Jesus—His Life and Message: The End of the Gospel of John (Part 1)

August 30, 2022

by Peter Amsterdam

The last chapter of the Gospel of John begins with an appearance of the risen Christ in Galilee.

After this Jesus revealed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias, and he revealed himself in this way.1

The Sea of Tiberias, more commonly called the Sea of Galilee, is in northern Israel. We’re not told how long it had been since Jesus was last with the disciples or since He had told Thomas to put his finger in Jesus’ wound.2 However, some time had passed, as the disciples had left Jerusalem and gone north to the region of Galilee, and Jesus appeared to His disciples there.

Simon Peter, Thomas (called the Twin), Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples were together. Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.3

A number of disciples (at least seven) were together in Galilee—Peter, Thomas, Nathanael, James and John (the sons of Zebedee), along with two others who are not named.

Peter decided to go fishing, which had been his occupation before meeting Jesus. The other disciples who were with him decided to join him. There is no indication that Peter or the others were thinking of returning to their fishing business; it is likely that it was a spontaneous idea which they all agreed to. The disciples went out, though we’re not told from where. They embarked in the boat, though we’re not told whom the boat belonged to. Though they fished through the night, they caught nothing.

Just as day was breaking, Jesus stood on the shore; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, “Children, do you have any fish?” They answered him, “No.”4 

Jesus stood on the edge of the lake at dawn. We’re not told how He came there, and it may be that He suddenly appeared, similar to how earlier He had appeared to His disciples behind closed doors.5 The disciples didn’t recognize Him, just as Mary Magdalene didn’t recognize Him earlier in this Gospel6 and the two disciples who were on their way to Emmaus didn’t know it was Jesus who was walking with them.7 Jesus asked them if they had any fish, and they responded that they had none. Having fished throughout the night without catching anything was probably rather disappointing.

He said to them, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in, because of the quantity of fish.8

As Jesus was on the shore and the disciples were some distance out in the water, Jesus probably had to yell His instructions to cast the net on the opposite side of the boat. The men did as He instructed, and they found that the catch of fish was so large that they were unable to bring it into the boat.

That disciple whom Jesus loved therefore said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his outer garment, for he was stripped for work, and threw himself into the sea.9

The disciple whom Jesus loved was likely the apostle John. John recognized Jesus, and told Peter that it was Jesus who had called out and asked them about the fish and who instructed them to cast the net on the right side of the boat. Upon hearing that, Peter put on his outer garment, for he was stripped for work. This doesn’t necessarily mean that Peter was doing his work in the boat while naked. One author explains: It is, however, not at all certain that Peter was wearing nothing whatever, as the English would lead us to expect. Standard lexicons cite passages where the word means “without an outer garment,” “dressed in one’s underwear.” The probability is that here the word means that parts of the body normally covered were exposed so that Peter was not naked, but rather “stripped for work.” This may mean that he wore a loincloth, or perhaps a sleeveless tunic that would not impede his movements.10

The other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, but about a hundred yards off.11

Only Peter left the boat and swam ashore. The others remained in the boat and did the work to get the large catch of fish to the shore. They were about two hundred cubits (KJV) or 94 meters from the shore. Instead of trying to pull the net full of fish into the boat, which would have likely caused it to capsize or sink, they hauled it to the shore.

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.”12

Upon disembarking from the boat, the disciples saw that there was a charcoal fire burning with some fish cooking on it, along with some bread. It seems that the amount of fish on the charcoal fire wasn’t enough to feed all who were present, so Jesus instructed them to add some of the fish they had just hauled in.

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.13

In response to Jesus’ instruction to bring some of the fish that they caught, Peter, who had jumped out of the boat and swam to the shore, apparently went back onto the boat to organize the hauling of the net full of fish to the shore. We are told that the fish were big ones, and that there were 153 of them. Earlier in history, some Christian teachers had various interpretations of the significance of the number 153, such as this being the number of the kinds of fish which were in existence. It’s most likely that this was the actual number of fish which were caught. The fish were counted perhaps so that they could be equally distributed to the seven or more disciples who were fishing together.

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.14 

Jesus invited them to eat the morning meal with Him. There is no record of their response; rather we are told that no one would ask Him “Who are you?” as they knew it was Jesus.15

Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and so with the fish.16

Jesus distributed the bread and fish to His disciples, which started the meal. He said nothing more until after the meal was finished, which will be covered in the next article.

The author of this Gospel states:

This was now the third time that Jesus was revealed to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.17

He reminds us that this is the third time Jesus appeared to the disciples after the resurrection. This likely refers to His being with the eleven disciples or at least most of them, as there are other references when He met with Mary Magdalene, with the disciples without Thomas, and one time with Thomas. But this is the third time He appeared to a larger group of disciples.

(To be continued.)


Unless otherwise indicated, all scriptures are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

General Bibliography

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Brown, Raymond E. The Death of the Messiah. 2 vols. New York: Doubleday, 1994.

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Morris, Leon. Luke. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1988.

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Young, Brad H. Jesus the Jewish Theologian. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1995.

1 John 21:1.

2 John 20:27–28.

3 John 21:2–3.

4 John 21:4–5.

5 See John 20:19, 26.

6 John 20:14.

7 See Luke 24:15–16.

8 John 21:6.

9 John 21:7.

10 Morris, The Gospel According to John, 763.

11 John 21:8.

12 John 21:9–10.

13 John 21:11.

14 John 21:12.

15 John 21:7.

16 John 21:13.

17 John 21:14.