It is written as if something mysterious is going on, but also that something very common and ordinary is going on. It’s a theophany (God revealing himself) of great significance, but also as common as breakfast and simple fellowship and friendship.
Jesus was not with his disciples continually as he had been before his trial and death. After the resurrection, Jesus made appearances, but didn’t stay around. The reason for this would be that the time of discipleship was completed, and the time for miracles and healings was over. He had completed what he came to do. Every time Jesus appeared after the resurrection, it was with a specific purpose to make himself openly known.
Some of the disciples were together, and they all decided to go fishing. All night they caught nothing. The point of the scene here is that of aimless activity done for apparently lack of vision, purpose, and role. They’re bored and undirected. They’re failing. Their choice to go fishing is odd, given the context and circumstances. They were originally called to follow Jesus, commissioned as fishers of men, sent out to heal and cast out demons, and Jesus breathed on them the Holy Spirit. Even though it is not yet Pentecost, do they have no motivation to somehow follow and serve their Lord? I think John’s point here in them catching nothing is a sign that they have not been busy doing what they should have been doing. Jesus uses it as a teachable moment.
And “Jesus stood on the shore.” It’s reminiscent of the resurrection when Jesus stood before Mary (20.14) and stood among his disciples (20.19, 26). John means us to see this as a theophany: God revealing himself as God. But they don’t even know who he is. They are not only failing, but they’re spiritually blind, even after the resurrection. He directs them to toss their empty nets on the other side of the boat. The spiritual symbolism of this is that they are to do what Jesus says to do, not their normal jobs or with their normal mindsets. They need to see that everything has changed and they need to now follow Christ by doing his work in his way.
The result was astounding success. Now their eyes are opened, and they realize it’s Jesus. Peter jumps into the water, just as he had ran to the tomb—impulsively and with abandon. Jesus is standing on the shore at a fire. (I wonder if Peter made the connection about the fire the night of Jesus’ trial.) This time there is a fellowship meal of friendship and belonging, and another chance to see the risen Lord. Jesus shares bread and fish (I wonder if they made the connection about the feeding of the multitudes). The scene is dripping with Messianic symbolism, theophany, resurrection, and fellowship (just a Peter is dripping from his 100-yard swim). This was now the third time Jesus appeared to his disciples after he was raised from the dead (did someone say three?).