The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.”
- JOHN 21:17
John 21 contains the final story of the book of John. It’s a critical story because it ties together an important loose end in the book—what became of Peter following his denials of Jesus. To fully appreciate the drama of this story, it is helpful to think back to some key moments in Peter’s journey with Jesus. When Peter first met Jesus, he wasn’t called Peter. He had been called “Simon, son of John,” but Jesus gave him the name “Cephas,” an Aramaic version of the Greek name “Peter” (John 1:41-42). This was significant because in Scripture, when people are given new names, these names usually have to do with a calling God has placed on their lives. The names Cephas and Peter both mean “rock” in their respective languages. With this name change, Jesus was stating something significant about Peter’s purpose: Peter was to be like a “rock” upon which the church would be built (Matthew 16:18). At times, Peter lived in ways which were consistent with this purpose (John 6:68, 13:8-10). Unfortunately, this wasn’t always the case. At times, he acted more like quicksand than a stable rock. The best example of this is when Peter denied knowing Jesus three times during Jesus’ arrest and trial (John 18:15-27).
In the middle of John 21, Jesus finally addresses Peter following these denials. Jesus builds a charcoal fire, like the one Peter stood around when He denied Jesus three times. He then asks Peter the same question three times: “Do you love me?” These questions are challenging for Peter to answer because of the deep shame he feels over denying Jesus. As difficult as they are for Peter, Jesus asks these three questions because He understands that the path to true healing sometimes requires dealing with our hurt. Then, as Peter responds affirmatively to each question, Jesus affirms His own belief in Peter by commanding him three times to take care of His sheep. In other words, He restores Peter and reminds him that he can still play a key role as a rock for the church.
This was an important story for the early church to hear because it helped them understand how Peter the denier could become Peter the apostle and early church leader. It continues to be relevant because some of us wonder whether Jesus would still welcome and use us given our own mistakes. The message of this story, the message of the entire book of John, is that Jesus values people who are broken, lost, and in need of restoration. He is a God of second chances, and if we will just submit ourselves to Him, He can accomplish His purpose through us.
JESUS AND THE MIRACULOUS CATCH OF FISH
1 Afterward Jesus appeared again to his disciples, by the Sea of Galilee. It happened this way: 2 Simon Peter, Thomas (also known as Didymus), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples were together. 3 “I’m going out to fish,” Simon Peter told them, and they said, “We’ll go with you.” So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.
4 Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus.
5 He called out to them, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?”
“No,” they answered.
6 He said, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.” When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish.
7 Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, “It is the Lord,” he wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water. 8 The other disciples followed in the boat, towing the net full of fish, for they were not far from shore, about a hundred yards. 9 When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread.
10 Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish you have just caught.” 11 So Simon Peter climbed back into the boat and dragged the net ashore. It was full of large fish, 153, but even with so many the net was not torn. 12 Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” None of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. 13 Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. 14 This was now the third time Jesus appeared to his disciples after he was raised from the dead.
JESUS REINSTATES PETER
15 When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”
“Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”
16 Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”
17 The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Feed my sheep. 18 Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” 19 Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!”
20 Peter turned and saw that the disciple whom Jesus loved was following them. (This was the one who had leaned back against Jesus at the supper and had said, “Lord, who is going to betray you?”) 21 When Peter saw him, he asked, “Lord, what about him?”
22 Jesus answered, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.” 23 Because of this, the rumor spread among the believers that this disciple would not die. But Jesus did not say that he would not die; he only said, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you?”
24 This is the disciple who testifies to these things and who wrote them down. We know that his testimony is true.
25 Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.