John 21:1-14


In 20:19-29 John recorded appearances to the disciples on Easter Sunday. Here we have two miracles on the third appearance. He had told them that He would go before them to Galilee. Matthew 26:32; Matthew 28:7; Mark 16:7.

Kretzmann: The interval between the resurrection of Jesus and the miracle of Pentecost must have been unusually trying for the disciples.

Jesus appears again and again to strengthen the disciples.

Higher critics play havoc with these verses: They claim

  1. John, in his own creative way, is retelling the tradition lying behind Luke 5:1-11 and this account;

  2. The catch of fish was not a miracle. From the shore Jesus could see a shoal of fish on the right side of the boat which shoal the disciples could not see;

  3. The meal was the celebration of the Eucharist.

Higher critics constantly endeavor to pervert Jesus' person, Word, and work.

Through these two miracles Jesus assured and reassured the disciples that He was still the same person, though now glorified, and that He would always richly supply all their wants and needs.

Only seven were present. Where the others were, we know not. Peter and Thomas are singled out. Peter because of what follows in verse 15-19 and Thomas, evidently to show that doubt and unbelief had been conquered. For Nathanael see John 1:45-51.

John 21:1 Afterward Jesus appeared again to his disciples, by the Sea of Tiberias. It happened this way:

"Appeared" occurs nine times in this Gospel and seventeen times in John's writings. The appearances always denote the self-disclosure of Jesus to man.

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

John 21:3 "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 was an eye-witness. There is nothing in the context or Scripture to warrant accusing the disciples of weakness of faith or abandoning their Apostolic calling. In fact, the context indicates that they were where, and where doing precisely as, Jesus wanted them to be and do.

John 21:4 Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus.

The day was must dawning. Jesus had gone before them to Galilee. He was already there. Now He merely makes Himself visible. We are reminded again of what we call the genus majestaticum.

Lenski: Did the morning haze on the water render sight indistinct? Did Jesus will not to be recognized at once? Or was his appearance quite different from the previous appearances?

The simple answer lies in the verb used twice in verse 1 and once in verse 14. They did not recognize Him until He willed it. There is nothing in Scripture to warrant the idea that Jesus was becoming increasingly "heavenly" and therefore more difficult to recognize.

John 21:5 He called out to them, "Friends, haven't you any fish?" "No," they answered.

"Friends" could be translated as "children" or "boys." The point is that Jesus is very familiar with the disciples. We don't know if the question should be "Haven't you any fish?" or "Haven't you caught any fish?" The point is that He wants them to confess their need.

John 21:6 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.

Note the beautiful command and promise. They were instrumental in performing this miracle. They obeyed immediately and the miracle followed immediately. Many time in life the commands of the Lord seem foolish. But faithful obedience leads to carrying out His will and then we are astounded at what He accomplishes through us. It is remarkable that they obeyed before they recognizes Him. That is true faith. Look at Galatians 2:20.

The verb used for "unable to haul" is used of dragging dead weight. They just could not do it. It shows the enormity of the catch.

John 21:7 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.

Kretzmann: John had the keener insight, Peter the greater ardor.

But both show how wonderful the resurrected Lord was to them. To one He gave the ability of recognition, to the other the desire to come to Jesus. Note the use of the word "Lord" again. Look at John 20:20, 25, 28.

Peter was not naked. He had stripped for work. He had taken off his outer garments. He put on the coast he had taken off.

John 21:8 The other disciples followed in the boat, towing the net full of fish, for they were not far from shore, about a hundred yards.

They had been unable to drag the net into the boat in verse 6 and so they approach land dragging the net in the water.

John 21:9 When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread.

Here is the second miracle. He has provided fire, fish, and bread.

John 21:10 Jesus said to them, "Bring some of the fish you have just caught."

Surely this does not mean that Jesus needed additional fish to prepare breakfast. Lenski's explanation is that Peter is to throw back the little fish and bring only the larger ones. 

John 21:11 Simon Peter climbed aboard and dragged the net ashore. It was full of large fish, 153, but even with so many the net was not torn.

In verse 9 Peter disembarked. Here he gets on board. He alone dragged the net on land, something which all of them had been unable to do while still out in the water, i.e. to drag the net into the boat.

Kretzmann: His love for the Master and the excitement of the occasion gave him almost superhuman strength.

Lutheran commentators list both ancient and modern ideas of symbolism in the number 153 and then reject them. This number shows how bountiful God's gifts are and the precision with which the Lord has recorded His Word.

"The net was not torn" is again another miracle. In the account in Luke 5:6 the nets began to tear owing to the mass of fish. Here the Lord did not permit that to happen.

John 21:12 Jesus said to them, "Come and have breakfast." None of the disciples dared ask him, "Who are you?" They knew it was the Lord.

Again the Lord commands and gives. What He commands He Himself bestows.

Jesus Himself has thoroughly convinced them that it was He, the Lord.

John 21:13 Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish.

Note the three graphic historic present verbs. he comes in the sense of being the Host and taking the initiative. To call this an allusion to the Eucharist is ridiculous. Commentators who deny the true nature and efficacy of baptism and the Lord's Supper seemingly have a bad conscience. They are constantly finding "allusions" where there are none.

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

This means to the disciples as a body.

Stoeckhardt: With this two-fold miracle the Risen Lord has assured the disciples of all ages that He can and will bless His own, who do His will and work on earth, with earthly blessings and daily bread.
Lenski: The purpose of the appearance of Jesus to the seven beside the lake is far narrower than that of Luke 5:1-11, namely to establish them in the specific apostolic work to which they were called.

Lenski and Ylvisaker see more symbolism in Luke 5:1-11 and John 21:1-14 than do Kretzmann, Stoeckhardt, and Fahling. All, of course, consider this accounts as true history. Lenski rejects the meal as eucharistic allusion but Ylvisaker says: "This meal symbolizes in a beautiful way the glorious and blessed feast on the heavenly shores. The miracle is symbolic, furthermore, of the truth that the Lord shall nourish and comfort His servants in the world."

Lenski: The symbolical character of the entire action connected with this appearance, like that of Luke 5:1-11, has been so generally recognized that we need note only the fact.

And then he writes two pages to endorse it. We should exercise care in symbolism and allegorizing. Of course, this chapter proves that Jesus is risen, that He absolves repentant sinners, and He provides richly for soul and body. But this is not symbolism. In defense of Ylvisaker and Lenski it must be added that they do not use "symbolism" in the sense that higher critics often do.


Adapted from Exegetical Notes, Series C Luke-John, Festival Season Sundays Gospel Texts, by Harold H. Buls, Concordia Theological Seminary Press: Ft Wayne IN, 1979, pp. 66-68. Used with permission.

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