“When they got out on land, they saw a charcoal fire in place, with fish laid out on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, 153 of them. And although there were so many, the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and so with the fish. This was now the third time that Jesus was revealed to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.” (John 21:9–14, ESV)
Jesus had previously taken a couple of fish and some bread and divided it to feed over 5,000 men and countless women and children (John 6:1013). On this occasion when His disciples arrived to the shore we find that Jesus had already started a fire and laid out some fish on the coals along with some bread to await them. But rather than having enough for them to eat and dividing it in such a way that they could all eat until they were satisfied, He invited them to add to the fish already prepared with some of the fish that they had just brought in from their overly full nets. It is here that we read that Peter went back aboard the boat and hauled the net ashore to find that it was full of 153 fish, and fish of all sizes from big to small, but 153 large fish. Miraculously Jesus had given them a hand in bringing in an overwhelmingly top quality catch. What they had proven that they could not do, Jesus enabled them to do, and in doing this He even protected the net such that not one of them was lost.
I find it amazing how what Jesus had said and done with His disciples previously falls into place at times like this. I don’t think any of this was a mere happenstance of God, but orchestrated to move them forward in seeing His plan. Jesus had said to follow Him and He would make them fishers of men. When they could not catch a fish, Jesus spoke to them instructing them where to cast their net and they caught an overwhelming abundance of fish. When Jesus had shown them that He could take fish and bread and break it and hand it to His disciples to distribute, the bread and the fish fed the entire crowd until they were satisfied. And when Jesus took the bread here and gave it to them we also see from Scripture that this was not the first time and it served as a continuing affirmation that He would continue to do so.
What we do not see here is how Jesus appeared to His disciples and how His resurrection body must have appeared to them. From the previous encounters and this one it appears that He looked different, though His hands and His side bore the obvious markings of His crucifixion. But He also looked different in a way that we simply do not know. For some it was His voice or His precise words that stimulated their recognition, while for others it was the marks He bore or the works He did. What we do know is despite how He appeared His disciples recognized Him and knew Him to be the resurrected Christ—their Lord and now risen Savior. Similarly, we read here that Jesus did not have to identify Himself to them. John recognized Him from the boat, and in today’s passage we read that when He invited them to join Him for breakfast not one of them asked Him who He was for they all knew that He was the Lord.
When He had appeared to them the first time He told them, “Peace be with you.” And again He said, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.”” (John 20:21, ESV) In this third appearance Jesus demonstrated in a very tangible way what could be done when they followed His instruction and obediently did what He told them to do. The catch of fish was truly amazing. In the years to come those 153 fish would probably seem small in comparison to spiritual catch that they would have been given the privilege to haul in. On that day they saw their nets filled with 153 large fish. On Pentecost after Peter would preach we read in Acts chapter 2, “So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.” (Acts 2:41, ESV) Then in verse 47 after they had continued to gather for teaching, fellowship, and the breaking of bread we read, “… And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:47, ESV)
What started with a handful of men chosen by Jesus has grown into a vast army of believers also chosen by God who He is continuing to use to add into a net that will never be broken. But the reality is that not all souls will wind up in this eternal net of life. God knows those who are His and those who will remain in judgment, and in His knowing this He has set us aside as His fishermen to go out trusting Him to provide the catch. In Matthew we read that as Jesus had looked out on the masses that had gathered, He then turned to His disciples and said, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”” (Matthew 9:37–38, ESV)
Praise God that He has continued to add to the harvest through the faithful witness of those sent by Him. And by the simple virtue of our now being in the net now (if you’ve trusted Christ for your salvation), we also are charged and sent to spread to others that same good news. As we do this we are to be reminded that the disciples were faithful to cast the net, but God filled it.