John Twenty One

by Dr. Henry M. Morris

(taken from the Defender's Study Bible)

John 21:1 After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples at the sea of Tiberias; and on this wise showed he himself.

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

together. This epilogue chapter, added after John had apparently ended his narrative, may well have been intended partly for symbolic reasons. This may be suggested by the fact that just seven of the disciples were involved, the number possibly representing all disciples of the Lord as “fishers of men.” The number seven has, of course, symbolized completeness ever since God established the seven-day week in commemoration of the completion of His week of creation. The Great Commission had now been given, and it would soon be time for the disciples and all those who would follow them to go into all the world to “fish for men” (see Matthew 4:19). By this additional miraculous sign, Jesus would encourage His people that their fishing would ultimately be successful in bringing many to the Savior.

John 21:3 Simon Peter saith unto them, I go a fishing. They say unto him, We also go with thee. They went forth, and entered into a ship immediately; and that night they caught nothing.

John 21:4 But when the morning was now come, Jesus stood on the shore: but the disciples knew not that it was Jesus.

morning was now come. Continuing with the symbolic theme, the disciples can fish all night long in the sea (which represents the world at large), without success, because Jesus, the light of the world, is not with them during the world's dark night. “Without me, ye can do nothing,” He had said (John 15:5).

John 21:5 Then Jesus saith unto them, Children, have ye any meat? They answered him, No.

John 21:6 And he said unto them, Cast the net on the right side of the ship, and ye shall find. They cast therefore, and now they were not able to draw it for the multitude of fishes.

multitude of fishes. This remarkable change of fortune would remind them immediately of their experience three years earlier, when Jesus had similarly given them a miraculous catch of fishes, and told them they would “catch men” in the future (Luke 5:1-10). They recognized that it was Jesus, and, most likely, would understand His presence and the miracle as a rebuke and a reminder that they must soon be fishing for men instead of fish.

John 21:7 Therefore that disciple whom Jesus loved saith unto Peter, It is the Lord. Now when Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he girt his fisher's coat unto him, (for he was naked,) and did cast himself into the sea.

John 21:8 And the other disciples came in a little ship; (for they were not far from land, but as it were two hundred cubits,) dragging the net with fishes.

two hundred cubits. Possibly John was led to note the distance of two hundred cubits in recollection of the “two hundred” penny's worth of bread which the disciples had once thought was needed to feed a multitude (John 6:7—the only other reference to “two hundred” in the gospels). Just as Christ provided more than the needed two hundred penny's worth of bread to feed a multitude, so here He provided a multitude of fish (representing a multitude of people), when they ventured two hundred cubits from the shore. Jesus had once said that “the kingdom of heaven is like a net, that was cast into the sea, and gathered of every kind” (Matthew 13:47). The disciples may also have remembered that parable, concluding that the Lord would have them make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19), just as the net in the parable had gathered every kind of fish.

John 21:9 As soon then as they were come to land, they saw a fire of coals there, and fish laid thereon, and bread.

fish laid thereon. The disciples had not caught the fish that Jesus had cooked for them; evidently He, as Creator, had created these fishes. The disciples would realize that Jesus did not have to depend on them to fish for men; it was a privilege He was giving them, that of sharing in His mission to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10).

John 21:10 Jesus saith unto them, Bring of the fish which ye have now caught.

John 21:11 Simon Peter went up, and drew the net to land full of great fishes, an hundred and fifty and three: and for all there were so many, yet was not the net broken.

an hundred and fifty and three. The reason why the disciples were careful to count, and John to record, the number of fishes brought to shore must again involve symbolism, as there seems no other reason for it. It has been calculated that there were 153 distinct nations in the world at the time of Christ (the number is not much different at present); these were represented at Pentecost by seventeen ethnic groups (see Acts 2:8-11), when the disciples first began to carry out the Commission, preaching to the world in microcosm, as it were. The number 17 is also symbolic: when all the numbers are added up through 17 (that is, 1+2+3+...+16+17), they add to 153. Furthermore, the digits in 153 (i.e., 1+5+3) add to 9, which when multiplied by 17, again makes 153. It is also interesting that there are three digits in the number, and if each is multiplied by itself three times, then the total once again adds to 153. That is: (1 x 1 x 1) + (5 x 5 x 5) + (3 x 3 x 3) = 153. There seems no other number that could possibly be more appropriate to represent all the peoples of the world than this number, and it is surely more than coincidence (in fact, providential) that the Creator saw to it that exactly 153 great fishes entered the “gospel net.”

