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  • Writer's pictureSteve McAtee

Israel Unveiled Volume 1: Peter’s Primacy

Updated: Jul 30, 2020

By Amir Tsarfati

The Sea of Galilee was much bigger and cleaner at the time of Jesus. Obviously, 2000 years ago there were not any motorboats here to pollute the lake nor any recreational activity here that caused the lake to be polluted. Also, the northern part of the Sea of Galilee, in the 4th century AD, suffered from a landslide that pushed the lake almost half a mile down south. So, at the time of Jesus, the lake was much bigger and at the same time, the cleanliness of the water and the size of the lake enabled many more species of fish to live in the Sea of Galilee. If today we have nearly 30 types of fish that can swim and grow in this place, at the time of Jesus, scholars found 153 types of fish in the lake.

Interestingly enough, the Jewish people who lived by the Sea of Galilee made most of their living from fishing, right here, at the Sea of Galilee. We are now, here, in this area which was the major fishing spot for the Jewish fishermen, at the time of Jesus. Boats would be tied to this ancient docking place, as we can see, the amazing rock had the staircase carved into it. The fishermen would just tie their boats, get on the main shores, mend their nets, wash their nets, clean their things, and do whatever they needed to do. Then when the time came and they needed to go back fishing they would walk downstairs, into the boat, and push all the way into the lake to do their fishing.

Seven warm water springs used to flow into the freezing cold waters to the Sea of Galilee. As we know, the Sea of Galilee gets most of its waters from the Jordan River which is actually the melting snows of Mount Hermon. So, when 7 warm water springs flow into cold waters of the sea, you create an area of lukewarm water. Just like we humans do not like very warm water, or very cold water as we take a shower, the same is with the fish. They prefer that lukewarm, that easy to handle temperature, rather than the extreme ones.

So, fishermen, during the time of Jesus, knew this is the right place to fish. We were not surprised when we found this amazing ancient docking place in that rock that had that staircase carved into it. The fishing boats were tied to this area and the fishermen would get out of the boat onto the shores. This is where they would mend their nets, wash their nets, take the fish, and bring them all the way to where they needed to sell it. When they needed to go back fishing, they would come back here, go downstairs, step into the boat, and sail into the deep.

This is interesting because this is exactly where Jesus found His first disciples and that’s where He used to teach many times as we can even see in Luke chapter 5. In Luke 5, we begin with, “So it was, as the multitude pressed about Him to hear the word of God, that He stood by the Lake of Gennesaret, (which is one more name for the Sea of Galilee) and He saw two boats standing by the lake; but the fishermen had gone from them and were washing their nets.” (Luke 5:1-2) So obviously, it was a place where the boats were tied to a rock so the fishermen could get to the shores and mend their nets.

And so, the Bible says that “Then He got into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, and asked him to put out a little from the land. And He sat down and taught the multitudes from the boat.” (Luke 5:3) It’s a beautiful picture of Jesus doing that because every time Jesus sat down, it meant that He is about to teach. The teacher sitting down that’s when everybody is no longer speaking, no longer talking, no longer doing other things, and they are there to listen to the words that come out of His mouth. People were amazed at the words that preceded out of His mouth. The Bible says not only that He spoke with authority, but He spoke with gracious words.

People were so amazed to listen to something that is so different from what the rabbis, the scribes, the Pharisees would teach them during those days. In fact, when you really don’t have the Holy Spirit, as you grab a Bible, it’s hard to understand it. It’s hard to contain it. It’s hard to realize what God wants from you. It may be even boring for some people that’s how the people, at that time, used to be when rabbis would teach them. Interestingly enough, Jesus spoke with gracious words and Jesus caught their attention.

As He sat down and began to teach, all the people were sitting on the shore would listen very carefully. The Bible says it was that the multitudes pressed upon Him. It wasn’t like He came and He just gave fliers saying, Hey, come listen to me, I am about to teach. Everybody pressed upon Him, the Bible says, to hear the Word of God. So, the Word of God, by the Sea of Galilee, comes to teach the Word of God, and everybody acknowledged that, indeed, they listen and they hear the Word of God.

