Dr. Mark Scott wrote this treatment of the International Sunday School Lesson. Scott teaches preaching and New Testament at Ozark Christian College, Joplin, Missouri. This lesson treatment is published in the April 2020 issue of Christian Standard + The Lookout. (Subscribe to our print edition.)
Lesson Aim: Let the knowledge of Jesus’ power over all give you confidence and hope.
By Mark Scott
To ensure the disciples had a convinced and informed faith, Jesus appeared to them over a period of 40 days following his resurrection from the dead (Acts 1:1-5). During these appearances, Jesus gave many “convincing proofs” of his resurrection by, among other things, eating in front of them (Luke 24:41, 42) and asking them to touch him (John 20:27). The numerous, collaborated, and varied eyewitness accounts serve to verify Jesus’ resurrection while undermining theories that allege hallucinations or hoaxes.
Besides sudden appearances during these 40 days, Jesus also performed certain miracles. Such is the case with our text today. Jesus had an affinity for fish. He illustrated his teaching with fish and told stories about fishing (Matthew 7:10; 13:47-50). He called people who fished for a living to be his disciples (Mark 1:16-20). He knew of a fish with a coin in its mouth (Matthew 17:27). He multiplied fish on two separate occasions (Matthew 14:13-21; 15:32-39; 16:9, 10).
The Last Fishing Expedition | John 21:1-3
The angel at the empty tomb told the women to “come and see,” and “go quickly and tell” the disciples that Jesus would meet them in Galilee (Matthew 28:6, 7). Forty days would certainly have been enough time for Jesus to be resurrected in Jerusalem, make a trip to Galilee (and give the Great Commission, Matthew 28:18-20), and then return to Jerusalem to the Mount of Olives to ascend into Heaven (Luke 24:50-53).
Seven disciples went out to fish. Three of them were named (Peter, Thomas, and Nathanael), two were designated (sons of Zebedee—James and John), and two were unnamed. Scholars debate what was implied by, “I’m going out to fish.” Was Peter returning to his former occupation? Was he contemplating his recent denial of Jesus and feeling ashamed and wanting to get away? Was he just in need of some rest and relaxation? Or was he trying to provide for his family, with whom he probably had not spent much time during the last three years (1 Corinthians 9:5)? No matter, as the fishing expedition was unsuccessful. Maybe the disciples still had to learn that apart from Jesus they could do nothing (John 15:5). This was the final time Scripture mentions the disciples fishing for fish.
The Last Breakfast | John 21:4-14
The disciples had fished during the night. As day broke, someone stood on the shore and yelled to the disciples, “Friends [a term of endearment in John 15:15], haven’t you any fish?” Perhaps due to darkness or distance, the disciples did not discern the man’s identity. When the disciples answered in the negative, Jesus urged them to fish on the right side of the boat and said they would be ensured a catch. They probably thought, Why not?
Wonder of wonders, they caught large and numerous fish. Ever perceptive, John said, “It is the Lord!” That was all Peter needed to hear. After all, he had been in this situation once before (Luke 5:1-11). He was stripped to the waist, so he wrapped his outer garment around him, and evidently swam to shore. The other disciples rowed the hundred yards to shore with a boatload of fish. Peter climbed back into the boat and dragged the net ashore—quite a task for one person. Because this was a boatload of preachers, one of them counted the fish—153. All kinds of fanciful interpretations have been given to this number, but it probably just means they had 153 fish.
The fire had to spark in Peter a memory of denying Jesus (John 18:18), and the significance of it would feature momentarily in his restoration (John 21:15-23). Jesus had already started the breakfast, and the disciples added to it from the miraculous catch of fish. When Jesus took the bread and fish and gave it to the disciples, there was no question about who he was. They knew it was the Lord. John wrote that this was the third appearance of Jesus to the disciples (and if the appearances to the ten and then to the eleven are viewed as one—John 20:19-29—that is certainly correct).
The Last Word | John 21:24, 25
The disciple whom Jesus loved signed off by claiming the truthfulness of what he wrote with a postscript intended as hyperbole. It is referred to as a colophon. Jesus accomplished so much in his three-year ministry that if everything he did had been written down, then the world could not contain the books. Of the making of the books about Jesus today, there seems to be no end.
Lesson study ©2019, Christian Standard Media. Print and digital subscribers are permitted to make one print copy per week of lesson material for personal use. Lesson based on the scope and sequence, ©2019 by Christian Standard Media. Scripture quotations are from the New International Version, ©2011, unless otherwise indicated.