was not the net broken. On that occasion three years previously, the net had broken (Luke 5:6). This time, however, it did not break, indicating that, if the human “fish” were securely caught in the gospel net, they would surely be drawn to shore. It is probably noteworthy in this connection that the greatest passage on security in the Bible (Romans 8:35-39) lists exactly seventeen things that can never separate us from God's love in Christ, the last consisting of “every other creation.” No one is ever more secure than the loved ones of the Savior! One might even multiply this seventeen-fold security by the nine-fold fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) and again there results 153-fold effectiveness in true evangelism! Then also, one could note that the word “sign” or “miracle” occurs seventeen times in John, and there are nine “signs” described in John's gospel (the seven performed by Christ before His resurrection plus His own resurrection plus this symbolic post-resurrection miracle). Again we have seventeen times nine suggested. That is not all, but it should be obvious that all of this simply could not be mere coincidence. Its symbolic, or parabolic, or typological significance is real and powerful.

John 21:12 Jesus saith unto them, Come and dine. And none of the disciples durst ask him, Who art thou? knowing that it was the Lord.

John 21:13 Jesus then cometh, and taketh bread, and giveth them, and fish likewise.

John 21:14 This is now the third time that Jesus showed himself to his disciples, after that he was risen from the dead.

John 21:15 So when they had dined, Jesus saith to Simon Peter, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my lambs.

John 21:16 He saith to him again the second time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my sheep.

John 21:17 He saith unto him the third time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? Peter was grieved because he said unto him the third time, Lovest thou me? And he said unto him, Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee. Jesus saith unto him, Feed my sheep.

lovest thou me. Jesus had twice asked Peter if he loved Him with agape love (true self-less devotion to the one loved). Peter had answered that he did love Him, but with phileo love (brotherly kindness). This third time, Jesus also used phileo, and Peter was grieved. He finally recognized that the thrice-repeated question was intended to remind him of His thrice-repeated denial of the Lord (John 18:17, 25, 27). Further, the Lord had not addressed him as Peter (“the rock”) but by his old name Simon. Jesus wanted to bring him back to the point where he would henceforth not just go fishing (John 21:3) but would “Feed my lambs,” “feed my sheep” and “tend my sheep” (John 21:15, 17, 16). The converts must be fed and tended with God's Word (see 1 Peter 5:2-3), and this must be done through love for Christ.

John 21:18 Verily, verily, I say unto thee, When thou wast young, thou girdedst thyself, and walkedst whither thou wouldest: but when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, and carry thee whither thou wouldest not.

John 21:19 This spake he, signifying by what death he should glorify God. And when he had spoken this, he saith unto him, Follow me.

John 21:20 Then Peter, turning about, seeth the disciple whom Jesus loved following; which also leaned on his breast at supper, and said, Lord, which is he that betrayeth thee?

John 21:21 Peter seeing him saith to Jesus, Lord, and what shall this man do?

John 21:22 Jesus saith unto him, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? follow thou me.

tarry till I come. Tradition has it that all the twelve disciples except John died as martyrs for their testimony. Peter is said to have been crucified (see John 21:18), possibly upside down, although none of this is confirmed in the Bible itself, except for James, the brother of John (Acts 12:1-2). All the others were probably dead by the time John wrote his gospel, somewhere around a.d. 85. In one sense, he did tarry until the Lord's coming, for as a prisoner on the isle of Patmos he was translated into the future to see and record all the main events associated with Christ's return in the book of Revelation (Revelation 1:1-2, 10-11).

John 21:23 Then went this saying abroad among the brethren, that that disciple should not die: yet Jesus said not unto him, He shall not die; but, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee?

John 21:24 This is the disciple which testifieth of these things, and wrote these things: and we know that his testimony is true.

John 21:25 And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written. Amen.

the books. This apparently hyperbolic statement is actually quite realistic. The four gospels only record what Jesus began both to do and teach (Acts 1:1). These works and words have been continued throughout the world for two thousand years by all those in whom Christ dwells by the Holy Spirit. If every such person could write a complete autobiography about all that the indwelling Spirit of Christ has done in and through him, the number of books would indeed be astronomical. And this will continue throughout eternity!