When they had unfinished 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, “Feed my lambs.” He said to him 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, “Tend 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 everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. John 21:15-17
I have written before on these verses from John. We have Jesus asking peter if Peter loves Jesus, but Jesus asks Peter not once or twice but three times and each time Peter answers in the affirmative. So what point is being made here? Before I get to why Jesus asked the same question three times let’s take a moment to look at the limits of the English translation. While English is a very expressive language in many respects when it comes to human love English is extremely limited. We have one word to express love. We love our children, we love our siblings, we love our spouses, both sexually and mentally and we love rocky road ice cream. In all of these types of love we use one word. But is Greek which the New Testament was written we find four words for love.
There is Storge, the affectionate love we have for our family. Then there is Phileo, the love we have for our friends or brotherly love, hence the city of brotherly love in called Philadelphia. For sexual love the Greeks had Eros from which we get erotica. Finally there is Agapes, the unconditional love of God and most closely shown in humans as the love a mother has for her children. This aside in Greek words for love is so I can address the first of two interpretations of today’s verses.
The first time I heard someone teach on these verses I was told that each time Jesus asked Peter if peter loved Him, Jesus used the word Agape. Jesus wanted to know if Peter loved Him unconditionally. The first two times Peter answers Jesus question he uses either Storge or Phileo not wanting to commit to an unconditional love. It is only after Jesus asks Peter the third time that Peter finally uses Agape. Not being a Greek scholar I cannot confirm if in fact Peter used either Storge or Phileo when he responded but it would answer why Jesus continued to ask Peter the same question three times.
Another interpretation of why the same question was asked three times is that Jesus may have been subtly reminding Peter that Peter had denied Jesus three time during Jesus’ trial. This would make sense in that Peter often had to be reigned in to keep Peter from going off on tangents or getting a big head. In either case Jesus felt it was necessary to repeat His question.
In this case I wish I was more like Peter. It only took Peter three tries to tell Jesus he loved Him unconditionally. I have to admit I still tend to put conditions on my love for Jesus. Something goes wrong in my life and I question how Jesus could love me and let this thing happen. Or I may say if you grant this prayer then I will do this and that. Condition upon condition and bargain upon barging, my love is inconsistent. Fortunately for me Jesus’ love is always unconditional. He loves my no matter how I return His love. In fact He would love me even if I refused to love Him.
You can accept Him or reject Him but God will always love you. You can take His name in vain and He still loved you. If on the Day of Judgment you have steadfastly refused to love God, He will send you on your way to an eternity without Him but, He will still love you. God’s love is eternal. We have a choice, either accept His love or reject it but He loves us anyway.
Have a blessed day,