Simon lovest thou me - Peter had thrice denied his Lord, and now Christ gives him an opportunity in some measure to repair his fault by a triple confession.
More than these? - This was a kind of reproach to Peter: he had professed a more affectionate attachment to Christ than the rest; he had been more forward in making professions of friendship and love than any of the others; and no one (Judas excepted) had treated his Lord so basely. As he had before intimated that his attachment to his Master was more than that of the rest, our Lord now puts the question to him, Dost thou love me more than these? To which Peter made the most modest reply - Thou knowest I love thee, but no longer dwells on the strength of his love, nor compares himself with even the meanest of his brethren. He had before cast the very unkind reflection on his brethren, Though all be offended because of thee, yet will I never be offended, Matthew 26:33. But he had now learned, by dreadful experience, that he who trusteth his own heart is a fool; and that a man's sufficiency for good is of the Lord alone.
The words, more than these, Bishop Pearce thinks refer to the provisions they were eating, or to their secular employments; for says he, "It does not seem probable that Jesus should put a question to Peter which he could not possibly answer; because he could only know his own degree of love for Jesus, not that of the other disciples." But it appears to me that our Lord refers to the profession made by Peter, which I have quoted above.
It is remarkable that in these three questions our Lord uses the verb αγαπαω, which signifies to love affectionately, ardently, supremely, perfectly - see the note on Matthew 21:37; and that Peter always replies, using the verb φιλεω, which signifies to love, to like, to regard, to feel friendship for another. As if our Lord had said, "Peter, dost thou love me ardently and supremely?" To which he answers, "Lord, I feel an affection for thee - I do esteem thee - but dare, at present, say no more."
There is another remarkable change of terms in this place. In John 21:15, John 21:17, our Lord uses the verb βοσκδω, to feed, and in John 21:16; he uses the word ποιμαινω, which signifies to tend a flock, not only to feed, but to take care of, guide, govern, defend, etc., by which he seems to intimate that it is not sufficient merely to offer the bread of life to the congregation of the Lord, but he must take care that the sheep be properly collected, attended to, regulated, guided, etc.; and it appears that Peter perfectly comprehended our Lord's meaning, and saw that it was a direction given not only to him, and to the rest of the disciples, but to all their successors in the Christian ministry; for himself says, 1 John 5:2; : Feed the flock of God (ποιμανατε το ποιμνιον του Θεου ) which is among you, taking the oversight (επισκοπουντες, acting as superintendents and guardians), not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind. Every spiritual shepherd of Christ has a flock, composed of Lambs - young converts, and Sheep - experienced Christians, to feed, guide, regulate, and govern. To be properly qualified for this, his wisdom and holiness should always exceed those of his flock. Who is sufficient for these things? The man who lives in God, and God in him.
To the answer of Christ, in John 21:16, the later Syriac adds, If thou lovest me and esteemest me, feed my sheep.
Lovest thou me more than these? - There is a slight ambiguity here in the original, as there is in our translation. The word these may be in the neuter gender, and refer to these things his boat, his fishing utensils, and his employments; or it may be in the masculine, and refer to the apostles. In the former sense it would mean, “Lovest thou me more than thou lovest these objects? Art thou now willing, from love to me, to forsake all these, and go and preach my gospel to the nations of the earth?” In the other sense, which is probably the true sense, it would mean, “Lovest thou me more than these other apostles love me?” In this question Jesus refers to the profession of superior attachment to him which Peter had made before his death Matthew 26:33; “Though all men shall be offended because of thee, yet will I never be offended.” Compare John 13:37. Jesus here slightly reproves him for that confident assertion, reminds him of his sad and painful denial, and now puts this direct and pointed question to him to know what was the present state of his feelings. After all that Peter had had to humble him, the Saviour inquired of him what had been the effect on his mind, and whether it had tended to prepare him for the arduous toils in which he was about to engage. This question we should all put to ourselves. It is a matter of much importance that we should ourselves know what is the effect of the dealings of divine Providence on our hearts, and what is our present state of feeling toward the Lord Jesus Christ.
Thou knowest that I love thee - Peter now made no pretensions to love superior to his brethren. His sad denial had convinced him of the folly of that claim; but still he could appeal to the Searcher of the heart, and say that he knew that he loved him. Here is the expression of a humbled soul - soul made sensible of its weakness and need of strength, yet with evidence of true attachment to the Saviour. It is not the most confident pretensions that constitute the highest proof of love to Christ; and the happiest and best state of feeling is when we can with humility, yet with confidence, look to the Lord Jesus and say, “Thou knowest that I love thee.”
Feed my lambs - The word here rendered “feed” means the care afforded by furnishing nutriment for the flock. In the next verse there is a change in the Greek, and the word rendered feed denotes rather the care, guidance, and protection which a shepherd extends to his flock. By the use of both these words, it is supposed that our Saviour intended that a shepherd was both to offer the proper food for his flock and to govern it; or, as we express it, to exercise the office of a pastor. The expression is taken from the office of a shepherd, with which the office of a minister of the gospel is frequently compared. It means, as a good shepherd provides for the wants of his flock, so the pastor in the church is to furnish food for the soul, or so to exhibit truth that the faith of believers may be strengthened and their hope confirmed.
My lambs - The church is often compared to a flock. See John 10:1-16. Here the expression my lambs undoubtedly refers to the tender and the young in the Christian church; to those who are young in years and in Christian experience. The Lord Jesus saw, what has been confirmed in the experience of the church, that the success of the gospel among men depended on the care which the ministry would extend to those in early life. It is in obedience to this command that Sunday schools have been established, and no means of fulfilling this command of the Saviour have been found so effectual as to extend patronage to those schools. It is not merely, therefore, the privilege, it is the solemn duty of ministers of the gospel to countenance and patronize those schools.
God is always giving; and upon whom are His gifts bestowed? Upon those who are faultless in character? “He maketh His sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.” Matthew 5:45. Notwithstanding the sinfulness of humanity, notwithstanding that we so often grieve the heart of Christ and prove ourselves most undeserving, yet when we ask His forgiveness, He does not turn us away. His love is freely extended to us, and He bids us: Love one another as I have loved you. John 13:34. 6T 284.1
Brethren and sisters, I ask you to consider this matter carefully. Think of the wants of the fatherless and motherless. Are not your hearts stirred as you witness their sufferings? See if something cannot be done for the care of these helpless ones. As far as lies in your power, make a home for the homeless. Let everyone stand ready to act a part in helping forward this work. The Lord said to Peter: “Feed My lambs.” This command is to us, and by opening our homes for the orphans we aid in its fulfillment. Let not Jesus be disappointed in you. 6T 284.2
Take these children and present them to God as a fragrant offering. Ask His blessing upon them, and then mold and fashion them according to Christ's order. Will our people accept this holy trust? Because of our shallow piety and worldly ambition, shall those for whom Christ has died be left to suffer, to go in wrong paths? 6T 284.3Read in context »
Those who love God should feel deeply interested in the children and youth. To them God can reveal His truth and salvation. Jesus calls the little ones that believe on Him the lambs of His flock. He has a special love for and interest in the children.... The most precious offering that the children can give to Jesus, is the freshness of their childhood.—The Review and Herald, December 17, 1889. RC 373.6Read in context »
There was Peter, who denied his Lord.... Before Peter's feet slipped, he had not the spirit of meekness required to feed the lambs; but after he became sensible of his own weakness ... he could come close to their side in tender sympathy, and could help them (Historical Sketches, 120, 121). LHU 225.7Read in context »