After Jesus’ resurrection, he appeared to his disciples several times, empowering them with hope. Seven apostles went for fishing for their food. When their attempt failed, the Risen Lord guided them to get 153 large fish that filled their net. Jesus served them breakfast with bread and fish. Thus, the disciples again felt the support, hospitality, and message of service from the Lord. Let us experience the same when we take part in the Holy Mass and put them into practice in our daily lives.
(John 21:1) After this Jesus revealed himself to the disciples by the Lake of Tiberias. This is how it happened. (2) Simon Peter, Thomas who was called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee and two other disciples were together; (3) and Simon Peter said, “I am going fishing.” They replied, “We will come with you,” and they went out and got into the boat, but they caught nothing all night. (4) When day had already broken, Jesus was standing on the shore, but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. (5) Jesus called out to them, “Have you caught anything, friends?” They answered, “Nothing.” (6) Then he said to them, “Throw the net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.” When they had lowered the net, they found they were not able to pull it in because of the great number of fish. (7) Then the disciple Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” At these words, “It is the Lord,” Simon Peter put on his clothes, for he was stripped for work, and jumped into the water. (8) The other disciples came in the boat dragging the net full of fish; they were not far from land, about a hundred meters. (9) When they landed, they saw a charcoal fire with fish on it, and some bread. (10) Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish you have just caught.” (11) So Simon Peter climbed into the boat and pulled the net to shore. It was full of big fish – one hundred and fifty-three – but, in spite of this, the net was not torn. (12) Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Not one of the disciples dared to ask him, “Who are you?” for they knew it was the Lord. (13) Jesus then came and took the bread and gave it to them, and he did the same with the fish. (14) This was the third time that Jesus revealed himself to his disciples after rising from the dead.
John had concluded his gospel in chapter 20 stating: “There were many other miraculous signs that Jesus did in the presence of his disciples, but they are not recorded in this book. These are recorded so that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” (John 20:30-31). Later he added an addendum in chapter 21 that includes: (1) Jesus’ appearance to his seven disciples at the sea of Tiberias, (2) Jesus giving Peter an opportunity to express his love of Jesus three times followed by Jesus assigning him to feed his sheep, (3) Jesus’ comment on John the Evangelist, and (4) a conclusion similar to the previous chapter stressing several items he could not record: “There are many other things that Jesus did; if all were written down, I think the world itself would not hold the books that would have to be written.” (John 21:25).
The evangelist added chapter 21 to highlight Peter, who had denied Jesus three times after his arrest. John who respected Peter’s leadership wanted to end his gospel with a delightful image of Peter and his affectionate relationship with the Lord. The evangelist also emphasized how Jesus entrusted the church’s leadership to Peter after his resurrection.
(John 21:1) After this Jesus revealed himself to the disciples by the Lake of Tiberias. This is how it happened.
It is John’s style to use “After this” to begin a section or a chapter to connect the event that follows to what had happened earlier. We see the same expression in his gospel in 5:1, 6:1, and 7:1. It need not be an immediate succession, but can be after a brief interval.
Jesus revealed himself.
John the Evangelist presented Jesus’ first miracle at Cana as revealing his glory. “This miraculous sign was the first that Jesus performed at Cana in Galilee. In this way he manifested his glory and his disciples believed in him.” (John 2:11). Jesus’ appearance to his disciples after his resurrection was to reveal himself and to increase their faith in his resurrection.
Jesus revealed himself again.
The evangelist used the term “again” to denote that Jesus had manifested earlier also to the disciples after his resurrection. “He appeared to them over a period of forty days and taught them concerning the Kingdom of God.” (Acts 1:3). The Bible records the following appearances of Jesus after his resurrection:
Thus, the Risen Lord’s appearance to the seven disciples at the Sea of Tiberias was his third manifestation to these apostles, and his seventh appearance to the disciples at large.
At the Sea of Tiberias
The Sea of Tiberias is an alternate name of the Sea of Galilee. John used both names in his gospel (6:1). Though people call it a sea, it is a freshwater lake. The additional names of this lake are Lake of Gennesaret and Lake Kinneret. This lake is around 13 miles (21 kilometers) north to south, 8.1 miles (13 km.) wide, 33 miles (53 kilometers) circumference, and 141 feet (43 meters) deep. River Jordan feeds it from the north and some underground springs add to it. The river continues from the south of the lake to the Dead Sea. The Sea of Galilee is the lowest freshwater lake on earth and the second lowest lake in the world after the Dead Sea, which is a saltwater lake.
