The Bible


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



15 So when they had dined, Jesus saith to Simon Peter, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my lambs.

16 He saith to him again the second time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my sheep.

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

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

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

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

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

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

23 Then went this saying abroad among the brethren, that that disciple should not die: yet Jesus said not unto him, He shall not die; but, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee?

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

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

    Study the Inner Meaning



An After-Breakfast Conversation


By Joe David

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

(A commentary on John 21:15-25)

In the first part of this chapter, seven of the Lord's disciples had come home to Galilee. They had gone fishing, seen Jesus on the shore, followed his instructions to fish on the right side of the boat, dragged a net loaded with 153 fish to shore, and... as the second half of the chapter begins, they have just finished breaking their fast with Him. Now they are relaxing.

Jesus says to Peter,"Do you love me?" and Peter, perhaps a little startled at the question, thinking that the answer is obvious, answers "yes", and Jesus responds, "Feed my lambs". Twice more this sequence is repeated, but with some changes. Then, after this unusual conversation, the Lord tells them all a little parable about being young and later being old. Then the Lord tells Peter to follow him, and Peter, apparently jealous, asks what John is supposed to do. The Lord mildly rebukes Peter’s jealousy by saying, "If this man tarry until I come what is that to you?", but then He tells John also to follow him.

Finally, the gospel of John, and indeed the collection of all four gospels, closes with an explanation by John that he is the writer of this gospel.

So now, let’s look more closely at the conversation, the parable, and the outbreak of jealousy.

Only two of the seven disciples, Peter and John, are mentioned in this part of the story. Peter represents faith, or truth, but truth about spiritual things that we really believe are from God. John represents good, or love to the neighbor. The former resides in the understanding part of the mind and the latter in the will part of the mind.

In telling Peter to feed His sheep, the Lord is saying that to follow Him means to preach the truths that all the disciples now know about the Lord, His coming, and about how a life should be led, in order to be a follower of the Lord in a new church. In the conversation the Lord is direct and probing. "Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these?" I think Peter is being asked whether he loves the Lord, Jesus, more than he loves his fellow Galilean friends, though it’s ambiguous, it could mean "do you love me more than these other six do?’ When Peter answers the first time he says "Lord thou knowest that I love thee."

With this first of the three probing questions, the Lord answers "Feed my lambs," while after that the response is "Feed my sheep." Sheep and lambs both represent people who are in a love of doing good, but while sheep means those who love to do good for the sake of the neighbor, lambs mean those who do good for the sake of the Lord. The first is spiritual good, and the second is higher, and is called celestial good. But people who wish to do good at first don’t know what is good; they need to learn that from the Word and be taught. This is why Peter is told to "feed them", which is to say that truth must indicate how good is to be done. In order to do things that are good, the will's wanting to, and the understanding's knowing how to go about it, must be conjoined. For a successful Christian life, or on a larger scale, a Christian church, 'Peter' and 'John' must work in harmony.

Then comes the parable. "When you were young you got yourself ready and did what you wanted on your own. But when you become old, you have to reach out for help and another shall carry you where you don’t want to go."

This doesn’t seem to fit in here, but of course it does, and in two ways. The first way is given in the Biblical text; it is about the Lord’s death, that all the prophecies were leading Him to His crucifixion, as is mentioned. The second way is a lesson for all of us. When we are young, confident, and strong, we feel that we can do what we want and don’t need any help. Temptations to do evil we ourselves can deal with. But when we grow wiser we realize that all our strength comes from the lord, and if we continue to depend only on ourselves, the temptations from the hells will be too strong and we will be led into doing what the hells want for us, not what we want. We must learn at the start to follow the Lord and depend on Him. This he says at the end of the parable, where it seems not to fit until we understand the parable. "And when He had spoken this He saith unto (them), follow Me." That’s what we need to do also.

