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In John 21, Jesus tells the disciples to throw their nets on the "right side of the boat" (verse 6) which enables the second miraculous catch of fish in Jesus' ministry, the catching of 153 fish.

However, I noticed that Jesus already had fish on a BBQ:

When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread.

Verse 9

Can we conclude that Jesus had already miraculously provided fish (and bread)? If so, what is the significance of this for the disciples (mainly fishermen)?

  • I edited this question to remove the portion asking for application to modern readers as this goes out of site scope. You probably will still get a response to this in the answers. – Dan Sep 18 '13 at 20:51

10 Answers 10

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The Scene

John didn't miss the significance of the miracle. A mysterious man on the shore had told them where to cast their net, and the catch was amazing. John knew, it was the Lord standing there on the shore!

This was clearly an emotional moment -- especially for Peter, who immediately cast himself into the sea in order to get to Him quicker, even though the boat was "not far from the land" by John's count (who opted to take the boat instead.)

Peter and Jesus had a moment together before the boat arrived with the catch. In light of their history together, this was no doubt a precious moment for Peter. (See Michael Card's excellent book on Peter for a great exegetical picture of their friendship.)

The Meal

When the other disciples hit land, there was already a fire gong with some fish on the grill, and bread too. Clearly Peter did not bring the food, and it is very unlikely that he went to go get it during this brief interval. So, Jesus set this up (whether miraculously or not we do not know.)

Jesus tells them to bring some of the fish they caught. We will see why in a moment.

Peter went to help bring the net in before dining. The mention of "153" large fish is simply part of a sentence intended to remind the reader of the miracle; that "although there were so many, the net was not torn."

Jesus invites them to eat, and begins to serve them food.

The Significance

The Lord has met these tired fishermen with a fire, food, and fellowship, and then proceeds to serve them. We have already seen the love, provision, and devotion of Jesus prior to His crucifixion. John is now showing us His same love, provision, and devotion after His resurrection.

Jesus does not simply feed them, as He had in the past. What we have here is a group of friends coming together to eat. Yes, He had provided their fish miraculously, but they also worked for it; He enabled them to bring something to the table as well. And then He served them. John is showing us the partnership and fellowship that Jesus had with His disciples after His resurrection.

Fish and bread were common foodstuffs in their day. Jesus is providing the food they are accustomed to eating (just as He spoke the language they were familiar with, and met them in the place they were accustomed to fishing at.) The significance here is that the Lord went to their world -- in more than one way.

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It is clear that the fish that were "already on" the fire were not part of the 153 the disciples brought. Therefore Jesus had provided the fish himself, whether miraculously or by purchasing them. At this point it doesn't make much difference, for both the reader and the disciples know that Jesus is God and has all power: one miracle more or less won't change anything.

John would not mention this incident unless he were trying to tell us something by it. The main thing this story is communicating, as evidenced by v14, is that Jesus was physically alive, and the disciples knew it. A sub-point of this passage may be that just as Jesus was with the disciples before, he still was with them. Moreover, He still provided for them. Even though they were out doing their own thing, trying to provide for themselves, Jesus had already prepared what was needed - though they also brought their own fish to the fire.

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This encounter was specifically sat up to restore Peter. He was initially called to follow Jesus after the Lord borrowed his boat. Sowing into Christ's ministry in this way yielded the remarkable catch of fish. After which Peter, James and John forsook their nets and followed Him. This encounter is the same: a calling to once again return to His work. But Peter is not the same person that he was before: he's denied Christ and no longer feels worthy of the ministry. That place of denial occurred in the dark of night, around a campfire, surrounded by strangers. The Lord Jesus tenderly restores Peter in the pleasant light of dawn, after a victorious catch of fish, around a campfire, surrounded by friends.

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  • Welcome to Biblical Hermeneutics Stack Exchange! Be sure to take our site tour to learn more about us. We're a little different from other sites. Please don't "preach" at readers. Instead, describe your perspective without prescribing it. We're looking for lectures rather than sermons. Please keep in mind that not all of your readers here are Christians. – Dan Dec 20 '14 at 20:08
  • We stop short of application to modern religious followers when answering questions about the Bible (which means we don't fully exegete the text in the religious sense of the practice). Instead, we stick to the meaning of the text in its original context. I've edited to remove the prescriptive content. – Dan Dec 20 '14 at 20:09
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I found this on a webpage when i was doing some research into this question, after hearing a friend of mine say that it is meant to show Jesus was God, 153 representing in Hebrew "Son of God." Full page at http://www.petersteffens.com/articles/teachings/the-significance-of-the-153-fish.html

"The Bible tells us explicitly that there were 153 fish in the net. That may have had a very special significance for the apostles. Firstly, in that time, there were only 153 known species of fish. Jesus had already called the disciples 'fishers of men' (Mark 1:17) but they focused initially exclusively on Israel. The number 153 represented every possible, known people group in the world at that time, in other words, the whole world.