The name Sea of Tiberias came from the name of the City of Tiberias on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee. King Herod Antipas built it around 20 A.D. He made it as his capital for Galilee and named in honor of the Roman emperor Tiberius. It was at the proximity of 17 natural mineral hot springs. The conservative Jews did not settle there because of a cemetery that would make them and their priests unclean. So Antipas settled Gentiles here. Later, Jews also inhabited there. Because of the prestigious City of Tiberias, the Sea of Galilee also got the name, the Sea of Tiberias. Only John used this name to make the Gentiles better understand the location.
(2) Simon Peter, Thomas who was called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee and two other disciples were together.
Though the Evangelist presents only seven of the disciples out of 11, the number seven is Biblically a perfect number like three, 10, and 12. The absence of the four was not significant because the seven were a representative body of all the apostles. This is like the three apostles, Peter, James, and John, who were with Jesus on rare occasions as a representative body of all the apostles. Besides, the apostles like Matthew were not fishermen.
Simon, whom Jesus surnamed Peter, was a fisherman and brother of the Apostle Andrew. Peter had natural leadership qualities and was not afraid of expressing his opinions. Jesus used his house in Capernaum as a base for his ministry for some time. Simon professed his faith in Jesus at Caesarea Philippi saying, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (Matthew 16:16), Jesus changed his name Simon meaning “God has heard,” to Peter (Rock). Among the apostles, only Peter had the privilege of Jesus changing the name. Jesus gave authority to Peter saying, “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and what you unbind on earth shall be unbound in heaven.” (Matthew 16:19). Despite the warnings he had received from Jesus, he denied Jesus three times during Jesus’ trial. However, he had recovered from it through his repentance and committed ministry for the early church.
Thomas who was called the Twin
The original name of Thomas, according to the tradition, is Judas Thomas or Judas the Twin. Thomas is a Hebrew name and Didymus a Greek name. The literal meaning of Thomas is twin originated from Te’oma in Aramaic and Didymos in Greek (John 11:16). Probably St. Thomas had a twin brother or sister. Jews used to have a Jewish name and a gentile name. In Judea, they used their Hebrew name, and in Galilee and other non-Jewish areas they used their gentile name.
Thomas was of the same age of Jesus. He expressed his boldness to die for Jesus when the other disciples discouraged the Lord from going back to Judea to see the sick Lazarus saying: “Master, recently the Jews wanted to stone you. Are you going there again?” (John 11:8). Thomas encouraged them by saying: “Let us also go that we may die with him.” (John 11:16). However, Thomas along with others hid during the trial and crucifixion of Jesus. He doubted Jesus’ resurrection when the other disciples said they had seen the Risen Lord. So, Thomas has a nickname, “Doubting Thomas.” However, he expressed his excellent faith in the Lord by declaring to Jesus, “My Lord and My God.” (John 20:28).
Thomas preached in Parthia, Persia, and India. According to the non-canonical books, while Thomas was abroad, the Blessed Mother Mary died. Thomas reached at her home on the third day after her death. Upon his insistence, the disciples opened Mary’s tomb, and they did not find her body. Thomas saw Mary’s assumption to heaven. Enemies stabbed Thomas to death using a spear at Mylapore in India in 72 A.D. This has some similarity to the death of Jesus because the centurion had pierced Jesus’ heart with a spear.
Nathanael from Cana in Galilee
Only John uses the name Nathanael in the gospel. He can be Bartholomew as Synoptic gospels give. The evangelist specified Cana in Galilee to recollect Jesus’ first miracle at a wedding feast at Cana (John 2:1-12). The disciples’ faith in Jesus improved after that miracle.
Philip introduced Jesus to Nathanael. When Jesus saw Nathanael, he said of him: “Here is an Israelite, a true one; there is nothing false in him.” (John 1:47). Response of Nathanael to Jesus was his profession of faith: “Master, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” (John 1:49). Jesus promised Nathanael: “Truly, I say to you, you will see the heavens opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.” (John 1:51). Nathanael preached in India and then at Asia Minor. His martyrdom was by skinning alive in Armenia in 72 A.D.
Though not named here, the Zebedee’s sons were James and John. Like Peter and Andrew, James and John were brothers and fishermen. Zebedee, their father had fish marketing business. He had hired men to run the enterprise (Mark 1:20). Jesus had nicknamed James and John as Boanerges, meaning the sons of thunder. This was because of their intense passion and enthusiasm. They, along with their mother Salome, had asked the privilege to sit on both sides of Jesus in his kingdom (Matthew 20:20-23). They were also the inner circle of Jesus along with Peter. These three were the only people Jesus allowed to accompany him to witness raising Jairus’ daughter to life (Mark 5:37), to the Mount of Transfiguration (Mark 9:2), and to be close with Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane (Mark 14:33). These three were here also, along with the other four, to meet the Risen Lord.
