John 21:15
So when they had dined, Jesus said to Simon Peter, Simon, son of Jonas, love you me more than these? He said to him, Yes, Lord; you know that I love you. He said to him, Feed my lambs.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(15) Jesus saith to Simon Peter, Simon, son of Jonas.—The better text here and in John 21:16-17, is, Simon, son of John. The contrast of the name by which the Evangelist denotes, and with that by which the Lord addresses Peter, at once strikes us as significant, and the more so because it comes in a context containing several significant verbal contrasts. Our Lord’s words would seem to address him as one who had fallen from the steadfastness of the Rock-man, and had been true rather to his natural than to his apostolic name. (Comp. Note on John 1:42, and Matthew 16:17.)

Lovest thou me more than these?i.e., than these disciples who are present here with thee. It seems unnecessary to add this explanation, but not a few English notes on this verse explain the word “these” of the fishes, or of the boats and nets, as though the question was, “Lovest thou Me more than thy worldly calling? Art thou willing to give up all for Me?” The obvious reference is to Peter’s own comparison of himself with others in the confidence of love which he thought could never fail. (Comp. Matthew 26:33; Mark 14:29.)

The thrice-asked question has been generally understood to have special force in the restoration of him who had thrice denied his Lord, and now thrice declares his love for Him, and is thrice entrusted with a work for Him; and we feel that this interpretation gives a natural meaning to the emphasis of these verses. It may not be fanciful to trace significance, even in the external circumstances under which the question was asked. By the side of the lake after casting his net into the sea had Peter first been called to be a fisher of men (Matthew 4:19). The lake, the very spot on the shore, the nets, the boat, would bring back to his mind in all their fulness the thoughts of the day which had been the turning-point of his life. By the side of the “fire of coals” (see Note on John 18:18, the only other place where the word occurs) he had denied his Lord. As the eye rests upon the “fire of coals” before him, and he is conscious of the presence of the Lord, who knows all things (John 21:17), burning thoughts of penitence and shame may have come to his mind, and these may have been the true preparation for the words which follow.

Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee.—Peter uses a less strong expression for love than that which had been used by our Lord. The question seems to ask, “Dost thou in the full determination of the will, in profound reverence and devotion, love Me?” The answer seems to say, “Thou knowest me; I dare not now declare this fixed determination of the will, but in the fulness of personal affection I dare answer, and Thou knowest that even in my denials it was true, ‘I love Thee.’”

He saith unto him, Feed my lambs.—More exactly, little lambs.

John

‘LOVEST THOU ME?’

John 21:15
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Peter had already seen the risen Lord. There had been that interview on Easter morning, on which the seal of sacred secrecy was impressed; when, alone, the denier poured out his heart to his Lord, and was taken to the heart that he had wounded. Then there had been two interviews on the two successive Sundays in which the Apostle, in common with his brethren, had received, as one of the group, the Lord’s benediction, the Lord’s gift of the Spirit, and the Lord’s commission. But something more was needed; there had been public denial, there must be public confession. If he had slipped again into the circle of the disciples, with no special treatment or reference to his fall, it might have seemed a trivial fault to others, and even to himself. And so, after that strange meal on the beach, we have this exquisitely beautiful and deeply instructive incident of the special treatment needed by the denier before he could be publicly reinstated in his office.

The meal seems to have passed in silence. That awe which hung over the disciples in all their intercourse with Jesus during the forty days, lay heavy on them, and they sat there, huddled round the fire, eating silently the meal which Christ had provided, and no doubt gazing silently at the silent Lord. What a tension of expectation there must have been as to how the oppressive silence was to be broken! and how Peter’s heart must have throbbed, and the others’ ears been pricked up, when it was broken by ‘Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou Me?’ We may listen with pricked-up ears too. For we have here, in Christ’s treatment of the Apostle, a revelation of how He behaves to a soul conscious of its fault; and in Peter’s demeanour an illustration of how a soul, conscious of its fault, should behave to Him.

There are three stages here: the threefold question, the threefold answer, and the threefold charge. Let us look at these.

I. The threefold question.

The reiteration in the interrogation did not express doubt as to the veracity of the answer, nor dissatisfaction with its terms; but it did express, and was meant, I suppose, to suggest to Peter and to the others, that the threefold denial needed to be obliterated by the threefold confession; and that every black mark that had been scored deep on the page by that denial needed to be covered over with the gilding or bright colouring of the triple acknowledgment. And so Peter thrice having said, ‘I know Him not!’ Jesus with a gracious violence forced him to say thrice, ‘Thou knowest that I love Thee.’ The same intention to compel Peter to go back upon his past comes out in two things besides the triple form of the question. The one is the designation by which he is addressed, ‘Simon, son of Jonas,’ which travels back, as it were, to the time before he was a disciple, and points a finger to his weak humanity before it had come under the influence of Jesus Christ. ‘Simon, son of Jonas,’ was the name that he bore in the days before his discipleship. It was the name by which Jesus had addressed him, therefore, on that never-to-be-forgotten turning-point of his life, when he was first brought to Him by his brother Andrew. It was the name by which Jesus had addressed him at the very climax of his past life when, high up, he had been able to see far, and in answer to the Lord’s question, had rung out the confession: ‘Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God!’ So the name by which Jesus addresses him now says to him in effect: ‘Remember thy human weakness; remember how thou wert drawn to Me; remember the high-water mark of thy discipleship, when I was plain before thee as the Son of God, and remembering all these, answer Me-lovest thou Me?’

The same intention to drive Peter back to the wholesome remembrance of a stained past is obvious in the first form of the question. Our Lord mercifully does not persist in giving to it that form in the second and third instances: ‘Lovest thou Me more than these?’ More than these, what? I cannot for a moment believe that that question means something so trivial and irrelevant as ‘Lovest thou Me more than these nets, and boats, and the fishing?’ No; in accordance with the purpose that runs through the whole, of compelling Peter to retrospect, it says to him, ‘Do you remember what you said a dozen hours before you denied Me, “Though all should forsake Thee, yet will not I”? Are you going to take that stand again? Lovest thou Me more than these that never discredited their boasting so shamefully?’

