By Joe David
An After-Breakfast Conversation
(A commentary on John 21:15-25)
In the first part of this chapter, seven disciples had come home to Galilee. They had gone fishing, seen Jesus on the shore, followed his instructions to fish on the right side of the boat, dragged a net loaded with 153 fish to shore, and... as the second half of the chapter begins, they have just finished breaking their fast with Him. Now they are relaxing.
Jesus says to Peter,"Do you love me?" and Peter, perhaps a little startled at the question, thinking that the answer is obvious, answers "yes", and Jesus responds, "Feed my lambs". Twice more this sequence is repeated, but with some changes. Then, after this unusual conversation, the Lord tells them all a little parable about being young and later being old. Then the Lord tells Peter to follow him, and Peter, apparently jealous, asks what John is supposed to do. The Lord mildly rebukes Peter’s jealousy by saying, "If this man tarry until I come what is that to you?", but then He tells John also to follow him.
Finally, the gospel of John, and indeed the collection of all four gospels, closes with an explanation by John that he is the writer of this gospel.
So now, let’s look more closely at the conversation, the parable, and the outbreak of jealousy.
Only two of the seven disciples, Peter and John, are mentioned in this part of the story. Peter represents faith, or truth, but truth about spiritual things that we really believe are from God. John represents good, or love to the neighbor. The former resides in the understanding part of the mind and the latter in the will part of the mind.
In telling Peter to feed His sheep, the Lord is saying that to follow Him means to preach the truths that all the disciples now know about the Lord, His coming, and about how a life should be led, in order to be a follower of the Lord in a new church. In the conversation the Lord is direct and probing. "Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these?" I think Peter is being asked whether he loves the Lord, Jesus, more than he loves his fellow Galilean friends, though it’s ambiguous, it could mean "do you love me more than these other six do?’ When Peter answers the first time he says "Lord thou knowest that I love thee."
With this first of the three probing questions, the Lord answers "Feed my lambs," while after that the response is "Feed my sheep." Sheep and lambs both represent people who are in a love of doing good, but while sheep means those who love to do good for the sake of the neighbor, lambs mean those who do good for the sake of the Lord. The first is spiritual good, and the second is higher, and is called celestial good. But people who wish to do good at first don’t know what is good; they need to learn that from the Word and be taught. This is why Peter is told to "feed them", which is to say that truth must indicate how good is to be done. In order to do things that are good, the will's wanting to, and the understanding's knowing how to go about it, must be conjoined. For a successful Christian life, or on a larger scale, a Christian church, 'Peter' and 'John' must work in harmony.
Then comes the parable. "When you were young you got yourself ready and did what you wanted on your own. But when you become old, you have to reach out for help and another shall carry you where you don’t want to go."
This doesn’t seem to fit in here, but of course it does, and in two ways. The first way is given in the Biblical text; it is about the Lord’s death, that all the prophecies were leading Him to His crucifixion, as is mentioned. The second way is a lesson for all of us. When we are young, confident, and strong, we feel that we can do what we want and don’t need any help. Temptations to do evil we ourselves can deal with. But when we grow wiser we realize that all our strength comes from the lord, and if we continue to depend only on ourselves, the temptations from the hells will be too strong and we will be led into doing what the hells want for us, not what we want. We must learn at the start to follow the Lord and depend on Him. This he says at the end of the parable, where it seems not to fit until we understand the parable. "And when He had spoken this He saith unto (them), follow Me." That’s what we need to do also.
Peter is happy to do this preaching of the truth and maybe feels that he has been singled out, but he also realizes that John also loves the Lord and is loved in return. So he asks "And what is this man supposed to do?" It seems that the needed harmony is not yet present, and that Peter is jealous of the bond, and probably hopes to be assured that he is number one... but that doesn’t happen. Peter is simply told that it doesn’t matter; he needs to do the job he has been given.
I’m reminded of the story of Jacob and Esau, in Genesis 25, where Esau is the firstborn and will inherit the birthright and blessing from Isaac, as his due. Jacob by craft devised by his mother deceives Isaac and steals what is Esau’s. Then he runs off to Padan-Aram and stays there with his uncle and becomes rich. It is only on his return journey that he wrestles with the angel and has his name changed to Israel, that he again meets Esau. The change of name means that now that Jacob is rich with truth from the Word, now with the friendly meeting with Esau, also rich, that the two twins can in parable, be merged into one personage, called Israel, meaning the joining of good and truth in the mind.
