“Let Down Your Nets for a Catch”
“He said to Simon: ‘Pull out to where it is deep, and you men let down your nets for a catch.’”—Luke 5:4.
1. How are men likened to fish by Solomon and Amos?
THE common expression “You poor fish!” is not found in the Sacred Writings. However, the Holy Bible does use real fish to picture men. The famously wise King Solomon of Jerusalem, who in his three thousand proverbs spoke about cedar trees and hyssop, beasts and flying creatures, and other moving things and fishes, said: “Man also does not know his time. Just like fishes that are being taken in an evil net, and like birds that are being taken in a trap, so the sons of men themselves are being ensnared at a calamitous time, when it falls upon them suddenly.” (Eccl. 9:12; 1 Ki. 4:32, 33) To the oppressors of his people in the ninth century B.C.E., the prophet Amos said: “The Lord Jehovah has sworn by his holiness, ‘Look! There are days coming upon you, and he will certainly lift you up with butcher hooks and the last part of you with fishhooks.”’ (Amos 4:1, 2) Without fail the enemies of Jehovah God will be caught like unfortunate fish suddenly at a time on which they did not reckon.
2, 3. (a) Where and why did Jesus use a boat as a speaker’s platform? (b) What did he say in his parable of the dragnet?
2 Sometime after the passover celebration of the year 31 of our Common Era a fishing boat that lay not far from the shore of the Sea of Galilee in the Middle East was used for another purpose than for catching fish. Jesus Christ used it as a speaker’s platform from which to give a series of prophetic parables to a great crowd that had practically forced him offshore. On finishing his wonderful speech, he dismissed the crowds, came ashore and went into a house. There his disciples asked him to explain the parable that he had given about the weeds that had been oversown by an enemy in the wheatfield. Jesus not only gave the desired explanation but also added a number of new illustrations, including the following one about the dragnet:
3 “Again the kingdom of the heavens is like a dragnet let down into the sea and gathering up fish of every kind. When it got full they hauled it up onto the beach and, sitting down, they collected the fine ones into vessels, but the unsuitable they threw away. That is how it will be in the conclusion of the system of things: the angels will go out and separate the wicked from among the righteous and will cast them into the fiery furnace. There is where their weeping and the gnashing of their teeth will be.”—Matt. 13:47-50.
4. (a) Who are pictured by the “fine” fish that are put into vessels? (b) Who are pictured by the “unsuitable” ones that are thrown away?
4 Jesus’ illustrations of the kingdom of the heavens all have to do with persons who will be heirs with him in the heavenly kingdom. Accordingly, the “fine” fish that are collected into vessels for profitable use picture those from among mankind who prove themselves suitable for reigning with Jesus Christ in the kingdom of the heavens. (Rev. 7:1-8; 14:1-5) God’s kingdom of the heavens was established at the end of the Gentile Times in 1914. The faithful apostles and many others of the faithful disciples of Jesus Christ had died before then. Who, then, are those symbolic fish who are caught and then sorted out and put, as it were, into vessels in the conclusion of the system of things, in which we now find ourselves? They are merely the remnant of Kingdom heirs, who today make up the “faithful and discreet slave” class on earth. (Matt 24:45-47) The “unsuitable” symbolic fish that are cast into the symbolic fiery furnace to be destroyed are those Christians who prove unfaithful to the heavenly calling, thus becoming “wicked,” and who deserve to be destroyed.
5. Who are pictured by the ones fishing with the dragnet, and why?
5 In the fulfillment of the parable of the dragnet, who are the ones that do the fishing and the hauling of the dragnet up onto the beach and then sort out the fish? They are the angels. Certainly the Christians on earth are not the ones that separate the fine symbolic fish from the unsuitable, and cast these latter ones into the symbolic fiery furnace. The anointed Christians are not the ones authorized to determine who is suitable for God’s heavenly kingdom and who, on the other hand, should be everlastingly destroyed. They are not the judges of those who have become God’s anointed servants. (Rom. 14:4) The angels who accompany the glorified Jesus Christ when he comes into his heavenly kingdom at the close of the Gentile Times are the ones that do this separating work under the direction of Christ. (Matt. 13:40, 41; 24:30, 31; 25:31, 32) What, then, is the dragnet?
