The Bible


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


Study the Inner Meaning

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 #785

Apocalypse Explained (Tansley translation)      

Study this Passage

Go to section / 1232  

← Previous   Next →

785. (v. 3) And I saw one of his heads as it were wounded unto death. That this signifies the discordance of their doctrinals with the Word, in which love, life, and works are so often mentioned, which do not at all agree with that religious persuasion, is evident from the signification of the heads of that beast, as denoting the knowledge of the holy things of the Word, which are falsified and adulterated (concerning which see above, n. 775). By head, in the Word, where the church is treated of, and those who belong to the church, is signified intelligence and wisdom; and, in the universal sense, the understanding of truth and the willing of good. But because those treated of here are unwilling that the understanding should enter into the mysteries of faith, but desire it to be held captive in subservience to their mysteries; and as these are they who are described by the dragon and by this his beast, it follows, that by the head of this beast is signified knowledge; for where the understanding does not see, there intelligence does not exist, but in the place of it knowledge. And, moreover, of those who are in falsities we cannot use the term intelligence, but knowledge (concerning which see the Doctrine of the New Jerusalem, n. 33); and from the signification of being wounded unto death, as denoting to disagree with the Word. For the doctrine which disagrees with the Word is dead; and this is what is signified by being wounded unto death.

(References: Matthew 5:1, Matthew 6:1, Matthew 7:1; Revelation 13:3; The Apocalypse Explained 775; The New Jerusalem and its Heavenly Doctrine 33)

[2] The discordance here meant is, that they separate the life of love, which is good works, from faith, and make the latter alone justifying and saving, and consequently take away every thing of righteousness and salvation from the life of love or from good works. Now because to love and to do are mentioned in the Word in a thousand passages, and as man is to be judged according to his deeds and works, and these do not accord with the above religious persuasion, therefore these things are signified by the death stroke of the head of this beast. From these things it is now evident that by these words, "I saw one of the heads of the beast as it were wounded unto death," is signified discordance with the Word, in which love, life, and works are so often mentioned, which do not at all accord with that religious persuasion.

That they do not accord is manifestly evident from this fact, that it is the dogma of this religious persuasion that faith alone justifies and saves without the works of the law; indeed, that if anything of salvation be placed in works, it is injurious, because man's merit and proprium are in them. Consequently, many abstain from doing them, saying in their heart, "good works do not save me, and evil works do not condemn me, because I have faith." On this ground also they declare that those are saved, who, at the hour of death, can pronounce with a sort of confidence that they have faith, whatever their life may have been.

But because deeds and works, also doing and loving, are mentioned in the Word in a thousand passages, and these things are not in accord with their religious persuasion, therefore those who maintain that persuasion have found means of conjoining these statements with faith. These statements therefore are signified by seeing one of the heads of the beast as it were wounded unto death, and by his death stroke being healed, and by the whole earth wondering after the beast. But how that wound was healed, namely, by assumed modes of conjunction, shall be explained in the following article.

[3] First, however, some passages shall here be adduced from the Word, where deeds, works, doing, and working are mentioned, in order that every one may see the discordance which is here signified by one of the heads wounded unto death; also that this wound is incurable unless man lives according to and does the precepts of the Word.

In Matthew:

"He who heareth my words and doeth them," is like "a prudent man; but he who heareth my words and doeth them not, is like a foolish man" (vii. 24, 26).

In Luke:

"Why call ye me Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say? Every one who cometh to me, and heareth my words, and doeth them, is like a man who built his house upon a rock; but he who heareth and doeth not, is like a man who built his house upon the ground without a foundation" (vi. 46-49).

In Matthew

"He that was sown in good earth is he who heareth the Word and attendeth to it, and who thence beareth fruit and bringeth forth, some a hundred-fold, some sixty-fold, and some thirty-fold" (xiii. 23).


"Whosoever shall break the least of these commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called least in the kingdom of the heavens" (v. 19).

In John:

"Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you" (xv. 14).


"If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them" (xiii. 17).


"If ye love me, keep my commandments; he who hath my precepts and doeth them, he it is that loveth me, and I will love him, and will manifest myself unto him, and I will come unto him, and make my abode with him; but he who loveth me not, keepeth not my words" (xiv. 15, 21-24).

In Luke:

Jesus said, "My mother and my brethren are they who hear the Word of God and do it" (viii. 21).

In Matthew:

"I was hungry and ye gave me to eat, I was thirsty and ye gave me to drink, I was a sojourner and ye took me in, I was naked and ye clothed me, I was sick and ye visited me, I was in prison and ye came unto me"; to whom the Lord said, "Come ye blessed, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world"; to those who have not done these things, "Depart from me, ye cursed, into eternal fire, prepared for the devil and his angels" (xxv. 35 to the end).

In John:

"My Father is the vinedresser; every branch which beareth not fruit, he taketh away" (xv. 1, 2).

In Luke:

"Bring forth fruits worthy of repentance; every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit, shall be hewn down and cast into the fire; by their fruits ye shall know them" (iii. 8, 9).

In John:

"Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples" (xv. 7, 8).

In Matthew:

"The kingdom of God shall be taken away from them, and shall be given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof" (xx. 40-43).

In John:

"He who doeth the truth, cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God" (iii. 21).


"We know that God heareth not sinners, but if any one worship God, and do his will, him he heareth" (ix. 31).

In Matthew:

"The Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels, and then shall he render to every one according to his deeds" (xvi. 27).

In John:

"Then shall they come forth, those who have done good unto the resurrection of life, but those who have done evil unto the resurrection of judgment" (v. 29).

In the Apocalypse:

"I will give unto you every one according to his works; he who overcometh, and keepeth my works unto the end" (ii. 23, 26).


