WHY DID JESUS SAY TO THROW THE NET ON THE “RIGHT” SIDE?
by Shawn Brasseaux
Have you ever questioned why the Lord Jesus commanded His disciples to throw their net on the right side of the ship? Why not the left side? Why not both sides? What doctrine was He communicating to them in catching these fish? We will search the Scriptures for the answers. Prepare for God’s Word to amaze you! (By the way, rather than share the answer with you from the start, let us take “the long way round” and first explain why the apostles are “fishing” at all. Then, you will better appreciate why they are fishing on the “right” side.)
A FEW WORDS ABOUT THE GOSPEL OF JOHN
The Bible book we call “The Gospel According to John” is the fourth and final record of Jesus Christ’s earthly ministry. John’s Gospel is starkly different from the so-called “Synoptic Gospels” (Matthew, Mark, and Luke). That is, the Apostle John emphasizes aspects and events of Christ’s earthly ministry that Matthew, Mark, and Luke usually disregard entirely. The Gospel of John particularly stresses the deity of Jesus Christ.
John 1:11-13 introduces the theme of the Gospel of John: “ He [Jesus Christ] came unto his own, and his own received him not.  But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name:  Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” John 20:30-31 elaborates: “ And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book:  But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name.”
When moving the Apostle John to write his Gospel record, the Holy Ghost selected specific events of Christ’s earthly ministry, eight unique miraculous demonstrations through which Jesus taught Israel various doctrines (our King James Bible calls these miracles “signs”). These signs communicated to Israel that Jesus Christ was their Messiah, the Son of God, and that He had the ability, the power, to equip them to function as “the sons of God,” men and women who could work with God and delight in accomplishing His earthly purpose and program.
The question currently under discussion involves the eighth and final sign of Jesus as recorded in John’s Gospel record. This sign, noted in John 21:1-14, is the key to understanding God’s purpose and plan in forming the nation Israel.
“CAST THE NET ON THE RIGHT SIDE OF THE SHIP”
“And he said unto them, Cast the net on the right side of the ship, and ye shall find. They cast therefore, and now they were not able to draw it for the multitude of fishes” (John 21:6). This verse, which we will now expound, foretells the greatest fishing trip Israel’s apostles will ever enjoy!
To get the thought flow, let us read verses 1-3 of John chapter 21: “ After these things Jesus shewed himself again to the disciples at the sea of Tiberias; and on this wise shewed he himself.  There were together Simon Peter, and Thomas called Didymus, and Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, and the sons of Zebedee, and two other of his disciples.  Simon Peter saith unto them, I go a fishing. They say unto him, We also go with thee. They went forth, and entered into a ship immediately; and that night they caught nothing.”
Post-resurrection, seven of Israel’s 12 apostles—Simon Peter, Thomas, Nathanael, the sons of Zebedee (James and John; Matthew 4:21), and two unknown persons—are assembled in Galilee (possibly an allusion to Jesus’ instructions in Matthew 28:16). Evidently, the four remaining apostles (Judas the fifth had expired days earlier) were late, so when Peter says he wishes to go fishing, the apostles with him agree to accompany him (John 21:3, quoted above).
Israel’s apostles go fishing on “the Sea of Tiberias,” the Gentile name for “the Sea of Galilee” (see John 6:1). Jesus Christ began His ministry there some three years earlier (Matthew 4:12; Luke 4:14). Just three short years prior to John chapter 21, and at the same seaside, Christ had selected brothers Simon Peter and Andrew, fishermen, telling them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men” (Matthew 4:18-20; Mark 1:16-18). Christ had also selected James and John sons of Zebedee, fishing partners of Peter and Andrew, and they too forsook their fishing business and followed Him (Matthew 4:21,22; Mark 1:19,20). (Later, Luke’s account of their calling will help us better understand John 21:6.)
When Israel’s apostles returned to their fishing businesses in John chapter 21, and without Christ, that night of fishing “they caught nothing.” They returned to their old life (human wisdom and will, fleshly living), and in their own strength, they were unable to accomplish God’s will for them. John 21:3-5 continues: “ They [the apostles] went forth, and entered into a ship immediately; and that night they caught nothing.  But when the morning was now come, Jesus stood on the shore: but the disciples knew not that it was Jesus.  Then Jesus saith unto them, Children, have ye any meat? They answered him, No.”
