Of Fish and Sheep

The last chapter in the gospel of John has two key narratives revolving around two animals:  fish and sheep.

The fish story is generally accepted to foreshadow the evangelistic work of the church.  The sheep story foreshadows the pastoral work of the church.  Both should not be neglected.  There are many ways for the church to ‘catch’ a large number of people.  I would question, though, whether the western church in general has lost its zeal for fishing.  The 153 fish caught represents a bounty.  In today’s postmodern society people are spiritually hungry but they are tired of the church.  Like the disciples, the people of today need a transformational encounter with Jesus.  The Holy Spirit brings the life of Jesus into our lives and that life in us changes the lives of those around us.  However, what kind of passion and what kind of message are the members of God’s church cultivating in themselves.

The pastoral aspect of the church is weak in the west, too.  Either churches are infected by consumerism and offer programs that therapeutically soothe the conscience of the masses. Other churches are introspective, isolationist and even cruel in their pursuit of truth.  Of course, some churches still grow their members in a discipleship that equips them to reach others.  Some churches feed their sheep in such a way that whole communities are changed.  This latter example seems to be more in line with Jesus’ request of Peter.

Have you involved yourself in both fishing and shepherding?

John 21:1-21

1 Afterward Jesus appeared again to his disciples, by the Sea of Galilee.[a] It happened this way: 2 Simon Peter, Thomas (also known as Didymus[b]), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples were together. 3“I’m going out to fish,” Simon Peter told them, and they said, “We’ll go with you.” So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.

 4Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus.

 5He called out to them, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?”

   “No,” they answered.

 6He said, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.” When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish.

 7 Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, “It is the Lord,” he wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water. 8 The other disciples followed in the boat, towing the net full of fish, for they were not far from shore, about a hundred yards.[c] 9When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread.

 10 Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish you have just caught.” 11 So Simon Peter climbed back into the boat and dragged the net ashore. It was full of large fish, 153, but even with so many the net was not torn. 12 Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” None of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. 13 Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. 14This was now the third time Jesus appeared to his disciples after he was raised from the dead.

Jesus Reinstates Peter

 15When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”

   “Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.”

   Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”

 16Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

   He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”

   Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”

 17The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

   Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”

   Jesus said, “Feed my sheep. 18 Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” 19Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!”

 20 Peter turned and saw that the disciple whom Jesus loved was following them. (This was the one who had leaned back against Jesus at the supper and had said, “Lord, who is going to betray you?”) 21When Peter saw him, he asked, “Lord, what about him?”

 22 Jesus answered, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.” 23Because of this, the rumor spread among the believers that this disciple would not die. But Jesus did not say that he would not die; he only said, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you?”

 24This is the disciple who testifies to these things and who wrote them down. We know that his testimony is true.

 25 Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.


  1. How many times does Jesus ask Peter if he loves him?
  2. What is Jesus doing in his conversation with Peter?
  3. Why does John tell the story of the catch of fish?
  4. How has Jesus equipped you to ‘catch fish’?
  5. How has Jesus commissioned you to ‘feed the flock’?

Next Book

We have finished John.  I will write a brief review tomorrow.  What book would be good to study next?  Nahum?

About Plymothian

I teach at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. My interests include education, biblical studies, and spiritual formation. I have been married to Kelli since 1998 and we have two children, Daryl and Amelia. For recreation I like to run, play soccer, play board games, read and travel.
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18 Responses to Of Fish and Sheep

  1. Sandra Tindle says:

    1. Jesus asks Peter three times if he loves him.
    2. In his conversation with Peter, Jesus is giving Peter the chance to become right with him after Peter denied Jesus three times.
    3. John tells the story of the catch of fish as an illustration of how Jesus will provide for his followers, and that if we obey what he tells us to do, he will provide for us in ways that we could never imagine.
    4. Jesus has equipped me to ‘catch fish’ by proving to me time and time again that he will provide for me when I’m doing what He is calling me to do. He had also given me the opportunity to go on missions trips and outreach events to reach out to people who have never heard the gospel.
    5. Jesus has commissioned me to ‘feed the flock’ by confirming to me that ministry and teaching is what he wants me to do, and also by giving me a heart and a longing for Israel and the Jewish people who haven’t come to faith in Yeshua the Messiah.

  2. Sokloon Dy says:

    1. Jesus asks Peter three times.
    2. He is making Peter realize the charge that he has been given and making him realize the full weight what it means to love Christ.
    3. He intended to increase the faith of his readers. Also, to answer God’s calling no matter what the situation is because things will work out for His glory and our good in the end.
    4. He has given us the Holy Spirit so that we can give our spiritual gifts back to God by using them in the lives of others for His kingdom.
    5. My PCM this year is a Sunday schoolteacher at my church.
    I am really grateful for this opportunity to serve the church and work with children.

  3. Amy Kringle says:

    1. He asks 3 times.
    2. He wants Peter to know that this is what he is called to do and that loving Christ means that he in some way needs to be building the church up.
    3. To show how God provides for his people and he directs them to the places where they should be.
    4. He has equipped me to “catch fish” by giving me relationships with unbelievers here in Chicago.
    5. I am able to serve students at a Christian afterschool center. The students are not Christian but I am able to build up the church by helping the teachers.

