So when they had dined, Jesus saith to Simon Peter, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou Me more than these? He saith unto Him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love Thee. He saith unto him, Feed My lambs.
He saith to him again the second time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou Me? He saith unto Him, Yea, Lord; Thou knowest that I love Thee. He saith unto him, Feed My sheep.
He saith unto him the third time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou Me? Peter was grieved because He said unto him the third time, Lovest thou Me? And he said unto Him, Lord, Thou knowest all things; Thou knowest that I love Thee. Jesus saith unto him, Feed My sheep.
There have been countless lessons, sermons, and commentaries on these verses. Digesting it all has been the work of several days, and condensing it to a reasonable length is difficult. Simply stated, I believe that this conversation was Jesus’ way of showing His forgiveness to Peter for Peter’s denial of Christ before He was crucified. I believe it was meant to restore Peter in the eyes of the other disciples, none of whom could boast of their own courage during all that took place; but it is easy for us to pay the most attention to one who had become a leader, and who had failed miserably in his avowed loyalty to Jesus.
Repetition is one of the Seven Laws of Learning. You probably remember, as an elementary school student, memorizing your times tables and repeating them over and over again. Do they still do that? I hope so! Anyway, one of the questions asked about this passage is, “Why did Jesus ask the same question three times in a row?” I’m guessing that Peter didn’t miss the reason. He had denied Jesus three times. The reminder must have brought him immense sorrow.
“Do you love Me more than these?” In Matthew 26:33, Peter had claimed that he did indeed lovedJesus more than any of the other disciples did. Jesus may have gestured to the other disciples as He asked the question. “These men love Me, Peter. Do you love Me even more than they do?”
Jesus knew what was in Peter’s future. He knew that Peter would choose to be crucified upside down because he felt unworthy to die exactly has the Lord had died. He knew that Peter would question, resist, doubt, and yet rise to become one of the greatest names in Christian history.
So He asked Peter the same question three times. After each of Peter’s answers, Jesus said, “Feed My lambs; feed My sheep; feed My sheep.”
In the first two questions, Jesus used the word agapas, which is an all-consuming, unselfish love indicating total devotion without any reservation.
In Peter’s first two answers, he used the word philio, which indicates a reciprocal, brotherly affection. That’s not what Jesus was looking for. Peter was saying, “Lord, You know I am Your friend!”
After Peter’s first two responses, Jesus said, first, “Feed My lambs.” Peter was to teach and instruct new believers. The second time Peter responded, Jesus said, “Feed My sheep.” In the second of Jesus’ directives, the verb Jesus used actually indicates taking on the responsibilities of a shepherd over the flock, much more responsibility than simply seeing that the sheep were fed.
The third time Jesus put His question to Peter, he changed the verb, using phileis, asking Peter if he did indeed have a brotherly affection and devotion to Himself. Peter, knowing that Jesus knew all things, was very sorry, grieved, that Jesus questioned him the third time. “Yes, Lord, You know me better than I know myself. You know that my love for You is deep and abiding.”
Jesus’ third instruction, “Feed My sheep,” restored Peter completely to his natural place of leadership, and challenged him to the work that was ahead. The other disciples who were present must have heard this conversation, and understood that the resurrection didn’t mean everything was settled, but that they were expected to prepare themselves for work they didn’t really understand yet.
God wants more than our lip service. He wants–needs–our hearts to be in our service. All that we do in His Name is to be done from a heart of deep, abiding love rather than just as duty.