Shelf Life Book Review: Romans

Elliot Ritzema

Romans: Teach the Text Commentary Series
Baker Books, 2013

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In this book, the first in a new commentary series, C. Marvin Pate works through Romans with the Bible teacher in mind. Each section of the commentary begins with the big idea of that portion of the text. Each section of commentary includes three headings: “Understanding the Text,” which discusses literary and historical context and exegetes the passage; “Teaching the Text,” which provides ideas on how to apply the text in a modern context; and “Illustrating the Text,” which refers the reader to historical and contemporary examples of concepts discussed in the passage.

Pate brings in a wide range of illustrations. For example, in the section on Romans 12:1–2, Pate directs us to a poem by George Herbert that highlights themes of sacrifice and devotion, an essay by G. K. Chesterton that urges us to see wonder in the everyday occurrences of life, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C. S. Lewis, and Paradise Lost by John Milton. Other sections include references to songs, movies, quotes, TV shows and more.

With full-color photos on nearly every page and explanatory knockout boxes and tables throughout, this commentary is both accessible and engaging. Preachers and teachers looking for a good application-oriented commentary on Romans will find this a valuable resource.

Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Faithlife Corporation. Originally published in print, Vol. 5 No. 5

Shining by His Power

Justin Marr

My wife’s out-of-breath voice sputtered through the cellphone: “I know this is sudden, but the girls I told you about were moved to respite care, and”—she hesitated—“can we be their foster parents?” My mind raced. When we married not quite two years ago, we agreed to a 5- to 7- year plan for having children. I tried to disguise the apprehension in my voice when I asked, “How long do we have to decide?” Her pause felt uncomfortably long. “Three days.”

Having years of professional experience with children, my wife felt confident. I felt terrified. We sought the counsel of small-group members and pastors, and they all said the same thing: Fostering would be difficult, but we were in a unique position to make it happen. The outpouring of support and provision from friends—who hosted a shower for us and helped us move spare furniture out and donated furniture in—confirmed our decision.


I also found confirmation in John 1:4–5: “In Him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” Who doesn’t want to shine the light of Christ? We want to make a difference in His name, whether on the mission field, in our city or in our home.

Saying yes was the easy part. The anticipation of bringing the girls into our family had us daydreaming about game nights and sit-down dinners. And the early days were exciting, fresh and fun. But dreams and excitement fade quickly when a screaming child slams a door in your face. It hurts to hear “I hate you!” when you give a child what she needs instead of what she demands.

Being a foster parent takes more energy than I ever imagined. At times, my glowing vision of changing a child’s life feels distant, as though it belongs to another time and place. There are joyful times when we see the girls becoming more respectful, pursuing their talents and taking on more responsibility; but when we feel stretched and strained, the hard times nearly eclipse the good. It’s easy to forget how much energy it takes to shine when circumstances darken.

And it’s in those moments that John 1:5 resonates in my mind, giving me resilient hope. All my fears, failures and anxieties prove that I am not the light—and this is paramount. Shining the light of Christ in darkness is impossible if I rely on my own energy and ability. But with God as the source, the light I’m sharing will never be extinguished. Better and brighter yet, Christ’s light will continue to shine when mine goes out. Even when the girls no longer live with us, the progress they’ve made and the things we’ve all learned will remain.

I am confident in the vision God gave us. And I’m hopeful that one day the streak of permanent marker on our antique dining table will remind me that the hard work was worth it.

Biblical references are from the New International Version (NIV).

Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Faithlife Corporation. Originally published in print, Vol. 5 No. 2

Shepherds and Crooks

Colin Kruse

There aren’t many people today who hold the title of “shepherd” or can even claim to know someone who does. Yet our church culture is permeated with shepherd and flock imagery.

Although most of us don’t have a cultural reference point for this imagery, Jesus’ audience in John 10 certainly did. Here, Jesus uses these metaphors after healing a blind man—one who heard His voice and believed in Him. He tells those who listen, “I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me” (John 10:14). If we understand why Jesus uses this imagery to make His point, we can better understand what it means for us today.

Cultural Context


The scene presented in John 10:1–5 would have been familiar to a Jewish audience. Most families in any given village owned a few sheep that they kept in the courtyards of their houses. Several households together would hire a shepherd to care for their sheep. They would keep their sheep in a courtyard surrounded by a wall and often guarded by a gatekeeper. When the shepherd needed to enter the courtyards, he walked through the gates, which the gatekeepers opened upon recognizing him; but a thief—someone whom the gatekeepers didn’t know—had to climb over the courtyard walls. Likewise, the sheep eagerly followed the shepherd because they recognized his voice, but they would flee from the unfamiliar thief.

