The Bible


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


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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
From Swedenborg's Works

Explanations or references:

Arcana Coelestia 1017, 2371, 2788, 2921, 3934, 3994, 4169, ...

Apocalypse Revealed 17, 23, 383, 505, 879

Divine Love and Wisdom 19

The Doctrine of the New Jerusalem Regarding the Sacred Scripture 29

The Last Judgment 39

True Christian Religion 211, 764

The New Jerusalem and its Heavenly Doctrine 122

References from Swedenborg's drafts, indexes & diaries:

Apocalypse Explained 9, 10, 195, 228, 229, 250, 295, ...

On the Athanasian Creed 208

Divine Love 19

Divine Wisdom 11

An Invitation to the New Church 33

Scriptural Confirmations 4, 6, 36, 68

Hop to Similar Bible Verses

Joshua 22:22

Psalms 116:1, 139:1

Bible Word Meanings

As with many common verbs, the meaning of “to say” in the Bible is highly dependent on context. Who is speaking? Who is hearing? What...

Peter – born Simon, son of Jonah – is certainly one of the Bible's most important figures, second only to Jesus in the New Testament....

Peter – born Simon, son of Jonah – is certainly one of the Bible's most important figures, second only to Jesus in the New Testament....

The Writings talk about many aspects of life using the philosophical terms "end," "cause" and "effect." The "end" is someone’s goal or purpose, the ultimate...

As with many common verbs, the meaning of “to say” in the Bible is highly dependent on context. Who is speaking? Who is hearing? What...

all things
The Lord is life itself, is the Creator of the universe, and is the source of life on an ongoing basis. So in a literal...

As with many common verbs, the meaning of “to say” in the Bible is highly dependent on context. Who is speaking? Who is hearing? What...

To gird one’s self, as in John. 21:18, signifies to know and perceive truths in the light from good.

The hand in the Bible represents power, which is easy to understand, so to reach out or stretch out the hand means to exercise power,...

'Washing of the hands' was an ancient declaration of innocence, and signifies purification from evils and falsities, as in Psalms 73:13 and Matthew 27:24.

'To glorify' signifies acknowledgment and confession.

Swedenborg says that the Lord is the sun of heaven, and like the natural sun of our world shines on everyone, good or evil. What...

A disciple in Matthew 10:41 signifies charity and at the same time, faith from the Lord. It disciple signifies the truth of life, and a...

The symbolic meaning of "seeing" is "understanding," which is obvious enough that it has become part of common language (think about it; you might see...

Coming (Gen. 41:14) denotes communication by influx.

Death in the Bible represents spiritual death, or the destruction of everything that is good and all true beliefs in someone. This happens when people...

If knowing what’s right were the same as doing what’s right, we would all be thin, healthy, hard-working, law-abiding, faithful to our spouses and free...

The term "world" has both general and more specific meanings in the Bible, including the relatively literal sense of the natural, physical world. In more...

Amen signifies divine confirmation from truth, consequently from the Lord himself.Amen signifies truth, because the Lord was truth itself, therefore he so often said Amen...

Resources for parents and teachers

The items listed here are provided courtesy of our friends at the General Church of the New Jerusalem. You can search/browse their whole library at the New Church Vineyard website.

 Breakfast by the Sea
Provides an overview of the story, key points, and discussion ideas for use at home or with a Sunday School class.
Activity | All Ages

 Breakfast with the Risen Lord
Shows the Lord by the sea having breakfast with disciples.
Coloring Page | Ages 7 - 14

 Casting Our Net on the Right Side
Activity | All Ages

 Flowers and Faith
As we appreciate the flowers around us, we can reflect on the way flowers bloom in the springtime when warmth and light are both present.
Activity | All Ages

 Genuine Faith in Marriage
The pathway to conjugial love in marriage involves looking to the Lord for enlightenment by reading His Word and applying it to our lives. We must be willing to work together in marriage and use the truths of the Word to serve others.
Worship Talk | Ages over 18

 Jesus Appears
The Lord was not like you and me. When we die we lay aside our earthy body for ever. The Lord did not lay aside His earthly body—He made it Divine.
Sunday School Lesson | Ages 11 - 17

