John 21:15-17 is one of those remarkable places.
So when they had dined, Jesus saith to Simon Peter, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my lambs. He saith to him again the second time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my sheep. He saith unto him the third time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? Peter was grieved because he said unto him the third time, Lovest thou me? And he said unto him, Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee. Jesus saith unto him, Feed my sheep.
Aside from the semantics involving the word "love" there are some other very compelling messages being conveyed in this short exchange. It is important to remember some of the context leading up to this point.
Jesus had told the disciples they would all forsake him. (Mark 14:27)
Peter said he would never forsake him but rather would be willing to die for him. (John 13:37)
Jesus said Peter would deny him three times before the next morning. (John 13:38)
Peter did deny the Lord three times before the next morning. (Matt. 26:75)
Jesus was raised from the dead. (Luke 24:5,6)
He told the disciples to tarry at Jerusalem where they would be eunded with power from on high. (Luke 24:49)
This brings us to John 21.
At least seven of them, including Peter were not waiting at Jerusalem. They were at the Sea of Galilee and, following Peter's lead, went fishing. Peter was going back to his old trade. Even though Jesus had seen Peter at least a couple of times nothing had been said about that fateful evening when Peter so forcefully denied the Lord, even cursing.
The events of John 21:3-8 are eerily similar to Luke 5:1-11. The events of Luke immediately preceded the Lord telling Peter that from henceforth he would catch men and the bible says they forsook all and followed him. Now here he was, after denying the Lord, back to his fishing for fish. It was this similar experience that caused Peter and John to recognize that it was the Lord.
The Lord already had a meal prepared for them when they get to shore and I would imagine they ate in relative silence. Then Jesus speaks to Peter.
When Jesus speaks he says, "Simon son of Jonas". His address to Peter is ripe with rebuke. Remember John 1:42 - And he brought him to Jesus. And when Jesus beheld him, he said, Thou art Simon the son of Jona: thou shalt be called Cephas, which is by interpretation, A stone. Jesus effectively changed his given name from Simon to Cephas (Peter). Peter having gone back to his old trade Jesus addresses him by his old name, Simon son of Jonas. There is no way the significance could be lost on Peter. Jesus was challenging his identity! Who was he going to be; Simon or Peter?
It is also intriguing that Jesus questioned Peter's love three times. This corresponds to the number of times Peter had denied him a few weeks earlier. Again, I don't see how the significance could possibly be lost on Peter. Peter had denied him three times, the Lord gave him three opportunities to profess his love.
Peter was rebuked by Jesus addressing him with his old name and by being reminded of his three-fold denial. It was a subtle but stinging rebuke. As these two men faced each other they both understood the purpose of this encounter. It was a necessary reality check for Peter. And, of course, Jesus was rebuking with the objective of restoring. Jesus cut Peter with a double edged sword and in doing so sought to restore him to usefulness. With each reminder of Peter's failure, (Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me) there was a corresponding offer of restoration (Feed my sheep).
I stand amazed at the skill of Jesus to weave together the necessity of rebuke and restoration. Oh, how I long to be like him!