John 21:15-17 says, “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.”

Before we discuss this passage, let us recall from Luke 22:54-62 that Peter denied that he knew the Lord Jesus three times before He was crucified.  Because of the Lord’s great love for Peter, He made the effort after His resurrection to meet with Peter privately so that Peter could be restored to close fellowship with Him.  We read about this private meeting in Luke 24.  The two people who walked with the Lord on the way to Emmaus returned to Jerusalem after the Lord revealed Himself to them.  They told the disciples in Luke 24:34, “The Lord is risen indeed, and hath appeared to Simon.”  The Apostle Paul also tells us of this private meeting in 1 Corinthians 15: 3-5.  These verses say, “For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures:  And that he was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve.”

In John 20 we read of the Lord Jesus appearing to His disciples on two separate occasions.  Then in John 21 He appears to His disciples a third time.  Just as the Lord restored Peter privately, John 21:15-17 describes Peter’s public restoration in front of His peers.  Was Peter still fit for service to the Lord after denying Him three times?  The Lord asked Peter if he loved Him, using the Greek word agape for love, which is a self-sacrificing, divine love.  Peter said that he loved the Lord, using the Greek word phileo, which means friendship or fondness.  Peter proved his humility by not boasting that he loved the Lord with the same self-sacrificing love with which the Lord Jesus loved him.  Then the Lord made it plain to Peter and the others that He had important work for Peter to do.  The Lord Jesus wanted Peter to feed His sheep spiritually.  Concerning your last question, the reason that the Lord did not ask the other disciples if they loved Him and did not tell them to feed His sheep was because they had not failed as grievously as Peter did.  Christ was publicly encouraging Peter to feed His sheep and showing the other disciples that Peter had been restored to the Lord and was ready to resume serving Him.

Concerning your first question, the Catholic Church believes that Matthew 16:18 shows that Peter was supposed to become the first Pope.  Let us read Matthew 16:16-18.  “And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.  And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.  And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”  The Lord acknowledged that Peter was right about who He was, the Son of the living God.  In verse 18 the Greek word for Peter is ‘Petros’, which means a stone.  In contrast, the Greek word for “rock” in the same verse is ‘petra’, which means a large rock.  The Lord was explaining that His church would be built upon Himself, not Peter.   Who is ‘petra’, the large rock?  We read in 1 Corinthians 10:4, “…and that Rock was Christ.”  The Greek word for Rock in this verse is ‘petra.’  Therefore, it is plain that the Lord was talking about Himself when he mentions the rock in Matthew 16:18.  Was Peter used mightily of the Lord and eventually died a martyr’s death?  Yes!  Was Peter the first Pope and is there any scriptural justification for having Popes?  No!  God the Father exalted Christ to be the Head of the church.  As we read in Ephesians 1:22-23, “And hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all.”  The Father has exalted Christ “far above all,” as we read in Ephesians 1:21.

The Lord Jesus promises us in Matthew 18:20 that “where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”  What a wonderful promise that Christ Himself is in our midst as we gather unto His precious Name!  If we truly believed this to be true, then we would let Him lead our gatherings.  We do not need a Pope or any other human leader as our Head, for Christ is the Head of His body.  What a tremendous privilege it is to let Christ function as the Head that He truly is.  (184.2)  (DJ)