So, dear brethren! here we have Jesus Christ, in His treatment of this penitent and half-restored soul, forcing a man, with merciful compulsion, to look steadfastly and long at his past sin, and to retrace step by step, shameful stage by shameful stage, the road by which he had departed so far. Every foul place he is to stop and look at, and think about. Each detail he has to bring up before his mind. Was it not cruel of Jesus thus to take Peter by the neck, as it were, and hold him right down, close to the foul things that he had done, and say to him, ‘Look! look! look ever! and answer, Lovest thou Me?’ No; it was not cruel; it was true kindness. Peter had never been so abundantly and permanently penetrated by the sense of the sinfulness of his sin, as after he was sure, as he had been made sure in that great interview, that it was all forgiven. So long as a man is disturbed by the dread of consequences, so long as he is doubtful as to his relation to the forgiving Love, he is not in a position beneficially and sanely to consider his evil in its moral quality only. But when the conviction comes to a man, ‘God is pacified towards thee for all that thou hast done’; and when he can look at his own evil without the smallest disturbance rising from slavish fear of issues, then lie is in a position rightly to estimate its darkness and its depth. And there can be no better discipline for us all than to remember our faults, and penitently to travel back over the road of our sins, just because we are sure that God in Christ has forgotten them. The beginning of Christ’s merciful treatment of the forgiven man is to compel him to remember, that he may learn and be ashamed.

And then there is another point here, in this triple question. How significant and beautiful it is that the only thing that Jesus Christ cares to ask about is the sinner’s love! We might have expected: ‘Simon, son of Jonas, are you sorry for what you did? Simon, son of Jonas, will you promise never to do the like any more?’ No! These things will come if the other thing is there. ‘Lovest thou Me?’ Jesus Christ sues each of us, not for obedience primarily, not for repentance, not for vows, not for conduct, but for a heart; and that being given, all the rest will follow. That is the distinguishing characteristic of Christian morality, that Jesus seeks first for the surrender of the affections, and believes, and is warranted in the belief, that if these are surrendered, all else will follow; and love being given, loyalty and service and repentance and hatred of self-will and of self-seeking will follow in her train. All the graces of human character which Christ seeks, and is ready to impart, are, as it were, but the pages and ministers of the regal Love, who follow behind and swell the cortege of her servants.

Christ asks for love. Surely that indicates the depth of His own! In this commerce He is satisfied with nothing less, and can ask for nothing more; and He seeks for love because He is love, and has given love. Oh! to all hearts burdened, as all our hearts ought to be-unless the burden has been cast off in one way-by the consciousness of our own weakness and imperfection, surely, surely, it is a gospel that is contained in that one question addressed to a man who had gone far astray, ‘Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou?’

Here, again, we have Jesus Christ, in His dealing with the penitent, willing to trust discredited professions. We think that one of the signs of our being wise people is that experience shall have taught us ‘once’ being ‘bit, twice’ to be ‘shy,’ and if a man has once deceived us by flaming professions and ice-cold acts, never to trust him any more. And we think that is ‘worldly wisdom,’ and ‘the bitter fruit of earthly experience,’ and ‘sharpness,’ and ‘shrewdness,’ and so forth. Jesus Christ, even whilst reminding Peter, by that ‘more than these,’ of his utterly hollow and unreliable boasting, shows Himself ready to accept once again the words of one whose unveracity He had proved. ‘Charity hopeth all things, believeth all things,’ and Jesus Christ is ready to trust us when we say, ‘I love Thee,’ even though often in the past our professed love has been all disproved.

We have here, in this question, our Lord revealing Himself as willing to accept the imperfect love which a disciple can offer Him. Of course, many of you well know that there is a very remarkable play of expression here. In the two first questions the word which our Lord employs for ‘love’ is not the same as that which appears in Peter’s two first answers. Christ asks for one kind of love; Peter proffers another. I do not enter upon discussion as to the distinction between these two apparent synonyms. The kind of love which Christ asks for is higher, nobler, less emotional, and more associated with the whole mind and will. It is the inferior kind, the more warm, more sensuous, more passionate and emotional, which Peter brings. And then, in the third question, our Lord, as it were, surrenders and takes Peter’s own word, as if He had said, ‘Be it so! You shrink from professing the higher kind; I will take the lower; and I will educate and bring that up to the height that I desire you to stand at.’ Ah, brother! however stained and imperfect, however disproved by denials, however tainted by earthly associations, Jesus Christ will accept the poor stream of love, though it be but a trickle when it ought to be a torrent, which we can bring Him.

These are the lessons which it seems to me lie in this triple question. I have dealt with them at the greater length, because those which follow are largely dependent upon them. But let me turn now briefly, in the second place, to-

II. The triple answer.

‘Yea, Lord! Thou knowest that I love Thee.’ Is not that beautiful, that the man who by Christ’s Resurrection, as the last of the answers shows, had been led to the loftiest conception of Christ’s omniscience, and regarded Him as knowing the hearts of all men, should, in the face of all that Jesus Christ knew about his denial and his sin, have dared to appeal to Christ’s own knowledge? What a superb and all-conquering confidence in Christ’s depth of knowledge and forgivingness of knowledge that answer showed! He felt that Jesus could look beneath the surface of his sin, and see that below it there was, even in the midst of the denial, a heart that in its depths was true. It is a tremendous piece of confident appeal to the deeper knowledge, and therefore the larger love and more abundant forgiveness, of the righteous Lord-’Thou knowest that I love Thee.’

Brethren! a Christian man ought to be sure of his love to Jesus Christ. You do not study your conduct in order to infer from it your love to others. You do not study your conduct in order to infer from it your love to your wife, or your husband, or your parents, or your children, or your friend. Love is not a matter of inference; it is a matter of consciousness and intuition. And whilst self-examination is needful for us all for many reasons, a Christian man ought to be as sure that he loves Jesus Christ as he is sure that he loves his dearest upon earth.

