The Disciples Go Fishing
“Just as day was breaking, Jesus stood on the shore; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus” (v. 4).- John 21:1–8
Given that John’s purpose statement seems to be a fitting end to his gospel (John 20:30–31), some scholars have suggested that John 21 is a later addition to this book either by John himself or by someone else. However, the evidence suggests that chapter 21 is not a later addition and should be received as John’s intended conclusion. If John 21 were a later addition, there would be some indications in the manuscripts of John’s gospel that it originally circulated without this passage, but no such indications exist. Furthermore, epilogues were common enough in the ancient world that it is not strange for John to have included one. Finally, the style of chapter 21 matches the style of John 1–20 overall, making it unlikely that another person later added the chapter to John’s gospel.
John 21, we will see, actually gives us some vital information about Peter’s restoration, the purpose of the Apostolic ministry, and more. The chapter begins by telling us that the third appearance of Jesus to the disciples after His resurrection happened at the Sea of Tiberias (vv. 1, 14). The Sea of Tiberias was another name for the Sea of Galilee, so when we encounter the disciples in today’s passage, they have returned to their home region. Why had the disciples gone back to Galilee? The most likely explanation is that they were following Jesus’ instruction. Mark 14:28 records that Jesus told the disciples He would go to Galilee after His resurrection, and one of the angels at Jesus’ tomb instructed the women to tell Peter and the other disciples that the disciples would see our Lord in Galilee (16:7).
Upon returning to Galilee, the disciples decided to go fishing, probably because they were hungry (John 21:1–3a). Remember also that many of them were fishermen (Matt. 4:18–22), so perhaps they were looking to earn some money to meet their needs. However, their fishing expedition had not been a success. Jesus, standing on the shore, called out and told them to cast their net “on the right side” of their boat (John 21:3b–6a). When they did so, they caught so many fish that they had great difficulty hauling them in (v. 6b). This episode is similar in some ways to a fishing episode that happened many years earlier when Jesus helped the disciples, which may explain why John was able to recognize that it was Jesus exhorting them where to cast their net (Luke 5:1–11; John 21:7a). Knowing that Jesus was there, Peter jumped into the water and headed for shore, so eager was he to see the Lord (John 21:7b–8).
In today’s passage, Peter was so eager to see Jesus that he jumped into the water and swam toward the shore, where Jesus was standing (John 21:7–8). Although Peter frequently talked and acted before he should have done so, surely his eagerness to be with Jesus serves as a model to us. We should likewise be eager to spend time with our Savior. Let us be quick to turn to Him in prayer as we go about our daily business.
Passages for Further Study