Before touching on the actual date of our Lord's appearing in John 21, it will be best to set the three main accounts of this manifestation of the Risen Christ in Galilee in order - as given by John, Matthew and Paul.
The first of these (John's) specifically states that in the early morning the appearing of Jesus to the seven brethren was 'the third' occasion that He showed Himself to His apostles after His resurrection. And we note that, instead of vanishing out of their sight, the account ends with His leading them away from the sea shore. We see them 'following' Him.
Matthew's version tells us that 'the eleven disciples went away into Galilee, into a mountain where Jesus had appointed them' (Matthew 28:16), and from the remainder of his statement it is clear that this must also have been at the time of His 'third' appearing. In other words, Jesus and the seven went on to join the other four disciples after the breakfast on the sea shore. This brought 'the eleven' together.
Paul, in 1 Corinthians 15: 5-7, mentions first the private appearing to Cephas (Peter) after his return from the sepulchre on the resurrection morning; then His appearing to 'the twelve' (which must have included when Thomas was recovered, before they left Jerusalem). Then, 'after that,' says Paul, 'He was seen of above five hundred brethren at once ...' (After that, He interviewed His brother, James, privately, and then finally appeared to 'all the apostles' when He led them out to Bethany and then ascended to Heaven).
Now it appears clear from this that when Jesus showed Himself to the 'five hundred' at once, it was at the time of His third appearing, after the breakfast on the sea shore and when all were gathered later in the day.
What was the significance of this gathering together unto Him? It was a wonderful resurrection reunion - a real 'Kingdom' scene and so the setting was 'in a mountain.' In Matthew's account it was here that Jesus declared: 'All power (authority) is given unto Me in Heaven and on earth' - words that are redolent of that kingdom which Nebuchadnezzar had seen as 'a great mountain which filled the whole earth' (Daniel 2: 35). It is here that Jesus gives instructions for the making disciples of all nations, and baptising them with the baptism of the Kingdom (see Matthew 28:18-20).
Now for the date, which was May 18th AD 33, fourteen days after the Resurrection on May 4th. For this we must probe what has always been a mystery in Leviticus 23, which speaks of two Feasts in the seventh month. In verses 34 to 44, many have been amazed to see what at first appears to be a duplication of instructions which contain an absolute anomaly. First we have a feast of 'seven days', beginning with 'the fifteenth day of this seventh month,' and with 'the eighth day' as 'a holy convocation.' Then in verse 39 we are again told that 'in the fifteenth day of the seventh month ... ye shall keep a feast unto the Lord seven days: on the first day shall be a sabbath, and on the eighth day shall be a sabbath!' (See Chart 6.)
When we hold to the verbal inspiration of the Holy Scriptures, we have to be careful how we dismiss what we might call 'difficulties' - especially when men have wrested the Word in every conceivable way in their attempts to make sense of it to their natural minds.
We have seen that there is a difference made by the Holy Ghost between a 'holy convocation' and a 'sabbath.' These are not synonymous terms, and we may best contrast these two seven-day 'feasts' by taking a further look at the fourteen days after our Lord's resurrection.
The first week - May 4th to the 11th - with its two 'holy convocations,' or gatherings of Jesus with His disciples, has been shown to be, in the Calendar of His life, the 15th to the 21st of the 7th month, inclusively. But this 'week' really foreshadowed the Church dispensation or 'dispensation of the mystery' which had previously been 'hid in God' (Ephesians 3: 9 RV). It certainly could not have been looked at as having any place in Israel's time, for it represented what has proved to be the period of their dispersion to the ends of the earth. It was the Feast of Tabernacles for the (mainly) Gentile Church, which is the 'body of Christ.' (The 'week' which Jacob was told to 'fulfil' for Leah, before he served a second seven years for Rachael, in Genesis 29: 27, is an Old Testament picture of the same era - Rachael representing the Jews whom Jesus came to win, and Leah the Gentile Bride whom He was given in their place).
But as we know, after the 'midnight cry' of Matthew 25 and the departure of the true Church (like Enoch) by translation from the earth, then another 'week' - that 'one week' of Daniel 9: 27 - is to intervene before our Lord returns to set up His Kingdom. It is these last seven years, we believe, that are typified by the original seven days of Unleavened Bread (or, in the other aspect, 'Booths') which followed the 'midnight cry' in Egypt. And it is clear from Leviticus 23: 39-43 that the second seven day 'feast' looks back to those days of the coming out of Egypt.
