Jesus Reaffirms His Love for Peter

Soon after Peter abandoned Jesus and denied that he knew Him, Jesus was crucified according to the sovereign plan and purpose of God, by which He became the atoning sacrifice for the sins of His people (Matthew 1:21). And then His disciples went into hiding for fear that the Jews would come for them as well.


Jesus rose from the dead on the third day after He was crucified. Soon afterward He appeared to Mary Magdalene, and later He also appeared to the disciples as they were meeting inside a locked room.


After these events, Jesus again appeared to several of His disciples by the sea. Peter and some of the others had decided to go fishing. They fished all night but had caught nothing. It was early in the morning when Jesus


appeared to them standing on the shore, but the disciples did not at first realize that it was Jesus. This event is recorded in John 21:5-9.


Jesus called out to them, asking them if they had caught any fish. They answered that they had not. Then Jesus told them to throw their net over the right side of the boat, and they would find a catch there. They did as they were told and caught so many fish that they were not able to haul in the net.


At this point, John recognized that it was Jesus who had called to them, and he told Peter. Peter then immediately wrapped an outer garment around himself, and he jumped into the water to swim to Jesus ahead of the others, who followed in the boat towing the net full of fish. When they all got to shore, they saw a fire of glowing coals with fish cooking over it, and bread also.


We can imagine that Peter’s awareness of his abandonment and denial of Jesus was still painfully present in his mind at the time they were eating breakfast together on the shore. After they had eaten, Jesus reaffirmed His love for Peter in the presence of them all. Jesus knew that Peter needed to be reassured, and He came back for him and made sure Peter knew, that despite his failings, he was still loved and accepted by Him. The account of Jesus’ reaffirmation of Peter is given a few verses later in the Gospel of John:


So 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, “Tend My lambs.” He said to him again 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, “Shepherd 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 all things; You know that I love You.” Jesus said to him, “Tend My sheep. (John 21:15-17).


It is interesting to note the two Greek words from the original text that are translated as the English word “love” in this passage of John 21. Jesus asked Peter three times if he loved Him. The first two times Jesus asked Peter if he truly loved Him (verses 15 and 16). The Greek word that was used in Jesus’ first two questions to Peter was the word “agapao”, which is a supreme, unconditional type of love.



Peter answered Jesus these two times saying, “Yes, Lord…you know that I love you.” However, the Greek word for “love” that was used in Peter’s answer to Jesus was not “agapao”, but it was “phileo”, which is a lesser type of love, not an unconditional, supreme love, but only a type of brotherly love or fondness. Peter knew that his earlier failure had plainly demonstrated that the love he had for Jesus did not rise to the level of a supreme, unconditional love, and he had to admit this in his answer to the Lord.


The third time that Jesus asked Peter if he loved Him (verse 17), the word “phileo” is now used in His question to Peter, according to the original Greek text. And again, “phileo” means a brotherly love or fondness for someone. Peter was hurt when Jesus asked him this third time, as if Jesus were asking if he even loved Him as a brother.


Peter replied to Jesus again saying that he did love Him, and that He as Lord knew all things. Peter knew that the love he had shown for Jesus in his recent abandonment and denial of Him made it clear that his love for Him did not rise to the standard of an unconditional love, but something less, a love which was only a brotherly love or fondness.


It is also interesting to note Jesus’ words to Peter in John 21:18-19. Before Peter abandoned Jesus and then denied that he even knew Him, he boasted that he was ready to lay down his life for Him (John 13:37). As we know, just a short time later Peter had his chance to do that, but he forsook Jesus and fled along with the other disciples. However, as Jesus came back to reaffirm His love for Peter, He told him that indeed the time was coming when he would lay down his life for Him.


The devotion unto death that Peter had failed to demonstrate in his own strength, his God would work to bring about in his life, in His time. Jesus said to Peter: “Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were younger, you used to gird yourself and walk wherever you wished; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands and someone else will gird you, and bring you where you do not wish to go.” Now this He said, signifying by what kind of death he would glorify God. And when He had spoken this, He said to him, “Follow Me!” (John 21:18-19, emphasis added). As we see from verse 19, these words were understood to mean that Peter also would be crucified, laying down his life for the cause of Christ.


Even though when tested, Peter had failed in his devotion to Jesus so miserably, his failure demonstrates the supreme and unconditional love that our Lord has for all who come to Him, a love which never lets go regardless of our failings. Peter was not banished from the Lord because of his failings, as grievous as they were; rather Jesus came back to Peter in order to reassure him of His love for him.


Despite his failings, Jesus commanded Peter three times to feed His sheep. And just as He had done at the Sea of Galilee when He first called Peter and his brother Andrew to follow Him (Matthew 4:19), so at this time as He came back to reaffirm His love for Peter, Jesus once again commanded him, this time with emphasis, saying: “Follow me!” (John 21:19).


This supreme and unconditional love that Jesus showed for Peter demonstrates the love that God has for all of us who come to faith in Christ. It is a love by which God, through no merit or worthiness of our own, chose us before the creation of the world to believe on His Son Jesus Christ and to obtain the forgiveness of our sins through Jesus’ shed blood (Ephesians 1:4- 5, 1 Peter 1:1-2).


When Jesus predicted Peter’s denial of Him, He told Peter: “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has demanded permission to sift you like wheat; but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” (Luke 22:31-32, emphasis added).


Notice that Jesus did not say to Peter “if” you return to Me, or “if” you persevere in your faith, but He said to Peter: “when once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers” (emphasis added). Peter’s perseverance in his faith and ultimate victory were assured, just as ours is also as believers when we face our times of trial. It is God who saves us, and it is God who preserves us (John 6:37-40, 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24, Romans 8:38, 1 Peter 1:4-5).


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