“Do your truly love Me more than these?” (Jon 21:1-19)

“Do you truly love Me more than these?” (John 21:15)


The apostle Peter was one of the strongest and most verbal leaders among the apostles. He was never backward in speaking out. He was the one who had insisted to the Lord Jesus that if all others forsook Him that he would not be one of them. The Lord Jesus knew Peter very well and after Peter had made this statement the Lord Jesus told him plainly that he would deny Him three times.

The denial occurred 3 times and now even after the risen Lord had appeared to His disciples twice before, Peter felt that the bottom of his world had fallen out. He had no pride or bravado left. He was stripped of all self-confidence. He was so disappointed with himself that he gave up all hope of being a follower of the Lord Jesus. All of the things he had experienced in the last three and a half years, all of his hopes and dreams all seemed to have vanished.

Exposition: (John 21:1-19)

(Vs.1-2) “Afterward Jesus appeared again to his disciples, by the Sea of Tiberias. It happened this way: Simon Peter, Thomas (called Didymus), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples were together.

This was the third time the Lord Jesus appeared to His apostles. He had previously appeared to ten of them in Chapter 20:19 and again He had appeared to eleven of them also mentioned in Chapter 20:26. This was the third time He appeared to seven of His disciples.

(Vs.3) “I’m going out to fish,” Simon Peter told them, and they said, “We’ll go with you.” So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.”

Peter was the spokesman for this group. Because he was outspoken and had projected an air of confidence and boldness, he was the natural leader of the group. He was now so disillusioned with everything that he decided to go back to what he knew best which was fishing.

For Peter and the others it was their security blanket. It was most probably the only way he could shut out the memory of what he had done to the Lord Jesus. He had been called by Jesus to fish for men but that looked like it would never happen now that he had denied His Lord.

Peter was a leader who had failed and would need to be restored personally by the Lord Jesus. Before the LORD can use a man or a woman effectively in serving Him He must break all pride and self-confidence in them. Sometimes it can happen in an instant but for most it is a process that takes time but in the end saves time.

The Lord Jesus had called Peter a rock and also for him to be a fisher of men. Peter may not have looked like a rock or a fisher of men right now but the Lord Jesus still had Peter on His radar. In time Peter would become a rock and a fisher of men because that was what the Lord Jesus had called him to be and to do.

Right now he was a jellyfish but he would become a rock in the years to come. He did not volunteer to follow the Lord Jesus but had been called by the Lord Jesus to follow Him and that the Lord would make him a fisher of men for the Kingdom of God.

Well, they went fishing all night but caught nothing. This was a lesson that they had to learn in that even despite all of their human ability and skill as fisherman it would not give them the skills they needed to fish for men and women. Only God could give them that skill.

In the service of the Lord Jesus it is not natural skill and ability that gets the results God requires but a wholehearted reliance upon Him and the Holy Spirit to do the work of the Kingdom. As the scripture says; “Unless the LORD builds the house they labour in vain that seek to build it.” As it is also written; “Not by might or by power but by My Spirit says the LORD!”

Once before the disciples had tried fishing but failed until they fished where the Lord Jesus told them to fish and caught a great number of fish even to the point where the nets were almost breaking.

(Vs.4-6) “Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus. He called out to them, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?” “No,” they answered. He said, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.” When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish.”

It was early morning and daylight was not at its fullest strength. They had toiled all night and caught nothing and were quite frustrated and angry because after all they were experienced, professional fishermen and could not even catch any fish. They were very despondent and downcast.

At the lowest point of their life the Lord Jesus appeared on the shore. The Lord Jesus already knew they had caught no fish and called out to them “friends, haven’t you any fish?”  “No” they answered! The question really brought their anger to the surface.

In His love and compassion for these disillusioned disciples He told them to cast their nets again on the right side of the boat as He had done one time before earlier in His ministry, and that they would catch fish.

They did what the Lord Jesus had asked them to do and once again there were fish in abundance caught in their net. The ‘penny dropped’ as it were, and they realised the man on the shore was their beloved Lord Jesus the Messiah. When Evangelism is done God’s way and at God’s direction souls will be saved. There will be an abundance of souls caught in the net of God’s Kingdom. We see this on the Day of Pentecost when Peter was fishing for men to be saved and many were caught in the net of the Kingdom of God.

It was not Peter’s natural powers of persuasion or human ability that won his listeners but the power of the Holy Spirit, operating through Peter, drawing men and women to the Lord Jesus The Messiah. Successful evangelism does not depend on excellent speakers, modern music, and emotional human methods of persuasion from worship leaders or moving testimonies or Church growth programmes or even methods of evangelism.