It used to be the fashion long ago-this generation has not depth enough to keep up the fashion-for Christian people to talk as if it were a point they longed to know, whether they loved Jesus Christ or not. There is no reason why it should be a point we long to know. You know all about your love to one another, and you are sure about that. Why are you not sure about your love to Jesus Christ? ‘Oh! but,’ you say, ‘look at my sins and failures’; and if Peter had looked only at his sins, do you not think that his words would have stuck in his throat? He did look, but he looked in a very different way from that of trying to ascertain from his conduct whether he loved Jesus Christ or not. Brethren, any sin is inconsistent with Christian love to Christ. Thank God, we have no right to say of any sin that it is incompatible with that love! More than that; a great, gross, flagrant, sudden fall like Peter’s is a great deal less inconsistent with love to Christ than are the continuously unworthy, worldly, selfish, Christ-forgetting lives of hosts of complacent professing Christians to-day. White ants will eat up the carcase of a dead buffalo quicker than a lion will. And to have denied Christ once, twice, thrice, in the space of an hour, and under strong temptation, is not half so bad as to call Him ‘Master’ and ‘Lord,’ and day by day, week in, week out, in works to deny Him. The triple answer declares to us that in spite of a man’s sins he ought to be conscious of his love, and be ready to profess it when need is.

III. Lastly, we have here the triple commission.

I do not dwell upon it at any length, because in its original form it applies especially to the Apostolic office. But the general principles which underlie this threefold charge, to feed and to tend both ‘the sheep’ and ‘the lambs,’ may be put in a form that applies to each of us, and it is this-the best token of a Christian’s love to Jesus Christ is his service of man for Christ’s sake. ‘Lovest thou Me?’ ‘Yea! Lord.’ Thou hast said; go and do, ‘Feed My lambs; feed My sheep.’ We need the profession of words; we need, as Peter himself enjoined at a subsequent time, to be ready to ‘give to every man that asketh us a reason of the hope,’ and an acknowledgment of the love, that are in us. But if you want men to believe in your love, however Jesus Christ may know it, go and work in the Master’s vineyard. The service of man is the garb of the love of God. ‘He that loveth God will love his brother also.’ Do not confine that thought of service, and feeding, and tending, to what we call evangelistic and religious work. That is one of its forms, but it is only one of them. Everything in which Christian men can serve their fellows is to be taken by them as their worship of their Lord, and is taken by the world as the convincing proof of the reality of their love.

Love to Jesus Christ is the qualification for all such service. If we are knit to Him by true affection, which is based upon our consciousness of our own falls and evils, and our reception of His forgiving mercy, then we shall have the qualities that fit us, and the impulse that drives us, to serve and help our fellows. I do not say-God forbid!-that there is no philanthropy apart from Christian faith, but I do say that, on the wide scale, and in the long run, they who are knit to Jesus Christ by love will be those who render the greatest help to all that are ‘afflicted in mind, body, or estate’; and that the true basis and qualification for efficient service of our fellows is the utter surrender of our hearts to Him who is the Fountain of love, and from whom comes all our power to live in the world, as the images and embodiments of the love which has saved us that we might help to save others.

Brethren! let us all ask ourselves Christ’s question to the denier. Let us look our past evils full in the face, that we may learn to hate them, and that we may learn more the width and the sweep of the power of His pardoning mercy. God grant that we may all be able to say, ‘Thou knowest all things; Thou knowest that I love Thee!’John 21:15. When they had dined — On the kind provision wherewith Jesus had supplied them, and, it is likely, had been edified with such discourse as Jesus had generally used when eating with them; Jesus said to Simon Peter — Who, by his late denial of him, had given him great reason to call in question the sincerity of his love; Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? — He speaks to him by name, the more to affect him, as he did (Luke 22:31) when he warned him of a great approaching trial. He doth not call him Cephas, or Peter, a name signifying strength or stability, for he had lost the credit of that; but gives him his original name, Simon, adding, however, Song of Solomon of Jonas, as he had called him when he pronounced him blessed, Matthew 16:17. And the question he asked him is, of all others, one of the most important, and on which we should frequently and especially ask ourselves: for, on the one hand, if any man love not the Lord Jesus he is anathema, that is, exposed to the wrath and curse of God, 1 Corinthians 16:22; whereas the grace and blessing of God is the portion of all those who love him in sincerity, Ephesians 6:24. Observe, reader, the question is not, Dost thou know me? Dost thou believe in me? Dost thou admire, honour, or fear me? but, Dost thou love me? Give me but proof of that, as if Jesus had said, and I will acknowledge that thy repentance is sincere; that thy backslidings are healed, and that thou art recovered from thy fall. Peter had professed himself a penitent, had wept bitterly for his sin, had returned to the society of the disciples, and had taken great interest in the death and resurrection of Christ; deeply mourning for the former, and greatly rejoicing at being assured of the latter: but still this is not sufficient: the question is, Lovest thou me? Nay, further, Lovest thou me more than these? — More than thou lovest these persons, James or John, thy intimate friends, or Andrew, thy own brother and companion? Those do not love Christ aright, who do not love him better than the best friend they have in the world, and make it appear so whenever there is a comparison or competition between these objects of their love. Or, more than thou lovest these things, these boats and nets, and the other implements of fishing, by which thou earnest a livelihood: that is, more than thou lovest thy occupation and the gains of it. So Dr. Whitby. And the question, thus interpreted, “is neither so cold nor so foreign,” says Dr. Campbell, “as some have represented it. This was probably the last time that Peter exercised his profession as a fisherman. Jesus was about to employ him as an apostle; but as he disdained all forced obedience, and would accept no service that did not spring from choice, and originate in love, he put this question to give Peter an opportunity of professing openly his love, (which his late transgression had rendered questionable,) and consequently his preference of the work in which Jesus was to employ him, with whatever difficulties and perils it might be accompanied, to any worldly occupation, however gainful.” The sense, however, in which the words are more commonly taken is, Lovest thou me more than these men [thy fellow-disciples] love me? Thus interpreted, the question must be considered as having a reference to the declaration formerly made by Peter, (Matthew 26:33,) when he seemed to arrogate a superiority to the rest, in zeal for his Master and steadiness in his service; Though all men should be offended because of thee, yet will I never be offended. This gives a peculiar propriety to Peter’s reply here. “Convinced, at length, that his Master knew his heart better than he himself; conscious, at the same time, of the affection which he bore him, he dares make the declaration, [as to the sincerity of his love,] appealing to the infallible Judge, before whom he stood, as the voucher of his truth. But as to his fellow-disciples, he is now taught not to assume any thing. He dares not utter a single word which would lead to a comparison with those to whom he knew his woful defection had made him appear so much inferior.” He only says, Yea, Lord, thou knowest that I love thee — “And his silence on this part of the question speaks strongly the shame he had on recollecting his former presumption, in boasting superior zeal and firmness, and shows, that the lesson of humility and self-knowledge he had so lately received, had not been lost.”

