This article is based on some thoughts from a young people’s bible study at Balwyn, Melbourne Australia on Friday 7 February 2020 with the exception of the last paragraph.
The gospel of John, as is the common thought, presents to us Christ as the Son of God, and God the Son. John uses simpler words like ‘life’, ‘love’, but are more difficult to understand than any of the other gospels. John does not copy from Matthew, Mark or Luke, who happen to record similar events, but from different perspectives. For example, the miracles that the Lord Jesus performed in the gospels are called miracles, but John refers to them as ‘signs’, and there are specific signs written for the object that the readers may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. After believing, the result is eternal life (Jn 20:30-31), or life in His name. Eternal life in itself is a subject that is large, but it is not the intention to take up in this brief article.
John 21 is the pinnacle point of the gospel of John, where we see Christ appearing to His disciples the third time after His resurrection. If we recollect, He appeared twice in John 20, one when Thomas was not present, and the second time a week later, when Thomas was there, and it is suggested that He graciously dealt with Thomas personally in that chapter (verse 27), and Thomas very nicely responds with something that no one had ever said to the Lord before His death and resurrection, ‘my Lord and my God’ (verse 28). The Lord graciously credits Thomas for this, and each one of us who is saved can, with confidence, state what Thomas said to the risen Lord.
The third time He appeared to His disciples, we have three names of people mentioned, and then the two sons of Zebedee (who we know are James and John), but John does not mention them by name, and two other disciples. We note that there were 11 disciples, as Judas Iscariot had betrayed the Lord and was gone. The Holy Spirit here, in grace, does not mention the names of the two disciples, nor the fact that there were four others missing, so that we in our finite and small minds, do not speculate as to who was there and who was missing, and why they were missing, and so on. We learn from this that if there are any missing from among us in our local gatherings, we are not to speculate as to why they are missing, unless they have previously specified their reasons.
There is an interesting thought as to why three disciples were mentioned by name in this wonderful chapter. I heard a ministry from a respected brother many years ago before he was called home to be with the Lord. He mentioned that these three people, Simon Peter, Thomas, and Nathanael who was of Cana of Galilee, were recorded by name because they each gave a testimony to the Lord in the gospel of John. In John 1, Nathanael testified of Him as the Son of God and the King of Israel (Jn 1:49), and he was not even one of the twelve disciples that the Lord called! What grace of the Lord, and of God, that he should be mentioned with the disciples here in John 21. Thomas, as was pointed out before, gave the testimony to the Lord that no other could have given until after His resurrection (Jn 20:28). Peter also gave testimony that Christ is the holy One of God after the Lord tested His disciples and asked if they too will walk away (Jn 6:68-69). As people who are saved by the grace of God, we can confidently testify of Christ as the Son of God, as our Lord and God, and as the Holy One of God. This is an encouragement, even if you are not saved, dear reader, that you turn to Christ, as He is risen from the dead and He is willing that you come to Him, confess your sins, and accept Him as your Saviour and Lord.
As for the two sons of Zebedee, we see the first instance they were associated with their father Zebedee was in their fishing boat/business when the Lord called them to follow Him (Mark 1:19-20). It is as if John is not proud of the fact that he saw the risen Lord, even he does not refer to himself as the disciple whom Jesus loved, until a few verses later when they saw the Lord and caught many great fishes, after they caught nothing all night (John 21:7). There is a thought that as the disciples were going back to fishing, they lost sight for a moment of the risen Lord, and Peter, ever being the spokesperson for the disciples, decided to go back to their profession before the Lord met them, and the others followed. I am not saying that going to work and going to our profession is wrong, but if we allow this to take up all of our time and give no time at all to the Lord, then it is wrong, and therefore they were not able to catch any fish from their night work. We can also say it is the hand of God that they were not able to catch anything, because the disciples can think that they are good fishermen, but they were not even able to navigate around the storms in the sea that they encountered. It is the hand of God in this, even if circumstances and things do not seem right, it is God’s working, in order to have us depend on Him and not on our own strength. When the Lord told them to cast on the other side and they did, it is also His hands involved in caring for His own.
When John tells Peter that it is the Lord, Peter does not ask the Lord the second time that if it is Him, to command Peter to walk on the water. He would have learned this lesson, because in the incident in Matthew 14:28-31) Peter looked at the waves around him and started to sink, taking his eyes off the Lord. In this instance, Peter also reacted very quickly and girded himself (as he was naked, he wanted to be more presentable to meet the Lord) and cast himself into the sea (Jn 21:7) – he did not fear for his life, knowing that the Lord was on the other side of the shore. In Matthew he feared for his life, but here he did just the opposite – not fearing for his life. Why should we fear for our lives, knowing that we are in the Lord’s loving, tender and caring hands? However, we learn that we should not react quickly at every moment or circumstance that we face.
One other thought, is that the Lord is the Creator, and He has dominion even over the fish of the sea. When we recall in the book of Daniel, king Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 2:37-38, is refereed to as only a king of kings, and that he had dominion over the beasts of the field and the fowl (birds) of the heavens, but it is not mentioned that he had dominion over the fish of the sea. This is only reserved for the Creator God, who came in the person of Jesus Christ, who the disciples, when on occasions that the He rebuked the sea, they could only wonder as to who this man is who even the wind and waves obey Him. More than that, the fish of the sea even obey Him. It was His command to the fish of the sea that the disciples would catch nothing before He appeared to them in John 21, and it was also His command to the fish of the sea that when the disciples cast their nets to the other side, they would catch fist. It was also His command to the fish that brought the money for the temple tax for Peter, and also for the Lord Jesus (Matt 17:37). The dominion that Christ had over the fish of the sea is also mentioned in Psalm 8:8, and we see also that He commanded the whale to swallow Jonah after he fled from God (Jonah 1:17) and He commanded the whale to spit Jonah out after the prophet had prayed (ch 2:10). Therefore, the God of the Old Testament is in fact Jesus Christ of the New Testament. May we be encouraged by this wonderful fact and see more beauties in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Perhaps a final word on the fishes that the disciples caught in John 21. There were many great fishes, and John even records the number, 153. (Jn 21:11). I heard a ministry some time ago that this number may have been a reference to the number of nations that existed in the world at that time, at the time of the risen Lord, though many of these nations were not known. If this is the case, the grace of God extends to all the nations, countries, people and tongues, and no one is left out from the gospel of salvation going out into the world. The grace extends to the fact that the net was not rent/torn, and it is the fact that the gospel that brings salvation to anyone who trusts in Christ as Saviour, is not rent or torn. We may recall from Luke 5:6-7 that the net broke and they were sinking as a result of the multitude of fishes. However, there is ever growing fruit as a result of the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. Again, dear reader, if you do not know Christ as your saviour, please make this decision between yourself and Christ, and He will accept you (see John 6:37).