In the 21st chapter of John’s Gospel we find the story of the 153 great fishes that Peter brought ashore after the resurrection. The number has caught the imagination of Bible students through the centuries. Dr. E.W.Bullinger, in his “Number in Scripture” tells us that Gregory of Nyasa commented on it, saying that it is found by multiplying 17 by 3 and then by 3 again. St.Augustine found that by adding 1 to 2, and then 3, and 4, etc up to 17, it totals 153, which shows that it belongs to the concept we have called “Triangle Numbers”, related to an ‘Arithmetical Progression’.
On the other hand Bishop Wordsworth employed a mixture of multiplication and addition, by saying that 153 = 12 squared plus 3 squared, in other words, (12 × 12) + (3 × 3). Each investigator then proceeds to find some spiritual significance in the breakdown of 153 into its parts. The method of Gematria was explained in PT 105, and the number 153 formed a significant port of the contents of that paper. In this present paper we shall repeat some of that information, and use it as a basis for further investigation. First of all, let’s have look at the selection of Gematria that have been found by Dr. Bullinger, Jerry Lucas and Del Washburn.
|Fishes||1224||153 × 8|
|The net||1224||153 × 8|
|Casting a net into the sea||3060||153 × 20|
|He called them, and they immediately left the boat, and their father, and followed Him.||9792||153 × 64|
|The door||918||153 × 6|
|The narrow gate||1989||153 × 13|
|Enter by the door into the sheepfold||6273||153 × 41|
|Joint-heirs||1071||153 × 7|
|Creation of God||1224||153 × 8|
|Job 2:1 “Sons of God with Satan among them”, in Hebrew||1989||153 × 13|
The Gematria begin with “fishes” and “the net“, and develop into something more serious, related to the words of our Lord to Peter in Luke 5:10 – “Be not afraid, from now on you will be fishers of MEN.” Hence we get Gematria on the theme of“the door” and “the narrow gate” and the “calling” of the disciples. Those who are “called” become “joint heirs” with Christ, and a new “creation of God”. But the first reference in the Old Testament (as far as we know) that deals with 153 is in Genesis 6, the reference to “sons of God”. The letters add up to exactly 153, and according to Bullinger, the equivalent expression in the N.T. is a multiple of 153. And in Paul’s epistles he greatly emphasises that all believers in the Lord Jesus Christ are “sons of God by faith.” This is the spectrum of teaching found in the 153 Gematria. It is a selective teaching. It has nothing to do with the rest of the world, but ONLY the remnant by faith, from Abel onwards. And the teaching of the story in John 21 is EMPHATIC, that of all whom the Lord calls, NOT ONE WILL BE LOST. The net never broke. It reminds us of Jesus’ words in John 17 – “All those whom You have given me have I guarded, and NOT ONE OF THEM IS LOST, save the son of perdition, that the Scripture might be fulfilled.” If the exception, in the person of Judas, be brought forward to contradict the assertion, let Peter’s words be remembered, that Judas “went to his own place”, in other words, the Lord knew who he was, and that he never was a true member of the disciple-group. He was a tare, sown amongst God’s wheat. What “his own place” is, we cannot tell, but we know for sure that his place was NOT amongst those of God’s elect.
There now follows the two passages in the Gospels which deal with the disciples and the nets.
LUKE 5 1-11.
While the crowd was pressing around him and listening to the message of God, he was standing beside Lake Gennesaret, and he saw two boats beached by the lake. The fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, and asked him to put out a little from the land. He sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. When he had finished speaking he said to Simon, ‘Put out into the deep, and let down your nets for a catch.’ Simon answered, ‘Master, we toiled throughout the night and took nothing, but if you say so I will let down the nets.’ When they had done this they netted a great quantity of fish, and their nets began to break. They signalled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. They came, and they filled both the boats, so that they began to sink. When Simon Peter saw it he fell at the feet of Jesus, saying, ‘Go away from me, Lord, because I am a sinful man.’ For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish which they had taken; So also were James and John, Zebedee’s sons, who were partners with Simon. Jesus said to Simon, ‘Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.’ “They brought the boats to land, left everything, and followed him.
