The account of the questioning of Simon Peter happened at least eight days after Christ’s resurrection (John 20:16). Further, He made a special appearance to Peter and then to the 12 (1 Cor. 15:5). In the midst of these activities, He found seven disciples on a fishing expedition, whereas He stood on the shore at daylight and, after asking about their success, suggested that they cast their nets on the other side of the boat. Their resounding success convinced them the Lord was talking to them. After breakfast Jesus immediately began questioning Peter. Why the conversation took place has led to several possible explanations.
Probably the most popular interpretation sees a direct connection with Peter’s three denials (18:17, 25, 27). My main objection is, this explanation does not sound like what Jesus would do. After his encounter with a woman at the well of Sychar, He did not elicit from her the causes for her failed marriages (John 4:5-30). As far as Peter’s actions went, he heard the cock’s second crow, remembered the words of Jesus, went out, and wept bitterly. Jesus was not trying to coax further evidence because Peter was already heart-broken and sorrowful.
A second popular view, especially among preachers, depicts Jesus educating Peter on the subject of acceptable love (21:15, 16, 17). I remember a book being published in my seminary days, expounding on three kinds of love: eros, agape, and brotherly love. The problem is that eros (erotic) is not used in the Bible. The difference between the other two (heavenly love and brotherly love) were often used interchangeably. In John 11:3, the sisters of the ill Lazarus sent for Jesus, telling him the one “whom you love” [brotherly love] was sick. In verse 5, we read “Now Jesus loved [agape] Martha and her sister and Lazarus.” John 5:20 says the Father loves [brotherly love] the Son. In John 3:35 the Father loves [heavenly love] the son.
What shall we say about these different usages? Scholars in the 19th century discovered that the New Testament Greek was not some Holy Ghost language but the language of common people, the Koiné. Its users cared little about the grammatical structure of the language of educated people. For the first-century Christians casual speech trumped formal structure. To illustrate, for me, translating First John was a joy. Struggling with First and Second Peter was a challenge.
I believe to see the spiritual message of our assigned texts, we must look carefully as our Lord’s three commands (vv. 15, 16, 17). When Jesus told Peter to feed His lambs, Peter probably was mystified. Having been with Jesus about three years, He knew Jesus owned no flock of sheep, let alone a bunch of lambs. Later, he and the others might remember the words of Jesus that He was the good shepherd who gives His life for His sheep (John 10:11) and even of having sheep in another fold (10:16), but by the sea as Jesus talked, we can only speculate about what Peter thought.
The second command and amplification shows the direction of our Lord’s prodding. He tells Peter to shepherd His sheep, not feed them as given in the KJV. We can now ascertain the purpose of this dialogue. Jesus was enlisting Peter, and the others, to be leaders in the new movement to be inaugurated at Pentecost. Peter was to be the first pastor of the new era. He preached the first sermon, recorded in Acts 2:14-36.
We close this with Peter’s summary of his ministry (2 Pet. 5:1-3). “The elders which are among you, I exhort, who am also an elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed: Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint thereof, but willingly: not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being ensamples to the flock.”
Note the three words of elder, feed (pastor), and oversight (overseer). The three functions of the leader of a local church express different aspects of the same responsibility.
Original page can be found at:
Copyright © 2014 Florida Baptist Witness