Responding to His Love: John 21:15-25

Focus Passage: John 21:15-25 (NIV)

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. 18 Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” 19 Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!”

20 Peter turned and saw that the disciple whom Jesus loved was following them. (This was the one who had leaned back against Jesus at the supper and had said, “Lord, who is going to betray you?”) 21 When Peter saw him, he asked, “Lord, what about him?”

22 Jesus answered, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.” 23 Because of this, the rumor spread among the believers that this disciple would not die. But Jesus did not say that he would not die; he only said, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you?”

24 This is the disciple who testifies to these things and who wrote them down. We know that his testimony is true.

25 Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.

Read John 21:15-25 in context and/or in other translations on BibleGateway.com!

In probably one of the most redemptive and life-altering conversations following the crucifixion, Jesus invites Peter to follow again. After the three times Peter denied being associated with Jesus, chances are that he believed Jesus to have given up on him. Following the crucifixion, Jesus finds Peter back fishing, along with a number of other disciples.

Jesus meets them on the shore and they share breakfast together. It is after their breakfast that Jesus addresses Peter – which is a conversation that Peter was likely dreading. John tells us that Jesus asks Peter the same question three times, but while the translation into English makes these questions identical, there is an interesting wordplay involved in the Greek.

The first two times Jesus asks Peter the question, Jesus uses the Greek word “agapao” to describe the idea of love. This angle of love the Amplified Bible translation describes as “with total commitment and devotion”. The agapao love is a selfless and committed love towards another. In each case, Peter responds using a different word for love: “phileo”. The Amplified Bible translation describes this love as “with a deep, personal affection, as for a close friend”. The phileo love is more like a very close friend love.

I believe these first two questions are important because in them, Jesus pushes Peter to move past where he had been and into a deeper understanding of God.

The third time Jesus asks the question, Jesus echoes Peter’s word for love by asking if Peter “phileo”-loved Him. I’m not sure if this shift breaks Peter’s heart, or if it instead links to another interesting dynamic that happens in this brief conversation.

After Peter’s response to each question, Jesus makes an interesting statement that is unique to each question. After the first question and response, Jesus tells Peter to “Feed my lambs.” (v. 15)

I read this challenge as Jesus telling Peter to help the young, growing Christians – whether these young Christians are children, or whether they are older in age but newer to the faith. Perhaps, Jesus used the word “agapao” to describe that this is the type of love that one would need when helping this group of Christians.

After the second question and response, Jesus tells Peter to “Take care of my sheep.” (v. 16)

In this response, I see Jesus challenging Peter to help those who are hurting, aging, or otherwise needing some form of help. Some other translations describe this idea as “Shepherd my sheep”. Again, I wonder if Jesus used the word “agapao” to describe the type of love one would/should have when shepherding others.

After the third question and response, Jesus begins by telling Peter to “Feed my sheep.” (v. 17)

This third response Jesus gives echoes the first response, but I see it challenging Peter to help otherwise mature Christians grow. Like the other two statements, I wonder if Jesus chose the different Greek word for love (“phileo”) because this type of love would work best for this group of Christians.

Jesus then cryptically describes how Peter will end his life. From how the author places the side-note in the text, it is possible that he wrote it after Peter had died. Jesus then re-invites Peter to follow Him.

In these three challenges, I see challenges for each of us as followers of Jesus. We are to help the young members of our faith grow in their relationship with God/Jesus; we are to help those among us who are hurting and in need of strength and encouragement; and we are to challenge the mature members of our faith to deepen their relationship with God, Jesus, and each other. Each task requires a certain type of love, and in this conversation with Peter, Jesus helps us by describing the type of followers He wants us to be.

This thought was inspired by studying the Walking With Jesus "Reflective Bible Study" package. To discover insights like this in your own study time, click here and give Reflective Bible Study a try today!

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