"Their works shall follow them" (xiv. 13).

"The dead were judged according to the things which were written in the books, according to their works" (xx. 12, 13).

"Behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give unto every one according to his works" (xxii. 12).


"Blessed are they who do his commandments" (xxii. 14).

He said to the angel of the church of Ephesus, "I have against thee that thou hast left thy first love; remember whence thou art fallen, and do the first works, or else, etc." (ii. 4, 5).

It was said to the angel of the church of Smyrneans, "I know thy works"; to the angel of the church in Pergamos, "I know thy works"; to the angel of the church in Thyatira, "I know thy works"; to the angel of the church in Sardis, "I know thy works"; and to the angel of the church in Philadelphia, "I know thy works" (Apoc. ii. 9, 13, 19; iii. 1, 8).

The quality of the seven churches, as they are and as they will be, is examined and judged from their works, and according to their works, throughout those two chapters.

(References: John 3:21, 5:29, 9:31, 13:17, John 14:15, John 14:21-24, 15:1-2, 15:7-8, John 15:14; Luke 3:8-9, Luke 6:46-49, Luke 8:21; Matthew 5:19, Matthew 7:19-20, 7:24, 7:26, 13:23, 16:27, 21:40-43, Matthew 21:43, Matthew 25:31-46, 25:35-45; Revelation 2:4-5, 2:9, 2:13, 2:19, 2:23, 2:26, 3:1, 3:8, Revelation 14:13, 20:12-13, 22:12, Revelation 22:14)

[4] The Lord also teaches good works, and their quality and the heavenly blessedness therefrom, in Matthew, chapters v., vi., vii., from beginning to end; also in the parables of the labourers in the vineyard; the husbandman and his servants; and the traders, to whom were given pounds, and to whom were given talents; the fig-tree in the vineyard, which should be cut down, if it did not bear fruit; the man wounded by robbers, to whom the Samaritan showed mercy (concerning whom the Lord asked the lawyer, which of the three was neighbour to him that fell among thieves, and when he answered, "He that shewed mercy on him," Jesus said, "Go and do thou likewise"); the ten virgins, of whom five had oil in their lamps and five had none; where oil in the lamps signifies charity in faith; besides various other passages.

(References: Matthew 5:1, Matthew 6:1, Matthew 7:1; Revelation 22:14)

[5] The twelve disciples of the Lord also represented the church as to all things of faith and charity in the aggregate; and in particular, Peter, James, and John, represented faith, charity, and good works in their order - Peter faith, James charity, and John good works. This is why the Lord said to Peter, when Peter saw John following the Lord, "What is that to thee, Peter? Thou, John, follow me," for Peter said of John, "What shall this man do?" (John xxi. 21, 22); and the Lord's answer signified that they who do good works should follow the Lord. Because John represented the church as to good works, therefore he leaned upon the breast of the Lord. That the church is in those who do good works, is also signified by the Lord's words from the cross, in John:

Jesus saw his mother, and the disciple whom he loved, standing by, and he said to his mother, "Woman, behold thy son"; and he said to that disciple, "Behold thy mother"; and from that hour that disciple took her unto himself (John xix. 26, 27).

This signified that where good works are, there the church will be. For woman, and also mother, signify the church.

The passages quoted are all from the New Testament. The number in the Old Testament to the same purpose is still greater. As where it is said:

"Blessed are all those who keep and do the statutes, the judgments, and the precepts; and cursed are those who do them not" (as in Levit. xviii. 5; xix. 37; xx. 8; xxii. 31, 32, 33; xxvi. 4, 14, 15; Numb. xv. 39, 40; Deut. v. 9, 10; vi. 25; xv. 5; xvii. 19; xxvii. 26); and in a thousand other passages.

Besides the passages in the Word where deeds and doing are mentioned, there is also a great number where love and loving are mentioned; and by loving is meant the same as by doing. For he who loves also does. For to love is to will, because every one wills what he inwardly loves; and to will is to do, since every one does, that which he wills, when he is able. A deed, moreover, is nothing else but the will in act.

Love is taught by the Lord in many passages.

As in Matthew v. 43-48; vii. 12; Luke vi. 27-39; 43 to the end; vii. 36 to the end; John xiii. 34, 35; xiv. 14-23; xv. 9-19 xvii. 22-26; xxi. 15-23; and in brief in these words: "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul; this is the first and great commandment. The second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself; on these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets" (Matthew xxii. 35-38; Luke x. 27, 28; Deut. vi. 5).

To love God above all things, and the neighbour as oneself, is to keep the commandments, or do His precepts. (See John xiv. 21-24.) Moreover, the law and the prophets signify the whole Word as to all and every part thereof.

From all these quotations it is now quite clear that it is not faith separate from good works that saves, but faith from them and with them. For he who does good works has faith; but he who does not, has not faith.

(References: Deuteronomy 5:9-10, Deuteronomy 6:5, 6:25, 15:5, 17:19, 27:26; John 13:34-35, John 14:13-23, John 14:14-23, John 14:21-24, John 15:9-19, John 17:22-26, 19:26-27, John 21:15-23, 21:21-22; Leviticus 18:5, 19:37, 20:8, 22:31-33, 26:3-4, 26:4, 26:14-15, 26:14, 26:16; Luke 6:27-39, 6:43-49, Luke 7:36-50, Luke 10:27-28; Matthew 5:43-48, Matthew 7:12, Matthew 22:37-40; Numbers 15:39-40)

Go to section / 1232  

← Previous   Next →

   Study this Passage
From Swedenborg's Works

References from Swedenborg's drafts, indexes & diaries:

Apocalypse Explained 784, 815, 829, 875

   Swedenborg Research Tools

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