “one hundred and fifty-three” large fish were caught? There have been many symbolic interpretations made about this number. This “number has been used to teach about the Trinity, the perfection of the church, Christian conduct, and the church’s missionary task.” 3
It is better to take the number literally without any symbolical interpretation. John was both an eyewitness and a fisherman who experienced an incredible catch of large fish thanks to the risen Lord Jesus. Most likely “John mentioned the number as a matter of historical detail. With a group of men fishing, the common procedure would be for them to count the fish they caught and then divide them equally among the fishermen.” 4
Mentioning such a detail would “lend authenticity to his testimony (cf. 2:6). He was, after all, a fisherman himself. Most fishermen know exactly how many fish they have caught whenever they catch some, and this was a very unusual catch.” 5
The Holy Spirit drew me to a significant detail in the last part of this verse which reads, “although there were so many, the net was not broken.” The fact that the net is full of so many “large fish” and does not break, is a second miracle in this appearance of the risen Lord Jesus. Earlier in Jesus’ ministry when the disciples had caught nothing all night, Jesus instructed them to “launch out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” (Luke 5:4). When they obeyed Jesus, “they caught a great number of fish, and their net was breaking.” (Luke 5:6). Jesus then told them, “From now on you will catch men.” (Luke 5:10b). Notice that Jesus uses a metaphor to describe the disciples’ gospel-preaching ministry. They would use their “gospel-nets” to catch people.
This post-resurrection repetition of the miracle in Luke 5 would have refreshed the disciples’ “memories of that first catch of fish and reminded them that people, not fish, was now to be their focus. In that first miraculous catch, Jesus was in the boat with the disciples, picturing His presence with them when He came into this world. Now, He is on the shore, picturing Him in heaven as He directs and provides as they fish for people. But on both occasions, the abundant catch came when they obeyed the simple command of Jesus.” 6
In contrast to that earlier catch of fish, the unbroken net in John’s account may symbolize that there is room in God’s family for all people (I Timothy 2:4). 7 God does not desire for any people to perish in hell (2 Peter 3:9), but for all to come to faith in Jesus for His gift of salvation. After all, God “desires all” people “to be saved” and Jesus “gave Himself a ransom for all” people (I Timothy 2:4-6). The fact that the net was not torn illustrates that the gospel can catch many people without failing. 8
Hence, our seventh lesson is THE POWER OF THE RISEN LORD JESUS IS CAPABLE OF CATCHING MULTITUDES OF PEOPLE IN HIS GOSPEL-NET (John 20:11). Our effectiveness in evangelism is not based upon our giftedness, methodologies, personalities, presentations, or training. The power in evangelism is in the life-changing message of the gospel and our risen Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, there is no need for us to be ashamed or afraid when we share the gospel of Christ. The apostle Paul writes, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes.” (Romans 1:16).
In January of 2011, I went on my first short-term missionary trip to the Philippines with the Bob Tebow Evangelistic Association. During our first two days preaching the gospel in public schools on the island of Catanduanes, I saw more people indicate they were believing in Jesus for His gift of everlasting life than I had witnessed in nearly twenty years of pastoral ministry in America. What I learned from that trip was the power in evangelism did not rest upon me or my abilities, but in the clear message of the gospel. Jesus died for our sins and rose from the dead so that “whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”
Are we sharing the good news of Jesus’ death and resurrection with those who do not have Jesus Christ in their lives? The gospel-net of Jesus Christ is large enough and strong enough for all people, no matter what their condition, color, culture, or country. Jesus wants us to cast His gospel-nets wherever unsaved people gather. It may be in our homes, in our neighborhoods, at a marketplace, in a school, at a basketball court, in government offices, or on the internet. Jesus Christ died for all people, and He desires to save all people. Will you avail yourself to Him to use you to make an eternal difference in the lives of others? Christ wants to use you to be a channel of blessing to a lost world.
Prayer: Hallelujah Lord Jesus! Thank You for the eternal difference You are making in our needy world. Thank You for entrusting us with Your gospel-nets so we may catch men and women, and boys and girls for Your glory. Please enable us to obey Your command to preach the gospel to everyone (Mark 16:15), no matter what their economic status, education, morality, or nationality. Show us where to cast Your gospel-nets. We ask that You grant us the boldness to overcome our fears and declare the good news of Your death and resurrection to those You have prepared to hear and believe it. Use us we pray, to be a channel of blessing to those You have placed in our lives. In Your mighty name we pray Lord Jesus. Amen.
1. The the Greek word translated “went up” is anabainō and it means “to go up, ascend.” (See Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature: Third Edition (BDAG) revised and edited by Frederick William Danker (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000 Kindle Edition), pg. 58).
2.J. Carl Laney Moody Gospel John Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), pg. 377.
3. Laney, pg. 377 cites J. M. Ross, “One Hundred and Fifty-Three Fishes,” The Expository Times 100 (July 1989): 375.
4. Edwin A. Blum, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Gospels, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, (David C Cook, 2018 Kindle Edition), pp. 702-703.
5. Tom Constable, Notes on John, 2017 Edition, pg. 392.
6. Steve Cole’s September 27, 2015 sermon at www.bible.org entitled, “Lesson 105: Serving Christ Effectively (John 21:1-14).”
7. See Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Zane Hodges; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach. The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 568.
8. Constable, pg. 392.