153: Jesus to Every Tribe and Nation
“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, NKJV).
In reading through John 21:4-14 one wonders why the writer had any interest in giving the exact number of fish caught. Many have speculated on its purpose. None have really come up with symbolic significance that has received widespread acceptance. The book of John is notorious for its use of symbolism. For example, in this chapter, Jesus tells Peter, “Feed my lambs,” “Tend my sheep,” and “Feed my sheep” (John 21:15-17). He is driving the point home that He wants the world to be reached, and the saints to be fed from His Word. It is—as it were—a re-commission of Peter and the other disciples to the twofold purpose of world evangelism and fulfilling the Great Commission. They were to catch men and women through going into the entire world and preaching the Gospel (evangelism). They were to feed and nurture them in the instruction of God’s Word (edification/education).
The Whole World:
Some assume that—in that time period—there were only 153 known types of fish. In Matthew 13:47-50 the kingdom of God is likened to a net in which all kinds of fish are swept up and in together.
In olden times the number 153 was provided as the total number of all tribes and nations of the earth. Some believe that it represented every possible known people group in the world. In other words it referred to the whole world. The large fish speaks of nations of the world who are going to be caught in the net.
The early church, and early church fathers (like Jerome), interpreted this passage as the assurance of the success of fulfilling the Great Commission, that the net of the Gospel would be spread to everyone; everywhere. Like we say within the global missions’ ministry of the United Pentecostal Church International, “To every tribe and nation: JESUS.” But the world evangelism symbolism does not stop there.
The Whole Word:
“And Moses commanded them, saying, At the end of every seven years, in the solemnity of the year of release, in the feast of tabernacles, When all Israel is come to appear before the Lord thy God in the place which he shall choose, thou shalt read this law before all Israel in their hearing. Gather the people together, men, and women, and children, and thy stranger that is within thy gates, that they may hear, and that they may learn, and fear the Lord your God, and observe to do all the words of this law: And that their children, which have not known any thing, may hear, and learn to fear the Lord your God, as long as ye live in the land whither ye go over Jordan to possess it” (Deuteronomy 31:10-13).
The Torah should be read aloud to all of God’s people, Israel, every seven years. Over the centuries an annual cycle of reading was developed and adopted to meet this requirement. The 1910 Jewish Encyclopedia reveals a three year cycle used around the first century. It divided the Torah in 153 parts. It has always been God’s intention that all of the Gospel should be taken to all of the world. We have it right when we proclaim, “The whole Gospel to the whole world.” His intention, from the beginning, has always been “that nothing be lost” (John 6:12).