 Quotes: Having Faith in the Risen Lord
Teaching Support | Ages over 15

 Seeing the Lord
Worship Talk | Ages over 18

 The Charge to Peter
This sermon describes the meaning of the Lord's charge to Peter to feed and tend His flocks. 
Worship Talk | Ages over 18

 The Disciples See the Lord After His Resurrection
Worship Talk | Ages 7 - 14

 The Drawing Power Of Love
If we remember to approach life from “the right side” (from love, charity, kindness) we will be fruitful.
Activity | Ages over 18

 The Lord and His Disciple, Simon Peter
Four scenes about the Lord and Peter from the gospels of Matthew and John, and two later scenes from the book of Acts.
Activity | Ages 11 - 14

 The Lord's Breakfast by the Sea
This is a re-telling of John 21:1-14 for young children with beautiful color pictures. 
Story | Ages 4 - 10

 The Miraculous Catch of Fish
The Lord did this miracle twice. Once when He called fishermen to be His disciples, and again, when He had breakfast with them by the Sea of Galilee. What is the same? What is different?
Activity | All Ages

 The Miraculous Catch of Fish
Sunday School Lesson | Ages 9 - 12

 The Miraculous Catch of Fishes
Worship Talk | Ages 7 - 14

 To Love Is To Do
Spiritual tasks offer a reflection on a Biblical story and suggest a task for spiritual growth.
Activity | Ages over 18



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.

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.

From Swedenborg's Works


Apocalypse Explained #295

Apocalypse Explained (Tansley translation)      

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295. And by thy will they are, and were created. That this signifies that by means of the Divine good they are, and by means of the Divine truth they exist, is evident from the signification of will, when said of the Lord, as being Divine love; and from the signification of are, or being (esse), as being the good of love, in this case, the Divine good of the Divine love received (concerning which we shall speak presently); and from the signification of they were created, or being created, as being the Divine truth also received, thus those who are reformed by it. The reason why to be created signifies to exist is that those alone are said to exist who are reformed, for in them is life, and they have intelligence and wisdom; whereas those who are not reformed have not life in them but spiritual death, neither have they intelligence and wisdom, but insanity and folly, hence they cannot be said to exist. Everything which appears to any of the senses may indeed be said to exist, but it cannot be said of man spiritually, unless he be in good and truth; for man was created that he might be alive, intelligent and wise; consequently, when he is dead, he is insane and foolish, and so far as this is the case with him, he does not exist. There are two things which constitute man, namely good and truth, and both are from the Lord; good is the being (esse) of life, but truth is the manifestation (existere) of life therefrom, for all truth exists from good, because it is the form of good, and hence the quality of good; and whereas good is the being (esse) of life, and truth is the manifestation (existere) of life therefrom, and by being created is signified to exist, it is therefore said, "by thy will they are, and were created." This, then, is the spiritual content of these words.

(References: Revelation 4:11)

[2] The reason why will, when said of the Lord, denotes Divine love is, that the essential Divine, from which all things exist, is the Divine love; hence the Lord appears before the angels as a Sun, fiery and flaming, the ground and reason of which is, that love, in the spiritual world, appears as fire; this is why fire in the Word, when said of the Lord, of heaven, or of the church, signifies love. From that Sun in the heavens proceed heat and light; and the heat there is Divine good proceeding, and the light is Divine truth proceeding. (These things are more fully shown in the work, Heaven and Hell, concerning the Sun of heaven, n. 116-125; and concerning heat and light in heaven, n. 126-140). And because the essential Divine from which all things exist is Divine love, therefore will also, when said of the Lord, denotes Divine love, for what love itself wills is the good of love; the truth which is called the truth of faith being only a means that good may exist, and that the truth of faith may afterwards exist from good. From this origin man possesses will and understanding; the will is the receptacle of the good of love with him, and the understanding is the receptacle of the truth of faith with him; the understanding is the means by which the will may be reformed, and by which afterwards the will may appear in form, such as it is by means of the understanding. Hence also it is evident that the will is the being (esse) of man's life, and the understanding is the manifestation (existere) of life therefrom. (But these things may also, be seen more fully shown in The Doctrine of the New Jerusalem, where the will and understanding are treated of, n. 28-35).

