John 21:15-23 — Some Personal Duties for Peter after Jesus Left This World

After He rose from the dead, our Lord remained on the earth for forty days (Acts 1:3). During those forty days, He often appeared to His followers. One of those post-resurrection appearances is recorded in John 21, where it is written that seven of Jesus’ followers saw Him at the Sea of Tiberias.

After they had eaten breakfast, our Lord asked Simon three times if he loved Him (John 21:15-17). Peter had denied the Christ three times, and now He gives Peter three opportunities to express his love for Him. The whole conversation is fascinating, touching even on what would happen with Simon when he was an old man.

When a person is convinced that he/she soon will be leaving this world, if they give us instructions or make a request of us, those words stick in our mind. Let us look at this biblical text and see what expectations Jesus had for Simon Peter in the apostle’s life after Jesus returned to heaven.

Feed – Jesus charged Peter, “Feed My lambs . . . Tend My sheep . . . Feed My sheep” (John 21:15- 17). Jesus Himself is the Great Shepherd of the sheep (Hebrews 13:20). He is concerned about His sheep and wants them to be fed and tended. Without proper care and nutrition, sheep will struggle to survive.

Among humans, who is responsible for tending/ feeding/shepherding the Lord’s sheep? Obviously, in the first century Peter had a role in doing so. Jesus’ words to him do not indicate that he was the highest ranked apostle. There was no such hierarchy. The apostles were of equal authority (Matthew 18:18), and Paul, who had great concern for all the local churches, was not a bit below the original twelve apostles (2 Corinthians 11:28; 12:11).

Other than the apostles, who else has the God- given duty to serve as shepherds of God’s flock? Elders of the church, known as overseers/bishops and shepherds/pastors, have that responsibility (1 Peter 5:1-3). It is their role to care for, nourish, and protect every sheep under their watch (Hebrews 13:17).

Follow – Twice in that John 21 setting, we read that our Lord told Peter, “Follow Me” (21:19,22). At the point in time when Jesus said that to him, Peter already had been His disciple for a few years. It is clear that after one begins to follow Jesus, there is a need to continue following Him. Following the Son of God is a life-long commitment!

What does the word “Christian” mean? It means “a follower of Christ” [Thayer, word no. 5546 via e- Sword]. The Christ said, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me” (John 10:27). Jesus’ followers have this great assurance from Him: “I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life” (John 8:12). When a person follows Jesus, He imitates Him (1 Peter 2:21) and obeys Him (Matthew 28:20). An unwillingness to do either of those things causes one to forfeit his relationship with the Good Shepherd. Following Jesus is serious business! Since one who follows the Christ is required to deny himself and take up His cross daily (Luke 9:23), it is obvious that one who still is in diapers is not yet able to be a Christian.

Glorify – Jesus informed Peter that the time would come when the apostle would be carried about against his wishes. John explains: “This He spoke, signifying by what death he would glorify God” (John 21:19). Peter would glorify the Lord in death, indicating that he would be His loyal servant until the time of his departure.

Let us all be clear about this truth: no one can glorify God in death if they do not glorify Him in life. That is, the only way to be with the Lord in death is to be with Him while still alive. Jesus said that the Father is glorified when His disciples bear much fruit (John 15:8). Again, it is written that Christians are to “do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). But what about if we are mistreated because of our commitment to the Lord? “Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in this matter” (1 Peter 4:16). We all need to learn to glorify God, not only when we sing spiritual songs of praise, but in our daily speech and action.

Focus on your own matters – After Jesus told Peter what would happen with him, when Peter saw the disciple whom Jesus loved, Peter asked, “But, Lord, what about this man?” (John 21:21). Jesus’ answer was, “If I will that he remain till I come, what is that to you? You follow me” (21:22). Yes, if Peter was going to be involved in taking care of the Christ’s sheep, he would have to be concerned about people’s needs. But, at the moment of Jesus’ conversation with Simon, He wanted him to understand that his first concern should be to fulfill his own obligation to Jesus, not manage someone else’s affairs. We cannot help others be what they need to be spiritually if we first do not have our own affairs in order.

Jesus was going away, but Peter’s duties were not. It is a privilege to live and work for our God!

— Roger D. Campbell