Question: Is there any significance to the number 153 as found in John 21: 11?
Answer: John 21: 11: “Simon Peter went up, and drew the net to land full of great fishes, an hundred and fifty and three: and for all there were so many, yet was not the net broken.” Various numbers in the Bible, such as 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 10, 12, 13, 40, etc., have symbolic significations. There are also infrequently used numbers in the Bible, such as the number under consideration, whose significance has long remained a mystery. The number 153 is not found anywhere else in the Bible, therefore, we cannot gain any conclusions regarding its significance from any similar use of it.
The number 153 can be factored as being 3 x 3 x 17. This suggests the Little Flock, as follows: The 3 used twice suggests that which is very good. The 17 may be divided as 10 + 7, which suggests the perfection reckoned to them in the flesh (10) through Jesus’ ransom merit, and their final actual perfection in the Divine nature (7). Our Lord also seems to have given us a remarkable verification of the 153 as representing the Little Flock by comparing the account of the miracle (John 21: 1-11) with His parable of the dragnet (Matthew 13: 47-50) and with the former similar miraculous draught of fish (Luke 5: 1-11).
In all three cases the fish represent men (Matthew 4: 19), and the net the Gospel message – the call of the Gospel Age. This call went forth at the hands of the Lord’s servants, the fishermen. The Gospel net was not intended to catch all the symbolic fish in the sea (the world). Only a particular number (144,000) of a particular kind was the object in view.
The Parable of the Dragnet
In the parable of the dragnet (Matthew 13: 47-50) fish “of every kind” (representing real Christians, half-deceived and deluded Christians, and multitudes of unconsecrated Christians, imitation Christians, hypocrites, etc. – those that together constitute the great nominal church) were gathered (compare Matthew 22: 10). The time of bringing the net to shore and of sorting the fish represents the Gospel Age Harvest, when the figurative catching was concluded and the separating, by means of testings, siftings, etc., took place. The good were gathered into vessels (various groups of the spiritual elect), but the bad were cast away, evidently back into the sea. The bad here represent the unconsecrated in general – not real Christians – who during the Harvest reaping time were not fit to be of the spiritual elective classes in the Kingdom. They are represented as being cast back into the world. In Matthew 13: 49, 50, as in the parable of the wheat and the tares (Matthew 13: 24-30), the furnace of fire symbolizes the great Time of Trouble; and the angels (messengers) – the reapers – in separating the wheat from the tares (verse 30) correspond to the fishermen sitting down and separating the good fish from the bad (verse 48).
The Luke 5: 1-11 account is more restricted, in that no sorting, discarding or casting back into the sea is indicated. Here only the Little Flock and the Great Company are indicated. The net “inclosed a great multitude of fishes: and their net brake.” The Gospel message during the Gospel Age gathered a great multitude of truly consecrated Christians, far more than the foreordained number that would constitute the Bride of Christ.
John 21: 1-11 gives a still more restricted viewpoint, for it includes only the Little Flock. They “were not able to draw it [the net] for the multitude of fishes [though the Little Flock is very small in number compared to the Great Company or the world of mankind, yet by itself is a rather large number – 144,000].” This time the net did not break (verse 11), for it was not overloaded – it contained only the foreordained number – 144,000. The net was “full of great fishes,” thus pointing to the Little Flock; all of whom were highly and fully developed and were thus fitted for the Divine nature.
Added Significance of the Number 153
If we take into account the numeric values of the Hebrew letters for the expression “sons of God,” namely Beni-Ha Elohim, we find that they total exactly 153, as representing the Divinely ordained number, the 144,000 who under training would attain unto sonship as Divine beings (2 Peter 1: 4).
The Little Flock, having suffered with Christ as members of His Body, are glorified together with Him in the First Resurrection, as His joint-heirs in the Divine nature (Romans 8: 17). The Greek word for “joint-heirs” is sugkleronomoi, and its total numeric value is 1071, which is 153 x 7.
And the 144,000 as the Creation of God is shown in the Greek for “Creation of God,” which is Ktisis Theou. Its total numeric value is 1224, which is 153 x 8.