Jesus Commissions Peter

Studies in First Peter

Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:1 ESV)

John 21:15-17

Jesus never condemned Peter for any of his misstatements or compulsive actions. He rebuked Peter on many occasions. He predicted Peter would run away from Him during His arrest, just as all of His disciples fled. Jesus also knew Peter would verbally deny Him before those who wanted Him dead. Knowing what Peter would do does not mean Peter lost his position as the unofficial leader of the disciples. Peter did not need to be reinstated as a disciple because he had never lost his position as a disciple. Judas lost his position as a disciple when he murdered himself.

We are enabled to come to Jesus only because God draws us to Him.  Jesus calls everyone to come to Him, and those who are willing, respond. His call is not a request but a command. Those who respond do so out of obedience to God’s command. Those who do not come do so out of rebellion and hatred for God. God does everything needed for redemption, yet each person must still obey.

Jesus asks Peter three times if he loves Him. Why three times? Could it be Jesus is responding to Peter’s three denials, which Jesus predicted?

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.”

He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” 

He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.”

He said to him, “Tend my sheep.”

He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” 

Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.”

Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.” (John 21:15-17 ESV)

In this passage there are two words used for love. The first word is agapao, which means Godly, or high and devoted love. The second word is phileo, or love as a friend and can mean to kiss.  Jesus asks the first two times “do you agapao me” and Peter answers “yes, I phileo you.” Finally, Jesus meets Peter at his level and asks him “do you phileo me” and Peter answers in kind.  Jesus is challenging Peter’s love and Peter is grieved, or “cut to the heart” by Jesus’ questions.

Jesus, after each question, gives Peter a command. After the first question Peter is to “feed my lambs” and then to “feed my sheep.”  To feed means to give nourishment. It is the same word used when Jesus cast out Legion from the demoniac and there were pigs feeding nearby (see Matthew 8:30, Mark 5:11, Luke 8:32). Peter is to provide spiritual nourishment for those people who are new followers of Christ as well as those who are more mature in their faith. After the second question about Peter’s love, Jesus tells him to “tend my sheep” which means to govern or rule, to cherish as one’s own body and to serve the flock or Church. Christ is the head of His body, the Church. “And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all” (Ephesians 1:22-23 ESV; see also Colossians 1:18). It is Peter’s work to be a fisher of men and to lead those so caught in their relationship with Christ.

Jesus uses both words, agapao and phileo, throughout His teaching, referring to the love God has for those created in His image and the love they return to Him because of their nature. It is the divine nature of man created in the image of God to love, agapao, those also created in His image. Even those who are considered the enemies of God are of such great value they are loved by God. “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:43-45 ESV). In addition, those who are His show the evidence of their love for God through their obedience to His commands.

Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.”

Judas (not Iscariot) said to him, “Lord, how is it that you will manifest yourself to us, and not to the world?”

Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me. (John 14:21-24 ESV)

Our commission, like Peter’s commission, is to love God and those with whom we live.

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