Theme: Jesus’ Three Questions
In this week’s lessons, we look at Jesus’ conversation with Peter in John 21, where he restores Peter after his denial, and commissions him for useful service.
Scripture: John 21:15-22
The second thing to notice are these various words for love that Jesus uses. He asks the question three times. In verse 15 he asks Peter, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?” Then in verse 16, he asks it in nearly the same wording, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me?” And the third time, he asks Peter yet again, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Now, the first two times he uses the word agapao, and the third time has the verb phileo.
Agapao is a word that’s used of God’s love. When it says “God so loved the world,” it’s agapao. And the word phileo is the word for human love. That’s an important love but it’s on the human level. What’s the significance of that? Well, here Jesus is saying, “I have loved you with a heavenly love, and I’ve given my life for you. Do you love me like that?”
Notice what Peter says: “Lord, you know that I love you.” He uses the word phileo, not agapao. That’s a humbled Peter at that point. He doesn’t say, as he would have said earlier, “Lord I love you with a divine love and I’ll prove it by dying for you.” He learned that he didn’t have that kind of love for Jesus, but when he searched his heart, because he really was born again, he knew that he did love Jesus, as a human being and a fallible one at that. He proved it by his denial, but he did love him, and so he said, “Lord, you know that I love you.”
Now, Jesus asks the question again. “Do you truly love me?” Again, the word Jesus is using is agapao, Once again, Peter responds, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you,” using phileo. Then, the third time, Jesus comes down to Peter’s level, using the word for love that Peter has been using. Peter replies that he does love Jesus in this way. Peter knows he does not love Jesus as God loves. Peter learned his limitations after he denied Christ in spite of his boasting that he would even die for him if it came to that. Jesus know that Peter has learned a great lesson, and Jesus is going to teach Peter how to love him with a higher love.
Here’s a third thing to notice, and that’s the threefold repetition of Jesus’ question. Why three times? It’s true that Jesus uses the change in words for love. But the real reason is because Peter had denied him three times and now Jesus is reinstating him three times. Verse 17 tells us that this repetition was painful for Peter: “Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time.” Why was he hurt? It’s because it’s a reminder of his failure. Peter denied Jesus three times, and so Jesus wants to ask Peter three times.
So it really amounts to a public confession of sin, which is always a painful thing. But you see, if you can’t have a public confession of sin, you can’t have a public restoration. Where sin is public, there needs to be a public confession and a public restoration. And that’s what happened with Peter. It was the beginning of his growth and service for Jesus Christ from this time forward.
A fourth thing to notice about it is that Peter tells Jesus that Jesus knows that Peter loves him. Earlier, Peter would have said that he knew he loved Jesus. That’s why Peter had boasted as he did. Peter thought he knew himself and that he would therefore take a stand for Christ even if all the others lost their nerve. Peter thought he loved Jesus to the extent that he would lay down his life for his Lord.
But what Peter discovered is that he didn’t know himself as well as he thought he did. Jesus told Peter he was going to deny him, but Peter denied Jesus’ comment about his denial. But whereas before Peter was confident in the knowledge of his love for Jesus, now the emphasis is not on what Peter knows, or better, thinks he knows. Rather, the emphasis is on what Jesus knows. Peter is not boasting of his own strength and love for Jesus. Peter knows that Jesus knows of his love, and that makes all the difference.
If you’re going to grow in the Christian life, you base your Christian life on what Jesus knows, and not what you know, because you don’t know very much at all about yourself. What does the Lord know? Well, he knows the worst about you, and he loves you anyway. He knows far worse things about you than you know about yourself. You’re far worse than you ever imagined yourself to be. And yet, he loved you enough to die for you. So there’s nothing in you that’s ever going to surprise Jesus Christ. Whatever bad thing it was, he knew you were going to do it, and he prayed for you so you wouldn’t fall away when you did–the same way he did for Peter.
Paul tells us in Romans 5:8, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” You see? He knows the worst about you and he loves you anyway. Not only this, but he knows the best about you, too, even if nobody else does—even things that you may not know about yourself, because those things lie dormant. The best in you he’s placed there, like little seeds. They’re going to grow and flower, not only in this life but in eternity. Jesus sees all that from the beginning. He knows what you’re going to be in heaven one day. So, even though you fall, you have to remember that this isn’t the only way Jesus sees you. He knows what you’re like, but he also knows what he’s planted there, that little grain of spiritual seed that’s going to grow. Knowing all this is a wonderful thing, because it transforms the way we think and act as Christians.
What two Greek words for “love” are used, and what do they mean?
Why does Jesus ask Peter his question three times?
Prayer: Give thanks to the Lord that though he knows the depth of our sin, he still loves us, and works to bring about his good plans in our lives.