After a completely stressful, totally exhilarating, experience, the usual human response is to do something very ordinary. Peter and his mates went fishing. Unsuccessfully, as it happened!
It was like the re-run of a well-viewed movie. Jesus stood on the shore and told these experienced fishermen how to fish more effectively (well, he did know exactly where the fish were!). On the shore, he was too far away for them to recognize him – or else his identity was just hidden from them. The 153 huge fish soon got the guys excited, and they quickly realised who had been advising them.
On the beach, a barbecue was in full swing with other fish already cooking; plenty of bread rolls were provided too. Jesus ate some fish to further prove his physical presence, rather than just being some kind of ghost or apparition. The resurrection body that Jesus possessed will now exist for all eternity; it is still flesh and blood, but of a kind that is no longer subject to decay and death. Had Adam not sinned, then perhaps his original body would also have been incorruptible in exactly the same way. Jesus will forever be both God and man, spirit and body.
Why 153 fish? Or rather, why mention the number of fish? Some commentators believe that 153 was understood to be the number of species of fish at the time – therefore meaning metaphorically that every kind would from now on be fished – representing the gospel going to all nations. 153 was possibly the number of nations in the world at the time too. Another theory is that 153 is the sum of the numerical value of ‘Simon’ (76) and ‘Fish’ (‘uthus’, 77). That would be particularly interesting because of what occurred next…
Jesus’ next task was to rehabilitate a guilty-feeling Peter – the man who in a moment of bravado (John 13:37; Matthew 26:33; Mark 14:29) had claimed that he would stick by Jesus even if everyone else failed. The last time that Peter had stood by a charcoal fire was (John 18:18) the night he had three times betrayed his master. Fire is a symbol both of judgment and of purification. “So, do you still say that you love me more than these others, Peter?” Three times now, Jesus asks Peter in different ways if he now still loves him. “Yes” is the same answer each time. Peter is therefore to demonstrate that love by taking care of his spiritual brothers and sisters – present and future. And Peter would also be given the opportunity to finally put his love for Jesus to the test by being martyred for him.
So the life of the fisherman was to be changed forever. 153 was his last and greatest catch. His new redeemed role would consist of following the risen Christ, caring for his ‘flock’, and fishing for new disciples. Surely that sentence also sums up the role of the church today.