John 21:1-19

Jesus appeared to His disciples on several occasions. On this day, Peter decided to go fishing and he was accompanied by several others, some of whom are named, some not.

Whilst Jesus had been with them, it seems as if their needs had been supplied by the many people who followed Him around. But now, with Jesus gone, the disciples were uncertain about their future, and may have thought it was necessary for them to begin to earn a living again. Matthew records that Jesus had instructed them to go to Galilee (18:7, 10) and, perhaps, returning to familiar territory was reassuring for them in a world that had turned upside down.

They had not caught a thing. As morning dawned, they were tired and hungry and headed back to shore. They could see someone there, but did not recognise Him. When Jesus used a common greeting and asked them if they had any food, they had to reply they did not. When Jesus told them to cast their nets on the other side of the boat, there was no reason, from a good fishing point of view, why they should do so in the early morning light. They still did not know the man instructing them was Jesus, yet they followed his suggestion.

As they struggled to pull in the seething mass of fish, they must have been reminded of an earlier occasion, when Jesus had performed a similar miracle. On this morning, Jesus used the catch as an indication of how they would be ‘fishers of men’, spreading the Gospel and drawing people into the Kingdom of heaven.

It was only now that John realised who was talking to them. When he told Peter the man was Jesus, Peter did not hesitate. He was dressed to fish, but at that time, no one would present themselves to a person in authority without being fully dressed so he grabbed his outer garment and leapt out of the boat to reach the shore in the fastest possible way. The other disciples followed more slowly in the boat, dragging the catch with them.

Jesus already had breakfast on the go. He was still willing to serve them, even in His resurrected state, having prepared both a fire and fish.

Peter dragged the heavy, wet net and the fish onto the shore. The exact number of fish indicates that this was probably an eye-witness account by one of the fishermen, for they would always count their catch. Whilst there are many theories about the number, the actual meaning is unknown, other than to affirm that it was a substantial catch.

Jesus invited them to join Him for breakfast. No one asked Him who He was – by now each one of them must have known. The picture of the group sitting down for breakfast on the lakeshore gives an idea of their intimate relationship with one another.

When the meal was over, Jesus talked to Peter. He called him Simon bar Jonah (son of Jonah), rather than Peter, perhaps as a gentle reminder of his betrayal in the courtyard. Jesus asked Peter three similar questions. In the first two questions He used the word agape for love – meaning an unselfish, generous love – and Peter replied using the word phileo – meaning brotherly love.

Jesus, of course, knew the answers – and so did Peter – but it was a time of self-examination for Peter to consider what had happened and how he felt. As Peter answered Jesus instructed him to feed and care for His sheep – His people.

Jesus asked the same question a third time. Peter understood the significance of this triple questioning as a reference to his denying Jesus three times. This time Jesus used the word phileo asking if Peter had a brotherly love for Him. Peter knew that Jesus knew him better than he did himself. This time, in the presence of the other disciples, Jesus restored Peter by once again instructing him to care for His sheep.

Jesus then spoke of Peter’s past when he had little responsibility, and of his future, when he would be led to a death that would glorify God. Ancient records tell that Peter was crucified upside down as he did not consider himself worthy to die in the same way as Jesus had died.

Jesus ended the conversation with two words – ‘Follow Me’ – in an echo of His first call on Peter’s life. The tense used implied an on-going action, as Jesus challenged Peter, who now knew how his story would end, to follow Him for the rest of his life.

Points to Ponder

  • How do you respond to God’s instructions, if they involve a drastic change in the way you live your life? What would you do if He told you to change jobs, move to another country, stop a favourite pastime? How would you know this was God speaking to you? What would it take for you to follow?
  • Who do you know who seems to be very far from God? How have you tried to introduce Jesus to them? What happened? Do you believe they heard what you were saying to them? How do you feel about speaking to them again? What has God said to you about them? Spend some time in the coming week praying for them and asking God to show you what He wants you to do in regard to sharing the Gospel with them. Ask for a breakthrough whether because of what you do or say, or whether God uses anyone else to draw them close to Him. Praise Him for what He is going to do. Be accountable to one another.
  • How do you praise God – when you are alone and when you are in a small group? How often do you use music and singing to do this? Set aside your inhibitions and choose a couple of hymns or praise and worship songs to sing. Make a joyful noise to the Lord, for He is good. Share with one another how that felt.
  • What is the largest crowd you have ever been in that sang praise to God? How did it feel to be part of such a large assembly? How did you feel personally? Where was God as you worshipped together? What does that memory mean to you now?
  • Peter was called to follow Jesus and preach the Gospel – even though he knew the end of his life (and the journey) would be hard. What is Jesus calling you to do? How do you know it is His call? How do you feel when you follow and do what He asks you to do? How do you feel when you turn away and do you own thing? At the end of the day, which have you found to be the best way? Why do you answer in this way?


Bible Commentary

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