Simon Peter went up and dragged the net to land, full of large fish, one hundred and fifty-three; and although there were so many, the net was not broken. (John 21:11)
Why Were There 153 Fish?
After His resurrection, Jesus spent forty days with His apostles, teaching and admonishing them concerning the kingdom of God. He was in bodily form and, on one occasion, enjoyed breakfast by the sea with His apostles. After a night of fishing, Peter, Thomas, Nathaniel, James, John, and two other disciples saw a man on the shore who asked if they had any food. They replied they had not, and the man told them to cast the net on the right side of the boat and they would find fish. So they did, and they couldn’t haul in the net because there were so many fish in it. John, the apostle, realized it was Jesus and told Peter, who jumped into the sea swimming toward Jesus. The other disciples were about one hundred yards from shore and brought their small boat to land. They found breakfast waiting for them when they arrived—fish cooking over a charcoal fire and some bread. Jesus told them to bring some more fish. John records the haul that morning was one hundred fifty-three large fish. With such a load, the net did not break.
The Holy Spirit points explicitly out there were one hundred fifty-three fish. Nothing more is said about the number and no reference is made of such. It seems unusual to determine there were one hundred fifty-three fish, but the scriptures are exact on the number. Not less or more – exactly the number John stated. Why were there one hundred fifty-three fish? Men have tried to determine the symbolic meaning of this enumeration over the centuries.
Augustine observed that 10 is the number of the law and 7 that of the Spirit, which being added equals 17, and all the numbers from 1 to 17 when added equal 153, and thus the number practically represents all the elect. Hence, the one hundred fifty-three fish are explained. This is like the question, “Why are fire trucks red?” One answer is that fire trucks have four wheels and eight firefighters: four plus eight equals twelve. There are twelve inches in a foot. A foot is a ruler. Queen Elizabeth is a rule, and the ‘Queen Elizabeth’ is one of the largest ships on the seven seas. Seas have fish. Fish have fins. The Finns fought the Russians. The Russians are red. Fire trucks are always rushin’. Therefore, fire trucks are usually red. Between Augustine and explaining why fire trucks are red, the wisdom of man strains under the weight of the ridiculous.
John does not explain any significance to the one hundred fifty-three fish. The fact remains the men put the net on the right side of the boat and caught a huge cache of large fish that, when counted, equaled one hundred fifty-three fish. It was quite a miracle to catch that many fish. Trying to understand the number of fish misses the point of the miracle or the opportunity of Jesus with His disciples. There is no significance to the number and no hidden meaning. The wisdom of men often clouds itself in the pursuit of silly fables and mysteries within scripture that have no relevance to truth. Men have failed to understand the simple truth of God’s word, exercising useless examinations of fables and genealogies. When the Lord wants to make a number lesson, He explains it. The problem with human wisdom is they seek after things beyond the scope of God’s word.
Many reject the Bible because they look too deeply for mystery or intrigue hidden treasures. Topics range from where Cain found a wife to whether Jesus had long hair and a beard. Hours are wasted over trivial matters that have no bearing on finding the truth. It is like digging for treasure with a toothpick discovering the microscopic evidence of a grain of dirt instead of seeing the vast field of God’s grace and love in Jesus Christ. The result often is failing to obey the word of God. Baptism is rejected because it has been scrutinized and sanitized to the point of ridicule. Why is baptism necessary for salvation? Jesus said it was. There is a pattern for baptism explained by the New Testament writers, but the three thousand (why that number?) on Pentecost did not question what Peter said – they obeyed. Paul did not argue with Ananias – he arose and washed away his sins.
The Bible is written to direct the heart of every man to the eternal throne of God. If God cannot give a man a book he can read and understand, how great is His wisdom or power? It is human wisdom that worries more about the why of one hundred fifty-three fish than simply accepting the story and seeing God’s power. An open heart is necessary to accept the teachings of Jesus Christ. When a child reads the story, he does not ask about the number. He sees it more clearly than most. It becomes to him a story about Jesus eating breakfast with His disciples by the seashore. What a beautiful story. And oh, by the way – they caught one hundred fifty-three fish that day. That is a story they told again and again.