6. What, then, does the dragnet picture?
6 As Jesus’ parable depicts it, a dragnet gathers in fish and sea creatures indiscriminately. The Jews who were in a national covenant with Jehovah God were forbidden to eat certain fish and sea creatures. (Lev. 11:9-12) So Jewish fishermen had to sort out what a dragnet brought up. What was forbidden by God’s law they would throw away. In view of all this, the dragnet would symbolize an instrument in the hands of the holy angels under the direction of Jesus Christ. The dragnet symbolizes the earthly organization that professes to be God’s congregation that is in the new covenant with God through the Mediator Jesus Christ. So it claims to be the spiritual Israel, the holy nation that is anointed with God’s spirit to reign with Jesus Christ in the heavenly kingdom. It includes the true professors and the false or unfaithful professors. Logically it includes Christendom, with its hundreds of thousands of professed Christians, belonging to hundreds of sects called Christian.
7. For the symbolic dragnet to gather in all sorts of fish, who must be employed under the angels, and how have “fine” fish been collected?
7 It is true that the symbolic dragnet is in the hands of the angels as a team of workers. But for the “dragnet” to gather in symbolic fish of all kinds, persons who belong to the “dragnet” organization have to work. They have to do a gathering work on earth in the name of Christianity. The heavenly angels do only an invisible work, but the organized members of the “dragnet” do the direct visible work. Only the smaller number of this “dragnet” organization really fish according to God’s instructions through Christ and according to Bible principles. As a result, only those workers would gather in true Christian “fish,” suitable for the heavenly kingdom. This fact the heavenly angels under Christ make manifest in the “conclusion of the system of things,” in which we find ourselves since the close of the Gentile Times in 1914. They have gathered the fine “fish” into symbolic vessels.
8. How did “fine” fish go into captivity to Babylon the Great during 1914-1918?
8 Years before the “conclusion of the system of things” began in 1914 the “fish” of the true Christian quality began gathering away from Christendom. Here and there around the globe they formed congregations separate from Christendom. But along came World War I, which was fought during 1914-1918 mostly by the nations of Christendom. During this war these separated congregations of truly dedicated, baptized Christians came into bondage to Christendom. Thus, since Christendom is the most powerful part of religious Babylon the Great, they went into a captivity like that of the Jews who went into exile in ancient Babylon after Jerusalem was destroyed in the year 607 B.C.E. But would they stay there?
9. Why was the “conclusion of the system of things” not the time for the “fine” fish to stay in captivity to Babylon the Great?
9 No! The Gentile Times had ended in 1914, the year in which World War I broke out, and as a consequence the “conclusion of the system of things” had set in. Jesus’ illustration of the dragnet marked this period the time for the separation of those who professed to be anointed heirs of the “kingdom of the heavens.” It was the due time for the heavenly angels under Christ to get busy and haul that symbolic dragnet up onto the beach and throw away the “unsuitable” ones and put the “fine” ones approved by God’s law into congregational “vessels.” This is what they did.
10. (a) When did the “fine” fish start coming out of such Babylonish exile, and how? (b) What experience are the “unsuitable” fish already having, and why?
10 From the spring of the year 1919 onward there was a coming out of the true Christians exiled in Babylon the Great. The call from heaven went forth: “Get out of her, my people, if you do not want to share with her in her sins, and if you do not want to receive part of her plagues.” (Rev. 18:4) Religious Babylon the Great is the world empire of false Babylonish religion, and it includes Christendom, which has tried to mix Christianity with Babylonish religion. So the call from heaven had to include their getting out of Christendom. The hundreds of millions of “unsuitable” symbolic fish that stay in Christendom are shortly to be cast into the symbolic “fiery furnace” and completely destroyed. Already, they are headed in that direction, since the hypocritical Christians are giving way to “their weeping and the gnashing of their teeth.” (Matt. 13:50) Why? Because they have not got out of Great Babylon as God’s true people should do; and so they are sharing in her sins and are already feeling the forerunners of her destructive plagues. Shortly they will perish with Babylon the Great and her political paramours at God’s due time.
