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References from Swedenborg's unpublished works: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 #864

Apocalypse Explained (Tansley translation)

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864. These are they which follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth. That this signifies those who are adjoined to the Lord by the acknowledgment of His Divine Human, and by a life according to His precepts, is evident from the signification of the Lamb, as denoting the Lord as to the Divine Human, concerning which see above (n. 314); and from the signification of following Him whithersoever He goeth, as denoting to acknowledge His Divine, and to do His precepts. By following the Lord is signified the same as by going and walking after Him. That to go and walk after the Lord signifies to acknowledge, to obey, to act, and live from Him and with Him, may be seen above (n. 787).

The reason why these things are signified by following the Lord is, that no one can follow the Lord of himself, but from the Lord Himself. For the Lord draws that man after Him, who from freedom wills to follow; but He cannot draw any one who does not will to follow Him. For the Lord works this in him, so that the man follows Him of himself; thus He flows into his freedom, and effects this for the sake of the reception and implantation of truth and good in him, and thence reformation and regeneration. For unless it appeared to a man that he followed the Lord as of himself, that is, acknowledged His Divine, and did His precepts as of himself, there would be no appropriation and conjunction, and consequently no reformation and regeneration. For every thing enters man, and becomes as it were his own, which he receives in freedom, that is, as of himself, both as to thought and speech, and also as to willing and doing. But still man ought to believe, as the thing really is, that he does not do these things of himself, but from the Lord. Therefore it is not said that he is to act of himself, but as of himself. The reason why this is the case is also, that a man does not perceive the Lord's operation into his will, and into the thought therefrom; for a man knows nothing of his conjunction with the angels. He supposes therefore that whatever he wills and thinks, he wills and thinks from himself; and hence he cannot but know that he acts from himself; when, nevertheless, all good flows in, both what he thinks and what he wills, and thence does. And because he knows this from the doctrine of the church, that is, that all good is from God, therefore he ought to believe that he does not do good of himself, although he does it as of himself. This is meant by what the Lord taught in Mark:

"So is the kingdom of God, as if a man should cast seed upon the earth, and should afterwards sleep, and rise night and day, and the seed should spring and grow up, he knoweth not how" (iv. 26, 27).

In John:

"No man can receive any thing except it be given him from heaven" (iii. 27).

And in the same:

"He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit; for without me ye can do nothing" (xv. 5).

(References: John 3:27, John 15:5; Mark 4:26-27; Revelation 14:4; The Apocalypse Explained 314, 787)


[2] That to acknowledge the Lord's Divine Human, and to do His precepts is to follow Him, is because such only can be conjoined to the Lord. That every one is conjoined to the Lord according to the acknowledgment and confession of Him from the heart, and according to the life, is evident from this fact, that all the angels of heaven acknowledge no other Divine than the Divine of the Lord; and that they all live according to the laws of order, which are His precepts, that is, they live in the Divine which proceeds from the Lord, which is called Divine truth. And because they live thus, they live in a heavenly aura, or in a heavenly ether, into which no one can be admitted except him who is in life from the Lord. If any other should enter into that ether, it would be like mice being put into a syphon from which the air had been exhausted.

[3] From these things it is evident what is signified in the spiritual sense by following the Lord whithersoever He goeth. The like is signified by following Him, in these passages.

As in John:

"Jesus said, I am the light of the world; he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life" (viii. 12).

I am the Light of the world, signifies that He is Divine truth itself; he that followeth me, signifies he that acknowledges His Divine, and does His precepts; shall not walk in darkness, signifies that he shall not be in falsities; but shall have the light of life, signifies that he shall be in Divine truths, which teach man eternal life, and lead to heaven. That by following the Lord is not here meant to follow Him, but to acknowledge His Divine, and obey Him, is evident.

(References: John 8:12)


[4] Again:

The shepherd of the sheep, "when he leadeth out his own sheep, goeth before them, and the sheep follow him, because they know his voice; but a stranger they do not follow, but flee from him, because they know not the voice of strangers. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me" (x. 4, 5, 27).

Here, also, by following the Lord is meant, to acknowledge His Divine, and to obey Him; for it is said, He goeth before His own sheep, and the sheep follow Him, and know and hear His voice. To know and hear the voice of the Lord, signifies to do His precepts.

(References: John 10:4-5, 10:27)


[5] Again:

"Whosoever desireth to come after me, let him deny himself, and follow me" (Matt. xvi. 24; Mark viii. 34; Luke ix. 23).

That to go after the Lord, and to follow Him, is to deny self, is evident. And for a man to deny himself, is not to be led of himself but of the Lord; and he denies himself who shuns and turns away from evils because they are sins; which when a man turns away from, he is led of the Lord; for he then does His precepts, not from himself, but from the Lord. Similar things are also signified elsewhere by following the Lord:

As in Matthew xix. 21, 28; Mark ii. 14, 15; iii. 7, 8; x. 21, 28, 29; Luke xviii. 22, 28; John xii. 26; xiii. 36, 37; xxi. 19-22.

(References: John 12:26, 13:36-37, John 21:19-22; Luke 9:23, 18:22, 18:28; Mark 2:14-15, 3:7-8, Mark 8:34, 10:21, 10:28-29; Matthew 16:21, 16:24, 16:28, 19:21, 19:28)


[6] From these things it is evident that to follow the Lord is to be led by Him, and not by oneself; and no other can be led by the Lord except him who is not led by himself; and every one is led by himself who does not shun evils because they are opposed to the Word, and thus to God; consequently, because they are sins and from hell. Every one who does not thus shun and turn away from evils, is led of himself. The reason is, that the evil which is in man hereditarily constitutes his life, because it is his proprium; and before [the evils of his proprium] are removed, he does every thing from them, thus of himself. But it is otherwise when evils are removed, which is effected when he shuns them because they are infernal. Then the Lord enters with truths and goods from heaven, and leads him. The chief cause of this is, that every man is his own love; and a man as to his spirit, which lives after death, is nothing but the affection of a man's love; and all evil is from his love, and thus belongs to his love. Consequently it follows, that a man's love or affection can be reformed only by spiritually shunning and turning away from evils; and this is a shunning and turning away from them because they are infernal. From these things it is now evident what it is to follow the Lord whithersoever He goeth.

(References: Revelation 14:4)

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   Study this Passage
From Swedenborg's Works

References from Swedenborg's unpublished works:

Apocalypse Explained 861, 893, 933

Other New Christian Commentary

Follow 1

Light 1

Follow the lord 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.


 Follow Me
Worship Talk | Ages over 18

 How Do I Follow the Lord?
Read and reflect on a passage from the Heavenly Doctrines for the New Church. With color photograph illustration.
Activity | Ages over 15

 Quotes: Disciples of the Lord
Teaching Support | Ages over 15


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


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