John 21:15-25

John 21:15-25 … The epilogue of the Gospel of John closes with one of the most poignant pictures of our Lord and his disciples you’ll see anywhere in Scripture. Recall that this epilogue is a revelation of Christ (John 21:1) and it should be one that we never forget. This is the final and full restoration of Peter, who denied even knowing Jesus three times on the night of his trials.

To understand the passage fully, you need to know that there are two different Greek words that represent the English word “love.” The first, used by Jesus in verse 15, is “agape,” which is the word used in John 3:16 (“God so loved the world …” ) Agape denotes selfless, abundant and sacrificial love freely given, expecting nothing in return. The second word for our English “love” is “phileo,” which is the love of affection and friendship between persons. The question Jesus asks the first two times is this: “Peter, do you agape me?” Peter’s answer is always: “Yes, Lord; you know that I phileo you.” The last time Jesus asked (v.17), He asked this way (my interpretation): “Peter, do you even phileo Me?” And Peter replied again with phileo. Perhaps the best way to look at this restoration of Peter to service for the Kingdom is that Peter is greatly humbled by his recent denial. He won’t claim to be capable of loving with the love of Christ. He loves the Lord, clearly with all his heart, mind and soul, but won’t claim to be able to emulate the sacrificial love that Christ represents and so has maintained his devotion on a lower, more respectful level. Jesus recognizes that and confirms Peter’s restoration with the repeated “Feed My sheep” command which is Christ’s call to discipleship, then and now.

Attending to the spiritual growth of people is God’s greatest call to those who minister in His name. The sacrificial love of Peter is represented in the next two verses, which indicate that Peter will experience some kind of violent death. Church history maintains that he was also crucified (in 67 A.D.) and insisted on being crucified upside down so that he would not be crucified in the same way as his Christ.

Several renaissance paintings depict that kind of scene. John, again referring to himself as the disciple whom Jesus loved, reports that the ever colorful Peter, when he learned of his own fate, turned to Jesus and asked: “What about John? (v.21)” to which Jesus replied that John’s life could go on for a long, long time, and, as we know, it did. John closes his eyewitness account personally with the words of verses 24-25, assuring us of the accuracy of this account and that the ministry of Jesus was so much greater than could ever be captured in a written history.

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