Dr. Ron J. Bigalke

Tabgha is located in the Gennesar Valley on the shore of the Sea of Galilee (Heb. Kinneret). For centuries, Tabgha was known by the local fishing industry for its abundance of fish. 

Tabgha is well documented in historical records, though the name is derived from the Greek heptapegon, meaning “Place of the Seven Springs,” which is also the meaning of the Hebrew name Ein Sheva. The pronunciation of the Greek as “hep-tapegon” as an early designation for the site changed gradually throughout the centuries among various people groups who occupied the region, which eventually resulted in the modern corruption of “Seven Springs” as Tabgha.

Tabgha was (and still is) a popular fishing suburb in the first century at the foot of the Mount of Beatitudes. It is located on the shoreline east of the neighboring city of Magdala, and almost two miles west of Capernaum, the Lord’s “own city” (Matt 9:1), from which He accomplished much of His public ministry (4:13; Mark 2:1). The region was well known to the Jewish historian Josephus, who mentioned the unique abundance of the Capernaum well, even referring to some who compared it to the Nile (Wars of the Jews 3.10.8). “The stretch of coastline between Capernaum and the springs of Tabgha is particularly rich in fish even in the twenty-first century, thanks to the organoleptic characteristics of the spring water: warm [slightly more so than water from the Sea of Galilee], salty, and rich in minerals. The fish are drawn there especially at night (cf. Luke 5:5), when the ambient temperature drops to 10˚C” (Stefano De Luca, “Capernaum,” in The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Bible and Archaeology, ed. Daniel M. Master, 2 vols. [New York: Oxford, 2013] 1:172).

Tabgha is believed to be the shoreline where Jesus called His first disciples: “Simon who was called Peter, and Andrew his brother,” in addition to two other brothers, James and John, who were “mending their nets” for another fishing expedition with their father Zebedee (Matt 4:18-22). Given its organoleptic characteristics, Tabgha would have not only provided the Zebedee family with supplemental protein, but also revenue from trade (particularly to nearby cities such as Sepphoris and Tiberias). The calling of four disciples was with famous and memorable words: “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men” (v. 19). The two pairs of brothers knew Jesus previously (Luke 5:3; John 1:35-42), but now He called them to abandon their professions and follow Him with an endless commitment. Through this, they would learn from being with the Lord, in addition to learning what He taught. God typically commissions people who are already productive; thus, He called fishers, not idlers.

Tabgha is best known as the site of Christ’s multiplication of fish and loaves to feed a multitude of 5,000, and where Jesus appeared to His disciples a third time subsequent to His resurrection, when He both restored and commissioned Peter as leader of the Apostles. The earliest report of the local traditions is from the fourth century (AD 383) by the pilgrim Lady Egeria.

The Feeding of the Multitude
In His miraculous feeding of the multitude, Jesus modeled the importance of symmetry (Mark 6:31-32). There are times when great demands arise, which must be alternated with times of solitude and rest. Recuperating from challenging labor is biblical and necessary, so one can work more effectively. Jesus gives approval to the appropriate pursuit of rest from labor which, of course, is evident in how God memorialized a day of rest in celebration of His creative work.

Nevertheless, there are desperate people who may lack empathy and will not allow a person rest until they can receive what they want. Jesus is the true Shepherd (John 10:1-18), which is why His compassion was greater than His desire for rest, particularly as the people were “sheep without a shepherd” (Mark 6:34). Not having a shepherd meant people were wandering like sheep; they desperately needed a word from Jesus that would bring meaning to their lives. Herod and the religious leaders should have been able to guide the people, yet they were just as lost themselves. Wandering sheep who have no one to lead them need the teaching of the true Shepherd. Jesus said, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep” (John 10:10-11).

Only after ministering to their spiritual needs did Jesus satisfy the physical needs of the crowd (Mark 6:35-44). The disciples were the ones who recognized the people needed something to eat, so Jesus commanded them to resolve the need. Jesus asked the disciples to count their resources, which were entirely inadequate, so He gave them an unmistakable lesson.

Jesus said, “You give them something to eat!” The command was impossible and preposterous, yet when the Twelve considered their inadequacy and allowed the power of Christ to multiply the bread loaves and fish, they were able to do exactly as He commanded. Jesus is not only able to supply all that is necessary for His people’s needs, but also, He can do more than expected (Eph 3:20-21). God’s commands are always fulfilled with divine provisions.

