Because of that statement, I think Jesus is speaking to Peter about maximum loyalty to Christ, before any person, disciple or anyone else. Peter was to be used greatly by God and he needed to have his priorities set right. This was one of the ways Jesus chose to establish that.
By the way, what if Jesus said that to you today, what would you say? Peter said, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you,” could you say that too, “Yes, Lord!” Can you say, “Yes, Lord, I love you more than all my family, all my possessions and more than life itself?” Do you realize that Jesus does ask that of us and each of us need to have an answer to His penetrating question.
Jesus goes on to ask again, “do you truly love Me?” Why a second time, outside of the three denials? Maybe you need to realize, like I have, that God not only wanted to know that Peter’s answer was for real and from his heart, but for us also, to see if what we have said to the Lord about loving Him is really the truth from our heart. Do you really love Jesus?
For the third time Jesus asks, “do you love Me?” Peter declared to Jesus that He, Jesus, did know all things and because Jesus did know all things that He knew that Peter loved Him supremely.
Jesus wanted Peter to see his boasting on that night before Jesus’ arrest and trial about Peter’s never leaving Jesus, even if everyone else did. Jesus wanted Peter to have a humble heart. His heart and his character needed changing, as do all believers who want to follow Christ, there is a better way than boasting and having a prideful spirit; what better way than to emphasize for him that humility was a great characteristic in a believer. Peter having to go through this three times finally realized that Jesus knew his heart and would see the change in him.
Jesus was telling Peter that he needed to “feed his lambs,” “take care of My sheep,” and “feed My sheep.” There is a common denominator in all three requests from Jesus. Our Savior and Lord is describing the duties of a shepherd. To feed, and to take care of are things that a shepherd does. Jesus has established the church, the body of Christ, and He is going to ask Peter to shepherd them and to feed and take care of them. He comissions all of the disciples to take care of the body of Christ but here He is giving a special responsibility to Peter to become the shepherd of this first church group by calling in Peter to be responsible to lead this body of believers in feeding them spiritually with the Word of God, using all at his disposal to make sure the “little one, the lambs” are fed with the nourishment that they needed as new believers, tender and young in the faith, and as young children also needed watching after. For lambs there is a different way to feed and take care of them.
Being a shepherd has great responsibilities and they actually are accountable to God for their welfare until they are mature and able to help themselves grow. Other sheep need caring for and fed but in a different way, as they grow in Christ and walk in the way of grace.
Pastors, like Jesus is asking for Peter to do, are to do whatever it takes to help the flock to grow in “true faith” through caring for them by strengthening, protecting, guiding and confirming their salvation and hope of eternal life. The most important thing the pastor can do is to love Jesus Christ. If he truly loves Jesus Christ, the pastor will also love His sheep and tenderly care for them.
In doing all of this, Peter became, along with the other disciples, shepherds of the flock of Christ in Jerusalem and other areas as the church expanded until local congregations were established so other pastors could come aboard and help those congregations, such as Paul, Timothy, Titus and John. There were many others but through Peter’s experience he could help others to understand what is needed as a shepherd.
Peter writes about this in his book of 1 Peter 5:1-11,