Before delving further into the significance of the usage of the terms translated into English as ‘love,’ it is necessary to see the growth that Jesus’ commands to Peter in these three verses portrays. Each time Jesus is referring to sheep or lambs in His questions (as opposed to goats—see Mt25:31-46). We must understand that He is deliberately referring to overcomers, the righteous, saints of GOD.
Feeding and Tending
Vv. 15-17 indicate a type of growth that Christians, even overcomers, must go through to become fully mature in spirit. They also show the duties that every shepherd of GOD has to fulfill.
In verse 15, Jesus commands Peter, “Feed My lambs.” The lamb is an obvious symbol of spiritual “babehood,” yet to grow into maturity. The word “feed” in the Greek is “bosko,” which is defined as “to pasture, fodder, graze... i.e. feed, keep.” So, in v 15, Jesus is calling Peter to the basic feeding of a spiritual babe. One is reminded of 1Cor3:2; Heb5:12-13; 1Pet2:2. [Note: “Babes IN Christ,” i.e., soul-saved, but still carnally minded.]
In verse 16 (NKJV), Jesus commands Peter, “Tend My sheep.” The Greek word used here for “feed” is “poimaino” (Strong’s Grk. #4165) which is defined as “to tend as a shepherd.” This word actually appears 10 other times in the New Testament. A few examples are as follows:
Mat2:6.. For out of you shall come a Ruler who will shepherd My people Israel."'
Acts20:28.. Shepherd the church of GOD which He purchased with His own blood.
1Pet5:2.. Shepherd the flock of GOD.
Rev2:27.. He shall rule them with a rod of iron.
Rev7:17.. The Lamb who is in the midst of the throne will shepherd them.
Rev12:5.. She bore a male Child who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron.
Rev19:15.. He Himself will rule them with a rod of iron.
So, in v 16 when Jesus says, “Tend My sheep,” He is calling Peter to fulfill all the responsibilities of a shepherd of His holy flock (note Jer23): to feed, guide, lead, protect, or rescue those that are in danger of being lost (see Mat18:11-14; Lk15:4-7; Jn10:11-15). These sheep in v 16 represent those who are already in Christ who are growing out of carnal-mindedness. They are more fully focused on Christ than the spiritual lambs or babes in Christ, but are still just as much in need of the Shepherd’s guiding staff and corrective rod.