18.01.17 Jn. 21:1-14 Later at the Sea of Galilee
JESUS APPEARS TO DISCIPLES
1 After this, Jesus revealed Himself again to His disciples by the Sea of Tiberias. He revealed Himself in this way:
2 Simon Peter, Thomas (called “Twin”), Nathanael from Cana of Galilee, Zebedee’s sons, and two others of His disciples were together.
3 “I’m going fishing,” Simon Peter said to them.
“We’re coming with you,” they told him. They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.
4 When daybreak came, Jesus stood on the shore. However, the disciples did not know it was Jesus.
5 “Men,” Jesus called to them, “you don’t have any fish, do you?”
“No,” they answered.
6 “Cast the net on the right side of the boat,” He told them, “and you’ll find some.” So they did, and they were unable to haul it in because of the large number of fish.
7 Therefore the disciple, the one Jesus loved, said to Peter, “It is the Lord!”
When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he tied his outer garment around him (for he was stripped) and plunged into the sea. 8 But since they were not far from land (about 100 yards away), the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish. 9 When they got out on land, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish lying on it, and bread.
10 “Bring some of the fish you’ve just caught,” Jesus told them. 11 So Simon Peter got up and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish—153 of them. Even though there were so many, the net was not torn.
12 “Come and have breakfast,” Jesus told them. None of the disciples dared ask Him, “Who are You?” because they knew it was the Lord. 13 Jesus came, took the bread, and gave it to them. He did the same with the fish.
14 This was now the third time Jesus appeared to the disciples after He was raised from the dead.
It appears that at this point there are only seven disciples in the boat. The location of the others is unknown although they could have been nearby. They had no idea what their future would hold; no idea that Jesus had dynamic plans for every one of them. So they naturally returned to their former professions. Here they were fishing just as they were doing when Jesus first met them.
“On the right side of the boat.” The fact that Jesus told Simon Peter to cast his net on the right side of the boat is significant. By stating the right side, Jesus implied that those fish would be good because the “right side,” in Scripture frequently refers to that which is good whereas the left side acquires those things that will be cast away. For example, In Matthew 25:33-34 Jesus said that His sheep will be on His right side while the goats will be on His left. The sheep will inherit eternal life with Him while those on His left side will be cast into outer darkness.
“He tied his outer garment around him.” The outer garment is literally the fisher’s coat. This term is found nowhere else in the New Testament. The original Greek text also reads that Peter was naked. Modern readers would interpret this phrase to mean that Peter was fishing completely nude, which was not the case. He only threw off his outer garment. The Jewish culture was a very modest one and constantly opposed to the immodesty of the Greeks, yet fishing with daily clothing was quite cumbersome. In fact, the term “nude” was also used to denote the lack of socially acceptable dress. Even though fishing was done at night, modesty was still a high social value. An explanation of the word “nude” is found in this rabbinic writing concerning the capital punishment of stoning:
When he (the condemned man) was four cubits from the place of stoning, they stripped off his clothes. A man is kept covered in the front and a woman both in front and behind….The sages say: “A man is stoned naked but a woman is not stoned naked.”
Mishnah, Sanhedrin 6.3-4
In essence, when the Jews exercised capital punishment, they stripped a person of his or her outer garments leaving only essential undergarments on. As such, the condemned was said to be “naked.” This practice was significantly different from a Roman crucifixion that deprived the condemned criminal of any modesty to add shame to punishment. Hence, when Jesus was on the cross, He was not given a “modesty cloth,” but was completely nude, which was the shame He bore for the sins of humanity.
“They saw a charcoal fire there, with fish lying on it.” When the disciples came to the shore, Jesus had an ordinary breakfast waiting for them. But was it really ordinary? Where did the hot coals, the fish and the bread come from? Was this another miracle? Mysteries, such as these, remain hidden with the Savior. Furthermore, these were not ordinary fish, but freshwater sardenes – among the smallest fish in the Sea of Galilee. And why charcoal? The only other place charcoal is mentioned in the New Testament is when Peter warmed himself by a charcoal fire during the trials at which time he denied knowing Jesus (Jn. 18:18). This time the odor of the charcoal fire most certainly reminded him of his shameful experience. There can be no question that when Peter saw the charcoal fire on the shore, he immediately thought of the charcoal fire by the palace of Caiaphas. He must have pondered who was there.
A Lesson in First Century Hermeneutics:
“Simon Peter got up and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish — 153 of them.” In the preceding paragraph a number of fishermen attempted to haul in a net full of fish but failed in the task. It was only after Simon Peter became involved that he, as a leader, accomplished what had been an impossible task. He did not do this single-handedly, for he certainly was not a first-century Samson. Here he is shown to be a leader of fishermen, who did the impossible, and later he would be a fisher of men in the Roman Empire, who would do the impossible.
