Be Fishers of Men - Not of Fish (John 21:1-17)Be Fishers of Men – Not of Fish (John 21:1-17)
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Commentary by Frank L. Hoffman

Scripture References (NASV unless otherwise noted):

Numbers 11:31-34
Matthew 4:18-20
Matthew 5:9
Matthew 6:10
Matthew 14:19
Mark 1:17
John 21:1-17
1 Corinthians 3:16-17
Revelation 21:4

After Jesus’ resurrection there is a very interesting event which takes place at the Sea of Tiberias, as recorded in John 21:1-17, which is really a story about Peter and his ministry and what the Lord really desired of his life.

It is also a story about turning away from causing death, to a ministry of bringing life, even life eternal, which is something that all of us should be doing. So let’s join Jesus and his disciples after the Resurrection (John 21:1-17).

1 After these things Jesus manifested Himself again to the disciples at the Sea of Tiberias, and He manifested Himself in this way.

2 There were together Simon Peter, and Thomas called Didymus, and Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, and the sons of Zebedee, and two others of His disciples.

3 Simon Peter said to them, "I am going fishing." They said to him, "We will also come with you." They went out, and got into the boat; and that night they caught nothing.

We need to ask ourselves why they didn’t catch any fish. Could it be that they are going against the Lord’s will? Let’s go on in our John 21 passage and see.

4 But when the day was now breaking, Jesus stood on the beach; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus.

5 Jesus therefore said to them, "Children, you do not have any fish, do you?" They answered Him, "No."

6 And He said to them, "Cast the net on the right-hand side of the boat, and you will find a catch." They cast therefore, and then they were not able to haul it in because of the great number of fish.

From the surface of this verse, it seems like the Lord wants them to be successful fishermen, but is that really what Jesus wants?  Let's remember what Jesus first said to them when He called them into becoming His disciples (Mark 1:17).

17 And Jesus said to them, "Follow Me, and I will make you become fishers of men."

He called them away from fishing; He called them away from being killers of fish into bringing life to human being.

So, if returning to being fishermen was against the will of God, then why would Jesus do this (John 21:6)? Because, this was another one of God’s concessions granted to his errant children. He did this in the hope that they would learn from their mistakes and return to being obedient followers.

This is very similar to what happened in the wilderness. God had given the people manna, as bread from heaven that would sustain the people in good health without causing the death of any animal. But the people grumbled and demanded flesh. Let’s look at what happened (Numbers 11:31-34):

31 Now there went forth a wind from the LORD, and it brought quail from the sea, and let them fall beside the camp, about a day's journey on this side and a day's journey on the other side, all around the camp, and about two cubits deep on the surface of the ground.

32 And the people spent all day and all night and all the next day, and gathered the quail (he who gathered least gathered ten homers) and they spread them out for themselves all around the camp.

33 While the meat was still between their teeth, before it was chewed, the anger of the LORD was kindled against the people, and the LORD struck the people with a very severe plague.

34 So the name of that place was called Kibroth-hattaavah, because there they buried the people who had been greedy.

The people craved death, so he gave it to them.

But what about the dead quail? Did the Lord kill them to make a point? I really don’t believe He did. To have this many quail blow in from a desert, or even a distant coastland, is not feasible; and for them to be piled up two cubits (3 feet) deep indicates that they were already dead. Thus, the only logical conclusion is that the Lord created the dead quail or multiplied the body of one or two dead quail, just as Jesus did with the bread and the two fish when He fed the 5,000 (Matthew 14:19).

With this in mind, let’s return to John 21 and continue our study (verse 7).

7 That disciple therefore whom Jesus loved said to Peter, "It is the Lord." And so when Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put his outer garment on (for he was stripped for work), and threw himself into the sea.

Why would Peter clothe himself and throw himself into the sea?
Because he realized that in leading his fellow disciples back to fishing, he was going against the Lord’s will, as we are told in Matthew 4:18-20:

18 And Jesus, walking by the sea of Galilee, saw two brethren, Simon called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea: for they were fishers.

19 And he saith unto them, Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.

20 And they straightway left their nets, and followed him.
KJV

The disciples were obedient at that time, but after Jesus’ death Peter lost his hope and returned to fishing. So, when he realized what he had done, he put on his outer garment, a way of covering the sin of his fishing attire, or lack of it, and threw himself into the sea, a type of baptism of repentance for his sin of disobedience.

