Jesus had earlier taught His disciples, “Without Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). None of His handpicked devotees was yet capable of confidently anticipating His resurrection into His natural, spiritual state (Luke 24:36-37). Therefore, uncertain of the events surrounding them, six of the disciples chose to follow Simon Peter—probably more restless and impatient than usual—onto the fishing boat. Like Peter, they were not fishing as an activity to prove their faith, but as cover for their unease and uncertainty—their lack of faith. Christ wanted to emphasize upon them that any activity they undertook without Him would be fruitless.
Martin G. Collins
The Miracles of Jesus Christ: A Second Large Catch of Fish (Part One)
Verse 4 reveals that none of the disciples initially recognizes the Lord. In fact, all the disciples consistently failed to recognize the post-resurrection Christ (Luke 24:1-11, 13-16, 36-45; John 20:14). Physical and emotional circumstances notwithstanding, their failure was the result of weak faith or spiritual immaturity and the corresponding confusion and unbelief—spiritual blindness.
Following His resurrection, Christ changes (I Corinthians 15:44-45; Hebrews 6:20; Ephesians 4:9-10), but His disciples, still lacking understanding, have not. Verse 12 provides insight: “Jesus said to them, 'Come and eat breakfast.' Yet none of the disciples dared ask Him, 'Who are You?'—knowing that it was the Lord.” While they eventually figure out that their Master, Jesus Christ, is with them on the shore, there is something different about Him that they are unable to comprehend fully without His assistance (Romans 8:5; John 15:5; I Corinthians 13:12).
After John manages, however, to identify the stranger on the shore as “the Lord,” Peter immediately dresses and dives into the water to swim about 200 cubits (100 yards), eager to join Him on the shore. Contrast this passage with the first large catch miracle where all the disciples were “astonished” at the catch, while Peter, overwhelmed by the miraculous power of Jesus, begs Him to “depart from me” (Luke 5:8).
John's narrative indicates no hesitation on Peter's part to follow Christ's direction to cast the fishing net, this time on the right side of the vessel. This contrasts with the first large catch miracle (Luke 5:1-11) where a newly-recruited Peter resists His direction before submitting.
Subsequently, the fishing net is brimming with a massive catch, yet it does not tear, nor are any of the men anxious or overwhelmed. In fact, Peter jumps back into the water to finish dragging the miracle catch back to shore by himself. Conversely, during the first large catch incident, the net tears and the two fishing boats involved begin to sink (Luke 5:6-7).
Taken together, we see how the first large-catch miracle marks the beginning, while the second miracle signals the completion of the disciples' three-and-a-half-year education under God's direct tutelage. We also witness the disciples' efforts to overcome several challenges common to most Christians: learning to recognize or see God; following His commandments in faith, and learning how to remain steadfast in the midst of overwhelming circumstances (John 21:8-12).
The narrative of the second large catch begins with an anxious and bewildered—perhaps even backsliding—group of disciples that struggles initially to identify their Lord and Master. Nonetheless, even with their initial lapse of faith, by the end of this incident, we witness good fruit from the disciples' unique and uncommon apprenticeship: their weak faith buttressed, their unbelief dissolved, and their capacity to serve wholly enriched by the presence of God.
Because each disciple's flaws are compounded in his Lord's absence, each will soon receive the indwelling of His Holy Spirit (Acts 2). Christ's commission, then, recognizes and rewards their growth and points to the beginning of their new vocation (John 21:15-17). No longer will they be only “fishers of men” (Mark 1:17), but soon they will work as pioneering ministers in the nascent church of God, tending and feeding all who are called into “the Way.”
Martin G. Collins
The Miracles of Jesus Christ: A Second Large Catch of Fish (Part Two)