  4. Cassie Clark says:

    1. Peter is asked 3 times.
    2. He is teaching Peter something. Perhaps He is testing Peter’s love for His Savior. Perhaps it is a reminder since Peter had recently betrayed Him 3 times.
    3. I’m not sure. It is a very intimate gesture to eat a meal with people. Maybe it was an opportunity for the disciples, who had spent 3 years of their lives together, to spend time with one another.
    4. Jesus has provided me an opportunity to spend an evening a week with my little sis, a 14 year old girl in the inner city.
    5. I have been given relationships with other believers in which I am able to participate in the family of Christ. It’s incredible!

  5. [ED2203-01] HyeJin Lee says:

    How many times does Jesus ask Peter if he loves him?
    – Jesus asked three times ( just as much as he denied Jesus three times)
    What is Jesus doing in his conversation with Peter?
    – Jesus reinstate his relationship with Peter by asking if he loves Jesus three times because it has been diminished when Peter denied Jesus three times.

    Why does John tell the story of the catch of fish?
    – Jesus wants his followers to realize that Jesus becomes provider when we obey his word.

    How has Jesus equipped you to ‘catch fish’?
    – From my understanding of this question, looking back on my life, I think Jesus has equipped me to catch fish by sending me to Moody and have me prepare for the future ministry that I have not know of.

    How has Jesus commissioned you to ‘feed the flock’?
    – I’m teaching Sunday School for my church and 5 kids has been my flock.

  6. aaron wright says:

    1. 3 times
    2. preparing him for what is to come and to test his love for Him.
    3. not sure exactly. just was an act of obedience and Jesus wanted fellowship with them.
    4. the gift of the Holy Spirit and the Bible
    5. He has commissioned me by Matthew 28:19 because teaching is the same thing as feeding.

  7. 1. Three times
    2. He is teaching him what it means to fully love Christ… it is somewhat of a test.
    3. To prove God’s providence– the fish was an excellent illustration for these men.
    4. Every day is a new opportunity. Sometimes it’s just striking up a short conversation while standing in line at Starbucks, other times it’s by opening a door for someone and smiling at them. People definitely can see the Jesus in us if we let them.
    5. Just by being in the body… like, there is so much support from certain people, it’s uncanny. But above all else, the Lord provides me with so many opportunities to love people on my own as well. Less is more in this case… it’s better to feed the flock by giving them what they need instead of stuffing them until they are too full to eat… they need to develop their own hunger for the Lord.

    P.S. NO! NOT NAHUM! 🙂 let’s give Galatians a spin. (I’m sorry. I’m still scarred after you read Nahum 1 in a very solemn voice in class…)

  8. Melisa Guiles says:

    1. Three times
    2. He is showing Peter that if he truly loves Him, it should be expressed in love towards others, especially those in God’s love.
    3. It shows that eventhough Peter denied Christ three times, he is still loved by Christ. He is given a second chance. John is showing that even if a person fails, they can still be used by God.
    4. He gives me brand new opportunities every day. Whether it’s talking with the kids at my PCM or sharing Christ’s love as I walk about the city. He is also preparing me currently with my classes and my friends who pour truth into me.
    5. He has given me relationships with the girls on my floor and others on this campus. I am able to not only encourage them in their walk, but push them to continue to follow after Jesus.

  9. Kristen Patush says:

    1. How many times does Jesus ask Peter if he loves him?
    Jesus asks Peter three times.
    2. What is Jesus doing in his conversation with Peter?
    Jesus is commissioning Peter.
    3. Why does John tell the story of the catch of fish?
    I think that John tells the story of the caught fish to give the truth that when Jesus is behind the casting, we will succeed and catch many fish. In our case, the “casting of the net” is evangelizing people, and the “catching of fish” is people coming to Christ.
    4. How has Jesus equipped you to ‘catch fish’?
    Jesus has given me his Holy Spirit to speak through me and give me power to be His witness.
    5. How has Jesus commissioned you to ‘feed the flock’?
    Jesus has given me talents and gifts to be used to encourage the Body and pull them toward Him.

    I think a study on Hosea would be great! =)

  10. Kristin Goffinet says:

    1) 3 times
    2) I think he was testing Peter’s faith and committment to him, and helping Peter realize that following him was not going to be easy.
    3) John includes this story to give another example of Jesus appearing to the disciples after his death, as well as a reminder to future believers that God is in control of all things and will provide for us.
    4) He has equipped me by giving me good speaking abilities and a great knowledge of the Bible, which leaves without excuse to share my faith!
    5) I have opportunites everyday to enourage the girls on my floor, and I also make an effort to pray for my friends and family as much as possible.