Numbers have a special significance for Jews. In both the Hebrew and Greek alphabets the letters served as both letters and numbers and every; word can also be a number. In writing and explaining the Bible, Jews regularly make use of the numerical values of words. This is evident in various places in the Bible. The book of Proverbs contains exactly 375 proverbs from Solomon (Proverb 10:1 and 22:16) which exactly matches the numeric value of his name 'Solomon' in Hebrew. Proverbs 25:1 to 30:1 consist of 140 proverbs gathered and edited by the appointment of King Hezekiah. The numeric value of Hezekiah's name is 140. The number 666 from Revelations is probably one of the most well known examples of the numeric value of a word or name.

It is interesting to note that 153 is the numeric value of the expressions: 'The Passover (Ha Pesach),' and also of the words 'Sons of God (Bene Ha Elohim).' We are the 'sons of God' who need to take the message of Jesus our Passover lamb to all the peoples of the world. It's also amusing to note that the numeric value of the Greek words 'fishnet' and 'fishing' are also both exactly 8 x 153. In the Bible, the number 8 always refers to the Anointed One (Christ or Messiah) and to the anointing of the Holy Spirit. I wonder if this is a hint.

Sometimes, for all kinds of reasons, we loose sight of our first calling. There is no time like the present to take it up again, to cast our nets out and to teach people of every ethnic group to be disiciples. Instead of trying to hold on to the familiar things of the past, God is longing to reveal to us the future He has for us, through His presence and anointing. When we choose to leave the safety of the hiding places we made for ourselves and allow Jesus to be our place of safety, He will feed and equip us and let us know exactly where we need to spread out our nets."

I hope that helps a bit.

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John 21:4-8 – Jesus repeated the call to Peter as in Luke 5:1-11. Even the call in Luke 5 wasn’t the first time Jesus called Peter (John 1:40-42). Peter did not recognize what the first call entailed and continued his occupation of fishing. In Luke 5 Jesus’ miracle showed Peter that Jesus was capable of catching more fish than Peter ever dreamed; more than they were capable of. The calling in Luke 5 was before Peter saw Jesus’ miracles. Imagine how Peter felt when a carpenter told him how to fish, emphasizing how Jesus’ ability far exceeded that of a carpenter. This miracle satiated* any of Peter’s fishing goals and must have been a humbling experience for an experienced fisherman. After the crucifixion and the resurrection, Peter returned to his old occupation, fishing. Jesus then repeated the call as a reminder.


*An example of satiation is what took place at a nursing home. A woman was hording towels and a worker asked the psychologist what to do. He said, “Let her keep getting more towels until she has no place to put them.” The worker did this which satiated the woman, who then asked her to take the towels away.

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  • This puts the significant of Jesus repeating the miracle of Luke 5 in John 21. Note it's John's style to leave out or briefly mention what the Synoptic Gospels already include. – Perry Webb Jan 7 '18 at 21:20
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John 21:9 – βλέπουσιν ἀνθρακιὰν κειμένην (they saw a charcoal fire in place, ESV) – For Peter, who was wet and cold, this must have brought back memories of that night when he warmed himself next to the fire and denied Christ (ἀνθρακιὰν in 18:18).

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  • I do not understand how this answers my question. – Reinstate Monica - Goodbye SE Jan 7 '18 at 21:07
  • This supports the answers about Jesus restoring Peter after his denial. – Perry Webb Jan 7 '18 at 21:17
  • However, Jesus got the fish already cooking on the fire, it is significant that he already had them before the catch made it to shore and the disciples weren't able to catch fish until Jesus' miracle. If how Jesus got the fish was significant to interpreting this passage, Jesus would have told the disciples how he got the fish and John would have recorded it. To the fishermen Jesus already having fish was a miracle. – Perry Webb Jan 7 '18 at 21:28
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The first fish catch:

The interesting thing about Jesus' order when he said to Peter, "Go to the high seas", is that in Peshitta in Hebrew the terms used were הַסֵּעַ אֶל הָעֹמֶק "hasseah el haomeq", which can be translated as "come down" and "go to the deep place".

