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In Luke 5:5, “the nets” in Greek has a numeric value of 1224, or 8 x 153. The same is true for “the fish” in John 6:11. These ideas are thus connected to the eighth sign in John, where the disciples caught 153 fish in John 21:11.
It is also one-tenth of 80 x 153, which is the number of days that Jesus lived upon the earth prior to His death on the cross.
This may suggest that the fish are the overcoming remnant, who are described in Isaiah 6:13 as the tithe among the people that God reserves for Himself. The first half of Isaiah is largely devoted to the subject of the remnant that was preserved during the time of Israel’s captivity.
The eighth sign in the Gospel of John shows us the purpose of the remnant, that is, their calling. It is to take care of the lambs and sheep. John 21:15 says,
15 So when they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John [Simon of Jonah], do you love Me more than these?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” He said to him, “Tend My lambs.”
Here the NASB refers to Peter as “Simon, son of John.” The Greek name is Iona, or Jonas (KJV). In Matt. 16:17 Jesus calls him Simon Barjona, where bar means “son.” When Jesus wanted to draw attention to Simon Peter’s calling as a “son of Jonah,” he brought out the fact that he was the son of a man called Jonas, or Jonah.
In Matt. 14:28-30, it was Peter (the “stone”) who walked on the water and then sank like a stone when he took his focus off Jesus and onto the wind and waves. It was Simon Peter (the “hearing stone”) who gave the famous confession of Christ in Matt. 16:16. In the next verse, Jesus calls him Simon Barjona (Matt. 16:17), showing that although at first he had sunk like Jonah, he had also overcome like Jonah.
Names are often important in understanding the hidden prophetic meanings of biblical events.
In John 21:15 Jesus asked Simon of Jona (as it reads literally), “do you love Me more than these?” These what? These fish? These other disciples? It is not likely that Jesus was referring to the fish, except insofar as the fish represented people. No doubt He was referring to the other disciples. But what was His purpose? What sort of question was this?
The question focused upon priorities, for we are to love Jesus more than our brethren. To love Him is to obey His commandments (John 14:15). In other words, Simon Peter was to give Jesus’ commandments more weight than the commandments of men. If ever there should be a conflict of commands, we should obey Jesus rather than others.
It seems that the final major lesson in the Gospel of John was directed at the church. Was John already seeing how Christians tended to follow the traditions of men? Did he see how Church leaders were already demanding submission to men, even if their commands were contrary to the teachings of Jesus Christ?
Whether or not John saw this, it is clear that he was led by the Spirit to write this final chapter as a subtle warning to the Church, which was soon to degenerate into rebellion, even as King Saul had done a thousand years earlier. Saul was called to rule as a steward of the throne of Christ, but he usurped authority and did things according to his own will. In other words, he manifested the spirit of antichrist—usurping the place of Christ.
John was the only New Testament writer to use the term antichrist, mostly in his first epistle. In 1 John 2:22, 23, John defines antichrist as one who denies that Jesus is the Christ. He also said in verse 19 that “they went out from us, but they were not really of us.”
It appears that some of the Christians had stopped fellowshipping with the true believers. This seems to refer to some Jewish believers who reverted back to Judaism, preferring to fellowship with men who denied that Jesus was the Christ.
But in his gospel, John showed the root of the antichrist problem—loving men more than Jesus. It is essentially heart idolatry. In a few centuries, this problem in the Church would bear its bitter fruit for all to see. Yet John set forth the warning specifically to Peter as part of the eighth sign, perhaps because Jesus knew that the Church would eventually replace Jesus with Peter. Jesus knew that the Church would then follow the traditions of men in the same manner that the Jews had done in the previous age (Matt. 15:8).
Jesus asked Peter, “Do you love Me?” He used the word agape, which is the highest form of love signifying the love of God. Peter answered, “Yes, you know that I love You,” using the word phileo, or brotherly love. Jesus responded, “Tend My lambs.”
Yet Jesus was not content with Peter’s answer. He wanted Peter’s agape, not merely his phileo. John 21:16 says,
16 He said to him again a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love [agape] Me?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord, You know that that I love [phileo] You.” He said to him, “Shepherd My sheep.”
