In a recent Bible study of John 21, somebody asked, "Why did Jesus refer to Peter as 'Simon, son of John'?" At first I couldn't remember having thought about that ever before, but did think it was a good question. The expression is repeated three times here, and seems emphatic. All the more so when it is realized that nowhere else is Peter referred to by that name, except one only other place, in John 1:42. What does the apostle John want us to understand?
As he concludes his book, I think John wants to also take us back to the beginning, where he first introduces us to Simon, when Jesus re-names him as "Peter", and when Jesus calls Peter to "Follow me" (also repeated in John 21:19). Peter has always been quick to profess his allegiance to Christ and commitment to follow him, and now, after Peter has recently denied Jesus three times, Christ is all at once restoring, re-affirming and preparing Peter, as he faces the difficult road of apostleship ahead. Where does the Simon Peter we met at the beginning of the Gospel end up?
The miracle of the 153 fish prepares the way for Jesus' questions to Simon Peter (and although John doesn't repeat it, Peter surely remembered the incidence recorded in Luke 5:1-11). The disciples are so astounded and excited about the large catch, they counted each one to find out exactly how many there were (and probably as professional fisherman it would not be unusual to count the day's "takings"). And Jesus asks Simon Peter, "Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?" Jesus is asking Peter, "Who do you want to be more? Simon, son of John, the fisherman I met those years ago, or Simon Peter, the apostle of Jesus, the follow of the Christ, ready to take up your cross and deny yourself?" Jesus knew what people are like (John 2:25), many just like all the free food or other benefits (cf John 6:26), and some prefer the honours of other people (cf John 5:44). In all that Peter has been through with Jesus, what does he really want? Does he really want to follow Jesus, even if it means laying down his life for Jesus' sake (cf John 13:36-38)?
And as John leads us through Peter's story, he wants to ask us the same question: "Do you love Jesus more than these? Will you follow him?" And he hopes that we will answer the same way as Peter!