John 21:15–17

“When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?’ He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’ He said to him, ‘Feed my lambs’ ” (v. 15).

First-century men and women who heard the preaching of the gospel and were told about the sequence of events associated with the crucifixion heard about how Simon Peter denied knowing Jesus during our Lord’s trial (John 18:15–27). And they would have known that this same Peter was not permanently disqualified from ministry but was a leader in the early church and one of the most prominent Apostles. This would have raised the question as to how Peter went from one who denied the Lord to one of the Lord’s chief preachers. The same question arises when we read John’s gospel and see Peter’s prominence in the postresurrection encounters of the disciples with Jesus (20:1–21:14). Today’s passage gives us the answer to the question.

We read in John 21:15–17 the account of Peter’s restoration to ministry by Christ. After the disciples finished eating breakfast on the shore of the Sea of Tiberias, Jesus asked Peter three times whether he loved Jesus “more than these.” The question is significant because we know from the Gospels that Peter was quick to speak and to act in a display of love and honor for Jesus (Matt. 16:13–19), though sometimes his zeal led him to do and say things he should not have (vv. 21–23; John 18:10–11). Peter could be restored to ministry only if his professed love for Christ was real, so Jesus asked him about the quality of his love.

Three times Jesus posed the question to Peter, most likely to parallel the Apostle’s three earlier denials (21:15–17; see 18:15–27). Just as Peter rejected Jesus three times, he would have to confess Jesus three times to be restored to his place among the disciples. Some preachers have made much of the fact that Jesus uses two different Greek words for “love” in interrogating Peter, but it does not seem that we should find significance in this fact. The words are used interchangeably throughout John’s gospel.

What we should take note of is that Jesus tells Peter in three different ways to feed and take care of His sheep. Jesus gave Peter the duty of shepherding His people, of teaching them the truth that feeds their souls. Of course, this commission was not limited to Peter but extended to all the Apostles, and Peter explains that it is also given to the elders throughout the church age (1 Peter 5:1–4). Church leaders are to care for believers, knowing that they belong ultimately to Christ and that they need the truth of God’s Word for their good.

Coram Deo

The elders and teachers of the church have been tasked with feeding God’s people His Word. The most important thing our leaders can do is make sure that they are well grounded in Scripture and know how to apply it to our lives. We should seek out churches with such leaders, and we should be grateful for those elders and teachers who faithfully deliver the Word of God to us, regularly encouraging them in their labors.

For Further Study