In John 10:7–18, Jesus takes the metaphor further, describing Himself as “the gate of the sheep.” When in the open country at night, the shepherd placed the sheep in a round, stone-walled enclosure for protection. As long as the shepherd secured the opening—the “gate”—the sheep were safe from wild animals and thieves.

Biblical Theology

Jesus uses this imagery to draw a parallel not only to Himself, but also to the Jewish leaders who burdened the people with heavy religious demands. These leaders are the “thieves and robbers” who threaten the sheep—the ones who treated the blind man of John 9 so harshly.

Jesus is probably drawing His imagery from Jeremiah 23 and Ezekiel 34, passages that depict some of the kings of Israel as worthless shepherds who destroyed, scattered or lived off the sheep instead of protecting them. God’s fury against these kings shows His love for His sheep: “‘Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture!’ declares the Lord” (Jer 23:1). God promises to raise up a Good Shepherd, a “Righteous Branch” (Jer 23:5), to rule over His people—“one shepherd, my servant David” (Ezek 34:23).

By calling Himself the “good shepherd” (John 10:11), Jesus makes the radical claim that He is the fulfillment of these 500-year-old prophecies. In Jesus, these references to God’s role as the shepherd find their full expression (see Pss 23, 80; Isa 40:11).

Back to the Text

Jesus is no regular shepherd. As the Good Shepherd, Jesus lays down His life for His people because doing so is imperative to saving them. He dies as the Lamb of God to take away the sins of the world (John 1:29), thus fulfilling the prophecy of Isaiah 53:6–7:

All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth.

As a result, all who enter at “the gate of the sheep” by believing in Him experience forgiveness of their sins and become members of His people. In Him, we “have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). Jesus is unlike the evil shepherds of His age (the Jewish leadership) and past ages (those of Jeremiah, Isaiah and Ezekiel). He is the shepherd who becomes like a sheep, laying down His life.

Although the sheep and shepherd might serve as only a gentle pastoral illustration in our communities, we have a powerful portrait of the “one shepherd” in John 10: the Lord Jesus Himself, who was “pierced for our transgressions” and suffered “the chastisement that brought us peace” (Isa 53:5).

For more about sheep and shepherd imagery in John’s Gospel, pick up the Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels. Go to

Biblical references are from the English Standard Version (ESV).

Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Faithlife Corporation. Originally published in print, Vol. 5 No. 2

Resources Used
D. H. Johnson, “Shepherd, Sheep” in Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, ed. Joel B. Green, Scot McKnight, and I. Howard Marshall, (Downers Grove, Ill: InterVarsity Press, 1992), 751–754.

Colin G. Kruse, The Gospel According to John, (Leicester: InterVarsity Press, 2003).

Ancient Words, Future Hope

John D. Barry

Leviticus 4:1–6:30; John 7:14–44, Song of Solomon 5:13–16

Atonement is appealing because we all have relationships we wish we could reconcile. The 12-step program involves forgiving and forging renewed relationships when possible. But the story with God is different. There’s an acute awareness that we can’t fix things with our Creator; we need someone or something else to do it for us.

Jesus is described as the atonement, the sacrifice, and the perfect offering. But what do these terms actually mean? In Leviticus 5:14–6:30, we learn what it means for Jesus to be a guilt offering: He takes the guilt of the people, incurred through their sinful acts, and takes it upon Himself. He becomes the “ram without defect from the flock” (Lev 6:6).

Jesus takes the stage as the Suffering Servant in Isa 52:13–53:12, fulfilling the events it prophesies. Isaiah 53:10 reads, “If she places [the servant’s] life a guilt offering, he will see offspring, he will prolong days. And the will of Yahweh is in his hand, it will succeed” (my translation).

When He is arrested, Jesus understands that He is on His way to die at the hands of His own people (the “she” in Isaiah is “Jerusalem” or “Zion”). Matthew notes, “But all this has happened in order that the scriptures of the prophets would be fulfilled” (Matt 26:56). Jesus acknowledges it by saying, “the Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of sinners!” (Matt 26:45). This echoes Isaiah 53:3: “He was despised and rejected by men; a man of suffering, and acquainted with sickness, and like one from whom others hide their faces, he was despised, and we did not hold him in high regard.”