Peter is happy to do this preaching of the truth and maybe feels that he has been singled out, but he also realizes that John also loves the Lord and is loved in return. So he asks "And what is this man supposed to do?" It seems that the needed harmony is not yet present, and that Peter is jealous of the bond, and probably hopes to be assured that he is number one... but that doesn’t happen. Peter is simply told that it doesn’t matter; he needs to do the job he has been given.

I’m reminded of the story of Jacob and Esau, in Genesis 25, where Esau is the firstborn and will inherit the birthright and blessing from Isaac, as his due. Jacob by craft devised by his mother deceives Isaac and steals what is Esau’s. Then he runs off to Padan-Aram and stays there with his uncle and becomes rich. It is only on his return journey that he wrestles with the angel and has his name changed to Israel, that he again meets Esau. The change of name means that now that Jacob is rich with truth from the Word, now with the friendly meeting with Esau, also rich, that the two twins can in parable, be merged into one personage, called Israel, meaning the joining of good and truth in the mind.

Esau means something similar to John, they both represent goodness or true charity. Jacob means something similar to Peter, they both represent truth learned from the Word. Any seeming enmity between them as to which is more important can make them both useless, and in a person who is becoming angelic (as everyone should be aiming for), there is no enmity. Truth enables good, and good inspires truth in order to get something done. Although we can think and speak of them separately, they are (perfectly in the Lord and less so in angels) conjoined into a oneness so as to be seen as married. The marriage of the Lord's Divine good and Divine truth is the origin of all creation. Yes, all creation.

This marriage of good and truth, and the need for both to work in our lives, in balance and harmony, is a core New Christian concept.

In the Gospels, there is just one more story that takes place after this one. In it, the rest of the disciples join the seven mentioned here to hear the Lord’s last commands.

From Swedenborg's Works


Apocalypse Explained #250

Study this Passage

/ 1232  

250. And open the door, signifies reception in the heart or the life. This is evident from the signification of "opening the door," as being to admit, for "door" signifies admission (see above, n. 208); but here "opening the door" signifies reception in the heart or the life, for it follows, "I will come in to him." It is said, "if he open the door," as if man opened it, when yet it is the Lord Himself who opens, as was said and shown just above n. 248. It is so said, however, because it so appears to man, by reason of the freedom given him by the Lord. Moreover, in the sense of the letter of the Word many things are said according to appearances; but those appearances are put off in heaven, where the internal or spiritual sense of the Word is. The sense of the letter of the Word is in many places according to appearances, in order that it may serve as a basis for the spiritual sense; otherwise it would have no basis or foundation. That many things in the Word are said according to appearances can be seen from this, that it is said in the Word that evil is from God, that wrath, anger, and revenge pertain to God, and other like things; when yet God does evil to no one, nor does any anger or revenge pertain to Him; for He is good itself and love itself; but because such is the appearance when man does evil and is punished, it is so said in the sense of the letter; but still in the spiritual sense of the Word the meaning is different. So is it with this "if man open the door."

(References: Revelation 3:20)

[2] It shall moreover be explained what is meant by "opening the door," when this is said to be done by man, as here. The Lord is always present with good and truth in man, and strives to open his spiritual mind; this is the door which the Lord wishes to open, and to endow man with heavenly love and faith; for He says, "I stand at the door and knock." But of this endeavor or this perpetual desire of the Lord man has no perception; for he supposes that he does good from himself, and that this endeavor or this wish is in himself. It is sufficient then for man to acknowledge from the doctrine of the church that all good is from God, and nothing thereof from man. This is not perceived by man, in order that there may be reception by man, and by reception appropriation, for otherwise man cannot be reformed.