The Bible says, “When He had stopped speaking,” in the middle of His teaching, Jesus stopped speaking. The Bible says, “He said to Simon, launch out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” (Luke 5:4) Wow, I love this type of teaching of Jesus. Not only that He speaks with words but He wants people to see Him in action. He’s demonstrating that which He is talking about with action. It’s interesting, He turns to Peter and He tells him, Hey, Peter, why don’t you just launch your boat out in the deep and cast your nets with “s”. It’s plural. Jesus tells Peter to prepare for a great catch.

Now, the thing is that Peter already tried that before. The Bible says, “But Simon answered and said to Him, “Master we have toiled all night and caught nothing; nevertheless, at Your word I will let down the net.” (Luke 5:5) Interestingly enough, Peter is looking at Jesus and he is kind of feeling embarrassed because he thinks to himself, Jesus is not a fisherman, I am a fisherman. I toiled all night here and I caught nothing. Probably Jesus doesn’t know that so I better tell him that that’s the case and I better only take one net so He is not going to be embarrassed when I catch nothing. It is going to be very embarrassing if I throw or cast many nets and then we catch nothing.

Interesting, isn’t it? Peter doesn’t have the faith that Jesus required him to have. Peter took only one net, that’s most of our life’s story. When Jesus tells us to do something, what we will eventually get out of it, is measured by the faith that we have. Peter took one net and he launched into the deep. He cast only one net, although Jesus told him, “get the nets and cast them into the water.” The Bible says that “When they had done this, they caught a great number of fish, and their net was breaking.” (Luke 5:6) The net, that pathetic one net that Peter took with him to demonstrate that Jesus is not really serious, or to demonstrate that Jesus might be wrong, happened to be the biggest embarrassment for Peter himself because the net was breaking. Halleluiah.

What an amazing thing. The net was breaking and, “So they signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so they began to sink.” (Luke 5:7) When God wants to bless you, you better get ready because it is going to be a great blessing and if you are not ready, that weight of blessing might even cause you to sink. “And they began to sink”, but if he had brought enough nets, and if he had had enough people around him, that wouldn’t have happened. But again look, Peter was proved wrong and we see that they started to sink and, When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me for I am a sinful man, O Lord!”. (Luke 5:8) This is a beautiful picture of Peter who always started out very stubborn and very proud. You can see how Jesus, in the way He handled Himself with Peter, causes Peter to eventually be broken.

But in a very interesting way, it would take Peter about 3 years to be completely broken. Peter is now leaving everything as Jesus tells him that from now on I will make you a fisher of men. Peter left his livelihood, he left his income source, he dropped the nets, and he immediately followed Jesus. This is a great act of faith, but you can sometimes follow Jesus physically, yet not spiritually. For 3 years Peter followed Jesus, everywhere. Whether it was the northern part of the country; Galilee; the way to Jerusalem; and even Jerusalem itself, yet Peter did not get the essence of the message, at all.

Jesus, from the moment Peter acknowledged that He is the Son of the living God, He is the Christ, Jesus began to tell them that the Son of Man should be caught, should be crucified, should be buried, and He will be resurrected. The story of Christ’s resurrection was known to the disciples from the words of Christ Himself. Yet they refused to even deal with that part because for them Jesus is not going to die. This is the Redeemer. This is the Messiah. This is the Deliverer. There is no point for Him to die. According to the Jewish faith, according to the Jewish tradition, the Messiah is a human being, flesh and blood that is coming to deliver peace, prosperity, and end the oppression of the Jewish people. Thus, He is not going to die.

It is interesting because when Jesus was taken to the cross, Peter denied Him 3 times. Peter was broken because he saw, not only that he himself denied Jesus which was something that Jesus predicted was going to happen and Peter said, not so, Lord, that will never happen. But also, he saw his Lord, his Master, his Messiah, his Redeemer taken to be crucified in the most vicious death penalty that the world has ever known. Wow, Peter is watching his Master dying on the cross, then after He died, He was taken to the grave, and Peter is now broken. He is broken because he denied Jesus. He is broken because his entire perception of the Messiah is shattered to pieces. He is also broken because he is no longer successful in what he was used to doing.

The Bible says that Peter returned to the Sea of Galilee after Jesus was resurrected. He was trying to go back to his old ways, trying to go back to his old profession, thinking that there will be a blessing in it. But all we see in John Chapter 21 is that, once again, Peter is on the Sea of Galilee. He is going to the exact same place, to the most fertile place for fishermen by the sea of Galilee, right here at Tabgha, right here at Heptapegon and, once again, Peter caught absolutely nothing.

