New Defender's Study Bible Notes
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.