[3] This shows how much in error those in the doctrine of faith alone are in saying and believing that it is faith and not the good of life that saves, that is, that man is justified by faith alone, thus excluding man's application to receive. They know that man must examine himself, must see and acknowledge his evils, not only those of his works but also those of thought and intention, and that he must afterwards abstain from them and shun them and lead a new life, which must be a life of good; and that unless he does this there is no forgiveness for him, but damnation. This the doctors and leaders of the church teach when they preach from the Word, and this they teach everyone who comes to the Holy Supper; this they then teach as if from faith; but as soon as they go back and look to their doctrine of justification by faith alone they no longer believe these things, but say that all are led from evil to good by God after they have received faith; and some of them, that they may connect their principles of falsity with truths, say that after they have been justified by faith they are led by God to examine themselves, to confess their sins before God, to abstain from them, and so on. This, however, takes place with no one who believes in justification by faith alone, but it does take place with those who live a life of charity. By that life man is conjoined with heaven, but no man is so by faith alone. He who is conjoined with heaven by a life of charity is led by the Lord to see his evils, both the evils of thought and the evils of will. Man sees evils from good, because evils are contrary to good. But he who believes in salvation by faith alone says in heart, "I have faith, since I believe the things that are said; nothing condemns me; I have been justified;" and one who so believes can in no way be led by the Lord to examine himself and to repent of evils. Thus do they teach truths before the people, who from this believe that living well and believing well are meant by being justified by faith, neither do they look any deeper into the arcana of their doctrine. These are the ones who are saved; but the former are the ones who are condemned. That they are condemned they themselves might see if they were willing, for they believe from doctrine that the goods of life, which are works, contribute nothing to salvation, but faith alone; when yet works are abstaining from evils and living a new life, without which there is condemnation.

[4] That such preachings as are not from the arcana of their doctrine, and also the prayers received in the church teach this, can be seen from what is read before all the people who come to the altar to enjoy the Sacrament of the Supper, which shall be quoted here in the vernacular in which they are written [in English], as follows:

The way and means to be received as worthy partakers of that holy table is, first, to examine your lives and conversations by the rule of God's commandments; and whereinsoever ye shall perceive yourselves to have offended, either by will, word, or deed, there to bewail your own sinfulness, and to confess yourselves to Almighty God, with full purpose of amendment of life. And if ye shall perceive your offenses to be such as are not only against God but also against your neighbors, then ye shall reconcile yourselves unto them; being ready to make restitution and satisfaction according to the uttermost of your power, for all injuries and wrongs done by you to any other; and being likewise ready to forgive others that have offended you, as ye would have forgiveness of your offenses at God's hand; for otherwise the receiving of the holy communion doth nothing else but increase your damnation. Therefore if any of you be a blasphemer of God, a hinderer or slanderer of His Word, an adulterer, or be in malice or envy, or in any other grievous crime, repent you of your sins, or else come not to that holy table; lest after the taking of that holy sacrament the devil enter into you, as he entered into Judas, and fill you full of iniquities, and bring you to destruction both of body and soul.

Judge therefore yourselves, that ye be not judged of the Lord; repent ye truly for your sins past; have a lively and steadfast faith in Christ our Savior; amend your lives, and be in perfect charity with all men.

Ye that do truly and earnestly repent of your sins, and are in love and charity with your neighbors, and intend to live a new life, following the commandments of God, and walking from henceforth in His holy ways, draw near with faith, and take this holy sacrament to your comfort; and make your humble confession to Almighty God.

[5] From this it can now be seen that the doctors and leaders of the church know, and yet do not know, that this way, and not the way of faith apart from this, is the way to heaven; they know when they pray and preach before the people what is here quoted; but they do not know when they teach from their doctrine. The former way they call practical religion, but the latter the Christian religion; the former they believe to be for the simple, but the latter for the wise. But I am able to affirm that those who live according to the doctrine of faith alone and of justification by faith have no spiritual faith at all, and after the life in this world they come into damnation. But those who live according to the doctrine drawn from the above exhortations have spiritual faith, and after the life in the world come into heaven. This also perfectly agrees with the faith received throughout the Christian world, called the Athanasian Faith, in which are these words respecting the Lord:

At whose coming all men shall give account for their own works. And they that have done good shall go into life everlasting; and they that have done evil into everlasting fire: this is the catholic faith.