Esau means something similar to John, they both represent goodness or true charity. Jacob means something similar to Peter, they both represent truth learned from the Word. Any seeming enmity between them as to which is more important can make them both useless, and in a person who is becoming angelic (as everyone should be aiming for), there is no enmity. Truth enables good, and good inspires truth in order to get something done. Although we can think and speak of them separately, they are (perfectly in the Lord and less so in angels) conjoined into a oneness so as to be seen as married. The marriage of the Lord's Divine good and Divine truth is the origin of all creation. Yes, all creation.
This marriage of good and truth, and the need for both to work in our lives, in balance and harmony, is a core New Christian concept.
In the Gospels, there is just one more story that takes place after this one. In it, the rest of the disciples join the seven mentioned here to hear the Lord’s last commands.
820. Whereas in a preceding article (n. 817), it was shown that, in the Word, by Cain, Reuben, and the Philistines, are represented those who are in truths separated from good, it shall now be shown, that by Peter the apostle, in the Word of the Evangelists, is meant truth from good, which is from the Lord, and also, in the opposite sense, truth separated from good. And because truth pertains to faith, and good to charity, therefore by Peter is also meant faith from charity, and also faith separated from charity. For the twelve apostles, like the twelve tribes of Israel, represented the church as to all things belonging to it, thus as to truths and goods; for all things of the church have relation to these two, as to faith and love; for truths pertain to faith, and goods to love. In general, Peter, James, and John, represented faith, charity, and the works of charity. Wherefore these three, in preference to the rest, followed the Lord; and hence it is said of them in Mark,
"He did not permit any to follow him save Peter, James, and John" (5:37).
 And because truth from good, which is from the Lord, is the primary thing of the church, therefore Peter was first called by Andrew his brother, and afterwards James and John, as is clear in Matthew:
"Jesus walking by the sea of Galilee saw two brethren, Simon called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea; for they were fishers. And he said unto them, Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men. And they straightway left their nets, and followed him" (4:18-20).
Andrew "findeth his own brother Simon, and saith unto him, We have found the Messiah, which is, being interpreted, the Christ. Therefore he brought him to Jesus. And when Jesus beheld him, he said, Thou art Simon the son of Jona; thou shalt be called Cephas, which is, by interpretation, a stone" (1:41-43).
And in Mark:
"Jesus goeth up into a mountain, and calleth unto him whom he would, first Simon, and surnamed him Peter; afterwards James the son of Zebedee, and John the brother of James" (3:13, 16, 17).
The reason why Peter was the first of the apostles, was, because truth from good is the primary thing of the church. For a man does not know from the world anything about heaven and hell, nor a life after death, nor even about God. His natural light (lumen) teaches nothing but what has entered by the eyes, thus, nothing but what relates to self and the world. His life also is therefrom; and so long as he remains only in these things, he is in hell. In order, therefore, that he may be withdrawn from them, and be led to heaven, it is necessary for him to learn truths, which not only teach that there is a God, that there are a heaven and a hell, and a life after death, but also teach the way to heaven. It is therefore evident that truth is the primary thing by which the church is formed in a man; but truth from good. For truth without good is only a knowledge that a thing is so. And mere knowledge has no other effect than to render a man capable of becoming a church. But this is not brought about until he lives according to knowledges, in which case truth is conjoined to good, and man is introduced into the church. Truths also teach how a man ought to live, and when he is affected with them for their own sake, that is, when he loves to live according to them, then he is led of the Lord, and conjunction is afforded him with heaven and he becomes spiritual, and, after death, an angel of heaven. Nevertheless, it is to be observed that truths do not produce those effects, but good by means of truths; and good is from the Lord.
 Because truth from good, which is from the Lord, is the primary thing of the church, therefore Peter was first called, and was the first of the apostles, and was also named by the Lord Cephas, meaning a rock (petra); but, that it might be the name of a person, he is called Peter (Petrus); for by rock, in the highest sense, is signified the Lord as to Divine truth, or Divine truth proceeding from the Lord; and therefore, in the relative sense, by rock is signified truth from good, which is from the Lord, the same as by Peter. That rock signifies such things (see above, n. 411). What Simon son of Jona signifies, may also be seen above (n. 443).
