Q. What is the significance of the 153 fish mentioned in John 21:11? Why is the exact number given? Is there a significance in the number 153? What does the Bible teach about the significance of numbers?
3* Simon Peter *said to them, “I am going fishing.” They *said to him, “We will also come with you.” They went out and got into the boat; and that night they caught nothing. 4* But when the day was now breaking, Jesus stood on the beach; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. 5* So Jesus *said to them, “Children, you do not have any fish, do you?” They answered Him, “No.” 6* And He said to them, “Cast the net on the right-hand side of the boat and you will find a catch.” So they cast, and then they were not able to haul it in because of the great number of fish. 7* Therefore that disciple whom Jesus loved *said to Peter, “It is the Lord.” So when Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put his outer garment on (for he was stripped for work), and threw himself into the sea. 8 But the other disciples came in the little boat, for they were not far from the land, but about one hundred yards away, dragging the net full of fish. 9* So when they got out on the land, they saw a charcoal fire already laid and fish placed on it, and bread. 10* Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish which you have now caught.” 11 Simon Peter went up and drew the net to land, full of large fish, a hundred and fifty-three; and although there were so many, the net was not torn. 12* Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” None of the disciples ventured to question Him, “Who are You?” knowing that it was the Lord. 13* Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and the fish likewise. 14* This is now the third time that Jesus was manifested to the disciples, after He was raised from the dead.
I believe numbers sometimes have symbolic meanings, not only in Revelation, but throughout scripture as well. For example: In Matt. 18:22, Jesus tells Peter to forgive someone 70 times 7 times. We know this does not mean that we are to keep count and quit forgiving at 490 times. It means we are to keep on forgiving no matter how many times it may take. In olden times numbers were used symbolically. We still do this some today. For instance the number 13 immediately brings to mind things of superstition or bad luck. To those people the number 7 symbolically represented divine or spiritual completeness. The number 10 represented human completeness. If someone has all their fingers and toes intact, they are complete. In the OT there were 10 plagues. Those were literal, physical plagues sent against Egypt. In Revelation there are 7 last plagues. Those are spiritual plagues, or plagues that affect the spiritual life of man. With that in mind the numbers 70 times 7 uses the 7 for spiritual completeness and 10 for human completeness to show that we are to practice complete forgiveness. We should never cease to forgive. Ok, now to the number 153. Believe it or not, this has to do with the symbolic use of the number 3 in scripture. Three is the number which is used to represent things which are “spiritual” in nature. That is in contrast to the number 4 which represents things which are “physical” in nature. For example there are 4 directions on this earth. We speak of the 4 corners of the earth even though it is round. The children of Israel wandered in the wilderness 40 years. 4 = physical and 10 = complete. 4×10 = 40 It was a complete physical trial for those people. The same with Jesus as he fasted 40 days. It was a complete physical trial for Him. He was then tempted 3 times to see if he would succumb “spiritually” to the temptations of the Devil. (I hope some of this is making sense.) So, the number 3 has to do with the spiritual nature of Jesus. Think of all the events in the life of Christ which took place in series of 3’s or dealt with the number 3 in some way. Here are just a few to illustrate. I’m sure you know them even better than me, but I might include a couple you just hadn’t thought about in this manner.
Godhead composed of 3 beings
Jesus rose from the grave the 3rd. day
Prayed 3 times in the garden
Crucified the 3rd hour of the day
3 hours of darkness – from the 6th hour of the day to the 9th hour
On the cross 6 hours… 2×3
died about the ninth hour of the day…. 3×3
3 were crucified
Jesus’ lived about 33 years …. some say 331/3
His ministry was approximately 3 years in length
And many more……. you fill in the rest
This should be enough to illustrate that many things in the life of Jesus took place in series of 3’s or dealt some way with the number 3.
Now the number 153 is an interesting number in several ways…. some of which deal with the number 3. Now remember in all of this that the number 3 is closely associate with the life of Christ and represent things of a spiritual nature. I don’t want you to think I figured all this out about the number 153, but when I was doing my research on numbers in Revelation I ran across some very interesting facts about the number 153. Now, mathematicians are interested in numbers and not scripture. I was interested in Scripture and how the mathematics fit in, so I put 2 and 2 together and hopefully came out with 4. :) … or something like that. We’ll begin with some of the simple things and work up to the more difficult.
Add the digits of 153: 1+5+3= 9 which is 3×3 or 3 sets of 3
Again, in olden times people dealt with numbers somewhat differently than we do today. 153 is what was called a “triangular” number. They formed shapes or patterns by arranging dots to represent the number. To be a triangular number, the pattern of dots would form a triangle with the same number of dots on each side of the triangle. The number 3 would be the first triangular number… 2 dots below 1 dot. Add another row of 3 dots below the 2 dots and you have the next triangular number .. 6. The number 153 is the sixteenth triangular number. It would have 17 dots on each side of the triangle. When you have about 3 hours of spare time, try drawing that and making it look good. :) So, the number 153 can be expressed as a triangle which, obviously, has 3 sides and is therefore closely associated with the number 3.
Next: If you sum the cube of the digits in 153, you always get 153. There are only about four known numbers in the entire numbering system in which the sum of the cube of the digits of that number will yield the original number. The number 153 is the only one divisible by 3. In order to do this you simply multiplying each digit by itself three times and then add the results. Notice, again, the use of the number 3. In order to make things simple, I’ll just represent the cube of a digit in this manner… (1x1x1). Ok, we take the sum of the cube of the digits of 153 … (1x1x1) + (5x5x5) + (3x3x3) = 153 or 1 + 125 + 27 = 153. Again the number 153 has extraordinary properties dealing with the number 3.
Now for the big finale:
The number 153 can be found in any “third” number in the entire numbering system. all right here is how this works… pay close attention. :) (by the way, I am a retired school teacher) Take any 3rd. number… 3,6,9,12,15,18….etc. (you get the idea) or any number divisible by 3, and do the same thing as we did above…. find the sum of the cube of the digits. You will have to repeat the calculation several times, but the final answer to these calculations will always be 153. I’ll do a simple one and you can get pencil, paper, and calculator out and try as many as you want… or you can trust me that the answer will always be 153.
Lets take the number 27:
(2x2x2) + (7x7x7) = 8 + 343 = 351 (now take that answer (351) and do the calculation again) 351 (3x3x3) + (5x5x5) + (1x1x1) = 27 + 125 + 1 = 153
(The final answer will always be 153)
Obviously, for some numbers this calculation might have to be repeated many, many times, but the final answer will always be 153.
Now lets put all of this together. The number 3 is symbolic of spiritual things. Many of the events in the life of Christ took place in series of 3’s. So, when Jesus went fishing, he caught the number of fish (153) which can be found in any third number in the entire numbering system. What an appropriate number of fish to catch. Was this an accident? I seriously doubt it. Am I sure this is why he caught 153 fish? No. But, the number was recorded for some reason and this explanation follows precisely what we know about scripture and use of numbers. I’ll let you decide what you think.