JOHN 21: 1-17
After this Jesus showed himself again to the disciples at Lake Tiberias. He showed himself in this way. ‘Simon Peter, Thomas (which means ‘the Twin’), Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee and two others of his disciples were together. Simon Peter said to them, ‘I am going fishing.’ They said to him, ‘We will come with you.’ They went out and got into their boat, and that night they caught nothing. Just at daybreak there was Jesus on the shore, but the disciples did not know it was him. Jesus said to them, ‘Lads, you have no fish, have you?’ They answered him, ‘No.’ He said to them, ‘Castthe net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.’ So they cast, and now they were unable to draw it in because of the quantity of fish. The disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, ‘It is the Lord.’ When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he wrapped his outer garment round him, for he had taken it off, and plunged into the water; but the other disciples came in their boat, dragging the net full of fishes, for they were not far from the land, but about two hundred cubits off. When they came ashore they saw a charcoal fire there and fish laid upon it, and bread. Jesus said to them, ‘Bring some of the fish which you have just caught.’ Simon Peter went on the boat and dragged the net to the land full of big fish. There were a hundred and fifty-three; but though there were so many the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, ‘Come and have breakfast.’ None of the disciples dared to ask him, ‘Who are you?’ knowing it was the Lord. Jesus came, took the bread and gave it tothem, and the fish in the same way. This was the third time Jesus appeared to the disciples after he had risen from the dead.
Luke 5 is right at the start of Jesus’ ministry, and shows that the disciples are far from ready to be used in the capacity that Jesus spoke about – namely being “fishers of men.” Had they been employed in that capacity at that time, they would have met with serious difficulties. Their “catch” would have overwhelmed them, their “nets” would have broken, thus occasioning a serious LOSS, and furthermore, their “boat” would have been in danger of sinking. All these symbols are easy to unlock. The Lord showed them the size of the harvest (which Peter doubted, as he only reluctantly let down the nets), their inability to handle it without incurring loss, and the possibility that the whole enterprise would founder.
It was only after the resurrection that they were “made ready” for their great task, and that was because of the endowment of “power from on high”, the same gift that their Master had and used throughout His ministry. There is no magic in the number 153 when considered LITERALLY. Some have suggested that there are exactly 153 “great fishes” amongst God’s elect, men who will be the leaders in the coming day of resurrection ministry on earth. But we maintain that as the Gematria of “sons of God” is exactly 153, it indicates that ALL God’s elect are part of this company of great fishes.
In this present age the function of the elect is twofold, first that of being “fishers of men”, God’s evangelists to the nations, that the rest of the elect may be brought out of the “depths” of darkness, and be “translated into the kingdom of the Son of His love.” And in the second place, that God may so work upon their lives, through the engineering of their circumstances, that they may be brought to a state of spiritual maturity in readiness for the coming age of the Millennial Kingdom, God’s great Sabbath Rest, when all His elect will be in resurrection, and their work will be towards the nations, whereby during the time of God’s judgments “the inhabitants of the world will learn righteousness.” This type of activity is rightly the subject of the next Telegraph.
Going back to Bullinger’s reference to Job 2:1, we find it most instructive. “Sons of God with Satan among them” exactly depicts the situation in the world just now. The factors of 13 and 153 seem to declare that REBELLION (13) is mixed up with GOD’S ELECT (153), just as the TARES are mixed up with God’s WHEAT. The Gematria of this clause in Job 2:1 is 1989, and it makes us wonder whether there is some hidden meaning as to the date, the year 1989. This will probably create a few laughs, but in part 4 of this series, we shall have occasion to meet with 1998, and so the final word on that must be left until then!