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What did Jesus ask Peter?

Updated: Oct 23, 2021

Description: Peter’s denials of Jesus give us hope. After the resurrection, Jesus asked him just one question. It’s a question for us too.

After Jesus’ arrest, Peter and another disciple followed and came into the High Priest’s courtyard to see what was happening (John 18.15-16). It didn’t take long for Peter to be recognised as a disciple of Jesus – not once, but three times. Each time he was challenged, he denied knowledge of Jesus. The sound of that cock crowing must have ripped straight through him. Despite Peter’s firm declaration that he would remain loyal, Jesus had been proved right – everyone, including Peter, had fallen away.

One question for Peter

After the resurrection, Jesus had just one question for Peter, but he asked it three times. It’s easy to imagine what Jesus might have asked; even easier to imagine his feelings having been so shamefully deserted by the very people with whom he had spent the past three years – the same people who had witnessed most, if not all, of his miracles.

Jesus’ question was simple. He asked Peter if he loved him. There were no recriminations, no sarcastic comments, no demands. Just the one question asked three times, the same number of times that Peter had uttered his denials.

Fishing - failure and success

John 21 tells us that this scene took place by the Sea of Galilee. Earlier in the story, several of the disciples had gone out fishing, yet had caught nothing. By morning when the resurrected Jesus arrived, they’d given up and were probably on their way back. They didn’t recognise Jesus on the shore. After they’d told him of their lack of success, he suggested they have another go.

Given that they were tired, frustrated and didn’t know at this point that it was Jesus, it’s surprising they took any notice. But they did and caught exactly 153 large fish without tearing their net (John 21.11). Apparently, many scholars have hunted for a hidden meaning for this precise number being mentioned, but (possibly) someone was simply so impressed with the catch that they couldn’t resist counting. No matter the actual reason, the inclusion of the number is an easily missed point of interest within this first-hand account of events.

Jesus' first rescue

Another interesting thought concerns the unsuccessful catch before Jesus’ arrival. It mirrors the situation recounted in Luke 5.1-11. On this much earlier occasion, Jesus tells Simon to put out into deep water and cast out his nets despite him having worked all night and caught nothing. Peter obeys and catches so many fish that his nets begin to break. So at the first and at the ‘last’, Peter’s fishing efforts fail – until Jesus rescues the situation.

The all important question

And Peter needed rescuing. The key point is that Jesus knew him. He knew that Peter was something of an unlucky fisherman, and knew that Peter had been so scared for himself that he’d denied the one he’d already attested to be the Messiah. Peter was very far from being perfect. He wasn’t educated, clever or even at peace with himself, yet Jesus was concerned with only one thing: whether Peter loved him.

Fishers of people

Jesus wanted ‘fishers of people’ and this is still what he wants. He hasn’t finished. Peter’s task has become ours. There are more people he wants to save and more people he wants to use. Just as he knew Peter and his weaknesses, he knows each of us individually. He knows we’re pretty poor when it comes to ‘fishing’ – to witnessing, leading people towards him, and being faithful disciples. But just as with Peter, he’s concerned with only one thing: do we love him?

Fact is, we don’t need to be anything or anyone special. Jesus brings all the ‘special’ that’s needed. Our part is to be people who love him; people who are willing to help. He provides the fish and loves us every bit as much as he loves Peter – no matter our weaknesses.

Unless otherwise stated, Scripture quotations taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version® Anglicized, NIV® Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.®Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.


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