The blessed Holy Spirit must be in control of everything that happens in a revival and have the freedom to do His convicting and converting work. This was what happened on the day of Pentecost where we read; “When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” (Acts 2:37) Now let’s continue…

(Vs.7-9) “Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, “It is the Lord,” he wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water. The other disciples followed in the boat, towing the net full of fish, for they were not far from shore, about a hundred yards. When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread.”

When John said “It is the Lord” Peter wrapped his outer garment around himself and jumped into the water. In the Bible we see the term “the garments of salvation.” In a very real sense Peter had taken off his garment as it were. He had given up. He had relinquished his apostolic authority because of his denial of the Lord Jesus.

Suddenly the spark of hope was rekindled in Peter. He had seen the Lord Jesus for the third time and his heart leapt again at the sight of His Lord Jesus. Our Lord Jesus was intensely interested in the spiritual restoration of his discouraged, demoralised disciples and especially Peter who had denied Him three times and had just given up all hope.

By putting on his garment again he had hope that somehow he might be reconciled to the Lord Jesus. When they all reached the shore they saw the Lord Jesus cooking fish and bread over an open fire. The Lord Jesus would first feed their physical hunger first and then deal with the spiritual hunger inside of them and especially Peter because he had denied the Lord, not once like the others had done, but he had denied the Lord Jesus three times.

Sometimes God will look after our physical needs first so that He can deal with our spiritual needs. One points to the other. These disciples had been out fishing all night and were tired and hungry and the Lord Jesus knew this. He would use their physical hunger to draw their attention to the spiritual hunger that still lingered deep within their despondent hearts.

Our Lord Jesus was very practical and in this situation where they were physically and emotionally exhausted He physically fed them. Once He had remedied their physical tiredness and hunger He then fed them spiritually.

(Vs.10-14) “Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish you have just caught.” Simon Peter climbed aboard and dragged the net ashore. It was full of large fish, 153, but even with so many the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” None of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. This was now the third time Jesus appeared to His disciples after he was raised from the dead.”

They had caught so many fish that humanly speaking the net should have been torn but it was not torn. No fish were lost. When evangelism and discipleship is done at the Lord’s direction no souls will be lost. Peter and the others were to learn this lesson once again, a lesson the Lord Jesus had tried to teach them before when He had done the same miracle before.

Much speculation has been done over the number 153. Simply, it is John’s eye for detail. This also teaches us that the Lord Jesus foreknows who will be saved and the exact number is known to Him and not one of them will be lost. The disciples knew it was the Lord Jesus and they were too embarrassed to ask Him who He was.

The Lord Jesus did not rebuke them or discourage them in any way but invited them to eat with Him. He was restoring the broken fellowship with Himself. He was giving them another chance to serve Him again. Now He had to deal with Peter because of the seriousness of what he had done. The Lord Jesus needed to know what was really in Peter’s heart. Of course the Lord Jesus knew what was there already and would bring this to the surface in Peter.

(Vs.15) “When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you truly love Me more than these?” “Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”

When the Lord Jesus spoke to Peter the Greek text tells us that two words for love were brought into play in this conversation the Lord Jesus had with him. There is “agape.” This is an unconditional, unreserved, lavish love that does not hold anything back but gives to another all it has.” It is a love that is the direct result of the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit flooding the heart, the seat of one’s affections deep down on the inside. (Romans 5:5)

The second word is “Phileo” which is a fondness or affection that one would have for their friends but it does not have the same depth of meaning as agape. The Lord Jesus singled Peter out because Peter was the leader of the group but more so because Peter had denied the Lord Jesus three times. He asked Peter “Do you truly love (agape) Me more than these.” “Yes Lord, he said “you know that I Phileo you.”

The Lord Jesus then commanded Peter “feed My lambs” The lambs being the very young believers who would need Peter’s guidance in the future and find in him one who had failed because of weakness, but had been restored by the chief shepherd and empowered by the Holy Spirit to lead the flock over whom the Holy Spirit had made Peter an overseer or shepherd. Knowing his own weakness and propensity to draw back under pressure Peter would be able to counsel the little lambs from the heart having been there himself when he had denied the Lord Jesus three times.

(Vs.16) “Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you truly love Me?” He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”

The Lord Jesus asked Peter for the second time the same question and Peter‘s reply was the same. Then the Lord Jesus said; “take care of My sheep” His sheep were the believers whether they were young in the faith or older in the faith. This was Peter’s apostolic commission and call from the Lord Jesus being bestowed upon Peter again. He was to be an apostle primarily to the Messianic Jewish assemblies (Galatians 2:7).

