15 So when they had eaten breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of Jonah, 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.”
Verses 15-23 set forth the restoration of Peter to ministry. He had denied Jesus three times. This section re-commissioned him three times. Three times he had denied knowing Jesus; now three times he would assert his love for Jesus.
15 So when they had eaten breakfast,
Jesus and the apostles ate breakfast together. Now that they finished fellowship around a meal, our Lord had some unfinished business with Peter.
Jesus said to Simon Peter,
After breakfast Jesus challenged Peter’s loyalty to Him. This disciple had denied the Lord three times, and now three times the Lord would ask him whether this apostle would love Him. We have three denials and three affirmations.
“Simon, son of Jonah,
Jesus had used this appellation of Peter and his father at their first encounter (Jn 1:42). There was something solemn about the use of his full name here.
do you love Me
There were two Greek words in the exchange between Jesus and Peter. Jesus used the Greek word agapao two times, and Peter used phileo once. Many deem the difference between agapao and phileo as stylistic variation carrying the same meaning in this context. However, that conclusion seems to me to be capricious since these terms are so tightly juxtaposed in our passage. Also, the semantic range for each word is different. Although there is overlap between these verbs, we must conclude that there are distinctions and differences as well.
The word that Jesus used in His first two questions was agapao. This word conveys objectivity, whereas phileo is more experiential or subjective. Jesus’ word is more volitional and seeks the good of its object, even to the point of self-sacrifice (Jn 13:34).
Peter’s word is a stronger term than agapao for personal relationship or fellowship. It carries the idea of affection and is more subjective. The Father used this term for Jesus (Jn 5:20) and for the disciples (Jn 16:27). Jesus used this word for John (Jn 20:2). This is a term of family affection or fondness. Peter’s word phileo is more comprehensive; it includes every type and degree of love, whereas agapao is more restrained and noble. Although these Greek terms are interchangeable, they can hold distinction as well.
The Greek verb for “love” used in “do you love Me” here is agapao. Jesus used a term of more objectivity than the term Peter used. Jesus’ word is objective love and Peter’s subjective or reciprocal in nature. The word Jesus used is more noble but Peter’s warmer. The one denotes love from the will and the other affection from the attitude.
Peter’s word is used of loving God one time in the Bible (1 Co 16:22). This is an exception that proves the rule that agapao most generally refers to noble love. Peter’s word phileo is the stronger word for reciprocal love, for subjective love. Agapao does not exclude affection but its primary idea is a love that is objective, that stands above emotions, subjectivity, or affection. It is a love with divine purpose and principle. Peter’s word indicates personal love, but Jesus’ word conveys love based on character.
more than these?”
“Than these” refers to the other six disciples standing nearby. In Matthew 26:33, Peter said that he would “never” stumble even if “all” hypothetically should stumble (Mt 26:33, 34). Jesus asked Peter if he loved Him more than his compadres. This was an effort to bring Peter to the point where he acknowledged his denial of Jesus (Jn 18:15-18, 25-27).
We cannot serve the Lord without having Him in a proper place in our hearts.
It was important that Peter gave primary love to Jesus. He needed to love his Lord more than other disciples and more than the flock. It is also important that pastors do not love their ministry more than their Lord.