Israel’s apostles returned with empty nets after a night of “fishing in the flesh.” The Bible student will immediately recall a similar event that occurred three years prior… when Jesus Christ had first called these men from their fishing businesses. John chapter 21, when Jesus restores and re-commissions His apostles who had fled at His arrest (Matthew 26:56; Mark 14:50), loops back to their calling (Luke’s account alone provides details).
Jesus Christ, just beginning His earthly ministry, is teaching and preaching God’s Word near the Lake of Gennesaret (another name for the Sea of Galilee). He meets fisherman Simon Peter and tells him, “Launch out into the deep, and let down your nets for a draught [catch of fish]” (Luke 5:4). Simon answers, “Master, we have toiled all the night, and have taken nothing: nevertheless at thy word I will let down the net” (verse 5). Verses 6 and 7 explain: “And when they had this done, they inclosed a great multitude of fishes: and their net brake. And they beckoned unto their partners, which were in the other ship, that they should come and help them. And they came, and filled both the ships, so that they began to sink.” When Jesus gave the word, the apostles caught enough fish to sink their boats!
Flash-forward three years to John chapter 21, the throwing of the net on the right side of the ship. Israel’s apostles did not recognize Christ standing on the shore (John 21:4), but when He gave the word for them to fish, and the miracle of the enormous draught occurred, they remembered what happened when He originally called them.
Remember, when Jesus Christ had first called brothers Peter and Andrew and brothers James and John, fishermen, they had just fished all night and caught nothing. Discouraged Peter confessed to Jesus, “Master, we have toiled all the night, and have taken nothing: nevertheless at thy word I will let down the net” (Luke 5:5). Verses 6 and 7 explain that once they obeyed Christ’s words, their net broke because of the many fishes! In Christ’s absence, the apostles caught nothing; when He arrived, their two boats literally began to sink with fish! Jesus told Peter, “Fear not; from henceforth thou shalt catch men” (verse 10). Three years later, in the context of John chapter 21, the apostles have been fishing again in the same Sea of Galilee. Jesus Christ is absent, and after toiling all night, the apostles “caught nothing” (verse 4). (No surprise!)
Luke 5:8-11 reminds us of what happened three years earlier: “ When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord.  For he was astonished, and all that were with him, at the draught of the fishes which they had taken:  And so was also James, and John, the sons of Zebedee, which were partners with Simon. And Jesus said unto Simon, Fear not; from henceforth thou shalt catch men.  And when they had brought their ships to land, they forsook all, and followed him.” Before Peter even became an apostle, he already learned from Jesus Christ that God’s Word was the key to catching multitudes of fishes. In the case of his apostleship, God’s Word, not fleshly efforts, was the key to catching multitudes of souls! He and the other apostles had forgotten that in those three years, and they learned it again in John chapter 21, casting the net on the right side.
We will now reread John 21:6-8: “ And he said unto them, Cast the net on the right side of the ship, and ye shall find. They cast therefore, and now they were not able to draw it for the multitude of fishes.  Therefore that disciple whom Jesus loved saith unto Peter, It is the Lord. Now when Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he girt his fisher’s coat unto him, (for he was naked,) and did cast himself into the sea.  And the other disciples came in a little ship; (for they were not far from land, but as it were two hundred cubits,) dragging the net with fishes.”
“That disciple whom Jesus loved” (John?), upon seeing the miracle, surely recalled what happened in Luke chapter 5 three years prior. At first He did not know who was standing on shore, but, after the miracle, he knew it could only be the Lord Jesus Christ!
We will continue reading in John 21:9-13: “ As soon then as they were come to land, they saw a fire of coals there, and fish laid thereon, and bread.  Jesus saith unto them, Bring of the fish which ye have now caught.  Simon Peter went up, and drew the net to land full of great fishes, an hundred and fifty and three: and for all there were so many, yet was not the net broken.  Jesus saith unto them, Come and dine. And none of the disciples durst ask him, Who art thou? knowing that it was the Lord.  Jesus then cometh, and taketh bread, and giveth them, and fish likewise.”