Two others of his disciples
John at times skip giving names of persons. For example, when John the Baptist introduced his disciples to Jesus, John recorded “On the following day John was standing there again with two of his disciples.” (John 1:35). One of them was Andrew, and the evangelist does not mention the name of the other. Scholars believe that it must be John himself because he tried to avoid his name in his writings. Here the two disciples are anonymous. Some scholars believe that the two unnamed could be two disciples of Jesus in a wider sense and not the apostles. Some others believe that they were Andrew and Philip based on John 1:35.
(3) And Simon Peter said, “I am going fishing.” They replied, “We will come with you,” and they went out and got into the boat, but they caught nothing all night.
Simon Peter said.
This shows the leadership quality, decision making ability, and initiative of Peter. The other six agreed with him and followed him for fishing because they all felt it was a right decision. It was probable that the family of Peter and Andrew, and Zebedee’s sons, had preserved the boat and net they had once given up. Or they might have hired them from their earlier fishermen friends.
“I am going fishing.”
The apostles had once left their profession to follow Jesus. Is it justifiable for them to return to something that they had given up for the sake of the Kingdom of God? Scholars have different opinions on this. The factors that justify the acts of the seven are:
They caught nothing all night.
Fishermen worked at night for several reasons:
Though the experienced-fishermen disciples did their best, they failed to catch anything. It could be a natural event, but also a divine plan for the actions and the message to follow. Failures in life should not discourage us or make us feel that God has forsaken us. They can lead us to a better result according to God’s design. The failures in human understanding can be God’s means for success.
(4) When day had already broken, Jesus was standing on the shore, but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus.
When day had already broken
Because of the fruitless effort, the seven disciples were returning to the shore by dawn. They were not expecting the Risen Lord there.
But the disciples did not know that it was Jesus.
Even when the seven disciples came close to the beach, they did not recognize Jesus at first. People might come at dawn to buy fish from the fishermen. So, they noticed nothing special at this stranger’s presence who turned out to be Jesus. On several instances those who saw the Risen Lord had difficulty recognizing him:
The reason for difficulty in recognizing the Risen Jesus was because of his transformed body. Though Jesus raised Lazarus (John 11:1-44), the son of the widow in Nain (Luke 7:11-17), and Jairus’ daughter (Luke 8:49-56), they came back to life with their natural body. However, the risen body of Jesus was different and perfect without limitations of the physical laws. So, he could appear and disappear like angels and could enter through locked doors (John 20:19).
Christ’s resurrected body is a sign for the redeemed on how their imperfect earthly body would transform in the heavenly realm. According to 1Corinthians 15:40-49, the heavenly bodies are bright, incorruptible, glorious, powerful, spiritual, heavenly, and bear the image of the heavenly one. Though the risen bodies could be recognizable, they would be different and perfect.
The Risen Lord’s body differed in appearance and characteristics. However, he was also close to how he looked like during his public ministry. So the disciples, who misunderstood first, could recognize him.
(5) Jesus called out to them, “Have you caught anything, children?” They answered, “Nothing.”
The word “children” in this context did not mean any expression of a loving relationship. It was a normal salutation to the strangers in that culture. Jesus did not want to reveal his identity. The fishing industry was not just for the food of the fishermen but also for sales of fish. However, noticing the unsuccessful attempts, Jesus was asking them whether they caught at least for their food. Their negative reply conveyed their helplessness.
(6) Then he said to them, “Throw the net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.” When they had lowered the net, they found they were not able to pull it in because of the great number of fish.
The attempts of the disciples to catch fish might have been to the left side of their boat. Jesus instructed them to cast the net over the right side. The Bible presents right side with a positive meaning in several places like Jesus sitting at the right side of the Father and the righteous will be on Jesus’ right side at the last judgement. Jesus, though felt like a stranger to the disciples, did not assure them an unusual catch. They might have thought of getting something to eat. The disciples obeyed the “stranger” because they thought he could see a shoal of fish from the shore. So, they trusted him and did their last attempt. When they obeyed the stranger’s direction, they got an unbelievable catch of fish. They found it difficult to pull them ashore because of the vast number of fish.
(7) Then the disciple Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” At these words, “It is the Lord,” Simon Peter put on his clothes, for he was stripped for work, and jumped into the water.
The disciple Jesus loved
Only John has this usage among the evangelists. From the early church onwards, the belief is that this refers to John himself. There are five occasions when John uses this phrase in his gospel:
1. John 13:23. At the Last Supper when John reclined with Jesus along with the other apostles.
2. John 19:26. When Jesus entrusted his mother to John while on the cross.
3. John 20:2. When Mary Magdalene reported the empty tomb to Peter and John.
4. John 21:7. When John identified to Peter that Jesus was on the shore directing them for the miraculous catch of fish.
5. John 21:20. Peter asking of John’s end of life to Jesus after Jesus told about how Peter would die.
The author, out of his modesty, was not using his name or “I” at these places. Another reasoning is that, because of the persecution when John published the gospel, he had to conceal his identity for security reasons while his readers would recognize who he was.
