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Rays of Light Bible Lessons by Keith Holder


John 21:14-17 This is now the third time that Jesus showed Himself to His disciples, after that He was risen from the dead. So when they had dined, Jesus saith to Simon Peter, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou Me more than these? He saith unto Him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love Thee. He saith unto him, Feed My lambs. He saith to him again the second time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou Me? He saith unto Him, Yea, Lord; Thou knowest that I love Thee. He saith unto him, Feed My sheep. He saith unto him the third time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou Me? Peter was grieved because He said unto Him the third time, Lovest thou Me? And he said unto Him, Lord, Thou knowest all things; Thou knowest that I love Thee. Jesus saith unto him, Feed My sheep. (Also See Matt. 28:16; John 21:1-13)

Jesus had told His apostles that after I am risen again, I will go before you into Galilee (Matt. 26:32). After His death, burial, and resurrection, angels appeared to women, who were followers of Jesus, that appeared at the empty tomb on the Sunday morning following His crucifixion. The tomb was empty, and the angels told them that He is risen from the dead; and, behold, He goeth before you into Galilee; there shall ye see Him: lo, I have told you (See Matt. 28:5-7). A few passages later, in the gospel according to Matthew, he wrote that the eleven disciples went away into Galilee, into a mountain where Jesus had appointed them (Matt. 28:16; Also See Mark 16:7).

Paraphrasing the thirteen verses preceding the lesson text, we find at least seven of Jesus' apostles at the Sea of Tiberias (Vss. 1-2). This is the same body of water which is more commonly referred to as the Sea of Galilee. Since most of Jesus' apostles were from cities located near or on the coast of this sea, they had probably assembled in or near the city of Capernaum. This was known to be the fishing port used by the brothers, Andrew and Peter, as well as James and John, whose father, Zebedee was also a fisherman.

As they waited on Jesus to come to them, Peter said he was going fishing, and the others decided to go with him. It seems that they had fished a long time, probably all night, and they caught nothing (Vs. 3). Either the fish were simply "not biting," or, according to Barnes' Notes, This was so ordered in the providence of God that the miracle which was performed might appear more remarkable. When the morning was now come, Jesus stood on the shore. We are not told how far their boat was from shore, or just how much light had appeared with the dawning of day, but it evidently remained too dark, or they were far enough from shore that, although they may have seen a man, they knew not that it was Jesus (Vs. 4).

Their ship, having come close enough to hear Him speak, Jesus asked, have ye any meat, that is to ask, have you caught any fish? They answered Him, No (Vs. 5). At this point it seems that they still failed to recognize Jesus. Never the less, He told them cast the net on the right side of the ship, and ye shall find, and they followed His directions. There was no specific fishing "technique" in this instruction. If there was a reason, no doubt these men would have already done so, since most of them were fishermen by trade. Some bible scholars even speculate that the side Jesus told them to cast their net was the least likely side to catch fish by this method. It seems that this whole incident was providentially designed to prove the omnipotent power and omniscient wisdom of the Son of God. With the nets cast as Jesus instructed them, their catch was so great that they were not able to draw it for the multitude of fishes (Vs. 6).

It seems that it was at this point that John, the disciple whom Jesus loved, admitted to Peter that the one who gave them fishing instructions was the Lord. Then Peter, recognizing the man that stood on the shore as Jesus, immediately found his fisher's coat and girt it on his body. The rendering of this translation says that Peter did so for he was naked (Vs. 7). However the more correct translation reads that Peter was wearing only his inner garment at this time. Historians tell us that this was the normal wear for fishermen due to the heavy physical labor involved handling the large nets used to cast into the sea and catch fish. Having donned his outer garment, Peter jumped into the sea and probably either waded or swam ashore in order to come to Jesus as soon as possible.

Two boats were used to catch fish by this method; holding each end of the fishing net between them, they dragged the net, with its catch of fish, as close to shore as possible. Each boat was manned by some of the apostles. Verse 8 tells us that they were two hundred cubits from shore, or about one hundred yards. The two boats came to shore having the net still arched out into the sea containing the fish. Arriving on shore, they not only met Jesus, but also they saw a fire of coals there, and fish laid thereon, and bread (Vs. 9). This can only be explained as another miraculous event performed by Jesus, the Son of God.

Jesus saith unto them, Bring of the fish which ye have now caught (Vs. 10). Peter, with the other apostles, hauled the net to land, so heavy with fishes it seemed that the net would break. It miraculously held together, and when on shore, they found it containing one hundred, fifty-three fishes (Vs. 11). Verse 12 assures us that all apostles that failed to know the Man they at first saw dimly on shore, and whom they were now dining with, was their Lord, Jesus Christ. Jesus then cometh, and taketh bread, and giveth them, and fish likewise (Vs. 13).

This lengthy narrative serves to introduce the lesson text, which begins with this factual statement: This is now the third time that Jesus showed Himself to His disciples, after that He was risen from the dead. On a number of occasions Jesus had previously appeared to other disciples, both men and women. But this is the third time He appeared to His apostles. On the first occasion He appeared to ten of His apostles at the evening of the day of His resurrection (John 20:19). One week later was His second appearance, and this time He appeared with the eleven remaining apostles, which included Thomas (John 20:26). As recorded here in the lesson text, was, then, His third appearance to His apostles.

After their meal, Jesus asked Peter, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou Me more than these? There has been much debate over exactly what "these" refer to. Was it the material blessings of Peter that were visible to them at this point, that is to say, his boats, fishing gear, the fish that were taken at this time, and his profession as an accomplished fisherman? If not these things, then was Jesus referring to his fellow apostles, with whom Peter had developed a strong, loving relationship? It seems probably to me that the word used here as"these," could very well apply to all of the above. Certainly it applies to Peter's carelessly ambitious, boastful character that he often displayed. For instance, he openly "bragged" about his dedication to Jesus and to His cause. He stated that, though all men shall be offended because of Thee, yet will I never be offended (Matt. 26:33). On another occasion Peter adamantly said to Jesus, I will lay down my life for Thy sake (John 13:37). Indeed, Peter seemed to consider himself to be a strong, dedicated disciple of Christ Jesus.

It appears that Peter's problem was worldliness, including his own boastful, self-centered conceit. Looking back at his character, as noted in various gospel scriptures, we find Peter having an outgoing, often reckless personality, who was also extremely hasty in the things he said and the manner in which he acted. It was this character that led Peter to deny the Lord three times, before other Jews, as Jesus was being tried before the Sanhedrin. These actions of Peter left much doubt about his love and faithfulness. Although He knew the heart of Peter, Jesus asked him these same three questions: lovest thou Me more than these...? Lovest thou Me...? Lovest thou Me? Jesus may not have had any doubt about Peter's love for Himself, but to erase any doubts in the minds of the other apostles, Jesus asked these three questions, and each Peter answered, Thou knowest that I love Thee.

Three times Peter denied the Lord: three times the Lord questioned his love and devotion, and now three times the Lord gives Peter this charge: Feed My lambs; ...Feed My sheep. It seems from this time forward the boastful, undisciplined, rash character of Peter disappeared from his demeanor. He was now ready, along with the other apostles, to serve the Lord and preach the gospel of salvation Jesus died to establish throughout the world.