John 21:15 – 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.”

As we ended out post last week, we were examining the miraculous catch of fish that Jesus gave to his disciples in Galilee.  After they came to shore, they found Jesus had prepared a breakfast of fish and bread for them. 

After the meal is concluded, Jesus begins to speak to Peter. 

Notice how specific Jesus is with his inquiry – he doesn’t just ask Peter if he loves him.  He asks if Peter loves him ‘more than these’.  In the original Greek language, ‘these’ is slightly ambiguous.  It means one of two things. 

In the first scenario, ‘these’ would refer to ‘things’, such as Peter’s boat, his fishing equipment, his business, his house, etc.  If this is the reference, then Jesus is asking Peter if he loves him more than his possessions.  He is asking Peter if he is ready and willing to leave these things behind in order to preach the gospel to the nations of the earth. 

However, in the second (and much more likely) scenario, ‘these’ would refer to the other apostles.  If this is the reference, then Jesus is asking Peter if he loves him more than the other disciples do.  That might seem like an odd question, until we remember the haughty claim made by Peter – that he would never abandon or deny Christ even though his fellow disciples might:

Matthew 26:33 – Peter answered him, “Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away.”

With that statement, Peter implied that he loved Jesus more than his colleagues, and that he was more committed to Christ then they were.  

So, with this one simple question, Jesus reminds Peter of his pride, his fall and his blasphemous denial of his master.  Notice how merciful and loving Jesus acts towards Peter.  Jesus could have scorned and chastised him in front of all the others; Peter certainly deserved it.  But instead, Jesus brings up this tough topic after they had shared a meal together in peace, speaking to Peter as a friend, not an accuser.

Why would Jesus bring up this topic in the first place?

He does it because Peter needs to be restoredMany scholars maintain that Peter’s treacherous denial of Christ rendered him unfit to be an apostle, and that he must be reinstated into his office.  Others feel this viewpoint is a bit extreme because there is no official record that Peter was ever actually excluded from the apostolic leadership.  Because of his denial, Peter himself may have wondered where he stood with Jesus and what his future role would be as a disciple.

Clearly, Peter’s repudiation of Christ is a situation that cannot be ignored, ‘swept under the rug’ or simply shrugged off.  His conduct has dishonored Christ and stained the gospel message.  How can he now lead the church?  How can he instruct others in the faith?  How can we have faith in his testimony about Christ?   

The only way for Peter to move forward and be effective in ministry is for Jesus to renew/reaffirm his calling or re-establish his position.  This is what we find happening in the last part of this chapter.

The three confirmations that Jesus requires of Peter mirror his earlier three-fold denial of Christ.  Through this three-fold confirmation, Jesus is restoring Peter to his position as a full apostle; his betrayal and disgrace are completely blotted out by Christ. 

Once this situation was addressed, Peter was able to move forward and boldly execute his office, being confident and assured of the calling he had been given by Christ. 

John 21:16 –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.”

‘Simon, son of John, do you love me?’ – This is now the second time that Jesus confronts Peter with this question.  We notice that Jesus questions Peter in front of all his fellow apostles.  The reason is two-fold.  One, Peter had publicly denied Jesus, so he should now publicly affirm his love for Christ.  Two, it was important for the other disciples to hear Jesus re-affirm Peter’s call to ministry so they too could feel confident having him as a colleague and leader in the church.

‘Yes Lord; you know that I love you.’ – Wow!  Peter sure has changed/matured.  We now see that his attitude is one of humility.  He no longer brags that his love of Christ is superior to that of his brothers.  He is now aware of his own weakness and his need to be spiritually strengthened. 

This is a good lesson for every believer.  When we first come to know Christ, we are unaware of just how immature we are in the faith.  We are often unable to see our own shortcomings, even though we can seem to see them clearly in everyone else!

Matthew 7:4-5 –Or how will you say to your brother, Let me pull the speck out of your eye; and, behold, a beam is in your own eye?  You hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of your own eye; and then shall you see clearly to cast out the speck out of your brother’s eye.