He saith unto him, Feed my lambs — Manifest thy love to me in a way which will be peculiarly acceptable; administer spiritual food to my people, even to the weakest and feeblest of my flock; give milk to babes, explain the first principles of my doctrine to those who, having but lately believed in me, are not yet thoroughly instructed in the truths, or established in the grace of the gospel. It may be worth observing here, that the original word αρνια, being the diminutive of αρνα, signifies the least of my lambs; and if, says Dr. Doddridge, “we interpret it as an intimation of the care which Peter, as a minister of Christ, was to take of little children, it seems perfectly congruous to the wisdom and tenderness of the great Shepherd of the sheep, to give so particular an injunction concerning it.”21:15-19 Our Lord addressed Peter by his original name, as if he had forfeited that of Peter through his denying him. He now answered, Thou knowest that I love thee; but without professing to love Jesus more than others. We must not be surprised to have our sincerity called into question, when we ourselves have done that which makes it doubtful. Every remembrance of past sins, even pardoned sins, renews the sorrow of a true penitent. Conscious of integrity, Peter solemnly appealed to Christ, as knowing all things, even the secrets of his heart. It is well when our falls and mistakes make us more humble and watchful. The sincerity of our love to God must be brought to the test; and it behoves us to inquire with earnest, preserving prayer to the heart-searching God, to examine and prove us, whether we are able to stand this test. No one can be qualified to feed the sheep and lambs of Christ, who does not love the good Shepherd more than any earthly advantage or object. It is the great concern of every good man, whatever death he dies, to glorify God in it; for what is our chief end but this, to die to the Lord, at the word of the Lord?Lovest thou me more than these? - There is a slight ambiguity here in the original, as there is in our translation. The word these may be in the neuter gender, and refer to these things his boat, his fishing utensils, and his employments; or it may be in the masculine, and refer to the apostles. In the former sense it would mean, "Lovest thou me more than thou lovest these objects? Art thou now willing, from love to me, to forsake all these, and go and preach my gospel to the nations of the earth?" In the other sense, which is probably the true sense, it would mean, "Lovest thou me more than these other apostles love me?" In this question Jesus refers to the profession of superior attachment to him which Peter had made before his death Matthew 26:33; "Though all men shall be offended because of thee, yet will I never be offended." Compare John 13:37. Jesus here slightly reproves him for that confident assertion, reminds him of his sad and painful denial, and now puts this direct and pointed question to him to know what was the present state of his feelings. After all that Peter had had to humble him, the Saviour inquired of him what had been the effect on his mind, and whether it had tended to prepare him for the arduous toils in which he was about to engage. This question we should all put to ourselves. It is a matter of much importance that we should ourselves know what is the effect of the dealings of divine Providence on our hearts, and what is our present state of feeling toward the Lord Jesus Christ.

Thou knowest that I love thee - Peter now made no pretensions to love superior to his brethren. His sad denial had convinced him of the folly of that claim; but still he could appeal to the Searcher of the heart, and say that he knew that he loved him. Here is the expression of a humbled soul - soul made sensible of its weakness and need of strength, yet with evidence of true attachment to the Saviour. It is not the most confident pretensions that constitute the highest proof of love to Christ; and the happiest and best state of feeling is when we can with humility, yet with confidence, look to the Lord Jesus and say, "Thou knowest that I love thee."

Feed my lambs - The word here rendered "feed" means the care afforded by furnishing nutriment for the flock. In the next verse there is a change in the Greek, and the word rendered feed denotes rather the care, guidance, and protection which a shepherd extends to his flock. By the use of both these words, it is supposed that our Saviour intended that a shepherd was both to offer the proper food for his flock and to govern it; or, as we express it, to exercise the office of a pastor. The expression is taken from the office of a shepherd, with which the office of a minister of the gospel is frequently compared. It means, as a good shepherd provides for the wants of his flock, so the pastor in the church is to furnish food for the soul, or so to exhibit truth that the faith of believers may be strengthened and their hope confirmed.

My lambs - The church is often compared to a flock. See John 10:1-16. Here the expression my lambs undoubtedly refers to the tender and the young in the Christian church; to those who are young in years and in Christian experience. The Lord Jesus saw, what has been confirmed in the experience of the church, that the success of the gospel among men depended on the care which the ministry would extend to those in early life. It is in obedience to this command that Sunday schools have been established, and no means of fulfilling this command of the Saviour have been found so effectual as to extend patronage to those schools. It is not merely, therefore, the privilege, it is the solemn duty of ministers of the gospel to countenance and patronize those schools.

15-17. when they had dined, Jesus saith—Silence appears to have reigned during the meal; unbroken on His part, that by their mute observation of Him they might have their assurance of His identity the more confirmed; and on theirs, from reverential shrinking to speak till He did.

Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these?—referring lovingly to those sad words of Peter, shortly before denying his Lord, "Though all men shall be offended because of Thee, yet will I never be offended" (Mt 26:33), and intending by this allusion to bring the whole scene vividly before his mind and put him to shame.

Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee—He adds not, "more than these," but prefixes a touching appeal to the Saviour's own omniscience for the truth of his protestation, which makes it a totally different kind of speech from his former.

He saith unto him, Feed my lambs—It is surely wrong to view this term as a mere diminutive of affection, and as meaning the same thing as "the sheep" [Webster and Wilkinson]. It is much more according to usage to understand by the "lambs," young and tender disciples, whether in age or Christian standing (Isa 40:11; 1Jo 2:12, 13), and by the "sheep" the more mature. Shall we say (with many) that Peter was here reinstated in office? Not exactly, since he was not actually excluded from it. But after such conduct as his, the deep wound which the honor of Christ had received, the stain brought on his office, the damage done to his high standing among his brethren, and even his own comfort, in prospect of the great work before him, required some such renewal of his call and re-establishment of his position as this.

Lovest thou me more than these? More than the rest of my disciples love me? For so Peter had professed, when he told our Saviour, Matthew 26:33, Though all men should be offended because of thee, yet will I never be offended. Peter now having by his temptation learned more humility and modesty, doth not reply, Lord, thou knowest that I love thee more than these; he only avers the truth and sincerity, not the degree of his love. Christ replies,

Feed my lambs: by which he understands his people, his church; not the pastors of it, (as if Christ by this had made Peter the chief pastor over the rest of the apostles), but the community. The papists from this text argue for Peter’s primacy and authority over his fellow apostles, as well as over the members of the church. But Christ said not to Peter only, but to all the rest of the eleven, Matthew 28:19 Mark 16:15, Go ye, preach the gospel to all nations; and it was to the rest as well as to Peter that he said, John 20:23, Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted. So as it is apparent, whether feeding only signifies instructing, or feeding by doctrine, or (as most judge) comprehends government, and signifies that universal charge which ministers have over the church, the same power which Peter had was also committed to the other disciples. So when they had dined,.... The Persic version adds,

Jesus turned his face to Simon Peter; he did not interrupt them whilst they were eating; but when they had comfortably refreshed themselves, he looked at Peter, and singled him out from the rest, and directed his discourse to him; and saith unto Simon Peter,

Simon, son of Jonas; not John, as the Vulgate Latin, and Nonnus, and some copies read; for this answers not to the Hebrew word Jochanan, but Jonah, the same name with the prophet. Some have observed, that Christ spoke to him particularly by his original name, and not by that which he himself had given him, with a view to his strong faith, as Cephas, or Peter; but it should be known that Christ calls him by this name of Simon bar Jonah, when he made the most ample profession of his faith in him, and was pronounced blessed by him, Matthew 16:16

lovest thou me more than these? meaning, not than the fishes he had caught, nor the net and boat, or any worldly enjoyment, nor than he loved the disciples; but the question is, whether he loved Christ more than the rest of the disciples loved him: the reason of which was, because he had some time ago declared, though all the disciples were offended at Christ, and should deny him, he would not; and had just now thrown himself into the sea to come to him first, as if he loved him more than they did: which question is put, not out of ignorance, or as if Christ knew not whether he loved him or not, and what was the degree of his affection to him; but because the exercise of this grace, and the expressions of it, are very grateful to him; and that Peter also might have an opportunity of expressing it before others, who had so publicly denied him:

he saith unto him, yea, Lord, thou knowest that I love thee: not in word and tongue, but in deed and in truth; in sincerity, and without dissimulation, fervently and superlatively; for the truth of which he appeals to Christ himself; for he was so conscious to himself of the reality of his love, and the sincerity of his affection, that he chooses to make Christ himself judge of it, rather than say any more of it himself; though he modestly declines saying that he loved him more than the rest of the disciples did, having had an experience of his vanity and self-confidence. He was sure he loved Christ heartily; but whether he loved him more than the rest did, he chose not to say:

he saith unto him, feed my lambs; the younger and more tender part of the flock, weak believers, Christ's little children, newborn babes, the day of small things, which are not to be despised, the bruised reed that is not to be broken, and the smoking flax that is not to be quenched; but who are to be nourished, comforted, and strengthened, by feeding them with the milk of the Gospel, and by administering to them the ordinances and breasts of consolation. These Christ has an interest in, and therefore calls them "my lambs", being given him by the Father, and purchased by his blood, and for whom he has a tender concern and affection; and nothing he looks upon as a firmer and clearer proof and evidence of love to him, than to feed these lambs of his, and take care of them.

{2} So when they had dined, Jesus saith to Simon Peter, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my lambs.

(2) Peter by this triple confession is restored into his former position from where he fell by his triple denial: and furthermore it is proclaimed that he is indeed a pastor, who shows his love to Christ in feeding his sheep.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
John 21:15-17. The thrice-repeated question: “ut illi occasionem praeberet, triplicis abnegationis maculam triplici professione eluendi,” Wetstein, which Hengstenberg arbitrarily denies.

Σίμων Ἰωάννου] Thrice the same complete mention of the name with a certain solemnity of deeply-moved affection. In the use of the name Simon Joh. in itself, we are not to recognise—since certainly it is not at all susceptible of proof, that Jesus elsewhere addressed the apostle by the name Peter or Cephas—another and special purpose as in view, neither a reminiscence of the lost confidence (De Wette), nor of the human presupposition of the apostolical calling (Luthardt), nor a replacement into the natural condition for the purpose of an exaltation to the new dignity (Hengstenberg). The name of Peter is not refused to him (Hoelemann).

ἀγαπ.] He does not ask after his faith; for this had not become wavering, but the love proceeding from the faith had not been sufficiently strong.

