After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples at the sea of Tiberias; and on this wise showed he himself.
I. THEY WERE TOGETHER. How did they come to hold together, instead of seeking safety by flight, which would have been the natural thing after the death of their Leader? And yet here we find them where everybody knew them to be disciples of Jesus, holding together as if they had still a living and uniting bond. There is only one explanation, viz., that Jesus Christ had risen from the dead. You cannot build a church on a dead Christ; and of all the proofs of the Resurrection there is none harder for an unbeliever to account for than the simple fact that Christ's disciples held together after He was dead.
II. THE COMPOSITION OF THIS GROUP.
1. Of the five men who made the Primitive Church (chap. 1.), there are three who reappear here, viz., Peter, John, and Nathanael, and two unnamed men, who, I think, are "Philip and Andrew, Simon Peter's brother," both of them connected with Bethsaida, the place where probably this appearance of the risen Lord took place. So then the fair inference is that we have here the original nucleus again — the first five — with a couple more, "Thomas, who is called Didymus," and the brother of John, one of the first pair.
2. There, along the beach, is the place where four of them were called from their nets three short years ago. On the other side is the green grass where the thousands were fed. Behind it is the steep slope down which the devil-possessed herd rushed. There, over the shoulder of the hill, is the road that leads up to Cana from which little village one of the group came.
3. Look at the list, having regard to the individual members that make it up.
(1) Foremost stand the two greatest sinners of the whole — Peter and Thomas — singularly contrasted, and yet alike in the fact that the Crucifixion had been too much for their faith. The one was impetuous, the other slow. The one was always ready to say more than he meant, the other always ready to do more than he said. The one was naturally despondent, the other never looking an inch beyond his nose, and always yielding himself up to the impulse of the moment. And yet both of them were united in this, that the one, from a sudden wave of cowardice, and the other, from giving way to his constitutional tendency, had both of them failed in their faith, the one turning out a denier and the other turning out a doubter. And yet here they are, foremost upon the list of those who saw the risen Christ. There are two lessons there. Let us learn —
(a) With what open hearts and hands we should welcome a penitent when he comes back.
(b) Who they are to whom Christ deigns to manifest Himself — not immaculate monsters, but men that, having fallen, have learned humility and caution, and by penitence have risen to a securer standing, and have turned even their transgressions into steps in the ladder that lifts them to Christ. And the little group welcomed them, as it becomes us to welcome brethren who have fallen and who repent.
(2) Nathanael, a guileless "Israelite indeed," so swift to believe that the only thing that Christ is recorded as having said to him is, "Because I said... thou believest? Thou shalt see greater things than these." A promise of growing clearness of vision and fulness of manifestation was made to this man, who never appears anywhere else but in these two scenes, and so may stand to us as the type of that quiet, continuous growth, which is marked by faithful use of the present illumination, and is rewarded by a continual increase of the same. If the keynote to the two former lives is that sin confessed helps a man to climb, the keynote to this man's is that they are still more blessed who, with no interruptions or denials by patient continuousness in well-doing, widen the horizon of their Christian vision and purge their eyesight for daily larger knowledge. There is no necessity that any man's career should be broken by denials or doubts; we may "grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour."(3) The two sons of Zebedee — sons of thunder — who were eager, energetic, somewhat bigoted, not unwilling to invoke destructive vengeance, all for the love of Him; touched with ambition which led them to desire a place at His fight hand and His left. But by dwelling with Him one of them, at least, had become of all the group the likest his Master. And the old painters taught a deep truth when they made John's almost a copy of the Master's face. To him there was granted a place amongst this blessed company, and it is surely a trace of his own hand that his place should be so humble. Any other but himself would certainly have put James and John in their natural place beside Peter.
(4) "Two other of His disciples" not worth naming. Probably the missing two out of the five of the first chapter; but possibly only disciples in the wider sense. What does it matter? The lesson is that there is a place for commonplace, undistinguished people, whose names are not worth repeating in Christ's Church, and we, too have a share in the manifestation of His love. We do not need to be brilliant, clever, influential, energetic, anything but quiet, waiting souls in order to have Christ showing Himself to us as we toil wearily through the darkness of the night.
III. THE PURPOSE OF THIS GROUP IS SIGNIFICANT. What did they thus get together for? "Simon Peter saith, I go a fishing. They say, We also go with thee." So they are back again at their old trade, which they had not left for ever, as they once thought they had.
1. What sent them back? Not doubt or despair; because they had seen Jesus Christ up in Jerusalem, and had come down to Galilee at His command on purpose to meet Him. It is very like Peter that he should have been the one to suggest filling an hour of the waiting time with manual labour. John could have "sat still in the house," like Mary, the heart all the busier because the hands lay quietly. But that was not Peter's way, and John was ready to keep him company. Peter thought that the best thing they could do till Jesus chose to come, was to get back to their work, and he was sensible and right. The best attitude to be found in by Christ is doing our daily work, however secular and small it may be. A dirty, wet fishing-boat, all slimy with scales, was a strange place, but it was the right place, righter than if they had been wandering about amongst the fancied sanctities of the synagogues.
2. They went out to do their work; and to them was fulfilled the old saying, "I being in the way, the Lord met me." Jesus Christ will come to you and me in the street if we carry the waiting heart there, and in the shop, and the kitchen. For all things are sacred when done with a hallowed heart, and He chooses to make Himself known to us amidst the dusty commonplaces of daily life. He said to them just before the Crucifixion, "When I sent you forth without purse or scrip, lacked ye anything?" And they said, "Nothing." And then He said as changing the conditions, "But now he that hath a purse or scrip, let him take it." As long as He was with them they were absolved from these common tasks. Now that He had left them the obligation recurred. Keep at your work, and if it last all night, stick to it; and if there are no fish in the net, never mind; out with it again. And be sure that sooner or later you will see Him standing on the beach and hear His voice, and be blessed by His smile.
(A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: After these things Jesus shewed himself again to the disciples at the sea of Tiberias; and on this wise shewed he himself.