Earlier, Jesus Christ assured His apostles that they would be “fishers of men,” but they would not catch anyone until He gave the word (see Matthew 28:19,20; “at thy word I will let down the net,” Luke 5:5; John 21:6; Acts 1:8). The power would be in His Word, not in their ability. If they relied on Him, they would catch multitudes of souls, a number they could not even begin to fathom, and they would bring those souls to Him.
As the apostles drag to shore the nets of fish that Jesus Christ told them to catch in His power, He invites them to eat with Him—He has already cooked fish and bread for them! “ Jesus saith unto them, Come and dine. And none of the disciples durst ask him, Who art thou? knowing that it was the Lord.  Jesus then cometh, and taketh bread, and giveth them, and fish likewise.”
Remember, as fishers of men, Israel’s apostles still have more “catching” to do. After our dispensation, after the seven-year Tribulation, and just before Christ’s earthly kingdom is established, Israel’s apostles will be bodily resurrected (see Matthew 19:27-30 and Luke 22:28-30, for example), and they will fulfill Matthew 28:19-20. They—yea, all of believing Israel—will evangelize the nations. (This is why the Gentile name for the Sea of Galilee, “the Sea of Tiberias,” was used in John 21:1).
Now, dear friends, thank you for your patience. We come to our original question! Why did Jesus tell them to throw their net on the right side (John 21:6)? Matthew 25:31-46 says when Christ returns to earth (His Second Coming), He will set on His right hand believing Gentiles who blessed Israel during the seven-year Tribulation and He will set unbelieving Gentiles on His left hand (verses 32,33). Only believing Gentiles—those on His right hand—will be allowed to enter His earthly kingdom (verses 34,46); all of redeemed Israel will then minister to them. The unbelieving Gentiles—those on His left hand—are cast into everlasting hellfire (verses 41,46).
In accordance with John’s theme, Christ’s final miracle is Him empowering Israel’s believing remnant, particularly her apostles, to catch the souls of Gentiles. They will “bring them to shore to Him” so that they too dine with Him (see Isaiah 2:1-5; Zechariah 8:20-23; Matthew 8:11; cf. Matthew 26:29), and enjoy the salvation that He offers them through Israel! The miracle of John 21:6 symbolizes the climax of God’s prophetic program, when Israel’s believing remnant becomes fishers of men.
When Christ first commissioned His 12 apostles, Scripture says in Matthew chapter 10: “ These twelve Jesus sent forth, and commanded them, saying, Go 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.” Most church members are never taught that Israel’s apostles had no ministry to Gentiles.
Jesus told these apostles post-resurrection: “And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem” (Luke 24:47). He repeated in Acts 1:8: “But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.”
The 12 apostles were to convert all of Israel first. Then, and only then, redeemed Israel was to evangelize all nations (Matthew 28:19,20; Mark 16:15). In the prophetic program, Gentiles would be blessed through Israel’s rise to kingdom glory: Israel had to be saved first so Gentiles could be saved next (Genesis 12:1-3; Isaiah 59:20–60:3; Isaiah 61:6; Zechariah 8:20-23; Acts 3:25-26; Romans 15:8-12; et al.). But, (unbelieving, rebellious) Israel was never fully converted. Through Paul’s ministry, we Gentiles learn that salvation is currently coming to us through Israel’s temporary fall, the mystery program (Romans 11:11-13).
When Jesus Christ returns to establish His earthly kingdom through Israel, Isaiah 2:1-3 says that all the nations shall flow unto it. When the apostles caught 153 fishes in John 21:11, this evidently symbolizes how many Gentile nations Israel will “catch” (evangelize). The net broke in Luke chapter 5 but it did not break in John chapter 21—Israel’s apostles will be prepared and equipped to catch all the fish, and none will be lost.
Rest assured, Israel’s apostles will be resurrected one day, and their greatest fishing trip will be underway! 🙂
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