The two questions initially asked by Christ, and answered by the Apostle Peter, provide a window through which we can view our Christian responsibility.
Matthew 16:13-17 tells us that Jesus asked His disciples, “Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?” The disciples rather rashly blurted out a list of names including John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah and other prophets.
Then Jesus narrowed the focus asking: “But who do you say that I am?” Peter took the initiative and proclaimed, “You are the Christ [i.e., the Messiah—the promised King of the line of David], the Son of the living God.” Jesus then answered, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.”
Peter’s answer was correct and he was blessed for his understanding, but there’s a world of difference between acknowledging who Jesus is and allowing Him to direct your steps. Many of us know and acknowledge our Creator, but have we completely surrendered our lives into His hands?
Jesus addressed this issue when He asked Peter the second question in John chapter 21, right at the end of His earthly ministry. By this time Peter had spent several years travelling with Jesus, experiencing His miracles, transfiguration and then His arrest, death and resurrection. As they were both standing at the Sea of Galilee Christ asked Peter, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me more than these?” (John 21:15). Here the Greek word translated “love” is agapao, meaning a selfless, outgoing love and it seems likely that by “these,” Jesus was referring to the other disciples.
This second question might have made Peter feel rather uncomfortable because, although he had declared in Matthew 26:33: “Even if all are made to stumble because of You, I will never be made to stumble” on the evening of Jesus’ betrayal Peter denied Him three times. First Peter denied ever personally knowing Jesus (Luke 22:57). Then he not only denied Christ, but all his companions (Luke 22:58) and finally, he denied his entire experience with Christ (Luke 22:59-60).
In spite of these past actions Peter responds to this second question from Jesus by replying, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” However, he did not use the word for love that Jesus did. Instead he used the word ‘phileo’, meaning “brotherly affection,” stressing his love for Christ was personal.
Jesus then tells Peter to channel his stated devotion into serving Him: “Feed My lambs”—His followers (John 21:15). In effect, Peter was to demonstrate his stated devotion through His obedience to Christ and love for others.
Jesus then repeats the same question two more times contrasting with Peter’s previous threefold denial of his relationship with Christ and symbolising Peter was being given the opportunity to repent of his previous error and make a threefold affirmation of his relationship—one Peter would now be able to demonstrate in his service to Christ and Christ’s followers.
Jesus is here fulfilling His prophetic promise of restoration given to Peter on the night of his betrayal. At that time Christ reassured Peter: “Simon, Simon! Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren” (Luke 22:31-32).
Now Peter had returned to Christ with this threefold affirmation of devotion, and Jesus encouragingly tells him, “Feed My sheep”—committing to him both a position of trust and the opportunity to prove himself in it. Thus, in His wisdom and mercy Christ completely removed the cloud of Peter’s denial and guilt, declaring confidence in his faithfulness even to the end of his life, while offering a sobering picture of how he would eventually face death: “When you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish”—an allusion to Peter’s own crucifixion (John 21:18).
Jesus had earlier instructed His disciples, “This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends. You are My friends if you do whatever I command you” (John 15:12-15).
Expressing love to God the Father and Jesus Christ is an incredible one-on-one privilege, but as the example of the Apostle Peter shows, it bears with it the responsibility to care for others and often personal sacrifice is involved.
The Good News Magazine