Hey I’m Josh Hawkins, welcome to Episode 154 of Opening Up the Gospels. In the past two episodes, I’ve been working through the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus as the authors of the Gospels record for us. We’ve looked at Jesus’ appearance to Mary Magdalene, then to the two on the road to Emmaus, and then to the disciples in Jerusalem in the locked room. I developed Jesus’ words to the apostles as Luke recorded them in Luke 24. Today I want to look at the remaining few appearances that John records for us in his Gospel. Let’s jump right in and read from John 20:
"Now Thomas, one of the twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.” Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”"
(John 20:24–29 ESV)
So John gives us a time indicator saying that eight days later, Jesus appeared to them again, once again in a locked room. Now just imagine this for a second. Jesus, the man they had believed was the promised king of Israel from the very first day they met Him, had been with them for over two years before He was brutally crucified by the Romans. And then hearing rumors of His resurrection, He actually appeared to them in person. And now it’s been a little over a week, and surely they must have been wondering if He would show Himself again. What did Jesus do during this time? Where was He staying? What did He eat? Remember, He had not yet ascended back to the heavens, so He was somewhere in Israel… The Gospels don’t tell us, but you can be sure this is something I’ll be asking Jesus about in the age to come. Now Thomas, a man whose name in Aramaic and Greek means “twin”, was not there when Jesus had appeared to the others 8 days earlier. But now Jesus appears and gives Thomas undeniable evidence that He had in fact been raised. Thomas responds with “my Lord and my God!”. Now Thomas was a Jew, one who was commanded to worship the God of Israel alone, to have no other gods before Him, and to not make any idol or bow down to them. Jesus didn’t rebuke Thomas at all because was thoroughly correct in his proclamation of who Jesus was. As we’ve seen throughout this series, Jesus has asserted and demonstrated His true identity as the God of Israel many times. To make this proclamation after everything Thomas had heard and seen was not overly difficult, but Jesus extends an even greater blessedness to anyone who would believe the truth about Him without having seen what Thomas and the others had. I think this is anticipating people like you and I, people who were not privileged to see what Peter, James, John, Thomas, and the others had seen. Well, let’s look at another appearance of Jesus and continue reading in John 21:
"After this Jesus revealed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias, and he revealed himself in this way. Simon Peter, Thomas (called the Twin), Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples were together. Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing. Just as day was breaking, Jesus stood on the shore; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, “Children, do you have any fish?” They answered him, “No.” He said to them, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in, because of the quantity of fish. That disciple whom Jesus loved therefore said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his outer garment, for he was stripped for work, and threw himself into the sea. The other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, but about a hundred yards off."
(John 21:1–8 ESV)
So here we have the third appearance of Jesus to His disciples after His resurrection, and this time it’s by the Sea of Tiberius, which is just another name for the Sea of Galilee, up here in the north. We’re not sure exactly how long it’s been, but we do know that it’s before Jesus ascended, which was 40 days after His resurrection. Now it seems like the disciples had gone back to their former occupation of fishing, and end up going the whole night without catching anything. But just as the sun began to rise, this mysterious figure tells them to throw their nets to the right side of the boat, and they’ll make a catch. No doubt they’re wondering why they listened to a random stranger telling them what to do. Taking the nets from one side to the other was not an easy task and took some effort on their part. But as John says, after bringing them to the other side, they could not haul in the nets because of the amount of fish they contained. And because of this miracle, John turns to Peter and says “it’s the Lord!”. So Peter, interestingly enough, gets dressed and then jumps into the sea to swim about a hundred yards to the shore. There’s a number of reasons why he could have put on his outer garment first, but I’m sure he couldn’t contain his excitement. Only the Lord Jesus could have exercised such authority over His creation to lead the fish into the nets. Let’s keep reading in John 21:
"When they got out on land, they saw a charcoal fire in place, with fish laid out on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, 153 of them. And although there were so many, the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and so with the fish. This was now the third time that Jesus was revealed to the disciples after he was raised from the dead."
(John 21:9–14 ESV)
An interesting thing in this section has to do with John’s specific detail about the number of fish that had been caught. John’s memory is vivid, and we see him recount many small details like this in his gospel, but some scholars and commentators have noted that the specific number 153 represents a word determined by its numerical value and could be connected to passages like Ezekiel 47:10. While this is certainly intriguing, I think we need to consider carefully how much weight we put on numerical analysis like this. The biggest takeaway point is that Jesus performed yet another miracle and revealed Himself to the disciples for a third time. Well, let’s wrap up this scene from John 21:
"When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me.”"
(John 21:15–19 ESV)
Now these words of Jesus here on the shore of the Sea of Galilee have been often used in sermons and exhortations. Many have noted that in the Greek, Jesus and Peter are using two different words for “love” here, agape, and phileo. In many sermons I’ve heard, “agape” is a Greek word that means the type of love that God has, and “phileo” is just a brotherly affection. But there’s a few important things to consider here. First, there was no such concept in the Greek world as the unselfish love that God has. The Greeks had many gods, and knew nothing of the God of Israel. Same goes for the verb “phileo”. In fact, these two words are used interchangeably throughout the New Testament. For example, Jesus in Matthew 10:37 says “anyone who loves [philon / phileo] his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me.” And in Luke’s Gospel, we see that the verb “agape” has absolutely nothing to do with unselfishness. In Matthew 6:24, Jesus says “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love [agapesei / agape] the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money." The other important point to consider is that Jesus and Peter were not speaking Greek here on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. What you’ve heard in sermons about these verbs may make for great preaching, but certainly is lousy interpretation.
Finally, let’s talk briefly about what Jesus is doing here with Peter. Of course we know that Peter denied Jesus three times. We looked at those instances back in episode 138. I believe Peter denied Jesus because he was sympathetic with the zealot movement in Israel. Remember, the Zealots were a group who believed that the strength of man in partnership with God would bring God’s promises to pass. This is what led to the many insurrections and revolts of the time. We talked about the Maccabean revolt back in Episode 35, and I talked about the Zealots back in Episode 108. Peter’s sympathy with them was exposed on several occasions - first, when Jesus said that he was going to Jerusalem to suffer and be killed, Peter replied with “Never, Lord!” Also, Peter drew his sword at the capture of Jesus in Gethsemane, striking off the ear of Malchus, the servant of the high priest. Peter believed Jesus would establish His kingdom through an insurrection and the age to come would be established with the strength of man in partnership with God. Peter then denied the Lord because Jesus had been arrested, just like all the other failed zealot messiahs. And it would have been dangerous and embarrassing to be associated with someone who had failed and had been arrested. But here in John 21, Jesus appears to “restore” Peter - to remind Him, even through the miracle of the fish, that God’s promises will be established by His miraculous power, not by the strength of the flesh. Jesus then calls Peter to “feed” and “tend” the sheep of Israel, to lead them into this understanding, and forsake his own confidence in the flesh entirely even unto martyrdom. It was in this way that God would be glorified - not through the strength or accomplishment of men, but through self-sacrificial love and an assurance of hope in God’s promises to be established by His hand alone.
Well, in the next episode I’ll look at the last few events the Gospels record for us - what’s often been called “the Great Commission” as well as the ascension of Jesus. Find all of the past episodes in this series on my website - www.joshuahawkins.com/gospels. God bless, and see you next time.