This direct questioning by the Lord Jesus was not intended to discourage Peter but to draw out from him what was really in his heart and to get Peter to realise his need of a total dependence upon the Lord Jesus and to fish for men where he was commanded to fish and to rely upon God for the catch.

(Vs.17) “The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.

When the Lord Jesus asked Peter the question for the third time He used the word ‘Phileo” and not ‘agape” He said to Peter; “Do you Phileo Me?” Peter was really hurt because he knew that three times he had denied loving the Lord Jesus and was being asked three times if He still even had a strong affection towards the Lord Jesus?

His reply was “You know everything about me and you know I Phileo you. The Lord Jesus then said; “take care of My sheep” Peter was to show the same tenderness towards those over whom he would be their shepherd and to deal with them in the same way the Lord Jesus had dealt with him, especially if they failed as Peter had done.

The Lord Jesus also knew that after the Spirit had been poured out on the Day of Pentecost that the agape of God would be poured out without measure into the hearts of all His followers including Peter. It is this kind of love that should be dwelling in every believer but especially in the hearts of those shepherds of God’s flock over which the Holy Spirit has made them overseers (Acts 20:28).

(Vs.18-19) “I tell you the truth, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!”

Peter would serve the Lord Jesus for many years to come but in 68AD would be taken out and crucified for his faith. It would be a death that he would not like and yet would suffer as the Lord Jesus had suffered.

There is a story told about Peter where he knew that believers were being martyred for their faith in Rome and Peter was fleeing for his life walking down a road away from Rome. As he was walking along he met the Lord Jesus walking the opposite way towards Rome and he was about to walk past Peter without saying anything.

Peter recognized it was the Lord Jesus and asked Him where he was going? The Lord Jesus replied “I am going to Rome to be crucified.” At that Peter turned around and went back to Rome and to martyrdom. When they came to crucify Peter he asked them to crucify him upside down because he did not think himself worthy to even be crucified upwards. And so he died as the Lord Jesus had said many years before.

At the end of his life Peter understood what it meant to leave everything and to follow the Lord Jesus Messiah for the rest of his natural life. The last thing the Lord Jesus said to Peter was what He had first said to Peter; “Follow Me.” Once the Lord Jesus had spiritually reconnected with Peter and he had responded to Him then God could take Peter on to complete His will for the rest of his life because God’s gifts and His call are irrevocable. (Romans 11:29).

Our Lord Jesus is the author and perfector of our faith and the spiritual work He starts in us He fully intends to finish (Hebrews 12:2). When the Lord Jesus called peter he was a ‘rocky’ character but after the Lord Jesus had done His sanctifying work in Peter he became ‘rock solid’ and stood upon the huge boulder being the Lord Jesus and the revelation knowledge of Him and the truth that would sustain His flock in times of spiritual storms and against which the gates of hell will never prevail! (Matthew 16:18).


Spiritual failure is not the end as long as we have breath in our bodies. Our failures can be the catalyst that will drive us back to the one whose blood can cleanse from all sin, the one who can restore the years that the locusts have eaten. God Himself said to the exiles from Israel who had wandered away from the LORD and had been taken captive by the enemy;

“For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart. I will be found by you,’ declares the Lord,” (Jeremiah 29:11-14a).

God wants no rivals for our affections. We may have material things, a house, a car and money in the bank, and have good friends, close relationships such as a boyfriend or girlfriend or a husband or wife whom we love, but do we love the Lord Jesus more than these? Is the Lord Jesus the No 1 love in our life? Are we determined no matter what to do His will on earth as it is being done in heaven?

We may only feel that we Phileo Him at present but if we will allow the Holy Spirit to fill us completely by yielding to His control unconditionally and without reserve and holding nothing back from Him, then we will be able to say “yes Lord I agape you!” This is possible for every born again blood redeemed child of the Living God who has the Holy Spirit living deep down on the inside of them. As it is written; “And hope dopes not disappoint us because the love (agape) of God has been shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit” (Romans 5:5). Our faith is a faith that works by love (Galatians 5:6).

As New Covenant believers in the Messiah our Lord Jesus we have all of the Holy Spirit dwelling deep down on the inside of us who has sealed us for the day of redemption but does He have all of us? Is He in a very real sense a prisoner with power to do what He wants to do with us and in us and through us? The Lord Jesus says to all, who have backslidden or given up as Peter did but who want to come back; “Follow Me and I will make you fishers of men!”