Serving as Fishers of Men
“Jesus said to Simon: ‘Stop being afraid. From now on you will be catching men alive.’”—LUKE 5:10.
1, 2. (a) What part has fishing played in mankind’s history? (b) What new kind of fishing was introduced almost 2,000 years ago?
FOR thousands of years, mankind has fished for food in earth’s seas, lakes, and rivers. Fish from the Nile were an important part of the diet in ancient Egypt. When the Nile waters were turned into blood in Moses’ day, Egyptians suffered not only because a water shortage resulted but also because the fish died, affecting their food supply. Later, at Sinai, when Jehovah gave Israel the Law, he told them that certain fish could be eaten but that others were unclean, not to be eaten. This indicated that the Israelites would eat fish when they came to the Promised Land, so some of them would be fishermen.—Exodus 7:20, 21; Leviticus 11:9-12.
2 However, almost 2,000 years ago, another kind of fishing was introduced to mankind. This was a spiritual kind of fishing that would benefit not only the fishermen but also the fish! This kind of fishing is still being practiced today, with immense benefits to millions worldwide.
“Catching Men Alive”
3, 4. Which two fishermen showed great interest in Jesus Christ?
3 In the year 29 C.E., Jesus, the One who would introduce this new form of fishing, was baptized in the river Jordan by John the Baptizer. A few weeks later, John pointed Jesus out to two of his disciples and said: “See, the Lamb of God!” One of these disciples, whose name was Andrew, quickly told his brother Simon Peter: “We have found the Messiah”! Interestingly, both Andrew and Simon were fishermen by trade.—John 1:35, 36, 40, 41; Matthew 4:18.
4 Quite some time later, Jesus was preaching to the crowds beside the Sea of Galilee, not far from where Peter and Andrew lived. He was telling the people: “Repent, you people, for the kingdom of the heavens has drawn near.” (Matthew 4:13, 17) We can imagine that Peter and Andrew were eager to hear his message. Likely, though, they did not realize that Jesus was about to say something to them that would change their lives forever. Moreover, what Jesus was to say and do in their presence has an important meaning for all of us today.
5. How was the fisherman Peter able to be of service to Jesus?
5 We read: “On an occasion when the crowd was pressing close upon him and listening to the word of God, he was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret. And he saw two boats docked at the lakeside, but the fishermen had got out of them and were washing off their nets.” (Luke 5:1, 2) Back then, professional fishermen often worked at night, and these men were cleaning their nets after a night of fishing. Jesus decided to use one of their boats in order to preach more effectively to the crowd. “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.”—Luke 5:3.
6, 7. What miracle involving fishing did Jesus perform, leading up to what statement about fishing?
6 Notice that Jesus had something more in mind than 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.’” Remember, these fishermen had already been working all night. Not surprisingly, Peter replies: “Instructor, for a whole night we toiled and took nothing, but at your bidding I will lower the nets.” What happened when they did this? “They enclosed a great multitude of fish. In fact, their nets began ripping apart. 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.”—Luke 5:4-7.
7 Jesus had performed a miracle. That stretch of sea had been barren all night; now it was teeming with fish. This miracle had a strong effect on Peter. “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.” Jesus calmed Peter and then said the words that were to change Peter’s life. “Stop being afraid. From now on you will be catching men alive.”—Luke 5:8-10.
Fishers of Men
8. How did four professional fishermen respond to the invitation to ‘catch men alive’?
8 Jesus thus compared men to fish, and he invited this humble fisherman to give up his secular trade for a far grander form of fishing—catching men alive. Peter, and his brother Andrew, accepted the invitation. “At once abandoning the nets, they followed him.” (Matthew 4:18-20) Jesus next called out to James and John, who were in their boat mending their nets. He invited these also to become fishers of men. How did they respond? “At once leaving the boat and their father, they followed him.” (Matthew 4:21, 22) Jesus showed skill as a fisher of souls. On this occasion he caught four men alive.
9, 10. What faith did Peter and his companions show, and how were they trained in spiritual fishing?