So in this second 'feast', which positively relates to Israel (for 'all that are Israelites born' were to keep it), we find the first and eighth days are to be kept as 'sabbaths', and we know that the seven years they typify will lead to the start of the Messianic Kingdom which is the Earth's great Sabbath of a thousand years of rest (see Revelation 20: 2-6).
When these facts are appreciated, it will be seen that Israel could not possibly have kept two concurrent seven day 'feasts' in the same seventh month, observing the first and eighth days as both 'holy convocations' and 'sabbaths!'
Our object, therefore, in calling attention to this particular part of God's instructions to Moses (Leviticus 23: 33-43) is to show that from the beginning He had His eye on this one month in all human history when there would be a fulfilment of both of these 'feasts' - and that He would regard each of them as commencing with 'the 15th day of the 7th month.' That month can only have been in May AD 33.
Our God is presented to us in Romans 4: 17, as the One 'Who quickeneth the dead, and calleth the things which be not, as though they were.' And after He had quickened His Own Son and brought Him again from the dead, this is precisely what we find He had to do in the fulfilment of His unbreakable Word.
God foresaw the Church dispensation stretching ahead - a long age to us, yet to Him just one 'week' - and in it the Body of Christ would be fully formed. (Another aspect of the same period, as we know, is the 'two days' or 2,000 lunar years between Christ's death and the resurrection of His body). And as God does not reckon this interval to Israel, it can only be regarded as a standstill in their chronology.
As far as Israel is concerned, God really sees the Resurrection of Christ completed when all the members of His body have at last shared in His physical resurrection, as explained in 1 Thessalonians 4: 14-17 and 1 Corinthians 15: 50-57; see also our Chapter Eleven. We know that this takes place at our Lord's Second Appearing, for 'unto them that look for Him shall He appear the second time (lit.) apart from sin' - that is, apart from the question of sin, which has been fully dealt with at the Cross - 'unto salvation' (Hebrews 9: 28).
So when this interval of Church history is over, then God will have a 'sealed' minority of believing Jews in Israel (see Revelation 7: 4-8) who will be called to pass through the seven years shown so clearly in Revelation 12:6-14, where they are pictured as the 'woman', or mother of the 'child' which has been 'caught up to God and to His throne.' They are seen fleeing into the wilderness, which depicts the essence of keeping the 'feast of booths' - that is, abiding temporarily as in a journey, with 'no certain dwelling- place' (1 Corinthians 4:11) - and they are 'nourished' or fed. Of necessity, this will be on 'unleavened bread', or the pure truth of God, and this in a world wholly given over to evil.
Summing up this brief outline of the events following the Lord's Resurrection on May 4th, we have attempted to show the significance of the two weeks which led to His third appearing on the shores of the sea of Tiberias. There is vastly more to add, when the time comes for a full investigation of the facts, but space does not allow for this now. Much more can be drawn from the fathomless depths of the chronology of God's Holy Word in support of the date of May 18th, AD 33, but we must now go on to examine the eighth 'sign' of John's Gospel, which took place on this day.
Many of God's greatest works have appeared insignificant to men, and certainly this one Resurrection miracle recorded in the Gospels appears to have been written off as of minor importance by the teachers and preachers of the Church of God today. This is, of course, due to the fact that its significance has never been unfolded.
John only records eight of all the Lord's miracles in his Gospel and each of these was for a 'sign' (see John 2:11 RV). We may therefore expect to find that the eighth 'sign' has a 'resurrection' significance and the fact that Peter's net was not broken, but contained the complete catch of '153 great fishes', suggests this (John 21:11).
The first key to the understanding of this miracle came with the revelation to one of our company in 1932 that the distance of 'two hundred cubits' from the shore, in verse 8, had a time signification. (This fact was mentioned briefly in our Chapter 2). Those who only read one of the modern paraphrase versions of the Bible would require a King James or Revised Version to check this.
