The Fullness of the Gentiles :: By Randy Nettles

Several of Jesus’ original disciples were fishermen, including the brothers Simon Peter and Andrew and the brothers John and James (the sons of Zebedee). Luke 5:1-11 tells the story of how Jesus first met these fishermen.

“Jesus was preaching at the shore of the lake of Gennesaret and saw two boats standing by the lake, but the fishermen had gone from them and were washing their nets. Then he got into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, and asked him to go out a little from the land. And Jesus sat down and taught the multitudes from the boat.

“When he had stopped speaking, he said to Simon, ‘Launch out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.’ But Simon answered and said to Him, ‘Master, we have toiled all night and caught nothing; nevertheless at your word I will let down the net.’ And when they had done this, they caught a great number of fish, and their net was breaking. So they signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink. When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, ‘Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!’

“For he and all who were with him were astonished at the catch of fish which they had taken; and so also were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. And Jesus said to Simon, ‘Do not be afraid. From now on you will catch men.’ So when they had brought their boats to land, they forsook all and followed him.”

This was the fishermen’s first great catch of fish, but it wouldn’t be their last.

These new disciples of Jesus did indeed become fishers of men during Jesus’ three years of ministry, and especially afterward. Many Bible scholars believe there is a symbolic meaning in this ‘fishing’ experience. The men became the disciples who became fishers of men that cast their net (word of Jesus/God) into the water (Holy Spirit). The water/Holy Spirit guided the multitude of fish (souls of men & women) into the net and then into the boat (Jesus’ ministry) and ultimately into the hands of the Lord.

Jesus and his disciples caught many souls during his earthly ministry. Some of these lost souls became followers of Jesus and were baptized by the disciples with water, for the Holy Spirit was not yet given (John 4:2). Many of these followers later became ‘disciples’ (in some translations, brethren) of Jesus. After the death, resurrection, ascension of Jesus, and the giving of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, the disciples became the ultimate fishers of men by preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ under the influence and power of the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit Promised

On the same day Jesus ascended back to heaven (40 days after the resurrection), he met for the last time with his apostles (original 12 disciples). “He commanded them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the Promise of the Father, which, He said, ‘you have heard from Me; for John truly baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now'” (Acts 1:4-5). Jesus commissioned his apostles as witnesses to His ministry, resurrection, and coming ascension and to spread the gospel throughout the world. “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8).

Jesus Ascends to Heaven

“Now when He had spoken these things, while they watched, He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as He went up, behold, two men (angels) stood by them in white apparel, who also said, Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven” (Acts 1:9-11).

This is a prophecy by an angel in regard to Jesus’ ‘parousia.’ Parousia is the Greek word for ‘coming.’ It can refer to the Rapture or the 2nd Coming of Jesus. So, are these verses in Acts referring to the Rapture or the 2nd Coming? The answer is yes… both. Jesus will return “in the clouds” at both supernatural events. Don’t look around for Him on the earth; look up; he will be in the sky. “Now when these things begin to happen, look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption draws near” (Luke 21:28).

Coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost

“When the Day of Pentecost had fully come (50 days after Jesus’ resurrection and 10 days after His ascension), the apostles were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance” (Acts 2:1-4).

During the Feast of the early summer harvest known as Pentecost, Jews from all over the known world came to Jerusalem, as it was one of the three annual Feasts of the Lord that all adult males were required to attend. Of course, the Jews spoke the language of the nation, kingdom, or tribe where they resided.

When these Jewish pilgrims heard the great sound of the Holy Spirit, the multitude came together and was confused because every man heard an apostle speak in his own language. It was like a reverse Babel incident. Instead of separating the people by making them speak different languages, this time, God brought them together by allowing them to speak the same language. This was done so the apostles could better communicate the gospel of Christ with the Jewish pilgrims who had dutifully gathered in Jerusalem for the Feast of the Lord, known as Pentecost.

The Church of Jesus Christ is Born

“Then Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call.’ And with many other words he testified and exhorted them, saying, ‘Be saved from this perverse generation.’ Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them” (Acts 2:38-41).

