Peter and Jesus – a Pattern for Reconciliation

In John 18 Peter denied Jesus three times, as in fact Jesus Himself had predicted. (Matthew 26:34) A cocky, self-assured Peter said he would never do this. Sometimes our confidence gets away with itself.

Peter learned what was in his inner most heart. But this denial had cut him off from Jesus. Public denial is quite serious. In fact, the scripture says that if you deny me before men, I will deny you before the Father. (Matthew 10:30)

After the death of Jesus and prior to His ascension an angel says to Jesus’ group:

Mark 16:7 But go, tell His disciples—and Peter—that He is going before you into Galilee; there you will see Him, as He said to you.”

Peter’s denial had removed him from being a “disciple.” So Jesus offers him an opportunity for restoration.
Here is the passage. It is important for what it says in the Greek language, something impossible to state in English.

So when they had eaten breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of Jonah,[a] 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.”

16 He said to him again a second time, “Simon, son of Jonah,[b] do you love Me?”

He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.”

He said to him, “Tend My sheep.”

17 He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of Jonah,[c] do you love Me?” Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, “Do you love Me?”

And he said to Him, “Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.”

Jesus said to him, “Feed My sheep.

If we do not know the 2 Greek words here, we can get caught looking at the sheep and their feeding instead of the real lesson.

Here we have 2 different words for love in Greek. This language has 5 words for love; 4 of them appear in the Greek Bible. Two of them are here. Agape (ah-gah-pay) meaning the pure, selfless love of God and phileo, (phi-lay-oh) the love of one person for another, i.e. brotherly love. Now – the same passage with the Greek words inserted.

So when they had eaten breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of Jonah,[a] do you love [agape] Me more than these?”

He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love [phileo] You.”

He said to him, “Feed My lambs.”

16 He said to him again a second time, “Simon, son of Jonah,[b] do you love [agape] Me?”

He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love [phileo] You.”

He said to him, “Tend My sheep.”

17 He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of Jonah,[c] do you love [phileo] Me?” Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, “Do you love Me?”

And he said to Him, “Lord, You know all things; You know that I love [phileo] You.”

Jesus said to him, “Feed My sheep.

Why did Jesus abandon His “agape” term and revert to Peter’s “phileo” verb?

We can answer this several ways. First, Peter and the rest of the disciples/apostles had yet to receive the Holy Spirit in the upper room on Pentecost. Without the infilling of God’s spirit how can we truly know the pure love of God in our lives.

The natural man receives not the things of the spirit of God, neither does he know them, for they are foolishness unto him” 1 Corinthians 2:14

Second, Peter has been chastened, a fancy word for discipline. Discipline to be effective and honorable must always seek restoration. Discipline that is simply violent correction or evil doing, and there is plenty of that in this world, is non-redemptive and leads to more evil. Peter has seen his lack; he is embarrassed and he knows that he must grow in the knowledge of God and His love. In this respect we are all ‘Peters’.

Jesus offered Peter an opportunity to undo all the denials he had initiated. By using the Greek word for Godly love, the Lord was telling Peter there was something he had yet to learn. Peter’s repeating that he loved Jesus 3 times restored him to disciple status.
Jesus does that for all of us; we are given space to be corrected and to understand ourselves so we can be effective doing our assigned tasks for the promotion of the Kingdom of God.

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