9 A professional fisherman makes a living by selling his catch, but a spiritual fisherman cannot do that. Hence, these disciples showed great faith when they abandoned all to follow Jesus. They had no doubt, however, that their spiritual fishing would be successful. Jesus had been able to make unproductive waters teem with literal fish. Similarly, when they let their nets down into the waters of the Israelite nation, the disciples could be sure that, with God’s help, they would catch men alive. The work of spiritual fishing that began back then continues, and Jehovah is still giving a rich harvest.
10 For more than two years, those disciples were trained by Jesus in fishing for men. On occasion he gave them careful instructions and sent them ahead of him to preach. (Matthew 10:1-7; Luke 10:1-11) When Jesus was betrayed and killed, the disciples were stunned. But did Jesus’ death mean no more fishing for men? Events soon gave the answer.
Fishing in the Sea of Mankind
11, 12. After his resurrection, what miracle did Jesus perform that had to do with fishing?
11 Shortly after Jesus’ death outside Jerusalem and his resurrection, the disciples went back to Galilee. On one occasion seven of them were together near the Sea of Galilee. Peter said he was going fishing, and the others joined him. As usual, they fished at night. In fact, they again cast their net into the sea all night without catching anything. Then at dawn, a figure seen standing on the shore called to them across the water: “Young children, you do not have anything to eat, do you?” The disciples called back: “No!” So the one standing on the shore told 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.”—John 21:5, 6.
12 What an astounding experience! Likely the disciples remembered the earlier miracle involving fishing, and at least one of them realized who the figure on the shore was. “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.”—John 21:7, 8.
13. After Jesus’ ascension to heaven, what international fishing program was begun?
13 What did this miracle indicate? That the work of fishing for men was not finished. This fact was emphasized when Jesus three times went on to tell Peter—and through him all the disciples—to feed Jesus’ sheep. (John 21:15-17) Yes, a spiritual feeding program lay ahead. Before his death, he had prophesied: “This good news of the kingdom will be preached in all the inhabited earth for a witness to all the nations.” (Matthew 24:14) Now it was time for the first-century fulfillment of that prophecy to begin. His disciples were about to lower their nets into the sea of mankind, and the nets would not come up empty.—Matthew 28:19, 20.
14. In what way was the fishing of Jesus’ followers blessed in the years before the destruction of Jerusalem?
14 Before he ascended to his Father’s throne in heaven, Jesus said to his followers: “You will receive power when the holy spirit arrives upon you, and you will be witnesses of me both in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the most distant part of the earth.” (Acts 1:8) When holy spirit was poured out on the disciples at Pentecost 33 C.E., the great work of spiritual fishing commenced internationally. On the day of Pentecost alone, three thousand souls were caught alive, and soon thereafter “the number of the men became about five thousand.” (Acts 2:41; 4:4) The increase continued. The record tells us: “Believers in the Lord kept on being added, multitudes both of men and of women.” (Acts 5:14) Soon, Samaritans responded to the good news, and shortly thereafter so did uncircumcised Gentiles. (Acts 8:4-8; 10:24, 44-48) Some 27 years after Pentecost, the apostle Paul wrote to the Colossian Christians that the good news had been “preached in all creation that is under heaven.” (Colossians 1:23) Clearly, the disciples of Jesus had fished far from the waters of Galilee. They had let their nets down among the Jews dispersed around the Roman Empire, as well as in the apparently unpromising seas of the non-Jewish peoples. And their nets came up full. For the needs of the first-century Christians, Jesus’ prophecy at Matthew 24:14 was fulfilled before Jerusalem was destroyed in 70 C.E.
Fishing for Men in “the Lord’s Day”
15. In the book of Revelation, what further fishing work was prophesied, and when was it to be carried out?
15 However, more lay ahead. Near the end of the first century, Jehovah granted the last surviving apostle, John, a revelation of things that were to happen during “the Lord’s day.” (Revelation 1:1, 10) One outstanding feature was to be the telling of the good news worldwide. We read: “I saw another angel flying in midheaven, and he had everlasting good news to declare as glad tidings to those who dwell on the earth, and to every nation and tribe and tongue and people.” (Revelation 14:6) Under angelic direction God’s servants would preach the good news literally in all the inhabited earth, not just throughout the Roman Empire. A global work of fishing for souls was to be undertaken, and our day has seen a fulfillment of that vision.
16, 17. When did the latter-day spiritual fishing work begin, and how has Jehovah blessed it?