This is an amazing closure of a circle that started in the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry, as He found His first disciples, right here, and now after the Lord has resurrected already, the disciples are shattered to pieces. The understanding that the resurrection of Christ is the best thing that ever happened still did not sink in their minds. They don’t understand it. They haven’t received the Holy Spirit. They don’t have the power of the resurrection yet and they are coming back to the Galilee trying to go back to their old life.

The Bible says in John 21, “After these things Jesus showed Himself again to the disciples at the Sea of Tiberias,” (which is one more name for the Sea of Galilee) “and in this way, He showed Himself: Simon Peter, Thomas called 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,’” (John 21:3) that’s the only thing Simon Peter knows to do. It’s the only thing he was accustomed to, he grew up fishing that had been was his main profession. He just left in Jerusalem his calling, his dream, his mission, basically, and goes back to the place that was no longer his calling, that was no longer his life’s destiny, and he is trying to go back expecting to be blessed. And, they said to him, “We are going with you also. They went out and immediately got into the boat, and that night they caught nothing.” (John 21:3b) Sounds familiar, that night they caught nothing? It’s very rare for fishermen to be in this area and to catch nothing. I bet that there were some flashbacks in Peter’s mind in regards to toiling all night and catching nothing. He probably thought, mm that happened to me three years ago.

It’s interesting because, “But when the morning had now come, Jesus stood on the shore; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Then Jesus said to them, “Children, have you any food?” (John 21:4) What a beautiful picture, Jesus is standing there. We know that it is still Jesus. It is the same Jesus but in their minds, they did not comprehend. They did not understand the need for them to believe in His resurrection. It did not sink into them that the resurrection had happened and that’s the most important thing. They did not understand what the power of the resurrection is. They didn’t understand what it means to believe in the living God that defeated death.

And so, they’re pretty depressed, they’re pretty sad, there is no joy here in this entire chapter. They get into the boat and Peter did not even talk too much, I am going fishing and, we are coming with you. That’s it. Jesus is the one who speaks with that soft, loving, and caring voice said, Children, have you caught anything? Do you have any food? It’s interesting because, they answered Him, “No!” (John 21:5b) I can imagine all of them together, No! That is a desperate “no”; that is a” no” of we are sad; we are at the end of ourselves; we are broken. This is that “no” that was echoing in that area, in this place.

And He said to them, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” (Luke 21:6A) We talked about the fact that Jesus talked with authority and anyone can recognize authority. Anyone can recognize true commandment, true feelings, and true words that come out of a genuine person. Jesus speaks with such authority and such confidence that if they throw the net to the right side, they will catch fish. What are the chances for someone not to catch anything on one side, but to catch a lot on the other side? It is really below zero. But that confidence in His voice and words of Jesus caused them to immediately understand who is standing on the shore and talking to them.

The Bible says that as it happened, “That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, ‘It is the Lord!’” (John 21:7) Now, of course, it happened after they caught the fish. But John recognized the tone, the style, and of course, the actions, and not just words that followed Jesus’ command. It’s beautiful. John says to Peter, “it is the Lord”. Isn’t that comforting that He is still the Lord, that He is no longer some broken hope, that He is no longer that shattered-to- pieces’ expectation? He is still the Lord. And John said, “It is the Lord! Now when Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his outer garment (for he had removed it), and plunged into the sea.” (John 21:7) Bear in mind it was very close to the shore. So most likely Peter did not sink and drown as it was, obviously, a place he could reach the ground and start walking in the water with that garment on him, knowing that if this is Jesus, I want to be with Him.

The beautiful picture is that Jesus was there on the shore preparing breakfast for His disciples, not even caring whether they caught the fish or not. It’s not about what they bring. It’s not that He needs anything from them. Jesus needs nothing from us, but faith. He cares for us so much that even if we are no longer there, or even if we are not yet there, He is already preparing breakfast for us. He is already preparing the table for us. Peter comes completely wet, walks right in front of Jesus, full of shame, full of guilt, with a broken heart, there is no more pride, there is no more arrogance, it is an empty Peter. And I think that’s exactly the right time: to commission Peter to start serving, to commission Peter to the ministry, because we can’t, we can’t do anything, without Christ.