[6] That these things are in perfect agreement with the Word is evident from the following passages:

The Son of man shall come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and then he shall render unto everyone according to his works (Matthew 16:27).

They that have done good shall go forth unto the resurrection of life, but they that have done evil unto the resurrection of damnation (John 5:28, 29).

Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord; yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labors; their works do follow them (Revelation 14:13).

I will give unto each one of you according to his works (Revelation 2:23).

I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and books were opened; and the dead were judged out of the things which were written in the books, according to their works. And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, and death and hell gave up the dead that were in them, and they were judged everyone according to their works (Revelation 20:12, 13).

Behold, I come quickly, and My reward is with Me, to give everyone according to his works (Revelation 22:12).

In what is written to the seven churches it is said to each, "I know thy works." Thus:

To the angel of the Ephesian church write, These things saith He that holdeth the seven stars in His right hand, I know thy works (Revelation 2:1, 2).

To the angel of the Church of the Smyrneans write, These things saith the First and the Last, I know thy works (Revelation 2:8, 9).

To the angel of the church in Pergamum write, These things saith He that hath the sword, I know thy works (Revelation 2:12, 13).

To the angel of the church in Thyatira write, These things saith the Son of God, I know thy works and charity (Revelation 2:18, 19).

To the angel of the church of Sardis write, These things saith He that hath the seven spirits of God, I know thy works (Revelation 3:1).

To the angel of the church in Philadelphia write, These things saith the Holy, the True, I know thy works (Revelation 3:7, 8).

To the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write, These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true Witness, I know thy works (Revelation 3:14, 15).

In Jeremiah:

Requite 1 them according to their work, and according to the doing of their hands (Jeremiah 25:14).

In the same:

Jehovah, whose eyes are open upon all the ways of men, to give every man according to his ways and according to the fruit of his doings (Jeremiah 32:19).

In Hosea:

And I will visit upon him his ways, and render his doings to him (Hosea 4:9).

In Zechariah:

Jehovah according to our ways and according to our doings doeth with us (Zechariah 1:6).

So in the following passages.

In John:

If ye know these things, blessed are ye if ye have done them (John 13:17).

In Luke:

Why call ye Me lord, and do not the things that I say (Luke 6:46).

In Matthew:

Whosoever doeth and teacheth, he shall be called great in the kingdom of the heavens (Matthew 5:19).

In the same:

Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit shall be hewn down, and cast into the fire. Not everyone 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. Whosoever heareth My words and doeth them, I will liken him unto a prudent man. But whosoever heareth My words and doeth them not, I will liken him unto a foolish man (Matthew 7:19-27).

In the same:

He that was sown into the good earth, this is he that heareth the Word and understandeth, who beareth fruit and bringeth forth (Matthew 13:23).

These are they that were sown into the good earth who hear the Word and receive it, and bear fruit (Mark 4:20).

The seed that fell into the good earth are such as in a simple and good heart hear the Word, hold fast, and bring forth fruit (Luke 8:15).

When the Lord had said these things. He cried, saying, He that hath ears to hear let him hear (Matthew 13:9; Mark 4:9; Luke 8:8).

In Matthew:

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 this, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang the Law and the Prophets (Matthew 22:37-40).

"The Law and the Prophets" means the Word in its whole complex.

(References: John 5:28-29; Revelation 2:1-2, 2:8-9, 2:12-13, Revelation 2:18-19, 3:7-8, 3:12-13, 3:14-15, 3:18-19, Revelation 20:12-13)

[7] That to love the Lord God is to obey His words or precepts He Himself teaches in John:

He that loveth Me keepeth My words; and My Father will love Him, and We will come unto him and make our abode with him. But he that loveth Me not keepeth not My words (John 14:21, 23-24).

Also in Matthew:

The Lord said to the goats who were on His left hand that they should go away into everlasting fire; and to the sheep who were on His right hand that they should go into eternal life (Matthew 25:31-46).