16 How has the fishing been during this 20th century? Early on, the fishermen were comparatively few. After World War I ended, there were only about four thousand active preachers of the good news, zealous men and women who were mostly of the anointed. They cast their nets wherever Jehovah opened the way, and many souls were caught alive. Following the second world war, Jehovah opened up new waters for fishing. Missionaries who had attended the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead spearheaded the work in many lands. Countries such as Japan, Italy, and Spain, which may initially have seemed quite barren, eventually yielded rich harvests of souls. We have also recently learned how successful the fishing has been in Eastern Europe.
17 Today, in many countries the nets are almost breaking. The great harvest of souls has necessitated the organizing of new congregations and circuits. To accommodate these, new Kingdom Halls and Assembly Halls are being built all the time. More elders and ministerial servants are needed to care for the increase. A mighty work was begun by those faithful ones back in 1919. In a literal way, Isaiah 60:22 has been fulfilled. ‘The little one has become a thousand,’ as those four thousand fishers have become more than four million today. And the end is not yet.
18. How can we imitate the fine example of first-century spiritual fishers of men?
18 What does all of this mean for us as individuals? The scripture says that when Peter, Andrew, James, and John were invited to become fishers of men, “they . . . abandoned everything and followed [Jesus].” (Luke 5:11) What a fine example of faith and dedication! Can we cultivate the same spirit of self-sacrifice, the same readiness to serve Jehovah no matter what the cost? Millions have answered that they can. In the first century, the disciples fished for men wherever Jehovah permitted. Whether it was among Jews or Gentiles, they fished without reservation. Let us also preach to everyone without any restraint or prejudice.
19. What should we do if the waters where we are fishing do not seem productive?
19 What, though, if your territory at present seems unproductive? Do not be discouraged. Remember, Jesus filled the nets of the disciples after they had fished all night without result. The same can happen in a spiritual way. In Ireland, for example, faithful Witnesses labored for years with rather limited results. Yet, recently that has changed. The 1991 Yearbook of Jehovah’s Witnesses reports that by the end of the 1990 service year, Ireland had enjoyed 29 peaks in a row! Perhaps your territory will some day produce similarly. As long as Jehovah permits, keep on fishing!
20. When should we engage in fishing for men?
20 In Israel, fishermen went fishing at night, when everyone else was warm and comfortable in bed. They went out, not when it was convenient for them, but when they could catch the most fish. We too should study our territory so that we go fishing, as it were, when the majority of people are at home and receptive. This may be during the evenings, on weekends, or at some other time. Whenever it is, let us do everything we can to locate righthearted people.
21. What should we remember if our territory is frequently worked?
21 What if our territory is frequently covered? Professional fishermen in the world often complain that their fishing grounds are overfished. But can our spiritual fishing grounds be overfished? Not really! Many territories yield increase even when frequently covered. Some produce better because of being well worked. Nevertheless, when homes are visited often, be extra sure that all not-at-homes are noted and later contacted. Learn a variety of subjects for conversation. Keep in mind that someone will visit again soon, so do not overstay your welcome or unwittingly antagonize the household. And develop your skills in street work as well as informal witnessing. Let down your spiritual nets on every occasion and in every possible way.
22. What grand privilege do we enjoy at this time?
22 Remember, in this fishing both the fishers and the fish benefit. If those we catch persevere, they can live forever. Paul encouraged Timothy: “Stay by these things, for by doing this you will save both yourself and those who listen to you.” (1 Timothy 4:16) It was Jesus who first trained his disciples in spiritual fishing, and this work is still being done under his direction. (Compare Revelation 14:14-16.) What a grand privilege we have to work under him in getting it done! Let us keep letting down our nets as long as Jehovah allows. What greater work could there possibly be than that of catching souls alive?
Can You Recall?
◻ What work did Jesus train his followers to do?
◻ How did Jesus show that the spiritual fishing work was not ended by his death?
◻ In what way did Jehovah bless the spiritual fishing work in the first century?
◻ What rich harvest of fish has been netted during “the Lord’s day”?
◻ How can we as individuals be even more successful fishers of men?
[Picture on page 15]
After Jesus’ resurrection, his apostles extended the divine work of fishing for men