The Bible


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

   Study the Inner Meaning

Explanation of John 21      

By Rev. John Clowes M.A.

Explaining the Inner Meaning of John 21

Verses 21:1, 2. That after his resurrection, the Lord manifested himself in common or general principles to those who were principled in good and truth.

Verse 21:3. And this at a time, when they were teaching the knowledges of truth and good for the reformation of mankind, but whereas they taught from themselves, and not from the Lord, therefore their teaching was fruitless.

Verses 21:4, 5, 6. On which account they are gifted with interior light, yet faint, from the Lord, instructing them that they ought to do all things from the good of love and charity, and that thus natural men might be converted to the truth.

Verses 21:7, 8. Which instruction is perceived to be from the Lord by those who are principled in the good of life, and also by those who are in the good of faith, therefore these latter are more and more confirmed in truth, though as yet it was in common or general principles, whilst the former, by the truth of doctrine, seek to lead natural men to the good of life.

Verses 21:9, 10, 11. Therefore they are made sensible of the divine presence in the truth of good, and in the good of love, and obeying the divine command, they acknowledge the fruitfulness and multiplication of good and truth, in all their fullness in the church, and in their coherence, to be of the Lord.

Verses 21:12, 13, 14. Yet it is granted them of the divine mercy to appropriate to themselves that fruitfulness and multiplication, by incorporating into their own minds and lives both good and truth from the Lord, whereby all doubt is removed concerning the divine presence, and they are fully convinced of the glorification of the Lord's Humanity.

Verses 21:15, 16, 17. On which occasion exploration is made concerning the conjunction of truth and good in the church, and divine admonition given, that it is the office of truth, or of those who are principled in truth, to instruct all who are in innocence, likewise all who are in the good of charity, and lastly, all who are in the good of faith.

Verses 21:18, 19. Divine warning is also given at the same time concerning the separation of truth, or faith, from good, or charity, teaching that the faith of the church in its rise is in the good of innocence, but when it is in its setting, it would no longer be in that good, nor in the good of charity, but would be led by evils and falsities.

Verses 21:20, 21, 22, 23. But still the good of charity would remain with those who are of the Lord, even to the end of the church, and when there is a new church, and not with those who are in truth separate from good.

Verses 21:24, 25. For they, who are principled in the good of charity, bear faithful witness to the truth, being convinced of the truth by its light in their own minds, yet they cannot unfold the whole of the divine operation, because the church is not in a state to receive it.

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

Doctrine of the Sacred Scripture 29

The Last Judgement 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

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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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Resources for parents and teachers

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

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

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

 Casting Our Net on the Right Side
Activity | All Ages

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

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

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

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

 Seeing the Lord
Worship Talk | Ages over 18

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



An After-Breakfast Conversation      

By Joe David

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

An After-Breakfast Conversation
(A commentary on John 21:15-25)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From Swedenborg's Works


Apocalypse Explained #295

Apocalypse Explained (Whitehead translation)      

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295. And by Thy will they are, and they were created, signifies that through Divine good they have being, and through Divine truth they have existence. This is evident from the signification of "will," as being, in reference to the Lord, the Divine love; also from the signification of "are" [sunt] or "being" [esse], as the good of love, here the Divine good of the Divine love received (of which presently), also from the signification of "they were created," or "being created," as being Divine truth also received, thus those reformed by it. "To be created" signifies to have existence, because only those who have been reformed are said to have existence; for in them is life, and they have intelligence and wisdom; while those who are not reformed have no life in them, but spiritual death, neither have they intelligence and wisdom, but insanity and folly, therefore they are not said to have existence. Everything indeed, that appears to any of the senses is said to have existence, but this cannot be said of man spiritually unless he is in good and truth; for man is created that he may be living, intelligent, and wise; consequently when he is dead, insane, and foolish, to that extent he does not exist as a man. There are two things that cause man to be a man, namely, good and truth, both from the Lord; good is the esse of his life, but truth is the existere of life therefrom; for all truth has existence from good, since it is the form and therefore the quality of good; and since good is the esse of life, and truth is the existere of life therefrom, and "to be created" signifies to have existence, it is said, "by Thy will they are, and they were created." This, then, is the spiritual in these words.

