John 21:15-19 – Debunking the “Reinstatement” Theory
In the closing chapter of the Gospel of John, we find a very poignant moment between Jesus and Simon Peter.
15When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?” “Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.” 16Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me?” He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.” 17 The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my sheep. 18 I tell you the truth, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” 19Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!”
Catholics hold that this passage confirms Peter as shepherd of the one flock of Christ (cf. John 10:11) and head of the universal Church. In contrast, many non-Catholics believe that because Peter had denied knowing Jesus three times before the cock crowed, this passage simply reveals the re-instatement of Peter to the position of Apostle. However, a closer look at the sequence of events following Jesus’ resurrection reveals that this is simply not the case.
In Matthew 26:56, we learn that when Jesus was arrested, all of the apostles fled in fear, “But Peter followed him at a distance, right up to the courtyard of the high priest. He entered and sat down with the guards to see the outcome.” (Mt. 26:58) Consequently, if Peter’s denials of Jesus disqualify him as an apostle, surely the abandonment of Jesus by the others disqualified them, also. If this reasoning is followed, then Jesus had NO apostles after the resurrection! Further, according to scripture, Peter alone was reinstated by Jesus in John 21!
In the Gospel of Luke, we find the following reference to the Eleven on Easter morning:
When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others. 10 It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles.
After the resurrection but before Peter’s reinstatement, Peter is referred to as one of the Eleven apostles. Since Judas Iscariot was dead by this time, we know that Luke is including Peter as one of the apostles.
Finally, we need to consider an important question regarding the inauguration of the apostolic ministry to which Jesus had called the Eleven: When was Peter commissioned by Jesus, bestowed with the Holy Spirit and given the authority to forgive and retain sins? Was it in John 21? NO! It was days earlier as shown in the previous chapter of John:
19On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 20After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord. 21Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” 22And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”
Here we see Jesus “sending” the Apostles—Peter among them—just as the Father had sent Him. Peter receives the same commission and the same “breath of God” that the other Apostles received (except Thomas who was absent). All of this occurred after Peter’s three denials but before the supposed “reinstatement” in John 21.
Consequently, a few questions naturally come to mind. If Peter had yet to be reinstated by Jesus as is often claimed, why did Peter receive the same commission and the same authority to forgive or retain sins as the other Apostles who had not denied Jesus and theoretically did not need to be reinstated? (I say “theoretically” because ALL of the Apostles save John had abandoned Jesus on the night of His arrest.) If Peter’s denial had somehow cost him his place, how could he be treated the same as those who were still Apostles in good standing?
The reinstatement theory is a farce. Jesus commissioned Peter along with the other Apostles in John 20 because Peter was still an Apostle at that point–nothing had been lost by his three denials which the Lord Himself had foretold. Later, on the beach, Peter received an additional commission - one that was also foretold in Mt. 16:18-19 - that he was to lead the Church as the earthly Vicar of Christ and Shepherd of Jesus’ own flock.