We first of all saw these '200 cubits' as typifying the closing 200 days of the age - not realising, of course, that there was a long 'consummation of the age' (see Note 2) (Matthew 13:39) to follow. This latter would be separate from the main Christian dispensation which ended, as described in our opening chapters, with the official representative coming-together of all the nations of the world on June 12th 1933.
Only years later were we able to demonstrate that these actual 200 days were also the last days of the '2,000 years' in the Chronology of Redemption (that is, 1,960 civil lunar years and 40 Jubilees, as previously shown). So the 'sign' of John 21 really covers the whole of the Christian dispensation during which 'fishes' - Jesus had said to Peter and Andrew: 'I will make you fishers of men' (Matthew 4:18 & 19) - were to be gathered out of the 'sea' of the Gentiles. It should be remembered that the 'tenth' part is often taken in Scripture to represent the whole - 'the tithe' is an example of this - so the '200' is actually a miniature of the '2,000' (see Joshua 3: 4, where the full '2,000 cubits' are mentioned and 1 Kings 7: 23-26, where a 'sea' containing '2,000 baths' is part of the Temple furniture and gives the same thought of the measurement of the Church Dispensation).
This number has intrigued all who have an interest in the 'things of God' and many have remembered that Solomon hired '153,600' non-Jews, that is 'strangers' or Gentiles from Tyre for the building of the House of God at Jerusalem (2 Chronicles 2:17).
153 is 9 x 17, and it has been noted that if all the numbers from 1 to 17 are added together, the sum of them is 153. '17' is a number related to the resurrection of Christ. That is, May 4th was the 17th day of the 7th month in His 34th year (34 being twice 17). All will also remember that the Ark, in Genesis 8: 4, 'rested' on the 17th of the 7th month, on the mountains of Ararat.
153 times 17 days (2,601) will be found to be the full length of the ministries of John the Baptist and Jesus - from April 25th AD 26 to June 13th AD 33, inclusively - if those six days of Redemption (the four days prior to the cross and the two days of the tomb) are viewed as outside of this measurement. A fresh glance at what is said about the hidden Day of Atonement in our Chapter 13 will suffice to show the serious reader why these six days would be held apart in the eye of God from the rest of the total, for Jesus accepted that the hour of His death had come on that fateful April 27th (see John 12).
Constantly we find that the thoughts of God (which 'are not our thoughts' see Isaiah 55:8), are revealed, as we meditate in the true chronology of His Word and we shall now see a yet deeper significance in the '153' of this final 'sign' of the Lord Jesus before He ascended to where He was before.
By design of God the words 'the net' (Gr.to diktuon) have the numerical value of 1,224, which is 8 x 153. The significance of this is really wonderful. We were shown to measure the exact length of the Lord's Ministry, from when He was 'thirty years old' (November 25th-26th AD 29) to the day of His Resurrection (May 3rd-4th AD 33), and found it was 1,255 days. We were then reminded that in the Chronology of Redemption God never takes account of Intercalary months, or anything above an exact 354 days in the year. In AD 32 there was an intercalation amounting to 31 days which would therefore have been ignored in Divine reckoning. (See our Chapter 6 for explanation of intercalation). So, with God, the duration of His Son's Ministry would have been 1,224, or 8 x 153 days.
So we see that 'the net' which could not be broken actually expressed the testimony of Jesus, and every member of the Church, Gentile or Jew, who has been enclosed in that Testimony will be drawn in safety to the resurrection shore.
Another feature in this eighth 'sign' was the way Peter - 'the son of Jonas' - traversed the distance of the '200 cubits' by going down into the sea, as Jonah had done. Jesus had first addressed him as 'Simon Bar-jona' on March 23rd, when the Father made the original revelation to him that Christ was 'the son of the living God' (Matthew 16:17). That day, which we may later be able to show was just forty days, inclusively, before the Crucifixion, was when Jesus had first openly spoken of His death to the disciples.
But now, on May 18th, some 57 days inclusively had passed from that first revelation, and again Jesus addresses Peter as 'Simon, son of Jonas' in John 21:15-17. There had been 57 hours between the death and resurrection of Jesus which, as we have seen in earlier pages, was in the Bible's inclusive reckoning, 'three days and three nights.'
