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. – John 21:1-3
John’s Gospel comes to an end at John 20:31, but John goes on to write a twenty-first chapter. Many scholars call this chapter “The Epilogue.” Why did John keep writing? We do not know for sure. It may be that the epilogue was added to tell the story of the forgiveness and restoration of Peter. It may be that the epilogue was added to help explain the martyrdom of Peter and other disciples. There are many ideas. One intriguing possibility is that John added the epilogue to give insight into and direction to the early church.
John tells us that Jesus revealed himself by the Sea of Tiberias. The previous resurrection appearances of Jesus took place in Jerusalem, not in the region of Galilee. The geography suggests the passage of at least enough time for the followers to return to their homes. John next tells us that Peter planned a fishing outing. Some have suggested that this narrative shows either that Peter is abandoning his calling by Jesus to advance the gospel or that Peter simply doesn’t know what to do. It may be, however, that John includes Peter’s fishing trip as a symbol of the activity of the early church. From the earliest days the church was symbolized by fishing imagery, especially a boat and fish. This symbolism is heightened in John’s epilogue when he includes the names of the others who accompanied Peter in this effort.
Joining Peter was Thomas, whose faith in Christ Jesus was highlighted in the second resurrection appearance of Jesus to his disciples in chapter 20. Nathanael of Galilee also was in the group. Nathanael was the first person to profess faith in Christ, according to John. James and John, the sons of Zebedee were included, as they were in most of the significant meetings of disciples in John’s Gospel. and two other nameless persons, one of whom must have been “the disciple whom Jesus loved,” the author of the Gospel who came to faith upon seeing the empty tomb. John then tells us that these seven men got in a boat and fished all night.
The setting is complete when John tells us that in spite of their efforts through the night, these men caught nothing. We don’t know the fullness of what John is conveying with that detail. Perhaps it is simply an expression that fish were not biting that night. Perhaps it was designed to show that even with the best intentions, we often toil with nothing to show for it. Perhaps it simply is designed to show with dramatic impact the situation of these followers before they encountered the risen Christ Jesus. Whatever it is, once again the difficulty and despair of the night give way to the dawn of a new day, complete with the grace, presence, and power of the risen Lord.
Lord Jesus, I know what it is like to face a dark night of disappointment, and I am thankful for your love which comes fresh every morning. Amen.
The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases,his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is thy faithfulness. – Lamentations 3:22-23