Again, I was asked about the mystery of Jesus challenging Peter. Why did Jesus ask the same question three times? Let's read John 21:15-17 from the NCV.
15Then when they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these do?" He replied, "Yes, Lord, you know I love you." Jesus told him, "Feed my lambs."
16Jesus said a second time, "Simon, son of John, do you love me?" He replied, "Yes, Lord, you know I love you." Jesus told him, "Shepherd my sheep."
17Jesus said a third time, "Simon, son of John, do you love me?" Peter was distressed that Jesus asked him a third time, "Do you love me?" and said, "Lord, you know everything. You know that I love you." Jesus replied, "Feed my sheep.
On a superficial reading, that sounds redundant and kind of childish. Was Jesus playing some kind of word game? What was His point? Several words might give us a clue.
You've heard: I love my kitty. I love ice cream. I love my wife. I love my country. I love my car. And I love God. Is the quality of "love" the same in each sentence?
Good question. Confusion grows when we use one word to cover various ideas. The singular English word "love" opens up to six Greek words.
1) Xenia (pronounced, zenia) relates to hospitality to guests and foreigners -- people we might not know.
2) Philautia (filotia) relates to self-love. That can be both negative (egotism, self-serving) and positive (taking care of oneself).
3) Storge (storgay) is a wide-ranging term that relates to love for a sports team and pets, friendship with acquaintances, affection for family members, and a lot more.
4) Eros relates to the sexual attraction for members of the opposite sex. It is intimate physical love.
5) Philia (also phileo) is a brotherly love, love between close friends.
6) Agapé (agapay) relates to the deep love of father to son, parent to child. Jesus and the Apostle Paul used agape as the deep, unconditional love between God and man.
Now, let's look at the incident found in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John that resulted in the verses we opened up with. We'll read it in Matthew 26:33-35.
33Peter replied to Jesus, "Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will."
34"Truly I tell you," Jesus answered, "this very night, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times."
35But Peter declared, "Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you."
Peter thought he loved Jesus so much that he would NEVER turn his back on Him. But if you've read the account in Luke 22:54-62, you know that Peter emphatically affirmed three times that he even didn't know Jesus.
Let's go back to John 21 and I'll plug in the words that Jesus and Peter actually used. And remember, at this point, Jesus was the risen Lord. Even Thomas addressed Him in John 20:28 as, "My Lord and my God!"
Jesus asked, 15"Simon, son of John, do you love [agapé] me more than these do?" He replied, "Yes, Lord, you know I like [phileo] you." Peter side-stepped Jesus' question.
16In the second question, Jesus asked, "But Simon, son of John, do you love [agapé] me?" He replied, "Yes, Lord, you know I really do like [phileo] you."
17But on the third question, Jesus asked, "Simon, son of John, do you even really like [phileo] me?" Peter was distressed because on the third question Jesus asked him, "Do you even like [phileo] me?" and said, "Lord, you know everything. You know that I care a lot for [phileo] you."
Reading it carefully, we find that Jesus asked two different questions. Why did Peter refuse to answer the first two?
Although he previously thought that he deeply loved [agapé] Jesus, he finally realized how self-centered he was. Boisterous, impetuous Peter was learning to be honest; and because he had turned his back on Jesus, he could not honestly say that he loved -- agapé -- Jesus.
Peter's pain of denying Jesus was worsened when on the 3rd question Jesus even challenged Peter's friendship! Peter wished he could tell his Lord "I REALLY LOVE YOU!" But he couldn't truthfully say it. However, that time was coming, and Jesus knew it.
Dear reader, do you love [agape] Jesus? Do you even like [phileo] Him? Think about it.
-- S. Eugene Linzey is the author of 'Charter of the Christian Faith.' Send comments and questions to [email protected] Visit his website at www.genelinzey.com. The opinions expressed are those of the author.