John 21:1–14: Jesus Appears to Seven Disciples
Perhaps this should have been included along with John 20, since it’s thematically related, but oh well.
In the previous passage, after Jesus’ resurrection, he’d appeared to Mary Magdalene, then to a bunch of the disciples (not including Thomas). then again to the disciples (this time including Thomas). In this passage he appears yet again.
A number of Jesus’ disciples are together—“Simon Peter, Thomas (called the Twin), Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others” (verse 2—remember that “the sons of Zebedee” includes John)—and decide to go fishing. They go out on the boat but catch nothing that night. (Night being the preferred time to fish, in those days, according to the ESV Study Bible, since fish caught in the night could be sold fresh the next morning.)
As the day starts to break Jesus stands on the shore (though they don’t recognize him), and asks them, “Children, do you have any fish?” They answer that they don’t, and he tells them that if they cast their net on the other side of the boat they’ll catch some. So they do, and this time they catch so many fish that they can’t even haul the net into the boat! John then tells Peter that the man is the Lord, and Peter (obviously agreeing), who had been stripped for work, puts his outer clothes back on and jumps into the sea to rush over to Jesus. The rest of them bring the boat back to shore, pulling the net full of fish behind the boat.
When the rest of the disciples get to the shore they find a charcoal fire going, with fish and bread laid out on it. I don’t know if Peter brought some fish with him, or if Jesus already had some at hand, but regardless Jesus tells them to bring some of the fish they’d just caught, and Peter goes aboard and gets the net full of fish—John specifies that there were 153—and drags it ashore. Even though they’d been worried about having so many fish in the net, John tells us that it doesn’t break.
Jesus invites them to have breakfast with him, and John says something interesting:
Now none of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. (verse 12)
More on that below.
Jesus then shares the bread and the fish with the disciples, and John specifies that this is the third time Jesus is appearing to the disciples after raising from the dead.
All of my “thoughts” on this passage actually amount to unanswered questions. I tend to quote the ESV Study Bible a lot (because I get a lot of facts and insights from that commentary, and I want to give credit where credit is due), but in this case they had nothing to say about these topics. At least not for this passage; perhaps they cover these topics in other Gospels.
Jesus’ Disciples Not Recognizing Him
There’s a pattern after Jesus’ resurrection whereby He appears to people and they don’t initially recognize Him, and then He says or does something which causes them to realize who it is. (In this passage they don’t recognize Him until they take His advice about where to cast the net and suddenly end up with a huge catch, and then John realizes that this must be Jesus.)
We might say that they don’t recognize Him in this case because He’s too far away, but there are cases like Luke 24:1–35 where Jesus appears to a couple of disciples and has a long conversation with them in which “their eyes were initially kept from recognizing him,” even though he’s right there in close proximity.
I assume there’s a spiritual/theological reason for this, but I don’t know what it is. Or perhaps it’s more simple than I’m thinking? Perhaps Jesus’ resurrected body just looks different enough from the pre-resurrected body that them not recognizing them simply makes sense? I don’t know.
In this case, however, it’s even more strange (to me) because of this passage that I quoted earlier:
Now none of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord.
So… if they already knew it was Jesus, why would they be tempted to ask “Who are you?” in the first place? What’s that all about? And the only two options I can think of are:
- They know but they don’t know that it’s Jesus—meaning they’re not 100% sure that it’s really him—perhaps are prevented from seeing him clearly?—but are too timid to ask outright, or
- Maybe the theory about him physically looking different is the right one, and even though this man they’re talking to looks different from Jesus it’s clearly Him, so they don’t need to ask “Who are you?”
This is less “deep” of a topic, but when Jesus asks if the disciples have any fish, he calls them “children.” I don’t think this is in any way meant to be insulting or derogatory to the disciples, I think it was a common figure of speech—maybe specifically by teachers?—but it would have been nice to get clarity on it, though I was too lazy to start doing an internet-wide search…