Lesson 6: They Straightway Left Their Nets
By: Dave Hadlock
One of the things I like to do when studying scriptures is to compare similar scriptural events. We can learn a lot by seeing patterns and similarities in passages. Patterns typically manifest laws and principles (causes and their effects). Doctrine and Covenants 52:14 states, “And again, I will give unto a pattern in all things, that ye may not be deceived.”
In addition to looking for patterns in the scriptures, I have often found it instructive to consider small deviations within parallel passages. This article will look at similarities and differences between the accounts in which Jesus calls his disciples while they are in the act of fishing. One account deals with the original calling of the disciples at the beginning of his ministry. The second account takes place after his resurrection and prior to his ascension to heaven.
In Luke 5:1, we find Jesus speaking to a crowd of people. As the multitude gets larger, they began to press upon him to hear the word of God. At this point, to put a little distance between himself and the masses, he borrows a boat from Peter and pushes away from the shore onto the Sea of Galilee so that the crowd could hear him speak. When he’s finished speaking, he tells Peter to “Launch out into the deep, and let down your nets for a draught”. Peter was skeptical because he had been fishing all night and yet caught nothing. Nevertheless, at Christ’s insistence, he let down the net and “inclosed a great multitude of fishes: and their net brake”.
At this point, Peter falls down at Jesus’ knees and then Christ calls him to work in the ministry, telling him that “henceforth thou shalt catch men.” Peter then forsook all and followed Jesus. It is not too much time later that Jesus called unto his disciples “and of them he chose twelve, whom also he named apostles”.
The word “apostle” from the Greek word “apostolos” has the literal meaning of “sent”. The Hebrew equivalent is Shaliah (from the verb shalah – “to send”). The underlying meaning of the word is “to be sent with a commission”. We would think of it in terms of an “agent”, one who is empowered to act legally in behalf of someone else. Thus, apostles are literally agents who can bind things on earth in Christ’s name such that they “shall be bound in heaven” (Matt 16:19).
Looking at how Christ deals with Peter while fishing on the Sea of Galilee, we can gain some insight into what manner Peter was empowered to act in Christ’s behalf.
1) Luke 5:10 – “Fear not for henceforth thou shalt catch men”. Peter was called to act as an agent in bringing men unto Christ, both through his preaching and through the ordinances.
2) In the original call of Peter, it is noted that there was such a great multitude of fishes that the net brake (Luke 5:6). After His resurrection, when Peter returned “a fishing”, “Peter went up, and drew the net to land full of great fishes…yet the net was not broken”. There are a couple things regarding Peter’s apostolic calling that may be inferred from this passage. One may be the suggestion that Peter is the net that would break from time to time during Christ’s mortal ministry; yet after Christ ascends to heaven, Peter as the lead apostle would not break again.
The other thing this passage may suggest is that prior to this time, some of the fish may have slipped through the net. In John 21, there appears to have been a change in the responsibilities of Peter’s commission. This would then beg the question which fish were slipping through the net. I think this passage gives hints to the answers to this question. In John, he states that there were one hundred and fifty three fish caught up in the net (there was no number mentioned in Luke). One hundred and fifty three was the known number of species of fish at that time. In my opinion, this suggests that at this time, the gospel was now to go to all nations. Prior to this time, the gentiles were slipping through the net as the apostles told that they were “sent (commissioned as an agent) forth…not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not. But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 10:7).
Continuing with Matthew 10:7, the apostles had been empowered at the beginning of Christ’s ministry to preach to the house of Israel, to heal the sick, cast out devils and raise the sick among them. With Christ’s ascension to heaven, he is now commissioning Peter and the other apostles to take this work to all the world as symbolized by the one hundred and fifty three fish.
3) Comparing John 21 to Luke 5:11, we notice that Peter doesn’t forsake all in John and follow him. This may suggest that Peter did not need to be “re-called” or “re-commissioned”. If the apostles were legal agents of Christ, the only way that commission would have been altered was be decree or death of the principal. In this case the principal was Christ. Since, Christ had resurrected, he wasn’t dead, the original commission still stood. It wasn’t necessary for Christ to ask Peter to forsake all and follow him again.
As we look through the New Testament at the term “apostle”, we find Paul make reference to Christ as an apostle stating, “consider the Apostle and High Priest of our profession, Christ Jesus”. Christ was an agent of His Father. He acted legally as though He were the Father. It is one of the ways in which He and the Father were “one”.
One of my favorite parts about comparing these passages is to see the compassion with which Christ treats Peter and any who would be His disciples. Days earlier, Peter had just denied Christ three times. He had returned a fishing when he had promised to forsake all several years earlier. Yet, here in John 21, Christ allows Peter to accept him three times and to forsake all again and serve Christ as an apostle. The mercy with which Christ treats Peter is the same mercy with which he treats all of us in our journey to become his disciples.