In the Gospels Jesus seems to enjoy creating fish stories for His disciples to tell.
In Matthew 17:24-27 Jesus tells Peter to pay the Temple tax by casting a line into the water and using the coins he discovers in the mouth of the fish. In Luke 5:4-11 Jesus amazes skilled fisherman by showing them where to catch enough fish to almost sink their boat. After his resurrection Jesus meets Peter and other disciples at the Sea of Galilee and once again just about swamps their boat by telling them to cast their nets on the other side of the boat from where they had been casting!
What’s with the fish stories, anyway? In our conversation we noticed that there were a couple of things in common in the three stories. Peter was involved in all of them. Jesus seemed to know a lot about the whereabouts and habits of fish.
Peter was Jesus’ leading apostle, so his presence is probably not a mystery. We wondered, however, how Jesus knew so much about fish and what they were doing. How did he know that Peter would catch that one coin-laden fish? Was it entirely a God thing? Or is there something else going on here? Hebrews 2:5-13 may have something else to add to the fish stories.
First, a little bit of background. The writer of Hebrews is actually quoting sections of Psalm 8:3-6 and commenting on its application to Jesus and His ministry. Psalm 8 itself is a meditation on the creation account in Genesis 1:26-28, where God gives the two human beings, male and female, joint “dominion” over the earth and all the creatures of the land, sea and sky. The lists of creatures in both Genesis 1 and Psalm 8 include the fish of the sea.
Immediately after the quote in Hebrews 2:5-8a, the writer goes on to say that this dominion God intended for human beings to have over the created order is somehow not a reality at this time (v. 8). The one exception (v. 9) is Jesus, who is now “crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death.”
So what happened between Genesis 1 and Hebrews 2? One clue can be found in looking at the difference between the blessing in Genesis 1:28 and that in Genesis 9:1-6. There is a change in the relationship between the human beings and the creatures of air, land and sea. Dominion by humans has changed to fear of humans on the part of the creatures. This fear is designed by God to protect the creatures from complete annihilation by human predation. This fear naturally greatly reduces the cooperation between human and animal that is implied in the term “dominion.” In Genesis 3 the ground becomes less cooperative. Now, in ch. 9 it is the turn of the animals.
How does the writer of Hebrews know that all things are in subjection to Jesus? Actually, it is not hard to tell if you have read the Gospels. Jesus most likely knew where the fish were going to be because He sent them there and sent them into the nets. The fish that Peter caught was exactly where Jesus wanted it to be, armed with the coins Jesus wanted it to have found.
I suggest that in these stories Jesus is not only showing that He is God in the flesh. He is showing that He is “new humanity in the flesh.” He is showing that He is the first of a new “family” of humanity that finally does what God has wanted humanity to do all along – “have dominion.” In verse 11 the writer of Hebrews goes on to show that this dominion is one that He has come to share with “brothers and sisters” who are being sanctified by Him.
So far we see only Him. Yet He gives us hints. “If you have faith and do not doubt… if you say to this mountain, ‘Be lifted up and thrown into the sea,’ it will be done. Whatever you ask for in prayer with faith, you will receive” (Matt. 21:21-22).
Our own faith, by contrast, seems to be more like that of His disciples, who wondered why they could not cast out a particular demon in Matt. 17:14-20. He suggests that if they had faith as great as that of a mustard seed, they would be able to move mountains. A hard saying.
When Abraham trusted God’s promise that he would have descendants and lived accordingly, it pleased God greatly. Believing in Jesus means, among other things, believing that Jesus will restore true dominion over this world to a spiritually renewed humanity. If, in our weakness, we still cannot move mountains by faith in Him, the least we can do is testify of His marvelous work in our lives and of His mastery of both life and death in His resurrection.
God’s word does not come back to Him empty. He wanted humanity to have dominion. He also made the world through Jesus and for Jesus (Hebrews 2:10 & Colossians 1:15-16). That is why God sent His Son to reach out to a sinful humanity for purposes of redemption. The created order is Jesus’ to share with redeemed humanity – a family united in a bond of relationship with Jesus through the Holy Spirit.
Jesus, as the first-born of a new family of humanity, is now visibly in charge of the created order. By His mastery of even the fishes, and His mastery of death and resurrection we can easily see that now. May we now, at this time, live up to our great calling as though we really believe in the great and precious promises of Jesus Christ, our Lord.