As soon as the crowd was fed, Jesus immediately “made His disciples get into the boat and go ahead of Him to the other side” of the lake (v. 45). The urgency of the matter was due to the people wanting to proclaim Jesus as king (John 6:15). Jesus was not a political deliverer (or social reformer), nor did He want His disciples succumbing to such temptations. When Jesus dismissed the crowd, He departed “for the mountain to pray” (Mark 6:46).

Jesus concluded His prayers because He saw His disciples in trouble (vv. 47-48). As the second Person of the Triune God, Jesus was capable of transcending the nature that He created and sustains (v. 49; cf. Col 1:15-17). Jesus calmed His disciples with a word of comfort (Mark 6:50). The disciples had not appreciated what Jesus taught them in the previous miracle, so they were unable to realize the significance of the present miracle (vv. 51-52). Hardened hearts prevented them from understanding as they should have (v. 52). Jesus was not finished with His disciples. Perhaps when the boat landed and He performed multiple healings, the hearts of the disciples began to soften. Mark 6 compels modern readers to ask how best to increase faith in God, depending upon Him for all one’s needs.

The Third Appearance of the Risen Lord
As already stated, Tabgha is the traditional site for Jesus’ third appearance to His disciples subsequent to His resurrection (John 21:1-14), in addition to the Lord’s restoration and commissioning of Peter (vv. 15-17). Prior to the crucifixion, the temporal needs of the disciples were satisfied by the generosity of individuals (Luke 8:3). Considering that the Cross most likely resulted in an end to such charity, seven of the disciples (John 21:2) were uncertain how to make provision for themselves, and thus returned to their former occupation of fishing. The uncertainty of the fishing expedition is an event contrasted to the assured purpose resulting from the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost (Acts 2).

The disciples fished all night, yet caught nothing. “But when the day was now breaking, Jesus stood on the beach; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus” (John 21:4). With a common greeting, Jesus inquired whether they had any fish, to which they answered in the negative (v. 5). Jesus uttered what appeared to be a ridiculous assertion, yet they complied and were unable to draw the net because of the multitude of fish (v. 6). There was only one explanation for the miraculous catch: “It is the Lord” (v. 7). With similar excitement as when he ran to the see the empty tomb, Peter “threw himself into the sea” and swam as quickly as possible to the beach, with his eyes focused upon the risen Lord Jesus. When the other disciples reached land, “they saw a charcoal fire already laid and fish placed on it, and bread” (vv. 8-9). Jesus invited His disciples to “Come and have breakfast” (v. 12).

“So when they had finished breakfast,” Jesus spoke directly to Peter (v. 15). Three times, Jesus asked Peter, “Do you love me?” His threefold questioning would seem to be an allusion to the threefold denial of Peter, thus explaining his grief (v. 17). By asking the same question three times, Jesus indicated the priority of love for Himself. He desires the words of His disciples to agree with their actions. The best manner to demonstrate love for the Lord is caring for His people. Words are not enough if actions are not those constituting obvious love for God, as evidenced in love for others 
... especially those who belong to the body of Christ.

With slight variation, Jesus commanded Peter each time he affirmed his love for the Lord: “Tend My lambs ... Shepherd My sheep ... Tend My sheep” (vv. 15-17). What is evident from the threefold dialogue between Jesus and Peter, is that love for the Lord involves serving others, which was also a priority of His teaching in the Upper Room (John 13—17). Peter later exhorted pastors with the same words (cf. 1 Pet 5:1-4). Jesus could have given His post-resurrection command to Peter in Galilee, where the Lord’s compassion for the multitudes was evident, particularly in how they were “sheep without a shepherd” (Matt 9:36). However, the focus of Jesus’ ministry in Galilee was instilling His compassion into His disciples, in addition to their constant dependence upon the Lord. Jesus took Peter to Tabgha because it was the location where the Lord called Peter to discipleship, and where a miraculous catch of fish resulted in the confession, “I am a sinful man” (Luke 5:8). Jesus restored Peter to ministry at Tabgha only when he affirmed the quality of his love for the Lord, and thus why he should tend to and care for the Lord’s sheep. An authentic relationship with the Lord means serving others, and the motivation for such ministry is love for Jesus (cf. Matt 22:34-40). How would you answer the Lord’s question, “Do you love Me?”

Midnight Call - 08/2023

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