John 21:15-23 speaks of Jesus asking Simon Peter THRICE: 'Do you love me?' with Peter answering back 'I love you'. Each time Jesus asked the same question, Peter got more hurt, or maybe guilty, especially when he had just denied Jesus THRICE a while ago.
Many people crossed referenced this passage to that of Peter's denial of Jesus in John 18 and that the above event is a symbolic restoration of Peter. The NIV bible even titled this passage 'Jesus Reinstates Peter'. However, if we read into the original Greek version of this passage, the idea is more than this simple restoration Jesus did on Peter.
Before proceeding further, it is important to note that the Gospel of John was originally written in Greek. And in the Greek language, there are 4 different words for love, which are:
Agape: Unconditional love (often referred to the highest order of love)
Eros: Romantic love
Philia: Friendship/brotherly love (lesser form of love in comparison of Agape)
Storge: Natural blood-ties affection
During translation of the bible to English, all these Greek words for love were either substitute with words of similar ideas or just with the word LOVE. As a result, the original essence may be lost lost through translation. As such, we shall re-examine John 21:15-23 with the with the Greek's word for love:
When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, " Simon Peter do you AGAPE me?"
"Yes LORD," he said you know that I PHILIA you"......
Again Jesus said, " Simon son of John, do you AGAPE me?
He answered, "Yes, LORD, you know that I PHILIA you"......
The third time he said to him," Simon son of John, do you PHILIA me?....
(Peter finally answered,) "LORD, you know all things; you know that I PHILIA you."
From the above passage, Jesus was in fact asking if Peter love him with the highest and purest form of love, just as he had loved the world. However, Peter knew of his inadequacy of love, coupled to the fact that he had just denied Christ 3 times. He could only love God just like a loyal friend or brother. Hence, he did not even answer to the question.
The following chart illustrates the imbalance of love between God and man(Peter).
Imagine in today's context of the passage, if Jesus is to appear and ask:
'My child, do you AGAPE me?'.
We will most probably answer:
'LORD I hope to AGAPE you.' (not answering to question)
And again if he ask the second time, we may subconsciously be reactive and react like Peter and answer:
' LORD, you know my heart, you know that I desire to love you!!' (not answering to question again......)
If there is a love test towards God, I believe that none of us can profess that we AGAPE God the way he has loved us. This truly reflects our inadequacy to God's standard of LOVE! We seriously has a balancing issue with God, the love balancing beam is well tilted to the extreme.
However, in the passage, the third time Jesus questioned Peter, he finally brought down his standard, asking PHILA instead. This is significant because it strongly indicated that Jesus was accepting Peter's PHILIA, knowing he could not AGAPE.
Finally, Peter managed answered to the question.
God does not expect us to come to him with this highest form of love. He knows that we cannot achieve it. Instead, the loving God is willing to accept the love at our level. Recently, a Christian told me this: " I want to be a Christian, but I am not sure if I am up to it." Of cause, all of us are not of the 'STANDARDS' to be Christian!
All God is asking is for us to come to Him, despite of how unworthy we may be. Because he will come down to our level....
To be continued.....
So how did Peter turn out in the end?...