Afterward Jesus appeared again to his disciples, by the Sea of Galilee… (John 21:1 NIV)
It appears that there were at least three appearances recorded that occurred in Galilee, perhaps four.
- The appearance by the Sea of Galilee, John 21:1-23
- The appearance to the disciples, Matthew 28:16-20
- The appearance to the 500, 1 Corinthians 15:6
- The appearance to James, 1 Corinthians 15:7
Some combine the appearances of Matthew 28:16-20 and 1 Corinthians 15:6, and this is a possibility. And, frankly, like the appearance to Peter there is no record of Christ’ appearance to James, His half-brother, so it is only supposed that it occurred in Galilee where they grew up.
In these appearances there were again many convincing proofs given that He was alive, but there was also the official re-instatement of Peter after his denial of Christ during His arrest, and the Matthew copy of the Great Commission. Christ commanded the women who were the first witnesses of the resurrection to tell His disciples that He would appear to them in Galilee, and the texts are very specific that it was to the twelve – whether they are called the “Eleven” after Judas’ death or the “Twelve” as Paul did.
Seven disciples going fishing: The story begins with Peter and six other disciples going fishing at night (John 21:2-4). Some have tried to read some back sliding into this statement, but the biblical text does not condemn them. That Christ called them to be fishers of men does not mean that He forbade them from fishing for fish. In fact, as the story unfolds we see that He helped them catch a great number of fish.
Why did they go fishing? Probably simply for revenue, because Judas had been the treasurer of the disciples and who knows what happened to the money, if there was any at all, after he died. It is clear that the disciples did not have a large reserve of cash during the earthly ministry of Jesus. Yet they had fished all night and not caught anything.
Christ appears: Christ told them to cast their net on the right side of the boat and they will have find fish. There is an important picture in this, that for those who are serving the Lord and seeking to make ends meet in the process, Christ Himself will guide them to find the means to exist. I believe it is wrong to read into this that Christ will make all believers wealthy, for certainly this catch did not mean that they could retire from ever working again. It does, however, give us encouragement in facing our financial needs for living we do not do so alone.
The disciples here resemble so many I know in ministry who work for Christ all day and then work for food and clothing and shelter all night. I have spent years of my life doing this, as did Paul:
For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example. We were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you. We did this, not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to offer ourselves as a model for you to imitate. For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.” (2 Thes. 3:7-10 NIV)
So this merciful act of Christ encourages us. He notices what we do and will lead us to be not only fruitful in ministry but also to make enough to survive.
Come and eat: Jesus was already cooking fish and bread on coals along the beach, as was common. He invited them to come and eat, or to come and have breakfast. That Jesus was in His resurrected body and was able to eat and function as He had in His earthly ministry teaches us that our resurrected body will be able to function much as our current body functions. But we also see the encouragement that Christ gives us in this appearance. He provides direction and food and graciously invites the disciples to share with Him.
What do we have here other than a picture of a compassionate and engaged Lord. Christ cares about our lives, our everyday struggles and challenges. He is predisposed to help us and enable us. Whn we are unsure which way to turn He guides us. God said:
And I will lead the blind in a way that they do not know, in paths that they have not known I will guide them. I will turn the darkness before them into light, the rough places into level ground. These are the things I do, and I do not forsake them. (Isaiah 42:16 ESV)
And when we are hungry, lonely, discouraged, and afraid He comes and meets all of these needs.
O Lord, you have searched me and known me!
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
you discern my thoughts from afar.
You search out my path and my lying down
and are acquainted with all my ways.
Even before a word is on my tongue,
behold, O Lord, you know it altogether.
You hem me in, behind and before,
and lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
it is high; I cannot attain it. (Psalm 139:1-6 ESV)