Leviticus seems archaic until it is put into this perspective. The oddities of this ancient book give us a connection to Jesus. He is the fulfillment of all Israel hoped for. Isn’t this the same in our lives? At first it might seem like the events are somehow disconnected or distant from God and His works. But upon a second glance—in retrospect—we see they’re a foundation for hope.

In what areas of your life do you need to connect with God’s work? What does the interaction between ancient law, prophecy, and Jesus’ life teach you about God and His work in our lives?

This article was originally posted in Connect the Testaments: A One-Year Daily Devotional with Bible Reading Plan.

John D. Barry is the CEO and founder of Jesus’ Economy, a nonprofit dedicated to creating jobs and churches in the developing world. To empower the extreme poor, Jesus’ Economy also has an online fair trade shop. John is also the general editor of Faithlife Study Bible and the former editor-in-chief of Bible Study Magazine. Learn more about John’s work with Jesus’ Economy at

Shelf Life Book Review: Jeremiah and Lamentations

Abram Kielsmeier-Jones

Jeremiah and Lamentations: Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries
IVP Academic, 2013

Hetty Lalleman’s new volume, Jeremiah and Lamentations, replaces the 1973 edition in the Tyndale collection. This resource organizes each section of commentary into a three-part structure: “Context,” “Comment” and “Meaning.”


The “Context” sections reveal the significance of each passage within the biblical book as a whole. The “Comment” section contains a passage-by-passage analysis. Pastors will appreciate Lalleman’s commentary. For example, on Jeremiah 31:31–34, Lalleman says, “God did not break [the covenant]; the people did. Yet God does what was impossible in treaties between human lords and vassals: this Lord makes a new covenant” (233). Serious Bible students will appreciate that Lalleman’s commentary, while not technical, explores Hebrew words and places in the text where the Hebrew and Greek texts differ.

If you’re looking for specific application of Jeremiah and Lamentations to a 21st-century context, you may want to supplement research with other commentaries. The “Meaning” section tends to focus on the ancient context. However, Jeremiah and Lamentations succeeds in expositing the text so we can make applications on our own.

Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Faithlife Corporation . Originally published in print, Vol. 5 No. 5

But What If the Shepherd Dies?

Rick Brannan

Peter Chrysologus (ca. AD 400–450) was the bishop of Ravenna, the capital city of the Western Roman Empire. Noted for his sermons, the bishop was surnamed “Chrysologus,” which means “golden worded,” perhaps to paint him as the western counterpart to John Chrysostom, the “golden mouthed” archbishop of Constantinople (ca. AD 347–407) in the east. 1 Although most of Chrysologus’ writings have been lost, a small collection of his sermons still exists.


Jesus’ parable of the good shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep—pointing to Christ’s death (John 10:14–15)—should spur His disciples to ask Socrates-like questions. What happens to the sheep after the shepherd dies? If the shepherd truly cares about the sheep, why does he lay down his life? How could this possibly be good for the sheep? Peter Chrysologus asks and answers these questions. Preaching on the implications of a dead shepherd, Chrysologus begins with the shepherd’s motive in giving his life to protect his sheep—love.

“The force of love makes a person brave because genuine love counts nothing as hard, bitter, serious or deadly. What sword, what wounds, what penalty, what deaths can avail to overcome perfect love? Love is an impenetrable breastplate. It wards off missiles, sheds the blows of swords, taunts dangers, and laughs at death. If love is present, it conquers everything. But is that death of the shepherd advantageous to the sheep? (John 10:11). Let us investigate. It leaves them abandoned, exposes them defenseless to the wolves, hands over the beloved flock to the gnawing jaws of beasts, gives them over to plunder, and exposes them to death. All this is proved by the death of the Shepherd, Christ. … For the sake of his sheep the Shepherd met the death that was threatening them. He did this that—by a new arrangement—he might, although captured himself, capture the devil, the author of death; that, although slain himself, he might punish; that, by dying for his sheep, he might open the way for them to conquer death.” 2

Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Faithlife Corporation. Originally published in print, Vol. 5 No. 2

1. F. L. Cross and Elizabeth A. Livingstone, The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, 3rd rev. ed. (Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), 344.

2. Adapted from Joel C. Elowsky, John 1–10, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture NT 4a (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2006), 350.