It is imperative that as Christians, we remain humble at all times.  While we may excel in some areas of Christian development, we all have areas that still need work.  If you think you are perfect, or close to it, I suggest spending time in the presence of Holy Spirit.  He can reveal to you those areas of your life that need to be more fully submitted to God, even though you can’t see them.  He is here to help you mature in your faith.

‘Tend my sheep’ – Throughout the scriptures, God often refers to himself as a shepherd and his followers as his flock/sheep/lambs (John 10:14, I Peter 2:25, Psalms 78:51-52, Ezekiel 34:12, etc).  This concept is key to understanding the command of Jesus in this passage.

The directive Jesus gives here is not exactly the same as before.  The first time he instructs Peter to ‘Feed my lambs’.  The Greek word for ‘feed’ means ‘the care afforded (to the animal) by furnishing nutrition for the flock’.  Thus, our translation renders the phrase ‘feed my lambs’. 

In other words, when Jesus instructs Peter to nourish his sheep, he is referring to giving them good/sound teaching and doctrine regarding the gospel.  This would be one of the main avenues of ministry for all the apostles once they were enlightened and empowered by Holy Spirit.   

Sound doctrine/teaching was (and is) absolutely imperative to the church! Though the disciples didn’t realize it at the time, Satan was not going to sit idly by while they spread the gospel and won the world to Christ.  Just after the birth of the church, Satan unleashed his fury on earth.  He tried to destroy the church using a two-pronged attack:  persecution and false teaching.

2 Peter 2:1 – But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who shall secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction.

It was vitally important that the disciples maintain sound teaching and pure doctrine in the church, so that Satan could not lead believers astray into some kind of fruitless bondage or spiritual death. Even today, Christians must continue to be diligent in guarding against false teaching. 

The second time Jesus answers Peter, his instructions are to ‘tend my sheep’.  The Greek word for ‘tend’ means to ‘govern, care for, guide, protect’.  This is the kind of care that a dedicated shepherd or pastor uses to guide his flock.

The job of a pastor is much, much more than just giving a good sermon once a week!  Pastors are responsible for overseeing the spiritual growth of the entire congregation.  He or she must spiritually equip the church to stand up against attacks of the enemy and lead the congregation in Christian disciplines.  He or she must comfort, guide, teach and protect the flock, just as a shepherd does for his sheep.  Being a pastor is an awesome yet difficult job!

John 21:17 – 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.”

Now we come to the third time Jesus asks Peter to reaffirm his love for him.  Peter is grieved that Jesus would continue to ask this question.   Why was Peter grieved?

It may be that Peter felt Jesus saw something deep within his heart which might lead to another fall from grace, and that Jesus was about to tell him about it.  After all, Jesus had accurately predicted Peter’s earlier denial (Mark 14:30).  

It may also be that Peter thought Jesus did not consider his repentance to be sincere.  This would best explain why Peter appeals to the divine nature of Christ, stating that because Jesus was divine he knew all things, and because he knew all things, he knew that Peter had sincerely repented of his earlier denial. 

This questioning was painful for Peter, but God used his grief and anguish for his own good.  Jesus reaffirms him as a true apostle, and Peter’s rashness in speech and action were gone for good – we never again see them appearing in scripture.

John 21:18-19 – “Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.”(This he said to show by what kind of death he as to glorify God.)  And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me.”

The apostle John tells us that Jesus is speaking of the death of Peter in this verse.  Ancient writers tell us that Peter was crucified on a cross, upside down, about 34 years after Jesus’ resurrection.  If we examine this verse in light of these two facts, it seems plain enough to understand.

The apostle John tells us that Jesus is speaking of the death of Peter in this verse.  Ancient writers tell us that Peter was crucified on a cross, upside down, about 34 years after Jesus’ resurrection.  If we examine this verse in light of these two facts, it seems plain enough to understand.

Early on in life, when Peter was young, he had the freedom and ability to dress himself and go wherever he desired.  But if he accepts the mandate of Jesus to ‘feed my sheep’, then things will change when he grows older.  Specifically, a soldier will dress him and force him to go where he does not want to go – the place of crucifixion, where his arms will be stretched out on the cross and nailed (or bound).