 The reason why these three apostles were fishermen, and why the Lord said unto them, Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men, was that to fish signifies to instruct natural men; for there were at that time, as well within as without the church, natural men, who, according as they received the Lord, and received truths from Him, became spiritual. From these things it may be concluded what is signified by the Lord's words to Peter concerning the keys; as in Matthew:
When some said that Jesus was John the Baptist, others Elias, others Jeremias, or another of the prophets, Jesus said to the disciples, "But whom say ye that I am? Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-Jona; for flesh and blood hath not revealed this unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven. And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth, shall be bound in the heavens; and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth, shall be loosed in heaven" (16:14-19).
Because truth from good, which is from the Lord, is the primary thing of the church, and is signified by Peter, therefore these things were said by the Lord to Peter. And they were said when he acknowledged the Lord as the Messiah or Christ, and as the Son of the living God; for without this acknowledgment truth is not truth. For truth derives its origin, essence, and life from good; and good, from the Lord. Because truth from good, which is from the Lord, is the primary thing of the church, therefore the Lord says, "Upon this rock will I build my church." That by Peter or rock, in the highest sense, is signified Divine truth proceeding from the Lord, and, in the relative sense, truth from good, which is from the Lord, was shown just above. That the gates of hell shall not prevail against it, signifies that falsities from evil, which are from the hells, will not dare to rise up against those of the church who are in truths from good from the Lord. By the gates of hell are signified all things of hell, in all of which there are gates through which falsities from evil exhale and rise up. By the keys of the heavens, is signified introduction into heaven to all those who are in truths from good from the Lord. Whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth, shall be bound in heaven; and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven, signifies that heaven is opened by the Lord to those who are in truths from good from Him; and that it is closed to those who are not.
These things are said unto Peter. But because by Peter is meant truth from good, which is from the Lord, therefore they are said of the Lord, from whom good and truth therefrom proceed. Wherefore they were said when Peter acknowledged the Lord as the Messiah or Christ, and as the Son of the living God. Moreover, as soon as good is implanted in truths with a man, he is conjoined with the angels; but so long as good is not implanted in truths with him, so long heaven is closed to him; for then instead of good he has evil, and instead of truths, falsities. From these things it is evident, how sensuously those think who attribute such power to Peter, when nevertheless that power belongs to the Lord alone.
That by Peter is signified truth from good, which is from the Lord, has been made clear to me from heaven, as may be seen in the small work concerning the Last Judgment 57).
 Because Peter signified truth from good, which is from the Lord, and thence also doctrine, and so represented those who are in truths from good, and in the doctrine of genuine truth from the Lord; and because these are they who instruct others, and who are instructed by the Lord; therefore Peter so often spoke with the Lord, and was also instructed by Him. He spoke with the Lord at His transfiguration,
Concerning the making of three tabernacles (Matthew 17:1-5; Mark 9:2-8; Luke 9:26-36),
on which occasion the Lord represented the Word, which is Divine truth; and by tabernacles is signified the worship of the Lord from the good of love, and the truths therefrom (see above concerning the transfiguration of the Lord, n. 594); and concerning the signification of tabernacles (n. 799). He spoke of the Lord,
As being the Christ, the Son of the living God (John 6:67-69).
He was instructed by the Lord,
About charity, that a brother was to be forgiven as often as he sinned (Matthew 18:21, 22);
About regeneration, which is signified by him who is once washed not having need to be washed except as to his feet (John 13:3-6);
About the power of truth from good from the Lord, which is meant by the power of those who have the faith of God (Mark 11:21, 23, 24);
About sins, that they are remitted to those who are in faith from love (Luke 7:40-48);
About men who are spiritual, as being free; and those who are natural, as being servants; by which Peter was instructed when he took the piece of money out of the mouth of a fish, and gave it for tribute; for by a fish is signified the natural man, and the same by one that pays tribute (Matthew 17:24-27).
Besides several other things (concerning which see Matthew 14:26-31; 19:27, 28; Mark 10:28 and following; 13:3 and following; 16:7; Luke 22:8 and following; 24:12, 33, 34; John 18:10, 11; 20:3-8; 21:1-11).
 Since those who are in truths from the good of love to the Lord, or in doctrine from them, were represented by Peter, and they are those who instruct others, therefore the Lord said to Peter, when he answered that he loved Him, that he should feed His lambs and sheep, concerning which is it thus written in John:
"After they had dined, Jesus saith to Simon Peter, Simon [son of] Jonas, lovest thou me more than these? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; Thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my lambs. He saith to him again, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; Thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my sheep. He saith unto him the third time, Simon [son of] Jonas, lovest thou me? Peter was grieved, because he said to him the third time, Lovest thou me? And he said unto him, Lord, Thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee. Jesus said unto him, Feed my sheep" (21:15-17).