11. What proportion of professed Christians came out of Babylon the Great, and how were they collected “into vessels”?
11 Back there, in noteworthy contrast to those lovers of Babylon the Great, the anointed Christian witnesses of Jehovah responded to the heavenly call, in 1919. They were but a minority of professed Christians, a mere remnant of the true Christian congregation that Jesus Christ has been building during these past nineteen centuries. (Matt. 16:18; Acts 2:1-42) Under angelic direction they were collected “into vessels,” as it were, that is, into congregations of liberated Christians, to be reserved for the service of Jehovah, the God and Father of Jesus Christ.
12. Why was this remnant of “fine” symbolic fish not taken at once to heaven?
12 Though this remnant of the “fine” symbolic fish have hope of a share in the “kingdom of the heavens,” they were not taken at once to heaven, a thing that they had been expecting. In this “conclusion of the system of things” they had a work to do on earth before the end comes upon Babylon the Great and her political paramours and the armies of these.
13. (a) What besides giving a witness is accomplished by the Kingdom preaching? (b) From 1919 forward, why did the work of apostolic days need to go on?
13 Every quarter of the earth now knows what the true Christian work of the remnant is, for they have carried forward their work to the ends of the earth, in fulfillment of Jesus’ words: “This good news of the kingdom will be preached in all the inhabited earth for a witness to all the nations.” (Matt. 24:14) The giving witness to all the nations is not the only thing that is accomplished by the Kingdom preachers. There is also a separation work that results from such Kingdom preaching, and this under angelic direction. (Matt. 24:30, 31, 40-42) The separation work was not all accomplished in the liberation year of 1919. No, but in order for the foreordained number of 144,000 Kingdom heirs to be redeemed from the earth, more of the “fine” symbolic fish needed to be caught and put into the congregational “vessels.” The work that Jesus Christ began in the days of his twelve apostles needed to be continued on into this “conclusion of the system of things,” namely, fishing work. A grand catch was guaranteed!
A MIRACULOUS CATCH!
14. (a) What were some of John the Baptist’s disciples professionally, and how did Jesus meet four of them at the Sea of Galilee? (b) What was the best time for their occupation?
14 Nineteen hundred years ago a number of Jesus’ apostles were professional fishers at the Sea of Galilee. They were disciples of John the Baptist, and some days after his own baptism in water Jesus Christ became acquainted with them in the upper Jordan River valley, late in the year 29 C.E. (John 1:35-44) Some months later, in the following year, Jesus came in contact with these professional fishers right there at the Sea of Galilee. By then John the Baptist had been imprisoned by King Herod and Jesus had begun taking up the message of John the Baptist and proclaiming: “Repent, for the kingdom of the heavens has drawn near.” (Matt. 4:12-17) One day Jesus was preaching God’s kingdom to crowds of people on the shore of the Sea of Galilee near where four professional fishers had been toiling with nets. Back there the most popular way for the Jews to fish was by means of nets of various sorts, four sorts of which are mentioned in the Holy Bible. (Hab. 1:15, 16; Eccl. 9:12; Ps. 33:7, 8) Nighttime was considered the best time for fishing, after sunset and before sunrise.
15, 16. (a) What was the occasion when Jesus told Simon and those in the boat with him to let down their nets for a catch? (b) What was the immediate effect of what then happened?
15 “On one occasion,” as Luke 5:1-10 narrates to us, “when the crowd was pressing close upon him and listening to the word of God, he was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret [Galilee]. And he saw two boats docked at the lakeside, but the fishermen had got out of them and were washing off their nets. Going aboard one of the boats, which was Simon’s, he asked him to pull away a bit from land. Then he sat down, and from the boat he began teaching the crowds. When he ceased speaking, he said to Simon: ‘Pull out to where it is deep, and you men let down your nets for a catch.’ But Simon in reply said: ‘Instructor, for a whole night we toiled and took nothing, but at your bidding I will lower the nets.’ Well, when they did this, they enclosed a great multitude of fish. In fact, their nets began ripping apart.
