The account before us took place on the shore of the Sea of Galilee [Tiberias]. This appearance of the resurrected Christ occurred prior to that recorded in Matthew 28:16 when Jesus appeared to all eleven disciples on a mountain in Galilee.
“After these things . . .” (v. 1). The things to which John refers are recorded in Chapter 20. These things are the resurrection and the appearances of the Lord on the evening of the resurrection and seven days later.
In verse 2, John states that there were seven disciples present. Peter, Thomas and Nathanael are named by name. James and John are the sons of Zebedee, and two disciples are not named. Much has been recorded in the New Testament concerning Peter but not so of Thomas and Nathanael. The gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke record the calling of Thomas and Nathanael (Bartholomew) but not much more. Words which Nathanael spoke upon being called to follow Jesus are found in John 1:46-49 and the words which Thomas spoke are recorded in John 11:16, 14:5, 20:25 and 20:28.
It was to these seven that Jesus revealed Himself in the manner described in verses 4-6. Peter, James and John enjoyed a special relationship with Jesus that was not common to the other four. On an earlier occasion, Jesus took these three to a high mountain where He was transfigured before them, shining as the sun (Matt. 17:2). The three heard the voice of God the Father declare: “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him.”
Further consider this group of seven. Peter had denied Jesus three times. James and John had incurred the displeasure of the other disciples by seeking a special place of honor (see Mk. 10:41). Thomas had declared that he would not believe that Jesus had risen unless he could put his finger on the nail prints in Jesus’ hands (Jn. 20:25). Nathanael once asked: “Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth?” (Jn. 1:46). Search the scriptures. Other than Judas Iscariot, these five are the only ones of the twelve of which negative things are recorded.
Consider the manner in which Jesus revealed Himself to the seven. The seven had just spent an entire night fishing without success. Peter was an experienced fisherman. He knew to fish during the dark hours when the fish would leave the deep water to feed near the surface. For some reason no fish rose to feed that night. As their boat approached the shore, they beheld a man who asked if they had any success. When they replied “No” the man told them if they were to cast their net on the right side of the boat that they would catch fish. They did as they were instructed and the net was filled with a number too great to be lifted from the waters. John (the disciple whom Jesus loved) realized that it was Jesus who had told them to cast their net on the right side. In total, there were 153 fish.
The great catch would have caused the disciples to recall that which took place three years earlier when they had fished all night without success (see Lk. 5:4-10). Jesus had instructed them to cast down their nets again and the catch was great. On that occasion, Jesus told them to follow Him and He would make them catchers of men. The indiscretions of Peter, James, John, Thomas, and Nathaniel are of no account. The Lord wanted them and us to know that the past is of no account.
The risen Christ revealed Himself to John and the others, not by appearance, but by a net full of fish. In verse 12, John stated that none of the disciples dared to ask, “Who art thou?” They recognized Him by that which had taken place. All seven disciples recognized Jesus in the same way.
Believers of today are not different from the seven. Some, like Peter, James and John, have enjoyed a blessed closeness; some, like Thomas and Nathanael, have spoken amiss; and some, like the unnamed disciples, remain anonymous. Whatever the case, all believers are the same because the Savior has revealed Himself by that which He has done.
He knew us before we knew Him. He revealed Himself to us while we were lost in darkness. He has revealed Himself to us by His love. We know that “God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8).
Peter and the others fished the entire night and caught nothing but when they did as Jesus directed, they caught much. Let us do as the Lord commands such that our nets might be full.