It is interesting because the Bible says, “But the other disciples came in the little boat (for they were not far from land but about 200 cubits), dragging the net with fish. Then, as soon as they had come to land, they saw a fire of coals there, and fish laid on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, ‘Bring some of the fish which you have just caught.’ Simon Peter went up and dragged the net to the land, full of large fish, one hundred and fifty-three;” (John 21:8-11a) When I heard that number after I studied that the number of species of fish in the lake during the time of Jesus was 153, I thought to myself, what an amazing display of Lordship. One of each and all of them waited on one side of the boat, just to demonstrate that He who did not spare His only Son, how much more with Him, will give us all things.

So, 153 fish are now on the shore, Jesus is fixing breakfast, it is the early hours of the morning, Peter’s heart is pounding. Then as soon as they had come to the land, “Jesus said to them, ‘Come and eat breakfast.’ Yet none of the disciples dared to ask Him ‘Who are you?’ - knowing that it was the Lord. Jesus then came and took the bread and gave it to them, and likewise the fish.” (John 21:12-13) Not only that He prepared breakfast for them, but He even served breakfast to them. He took the bread, He took the fish, and He gave it to them. All of them are standing around astonished at the fact that the risen Lord, the one whom they saw on the cross, the one whom they saw His body, the one whom they were absolutely convinced was dead, is now, right in front of them, cooking and serving breakfast.

Peter knows one thing, sooner or later, I will have to explain my denial. He felt so guilty and so shameful. Throughout the course of our lives, many times, we deny Christ, sometimes not by words, sometimes just by avoiding telling people about Him, we kind of deny Him. But Jesus is not condemning, Jesus is actually doing something completely different “This is now the third time Jesus showed Himself to His disciples after He was raised from the dead. So when they had eaten breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon, son of Jonah, do you love me more than these?’” (John 21:14-15) Wow, He waited for them to have breakfast - eat first. He didn’t want to spoil breakfast for Peter.

Once they were done, Peter takes that moment of confrontation, the moment where He knew that it was going to happen, and Jesus is asking him, Peter, son of Jonah. Wow, I have often wondered why would He used that term “son of Jonah”. Maybe Peter’s father was Jonah, but we know one thing, the name Jonah tells us of a prophet that tried to flee from God’s calling upon His life and tried to go somewhere else. God graciously brought him back and sent him to where he needed to go. Jonah was a perfect example of what Peter was going through. Jesus is about to release him to the ministry and Peter needs to understand you better not be like Jonah, you better not flee from that which I am calling you to. It is not a surprise that we know in the Book of Acts that he was in Joppa, just where Jonah went down to and it is in Joppa that he said, No so Lord! about eating those unclean animals and then God had to correct him there and say, “What I call clean you better not call unclean. You better go to where I am about to send you”, and Peter obeyed, indeed.

Peter came to the understanding that he cannot do anything without Jesus. Just as Jesus said in John 15:5, “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.” Peter felt that; Peter experienced that; Peter understood that without Christ, I am lost. He is my identity. I really truly flourish when I am with Him. I can do nothing without Him. When Jesus asked him, “do you love me”, Jesus waited for Peter to acknowledge Him as Lord and as God. When finally, Peter answered and said, “Yes, Lord, I agape you”, because in the first 2 times he said, I phileo you, I love you as the love of friends (Philadelphia) then that is when Jesus no longer asked him again.

But what was it that Jesus asked Peter to do in order to demonstrate his love towards Him: serve my people; feed my sheep. The ultimate way and token of (showing) love towards God is by the way we serve, and feed and take care of one another. It’s not about being ministers and then becoming the object of being cared for and served. It’s about being ministers of the gospel byways of serving others, caring for others, and feeding others. Peter got it. Peter understood it. Peter was then and there commissioned by Jesus. From that moment on the life of Peter completely changed. He had to be broken, he had to be emptied in order to be used by God.

This, of course, my brothers and sisters, is the secret for a real, good way to abide in Him: to come to the end of ourselves, to come to the end of our pride, our arrogance, our wishes, and our desires, and to present ourselves as living sacrifices before Him. It is when we cast our way unto Him, when we cast our will before Him, then He will prepare our ways and our steps.

So, this place is the place where He found His first disciples and, three years later, is the place where He is about to commission Peter to feed His sheep.


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