I heard a preacher say that when God asks you a question, you can be pretty sure He is not looking for information. Here is a brief review of Peter’s three times declaration of love.
In John 21:15-22, Peter is three times asked if he loves Jesus. I’m not a Greek scholar but I’ve heard the sermons about Jesus using the Greek agape, “love of God”, verb while Peter replies with the filo , “brotherly love”, verb. Since this is a translation of a conversation that was almost certainly in Hebrew, these Greek words could not have been used. It’s most likely a testimony to the deity of Jesus, because the author automatically uses “love of God” when spoken by Jesus. I don’t think Peter needed to have Jesus ask him three times to make up for the three denials uttered by Peter. Otherwise I would need hundreds of personal encounters with Jesus to make up for my sin list. If you were blessed by sermons that discussed these things then great, the Holy Spirit can do that sort of stuff, even when we are out of context. But what is the context here?
Jesus is commissioning Peter. As is common, repetition underlines very important points. Why does Jesus say, “do you love me?”. In John 14:15 Jesus says, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” The “more than these” comparison is not referring to the other disciples but more than the fish that Jesus is gesturing towards. Jesus is outlining Peter’s new employment – no longer a fisherman but a shepherd of the flock. Peter is being ordered not to neglect the ministry of the word; the feeding of the sheep. But Peter does not understanding any of this and is getting sad because he thinks Jesus does not believe his protestations of love. But I love Peter’s final declaration that “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you”.
Then Jesus gives Peter a tough word, namely, that when Peter is old he will be bound and taken away to die to the glory of God. Was that a bad word? Many apostles were martyred. But Peter was going to live until he was old! I wonder if Peter was recalling this word when he was in prison in Acts 12. I can just imagine Peter’s reunion with Jesus after Peter was put to death. Peter would be saying to Jesus, “You see, I did not deny you this time”, and then he would remember this word Jesus had given him and would realize that Jesus knew all along that Peter would not fail Him.
The third time Jesus asked Peter if he loved him, the text uses filio rather than the agape verb for love used in the first two instances. I have absolutely no idea why! Isn’t it great to just be able to say, I don’t know.