τούτων] ἢ οὗτοι, than these my other disciples. They are still present; comp. on John 21:20. Peter had given expression, in his whole behaviour down to his fall, to so pre-eminent a love for Jesus (let John 6:68, let the washing of the feet, the sword-stroke, and John 13:37 be borne in mind), and in virtue of the distinction, of which Jesus had deemed him worthy (John 1:43), as well as by his post at the head of the apostles (comp. on Matthew 16:18), into which he was not now for the first time to be introduced (Hengstenberg), so pre-eminent a love was to be expected from him, that there is sufficient occasion for the πλεῖον τούτων without requiring a special reference to Matthew 26:33 (from which, in comparison with John 13:37, a conclusion has been drawn adverse to the Johannean authorship).

Peter in his answer places, instead of the ἀγαπ. (diligis) of the question, the expression of personal heart emotion, φιλῶ, amo (comp. John 11:3; John 11:5, John 20:2), by which he gives the most direct satisfaction to his inmost feeling; appeals, in so doing, in the consciousness of the want of personal warranty, to the Lord’s knowledge of the heart, but leaves the πλεῖον τούτων unanswered, because his fall has made him humble, for which reason Jesus also, in tender forbearance, is silent as to that πλεῖον τούτων in the questions that follow—vivid originality of the narrative, marked by such delicacy of feeling.

βόσκε τὰ ἀρνία μου] Restoration to the previous standing, which the rest of the apostles did not require, therefore containing the primacy of Peter only in so far as it already previously existed; see on Matthew 16:18.

ἀρνία] Expression of tender emotion: little lambs, without obliteration of the diminutive signification also in Revelation 5:6; Isaiah 40:11, Aq. The discourse becomes firmer in John 21:16, where πρόβατα, and again, more touched with emotion in John 21:17, where προβάτια, little sheep (see the critical notes), is found. By all three words, the ἀρχιποίμην[285] means His believing ones in general (1 Peter 5:4), without making a separation between beginners and those who are matured (Euth. Zigabenus, Wetstein, Lange, and several others), or even between laity and clergy (Eusebius, Emiss, Bellarmine). Maldonatus aptly remarks: the distinction is non in re, sed in voce, where, notwithstanding, he, with other Catholic expositors, erroneously lays emphasis on the fact that precisely to Peter was the whole flock entrusted; the latter shared, in truth, with all the apostles, the same office of tending the entire flock.

πάλιν δεύτερον] See on Matthew 26:42.

ποίμαινε] More universal and more expressive of carefully ruling activity in general (Acts 20:28; 1 Peter 5:2; Revelation 2:27; Revelation 7:17, and see Dissen, ad Pind. Ol. x. 9) than βόσκε, in which rather the special reference of nourishing protective activity is brought out (Hom. Od. μ. 97, ξ. 102, et al.; comp. βοσκή and βόσκημα, victus, and the compounds like γηροβοσκεῖν, et al.; see also Philo, deter. insid. pot. I. p. 197; Ellendt, Lex. Soph. I. p. 312 f.). The latter, therefore, corresponds to the diminutive designations.

In His third question, John 21:17, Jesus takes up the φιλῶ σε of Peter, and cuts, by means of the thus altered question, still more deeply into his heart. Peter was troubled about this, that Jesus in this third question appeared to throw doubt even upon his φιλεῖν. Hence now his more earnest answer, with an appeal to his Lord’s unlimited knowledge of the heart: σὺ πάντα οἶδας, κ.τ.λ., which popular and deeply emotional expression is not to be interpreted of absolute omniscience (Baur), but according to the standard of John 16:30, John 2:25, John 4:19, John 6:64, John 1:49 f.

[285] To apply the sense of the thrice-uttered behest so differently: duty of individuals; care for the whole; leading in of individuals for the whole (Luthardt),—is a separation of the idea which cannot be proved by the change of the words, and is entirely out of keeping with the mood of emotional feeling. In each of the three expressions lies the whole duty of the shepherd. “Quam vocum vim optime se intellexisse Petrus demonstrat, 1 Peter 5:2,” Grotius.John 21:15-18. Jesus evokes from Peter a confession of love, and commissions him as shepherd, of His sheep.15–19. The Commission to S. Peter and Prediction as to his death

15. dined] See on John 21:12.

saith to Simon Peter, Simon, son of Jonas] For ‘Jonas’ read John here and in John 21:16-17, as in John 1:42. Note that the writer himself calls him Simon Peter, but represents the Lord as calling him ‘Simon son of John.’ This is not only in harmony with the rest of this Gospel, but with the Gospels as a whole. Although Jesus gave Simon the name of Peter, yet, with one remarkable exception (see on Luke 22:34), He never addresses him as Peter, but always as Simon. Matthew 16:17; Matthew 17:25; Mark 14:37; Luke 22:31. The Synoptists generally call him Simon, sometimes adding his surname. S. John always gives both names, excepting in John 1:41, where the surname just about to be given would be obviously out of place. Contrast in this chapter John 21:2-3; John 21:7; John 21:11 with 16, 17. Should we find this minute difference observed, if the writer were any other than S. John? [12] This being the general usage of our Lord, there is no reason to suppose that His calling him Simon rather than Peter on this occasion is a reproach, as implying that by denying his Master he had forfeited the name of Peter. That S. John should add the surname with much greater frequency than the Synoptists is natural. At the time when S. John wrote the surname had become the more familiar of the two. S. Paul never calls him Simon, but uses the Aramaic form of the surname, Cephas.

lovest thou me] The word for ‘love’ here and in the question in John 21:16 is agapân (see on John 11:5). S. Peter in all three answers uses philein, and our Lord uses philein in the third question (John 21:17). The change is not accidental; and once more we have evidence of the accuracy of the writer: he preserves distinctions which were actually made. S. Peter’s preference for philein is doubly intelligible: (1) it is the less exalted word; he is sure of the natural affection which it expresses; he will say nothing about the higher love implied in agapân; (2) it is the warmer word; there is a calm discrimination implied in agapân which to him seems cold. In the third question Christ takes him at his own standard; he adopts S. Peter’s own word, and thus presses the question more home.

more than these] ‘More than these, thy companions, love Me.’ The A. V. is ambiguous, and so also is the Greek, but there cannot be much doubt as to the meaning: ‘more than thou lovest these things’ gives a very inadequate signification to the question. At this stage in S. Peter’s career Christ would not be likely to ask him whether he preferred his boat and nets to Himself. S. Peter had professed to be ready to die for His Master (John 13:37) and had declared that though all the rest might deny Him, he would never do so (Matthew 26:33). Jesus recalls this boast by asking him whether he now professes to have more loyalty and devotion than the rest.