That "goats" are those who do not do the good things of charity, and "sheep" those who do, is clear from the words there; they both said that they did not know that doing good to the neighbor is doing it to the Lord; but they are taught at the day of judgment, if not before, that to do good is to love the Lord. "The five foolish virgins who had no oil in their lamps" also mean those who are in faith, and not in the good of charity; and "the five prudent virgins who had oil in their lamps" mean those who are in the good of charity also; for "lamp" signifies faith, and "oil" the good of charity:

It is said of them that the prudent virgins were admitted; but the others who said, Lord, Lord, open to us, received the answer, Verily, I say unto you, I know you not (Matthew 25:1-12).

That in the last time of the church there would be no faith in the Lord because no charity, was signified by:

Peter's denying the Lord thrice before the cock crew (Matthew 26:34, 69-74).

The like is signified by:

The Lord's saying to Peter, when Peter saw John following the Lord, What is that to thee, Peter? Follow thou Me, John; for Peter had said of John, What of this man? (John 21:21-22).

For "Peter" in a representative sense signifies faith, and "John" the good of charity; and because John signified the good of charity, therefore he reclined on the Lord's breast (John 21:20).

(References: Matthew 26:69-75)

[8] That this good is what makes the church is signified by the Lord's words from the cross to John:

Jesus saw His mother, and the disciple whom He loved standing by; and He said unto His mother, Woman, behold thy son! And He said to the disciple, Behold thy mother! And from that hour that disciple took her unto himself (John 19:26-27).

"Mother" and "Woman" here mean the church; and "John" the good of charity, and thus these words signify that the church will be where there is the good of charity. (But these things may be seen more fully explained in the passages quoted in The Doctrine of the New Jerusalem 122; moreover, that there is no faith where there is no charity, see in the small work on The Last Judgment 33-39; and that man after death is such as his life was in the world, and not such as his faith was, see in the work on Heaven and Hell 470-484; also what charity is, and what faith is in its essence, see The Doctrine of the New Jerusalem 84-122.)

[9] From what has now been presented let it be considered whether having faith is anything else than living it; and whether living it is not merely knowing and thinking, but also willing and doing; for faith is not in man when it is only in his knowing and thinking, but when it is also in his willing and doing. Faith in man is the faith of the life, but faith not yet in man is the faith of the memory and of thought therefrom. The faith of the life means believing in God; but believing those things that are from God, and not believing in God, is historical faith, which is not saving. Who that is a true priest and good pastor does not wish that men should live aright; and who does not know that the faith of knowledges, based on what another has said, is not the faith of the life, but historical faith?

[10] Faith of the life is the faith of charity, for charity is life. But even though this be so, still I foresee that those who have confirmed themselves in the doctrine of faith alone and of justification by faith will not recede from it, because they connect falsities with truths; for they teach truths when they teach from the Word, but falsities when they teach from doctrine; and they therefore confound these things by saying that the fruits of faith are the goods of life, and that these follow from faith, and yet that the goods of life contribute nothing to salvation, but that faith alone saves. Thus they both join and separate the two; and when they join the two they teach truths, but only before the people, who do not know that they are inverting things, and that they say these things of necessity, in order that their doctrine may cohere with the Word; but when they separate the two they teach falsities, for they say that faith saves, and not the goods of charity which are works, not knowing then that charity and faith act as one, and that charity is acting well and faith is believing well, and that believing well apart from acting well is impossible; thus that there can be no faith apart from charity; as also that charity is the esse of faith and its soul; consequently faith alone is faith without a soul, thus a dead faith; and as such faith is not faith, so justification by such faith is a thing of naught.


1. For "requite" the Hebrew has "I will requite."

(References: John 21:20-22; Matthew 26:69-75; Revelation 2:12-13, 2:18-19, Revelation 3:20)

/ 1232  
   Study this Passage

Thanks to the Swedenborg Foundation for their permission to use this translation.