Lesson 108: John 21:15-17 – The Final Fish Fry

by Pastor Ricky Kurth

You're listening to Lesson 108 from the sermon series "The Gospel of John" by Pastor Ricky Kurth. When you're done, explore more sermons from this series.



The Lord called Peter “son of Jonas” to remind him that, like his namesake, he got into a ship instead of obeying God’s call to preach (Mark 16:15,16 cf. John 21:1). Jonah wanted Ninevah to pay for their sins; maybe Peter wanted Jerusalem to pay for theirs. So the Lord asked him if he loved Him more than he loved “these” fish (21:15).

Of course, the Lord could have been asking if Peter loved Him more than “these” apostles. He had claimed he did (Mt.26:33), so the Lord may have been asking if he still felt that way after denying Him. Peter humbly didn’t claim to love the Lord more, just claimed he loved Him.But since he denied Him he probably did love Him more (cf.Lu.7:41-43)

Of course, Peter couldn’t point to his conduct to prove he loved the Lord, just that the Lord “knew” it. That made him a type of how Jews were saved under the law. They had to keep all God’s commands to prove they loved Him (Deut.11:22), but couldn’t (James 2:10,11). So how could a Jew know he loved the Lord? He knew God knew!

When the Lord told Peter to feed His “lambs,” the only other time in the New Testament “lambs” is used is Luke 10:3. The Lord was telling him to feed the other apostles.

What could a denier like Peter offer the apostles? Plenty! They denied Him too when they forsook Him at His arrest! That’s why the Lord picked Peter to strengthen them (Lu.22:31,32). Remember, this all happened by a campfire (21:9), to remind Peter of his denial (John 18:18-25)—not to make him feel bad, but to remind him to feed the lambs despite his own experience as a denier.

Peter’s fall before and after the cross (Mt.26:74; John 21:3) and restoration makes him a type of the nation Israel, who failed the Lord before He died by killing Him and after He died by stoning His prophet. This makes Peter a living demonstration of what God wants to do with Israel, the way Paul is a living demonstration of what God is doing among the Gentiles, saving His enemies by His grace.

When the Lord switched to telling Pete to feed His “sheep” (21:16), it was to remind him that as their shepherd he had to be willing to give his life for his sheep as He had (John 10:11,15), something required for salvation (IJo.3:16-19).

All the commentaries point out that when the Lord asked Peter if he loved Him, the Greek word for “love” is agape, supposedly a God-like love, but Peter responded that he “phileo-ed” Him, supposedly an inferior love. It is true that agape is used in John 3:16, but it is also used for the love of sinners for one another (Luke 6:32). Meanwhile, phileo is used in John 5:20, and the Father didn’t love the Son with inferior love! Phileo is also used in John 16:27, and you’d better hope the Father doesn’t love you with an inferior love! Don’t let anyone convince you that you must know Greek to get deeper meanings out of the Bible!

The Lord didn’t ask Peter if He loved Him 3 times to rub it in that he denied him 3 times, but to picture how Israel denied God thrice and so were taken captive in three stages (IICh.36:5-20cf.Ezekiel10:4;10:18;11:23). How long would God’s glory and the headship of the world be gone from Israel? Till Christ comes (Ezek.21:24-27). In the New Tes-tament God tried to give the crown of the world to Christ and Israel would have ruled the world with Him, making this offer in 3 stages with John the Baptist, the Lord and the Spirit at Pentecost, each saying to Israel, “Lovest Thou Me?” Israel responded by denying Christ (Acts 3:13,14) and by denying the Father (IJo.2:22) and by denying the Spirit at Pentecost through the Sadducees, who took over from the Pharisees as the Lord’s chief opponent when the 12 began preaching the resurrection (cf.Lu.20:27).

Peter’s testimony that the Lord knew “all things” (21:17) can’t be used to say He knew the mystery, for Mark 13:32 proves He didn’t know all things while here on earth.

The commentaries say the Greek word for “feed” varies in this passage, but we know the Lord meant to feed His sheep with both food and spiritual food because He’d just fed them a meal, and feeding those who don’t take the mark will be part of the gospel in that day (James 2:14-26).

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