Jesus did not seek to impart love as it is measured by earthly standards. The love that God desires must first be received from Him by faith in the matchless work and person of the Lord Jesus Christ. Sinful men in their own strength cannot even exercise acceptable faith without God’s impute. For this reason, twelve men who followed Jesus largely in their own strength for 3 years, denied Him during His greatest hour of need. However, though they fell away in the garden, they soon returned to the savior of their souls.
At that time Jesus restored them to the fullness of their faith, with the responsibility of being sent out as Apostles.
“So 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, “Tend My lambs.” He said to him again 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, “Shepherd My sheep.” 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 all things; You know that I love You.” Jesus said to him, “Tend My sheep.” (John 21:15-17)
On all three occasions Jesus called Peter by his Simon birth name, meaning unstable one, do you love me. Jesus used two different Greek words. On the first two occasions He used the word, agapaó; this word is a word denoting the truest, deepest, and most sincere love. It is a love born out of self-sacrifice. On both occasions, Peter (The immovable rock) responded with the word, phileó, a word of warm affection, characterized by tender, heartfelt consideration and kinship. This was a good word but a love not at all at the level of the word Jesus used.
Peter had taken a serious fall in denying Jesus. Three times He denied that he knew Jesus, and the last time he took an oath and used cursed words to say he did not know Jesus (Matthew 26:74). When the rooster crowed at that moment, as Jesus predicted, Peter went out and wept bitterly or (violently).
When I was a youngster and living on the streets of Brooklyn, New York, in the sixties, it was not uncommon to hear the roaring of an engine as a foolish teenager raced down the block. On one particular occasion, after the roar, one block over, their was a screech and a loud thud. I ran between the houses and came out on the street to see a woman, probably in her fifties, come out of her house and scream, “You killed my mother.” Even now it makes me want to cry. It was the scream of a person in the deepest kind of pain, at the loss of a person, of the closest relation, forever, without any hope of recovery.
Peter was going to need some serious encouragement and restoration, if he were to do the work to which he had been called. Jesus asked him the third time, do you Phileo me, or do you even have fond affection for Me? Peter was grieved that Jesus would even question his affection. Peter responded once again, you know I Phileo You. Peter had confidence in his affection, but he was not proud anymore in his ability to follow through with agapao action. It is this kind of humility, which allows a person to flee to Christ for help, to receive the imparted resurrection life of Christ, to meet the greatest temptations, persecutions, and suffering in order to be faithful to Him.
In conclusion, the phrase Jesus used in John 21:15, “more than these” was meant to remind Peter of his words at the last supper, “Even though all may fall away because of You, I will never fall away.” It is always foolish to compare ourselves with others, and think more highly of ourselves. Jesus wanted to bring this lesson home to ensure that Peter would fulfill his calling as an Apostle and not with foolish pride in himself.
To fall away from Jesus is bad, and such an attitude and action should be avoided at all costs. However, should it take place, take heart because the restoration that Jesus will impart will make you a better, humbler, and more immovable Christian than you were before.
Always be encouraged in the transforming love of Christ!
Thoughts like these can be found in my book, THE JESUS YOU NEED TO KNOW
There is nothing worth knowing better than the person, work, love, and righteousness of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.