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

Sacred Scripture 29

The Last Judgment 39

True Christian Religion 211, 764

The New Jerusalem and its Heavenly Doctrine 122


References from Swedenborg's unpublished works:

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

Other New Christian Commentary

  Stories and their meanings:



Hop to Similar Bible Verses

Joshua 22:22

Psalms 116:1, 139:1

Word/Phrase Explanations

saith
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...

Simon
'Simon, son of Jonah,' as in John 21:15, signifies faith from charity. 'Simon' signifies worship and obedience, and 'Jonah,' a dove, which also signifies charity.

Peter
Key of David,' as in Revelation 3:7, signifies the Lord's omnipotence over heaven and hell. 'The keys of Peter,' in Matthew 18:18, signify the same...

son
Marriages in the Bible represent the union we all can have between the desire for good and the understanding of truth (or an understanding of...

feed
When the Bible talks about "feeding" it is generally referring to instruction in spiritual things – teaching people the true concepts that can lead them...

second
The number "two" has two different meanings in the Bible. In most cases "two" indicates a joining together or unification. This is easy to see...

time
Time is an aspect of the physical world, but according to Swedenborg is not an aspect of the spiritual world. The same is true of...

sheep
It’s pretty easy for most people to read the Bible and get a sense for what “sheep” means without any help. They are simple, peaceful,...

Third
'Three' denotes fullness, and 'a third,' not full.

young
'The son of a cow' signifies the celestial natural level and natural exterior good.

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

old
'Old waste places' signify the celestial aspects of faith.

hands
'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.

glorify
'To glorify' signifies acknowledgment and confession.

God
The Lord is love itself, expressed in the form of wisdom itself. Love, then, is His essence, His inmost. Wisdom - the loving understanding of...

turning
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...

disciple
When we read the Gospels and see Jesus addressing the disciples, we assume His words are meant for us as well. And indeed they are!...

loved
To some degree, there really is no spiritual meaning to the word “love” in the Bible. Why? Because if you truly love another, that is...

following
The basic meaning of "follow" in the Bible is pretty obvious if we consider what it means to "follow the Lord." That obviously doesn't mean...

Breast
The breast (Ezek. 16:7), signifies natural good.

seeing
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...

man
The relationship between men and women is deep and nuanced, and one entire book of the Writings – Conjugial Love or Love in Marriage –...

Tarry
'To tarry,' as in Genesis 27:44, signifies almost the same thing as 'to dwell,' except that 'to tarry' relates to the life of truth with...

come
As with common verbs in general, the meaning of “come” in the Bible is highly dependent on context – its meaning is determined largely by...

Brethren
Brethren (Gen. 27:29) signify the affections of good.

die
'To perish,' or 'die,' relates to damnation, or the state in hell.

wrote
In John 8:2-11, the Lord wrote twice on the ground, when the woman taken in adultery was brought to him, which signifies the condemnation of...

know
Like so many common verbs, the meaning of "know" in the Bible is varied and dependent on context. And in some cases – when it...

many
Intellectual things – ideas, knowledge, facts, even insight and understanding – are more separate and free-standing than emotional things, and it’s easier to imagine numbering...

written
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...

Every one
The phrase “Every one,” where it occurs in Genesis 20:7, signifies every thing or all things.

one
A company might have executives setting policy and strategy, engineers designing products, line workers building them, managers handling personnel and others handling various functions. They...

Amen
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 with the Risen Lord
Coloring Page | Ages 7 - 14

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

 The Lord and His Disciple, Simon Peter
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
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

Commentary

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 #821

Apocalypse Explained (Tansley translation)

