Following the Risen Christ


Sunday School Lesson Notes for February 23, 2003


Background Passage: John 21:1-25


Focal Teaching Passage: John 21:1-17


The Miraculous Catch of Fish (21:1-11)


Verse 1

Afterward Jesus appeared” – This language speaks of yet another event where Jesus displayed His glory and divine majesty following His resurrection and initial manifestation to the disciples.  The purpose of this appearance by the “Sea of Tiberias” (according to verse 14 “the third time Jesus appeared to his disciples”) was to once again display His power, love, and authority and to strengthen the faith of His disciples.  Note the following list of Christ’s post-resurrection appearances:


·        To Mary Magdalene (Mark 16:9;John 20:11-18)


·        To the women (Matthew 28:9, 10)


·        To Cleopas and his companion (Luke 24:13-35)


·        To Simon (Luke 24:34; I Corinthians 15:15)


·        To the disciples on the Emmaus Road (Luke 24:13-32)


·        To the disciples except Thomas (John 20:19:23)


·        To the disciples, Thomas being present (John 20:24-29)


·        To the seven at the Sea of Tiberias (21:1-14)


·        To the disciples on a “mountain” in Galilee (Matthew 28:16-20)


·        To the five hundred (I Corinthians 15:6)


·        To James, the Lord’s brother (I Corinthians 15:7)


·        To the eleven on Olivet, near Jerusalem (Acts 1:4-11; cf. Luke 24:50, 51)


·        To Paul, when he was on his way to Damascus (Acts 9:3-7; 22:6-10; 26:12-18; I Corinthians 9:1; 15:8)


Verse 2

Seven of the Disciples were present at Galilee for this special manifestation: Peter, Thomas, Nathaniel, James and John and two additional unnamed men—“two other disciples.”



Verse 3

Peter’s comment, “I’m going out to fish” may possibly indicate his desire to return to his former occupation.   Perhaps he believed that he no longer had the right to represent Jesus in ministry, having failed so miserably at the arrest and trial of His Lord. John records that the other disciples who responded, “We’ll go with you,” accompanied Peter into the fishing boat.



Verses 4-5

Taking His stance “on the shore” while it was still quite early in the morning, Jesus called out to the men in the boat. His reference to them as “friends” was a very tender term of address that may be translated as “lads” or “boys.”  His question about the success of their fishing trip—“haven’t you any fish?” was posed in order to demonstrate the futility of their return to their former occupation.   Jesus was clearly going to use this encounter to teach them that they could do nothing on their own apart from His empowerment and grace.



Verse 6

Note the similarity this incident has with the earlier one recorded in Luke 5:4.  In this case, however, the disciples did not question the command that the stranger on the beach had given to them—“Throw your net on the right side of the boat . . . .”  Their response was simply to obey. As William Hendriksen comments, “so deeply impressed were they by the compelling tone of the stranger’s voice, they obeyed with soldierly promptness.”  As noted above, the purpose of this miraculous catch of fish was to strengthen the disciples’ faith in Christ, and to convince them beyond all doubt that, while they could accomplish nothing by themselves, they could fulfill His will and mission in full dependence upon Him.  This fact is confirmed by the miraculous quantity of fish the men retrieved when they obeyed the Lord’s instructions—“they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish.”



Verses 9-12

When the disciples arrived at the shore, and Peter had landed the net containing 153 “large fish” (v. 11), they discovered that the Lord had prepared a “fire of burning coals” and had placed “fish on it” (v. 9). It is clear that the meal (“breakfast”) these men enjoyed did not come from the fish they had caught, but from the fish and bread that Jesus Himself had provided.  John notes that, as the men ate, none of them “dared ask him, ‘Who are you?’” The miraculous catch had convinced them beyond all doubt that “it was the Lord” (v. 12). Interestingly, some interpreters have suggested the possibility that in this passage we see the miracle of multiplication much like that demonstrated earlier in John 6:11.  At any rate, the event served as a “parable of their missionary activity,” and convinced them that success would come “only as they follow the directions of their risen Lord” [Bruce, 402].




The Restoration of Peter (21:15-17)


Verses 15-17

Now Christ turns to Peter in order to publicly reinstate him into ministry and to convince him that he had been fully forgiven for his previous failure.  The charcoal fire and the three-fold question by Christ surely reminded Peter of his earlier betrayal.  It is also possible that the repetition of the question “do you love me?” was indicative of “the Near Eastern custom of reiterating a matter three times before witnesses in order to convey a solemn obligation” [Kostenberger, 194].


In this section Jesus refers to Peter as “Simon.”  the name he had before he was found by Jesus.  Perhaps this was in order to remind him that his behavior was like that of one who did not know Christ.  The question Jesus poses to Peter is very appropriate in the light of Peter’s claim in Matthew 26:33. In this present dialogue we see the use of two separate words for “love.”  See the paraphrase suggested below:


  • (v.15)  Jesus:    “Do you love Me with intelligence, purpose, and whole-hearted devotion?”


Peter:   “I love you with affection.”


  • (v.16)  Jesus:    “Do you Simon, without regard to the other disciples, love Me                           with whole-hearted devotion?”


Peter:   “I love you with affection.”



  • (v.17)  Jesus:    “Do you love Me with affection?”


Peter:   “I love you with affection.”



In this encounter with Christ, it seems obvious that Peter has been humbled by the memory of his fall.  It is for this reason that he refuses to use the higher term for love when speaking to Jesus.  Note that on three occasions Peter says “you know” indicating his understanding of the Lord’s omniscience.  Indeed Jesus knew Peter’s heart better than Peter himself.



We also see in this passage the Lord’s charge to Peter that has been expressed in the verbs “feed” (v.15), “take care of my sheep” (v.16), and “feed” (v.17).  These terms express the tender loving care that Peter should give to the body of Christ.  Peter’s assignment is to work among the flock, giving them nourishment from God’s Word. The terms “lambs” (v.15) and “sheep” (vv.16, 17) are used to indicate the nature and character of the flock.  They are lambs in that they are often weak and immature.  They are sheep because they are prone to wander and are totally dependent upon the shepherd.



Major Themes for Reflection and Application


One: Faithfully serving God in His strength rather than human effort.




Two: The glorious way God uses broken people to accomplish great things for His kingdom.




Three: The essence of love—trust  plus obedience.