16 “So they motioned to their partners in the other boat to come and assist them; and they did come, and they filled both boats, so that these began to sink. Seeing this, Simon Peter fell down at the knees of Jesus, saying: ‘Depart from me, because I am a sinful man, Lord.’ For at the catch of fish which they took up astonishment overwhelmed him and all those with him, and likewise both James and John, Zebedee’s sons, who were sharers with Simon.”
17, 18. (a) What did the four fishing partners realize had happened? (b) Why did Jesus not do as Simon asked him to do, but what did he do?
17 There were others with Simon Peter in his boat, particularly his brother Andrew, and possibly their father John. James and John were with their father Zebedee and hired men in the assisting boat. Peter, Andrew, James and John realized that Jesus had performed a miracle, suddenly causing a huge catch of fish from an area of waters where there had been none all night.
18 This increased their appreciation of Jesus Christ, whom they already knew personally. Peter, feeling now more than ever his sinfulness because of having such a holy man of God aboard his boat, asked the Lord Jesus to depart from him. But Jesus was not disposed to be alone in abandoning the boat. The time had come for him to have steady, regular followers in a literal sense. So Jesus calmed Peter’s fright due to his sinfulness, as the account tells us: “But Jesus said to Simon: ‘Stop being afraid. From now on you will be catching men alive.’” By this statement Jesus was comparing men with fish. But with whom was Peter to be catching men alive like fish? Why, with Jesus Christ himself, for then Jesus asked Peter to follow him in fishing for bigger game, namely, “men alive.” Jesus also invited Peter’s brother Andrew to follow him on this new enterprise. They both did so.
19. Meanwhile, what did James and John begin doing, and how long did they continue in this?
19 Meantime, as their nets had ripped apart at the miraculous catch of fish, almost overloading their boats, Peter’s sharers in the fishing business at Galilee, namely, James and John, along with their father Zebedee in the boat, began mending their nets. Then Jesus, followed by Peter and Andrew, came down the lakeshore and called out to James and John in their boat and invited them also to follow him in a larger fishing business. They did do that, for the account informs us: “So they brought the boats back to land, and abandoned everything and followed him.”—Luke 5:10, 11.
20. How do Matthew and Mark describe the calling of the four fishermen?
20 The apostle Matthew and the disciple Mark describe this calling of the four fishermen in a more condensed form, but Matthew and Mark show that Jesus issued a direct invitation to all four to become fishers of men. Mark 1:16-20 says: “While walking alongside the sea of Galilee he saw Simon and Andrew the brother of Simon casting their nets about in the sea, for they were fishers. So Jesus said to them: ‘Come after me, and I shall cause you to become fishers of men.’ And at once they abandoned their nets and followed him. And after going a little farther he saw James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, in fact, while they were in their boat mending their nets; and without delay he called them. In turn they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and went off after him.”—Matt. 4:18-20.
21. (a) How was Jesus, a professional carpenter, qualified to teach those four to fish for men? (b) What example assured them not to worry about making a livelihood as fishers of men?
21 Jesus himself there caught four human fish. Although he had been a professional carpenter in inland Nazareth, not a professional fisher, he knew how to catch symbolic fish of a human kind. Here he began doing so, more than six months after he was baptized in the Jordan River and anointed with God’s holy spirit. As an experienced man he knew also how to teach others to fish for men and catch them alive. With this end in view he called the four professional fishers to follow him personally and receive training. For this reason they had to abandon their fishing business at the Sea of Galilee. An ordinary fisherman can sell the fish he catches and thus make an earthly living. However, a fisher for men cannot sell men and thus make a livelihood off them. So how were Peter, Andrew, James and John to make their living as fishers of men, continually following the Lord Jesus Christ, the greatest Fisher of them all? Well, Jesus himself had abandoned everything at the time that he went to John the Baptist to be baptized and he never resumed his carpenter work, and yet Jehovah God took care of him as a Fisher of men.
NO NEED TO WORRY ABOUT LIVELIHOOD
22. (a) Why was there no reason to doubt making a success in fishing for men? (b) Why was this fishing for men not wrecked because of Jesus’ death?