(References: Revelation 4:11)

[2] "Will" in reference to the Lord means Divine love; because the Divine Itself, from which are all things, is the Divine love. The Lord, therefore, appears before the angels as a Sun, fiery and flaming, and this for the reason that in the spiritual world love appears as fire, consequently in reference to the Lord, heaven, and the church, "fire" in the Word signifies love. From that sun in the heavens heat and light proceed; and heat there is Divine good proceeding, and light is Divine truth proceeding. (This is more fully shown in the work on Heaven and Hell, On the Sun of Heaven, n 116-125; and On Heat and Light in Heaven, n 126-140) And since the Divine Itself from which are all things is the Divine love, so "will" in reference to the Lord is Divine love, for what love itself wills, that is the good of love; the truth which is said to be of faith is merely a means that good may have existence, and that truth may afterwards exist from good. Will and understanding with man are from this origin, the will is the receptacle of the good of love with man, and the understanding is the receptacle of the truth of faith with him. The understanding is the medium by which the will may be reformed, and by which afterwards the will may appear in form, such as it is by means of the understanding. From this it is clear that the will is the esse of man's life, and the understanding is the existere of life therefrom. (But this is also more fully shown in The Doctrine of the New Jerusalem, where the Will and Understanding are treated of, n 28-35.)

[3] Because man's will is his love, and God's will is the Divine love, it can be seen what is meant in the spiritual sense by "doing the will of God" and "the will of the Father," namely, that it is to love God above all things, and the neighbor as oneself. And as to love is to will, so it is also to do; for what a man loves, that he wills, and what he wills he also does. Therefore "doing the will of God" or "of the Father" means doing His commandments, or living according to them from the affection of love or charity. This is what is meant by "the will of God" and "of the Father" in the following passages. In John:

God heareth not sinners; but if anyone worship God and do His will, him He heareth (John 9:31).

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

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 that is in the heavens (Matthew 7:21).

In the same:

Thy kingdom come; Thy will be done, as in heaven so upon the earth (Matthew 6:10).

In the same:

It is not the will of the Father that one of these little ones should perish (Matthew 18:14).

"It is not His will that one of these little ones should perish" means evidently love. It is said "the will of the Father," because "Father" means Divine good. In John:

If ye abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you may ask whatsoever ye will, and it shall be done unto you (John 15:7).

Whatsoever they will and ask shall be done for those who abide in the Lord and in whom His words abide, because they then will nothing except what the Lord gives them to will, and that is good, and good is from Him.

[4] The Lord's will in the Old Testament is called His "good pleasure," and this likewise means the Divine love; and to do His good pleasure or His will signifies to love God and the neighbor, thus to live according to the commandments of the Lord, since this is to love God and the neighbor, and this comes down from the Lord's love. For no one can love the Lord and the neighbor except from the Lord; for this is the veriest good for man, and all good is from the Lord. That "good pleasure" has this signification is clear from the following passages. In Isaiah:

In My wrath I smote thee, but in My good pleasure have I had mercy on thee (Isaiah 60:10).

"To smite in anger" signifies temptation; "in good pleasure to have mercy" signifies deliverance from love; "to have mercy" is to do good to the needy from love.

[5] In David:

My prayer is unto thee, O Jehovah, in the time of good pleasure; O God, for the greatness of Thy mercy answer me, in the truth of Thy salvation (Psalms 69:13).

"The time of Jehovah's good pleasure" signifies acceptance from love; "time," when said of men, signifies the existing state, but in reference to Jehovah, perpetual existing, thus His love, because this is perpetual. Hearing and help from love through the proceeding Divine which is the Divine truth, is signified by "for the greatness of Thy mercy answer me, in the truth of Thy salvation. "

[6] In Isaiah:

Jehovah said, In the time of My good pleasure have I answered thee, and in the day of salvation have I helped thee (Isaiah 49:8).

Here also "the time of good pleasure," that is, of will, signifies the Divine love; and "to answer" signifies to bring aid, and to benefit.

[7] In the same:

To proclaim the year of Jehovah's good pleasure, to comfort all that mourn (Isaiah 61:2).

This is said of the coming of the Lord; and "the year of Jehovah's good pleasure" signifies the time and state of the men of the church, when from love they are to be succored, therefore it is also said, "to comfort all that mourn. "

[8] In David:

Thou dost bless the righteous; Thou wilt compass him with Thy good pleasure as with a shield (Psalms 5:12).

Here "good pleasure" stands plainly for the Divine love, from which the Lord protects everyone; protection by the Lord from love is signified by "Thou wilt compass him as with a shield."

[9] In the same:

Jehovah openeth the hand and satisfieth every living thing with His good pleasure (Psalms 145:16);

"to open the hand" signifies to gift with good; and "to satisfy every living thing with good pleasure" signifies from love to enrich with Divine truth all who receive life from Him.

