When Jesus walked the earth, He had friends.
He also demonstrated the efforts we should make to restore a broken friendship. Each time I read the post-resurrection accounts in the Gospels, I wonder how a human could be more defeated than Peter was after he denied knowing Jesus three times. Peter had been confident that he would stick close to Jesus, but when it counted most, Peter buckled. “Then Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him: ‘Before the rooster crows today, you will disown me three times.’ And he went outside and wept bitterly” (Luke 22:61–62). Then Jesus died and there seemed no hope for Peter to be reconciled with his master and friend.
It would be hopeless if there were no resurrection. Yet, who among the remaining eleven disciples did Jesus choose to be the first to witness the empty tomb? Peter. (See Luke 24:12; 1 Cor. 15:5.) A little while later, Peter was fishing when a mysterious stranger showed up on shore and recommended trying a different spot. The resulting harvest of 153 big fish reminded one of Peter’s friends (most certainly John) of another miracle catch, which happened right before Jesus invited Peter to fish for men instead of fish (see Luke 5:1–11). This time Peter, in typical Peter fashion, jumped out of the boat 100 yards from shore and waded in.
The scene that follows is as poignant as one in any book or movie, and it also goes a long way to explaining why Peter is still around on the day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit comes. Jesus is on the shore, cooking breakfast for his friends, when Peter wades in. As they share a meal in front of the fire (see John 21:15–17), Jesus asks Peter three times, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Notice that Peter has gone back to his old name, temporarily losing the manly moniker, “Rock.”
This is a painful scene for Peter, his discomfort growing with each repeated question. By the third “Do you love me?” he is hurt and exasperated (“How many times is Jesus going to ask me this?”). He answers, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”
This is the last time Jesus asks Peter the question. For every denial there is one “Do you love me?” and one admonition, “Care for [feed] my sheep.” After predicting how Peter will die, Jesus restores his relationship with Peter by reissuing that initial invitation, “Follow me!” (John 21:19).
We typically read this passage as Peter’s reinstatement to disciple (now apostle) status, and that does seem to be the main point. But this event also serves as the restoration of a very human friendship. Peter has wounded his rabbi and friend at Jesus’s deepest point of vulnerability. Only God turning his head away (“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”) cuts deeper than Peter’s denial. These words echo David’s words from Psalm 55:13, which we read earlier: “But it is you, my companion, my colleague and close friend.”
In this exchange, Jesus not only restores one of His three closest disciples, He creates a powerful example of relational restoration. He creates his own real-life parable about “loving your neighbor as yourself.” He lives into his own prayer to forgive those who sin against us (see Matt. 6:12). Jesus shows us that even when it might seem impossible to get a friend back who has betrayed us, there is great hope. He shows us that the power of the resurrection breathes hope into every part of life, even the most broken relationship between friends.
Dan Dupee is the former Chairman of the Board for the Coalition for Christian Outreach, a Pittsburgh-based campus ministry working annually with over 32,000 students on over 115 campuses. He brings together biblical truth, sociological research, college transition findings, and focus group work with parents of adolescents to develop principles that are fresh, clarifying additions to a growing body of research on teen faith development.