Chapter 21:15-19 (ESV) - 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, “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. Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me.”
Question to consider: What did Jesus mean when He said for Peter to follow Him?
When Jesus told the disciples that they all would fall away from Him when He was arrested, He said, “But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.” (Matthew 26:32) So it makes sense that the disciples went to Galilee. It also makes sense that Peter would have decided to go fishing while there since that is where his boat was, and he still had a family to support. While they walked with Jesus, there was never any mention of them going without what they needed, but now that they were no longer being fishers of men, they went back to catching fish. Jesus didn’t chastise them for doing it. In fact, He gave them another miraculous catch of fish which would care for them until they were officially sent out at Pentecost.
In that same conversation which led them back to Galilee, Peter had proclaimed, “Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away.” (Matthew 26:33) It was then that Jesus prophesied that Peter would deny Him three times. Now that the prophecy had come to pass, Jesus asked whether Peter still thought he loved Him “more than these”— more than the other disciples. Jesus used agapas, the self-sacrificing love in which He had commanded the disciples to have for one another after He washed their feet— the kind that was willing to “never fall away.” On top of that, Jesus didn’t even call him Peter. He used his formal name, “Simon, son of John.” Nicknames like “Peter” were reserved for those who truly loved Him.
Peter responded with “Yes, Lord; you know that I philō you.” Philō referred to a brotherly love. It was usually based on a relationship and not necessarily on a promise. Jesus responded, “Feed my lambs.” Jesus emphasized this three times because Peter had denied Him three times. Of course, now that Peter was restored to ministry, he would not merely be a “fisher of men”.
While it was fine that they had gone on their fishing trip, Jesus was now changing Peter’s vocation from fisherman to shepherd. We know that Peter ultimately took this vocation seriously because in his first epistle, he wrote to those who would come after him, “Shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.” (1 Peter 5:2-4)
At one time, Peter had professed that he was willing to die for Jesus. Here Jesus let him know that he would get his opportunity. He would “stretch out his hands” on Nero’s cross in 68 AD. When Jesus said, “Follow me,” it was in the sense of taking up his own cross. John verified that this was how Peter was going to die because it had happened by the time he wrote this gospel account. If you remember in my introduction, I believe it was Nero who banished John to Patmos (or at least Domitian while he was still a general under Nero). I believe John wrote this in the two years between Peter’s death and the judgment against Jerusalem.
Dear heavenly father, thank You for providing faithful shepherds who feed their flocks with Your word and sacraments. Please guard their hearts and bless them in their task. Amen.