Can anyone ever imagine the agony of soul which Peter passed through in the horror and darkness of his Master's death? For the prophet Jonah it had been, indeed, a baptism of 'three days and three nights' (Jonah 1:17) in the likeness of the death of Jesus but for the Lord Himself it had been the dark waters of death itself in which He had been immersed. Yet He had spoken of it as His own 'baptism' and declared that others would share it with Him (Matthew 20:23).
So Peter reached the shore, wearing his 'fisher's coat', and the other disciples 'came in the little boat ... dragging the net with fishes.'
We must now consider a most important side of this 'sign' on the Lake of Tiberias.
The normal side for the casting of nets being the left side, why did Jesus command this significant change to be made? In the Bible, as we know, the right hand is the side of power and authority and the left the side of weakness. And in demonstration of this, for some three years after the Cross the Jewish apostles continued to 'preach the word to none, but unto the Jews only' (Acts 11:19) - that is, to fish on the left side of the ship. The idea of going to the people in power - the Romans - was not in their minds, until in Acts 10 we find God Himself taking a hand in directing Peter to go to the house of Cornelius.
And where did Peter get this instruction? We read in Acts 9: 36-43 that this 'son of Jonas' had experienced the power of God in resurrection at Joppa when Dorcas was raised up at his Word! Jonah and Joppa in conjunction are suggestive! (See Jonah 1: 3).
And to complete the 'Jonah' picture, there had also been a 'storm' for, after Stephen's death in October AD 33, a 'great persecution' had arisen against the Jewish church in Judaea (Acts 8:1) and Galilee which did not die down, as we learn from Acts 9: 31, until after the conversion of Saul of Tarsus. No 'fishes' (men and women out of the great 'sea' of the Gentiles) had been caught - they hadn't even been fished for - until the Gospel net was cast 'on the right side of the ship' in the house of the Roman, Cornelius, in AD 36.
So it was that our Gentile Dispensation commenced - a minute speck in the great Roman Empire - just a 'church' in the house of a converted Roman Centurion in Caesarea, but the power of the Holy Ghost was there. And from this small beginning, the size of a grain of mustard seed, the Gospel of the grace of God commenced to spread among the nations for the space of two thousand years, during which 'the net' would remain submerged in the great Gentile 'sea'. And why 2,000 years? Because for two full days the Body of Christ had lain motionless in the tomb, until that 'third day' came when He Who had been 'sown in weakness' was 'raised in power' (1 Corinthians 15: 43).
Before we proceed to reveal some of the multiplicity of ways in which the Most High God has chosen to portray these two 'days' of a thousand (lunar) years each in the calendars of time, we must boldly state, from our observations over fifty years, that God will do nothing in this world, except He does it for the glory of His only begotten Son. The Bible's time-patterning makes this manifest.
How has He measured time from Creation? We have seen it in these pages - He has reckoned it on the principle of forgiveness, and all other periods of time outside of the 'seventy-times-seven' - year cycles have been found to be eras of punishment or rejection by God. He forgives 'until seventy times seven' (Matthew 18: 21-22), or multiples of 70 times 7 years, and then He pronounces judgement.
Why is our civilisation rapidly plunging morally into the state of Sodom and Gomorrah? Why are 'violence and corruption' (see Genesis 6:11-13) on the rapid increase all over Christendom? Simply because God has actually fulfilled His warning that if the nations did not 'continue in His goodness', He would 'cut them off' (see Romans 11:22).
Did He take steps to warn the world that He would do so? Most certainly and the facts are found to be stated simply in our earlier chapters.
But God is a God of great mercy, and His principle is to begin and end His
'dispensations', not by a sudden termination, but over stages which would be
recognised by all who revere and understand His Word. There are many Christians
who have no use for the word 'dispensation' as applying to a limited period of
time. The Greek word oikonomia means 'the law or arrangement of a house.'
Has anyone ever seen a house devoid of 'arrangement' or measurement? And
when we read in 1 Kings 6: 17, for instance, that 'the house,
that is the temple before it, was forty cubits long', can we not perceive
the analogy to the forty Jubilees of the Church dispensation? Or the 'twenty cubits' of 'the oracle' or
'holy place' (1 Kings 6:16 & 20) - are not these
analogous to the twenty Jubilees, or thousand years of the coming Kingdom? We
have often asked the question: what is the significance of the Bible's
measurements of length and breadth if they have no relation to the duration of