On Sivan 7, AD 33, Peter cast his net preaching the word of God under the inspiration and guidance of the Holy Spirit, and the 3,000 souls that were caught on that Pentecost day was a great catch indeed. The Church of Jesus Christ was born on this day, 1,989 years ago. It will die (end) and then be resurrected to new life and purpose on the day and hour of the Rapture. When will this happen? The answer (I know it’s not the one you want) is found in the book of Romans. Paul said: “For I do not desire, brethren, that you should be ignorant of this mystery, lest you should be wise in your own opinion, that blindness in part has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in” (Romans 11:25).

The giving of the Holy Spirit on that God-ordained Pentecost day was quite a contrast to one that happened a little over 14 centuries earlier when Moses received the 10 Commandments from the Lord on Mt. Sinai. The ‘contrast’ occurred immediately afterward when the children of Israel had Aaron make them a golden calf idol. You know the story. When Moses saw the calf and the lewd celebration, his anger became hot, and he threw the tablets of stone to the ground and broke them. Then he took the calf and burned it in the fire and ground it to powder. He then scattered it on the water and made the people drink of it.

“Then Moses stood in the entrance of the camp, and said, ‘Whoever is on the Lord’s side—come to me!’ And all the sons of Levi gathered themselves together to him. And he said to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God of Israel: Let every man put his sword on his side, and go in and out from entrance to entrance throughout the camp, and let every man kill his brother, every man his companion, and every man his neighbor.’ So the sons of Levi did according to the word of Moses. And about three thousand men of the people fell that day” (Exodus 32:26-28).

So, there you have two God-ordained events both occurring on Pentecost (both on Sivan 7, according to my research).

Regarding the timing of the Rapture, and I am just speculating here and not setting dates (for nobody knows the day and hour), wouldn’t it be just like God if the 3rd (3 is the number for divine perfection) God-ordained event, the Rapture of the Church, took place on Pentecost. The coming down of God and the giving of the Law on Mount Sinai to the Hebrews (and the world), the coming down of the Holy Spirit upon Jewish and Gentile believers in Jesus as Messiah (start of the Church), and the taking up to heaven of Holy Spirit indwelt Christians (end of the Church) all occurring on Pentecost. The Law was good, the giving of the Holy Spirit is better, and the Rapture will be the best. You know the old saying, “The third time is a charm.”

The Post Resurrection Great Catch of 153 Fish

In John 21, Jesus showed himself again to the apostles at the Sea of Tiberias. This is now the third time that Jesus showed Himself to them after He was raised from the dead. This time Jesus appeared to seven of his apostles, including Peter and John. On this day, Peter declared to his fellows that he was going to go fishing. Six of the disciples decided they wanted to go with him. They fished all night and caught nothing. “But when the morning had come, Jesus stood on the shore; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Then Jesus said to them, ‘Children, have you any food?'” (John 21:4-5). Jesus then told them to cast the net on the right side of the boat and they would find some fish. They did as this stranger told them and were not able to draw the net back into the boat for the multitude of fish.

John, the disciple whom Jesus loved, was the first to recognize that it was Jesus they had been talking to. He exclaimed, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he jumped into the water and swam to shore. The rest of the disciples came in the little boat dragging the net with fish. Then as soon as they reached land, they saw a fire of coals there with fish and bread laid on it. Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish which you have just caught.”

Simon Peter went up and dragged the net to land, full of large fish, one hundred and fifty-three; and although there were so many, the net was not broken. Jesus said to them, “Come and eat breakfast.” Jesus then gave them fish and bread, and they did eat. Although the number of fish caught on this day may not mean anything (other than it was an abnormally large catch of fish), many theologians throughout the centuries have believed there is a prophetic significance to the number 153.

There have been many theories given throughout the ages regarding the number of fish that were caught that day. Saint Jerome, the fourth-century historian and theologian, theorized that the 153 fishes caught by Jesus’ disciples represented all the species of fish. The fish represented all the races of man, and there was not enough room within the church to contain them all. Augustine also believed that this multitude of fish represented all kinds of men being saved by the gospel net.

Augustine and Gregory the Great used mathematics and biblical numerology to try and solve the hypothetical meaning. They both agreed that the number 17 was the main number involved within the breakdown of 153. Gregory simply multiplies 17 by 3 and again by 3 or (17 x 9), and thus arrives at 153. Augustine, on the other hand, uses addition and takes the sum of all the digits up to and including 17 as amounting to exactly 153.