(References: Heaven and Hell 116-125, 126-140; The New Jerusalem and its Heavenly Doctrine 28-35)

[3] Because the will of man is his love, and the will of God is the Divine love, it is plain what is meant in the spiritual sense by doing the will of God, and the will of the Father, viz., that it is to love God above all things and the neighbour as oneself. And because to love is to will, so also it is to do, for what a man loves that he wills, and what he wills he also does. Hence, by doing the will of God, or of the Father is meant to do His precepts, or to live according to them, from the affection of love or charity.

This is what is meant by the will of God and of the Father in the following passages.

In John:

"God heareth not sinners; but if any man worshippeth God, and doeth his will, him he heareth" (ix. 31).

In Matthew (that he who does the will of the Father who is in the heavens, shall enter into the kingdom of the heavens):

"Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of the heavens; but he that doeth the will of my Father who is in the heavens" (vii. 21).


"Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, as in heaven so upon the earth" (vi. 10).

And again:

"It is not the will of the Father that one of the little ones should perish" (xviii. 14).

That it's not being His will that one of the little ones should perish, denotes love, is evident. It is said "The will of your Father" because the Father denotes the Divine good. In John:

"If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you" (xv. 7),

The reason why it is said that whatsoever they should will and ask, should be done to those who abide in the Lord, and in whom His words abide, is that in such case they will nothing but what the Lord gives them to will, and this is good, and good is from Himself.

(References: John 9:31, John 15:7; Matthew 6:10, 7:21, 18:14)

[4] The will of the Lord is called His good pleasure in the Old Testament, and in like manner signifies the Divine love; and to do His good pleasure, or His will, signifies to love God and the neighbour, thus to live according to the Lord's precepts, because this is to love God and the neighbour. And this also descends from the Lord's love; for no one can love the Lord and the neighbour, except from the Lord, for this is the very essential good pertaining to man, and all good is from the Lord. That good pleasure has this signification is clear from the following passages. In Isaiah:

"In mine anger I smote thee, but in my good pleasure have I had mercy on thee" (lx. 10).

By smiting in anger is signified temptation; and by having mercy in good pleasure is signified deliverance, from love (having mercy, is doing good to the needy from love).

(References: Isaiah 60:10)

[5] In David:

"My prayer is unto thee, O Jehovah, in the time of thy good pleasure; O God, in the greatness of thy mercy answer me, in the truth of thy salvation" (Ps. lxix. 13).

The time of the good pleasure of Jehovah signifies acceptance from love; time signifies the existing state when said of men, but perpetually existing when said of Jehovah, thus His love, because this is perpetual. Hearing and help springing from love by the proceeding Divine which is Divine truth is signified by in the greatness of thy mercy answer me, in the truth of thy salvation.

(References: Psalms 69:13)

[6] In Isaiah:

"Jehovah said, In the time of good pleasure have I heard thee, and in the day of salvation have I helped thee" (xlix. 8).

By the time of good pleasure, or will, also here is signified the Divine love; and to answer signifies to bring aid, and to benefit.

(References: Isaiah 49:8)

[7] In the same:

"To proclaim the year of the good pleasure of Jehovah, to comfort all that mourn" (lxi. 2).

Here the subject is the advent of the Lord, and by the year of his good pleasure is signified the time and state of the members of the church, when they must be aided from love; therefore it is also said, to comfort all that mourn.

(References: Isaiah 61:2)

[8] In David:

"Thou wilt bless the just; with good pleasure wilt thou compass him as with a shield" (Ps. v. 12).

Here good pleasure manifestly means the Divine love, from which the Lord protects every one; His protection from love is signified by, thou wilt compass him as with a shield.

(References: Psalms 5:12)

[9] Again:

Jehovah "opening his hand and satisfying every living thing with good pleasure" (Ps. cxlv. 16).

Here by opening the hand is signified to gift with good; and by satisfying every living thing with good pleasure is signified, from love to enrich with Divine truth all who receive life from Him.

(References: Psalms 145:16)

[10] In Moses:

"Of the precious things of the earth and of the fulness thereof, and for the good pleasure of him who dwelleth in the bush, let them come upon the head of Joseph, and upon the crown of the head of the Nazarite of his brethren; of Naphtali, satisfied with the good of pleasure and the blessing of Jehovah " (Deut. xxxiii. 16, 23).