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821. And he causeth the earth and them which dwell therein to worship the first beast. That this signifies whence those in the church who are in falsities and in evils therefrom, acknowledge in heart the agreement, is evident from the signification of the earth and of them which dwell therein, as denoting those in the church who are in falsities and in evils therefrom. For by the earth is signified the church which is in truths or in falsities, here, that which is in falsities. And by them which dwell therein, are signified the goods or evils of the church, here, the evils. Thus as applied to persons there, by the earth and by them who dwell therein, are signified those in the church who are in falsities, and in evils therefrom. That the earth signifies the church as to truths and as to falsities, may be seen above (n. 304, 413, 417, 697, 741, 752); and that those dwelling therein signify those in the church who are good, and also those who are evil; and, in the abstract sense, goods or evils (see above, n. 479); and from the signification of worshipping, as denoting to acknowledge for certain, to acknowledge in heart, and to believe (see above, n. 790, 805); and from the signification of the first beast, as denoting reasonings from the natural man confirming the separation of faith from life, as may be seen above (n. 774), in this case the agreement of such reasonings with the sense of the letter of the Word, because by this beast are signified confirmations therefrom, as may also be seen above (n. 815). From these things it is evident, that by the beast which ascended out of the earth, causing the earth and them which dwell therein to worship the first beast, is signified, that those in the church who are in falsities and in evils therefrom, acknowledge in heart that agreement.

(References: John 21:20-22; Revelation 13:12; The Apocalypse Explained 304, 413, 417, 479, The Apocalypse Explained 697, The Apocalypse Explained 741, 752, 774, 790, 805, 815)


[2] In the preceding article it was shown that Peter signified truth and faith in both senses, namely, truth from good, and truth without good; also faith from charity, and faith without charity.

Something shall now be said concerning the Apostle John, as signifying the works of charity. That the twelve apostles, like the twelve tribes of Israel, represented the church in its whole extent, or all things of truth and good, or all things of faith and charity, was said above. Also, that Peter, James, and John, signified faith, charity, and the works of charity, in their order. It follows, therefore, that when they were together they represented these as one. It is said, as one, because the faith that is a faith without charity has no existence; and the charity that is a charity without works has no existence.

Because those three apostles signified those things therefore they followed the Lord more than the rest, as is evident from Mark, where it is said,

Jesus "suffered no man to follow him, save Peter, James, and John the brother of James" (v. 37).

Therefore the Lord first called Peter through Andrew, by whom is signified the obedience of faith; and afterwards called James and John, and gave to these two also a new name. He also took Peter, James, and John up to the mountain, when He was transfigured, and also spoke with these three concerning the Consummation of the Age, and concerning His Advent. They were with the Lord in Gethsemane.

(References: Mark 5:37)


[3] That the Lord called James and John after He had called Peter, appears in the Evangelists:

Jesus "going on from thence, saw other two brethren, James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother [in a ship], with Zebedee their father, mending their nets, and he called them. And they immediately left the ship and their father, and followed him" (Matt. iv. 21, 22; Mark i. 19, 20).

That the Lord gave a new name to James and John is evident in Mark:

Jesus "called James the son of Zebedee, and John the brother of James, and named them Boanerges, which is, the sons of thunder" (iii. 17).

(References: Mark 1:19-20, Mark 3:17, Mark 5:37; Matthew 4:21-22)


[4] By sons of thunder are signified truths from celestial good. The reason of this signification is, that in the spiritual world also there are heard thunders, which exist from the truths that are from celestial good, when they descend from the higher heavens into the lower. The very light of truth from good then appears as lightning, the good itself as thunder, and the truths themselves therefrom as variations of sound. This is why throughout the Word lightnings, thunders, and voices, are mentioned, by which these things are signified. The reason why good is there heard as thunder is, that good, which pertains to man's affection or love and also to his will, does not speak but only sounds; but truth, which pertains to man's understanding and thence to his thought, articulates that sound into expressions. Celestial good is the same as the good of love in will and in act. Previously to this it is not celestial good; and this is what produces truths by the thought and speech therefrom. From these things it is evident why it was that James and John were called sons of thunder. What lightnings, thunders, and voices, signify in the Word, may also be seen above (n. 273, 702, 704).