22 There was no reason for these exfishermen to doubt that they would be successful in catching men as long as they acted under the direction of the Chief Fisherman, Jesus Christ. At his bidding Peter and Andrew had in faith let down their nets into the Sea of Galilee for a catch, in what were apparently barren waters, and yet they came up with such a catch that they had to call for the assistance of their partners James and John. Then their nets began ripping apart and the quantity of fish hauled aboard threatened to sink two boats. Now since Jesus could produce such successful fishing in the case of the scaly, finned creatures of the waters, he could likewise make successful catches in the case of human symbolic fish. Jesus’ death on the torture stake about three years later did not damage or put an end to this more important work of fishing for men. On the third day he was raised from the dead and was then in a position to revive the fishing operations of his faithful followers.
23. (a) Because of Jesus’ resurrection to the spirit realm, were the apostles in a worse position to fish for men? (b) How did seven disciples come to find themselves at the Sea of Galilee after Jesus’ resurrection?
23 True, Jesus was absent from them in the flesh, inasmuch as he had been raised from the dead as an immortal spirit Son of God and thenceforth confined himself to the invisible spirit realm. But he was now in a better position to make this work of fishing for men a complete success on a worldwide scale. He gave an encouraging assurance of this on one occasion more than a week after he was raised from the dead on the sixteenth day of the lunar month Nisan of the year 33 C.E. Through angels who appeared to certain disciples on his resurrection morning he told his faithful apostles to leave Jerusalem and the province of Judea and go north into the province of Galilee. There he would appear visibly and give them further instructions. (Matt. 26:32; 28:7-10, 16; Mark 16:6, 7) So it came about that on one occasion seven of Jesus’ disciples found themselves together near the Sea of Galilee, which was also called the Sea of Tiberias.
24, 25. After a period of fishing, what were the seven obliged to answer a questioner on the shore? (b) What did he tell them to do, and how did they afterward get to shore?
24 When Peter said that he was going fishing, the six others said they would join with him. All night long they tried to net some fish but caught absolutely nothing. Then, at dawn, a figure stood on the shore. His voice carried to them across the waters to their little boat: “Young children, you do not have anything to eat, do you?” They called back No! Well, then, did he say to quit?
25 Here is what we read: “He said to them: ‘Cast the net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.’ Then they cast it, but they were no longer able to draw it in because of the multitude of the fishes. Therefore that disciple whom Jesus used to love said to Peter: ‘It is the Lord!’ Hence Simon Peter, upon hearing that it was the Lord, girded about himself his top garment, for he was naked, and plunged into the sea. But the other disciples came in the little boat, for they were not a long way from land, only about three hundred feet away, dragging the net of fishes. However, when they disembarked onto land they beheld lying there a charcoal fire and fish lying upon it and bread. Jesus said to them: ‘Bring some of the fish you just now caught.’ Simon Peter, therefore, went on board and drew the net to land full of big fishes, one hundred and fifty-three of them. But although there were so many the net did not burst.”
26. (a) Why might a question have been raised then as to who he was? (b) How was this the third time that he appeared to his disciples after his resurrection?
26 At the time of this manifestation of Jesus he was not in the same materialized body as previously. This is why we read: “Jesus said to them: ‘Come, take your breakfast.’ Not one of the disciples had the courage to inquire of him: ‘Who are you?’ because they knew it was the Lord. Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and the fish likewise. This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after his being raised up from the dead.” (John 21:1-14) That is, this was the third time that Jesus had appeared to his apostles when all of them or more than half of them were together. On the first such occasion, on the evening of the Sunday of his resurrection, Jesus materialized and ate some broiled fish to prove to his apostles that it was not a spirit that they were seeing.—Luke 24:22-43; John 20:19-25.
