John 21: Jesus Encourages (Not Rebukes) Peter

Last night was the last meeting of my church’s Bible study group, for the time being.  We finished A Fragile Stone, Peter: Jesus’ Friend, with Michael Card.

I have two thoughts:

1.  In John 21, Jesus asks Peter three times if Peter loves him.  When Peter replies in the affirmative, Jesus tells Peter to feed his sheep.  Michael Card does not believe that Jesus in this passage was rebuking Peter for having denied Jesus three times.  Card argues that Jesus had already dealt with Peter’s denial in a previous post-resurrection appearance.  One reason that Card thinks this is that Luke 24:34 and I Corinthians 15:5 present a special appearance by Jesus to Peter, which occurred soon after Jesus’ resurrection.  For Card, Jesus at that time addressed Peter’s denials, presumably by reassuring and forgiving Peter, and this occurred before the events of John 21.  Second, Peter in John 21 rushes from his boat when he sees that Jesus is ashore, and Card seems to doubt that Peter would have been that enthusiastic to meet Jesus if Peter still felt ashamed on account of having denied Jesus three times.  In Card’s opinion, Peter’s bad feelings about having betrayed Jesus had been dealt with in an earlier encounter Peter had with the risen Christ.

At the same time, Card still appears to maintain that Peter had some lingering bad feelings, which was why Christ was encouraging Peter in John 21.  What I got out of the study was that Jesus was giving Peter a pep-talk, if you will.  “Do you love me?  Yes?  Then go forward and feed my sheep!” (my paraphrase).  Peter thought that he had let Jesus down and thus was hesitant to proceed with the work that God wanted him to do, and so Jesus was encouraging Peter to feed his sheep, while giving Peter an opportunity to affirm his own love for Jesus.

I myself think that John 21 had something to do with Peter’s three-fold denial of Jesus.  I’m rather hesitant to juxtapose John, Luke, and I Corinthians and to conclude that there was an appearance by Jesus to Peter prior to the events of John 21 (and yet, John 21:14 says that the risen Jesus appeared to the disciples two times before), but, putting that aside, it seems to me that Jesus in John 21 is recalling Peter’s denials: there is the fire of coals in John 21:9, which may recall the fire of coals on which Peter was warming himself around the time that he denied Jesus (John 18:18); Jesus asked Peter three times in John 21 if Peter loved him, and Peter denied Jesus three times (John 13:38).  But I don’t think that Jesus in John 21 was rebuking Peter or rubbing Peter’s denial in Peter’s face.  Rather, in my opinion, the goal was encouragement.

I recall a sermon in which someone said that Jesus in John 21 was turning Peter’s bad memory into a good memory.  Peter had a bad memory—-he had denied Jesus three times.  Peter would probably look at a fire of coals and think back to the night that he denied Jesus.  But Jesus in John 21 was taking elements of that bad memory—-the fire of coals, the number three—-and was using them in a setting in which Jesus showed Peter grace and gave him a commission.  Things that were associated with Peter’s disgrace became associated with Peter’s redemption and commission by God.  Even if Peter and Jesus had talked about Peter’s denial prior to John 21, Peter was probably still unsettled about having denied Jesus, and so he needed that extra encouragement from Jesus.

2.  I appreciated some things that a lady in the group said about the Bible.  One of the questions was whether Jesus in John 21 was rebuking Peter for the denials or was encouraging Peter, and the lady responded that the aim of the Bible is to encourage.  She also said that, if we were perfect, then we wouldn’t need the Bible.  I myself can think of plenty of things in the Bible that discourage me.  And yet, I agree with the lady in the group that the very existence of the Bible—-and I’d add any wisdom in the world—-attests to our imperfection and need for guidance.  That being the case, I don’t feel as bad about being imperfect! 

Next week, I’ll talk about the group’s discussion about what we will study next!

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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