From Smoke to Fire: Igniting a Bible Study Movement

Jeff Goins & Elizabeth Vince

R.C. Sproul was ready to escape his dry campus for an evening at the bar when he realized he was out of cigarettes. Recalling the vending machine in the dorm, he returned to pick up a 25¢ pack of Lucky Strikes. We don’t often hear of smoking as a catalyst for good things, but that night Sproul’s nicotine craving led to a conversation about God.


Born and raised in Pittsburgh, Sproul attended Westminster College not because he wanted to attend a Christian school, but because he had an athletic scholarship. Sproul and his roommate had just completed freshman orientation when they decided to cross the Ohio state border for a drink. Sproul’s quick cigarette run was interrupted when a group of guys—including the star of the football team—engaged them in conversation.

“For the first time in my life, I met somebody who really believed in Jesus as a living person. I’d never encountered that before,” Sproul recalls. “This fellow was telling me about his faith, and in the middle of the conversation, he made reference to a text in Ecclesiastes: ‘Whether a tree falls to the south or to the north, in the place where it falls, there will it lie’ (11:3). I saw myself as just like that tree—going nowhere, just rotting away—and I had this fierce desire to know Christ.” Years later, he laughs at the experience. “I think I’m probably the only person in the history of the Church who was converted by that verse.”

The conversation had a profound effect on him. “When the discussion was over, I went to my room, got down on my knees by my bed, and I asked God to forgive me of my sins. I had a powerful experience of being forgiven. That night, September 13, 1957, was the night I was converted to Christ.” Author of 80 books and founder of Ligonier Ministries, Sproul is still as passionate about Christ as he was that night.

Falling in Love with Scripture
Following his conversion, Sproul experienced many of the struggles that most new Christians face. “That first year was a roller coaster of spiritual highs and spiritual lows. I was frustrated by my ongoing sin and that I still struggled with things I brought into the faith from my old life. At the same time, I couldn’t get enough study of the Scripture.”

“From the day of my conversion, I had this unquenchable thirst to know the Bible. In the first few weeks of my Christian experience, I read the Bible from cover to cover. In fact, that’s all I did. The first semester of my freshman year, I got Ds in all my classes except gym and Bible—I got an A in Bible. I didn’t want to know anything else.”

He spent his nights pacing the hallway and reading the Bible, sometimes until as late as three o’clock in the morning. “Everybody else was asleep, but I couldn’t sleep because I was immersed in the study of Scripture. I was overwhelmed by the portrait of the God of the Old Testament. I had no understanding of who He was.”

“The one thing that was clear to me from my initial reading of the Old Testament was that this God is a God who plays for keeps. I knew that if I was going to be a Christian, I couldn’t mess around. It had to be all or nothing.”

Spreading the Word: From Teacher to Preacher
Sproul’s faith soon shaped his future. “From the very beginning, I knew I was going to have to spend my whole life in some type of Christian service, but I certainly wasn’t inclined to think about it as a pastoral ministry. My goal was to be a seminary professor.”

After graduating, Sproul received his M.Div. from Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and then studied for his doctorate at the Free University of Amsterdam. Not long after, he became ordained to the teaching ministry of the Presbyterian Church.

Sproul then taught philosophy at Westminster College, his alma mater, before moving to Gordon College in Boston, where he taught Bible and theology. When he was 29 years old, Sproul finally achieved his original goal: He was appointed to the Conwell School of Theology in Philadelphia. Little did he know that after reaching his goal, he would soon be led in a new direction.

“While I was teaching seminary, the pastor of the local church I attended asked me if I would be willing to teach an adult Sunday school class on the person and work of Christ. I said, ‘Sure, I’d be happy to.’ ” Sproul was shocked by his class’ hunger to learn. “When I was teaching these lay people, I discovered that their excitement and interest was more manifest than that of the captive audience that I had in the academic world.” He responded to their enthusiasm by making a crucial career shift.

He explains that with that experience, he “began to major in lay education and continued to minor in teaching in the academic world.” Although he remained involved in the academic world, Sproul turned his attention to educating lay people. He founded Ligonier Valley Study Center in 1971. Today the goal of what is now known as Ligonier Ministries is to “help Christians understand what they believe, why they believe it, how to live it, and how to share it.”

Developing Discipline
Sproul started his ministry with the acknowledgment that “a lot of people have to work at Bible study to try to get motivated.” He recommends becoming involved in a Bible study group or class, which helps develop the discipline needed to get into the Word regularly. He compares Bible study to learning a musical instrument: “I’ve known a few people who have taught themselves how to play the piano, and they’ve done a very good job of it. But most people who try to teach themselves have a fool for a student. If you want to learn how to play the piano, get yourself a good piano teacher and sign up for a course. That’s how you progress in it; that’s how you learn.”