The second miraculous fish catch:

John 21:6 And he said unto them, Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and ye shall find. And they cast it, and could no more take it away, by the multitude of the fish. (KJV)

The Apostles soon recognized that it was Jesus, for they cast the net (the word of the Gospel) on the right, which here is the Hebrew word, הַיְמָנִי "haymany", which means "right / right hand".

Surely they must have remembered that the Master taught them the interpretation of Psalm 110:1 about the son of David:

Psalms 110:1 And the LORD said unto my Lord, Sit thou at my right hand, till I make thine enemies thy footstool.(KJV)

Source: a pesca maravilhosa.

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  • Welcome to the BH site, Paula. Can you please provide the biblical reference for the first fish catch? Perhaps adding the verse in question as a quote would be of a real help too. There is some support provided here to see how to do it.Thank you. – Constantin Jinga Oct 13 '18 at 9:33
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As others have pointed out, there are two 'great hauls of fish' in the gospels, in Luke 5 and in John 21. They are like bookends to Jesus's ministry. The Luke incident is right at the start of Jesus's ministry, when he embarks upon bringing the good news of salvation to the Jews. The second incident is after Jesus's crucifixion and resurrection, at the other end of his Earthly ministry. But why specifically 153 large fish? The number 153 only occurs in one other Biblical setting (second Chronicles 2:17), namely that of Solomon's census of 'foreigners' in Israel available to help in building the temple at Jerusalem. That is a symbolic foreshadowing of building God's spiritual kingdom. Actually the census numbered 153,600. The point is that this number references gentiles. Put another way, the first haul of fish symbolized 'fishing for Jews to be brought into God's kingdom'. The second symbolized 'fishing for Gentiles to be brought into God's kingdom. Jew first, gentiles later, is a recurring New Testament theme.

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  • Hello Gordon, glad to have you with us, welcome to BHSE. This site works a little differently than other sites you are perhaps familiar with. Make sure to take the tour to get yourself familiar. Thanks! (hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/tour) – sara Aug 20 '19 at 6:34
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The seven disciples dividing the fish, it is automatic for fishermen, found that it lacked 1 (one) fish for the perfect division, the total of 154, which divided for each disciple results in 22 fish, however, Jesus asked for a fish, resulting in two fish, the number 2 (two) There is evidence for the fish, and it is the number of the testimony of the bread that came down from heaven, of the fishing of men into the kingdom of heaven, and that even after all the persecutions, it was on fire.

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After the resurrection, Peter had heard Jesus teach, and he had seen the scars, but in this third visit with Christ he was not yet walking with him... he was still not reconciled after his thrice denial.

Peter has 'returned to his vomit'... his old life as a fisherman even though he knew Jesus was resurrected. We find him doing everything wrong: he is naked, in the dark, and fishing from the left side (goats are on the left). Also he has led other disciples to do the same with him.

Jesus said that "man does not live by bread alone, but by every word which proceeds from the mouth of God." He also said that the bread was his body which was given for us. So, we can say that man does not live by the cross alone, but by every word which proceeds from the mouth of God.

But he always served fish with the bread, so fish represent "every word..."

Jesus asked Peter if he had any meat. The meat offering was actually bread which was offered as a fellowship offering. Peter had no fellowship to offer.

Jesus had provided bread and fish for them. He was reconciling them, and particularly Peter, to himself.

Jesus then commands Peter to "feed my sheep". Well, what is he supposed to feed them? 153 fish. Every word which proceeds from the mouth of God. Jesus provided fish for Peter, and Peter alone, at Jesus's command, pulled the 153 fish from the water, when the other fishermen together couldn't bring in the catch.

The lesson for Peter is that not only was he reconciled to Christ, but by obedience to Christ he would have the word of God in sufficient supply to feed the sheep of Christ. 153 = 144 + 9. 144 for the church and Israel. The nine left over are for the three who each are the fullness of God.

The story ends with Peter walking with Jesus. We hear, see and walk in response to his word, works and life.

When we are walking by every word, we have communion with all three persons of the Godhead, who are each fully God.

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  • (+1) - and trying to get this question out of the unanswered que :) – Mike Jul 12 '12 at 5:33

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