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I'd say that, by the use of the word "these", Jesus was referring to the other apostles who were present, and that He was asking Peter if he (Peter) loved Him (Jesus) more than those other apostles loved Him. Peter had previously pridefully made the threefold boast that, even if all the other apostles would desert Jesus, he would not (Mark 14:29); that he was ready at that time to follow Jesus to death (John 13:37); and that, even if he had to die with Jesus, he would never deny Him three times (as Jesus had told him he would)(Mark 14:31). Jesus' inclusion of the words "more than these" in His first question to Peter (which He did not use in the other two questions) was targeted at the first of those three assertions, and referred to the degree of Peter's love for Him in comparison to the love of the other apostles for Him, in the same way that Peter had. (Jesus was NOT (as the English translation of the question might also be interpreted) asking if Peter loved Him more than he (Peter) loved the other apostles who were present.)
It is only natural for us as humans to compare ourselves with other people. Peter often boasted of his devotion to Christ and was often first to demonstrate his devotion. Even that morning Peter jumped in the water to reach Jesus first on the shore. Peter had denied Jesus three times, even though he had pledged his allegiance. Jesus asks Peter the question three times to prove to Peter that Jesus had completely forgiven him. Jesus also tells Peter to feed his sheep to recommission Peter as one of the apostles and leader of the new church he was going to create. In John 22:15-23 Jesus asked Peter about his love "more than these" because Peter was going to have to give up his life because of his love for Christ. Jesus even told Peter how he was going to die. This human nature of comparing ourselves was still a struggle for Peter because he asks what's going to happen to the apostle John. Twice Jesus has to remind Peter "Follow Me!" He has to do the same thing for each one of us because of our tendency to compare ourselves with others.
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