He says the same is true for growing in your spiritual life. “If you’re not motivated to initiate Bible study on your own, get yourself in a Bible class—one where you’re given assignments. Self-discipline is a result of first having a discipline under someone else’s authority so you learn to establish patterns on your own.”

A Culture of Truth
Sproul sees Bible study as one step in becoming an educated Christian—something he deems a responsibility for all Christians. He sees adult Christian education as the key to eradicating biblical illiteracy and to revitalizing the Church. “Christian education is a primary consideration for every Christian and for the life of the Church. That was so in the first century, and it has been so in the great periods of revival throughout Church history.”

He is concerned that a growing suspicion of intellectualism is becoming an obstacle. “We have this undercurrent of people who are opposed to education, partly because they’ve seen educators who’ve committed treason against the faith. They’re leery and wary of becoming involved in education because they think that it’s contrary to the things of God. That’s a very serious mistake. We’re called to beware of the godless philosophies that surround us, but you can’t be wary of something that you’re not aware of.”

Sproul explains, “When I come to the Scriptures, I often come laden down with cultural ideas that conflict with the Word of God. I have to have those ideas expunged from my thinking, and the only place I’m going to get that is from the true ideas that we get in sacred Scripture. We have to constantly subject our own thinking to the critique of the Scriptures.”

“Our culture argues all the time about what’s right and what’s wrong.” Sproul again points to the Scriptures as a solution: “The Bible tells us what is right and what is wrong; if we believe that it is God’s actual Word, then that should define our lives and should make us salt and light and influencers of the culture around us.”

The fire that captured Sproul as a young college student still burns brightly in him today: “The Bible calls us to have renewed minds. We’re called to love the Lord our God with all our minds. … You have to work. You have to study. To be led out of the darkness of the world and into the light of the Word of God, we’re called to seek after the very mind of Christ.”

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Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Faithlife Corporation. Originally published in print, Vol. 5 No. 2

Searching for the Wrong Kingdom

Rebecca Van Noord

Exodus 35:1–36:38; John 6:15–24; Song of Solomon 4:14–16

Because of the signs He performed, Jesus drew large crowds. And because of His signs, those who followed Him decided that He should be king. It seems natural and fitting, in a way, that Jesus should be revered and honored among the masses. Why shouldn’t He be worshiped on earth like He is in heaven?

But Jesus wasn’t interested in gaining glory and fame. He had no interest in the kingdoms of this world, as His temptation in the desert demonstrates (Matt 4:8). This scene reveals both His character and His mission—He was seeking His Father’s glory and following His will. “Now when the people saw the sign that he performed, they began to say, ‘This one is truly the Prophet who is to come into the world!’ Then Jesus, because he knew that they were about to come and seize him in order to make him king, withdrew again up the mountain by himself alone” (John 6:14–15).

It also reveals something about human nature. Although the crowds wanted to make Jesus king, they weren’t necessarily looking to revere Him. They were looking out for themselves. They wanted to install a new kingdom—one brought on by force and political revolution. They wanted their immediate physical needs met, but they didn’t necessarily consider the great spiritual revolution that needed to take place within.

Following Jesus shouldn’t be something we do because it’s somehow convenient for us. Following Jesus requires all of us—and it will often look like a life of sacrifice, not ease. The Jews who followed Jesus were challenged to accept Him, not as a prophet or a Messiah, but as the Son of God. The same crowd that followed Jesus obsessively, looking for signs, was eventually confronted by teaching that shook their understanding of this Messiah and what God expected from them.

Do you follow Jesus for reasons of your own? How can you follow Him for the right reasons?

This article was originally posted in Connect the Testaments: A One-Year Daily Devotional with Bible Reading Plan.

Shelf Life Book Review: Luke

Jeffrey E. Miller

Brazos Press, 2012

David Lyle Jeffrey begins his preface by saying, “This is not a form-critical or closely argued philological commentary for the professional biblical scholar.” His research across church history, however, shows us how early—and not so early—Christians read Luke’s Gospel. To do this, he cites and interacts with art and ancient sources—both religious and secular.

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Those accustomed to technical commentaries will find Jeffrey’s long, unbroken narratives refreshing. Whole Bible passages are not provided in the book, though pertinent verses are quoted in the commentary. Jeffrey uses footnotes sparingly, and the volume contains a helpful subject and Scripture index.

