The meaning of the number 153 centers around the New Testament event sometimes referred to as the miraculous draught or catch of fishes (John 21:1 – 11). It is only mentioned in the Gospel of John.
This amazing miracle involving 153 was performed by Jesus, after his resurrection from the dead, in his next to last appearance with his eleven disciples before ascending into heaven. By understanding what led up to this miracle of fishes we can gain a broader perspective of what the number 153 represents.
After his resurrection Christ appeared a number of times to his innermost circle of eleven disciples. He first showed himself alive to all the disciples, except Thomas, on the Sunday night after his resurrection (John 20:19 – 24). Eight days later he met with the disciples when Thomas was present (John 20:26 – 29).
An unknown period of time later he met with all the apostles at the appointed mountain in Galilee (Matthew 28:16 – 17). It was sometime after this meeting in Galilee, but before Christ’s ascension on May 18th, that the miracle of 153 fishes occurred.
One day Peter decided he wanted to go back to his pre-conversion job of being a fisherman (John 21:2 – 3). Upon hearing his plans several of the other disciples (Thomas, Nathanael, James, John and two unnamed disciples) went with him to fish on the Sea of Tiberias (Sea of Galilee). The men fish for an entire night and catch nothing.
In the morning, a man on the shore (they did not know it was Jesus) yells to them and asks if they caught anything. They answer no. They are then told to drop their net on the right side of the ship. When they try to bring the net out of the water it is so FULL of fish that it requires being dragged to the shore! The disciples now realize it was Jesus talking to them. On shore, Peter counts a total number of 153 ‘great fish’ in the net.
Symbolizing abundance, 153 can even represent an OVERFLOW blessing from God. The Bible states the disciples marvelled at the fact that their net held together even though it contained so many large fish (John 21:11)!
Additionally, the catching of 153 fish happened only after Christ became involved in the work. This is a subtle (or perhaps not so subtle!) reminder that without Christ the disciples’ (and any believer’s) attempts to accomplish something great on their own will fail, but that with Jesus all things are possible (John 15:5).
Lastly, the 153 fishes is reminiscent of a previously abundant catch Peter, Andrew, James and John experienced when they were first called to follow Christ and become fishers of MEN (and not food). Given the disciples were trying to go back to their pre-conversion employment when the miracle occurred, it likely reminded them that they now worked for God whose will it still was for them to catch men and not fish.
We discover something quite interesting about 153 when we look at how many people, in the Gospel accounts, Jesus personally blessed.
The book of Mark records Christ, on a total of three occasions, personally blessed three people. These events were the healing of a man with an unclean spirit (Mark 1:23), healing a man who was deaf (Mark 7:32) and making whole another who was blind (Mark 8:22).
Matthew, however, writes that on 23 occasions Jesus blessed a total of 47 people. Some of those whom he bestowed God’s grace to include a leper (Matthew 8:2), a non-Israelite woman and her daughter (Matthew 15:22), Mary Magdalene (Matthew 27:56) and Joseph of Arimathaea (Matthew 27:57).
Luke writes that on 14 occasions 94 people were blessed. They include the seventy disciples sent out to preach and heal (Luke 10:1), ten lepers cleansed at the same time (Luke 17:12) and Zaccheus (Luke 19:2).
Lastly, the apostle John bears record of 8 incidents where 9 people were helped by Jesus. Nicodemus (John 3:1), the woman accused of adultery (John 8:11) and Lazarus (John 11) are among those personally touched by the Savior of mankind. All told, the Lord directly blessed a grand total of 153 people in 48 separate incidents!