15 After breakfast Jesus asked Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” “Yes, Lord,” Peter replied, “you know I love you.” “Then feed my lambs,” Jesus told him. 16 Jesus repeated the question: “Simon son of John, do you love me?” “Yes, Lord,” Peter said, “you know I love you.”“Then take care of my sheep,” Jesus said.17 A third time he asked him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”Peter was hurt that Jesus asked the question a third time. He said, “Lord, you know everything. You know that I love you. Jesus said, “Then feed my sheep.18 “I tell you the truth, when you were young, you were able to do as you liked; you dressed yourself and went wherever you wanted to go. But when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and others will dress you and take you where you don’t want to go.” 19 Jesus said this to let him know by what kind of death he would glorify God. Then Jesus told him, “Follow me.”
Throughout this story, Peter has been referred to as “Simon Peter.” However, Jesus does not use this name at this time, rather, he uses Peter’s previous name, Peter, son of John, the name used before Peter was a disciple. Now, did this indicate that Peter has been ousted from that special group of first followers? It very well may have, it may have indicated that there was a break in the relationship between Jesus and Peter, and it might be indicating that it is time to address this breaking.
The question that Jesus is going to ask, and he will ask it three times, is the life question that we all need to answer at some point in our lives. It is the ultimate question in our lives. “Do you truly love me more than these?” The way that you answer this question makes a difference in the focus, trajectory, and experience of life that you will have over the rest of your life.
The first time Jesus asks this question we see a Peter who is quick to answer, as he always is! But Jesus is not satisfied with the answer, so he asks Peter again, the same question.
Peter takes this opportunity again to answer in the affirmative. Then, with Jesus not being satisfied again with the answer, we see Jesus as the question a third time. (We will get to Jesus’ response in a bit).
By the third as, Peter is hurting. It must be finally dawning on him that Jesus is asking this question three times because Peter denied Jesus three times as well. I love the symmetry of this occurrence. He takes the biggest mistake of Peter’s life, and he turns it around.
I have said this many times, Jesus is the God of reversals. And we see that reversal happening here in a powerful way!
- What has Jesus reversed in your life?
- Do you think that the disciples on the beach understood what was happening?
- How would you have received this reversal if you had been the one to make such a mistake as denying Jesus multiple times?
Going to the original, it's important to note that the 3 questions were not the same. The first 2 times Jesus asks, "Do you 'agape' me? " and Peter's response, after reflection from the Thursday night and Friday events responded, "I 'phileo' you." Finally Jesus asks the third time, "Do you really only 'phileo' me? " These really are 3 important questions we each need to ask ourselves . . . Do we 'phileo' Jesus, or are we willing to die for Him, agape Him?