(References: Mark 3:17; The Apocalypse Explained 273, The Apocalypse Explained 702, 704)


[5] That the Lord took Peter, James, and John up to the mountain when He was transfigured, is clear in Mark (ix. 2), and in Luke (ix. 28). They alone were taken, because none but those who are in truths from celestial good can see the Lord in His glory; nor can any others be enlightened, and perceive the Word in enlightenment. For the Lord, when He was transfigured before them, represented Divine truth, which is the Word; therefore also Moses and Elias were seen speaking with Him; and by Moses and Elias are signified the Word. But concerning this circumstance see above, n. 594. That the Lord spoke with Peter, James, and John, concerning the Consummation of the Age, and concerning His Advent, is evident in Mark xiii. 3, and that these three were with the Lord in Gethsemane (Matt. xxvi. 37; Mark xiv. 33).

(References: Luke 9:28; Mark 9:2, 13:3, 14:33; Matthew 26:37; The Apocalypse Explained 594)


[6] Because John represented the church as to good works, and as good works contain everything of love to the Lord, and charity towards the neighbour, therefore he was loved by the Lord more than the rest, as is evident from this fact,

That he leaned upon the bosom of the Lord, and lay upon his breast, when he spake with him (John xiii. 23, 25).

By the bosom and the breast is signified in the Word spiritual love, which is love in act; and by the bosom and the breast of the Lord, Divine Love itself; therefore in heaven those who are in spiritual love are in the province of the breast.

(References: John 13:23, 13:25)


[7] Hence also John took the Lord's mother to his own house, and abode with her; concerning which it is thus written in John:

Jesus "from the cross saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing by; he saith unto his mother, Woman, behold thy son! Then he saith to the disciple, Behold thy mother! And from that hour that disciple took her unto his own home" (xix. 26, 27).

This signifies, that the church is where charity exists in act or where good works exist. For by the Lord's mother and by a woman is signified the church, and by John charity in act, which is good works. That by mother is signified the church may be seen in the Arcana Coelestia (n. 289, 2691, 2717, 3703, 4257, 5581, 8897). That the same is signified by woman (see above, n. 555, 707, 721, 730).

(References: Arcana Coelestia 289, 2691, 2717, 3703, 4257, 5581, 8897; John 19:26-27; The Apocalypse Explained 555, The Apocalypse Explained 707, 721, 730)


[8] That the Lord's church is among those who are in charity in act, or in good works, and not among those who are in faith separate from them, is also signified by those things mentioned concerning Peter and John, as follows,

"Then Peter, turning about, seeth the disciple whom the Lord loved following; which also leaned upon his breast at supper. Peter seeing him, saith to Jesus, Lord, and 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" (John xxi. 20-22).

That by Peter is there signified truth without good, or faith separated from good works, such as shall be the case at the end of the church, may be seen above (n. 820); where also the foregoing words are explained. And because by John are signified the goods of charity, which are called good works, and these pertain to those who constitute the Lord's church, therefore, it was not Peter but John who followed the Lord; and, therefore, to Peter, who had asked, "What shall this man do?" the Lord said, "If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? follow thou me"; by which is meant that the good of charity will still remain with those who are the Lord's even to the end of the church, and when there is a new church; but not with those who are in faith separate from that good; and this is signified by these words to Peter, "What is that to thee?"

(References: John 21:20-22; Revelation 13:12; The Apocalypse Explained 820)

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   Study this Passage
From Swedenborg's Works

References from Swedenborg's unpublished works:

Apocalypse Explained 818, 826, 833, 855, 876, 885, 945, 1216, 1228, 1231

Other New Christian Commentary

Sons of thunder 1

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.


 The Apostles Are Sent Out
A New Church Bible story explanation for teaching Sunday school. Includes lesson materials for Primary (3-8 years), Junior (9-11 years), Intermediate (12-14 years), Senior (15-17 years) and Adults.
Teaching Support | Ages over 3

 The First Disciples
A New Church Bible story explanation for teaching Sunday school. Includes lesson materials for Primary (3-8 years), Junior (9-11 years), Intermediate (12-14 years), Senior (15-17 years) and Adults.
Teaching Support | Ages over 3


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


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