The context is John 21:15. Jesus in His third appearance to the disciples tells them again, same as in Luke 5, where to cast the nets if they want to catch any fish. After the nets are nearly blown out from the huge haul, which was the lone highlight to an otherwise sorry excuse for a fishing trip. Peter in his excitement jumps off the boat from about a hundred yards out and swims in to shore to be the first disciple to welcome Jesus. As the rest of the disciples land the boat and drag the overflowing nets in, Jesus has a fish and bread breakfast ready for them, cooked over a charcoal fire. Jesus says, “bring in some of those fish you’ve just caught.” The final count was 153 large fish, and the nets held! After they ate, in what seems to be a private conversation between Jesus and Peter, Jesus asks, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?”
Do you love me more than these…? This is a question that I have heard explained as Jesus asking Peter if he loves Him more than the other disciples did. While I can understand why that may seem to be the question here, especially since Peter said in Matthew 26:33 that even if all the rest of the disciples would fall away he would not. But my two biggest hang ups with this explanation are as follows.
1) Why would Jesus ask Peter a question he couldn’t know the answer to? Peter couldn’t have known the hearts of the other disciples and I don’t think Jesus would ask Peter to pass judgement on fellow disciples who had no need to be corrected or sin issues happening at the moment.
2) The issue of comparison. As believers we are warned against comparing ourselves to others. I can’t see Jesus asking Peter to compare his love for Him to the love of the other disciples. Comparison can lead to sin and motivates us to “one up” other by trying to prove that we love Jesus more than the next guy. Forcing us to comparing our love for Him to others is never the motivation of Jesus.
So what is this question referring to?
The answer comes in the context. After the heart breaking crucifixion and faith restoring resurrection of Christ, it seems that Peter was exasperated. He was tired, drained, wore out, emotionally wrecked. In that mindset, it seems like Peter made a decision to go back to the old life where things were much simpler. He went back to the boat he left behind, saw the old nets sitting there where he left them. Maybe there were some village folks welcoming him, glad to see him back. The idea of it all must have seemed so comfortable and familiar at a time when so much was unsure. In fact, Peter may have been thinking about just going back into the family business and chalking the last 3 years up to “quite an adventure.”
So as Jesus makes His appearance here, and asks Peter to bring some of the fish over, what Jesus may be asking is, Peter, do you love me more than this huge pile of fish, do you love me more than your old boat and nets and the security of the low risk low reward life that you had before. “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these.” Notice, Jesus is withholding the name He gave him, implying the title of “Peter the rock” was in jeopardy, so instead Jesus calls him by the old name, in his old town doing the his old job. Do you love your old self and life more than you love me? Peter replies with an under whelming, “yes lord, you know I love you.” As Jesus pushed him two more times, Simon, do you love me, Simon, DO YOU LOVE ME? Simon finally, unreliant on emotion or the heat of the moment says, “Lord, you know everything; you know I love you.” Jesus pushed Simon, and finally, Peter stayed calm and cool, he didn’t crack, he didn’t back down and he showed Jesus once and for all, he is the ROCK that Jesus knew he was.
Often when we first come to Christ there is an element of emotion and excitement that will soon wear off. This is when we see if we truly love Christ or if we are casual Christians who would prefer worldly comfort over any kind of difficulty or persecution.
As we follow Christ we come to forks in the road that require us to answer this question, weather its a career, a hobby, worldly temptation or comfort, the easy way out or outright sin, we will be faced with one question…Do you love Christ more that these?