Do You Truly Love Me?
After he ate with his friends, Jesus turned his attention to Peter, probably because of the dominant role that he would play in the early church. Three times Peter had denied the Lord, so three times Jesus asking, “Do you truly love me?”
So when they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me more than these [others do—with total commitment and devotion]?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You [with a deep, personal affection, as for a close friend].” Jesus said to him, “Feed My lambs.” Again He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me [with total commitment and devotion]?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You [with a deep, personal affection, as for a close friend].” Jesus said to him, “Shepherd My sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me [with a deep, personal affection for Me, as for a close friend]?” Peter was grieved that He asked him the third time, “Do you [really] love Me [with a deep, personal affection, as for a close friend]?” And he said to Him, “Lord, You know everything; You know that I love You [with a deep, personal affection, as for a close friend].” Jesus said to him, “Feed My sheep.”
John 21:15-17 (AMP)
In this beach scene, Jesus led Peter through an experience that would remove the cloud of his denial. Peter had denied Jesus three times. Three times Jesus asked Peter if he loved him. When Peter answered yes, Jesus told him to feed his sheep.
It is one thing to say you love Jesus, but the real test is willingness to serve him. Peter had repented, and here Jesus was asking him to commit his life. Peter’s life changed when he finally realized who Jesus was.
His occupation changed from fisherman to evangelist; his identity changed from impetuous to “rock”; and his relationship to Jesus changed – he was forgiven, and he finally understood the significance of Jesus’ words about his death and resurrection.
Embarrassing, as it must have been at the time, this tender exchange restored Peter to leadership – a role he exercised early in Acts. Throughout the history of the church, thousands have been scattered on the roadside of good intentions for ministry; they traded God’s call for something else – like fishing.
Even though this night of fishing may have been just a casual outing with the guys, as a professional fisherman Peter could have entertained thoughts of going back to his former work. Being with Jesus had been great, and it must have felt wonderful to have him alive again.
But who knows what might be next?
A fellow has to make a living.
For the next nine verses, John brought his Gospel to a close with the clear enunciation of Peter’s call to ministry. Jesus asked Peter almost the same question three times. This could reflect the three denials, but whether it did or not, the command was similar each time:
- Feed my lambs
- Take care of my sheep
- Feed my sheep
A quick glance at 1 Peter lets us know the disciple never forgot this moment.
Several questions jump at us from the text of these three verses. Even if we agree that the threefold reference probably does connect with the threefold denial, specific questions remain unanswered:
- What is the meaning of the words more than these?
- Why did the Lord change the command after each of Peter’s responses?
Some indicate specificity in both the noun and verb changes such as a reference to children’s ministry (lambs) and service to adults (sheep). Also the varied ministries of apostleship and later eldership would include spiritual feeding and care of the flock. Perhaps all of this is implied in the text, perhaps none. The point is that Jesus called Peter to shepherding rather than fishing. His future work would involve ministry to people.
The shepherding call continued a second time as Jesus used Peter’s old name (Simon), reverting to “pebble” rather than “rock.” The flow of the text emphasizes humility and service rather than primacy over the other apostles.
At this point in the text there is a change of verb in Jesus’ question while the verb in Peter’s answer stays the same.
We also learn that Peter was hurt by the third question. Jesus asked Peter three times if he loved him. The first time Jesus said,
Do you love (Greek agape: “volitional, self-sacrificial love”) me more than these?
The second time, Jesus focused on Peter alone and used the same Greek word. The third time, Jesus used the Greek word phileo (signifying “affection, affinity, or brotherly love”) and asked, in effect,
“Are you even my friend?”
Peter responded each time with the Greek word phileo. Jesus doesn’t settle for quick, superficial answers. He has a way of getting to the heart of the matter. Peter had to face his true feelings and motives when Jesus confronted him.
How would you respond if Jesus asked you?
“Do you love me? Do you really love me? Are you even my friend?”
There can be little doubt but that the whole scene is meant to show us Peter as completely restored to his position of leadership. He has three times denied his Lord. Now he has three times affirmed his love for Him, and three times he has been commissioned to care for the flock.
This must have had the effect on the others of a demonstration that, whatever had been the mistakes of the past; Jesus was restoring Peter to a place of trust. It is further worth noting that the one thing about which Jesus questions Peter prior to commissioning him to tend the flock is love. This is the basic qualification for Christian service.
We should not be surprised if the Lord at times tests the extent of our love for Him.
DECLARATION OF FAITH
When Jesus paid my price and I accepted Him as my Lord and my Savior, His Father became my Father, and His God became my God.
I pray this declaration of faith in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ! Amen.
NLT Chronological Life Application Bible
Holman New Testament Commentary
The Complete Personalized Promise Bible