9When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread. 10Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” 11So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred fifty-three of them; and though there were so many, the net was not torn. 12Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, “Who are you?” because they knew it was the Lord. 13Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. 14This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.
Remember back to John 18, when Peter had followed those who arrested Jesus to the high priest’s courtyard; in 18:18 “Now the slaves and the police had made a charcoal fire because it was cold, and they were standing around it and warming themselves.” Do you wonder what thoughts the sight of the charcoal fire brought to Peter, how he felt? But we will follow up on that tomorrow.
Like most of John’s gospel, everything in this passage has meaning. Jesus is the host at this meal; he has fish and bread to give to the disciples. Remember Chapter 6:1-15, when Jesus fed the five-thousand, it was bread and fish he gave them. In this case, he asks them to add to the meal, making it a feast, for they have lots of fish, 153 large fish. It is a strange number, and obviously has meaning, but no one today knows what that particular number meant to the first readers. To us it simply means an abundance of fish. Simon Peter pulls the net in, and although it strains with so many fish, the net does not break. In this we see several things: Peter is anxious to do anything he can to make up for his failure, the denial of Christ around that earlier charcoal fire; Peter is a strong man, able to pull in the net the others were only able to drag near shore; the size of the catch is emphasized – and evidences the abundance of Jesus’ gift to them; it also emphasizes the miraculous nature of the catch, in the unbroken net.
Jesus told them to come and have breakfast – come and share in the abundant life in Christ. They did not dare ask who he was, because they knew it was the Lord. This is an interesting comment – they knew it was Jesus, but there must have been something about him that was different as well. Or perhaps, it was difficult to recognize him because, although they had already seen him twice since the resurrection, in their minds they knew that he had died. Jesus often does the impossible, even today, even in our own lives.
Jesus breaks the bread before giving it to them – as he did when he fed the five-thousand, and surely many times as they dined together during his ministry. This is one of the duties of a host in those days, but it also symbolized Jesus’ body, and the meals they had shared together during Jesus’ ministry.
Finally, the author closes this section with the statement that this was the third time Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead. This counts the two appearances to the disciples, but does not count the appearance to Mary Magdalene.
The attached photo is inside a little chapel where the large stone is called the table of Christ; is thought to be the place where Jesus fed the disciples.