From these words it is quite clear, that Peter represented truth from the good of love to the Lord. Wherefore also he was now called Simon, son of Jonas; for by Simon, son of Jonas, is signified faith from charity - Simon signifying hearkening and obedience, and Jonas a dove, by which is signified charity.
That those who are in the doctrine of truth from love to the Lord are to instruct those who will belong to the Lord's Church is meant by the Lord's question, "Lovest thou me?" and by His saying afterwards, "Feed my lambs, and my sheep." Not that Peter only was to instruct, but all those represented by Peter; who, as was said above, are those who are in love to the Lord, and thence in truths from the Lord. By Peter's being questioned three times is signified the full time of the church from its beginning to its end. For the number three has this signification. Wherefore, when he was questioned the third time, it is said that Peter was grieved. And because the third questioning signified the end of the church, therefore these words of the Lord to Peter immediately follow:
 "Verily, verily, I say unto thee, When thou wast young thou girdedst thyself, and walkedst whither thou wouldest; but when thou art old, thou shalt stretch forth thine hands, and another shall gird thee, and lead thee whither thou wouldest not. And when he had spoken this, he said unto him, Follow me. Then Peter, turning about, seeth the disciple whom Jesus loved, following; which also leaned on his breast at supper. Peter, seeing him, saith to Jesus, Lord, what shall this man do? Jesus saith unto him, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? follow thou me. Then went this saying abroad among the brethren, that this disciple should not die. Yet Jesus said not unto him, he shall not die; but, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee?" (21:18-23).
No one can know what these words signify unless he knows that by Peter is signified faith from charity, and also faith without charity. Faith from charity in the church, when it commences, and faith without charity when the church declines; thus that Peter, when he was young, signifies the faith of the church in its commencement, and when he was old, the faith of the church at its end; and that by girding himself and walking is signified to learn truths and live according to them. It is evident therefore that by these words, "When thou wast young thou girdedst thyself and walkedst whither thou wouldest," is signified that the church in its beginning would be instructed in truths which are from good, and thereby be led of the Lord; and that by these words, "When thou art old, thou shalt stretch forth thine hands, and another shall gird thee, and lead thee whither thou wouldest not," is signified that the church at its end would not know truths, but falsities which pertain to faith without charity, and be led thereby. To gird himself signifies to be instructed in truths, the same as being clothed; for garments signify truths, clothing good, as may be seen above (n. 195, 395, 637). And to walk signifies to live according to them, as may also be seen above (n. 97). Hence to gird himself and walk whither he would, signifies to exercise free circumspection, and to see truths, and do them. But to stretch forth the hands, signifies not to be in that freedom; for the hands signify the power of truth from the understanding and perception thereof; and to stretch forth the hands, signifies not to have that power, nor thence the liberty of thinking and seeing truth. Another shall gird thee, and lead thee whither thou wouldest not, signifies to acknowledge for truth what another dictates, and not to see for himself, as is the case at this day with the religion of faith alone. Hence, then, this faith also is meant by Peter. Therefore it is said, that Peter turning about saw the disciple whom Jesus loved, following, and said of him, "But what shall this man do?" Also that Jesus said to Peter, "What is that to thee?" By the disciple following Jesus, is signified goods of life, which are good works; that these should not perish to the end of life, is signified by the words following.
 From these things it is evident, that by Peter is also signified faith separate from charity, as also when,
"He denied the Lord thrice" (Matthew 26:69-75; Mark 14:29-31, 54, 66-72; Luke 22:33, 34, 50, 51, 55-62; John 13:36-38; 18:16-18, 25-27).
"When the Lord turning away from Peter, said to him, Get thee behind me, Satan. Thou art an offence unto me; for thou savourest not the things which are of God, but those that be of men" (Matthew 16:21-23).
And when the Lord said to him,
"Simon, Simon, lo, Satan hath desired to have you, that he might sift you as wheat" (Luke 22:31).
All these things have been adduced that it may be known, that by Peter, in the representative sense, in the Evangelists, is signified truth from good, which is from the Lord; also faith from charity; and, in the opposite sense, truth separate from good, which in itself is falsity; also faith separate from charity, which in itself is not faith.