In John 21:15-19, Jesus reinstates Peter.
15 When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”
“Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”
16 Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”
17 The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.
This is the richest Gospel text that we have. Unfortunately, the translation of this text from Greek into English has lost the deep spiritual meaning of what is happening in this account. We will unpack the meaning by doing a biblical exegesis, a critical explanation or interpretation of a scriptural text.
Peter is no longer proud, boastful and cocky. During the chilly night of Jesus’ trial before the Sanhedrin (Jn 18:18), he denied Jesus three times around a charcoal fire where the officers and servants of the high priest stood warming themselves. . The Greek word anthrakia, meaning a charcoal fire, is found only twice in the New Testament, both in the Gospel of John. The second instance of a charcoal fire is in the prelude to the scriptural text above: Jesus is cooking the Apostles breakfast over a charcoal fire (Jn 21:9). Now we see a humble and chastised Peter. He hangs his head in shame.
Jesus gazes lovingly toward Peter and asks him, “Do you love me?” (Jn 21:15a). The original Greek text is Agapas me? With these words, Jesus is asking Peter to love Him entirely with everything he has. Peter responds, “Yes Lord, you know that I love you” (Jn 21:15b). Peter’s response, Philo se, uses a different Greek word for love. Peter is saying that he loves Jesus as a brother.
Jesus asks Peter a second time, “Do you love me?” (Jn 21:16a). Again, the original Greek text is Agapas me? Jesus is asking Peter if he loves Him with his entire being. Peter’s response is the same as the first, “I love you, Lord, as a brother” (Jn 21:16b).
Jesus asks Peter a third time, “Do you love me?” (Jn 21:17a). This time, Jesus is lowering the bar. He is meeting Peter where he is at. Jesus is now asking Peter, Philo me? Do you love me as a brother? Peter’s response is the same as the other times.
Peter was not yet capable of loving Jesus with his entire being. Jesus accepted him where he was at. By asking Peter “Do you love me?” three times, Jesus is reversing Peter’s thrice denial in the courtyard of the temple. Jesus is showing Peter mercy, forgiveness and a deep love. Jesus knows that after He ascends into heaven (Lk 14:50), He will send the Holy Spirit (Acts 2) who will change Peter and the Apostles into bold and unwavering men who will preach the Gospel to the ends of the earth, giving their very lives for their faith in Jesus Christ.
Peter’s faith in Jesus was shaken during Jesus’ arrest, passion and death. Has your faith been shaken by marital strife and divorce? Do not despair. Jesus is waiting to meet you where you are. Trust that Jesus, through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, will give you great faith and boldness even if you only believe a little. God did a mighty work in a misfit band of men. He can do a mighty work through you if you let Him. Do not hang your head in shame but hang onto every word from the mouth of the Lord. He loves you with His entire being. He offered Himself up, dying on the cross for the forgiveness of your sins and those of your spouse. He wants to extend His love, mercy and forgiveness to you both. Let Jesus’ loving gaze change your heart. Give Jesus your meager love and see the mighty work He will bring from it.
“I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness. I will build you up again, and you…will be rebuilt.” Jeremiah 31:3-4
God bless you, my Brother. You remain in my prayers.
Unless otherwise noted, scripture quoted are from THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2010 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.