Several things can be noted about these verses. 

  • Jesus is warning or predicting the future suffering and martyrdom of Peter.  While that sounds awful, it was proof that Peter would never again deny Jesus as Lord and Savior.  Once filled with Holy Spirit, Peter would possess the fortitude to successfully endure any and all persecution that Satan could throw at him.  Because of his former fall, these words must have brought comfort to Peter at different points in his life.
  • There was no shame in the fact that Peter did not want to go to the cross.  (No one I know is hoping to die a humiliating, painful early death.  Do you know anyone?)Jesus is not saying that Peter would be unwilling to suffer martyrdom; he is just drawing a contrast between the freedom of Peter’s early life and the fact that he would be compelled to endure prison and death when he was older.  Keep in mind that Jesus also prayed to his Father to remove the cup of the cross from him, if at all possible (Matthew 26:39, Mark 14:36).   
  • This death would not come upon Peter until he was mature in the faith, and ready to endure the trial.  He seems to have known when the time was near, and he was able to speak about it without fear (2 Peter 1:12-14).  God also left him on earth for a generous amount of time, that the church might benefit from his teaching and testimony.

Here is the good news – God does the same for us.  He will not put us into a situation unless it is possible for us to be victorious (I Corinthians 10:13).  In addition, we know that God walks with us through every trial:

Hebrews 13:5 -Let your conduct be without covetousness; and be content with such things as you have: for he has said, I will never leave you, nor forsake you.

Christ was glorified by Peter’s death.  When Peter was older and stronger in his faith, he was willing to die as a testimony to the truth of Christ and his gospel.  Incidentally, the scriptures tell us that the death of every believer is precious in the sight of the Lord, because it means we are reunited to him forever (Psalms 116:15). 

After these words, it appears that Jesus rose from the table and began to walk, beckoning Peter to follow him.  This was a further confirmation that Christ had forgiven and restored Peter. 


In some ways we could also say it was the reason for Peter’s eventual martyrdom – following Christ will cost you something.  Jesus had explained to all his disciples that the servant is never greater than the master.  Since the world hated and persecuted Jesus, it would hate and persecute his followers too (John 15:18-20).  Some of them, like Peter, would be asked to give their lives as a testimony to the truth.

It has often been a topic of speculation among Christians whether or not their faith would stand strong if they were given the choice between death and renouncing their faith.  Overall, I think this is idle speculation.  The best way to be prepared for that situation is simply to remain close to Jesus and trust Holy Spirit for the strength to face that battle, if/when it comes upon you.

Jesus’ command to ‘follow him’ still applies today.  Christians in our generation must continue to abide by the word of God and follow the example of Christ in all of our speech and actions.

John 21:20-21 – Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them, the one who also had leaned back against him during the supper and had said, “Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?”When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, “Lord, what about this man?”

As Peter walks and talks with Jesus, he sees the apostle John following behind them.  At this point, Peter asks Jesus about the eventual death of John. 

What prompted Peter to ask this question?

We can’t say for sure because it is impossible for us to know his motivation.  Maybe, since John was a favorite of Jesus, Peter wondered if he would have an easier (less violent) death.  But on the other hand, the question may have come from a loving concern for his friend; perhaps Peter was very concerned about John suffering death by crucifixion. 

What we do know for sure, is that Jesus did not choose to gratify the idle curiosity of Peter. 

For most of us, God does not reveal to us the date or manner in which we will enter eternity.  There are certainly man good reasons for this. 

  • If we knew the date of our death, we would surely live reckless lives, assuring ourselves that it wasn’t our time to die. 
  • Because of our fallen nature, many would have a tendency to indulge in sin, thinking they could repent later. 
  • We would delay or ‘put off’ laboring for Jesus on a daily basis, if we knew we had more time. 
  • We would try to carefully avoid the place and time of our death, and thus seek to extend our lives.

God’s plan is obviously far better – when we don’t know the final date or place of our death, we can live and work for Christ as if each day were our last. 

John 21:22-23 – Jesus said to him, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?  You follow me!”So the saying spread abroad among the brothers that this disciple was not to die; yet Jesus did not say to him that he was not to die, but, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?”

