Recently I was listening to a podcast and the speakers referred to Peter giving up his calling and going back to fishing after Jesus death and resurrection. I have heard sermons say the same thing. However, I think that rather than leaning on human opinions we need to look at what the scriptures actually say. The fishing story takes place in John 21 at the Sea of Galilee in northern Israel. The Sea of Tiberias is the Roman name for the Sea of Galilee. This is where Peter, Andrew, James and John were from (Matt. 4:18-22).
1 After these things Jesus showed Himself again to the disciples at the Sea of Tiberias, and in this way He showed Himself: 2 Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of His disciples were together. 3 Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.”
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 21:1-3 NKJV
Was Peter in Galilee because he had abandoned Jesus and his calling? Was there some other reason he may have been there? Actually the scriptures are clear. We know from verse 1 above that this was not Jesus first resurrection appearance to the disciples. In fact 21:14 tells us it was Jesus third appearance to them. We also know that they were told to go to Galilee, Jesus had an appointment with them there.
10 Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell My brethren to go to Galilee, and there they will see Me.” Matthew 28:10 (NKJV)
So, a quick review. Peter and the others are in Galilee because Jesus directed them to go there. They didn’t know where or when Jesus would meet them in the area but I think it is fair to assume there was some anticipation on their part. After all they had gone through the devastating loss of their mission and their own abandonment of Jesus. This was followed by His resurrection and appearance to them in Jerusalem. These were not normal times. Now he and the others had just walked 125 kilometres from Jerusalem to Galilee to see Jesus. I hike in the mountains a lot and they hiked through mountains and desert to get to see Jesus. No trivial task and one with plenty of time to think and discuss.
It is evident from the text that to accuse Peter of abandoning his calling is to both impugn his motives and ignore scripture. It is also evident from later in the chapter that while Peter needed his heart healed (21:15-19) he wasn’t trying to avoid Jesus or his calling. When he knew it was Jesus on shore he jumped out of the boat and into the sea in his eagerness to get to Jesus (21:7). This suggests that out of obedience he had been waiting for Jesus in Galilee, not giving up on his calling.
Now back to the waiting. None of them knew what to do as they had received no instructions in that regard. We know from numerous examples in scripture that Peter was a man of action not contemplation. So instead of waiting he announced he was going fishing and the other six there joined him.
This all took place prior to the upper room prayer meeting in Acts 1. It is easy to embrace ideas that aren’t in scripture and the idea that Peter abandoned his calling and went back to his old way of life is one of those. It may make for some good sermons but they are sermons based on human opinions not on scripture. I happen to believe that what scripture has to say is important just as Paul wrote in the following verse.
16 All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work. 2 Timothy 3:16–17 (NKJV)
Scripture trains and profits us when we properly interpret and apply it. There are a number of things we could focus on in the rest of John 21 but I think the main lesson we can learn from our fishing story is that obedience to Jesus releases us into our calling. Instead of passing judgment, as has often been done with Peter, let’s stand with him and embrace his example of obedience to Jesus and see His purpose in our lives come to pass.