  11. Jessica Gentry says:

    1.) Jesus asks Peter 3 times if he loves him.
    2.) Jesus is encouraging Peter to express His love for teh Lord by taking care of other people, and looking out for the other members of the church.
    3.) John tells this story of the fish to show God’s power and willingness to provide for His people in amazing ways. It shows that God is able to not only meet our expectations but exceed them and give abundantly more than we could ask.
    4.) God has allowed for me to “catch fish” by placing me at Moody Bible Institute, which is a far bigger blessing than I could have ever asked for. He has also done some incredible works of healing in my family and provided abundantly more than we could have asked for.
    5.) Jesus has commissioned me to feed the flock by leading me to want to serve the girls on my floor, the kids of Cabrini Green, and everyone I come in contact with. He has encouraged me to love people more and to treat people with kindness and love, something I am constantly learning, but constantly having to work at.

  12. spiritandtruth1128 says:

    1. How many times does Jesus ask Peter if he loves him? He asked him
    three times
    2. What is Jesus doing in his conversation with Peter? Jesus is making Peter see that since his love for Jesus is so strong, he should be able to “feed his sheep” and continue making disciples. Jesus is preparing Peter.
    3.Why does John tell the story of the catch of fish? I think it shows that Jesus made it possible for them to catch the fish, even if it was hard at first, and in the same way Jesus will help us “fish” for people, help them to realize that He is the King, and even though it might seem hard at first, God will find a way to work, and provide for the situation.
    4.How has Jesus equipped you to ‘catch fish’? Jesus works through us even when we think we aren’t good enough, or prepared enough. I was born and raised in Chicago and God has just allowed me to be in very dark places, and sometimes I feel like I don’t have the words to talk to my friends about Jesus, in the end he uses me to share His love, his compassion and his amazing grace.
    5.How has Jesus commissioned you to ‘feed the flock’? I feel like He has just placed me in so many different places where His love needs to be shown. At my job many people have asked me about what I believe in and I have taken those opportunities to share about Jesus without necessarily forcing them to hear things they dont want to hear about.

  13. rebecca Langer says:

    1. Jesus asks Peter is he loves him three times.
    2. Jesus, in his conversation with Peter, is trying to prove how important pastoring is by repeating himself three times.
    3. I think that John shares the story of the fish to prove that even when we think nothing is happenning in our work, we need to listen to God and a great harvest might be just around the corner.
    4. God has equipped me to “catch fish” by giving me the tools in His word and through Moody to evangelize people and share His love. I need to be doing this wherever I am.
    5. He has equippped me to “feed his sheep” through giving me ministries like PCM and my summer as a camp counselor. I still have many relationships built from that experuence that I need to be feeding into. I need to still be there for my girls, even if I am not at camp.

  14. Kerri Klingsmith says:

    1. How many times does Jesus ask Peter if he loves him?
    Three times
    2. What is Jesus doing in his conversation with Peter?
    Peter denied Jesus three times so Jesus is asking him three times again if he really does love Him to prove his devotion and dedication.
    3. Why does John tell the story of the catch of fish?
    To foreshadow the coming of the church and how the disciples will become even more so “fishers of men”. The large catch of fish signifies how many people will come to faith and despite opposition and persecution, the net will not tear and the people “fish” will be safe.
    4. How has Jesus equipped you to ‘catch fish’?
    By having the Holy Spirit alive and active in my life and through sound biblical training.
    5. How has Jesus commissioned you to ‘feed the flock’?
    The Holy Spirit convicted me that my life needed to belong to Christ and Christ alone. This resulted in my coming to Moody and learning more effectively how to feed and care for the “flock”. Since then, my PCM’s and other ministries have given me experience in how to effectively do that.

  15. Kendalle says:

    John asked Peter three times “do you love me”?

  16. Moon [ED 2203;6:00pm class] says:

    1. How many times does Jesus ask Peter if he loves him?
    Three times

    2.What is Jesus doing in his conversation with Peter?
    Jesus prepares Peter to be shepherding.

    3.Why does John tell the story of the catch of fish?
    I think ‘fishing’ can be metaphorically compared to witnessing people and bringing them to Jesus Christ.

    4.How has Jesus equipped you to ‘catch fish’?
    Jesus has equipped me as getting me to follow His showing ways. When usually i did not expect catching fish but just followed the steps that God showed me for I did not know what to do, God surprised me by catching lots of fish and work through me.

    5.How has Jesus commissioned you to ‘feed the flock’?
    He has brought me through little steps which equipped me to feed the flock. the steps had many different ways such as Word of life camp, local church ministry, mission trip, working with a mission organization…etc. still I am being equipped by Him to feed the flock.

  17. trishaindonesia says:

    -Three times
    -He is testing Peter and will have that be something Peter will look back at in a few days to realize what “loving Christ” and being a follower of Him really means.
    -It is a story of believing. That though it may seem impossible or that it may already be feeling as impossible, you have to trust in Jesus to provide. Acting on faith is the key.
    -He has exposed me to so many experiences by being a missionary kid and seeing different ways people live. He has trained me to deal with certain friends in different ways and have blessed me with a lot of really good friends that aren’t believes that I can hopefully one day share the gospel to.
    -Right now, I am doing Awana for PCM and so in this position, just doing my best in sharing the knowledge I have about Christ to the kids. I will also be one of the leaders at Park this year and so just serving Him in any way at the church and sharing Christ’s love to the rest of His body.

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