Once again Jesus looked for agape but got a phileo response. So Jesus posed His question a third time in John 21:17,
17 He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love [phileo] Me?” Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, “Do you love [phileo] Me?” And he said to Him, “Lord You know all things; You know that I love [phileo] You.” Jesus said to him, “Tend My sheep.”
This strange conversation ends with Jesus settling for phileo love from Peter, because instead of asking for agape, He changed the wording so as to ask Peter if he loved Him with brotherly love. It appears that Peter was yet incapable of agape love, which was part of the warning to the Church that was inherent in the eighth sign of John.
I read this as a sign that the Church in the Pentecostal Age (other than the overcoming remnant) would not really know the agape-love of God as they should. It will require a Tabernacles anointing to manifest agape-love toward Christ.
After the first and third questions, Jesus used the term bosko, “to feed, graze.” After the second question, Jesus used the term poimaino, “to feed or rule.” This shift seems to emphasize the shepherd’s role as a ruler, that is, the proper use of authority as distinct from feeding.
So the role of a shepherd (church leader) is not only to feed the people with the word of God but also to serve the sheep, rather than “lord it over them” (Matt. 20:25-28). Improper use of authority is inevitable when men do not understand that the priority is to obey Christ Himself. To usurp the throne is to use authority improperly according to the traditions of men.
After Jesus’ first question (John 21:15), He instructed Peter to “Tend My lambs.” Lambs is arnia, plural for arnion, “little lamb, lambkin.”
In the other two cases, Jesus used the word probaton, “sheep, or any four-footed animal that grazes.” The word literally means “to walk forward.” Jesus’ change of terminology suggests a progression in maturity as a result of feeding. As the lambkin grows, he is able to walk forward as a sheep. Perhaps we may also see a progression from milk to solid food (grass) and thereby relate it to Hebrews 5:12-14.
Putting these concepts together, we see a number of progressions: phileo to agape (depth of love), feeding to ruling (responsibility and authority), and lambkins to sheep (growth and maturity). So we might paraphrase Jesus’ conversation with Peter in this way:
When they finished breakfast, Jesus asked Simon Peter, “Do you have a divine love for Me, which exceeds your love for your brothers?” Peter answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you dearly like a brother.” Jesus replied, “Then feed My lambs.”
Jesus said a second time, “Peter, do you have a divine love for Me which exceeds your love for your brothers?” Peter answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you like a brother.” Jesus replied, “Then rule my sheep properly.”
Jesus said a third time, “Peter, do you love Me dearly like a brother?” Peter answered, “Yes, Lord, I love you dearly like a brother.” Jesus replied, “Then feed My sheep.”
Peter had famously denied knowing Jesus three times (John 18:17; 18:25; 18:26, 27) before the night watchman blew his trumpet (or “the cock”). Jesus appeared to Peter on the day of His resurrection (Luke 24:34), but it was private, and we know nothing of that conversation.
At the shore of the Sea of Galilee, however, it appears that Jesus asked Peter three times if he loved Him in order to negate Peter’s earlier denials. Those who are hired to tend to other men’s sheep tend to flee when danger approaches. When Peter denied Jesus, he acted like a hireling who was unwilling to defend the sheep. John 10:12-14 says,
12 He who is a hired hand, and not a shepherd, who is not the owner of the sheep, sees the wolf coming, and leaves the sheep, and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13 He flees because he is a hired hand and is not concerned about the sheep. 14 I am the good shepherd, and I know My sheep, and My own know Me.
Peter had fled, so to speak, when he was in danger of being identified as a disciple of Jesus. Jesus wanted Peter to be a good shepherd, one who loves the sheep, one who rules them with love, and one who would not flee in the face of danger. Perhaps this is what John had in mind when he wrote in 1 John 4:18,
18 There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment [kolasis, “imprisonment”], and the one who fears is not perfected in love.
Fear is a prison; love is the key that unlocks that prison. Perfect love (agape) treats the commands of Jesus as the top priority.