Peter did get a little dramatic at times!

Let’s pick up our study again at John 21:8.

8 But the other disciples came in the little boat, for they were not far from the land, but about one hundred yards away, dragging the net full of fish.

Based on what we have read already, and the similarity to the other events, it’s quite likely that Jesus created the lifeless fish bodies for the purpose of showing the disciples His true intention for their lives.

He had to prove a point based upon their errant ways, which we shall see shortly, as we return to our John 21 passage.

9 And so when they got out upon the land, they saw a charcoal fire already laid, and fish placed on it, and bread.

The obvious question is, “Where did these fish come from, since they were there before the new catch arrived?” Jesus must have created these fish, too.

10 Jesus said to them, "Bring some of the fish which you have now caught."

11 Simon Peter went up, and drew the net to land, full of large fish, a hundred and fifty-three; and although there were so many, the net was not torn.

Again we see the emphasis of another miracle; for John, who was there, recognized that with such a catch, the net would have been torn. Clearly the whole intent of these events is to show the miraculous powers of the Lord in such a way that the disciples would, once and for all, pay attention to the will of God for their lives.

12 Jesus said to them, "Come and have breakfast." None of the disciples ventured to question Him, "Who are You?" knowing that it was the Lord.

This is further confirmation that they realize that they are in the midst of a miraculous event, for Jesus was obviously transfigured, and no longer looked like He did during His incarnate life.

13 Jesus came and took the bread, and gave them, and the fish likewise.

Jesus is once again showing them that a true leader must be a servant, a caretaker, and a compassionate minister to all who are in His care, so that they would follow His example and never again return to their worldly way of life.

14 This is now the third time that Jesus was manifested to the disciples, after He was raised from the dead.

This is the time when the “rubber meets the road”, so to speak. It is decision time. All of this has been laid out before them as an example, to emphasize what Jesus wants them to do.

Furthermore, since Peter was the one who led them back to fishing, instead of being fishers of men, and since Peter recognized the error of his ways, the Lord speaks to him, as we continue in our John 21 passage.

15 So when they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon, son of John, do you love Me more than these?" He said to Him, "Yes, Lord; You know that I love You." He said to him, "Tend My lambs."

16 He said to him again a second time, "Simon, son of John, do you love Me?" He said to Him, "Yes, Lord; You know that I love You." He said to him, "Shepherd My sheep."

17 He said to him the third time, "Simon, son of John, do you love Me?" Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, "Do you love Me?" And he said to Him," Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You. "Jesus said to him," Tend My sheep.

Peter denied Jesus three times before His death, and now He is asking him to reaffirm his love three times, but for what purpose?

When Jesus said, "Simon, son of John, do you love Me more than these?", to whom was He referring? Was He referring to the disciples? That doesn’t make any sense; because Jesus wouldn’t do anything to cause a separation between the disciples by asking if Simon Peter loved Him more than his brethren. Jesus is not referring to the disciples; He is referring to the fish.

In essence, Jesus is asking Peter, “Do you love Me more than these fish that you left the ministry to catch? I entrusted My ministry to you and your fellow disciples in order for you to be fishers of men, that you might bring them life eternal, and you have returned to being killers of fish. Don’t you love me more than these fish?”

And when Peter responds in the affirmative, Jesus tells him to tend the people whom He had left in the disciples’ care. He is not talking about fish, lambs, or sheep; He is talking about ministering to the people of this world and, in turn, to the whole of creation.

And since Jesus said all of this in the hearing of the other disciples, and through the Bible, to us, we are to understand that we are to be loving and compassionate peacemakers to the whole of creation.

And through this loving caretaker example, we will lead people to become followers of Jesus, even to heaven and life eternal.

Just in case someone doubts this conclusion, consider the following:

It is a well known fact that we do not need any animal products to live a happy and healthy life; in fact, we will be healthier on an all unprocessed, whole food, plant food diet, and in this way we preserve the temple of God, our body (1 Corinthians 3:16-17).

We know that there is no death in heaven (Revelation 21:4), and Jesus taught us to pray, “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” So if this is what we are to seek, then we should do everything in our power to eliminate as much death as possible, including what we put on our plates.

Clearly, Jesus wants us to turn away from the violent lifestyles of this earth to become the blessed peacemaking children of God He calls us to be (Matthew 5:9).

So our closing question is: Do we love Jesus more than the violent ways of this world?

Our answer is reflected in the way we live.

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