27. Why was it appropriate for Jesus to demonstrate his power by twice causing miraculous catches of fish?
27 It was very fitting that twice Jesus Christ should demonstrate his power by filling the nets of his apostles with miraculous catches of fish. He is “the last Adam,” and the first Adam in the garden of Eden was one who in certain respects bore “a resemblance to him that was to come.” (1 Cor. 15:45; Rom. 5:14) To the first Adam and his wife the command was given by God the Creator to “have in subjection the fish of the sea” and all the other lower animals of the earth. (Gen. 1:26-28) It was foretold in Psalm 8:4-8 that the “last Adam,” Jesus Christ, was likewise to have even the fish in subjection to him, and we do have recorded evidences that he did exercise such power, to further the interests of God’s kingdom. (Heb. 2:5-9) One such instance was when Jesus, faced with the paying of the temple tax, said to Simon Peter: “Go to the sea, cast a fishhook, and take the first fish coming up and, when you open its mouth, you will find a stater coin. Take that and give it to them for me and you.”—Matt. 17:24-27.
28. (a) In view of such miraculous catches of fish, what was it logical for them to reason as to fishing for men? (b) Why after that second catch did Jesus not need to invite them to become fishers of men?
28 Remembering that Jesus had called them to become fishers of men, the apostles must have had their faith strengthened for such a work by the two miraculous catches of fish. Under the command of the Chief Fisher, Jesus Christ, they had not in vain let down their nets for a catch. It was logical for them to reason that when, in fishing for men, they let down their nets at his command, they would not bring up their nets empty; there would be those who would be gathered in for the kingdom of the heavens. However, after the second miraculous catch of fish at the Sea of Galilee Jesus did not need to repeat his invitation to them to follow him and become transformed from catchers of fish into fishers of men. For this reason, the resurrected Jesus now turned to another figure of speech, because the quality of love was now to be taken into consideration. Thus John 21:15-17 tells us:
29. What questions and answers did Jesus and Peter then engage in?
29 “When, now, they had breakfasted, Jesus said to Simon Peter: ‘Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?’ He said to him: ‘Yes, Lord, you know I have affection for you.’ He said to him: ‘Feed my lambs.’ Again he said to him, a second time: ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ He said to him: ‘Yes, Lord, you know I have affection for you.’ He said to him: ‘Shepherd my little sheep.’ He said to him the third time: ‘Simon son of John, do you have affection for me?’ Peter became grieved that he said to him the third time: ‘Do you have affection for me?’ So he said to him: ‘Lord, you know all things; you are aware that I have affection for you.’ Jesus said to him: ‘Feed my little sheep.’”
30, 31. (a) Why is it difficult to know what Jesus meant by the pronoun “these” in his first question to Peter? (b) Hence, how do some modern translators render the question?
30 Fishers do not love fish, but shepherds do love sheep, in the land of Jesus’ earthly sojourn in particular. Also, a shepherd held himself responsible for sheep in his care. But just what Jesus had in mind when he asked Peter: “Do you love me more than these?” is not certain. In the Greek Bible text the demonstrative pronoun “these” is in the genitive case, plural number, and in the Greek language this case of the pronoun has the same form for all three genders, masculine, feminine and neuter. For instance, the New Testament translation by K. S. Wuest (1961) reads: “Do you have love for me . . . more than these (fish)?” Thus Jesus would be asking whether Peter loved him more than this professional fishing business in the Sea of Galilee. The same thought is suggested by the Bible translation by G. M. Lamsa (1957), which reads: “Do you love me more than these things?”
31 The Bible translation by James Moffatt (1922) provokes a different thought, reading: “Do you love me more than the others do?” (Also, An American Translation; James Murdock’s) On the night of Jesus’ betrayal to his enemies Simon Peter had boasted that he loved Jesus more than the other apostles did, but shortly afterward he failed to show this superior love. (Matt. 26:31-35, 55, 56, 69-75) But at the Sea of Galilee Peter did not boast about the superiority of his love for Jesus. But The New English Bible (New Testament, 1961) reads: “Do you love me more than all else?”
32. For gaining people, whose qualities should Peter show, and for keeping those gained, what quality must Peter show?
32 Whatever the pronoun “these” here means, Jesus proceeded to indicate to Peter how he could show his love on earth for his invisible resurrected Lord and Master, namely, by taking loving care of the Master’s “sheep” on earth. Toward gaining people for God, Peter must display the qualities of a fisher; but toward keeping within the organization those brought inside, Peter must show the tender love of an undershepherd for his Master’s sheep.