The Bible


John 21:15-25 : Feed my lambs, Feed my sheep



15 So when 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.

16 He saith to him again the second time, 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.

17 He saith unto him the third time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? Peter was grieved because he said unto him the third time, Lovest thou me? And he said unto him, Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee. Jesus saith unto him, Feed my sheep.

18 Verily, verily, I say unto thee, When thou wast young, thou girdedst thyself, and walkedst whither thou wouldest: but when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, and carry thee whither thou wouldest not.

19 This spake he, signifying by what death he should glorify God. And when he had spoken this, he saith unto him, Follow me.

20 Then Peter, turning about, seeth the disciple whom Jesus loved following; which also leaned on his breast at supper, and said, Lord, which is he that betrayeth thee?

21 Peter seeing him saith to Jesus, Lord, and what shall this man do?

22 Jesus saith unto him, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? follow thou me.

23 Then went this saying abroad among the brethren, that that 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?

24 This is the disciple which testifieth of these things, and wrote these things: and we know that his testimony is true.

25 And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written. Amen.

    Study the Inner Meaning



An After-Breakfast Conversation


By Joe David

This inscription is on a stone at the church hall in South Ronaldsey, in the Orkneys, northeast of Scotland.

(A commentary on John 21:15-25)

In the first part of this chapter, seven of the Lord's 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.



Having Faith in the Lord


By Rev. Kurt Horigan Asplundh

A man praying at a Japanese Shintō shrine, by Kalandrakas ([ カランドラカス]) from Kanagawa, Japan

"You are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church..." (Matthew 16:18).

Simon Peter was one of the first disciples the Lord called. More is written of him in the Gospels than about any other of the twelve. He was their leader, the most outspoken of these men. Peter is presented as a figure of great contrasts. On one memorable occasion when the Lord questioned His disciples about what people thought of Him, it was Peter who declared Him to be "the Christ, the Son of the living God" (Matthew 16:16).

The Lord blessed Peter for this confession of his faith. The foundation stone of Christianity is this acknowledgment of the Lord's Divine nature. So Peter was rightly named a stone or rock because his confession is the rock upon which the Lord could build His church.

Yet, soon after, when Peter rebuked the Lord for talking of His death, the Lord called him "Satan" and said, "You are an offense to Me." "Get behind Me, Satan! ...[Y]ou are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men" (Matthew 16:23).

Peter's faith had wavered.

In what is perhaps the best known incident about him recorded in the Gospels, Peter denied the Lord three times on the very night he had said,

"I am ready to go with You, both to prison and to death" (Luke 22:33).

There is no denying human weakness.

But it was a different Peter who dove into the sea to swim ashore to see the Lord when He appeared later, after the resurrection. This was when the Lord asked Peter three times, "Do you love Me?" "Simon, son of Jonah," the Lord said (for He rarely called him Peter), "Do you love Me more than these?" "Yes, Lord," Peter answered, "You know that I love You." Then the Lord added this beautiful and inspiring charge - "Feed My lambs" (John 21:15). He said to him a second time, "Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?" Peter said, "Yes, Lord; You know that I love You." Then the Lord charged Peter: "Tend My sheep" (John 21:16). He said to him the third time, "Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?" When Peter answered a third time, grieved because he perceived his weakness in the Lord's words, he said: "Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You." The Lord said, "Feed My sheep."

With these words He placed a great responsibility upon Peter. He placed the work of the church on the one who had denied Him three times.

So there are two primary things about Peter that we think of: first, the great contrasts in his discipleship, and, second, the important commission the Lord gave him.

Peter represents a quality. All the natural things mentioned in the Word, including the people that are described, picture spiritual realities. This is what makes the Word a Divine and holy writ. There is a spiritual sense contained within everything that is there. And this sense has now been revealed by the Lord for the New Church. When we know this, the account of Peter takes on new depth of meaning. New insights are revealed into the nature of our own life and what the Lord expects of us, His disciples.

Peter represents faith. But faith can be of two kinds: true or dead. It can be a faith alive with inner love from the Lord: as the Heavenly Doctrine for the New Church says, "faith from charity." It can also be a hollow or dead shell of intellectual reasoning or patterned belief. This is described in the Heavenly Doctrine as "faith separated from charity" (Apocalypse Explained 820).

The reason the Word shows Peter to be a man of contrasts is to illustrate the contrast between the two kinds of faith represented by him. Peter was capable of doing exalted things - of reaching the heights - but he was also capable of utter failure and of giving offense. Peter could express the essential truth of the church: recognizing the Divine nature of His Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. But he could, in another state, weakly deny that he was even one of the Lord's followers. How could Peter turn back from such deep acknowledgment? Because this is the nature of faith that is not living from within.

On the night of His betrayal, as the disciples gathered with the Lord for the Last Supper, the Lord predicted Peter's denial.

"Simon, Simon!" He said, "Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren" (Luke 22:31-32).

And later, as Peter stood with the Lord on the shore, following the great catch of fish, the Lord gave him the charge to feed and tend the sheep.

Is this not the characteristic of faith? It may fail when it stands apart from the Lord's love, but when it is revived, it teaches and strengthens the church. Faith without charity is weak, and it is represented by Peter's denials. A true faith, which can lead and instruct the church, is represented by the Lord's commission to Peter.

To be living and valuable, faith must stand with love. This is shown in the dialogue by the sea. The Lord asked not twice but three times, "Do you love Me?" Unless faith has within it love of the Lord and is enlivened by charity, it cannot serve or instruct the church. The truth must spring from the good of love.

What is said about Peter applies to each of us as well. We are all disciples of the Lord, and so the Lord might well ask each one of us, "Do you love Me?" Have we strengthened our faith by hearing what the Lord teaches and by practicing it? If not, our spiritual life will grow old, harden into merely traditional patterns, and finally die.

The Lord's charge, too, is to each one of us: "Feed My lambs," "Tend My sheep," "Feed My sheep." The circle of life is completed in this charge. Not only must our faith be from love, it must also look to use. The feeding and tending that Peter was told to do signify the uses that are to be done by those who have faith. Love to the Lord exists in use, and we are told that the conjunction of the Lord with a person is in use (see Divine Wisdom 11:3).

True faith seeks expression in the life of charity and there, in action, finds permanence and stability. When faith is merely an idea, without consequent action, it is like the boast of Peter when he said,

"I am ready to go with You, both to prison and to death" (Luke 22:33).

In fact, this faith failed him in the test. On the other hand, a faith which brings forth fruit in the works of charity is thereby confirmed, made strong, and endures.

The Lord's charge to Peter at the beginning of the Christian Church is also a commission to every person who has a faith in the Lord. If we are to abide in that faith and strengthen it, we must exercise it in the works of charity.

Then, when it comes time for the Lord to ask of us, "Do you love Me?," we will truly be able to answer, "Yes, Lord, You know that I love You."

(References: John 21:15-16; Luke 22:31-33)