With this statement, Jesus makes it very clear that Peter was to stay within the limits of his own calling.  It wasn’t his business to know what God had prepared for John.  It was his business to follow Christ and complete the race that God had specifically laid out for him (Hebrews 12:1-2). 

How does this apply to us?

Our main business in this life is to follow after Christ.  It is fine to become rich/famous or create popular music or make great scientific breakthroughs, but these things are secondary to serving God.  Remember, you can’t take it with you!  The things of this world are temporary; only spiritual things are eternal.

Matthew 6:19-20 – Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust does corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal:  But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust does corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal:

Just because you follow Christ does not mean you should abandon a secular calling on your life and pursue full-time ministerial work.  God is looking for people to serve him as they practice law, coach sports, govern people, run successful businesses, collect trash or repair cars.  Excel in the arena God has assigned to you and serve him there. 

The path God has set before each one of us is unique.  Because each of us has an individual role assigned to us by God, we should never compare ourselves to other Christians.  Use the talents God gave you to the best of your ability, and you will succeed.

Matthew 25:15 – And unto one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one; to every man according to his own ability; and immediately took his journey.

Humans are curious by nature and we have many questions about life and religion that we would like to have answered.  However, there are some things we will never know.  We should not spend a great deal of time speculating about things that fall into this category.  For instance, we could argue or speculate endlessly on the interpretation of some portions of Revelation.  However, this would not be beneficial.  Instead, we should concentrate on being ready for Christ’s return.

John 21:24 – This is the disciple who is bearing witness about these things, and who has written these things, and we know that his testimony is true.

It is commonly believed that the last two verses in John’s gospel were not written by him, but by the person or persons to whom he entrusted his manuscript.  This person verifies that the apostle John was a man of honesty and integrity. 

The facts contained in his gospel are not mere rumors or third person reports.  John was both an eye-witness and an ear-witness to the events recorded here; these events have not been exaggerated but recorded just as they occurred. 

John 21:25 – Now there are also many other things that Jesus did.  Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.

We can be sure that the miracles and teachings of Jesus were never exhausted by any of the gospel writers; many, many more miracles were wrought by Christ than those recorded in the New Testament.

Yet, we have the assurance that it was not necessary to record more than the ones Holy Spirit included in the scriptures.  What has been written is a sufficient revelation of the doctrine of Christ. 

Furthermore, it is implied that it would not have been possible to record all the actions of Jesus, even if someone had wanted to!  The sheer volume would be prohibitive. 

Instead, let us rest assured that we have what we need to go forth and share the love of Christ with others!

Let me offer you some encouragement:

Today’s post spoke about the responsibility of Peter to perform pastoral duties – to govern, care for, guide and protect the local flock of Christ that has been placed under his or her care. 

Your pastor bears many of these same burdens, often with little help and/or compensation.  So, if you love and appreciate your pastor, here are some things you can do for them:

  • Send them a text of appreciation and encouragement. 
  • Pray for them on a regular basis. 
  • Volunteer to serve or help on a church board or ministry.
  • Call them sometime when you don’t want or need something!

What other ways can you think of to assist your pastors?  Don’t just wait for ‘pastor appreciation day’.  Let them know how much you love them right now!

Let me offer you some relief:

We noticed how merciful and loving Jesus acted towards Peter after his denial of Christ.  While that situation had to be dealt with, Jesus did so with mercy and grace.  He fully blotted out Peter’s sin and disgrace.

Have you failed Jesus in some way?  If so, don’t hide from him like Adam and Eve did in the garden.  Instead, right straight to him in prayer, and confess your sin!  He will be deal with you in love and mercy too!

Let me offer you some strength:

Have you ever wondered about the time or place of your own death?  We have probably all done so at some time.  However, it is clearly not a circumstance that God wants us to dwell upon. 

The best thing we can do is remember that TODAY is the only time we are guaranteed.  So, if you want to do something for Christ, spend time with him in prayer, ask him to visit you with dreams/visions, fill you with Holy Spirit or anything else, I suggest that you do it NOW!

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