Yea, Lord; thou knowest] “We have once more an exquisite touch of psychology. It is Peter’s modesty that speaks, and his sense of shame at his own short-comings … He has nothing to appeal to, and yet he is conscious that his affection is not unreal or insincere, and He trusts to Him who searches the hearts.” S. pp. 268, 9. Not only does he change the word for ‘love’ from agapân to philein, but he says nothing about ‘more than these:’ he will not venture any more to compare himself with others. Moreover he makes no professions as to the future; experience has taught him that the present is all that he can be sure of. The ‘Thou’ in ‘Thou knowest’ is emphatic. This time he will trust the Lord’s knowledge of him rather than his own estimate of himself. Can all these delicate touches be artistic fictions?

Feed my lambs] Not only is he not degraded on account of his fall, he receives a fresh charge and commission. The work of the fisher gives place to that of the shepherd: the souls that have been brought together and won need to be fed and tended. And this S. Peter must do.John 21:15. Ὅτε, when) During their eating there had been more than usual silence. Silence at the beginning of a feast is not only the part of politeness, but even of modesty and self-control.—ὁ Ἰησοῦς) The Byz. and Lat. formerly omitted these words, as is evident from Augustine. Nor were they in the cod. Reutlingensis “manu primâ.”[404]—ἀγαπᾷς με, lovest [amas] thou Me?) Thrice the Lord asks a question: Lovest thou Me more than these? Lovest thou Me? φιλεῖς [diligis?], dost thou esteem Me? Thrice Peter answers, I do esteem Thee. Ἀγαπᾶν, amare, is the part of relationship and affection: φιλεῖν, diligere, is the act of the judgment. Others make this distinction, that ἀγαπᾶν is simply to love; φιλεῖν, to love in such a way as that we should evince our love by kissing one: and this is the distinction which Eustathius upholds; but Peter, to the question of the Lord ἀγαπᾷς με, does not seem to have been likely to answer ἐμφατικώτερον, more emphatically, than was the expression in the question, φιλῶ. Where the difference is not expressed, the one is included in the signification of the other.[405] Jesus, now that Peter’s faith was established, questions him about his love: and this is the distinguishing characteristic of the Shepherd. On this condition of love depend the things which are mentioned in John 21:15, etc., and John 21:18-19.—πλεῖον τούτων) more than these, viz. thy fellow-disciples. So οὗτος, this man, occurs in John 21:21. Previously Peter had said that he would show more fidelity than these (his fellow-disciples): Matthew 26:33, “Though all[406] shall be offended because of Thee, yet will I never be offended:” but now he simply says, I love Thee: he does not add, more than these. Yet he had lately shown himself most eagerly desirous of the Lord, in John 21:7 [“He cast himself into the sea,” to reach Him the sooner].—σὺ οἶδας, Thou knowest) Peter had given a proof of the contrary by his late denial of Jesus: now, instead of argument, he makes his appeal to the knowledge and omniscience of Jesus.—βόσκε, feed) The words, more than these, serve to indicate that Peter is here restored to his place, which he had lost by his denial of Jesus; and at the same time that a something is assigned to him peculiarly, as compared with the other disciples, but nothing from which the others are to be excluded: for in truth they also loved Jesus, ch. John 16:27. Let the Pope, in the name of truth, cease, under the pretext of the succession to Peter, to claim violently this privilege to himself, and himself alone, seeing that he is one who does not either love or feed the sheep, but on the contrary feeds upon them. Rome can no more claim Peter as her own, than Jerusalem or Antioch, or any other place where Peter acted as an apostle: nay, Rome, as being the capital of the Gentiles, can least of all claim him. For Peter was one of the apostles of the circumcision. There is one feature peculiar to Rome, that the blood of the apostles, including even Peter, is to be ‘found’ in her: Revelation 18:20; Revelation 18:24.—τὰ ἀρνία μου, My lambs) Jesus is the Lord of the sheep and of the lambs. He loves His flock, and commits it to him that loves Him.

[404] But ABDabc and best MSS. of Vulg. support the words.—E. and T.

[405] The Vulg. differs from Bengel, and rightly gives the reverse explanation to ἀγαπᾶς and φιλεῖς respectively; “diligis, diligis,” twice, to represent the twice repeated ἀγαπᾶς, the love of choice and judgment, esteem; and “amo, amo,” to represent φιλῶ, the love of affection and impulse. The word ἀγαπᾶς sounds too cold to the ear of Peter, who was now burning with love. He therefore substitutes in his answer the word of affection, φιλῶ. At the third time Peter has gained his point: for the Lord now, instead of ἀγαπᾶς, gratifies Peter by using φιλεῖς. See Trench, Syn. New Testament—E. and T.

