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.

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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 Christianity 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References from Swedenborg's unpublished works: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

Hop to Similar Bible Verses

Joshua 22:22

Psalms 116:1, 139:1

Word/Phrase Explanations

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, 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 – born Simon, son of Jonah – is certainly one of the Bible's most important figures, second only to Jesus in the New Testament....

The Writings talk about many aspects of life using the philosophical terms "end," "cause" and "effect." The "end" is someone’s goal or purpose, the ultimate...

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...

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

The hand in the Bible represents power, which is easy to understand, so to reach out or stretch out the hand means to exercise power,...

'Washing of the hands' was an ancient declaration of innocence, and signifies purification from evils and falsities, as in Psalms 73:13 and Matthew 27:24.

'To glorify' signifies acknowledgment and confession.

Swedenborg says that the Lord is the sun of heaven, and like the natural sun of our world shines on everyone, good or evil. What...

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

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

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

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

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 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



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 (Whitehead translation)      

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821. And he maketh the earth and them that dwell therein to worship the first beast, signifies in consequence of which those in the church who are in falsities and in evils therefrom acknowledge the agreement in heart. This is evident from the signification of "the earth and them that dwell therein," as being those of the church who are in falsities and in evils therefrom; for "the earth" signifies the church that is in truths or that is in falsities, here, that which is in falsities; and "them that dwell therein" signify the goods or the evils of the church, here the evils; therefore as applied to the persons upon it, "the earth and them that dwell therein" signify those in the church who are in falsities and in evils therefrom. (That "the earth" signifies the church in respect to truths and in respect to falsities see above, n. 304, 413, 417, 697, 741, 752; and that "those that dwell" signify the good in the church, and also the evil, and in an abstract sense goods or evils, see above, n. 479) The above is evident also from the signification of "worshiping," as being to acknowledge as certain, to acknowledge in heart, and to believe (see above, n. 790, 805); also from the signification of "the first beast," as being reasonings from the natural man confirming the separation of faith from the life (see above, n. 774, here the agreement of reasonings with the sense of the letter of the Word, because this "beast" signifies confirmations therefrom (see also above, n. 815). From this it is clear that the words "the beast coming up out of the earth maketh the earth and them that dwell therein to worship the first beast" signifies that those in the church who are in falsities and in evils therefrom acknowledge the agreement in heart.

(References: 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; so also faith from charity and faith without charity. Something shall now be said about the apostle John, as signifying the works of charity. It has been said above that the twelve apostles, like the twelve tribes of Israel, represented the church in the whole complex, or all things of truth and good, or all things of faith and charity; likewise that Peter, James, and John, signified faith, charity, and the works of charity, in their order; from which it follows that when they were together they represented these as one. It is said as one, because without charity there is no faith that is faith; and without works there is no charity that is charity.

[3] Because these three apostles had this signification they followed the Lord more than the others, as can be seen in Mark, where it is said:

Jesus suffered no man to follow Him save Peter, James, and John the brother of James (Mark 5:37).

For this reason Peter was the first to be called by the Lord through Andrew, "Andrew" signifying the obedience of faith; and afterwards James and John were called; and to these two the Lord gave a new name. Likewise He took Peter, James, and John up into the mountain when He was transfigured; He also spoke with these three about the consummation of the age, and about His coming; they were also with the Lord in Gethsemane. That the Lord called James and John after He had called Peter is shown in the Gospels:

Jesus going on from thence saw other two brethren, James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, with Zebedee their father, mending their nets; and He called them. And straightway leaving the boat and their father, they followed Him (Matthew 4:21, 22; Mark 1:19, 20).

(References: Mark 1:19-20; Matthew 4:21-22)

[4] 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 them He surnamed Boanerges, which is, sons of thunder (Mark 3:17).

"Sons of thunder" signify truths from celestial good. This is the signification of "thunders" in the Word, because in the spiritual world thunders are also heard, and these are produced by truths that are from celestial good when these are descending from the higher heavens into the lower. The light itself of truth from good is then seen as lightning, the good itself is heard as thunder, and the truths themselves therefrom as variations of sound. This is why lightnings, thunders, and voices, are mentioned here and there in the Word with this signification. Good is there heard as thunder, because good, which is of man's affection or love and is also of his will, is not spoken, but only sounds; while truth, which is of man's understanding and of his thought therefrom, articulates that sound into words. Celestial good is the same thing as the good of love in will and in act; before this it is not celestial good; and celestial good is what produces truths by means of thought and speech therefrom. From this it is clear why James and John were called "sons of thunder." (What "lightnings, thunders, and voices," signify in the Word may be seen above, n. 273, 702, 704)

(References: The Apocalypse Explained 273, The Apocalypse Explained 702, 704)

[5] That the Lord took Peter, James and John up into a mountain when He was transfigured appears in Mark (Mark 9:2 Luke (Luke 9:28). These were taken because only those who are in truths from celestial good are able to see the Lord in His glory; and no others can be enlightened and can perceive the Word in enlightenment. For when the Lord was transfigured before them He represented Divine truth, which is the Word; and this is why Moses and Elijah were seen speaking with Him, "Moses and Elijah" signifying the Word. (But on this see above, n. 594. That the Lord talked with Peter, James, and John, about the consummation of the age and about His coming is evident in Mark (Mark 13:3); and that these three were with the Lord in Gethsemane is evident in Matthew (Matthew 26:37 and in Mark (Mark 14:33).

(References: The Apocalypse Explained 594)

[6] As John represented the church in respect to good works, and good works contain all things of love to the Lord and of charity towards the neighbor, John was more loved by the Lord than the others, as is evident:

From his reclining in the Lord's bosom, and his gliding on His breast when he spake with Him (John 13:23, 25).

The "bosom" and the "breast" signify in the Word spiritual love, which is love in act; and "the Lord's bosom and breast" Divine love itself; therefore those in heaven who are in spiritual love are in the province of the breast.

[7] So, too, John took the Lord's mother to his own house, and abode with her; which is described thus in John:

Jesus from the cross saw His mother and the disciple whom He loved standing by; He saith to His mother, Woman, behold thy son! Then He saith to the disciple, Behold thy mother! Therefore from that hour the disciple took her unto his own home (John 19:26, 27).

This signified that the church is where there is charity in act, or where there are good works; for the Lord's "mother" and "woman" signify the church, and "John" signifies charity in act, which is good works. (That "mother" signifies the church may be seen in the Arcana Coelestia (Arcana Coelestia 289), and n. 2691, 2691, 2717, 3703, 4257, 5581, 8897; and that "woman" has a similar signification see above n. 555, 707, 721, 730.

(References: John 19:26-27; The Apocalypse Explained 555, The Apocalypse Explained 707, 721, 730)

[8] That the Lord's church is in those who are in charity in act, or in good works, and not with those who are in faith separated from these, is signified also by what is related about Peter and John, namely:

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, but what about this one? Jesus saith unto him, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? Follow thou Me (John 21:20-22).

It may be seen above (n. 820), where also the preceding words are explained, that "Peter" here signifies truth without good, or faith separated from good works, such as the faith will be at the end of the church; and as "John" signifies the goods of charity, which are called good works, and these are with those who constitute the Lord's church; therefore it was not Peter but John who followed the Lord, and to Peter who had asked, "But what about this one?" the Lord replied, "If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? Follow thou Me," which means that the good of charity will continue with those who are the Lord's, even to the end of the church and when there is the New Church, but not with those who are in faith separated from that good; and this is what is signified by these words to Peter, "what is that to thee?"

(References: Revelation 13:12; The Apocalypse Explained 820)

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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
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 Foundation for their permission to use this translation.