Why Does Jesus Ask Peter “Do You Love Me?” Three Times?

Jesus did not ask Peter this question three times because he was hard of hearing or slow to comprehend Peter’s answers! The fact that Jesus asks Peter this question — “Do you love me?” — three times is very significant.

First of all, the number three is one of those “good” numbers in the Bible. Numbers are often used in the Bible to make a point and to express meaning. For example, the number 40 represents a significant period of time during which one’s faith is tested. The number 12 represents wholeness or fullness. Well, the number three also has some significance. It is on the third day that God saves Jonah from the belly of the whale. Saul, soon to be known as Paul, regains his eyesight on the third day. And of course, Jesus is raised from the dead on the third day.

But Peter denied knowing Jesus three times just before his crucifixion (Matthew 26, Mark 14, Luke 22, John 13). Upon appearing to his disciples after the Resurrection, however, Jesus brings forgiveness, not retribution. To those who deserted him before his crucifixion, Jesus says, “Shalom,” which means “Peace.” To Peter, Jesus offers a three-fold opportunity for forgiveness, as is described in John 21:15-19. Peter is hurt when Jesus asks him a third time, most likely because it made him recall his own three-fold denial of Jesus. This story emphasizes the prominence of Peter among the Apostles and demonstrates how, despite his denial, Peter is restored — reconciled with Jesus, through Jesus’ forgiveness of sins.

Joe Paprocki, D.Min., has been a catechetical leader and religious educator in the Chicago area for more than 30 years. His books include “Living the Mass,” “The Bible Blueprint,” “The Catechist’s Toolbox,” and “A Well-Built Faith.” He is the National Consultant for Faith Formation at Loyola Press in Chicago. Joe blogs about his work as a catechist at Catechist’s Journey.