21:2 together. This epilogue chapter, added after John had apparently ended his narrative, may well have been intended partly for symbolic reasons. This may be suggested by the fact that just seven of the disciples were involved, the number possibly representing all disciples of the Lord as “fishers of men.” The number seven has, of course, symbolized completeness ever since God established the seven-day week in commemoration of the completion of His week of creation. The Great Commission had now been given, and it would soon be time for the disciples and all those who would follow them to go into all the world to “fish for men” (see Matthew 4:19). By this additional miraculous sign, Jesus would encourage His people that their fishing would ultimately be successful in bringing many to the Savior.
21:4 morning was now come. Continuing with the symbolic theme, the disciples can fish all night long in the sea (which represents the world at large), without success, because Jesus, the light of the world, is not with them during the world’s dark night. “Without me, ye can do nothing,” He had said (John 15:5).
21:6 multitude of fishes. This remarkable change of fortune would remind them immediately of their experience three years earlier, when Jesus had similarly given them a miraculous catch of fishes, and told them they would “catch men” in the future (Luke 5:1-10). They recognized that it was Jesus, and, most likely, would understand His presence and the miracle as a rebuke and a reminder that they must soon be fishing for men instead of fish.
21:8 two hundred cubits. Possibly John was led to note the distance of two hundred cubits in recollection of the “two hundred” penny’s worth of bread which the disciples had once thought was needed to feed a multitude (John 6:7—the only other reference to “two hundred” in the gospels). Just as Christ provided more than the needed two hundred penny’s worth of bread to feed a multitude, so here He provided a multitude of fish (representing a multitude of people), when they ventured two hundred cubits from the shore. Jesus had once said that “the kingdom of heaven is like a net, that was cast into the sea, and gathered of every kind” (Matthew 13:47). The disciples may also have remembered that parable, concluding that the Lord would have them make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19), just as the net in the parable had gathered every kind of fish.
21:9 fish laid thereon. The disciples had not caught the fish that Jesus had cooked for them; evidently He, as Creator, had created these fishes. The disciples would realize that Jesus did not have to depend on them to fish for men; it was a privilege He was giving them, that of sharing in His mission to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10).
21:11 an hundred and fifty and three. The reason why the disciples were careful to count, and John to record, the number of fishes brought to shore must again involve symbolism, as there seems no other reason for it. It has been calculated that there were 153 distinct nations in the world at the time of Christ (the number is not much different at present); these were represented at Pentecost by seventeen ethnic groups (see Acts 2:8-11), when the disciples first began to carry out the Commission, preaching to the world in microcosm, as it were. The number 17 is also symbolic: when all the numbers are added up through 17 (that is, 1+2+3+...+16+17), they add to 153. Furthermore, the digits in 153 (i.e., 1+5+3) add to 9, which when multiplied by 17, again makes 153. It is also interesting that there are three digits in the number, and if each is multiplied by itself three times, then the total once again adds to 153. That is: (1 x 1 x 1) + (5 x 5 x 5) + (3 x 3 x 3) = 153. There seems no other number that could possibly be more appropriate to represent all the peoples of the world than this number, and it is surely more than coincidence (in fact, providential) that the Creator saw to it that exactly 153 great fishes entered the “gospel net.”
21:11 was not the net broken. On that occasion three years previously, the net had broken (Luke 5:6). This time, however, it did not break, indicating that, if the human “fish” were securely caught in the gospel net, they would surely be drawn to shore. It is probably noteworthy in this connection that the greatest passage on security in the Bible (Romans 8:35-39) lists exactly seventeen things that can never separate us from God’s love in Christ, the last consisting of “every other creation.” No one is ever more secure than the loved ones of the Savior! One might even multiply this seventeen-fold security by the nine-fold fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) and again there results 153-fold effectiveness in true evangelism! Then also, one could note that the word “sign” or “miracle” occurs seventeen times in John, and there are nine “signs” described in John’s gospel (the seven performed by Christ before His resurrection plus His own resurrection plus this symbolic post-resurrection miracle). Again we have seventeen times nine suggested. That is not all, but it should be obvious that all of this simply could not be mere coincidence. Its symbolic, or parabolic, or typological significance is real and powerful.
21:17 lovest thou me. Jesus had twice asked Peter if he loved Him with agape love (true self-less devotion to the one loved). Peter had answered that he did love Him, but with phileo love (brotherly kindness). This third time, Jesus also used phileo, and Peter was grieved. He finally recognized that the thrice-repeated question was intended to remind him of His thrice-repeated denial of the Lord (John 18:17, 25, 27). Further, the Lord had not addressed him as Peter (“the rock”) but by his old name Simon. Jesus wanted to bring him back to the point where he would henceforth not just go fishing (John 21:3) but would “Feed my lambs,” “feed my sheep” and “tend my sheep” (John 21:15,17,16). The converts must be fed and tended with God’s Word (see I Peter 5:2-3), and this must be done through love for Christ.
21:22 tarry till I come. Tradition has it that all the twelve disciples except John died as martyrs for their testimony. Peter is said to have been crucified (see John 21:18), possibly upside down, although none of this is confirmed in the Bible itself, except for James, the brother of John (Acts 12:1-2). All the others were probably dead by the time John wrote his gospel, somewhere around A.D. 85. In one sense, he did tarry until the Lord’s coming, for as a prisoner on the isle of Patmos he was translated into the future to see and record all the main events associated with Christ’s return in the book of Revelation (Revelation 1:1-2,10-11).