Glenn Ahrens: (302) 761-3286
John 21:15-17 15When 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.”
16Again 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.”
17The 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.
Jesus asked Peter three times, “Do you love me?” as recorded in John 21:15–17. This occurred when Jesus was having breakfast with His disciples soon after His resurrection. Jesus used this opportunity to encourage and exhort Peter about his upcoming responsibilities and even to prophesy the manner in which Peter will die. By asking Peter, “Do you love me?” three times, Jesus was emphasizing the importance of Peter’s love and unswerving obedience to his Lord as necessary for his future ministry. In the Greek and Hebrew culture, the importance of a particular message was repeated to emphasize it. It is possible that by His repeated question Jesus is subtly reminding Peter of his three denials. There’s no doubt those denials and how he felt when Jesus turned to look at him at that moment were seared deeply into Peter’s mind (Luke 22:54–62). We see throughout the entire Bible this repetition occurring especially when Jesus is speaking. This is the most obvious explanation for repeating the question of what is the only one.
There is another reason that Jesus kept repeating the question that is not as obvious. This reason can be confusing to some but if you understand the Greek or the Hebrew language at all it becomes obvious. The Greek and the Hebrew language are very specific languages. In this Scripture the word “love “can have up to seven different meanings depending on your resource. In English, we only have one word for love which applies to all forms of wealth whether it be love of God or the love of pizza. The same word is used. Here are the four most important words for love in Greek.
The other reason, and I feel the main reason Jesus kept asking him the question was that Peter was giving him the wrong answer. When Jesus asked Peter, “Do you love me?” in John 21:15–16, He used the Greek word agape, which refers to unconditional love. Both times, Peter responded with “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you,” using the Greek word phileo, which refers more to a brotherly/friendship type of love. It seems that Jesus is trying to get Peter to understand that he must love Jesus unconditionally in order to be the leader God is calling him to be. The third time Jesus asks, “Do you love me?” in John 21:17, He uses the word phileo, and Peter again responds with “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you,” again using phileo. The point in the different Greek words for “love” seems to be that Jesus was stretching Peter to move him from phileo love to agape love.
Too often, in my opinion, Christians are settling for the phileo love of Christ. This form of love gives us room to alter this relationship to better suit our needs like we commonly do with friends. There is one problem with this, God will not settle for this form of friendship. It is abundantly clear in Scripture that He demands the agape love. God wants a 100% commitment and will settle for nothing less.
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