Mark Becker, in his recent article on R.R., The Love of God, quotes Henry Morris, who further expounds upon Jerome and Augustine’s theories:

The reason why the disciples were careful to count and John to record the number of fishes brought to shore must again involve symbolism, as there seems no other reason for it. It has been calculated that there were 153 distinct nations in the world at the time of Christ (the number is not much different at present); these were represented at Pentecost by 17 ethnic groups (see Acts 2:8-11) when the disciples first began to carry out the Commission, preaching to the world in miniature, as it were. The number 17 is also symbolic; when all the numbers are added up through 17 (that is, 1+2+3+…+16+17), they add to 153. One might even multiply this 17-fold security by the 9-fold fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23), and again there results 153-fold effectiveness in true evangelism.”

I believe the number 17 is significant in the fact that it is the 7th prime number and is the sum of 7 and 10, two of the perfect numbers of God. In this instance, the number 9 represents the fruits of the Holy Spirit. So the number 17 represents the perfection of spiritual (7) and ordinal (10) order. 153, therefore, symbolizes Jesus sending the Holy Spirit to ‘catch’ believers for the glory of God.

The Greatest Catch of All – The Rapture

When the Rapture occurs, it will be the greatest catch of souls ever in the history of mankind. This supernatural event will be the end of the church age as we know it, for Christians who are indwelt with the Holy Spirit will be removed from the earth. The Holy Spirit’s role upon mankind will change after the Rapture. Here is how the late Bible teacher, Jack Kelley, explains it:

“After the Rapture, I think the Holy Spirit will return to earth in a ministry similar to His Old Testament assignment. He’ll convict people of their sins and bring them to the Lord as He always has. He’ll be with believers and come upon them in power when needed, but He won’t be sealed within them to guarantee their salvation. That blessing belongs to the Church alone. Revelation 14:12 and Revelation 16:15 give hints that post-rapture salvation will be contingent upon obedience and faithfulness like it was in Old Testament times.” {1}

Romans 11:25 says that when the “fullness of the Gentiles” (a term for the Rapture) has come in, then Israel’s blindness will be removed. What is the number of this fullness? No human knows, but the number is huge. Consider that the world’s population is currently at approximately 7.8 billion people. It is estimated that there are 2.5 billion Christians in the world. That is 32-33% of the population. I personally believe this percentage is greatly exaggerated as many of these so-called “Christians” are Christians in name only.

Let’s be a little more realistic in our estimation and drop the percentage by 13% (number for rebellion and apostasy). That would place the percentage at 19-20% of the world population or approximately 1,530,000,000. If you break it down, it looks like this: 153 x 10 to the 7th power (seven 0’s- zeros). Peter just thought he made a great catch! It is minuscule when you look at Jesus’ (and the Holy Spirit) catch. If you believe this number of Christians to be raptured is still too high, you need to remember that all the young babies/children and those who don’t have the mental capacity to make a qualified decision for Christ will also be included in the Rapture.

This great number of souls only accounts for the living believers being taken up but doesn’t take into consideration the dead souls/spirits in Christ (coming down from heaven). They will be resurrected with a new heavenly body and will meet the living believers (who are translated also) in the air where Jesus will be. The dead in Christ consists of all those believers who have died since Sivan 7/May 22, AD 33 (proleptic Gregorian calendar) on the day of Pentecost, and up to the moment of the Rapture.

The living and dead in Christ, who will meet the Lord in the air at the Rapture, will be an astronomical multitude of souls. They will come from every nation, race, color, age, Christian denomination, and ethnicity. This multitude will include males and females, rich and poor, young and old, free and slaves from every age (1st century to 21st century) and background you can imagine. The one thing every one of them has in common is: “they obeyed the Lord their God and believed in the One He sent.” All of the redeemed will have new spiritual bodies made for eternity. Jesus Christ will then take his betrothed bride, the Church, to their new home in heaven, the New Jerusalem, and we will be with the Lord forever.

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved” (Ephesians 1:3-6).

Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus.

Randy Nettles

Endnotes: {1}