Peter, do you love me?
John 21:15-23 records a private conversation between Yeshua and Peter. Peter’s previous threefold denial is now rectified by his threefold affirmation of love.
There are two different Greek words used for love in this conversation. The first is agapei or agapao, which is the “love of the will.” It is the kind of love that God has for us, the kind of love that we ought to have for others. It is the kind of love one would be willing to die for. The second word is phileo, which is a “love of friendship.” It is the “love of the emotions in response to attraction.” It is the kind of love between two close friends. It is a love that develops naturally, over which there is no control. For that reason, believers are not commanded to phileo everyone, because it is impossible to have this kind of love for everyone. However, agapei love is a superior love, a love of the will, not the emotions. This is the kind of love that a believer should have for all.
The first part of the conversation begins in John 21:15:
So when they had broken their fast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, Simon, son of John, love you me more than these?
The word that Jesus used is agapei. What He asked Peter was, “Peter, do you really agapei Me more than these; that is, more than these other disciples?” This is a significant question because, during the last Passover, Peter claimed to have this kind of love. He claimed to have agapei love for Jesus that was superior to that of the other disciples. Peter said that although all the others may forsake Jesus, he would never forsake Him. He would even give his life for Jesus. But, of course, his claims proved false, because he later denied the Messiah three times. So the question was, “Simon Peter, do you really agapei more that the others?” Peter answered: … Yea, Lord; you know that I love you. But the word that Peter used was phileo. What Peter said was, “No, I cannot really say I agapei You more than the others. The best I can affirm at this point, is that I phileo You. I cannot say that I apagei You more than the others.”
At this point, Peter received his first commission from Yeshua: … Feed my lambs. Lambs refer to baby believers; Peter is commissioned to feed them. Baby believers are fed with the “milk” of the Word of God. This is what Peter did in the First Epistle of Peter.
The second part of the conversation is in verse 16:
He said to him again a second time, Simon, son of John, love you me? The same word for “love” that Jesus used earlier, He uses again, “Simon
Peter, do you agapei Me?” But the form of the question was slightly different. The first time Jesus asked him, “Do you agapei me more than the others?” Peter had to say “no.” The second question was, “Peter, do you agapei Me at all? While you cannot say that you agapei Me more than the others, do you agapei Me in any sense of agapei love?” Peter answered: … Yea, Lord; you know that I love you. Again, Peter used the word phileo. Again, Peter said, “No, the best I can affirm at this point, is that I only phileo You. I cannot say that I agapei You more than the others do, nor can I say that I agapei You at all. I can only say, at this point, that I phileo You.” Here, Peter received a second commission: … Tend my sheep. To tend means “to be a shepherd,” “to exercise rule” over the other believers. Peter is commissioned to exercise this authority, and this is what made him the chief apostle. Peter fulfilled this second commission throughout the Book of Acts as he exercised rule and authority over other believers.
In verse 17, Yeshua continued with a third question:
He said unto him the third time, Simon, son of John, love you me?
This time Yeshua does not use the word agapei as He did in the first and second questions. Instead, He used the word which Peter had been using, “Do you phileo Me?” The point is this: “Peter, you cannot affirm that you agapei Me more than the others, nor can you affirm that you agapei Me at all. But can you really affirm that you at least phileo Me?” Peter’s response was:
Peter was grieved because he said unto him the third time, Love phileo you me? And he said unto him, Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.
Here, Peter also used the word phileo. The point of Peter’s third response is, “This much I can indeed affirm; I can certainly affirm that I, at least, phileo You.” At this point, Peter received this third commission: … Feed my sheep. Sheep are the older believers that must be fed with the “meat” of the Word of God, and this Peter did in his Second Epistle.
After these three questions and responses, Yeshua went on to show that a time would come when Peter would prove that he had agapei love for Him. John 21:18-19 states:
Verily, verily, I say unto you, When you were young, you girded yourself, and walked whither you would: but when you shall be old, you shall stretch forth your hands, and another shall gird you, and carry you whither you would not. Now this he spoke, signifying by what manner of death he should glorify God. And when he had spoken this, he said unto him, Follow me.
At this point Yeshua gave a cryptic prophecy, which was understood to signify how Peter would die: He would die a martyr’s death; he would die by means of crucifixion. Yeshua said that a time would come in Peter’s life when he would prove that he had agapei love for Yeshua, because Peter would give his life for Him, not by a quick death, but by the agony of a crucifixion.
In spite of the fact that Peter was destined to die a martyr’s death, Jesus said to Peter: Follow me. From here on, that is exactly what Peter did. By following Jesus, he showed that he really did have agapei love for Him. Having been told that he would die a martyr’s death, Peter then pointed to John and asked, in verse 21: …
Lord, and what shall this man do?
Peter basically asks, “I’m going to have to die for the faith, but what about John?”
Yeshua’s answer is in verse 22: …
If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to you? follow you me.
The answer was that God’s will for another believer was irrelevant to Peter. It is not to be Peter’s concern what God’s will is for John. Peter’s only concern is to fulfill his own commission and calling and let John worry about his. John then finished his Gospel with verse 25 by pointing out that if the many other things that Jesus did were written, the world could not contain the books. Indeed, although He lived approximately thirty-six to thirty-eight years, if the four Gospels are put together, only about seventy-five to eighty days of His life are recorded.
From: MBS075 THE RESURRECTION OF THE MESSIAH By Dr Arnold Fruchtenbaum