Simon Peter put on his clothes.
Peter had minimum dress as usual for a fisherman during the fishing. When he came to know from John that it was the Lord, he, out of respect for his master, put on his garment to meet and greet Jesus.
Jumped into the water.
When Peter realized that it was Jesus who instructed them to cast the net at the right side of the boat for the miraculous catch of fish, he ignored the boat, the fish, and his coworkers. Out of enthusiasm to greet the Lord, he jumped into the sea to swim hundred yards rather than being patient to wait for the boat to reach the coast with the heavy load of fish. Such was his passion for the Lord and excitement to meet him.
(8) The other disciples came in the boat dragging the net full of fish; they were not far from land, about a hundred meters.
The other six disciples did not leave the boat or the net with abundant fish. They had to drag the net with the fish on the boat to the shore.
(9) When they landed, they saw a charcoal fire with fish on it, and some bread.
No one knows how or from where Jesus got the fish and bread for cooking. There is no mention of anybody else present there. However, the important lesson here is the care of Jesus for his hungry, disappointed, and tired disciples. Even the first question Jesus had to his disciples when he saw them was, “Children, have you caught anything to eat?” (John 21:5). Jesus himself got fish and bread either by a miracle or from others. He showed hospitality to his seven disciples like a family member. Fish and bread could mean enough quantity of fish and bread for all the disciples to eat.
(10) Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish you have just caught.”
Though Jesus prepared the food for them, he allowed them to add the fruit of their labor as a part of their meal. There is satisfaction in consuming the result of one’s own labor than enjoying food others provide.
(11) So Simon Peter climbed into the boat and pulled the net to shore. It was full of big fish – one hundred and fifty-three – but, in spite of this, the net was not torn.
Simon Peter climbed into the boat and pulled the net to shore.
Though Jesus asked the disciples to bring some fish from their catch, Simon Peter volunteered to get fish from the boat for cooking. That also shows Peter’s rapid action and leadership. Seeing the Risen Lord excited him. The other disciples might have helped him. John, who was an eyewitness to this, gives importance to the leadership role of Peter.
It was full of big fish.
The filled net is symbolic of the maximum number of fish that the net could hold. The size of the fish also specifies that the catch was at the peak level. The catch of fish would also hold small and worthless fish that the fishermen would reject and throw into the lake, as Jesus mentioned in Matthew 13:37-48. However, this catch contained only valuable fish.
The interpreters compare the abundance of large fish that filled the net without tearing to the church that Jesus established. It would contain top quality Christians that the “fishers of men” caught. Though there were a lot of fish (people) in the sea (world), the net contained only high-quality fish (faithful). The catch (evangelization) was successful under the remote guidance of Jesus.
It was full of big fish – one hundred and fifty-three.
Why John mentioned the number of fish? The Bible scholars attribute various reasons for this. The simple reasoning is that after the fishing, the workers used to count the fish to divide among the partners and laborers. So, the number was available.
The scholars attempted to give meaning to number 153.
In spite of this, the net was not torn.
The regular catch of fish would not fill the net, and so the fishnets were not made to fill them with fish. When Simon Peter and others had a miraculous catch of fish at Jesus’ direction, “they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break.” (Luke 5:6). So, the evangelist reports that in this case the net did not tear. Jesus protected the net from tearing to show that no one can destroy his church and it can hold an enormous number of good faithful.
(12) Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Not one of the disciples dared to ask him, “Who are you?” for they knew it was the Lord.
Jesus once again became a servant to his disciples. Through his hospitality and service to the weak disciples, Jesus taught the need of humility and service necessary for a Christian.
The disciples did not ask Jesus who he was because they all understood his identity. They had a reverential silence at Jesus’ appearance. This became another proof for Jesus’ resurrection.
(13) Jesus then came and took the bread and gave it to them, and he did the same with the fish.
Jesus served the bread and fish like the multiplication of bread and fish in John 6:11. Bread and fish was the normal menu of the people. This also reminds us of the Last Supper, where Jesus gave them bread (Matthew 26:26) and wine as his body and blood. However, this was not the Eucharistic meal. The gospel does not mention any prayer or blessing here except the divine presence of Jesus.
(14) This was the third time that Jesus revealed himself to his disciples after rising from the dead.
Though Jesus appeared six times to various disciples before, this was his third revelation to his apostles. The first was to the ten apostles excluding Thomas in Jerusalem on the Resurrection Sunday (John 20:19-25) and the second was to the 11 apostles, including Thomas in Jerusalem on the eighth day after the resurrection (John 20:26-29). John the Evangelist was present during all these three revelations.