[406] Viz. of the disciples: not “all men,” as Engl. Vers.—E. and T.Verses 15-19. -

(2) The revelations to be made in the services dictated by love and issuing in martyrdom. The confession made by Simon Peter, and the charge given to him. Verse 15. - When therefore they had breakfasted, Jesus saith to Simon Peter. His full name and Christ-given appellation is in the mind of the evangelist; but he, with marked emphasis, shows that our Lord went back to his relations with Simon before the latter's first introduction to him (see John 1:42, etc.), and recalls the attitude Christ had taken to Simon on more than one memorable occasion (Matthew 16:17; Luke 22:31). On two of these occasions the simple humanity of the apostle was the basis on which the Lord proceeded to confer upon him the high official designation. The grace of God, in the first instance, selected Simon of Jonah to be a rock. In the second, "not flesh and blood," but the Father's grace, revealed the mystery of the Divine Sonship to him, and won the name of Peter. In the third, the utter weakness of Simon's own flesh reveals the power of the prayer of Jesus for him, so that he might ultimately convert his brethren; and now "Simon" is reinstated after his fall into his apostolic office. Simon, son of Jona - or, John (see John 1:42, note) - lovest thou me more than these? i.e. more than these other disciples love me? Thou hast seen more of my compassion, farther into my heart, deeper into my Person, my position, and my work, than they have done; thou hast dared again and again to ask for higher service and more conspicuous distinction. Thou hast made louder protestations than any of these of thine unworthiness to serve me, and in the deep consciousness of humiliation thou hast been more emphatic than any of them in refusing grace which thou thoughtest it might dishonor me to give. Thou didst indeed say, "Though all men should be offended at me or should deny me," thou wouldst never be offended and never deny me. "Dost thou love me more than they do?" There is no positive reference to the denial and fall of Peter; but the implication and suggestion cannot be hidden, though Hengstenberg and others fail to appreciate it. The circumstance that Peter was "grieved" because the Lord put this question to him a third time makes the reference very little less than explicit. The real significance of the narrative is the reinstitution of Peter in the position of importance he had filled throughout, and an indication of the nature and quality of that service. In Simon's reply, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee, three things are very noticeable.

(1) Peter says nothing of the superiority of his affection for his Lord over that of his colleagues. Had they not in outward act been more faithful than he? He could not arrogate any sweeter, dearer, more abounding affection than he was willing to believe that they felt for their Master. It is scarcely worth while to notice the miserable translation that some few commentators have suggested: "Lovest thou me more than (thou lovest) these fishing-smacks and this thriving business on the lake?" Observe

(2) Peter's admission that the Lord knew his inmost heart, concedes, therefore, that the question was merely intended to test his faithfulness, and force him to a more salutary and binding acknowledgment. Notice

(3) Peter's change of phraseology. The word used for "love" by the Lord is ἀγαπάω, but that which is used in response by the apostle is φιλῶ, the love of natural emotion, and even tender, intimate, personal affection. The Latin language, by rendering φιλῶ by amo rather than diligo, expresses the subtle shades of meaning between φιλεῖν and ἀγαπᾶν. There is, however, no English word but "love" for them both. The admirable remarks of Archbishop Trench ('Synonyms of New Testament,' § 12.) find special illustration in these verses. Many passages occur in which amo and φιλέω seem to mean more and have deeper intensity than diligo and ἀγαπάω. Amari is the affection which a friend may desire from a friend, even more than diligi; but the latter denotes choice, mental conviction, and self-recognition of the fact. Antony, in his funeral oration over Caesar (Dion Cassius, 41:48, quoted by Trench), says, Ἐφιλάσατε αὐτὸν ὡς πατέρα καὶ ἠγαπήσατε ὡς εὐεργέτην. Thus in the New Testament we are continually told of the ἀγαπᾶν τὸν Θεόν, but never of the φιλεῖν τὸν Θεόν. God is himself said to ἀγαπᾶν and φιλεῖν τὸν υἱόν. When, therefore, the Lord here asks Simon, Ἀγαπᾶς," Dost thou esteem me worthy of thy love?" Simon, with a burst of personal affection, says, yet with a certain humility, "I love thee" - meaning, "Such love as I can lavish upon thee, such as I may dare in my humility to offer thee, O my Master, Brother, Friend!" This being the case, Jesus saith, Feed my lambs. Love to Christ is the first, high, main condition of faithful service. The chief of the apostles will have this as his prime, chief, and most laudable service. Each of the terms of the commission, in its threefold repetition, resembles the other; and Meyer says the whole duty of the pastor of souls and earthly shepherd of the flock is involved in each of the three expressions. Our Lord commences, however, with providing true food, seasonable nourishment, for the "lambs" of the flock. The tender emotion involved in the term cannot be excluded, but it is a comprehensive and suggestive one, and embraces the young converts, the first believers, those who with impetuosity and gladness receive the Word; the little children who will literally crowd into the Church become the highest and sacredest care of the chiefest apostles and most honored of pastors. The first, the main thing they need, is the milk of the Word, and the sweetest pastures. This consideration of the next generation, and gracious care for the children and the childlike of every successive age, is one of the sacred signs of Divine revelation. Our Lord is represented in the synopties as "suffering the little children" to "come to" him, as "blessing them," and rejoicing in their hosannas. St. John preserves and glorifies the whole conception by recording this commission of the risen Lord to the greatest of the apostles. If the babes and sucklings had "held their peace, the stones would have cried out," is the pathetic approval of the rejected Lord. "Feed my lambs" is the gracious, unexpected summons of the triumphant Christ and Lord of all. Simon, son of Jonas

Compare Christ's first address to Peter, John 1:43. He never addresses him by the name of Peter, while that name is commonly used, either alone or with Simon, in the narrative of the Gospels, and in the Greek form Peter, not the Aramaic Cephas, which, on the other hand, is always employed by Paul. For Jonas read as Rev., John.

Lovest (ἀγαπᾶς)

Jesus uses the more dignified, really the nobler, but, as it seems to Peter, in the ardor of his affection, the colder word for love. See on John 5:20.

More than these

More than these disciples love me. Compare John 13:37; Matthew 26:33. The question conveys a gentle rebuke for his former extravagant professions.

I love (φιλῶ)

Peter substitutes the warmer, more affectionate word, and omits all comparison with his fellow-disciples.

Feed (βόσκε)

See on 1 Peter 5:2.

Lambs (ἀρνία)

Diminutive: little lambs. Godet remarks: "There is a remarkable resemblance between the present situation and that of the two scenes in the previous life of Peter with which it is related. He had been called to the ministry by Jesus after a miraculous draught of fishes; it is after a similar draught that the ministry is restored to him. He had lost his office by a denial beside a fire of coal; it is beside a fire of coal that he recovers it."

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