[10] In Moses:

Of the precious things of the earth and the fullness thereof and the good pleasure of Him that dwelleth in the thorn-bush, let them come upon the head of Joseph, and upon the crown of the head of the Nazarite of his brethren. O Naphtali, satisfied with the good pleasure and the blessings of Jehovah (Deuteronomy 33:16, 23).

"Joseph" in the highest sense signifies the Lord in respect to the spiritual Divine; in the internal sense the spiritual kingdom; and in the external, salvation, the fructification of good, and the multiplication of truth (see Arcana Coel (Arcana Coelestia 3969, 3971, 4669, 6417) estia, n. 3969, 3971, 4669, 6417). This makes clear what is signified by Joseph's having "of the precious things of the earth and the fullness thereof, and the good pleasure of Him that dwelleth in the thornbush;" "the precious things of the earth" are spiritual goods and truths therefrom belonging to the church; "the earth" is the church; the "good pleasure of Him that dwelleth in the thorn-bush" is the Lord's Divine love of truth; the "thorn-bush" in which the Lord appeared to Moses signifies that Divine love; "the head of Joseph" signifies the wisdom of the internal man; and "the crown of the head of the Nazarite of his brethren" signifies the intelligence and knowledge [scientia] of the external man; "Naphtali" (named from wrestlings) signifies temptations and after them consolation and blessing from the Divine love, which is meant by "satisfied with the good pleasure and the blessing of Jehovah."

[11] In Isaiah:

Wilt thou call this a fast, and the day of Jehovah's good pleasure? Is it not to break thy bread to the hungry; and when thou seest the naked that thou cover him? (Isaiah 58:5, 7).

That "Jehovah's good pleasure," in reference to men, signifies to live according to His commandments, which is to love God and the neighbor (as was said above) is evident; for it is said that "His good pleasure is to break the bread to the hungry, and to cover the naked;" "to break bread to the hungry" signifies from love to do good to the neighbor who desires good; and "to cover the naked" signifies to instruct in truths him who desires to be instructed.

[12] In David:

I delight in doing Thy good pleasure (that is, Thy will) O my God; and Thy law is in my bowels (Psalms 40:8).

In the same:

Teach me to do Thy good pleasure; Thy good spirit shall lead me into the land of uprightness (Psalms 143:10).

In the same:

Bless ye Jehovah, all His hosts; ye ministers of His that do His good pleasure (Psalms 103:21).

To "do the good pleasure of Jehovah God" signifies to live according to His commandments; this is His good pleasure or His will, because from Divine love He wills that all should be saved, and by it they are saved. Moreover, in the Hebrew expression "good pleasure" also means will; for whatever is done according to the will is well pleasing, and the Divine love wills nothing else than that love from itself may be with angels and men, and His love is with them when they love to live according to His commandments. That this is to love the Lord He teaches in John 14:15, 21, 23, 24; 15:10, 14; 21:15-17).

(References: John 14:23-24)

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

As many as received Jesus, to them gave He the power to become the sons of God, to them that believe in His name; who were born, not of bloods nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but from God (John 1:12, 13).

"To believe in the Lord's name" signifies to live according to the commandments of His teaching; that "the Lord's name" signifies all things by which He is worshiped, thus all things of love and faith, see above (n. 102, 135). "Not of bloods" signifies not in a life contrary to good and truth; "not of the will of the flesh" signifies not in a love of evil; "not of the will of man" [vir] signifies not in the love of falsity. (That "flesh," in reference to man, means the voluntary that is man's own [proprium voluntarium], thus evil, see Arcana Coelestia 148, 149, 780, 999, 3813, 8409, 10283; and that man [vir] means the intellectual that is man's own [proprium intellectuale], which is falsity, see n . 4823.)

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

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From Swedenborg's Works

References from Swedenborg's drafts, indexes & diaries:

Apocalypse Explained 287, 297, 315

   Swedenborg Research Tools

Videos from the Swedenborg Foundation

The videos shown here are provided courtesy of our friends at the Swedenborg Foundation. You can find out more about them here:

John 3:16 Does Not Conflict With A God That Loves Everyone

We explore the real meaning of John 3:16 by unpacking how Divine Love is not exclusive, how action is true belief, and what following Jesus’s example really means.

What It Really Means that Jesus Takes Away the Sins of the World

Some thoughts for Easter week. "Taking away sins" is not something the Lord does instantaneously. Our sins are removed through a gradual life process of resisting harm and doing good.

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