By Joseph, in the highest sense, is signified the Lord as to the spiritual Divine, in the internal sense the spiritual kingdom, and, in the external sense, salvation, fructification of good and multiplication of truth (as may be seen, Arcana Coelestia, n. 3969, 3971, 4669, 6417). Hence it is evident what is signified by the precious things of the earth and the fulness thereof, and the good pleasure of him that dwelleth in the bush, belonging to Joseph. The precious things of the earth denote the spiritual goods and truths pertaining to the church, the earth denoting the church; the good pleasure of him that dwelleth in the bush is the Lord's Divine love of truth, the bush in which the Lord also appeared before Moses signifies that Divine love. The head of Joseph signifies the wisdom pertaining to the internal man, and the crown of the head of the Nazarite of his brethren signifies the intelligence and knowledge (scientia) belonging to the external man. Naphtali, so called from strugglings, signifies temptations, and consolation and benediction from the Divine love after them, which are meant by being satisfied with the good pleasure and the blessing of Jehovah.

(References: Arcana Coelestia 3969, 3971, 4669, Arcana Coelestia 6417; Deuteronomy 33:16, 33:23)

[11] In Isaiah:

"Wilt thou call this a fast, and a day of the good pleasure of Jehovah? Is it not to break thy bread to the hungry, and when thou seest the naked that thou cover him?" (lviii. 5, 7).

That by the good pleasure of Jehovah, when said of men, is signified to live according to His precepts, which is to love God and the neighbour (as said above), is evident; for it is said that His good pleasure is that they should break their bread to the hungry and cover the naked. By breaking bread to the hungry is signified from love to do good to the neighbour who desires good; and by covering the naked is signified to instruct in truths him who desires to be instructed.

(References: Isaiah 58:5, 58:7)

[12] In David:

"I have desired to do thy good pleasure (or thy will), my God, and thy law is in my bowels" (Ps. xl. 8).


"Teach me to do thy good pleasure; let thy good spirit lead me in the land of uprightness" (Ps. cxliii. 10).

And again:

"Bless ye Jehovah, all ye his hosts; ye his ministers who do his good pleasure" (Ps. ciii. 21).

To do the good pleasure of Jehovah God signifies to live according to His precepts; this is His good pleasure, or will, because from Divine love He wills that all may be saved, and by this they are saved. The word good pleasure, in the Hebrew tongue, also signifies will; for whatever is done according to the will is well pleasing, and the Divine love wills no other than that the love which is from Himself may be with angels and men, and His love is with them, when they love to live according to His precepts. That this is to love the Lord, He himself teaches in John (xiv. 15, 21, 23, 24; xv. 10, 14; xxi. 15, 16).

(References: John 14:15, 14:21, 14:23-24, John 15:10, 15:14, 21:15-17; Psalms 40:8, Psalms 103:21, 143:10)

[13] That will signifies love in the opposite sense, namely, the love of evil and the love of falsity, is evident in John:

As many as received Jesus, "to them gave he power to become the sons of God, to them that believe in his name; who were born, not of bloods, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God" (i. 12, 13).

To believe in the name of the Lord signifies to live according to the precepts of His doctrine. (That the name of the Lord signifies all those things by which He is worshipped, consequently all those things that appertain to love and faith, may be seen above, n. 102, 135.) Who are not [born] of bloods signifies those who are not in a life contrary to good and truth; nor of the will of the flesh signifies those who are not in the love of evil; who are not [born] of the will of man (vir) signifies those who are not in the love of falsity. (That flesh, when said of man, denotes his voluntary proprium, consequently evil, may be seen, Arcana Coelestia, n. 148, 149, 780, 999, 3813, 8409, 10,283; and that man (vir) denotes the intellectual proprium of man, which is falsity, may be seen, n. 4823).

(References: Arcana Coelestia 148-149, 780, 999, 3813, Arcana Coelestia 4823, Arcana Coelestia 8409, 10283; John 1:12-13; Revelation 4:11; The Apocalypse Explained 102, 135)

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References from Swedenborg's drafts, indexes & diaries:

Apocalypse Explained 287, 297, 315

   Swedenborg Research Tools

Thanks to the Swedenborg Society for the permission to use this translation.