Jeffrey’s bibliography of “frequently cited” works contains both modern scholarship and ancient, writings from medieval times and from the Reformation. The combination provides a bird’s-eye view of the historical understanding of Luke.

Those who are interested in the church fathers will find this resource helpful. Pastors will find a treasury of ready-made quotations and illustrations from church history already connected to appropriate passages of Scripture.

Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Faithlife Corporation. Originally published in print, Vol. 5 No. 4

Love, Love, (kind of) Love?

Stephen Witmer

We fail at love. These failures are often humbling because we’re forced to realize how truly self-centered we are. In John 21, Jesus takes issue with Peter’s failed attempt to love and follow Him. We might wonder about Jesus’ intention in appearing to Peter after His resurrection. Is He making Peter feel guilty? Is He vindicating him?


Step One: Consider the Greek words for “love.”
The dialogue between Jesus and Peter features two different Greek words for “love.” Jesus twice asks Peter whether he “loves” (agapaō, άγαπάω) Him. Peter twice answers that he does “love” (phileō, φιλέω) Him. Jesus then uses the word phileo in His third question, and Peter again responds using phileō. The NIV translation of agapaō (“truly love”) and phileō (“love”) might seem to imply that Jesus switches to phileō because He accepts Peter’s lesser form of love for Him. But is that what Jesus expects from His followers—mediocre commitment? Is that why Jesus appears to Peter?

Step Two: Consult an expository dictionary and a commentary to understand key words.
For help in answering this question, we can turn to Mounce’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words. When we look up “love,” we see considerable overlap in the definitions for agapaō and phileō. We read that these verbs for love are used for variation—a stylistic element John uses throughout his Gospel. D.A. Carson’s commentary, The Gospel According to John, shows that John uses agapaō and phileō interchangeably to describe the Father’s love for the Son (John 3:35; 5:20).

In addition to this, other instances of stylistic variation occur in the same passage. Different Greek words are used synonymously for “lambs” and “sheep,” and “feed” and “tend” (21:15, 16). We can conclude, then, that this stylistic variance is not the key to understanding Jesus’ question or Peter’s response. Instead, we should note two other important clues—one in the immediate context and one in John 21:15–19.

Step Three: Look for repetition in the passage and the Gospel of John.
In John 21:15, Jesus asks Peter, “Do you love me more than these?” The word “these” connects the discussion to the preceding context—the scene featuring a charcoal fire, a large haul of fish and a group of sleepy disciples (21:1–14). Jesus’ question could mean, “Do you love me more than you love the life you’ve returned to—fishing?” Or it could be setting up a comparison: “Do you love me more than these other disciples love me?” Either way, Peter is being put on the spot.

Another clue to understanding this passage is an element we might easily miss. Jesus and Simon Peter’s conversation takes place around a “charcoal fire” (21:9). The smoke stinging Peter’s nose would have prompted him to recall a previous fire. By doing a quick word search using Bible software, we can see that the word for “charcoal fire” is used one other time in John’s Gospel—in John 18:18. In that passage, a charcoal fire burns in the court of the high priest. It was there that Peter huddled for warmth after Jesus was arrested. And it was there that he denied Jesus.

Finally, we’re not simply told that Jesus repeats His question three times; the passage actually repeats the question (21:15–19). Why is the three-fold repetition of the question so important that it’s noted twice? John adds this detail because he wants to point us back to the same passage where the charcoal fire burned, where Peter denied Jesus three times. These three denials fulfilled Jesus’ prediction to Peter that “the rooster will not crow till you have denied me three times” (13:38).

By asking Peter three times “Do you love me?”—even using a synonym the third time—Jesus graciously provides Peter an opportunity to affirm his love. Jesus is restoring Peter. This explains why Jesus immediately prophesies Peter’s death in John 21:18–19, showing him that he will stay faithful to Jesus; he will love Him even unto death. Jesus’ call upon Peter now is the same call He used to beckon His disciples the very first time: “Follow me” (1:43; see Mark 1:17).

This call, once again extended to Peter, is the real message that we should take away from this passage. Although Peter failed—and although we fail—God expects more than subpar love and commitment. He has restored us through a great sacrifice, and we are commanded to live out that good news by following Him completely, out of love.

Biblical references are from the English Standard Version (ESV).

Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Faithlife Corporation. Originally published in print, Vol. 5 No. 2