The number “153” has been the subject of numerous discussions. Since the meaning of numbers has played a significant role in the gospels, it is only natural that church fathers have attempted to discover the meaning of the 153 fish. All attempts at discovery involved mathematics, which was not needed in other Hebraic interpretations. Several examples are as follows:
- It was suggested by some early church leaders that 153 represents the number of nations who would receive the gospel. However, the Greek word for nations is ethnos, from which the English word ethnic is derived. Since there are more than 6,000 ethnic people groups today, this interpretation is hardly accurate. Furthermore, since this was written to a Jewish audience, they believed there were 70 nations or ethnic groups. If the fish represented nations, the number caught should have been 70, not 153.
- Origen thought the number might represent the Trinity (for example: 3×50+3=153).
- Another church father said it was the number of the disciples squared (144) plus the trinity squared (9).
- Jerome, however, was not about to be caught in such foolishness; he said the number represented the various kinds of fish in the sea. Maybe he would have been better at mathematics.
- The number of people who were healed or touched in some way in the gospels is 153. However, this opinion seems highly improbable since the gospels clearly imply that those to whom Jesus ministered were in the thousands.
The true meaning of the number 153 is hidden in the Hebraic and numeral system. As has been stated previously, letters were assigned numerical values in a manner similar to Roman numerals (i.e. V=5, X=10, etc.). All mathematical calculations, census registrations, and business accounting was done with letters by the Greeks, Romans, Jews, and numerous other cultures. The Hebrew term for this alpha-numeric system is “gemetria.” The number 153 could only have been written with Hebrew letters which form the phrase b’nai haElohim, meaning “sons of God.” Below is the phrase written in English, below that it is written twice in Hebrew, below that are the corresponding numeric values, followed by the names of the letters.
“Sons of God”
40 + 10+ 5 + 30 + 1 + 5+ (space) 10+50+2 = 153
Mem + yodh + heh + lah-med + ah-leph + heh + (space) yod + nun + beth = 153
18.01.17.A ILLUSTRATION OF THE INTERPRETATION OF NUMBER 153
Equally important is that previously Jesus told Peter in Luke 5:10b, “From now on you will be catching people.” Since the time Jesus made that statement, Peter denied Him three times and three times Jesus reinstated Peter. The miraculous catching of 153 fish was a confirmation of the calling in Luke 5:10b. Not only would be Peter catching “good fish,” but those fish/people, would become “sons of God.” This is a powerful message of encouragement for those whom God has called, who for some reason, strayed from their faith, but was restored. Jesus said that His calling remains.
It is nearly impossible to find this interpretation in any Gentile-Christian commentary. This demonstrates that some of today’s biblical interpretations are clearly based on Christian tradition and assumptions and not on a study of Jewish roots and culture. This alpha-numeric style was also used by the Apostle John in Revelation 13:17-18, where he revealed the “number” that identified the coming beast, a/k/a the Antichrist. That number in the Greek alphabet is 666. However, various letter combinations can be used to compose the number.
Finally and most important, this passage reveals the incredible love and willingness God has for His children who made wrong decisions or committed a sin that resulted in horrific consequences. This narrative was, no doubt, placed in the Bible for people like this author, and others, who have questioned if God could really forgive and restore them. On the other hand, not to accept God’s forgiveness is to declare that God’s forgiveness is not sufficient, and therefore, the individual places himself above God.
. Vincent, Word Studies in the New Testament. 2:297.
. Vincent, Word Studies in the New Testament. 2:297.
. Gilbrant, “John.” 549.
. Parenthesis mine.
. Fresh water sardines are found only is the Sea of Galilee. See video by Gordon Franz concerning the fish identification.
. The myth of 70 nations may have originated from the account of the 70 souls who went into Egypt with Jacob, that they might restore the 70 families dispersed by the confusion of tongues at the Tower of Babel. It was believed that the number of souls was equal to the number of families of the whole world. Lightfoot, A Commentary on the New Testament from the Talmud and Hebraica. 3:59.
. In Jewish literature, 70 nations are equal to 70 languages, as in the Babylonian Talmud, Sabbath 88b, where there is a comment that God divided humanity into 70 languages. A similar statement is found in the Midrash Tehilim 92:3 by another rabbi. Other Jewish references are found in the Jerusalem Talmud, Shekalim 5:1; 48d and the Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 17a and Menahoth 65a. For further study, see Weinfeld. “Pentecost as Festival of the Giving of the Law.” 8-18.
. Major, Manson, and Wright, The Mission and Message of Jesus. 944.
. See Appendix 14 for more information.
. Jeffrey. Unveiling Mysteries of the Bible. 207-16.
. This writer is grateful for the messianic friends who assisted in solving various biblical riddles such as this one. One of the suggestions presented was that the number 153 is based upon the phrase “For I am the LORD your God” found in Isaiah 43:3a. However, when numeric values were applied to the Hebrew letters, the total was only 148. This obviously discounted the interpretation. To make the interpretation more challenging, since any letter combination can total to 153, it is impossible to work backwards to arrive at the correct phrase.