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References from Swedenborg's unpublished works: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

Arcana Coelestia #2921

Arcana Coelestia (Elliott translation)

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2921. 'My lord, you are a prince of God in the midst of us' means the Lord as regards Divine good and truth with them. This is clear from the meaning of 'a lord' and of 'a prince of God', and from the meaning of 'in the midst of us'. The fact that the expression 'lord' is used when good is the subject is clear from the Old Testament Word, for there Jehovah is sometimes called Jehovah, sometimes God, sometimes Lord, sometimes Jehovah God, sometimes Lord Jehovih, sometimes Jehovah Zebaoth, and always for a hidden reason which cannot be known except from the internal sense. In general when the celestial things of love, that is, when good, are dealt with, the name Jehovah is used, but when the spiritual things of faith are dealt with, the name God is used. And when both together are dealt with, the names Jehovah God are used. When however the Divine power of good, that is, when omnipotence is the subject, Jehovah Zebaoth (or Jehovah of Hosts), and also the Lord, are used; so that the names Jehovah Zebaoth and the name the Lord have the same sense and meaning. From this also, that is to say, from the power of good, men and angels are called 'lords', and in the contrary sense those are called servants or slaves who have no power at all or else have a power received from their lords. From these considerations it becomes clear that here 'my lord' in the internal sense means the Lord as regards good, which in what follows below will be illustrated from the Word. 'A prince of God' however means the Lord as regards the power of truth, that is, as regards truth, as becomes clear from the meaning of 'a prince' or 'princes' as first and foremost truths, dealt with in 1482, 2089, and from the fact that the phrase 'a prince of God' is used, for the name God is used when truth is dealt with but the name Jehovah when good is dealt with, 2586, 2769, 2807, 2822. As regards 'in the midst of us' meaning among them or present with them, this is clear without explanation.

[2] That in the Old Testament Word the names Jehovah Zebaoth and the name Lord have the same sense and meaning is clear in Isaiah,

The zeal of Jehovah Zebaoth will do this; the Lord has sent a word into Jacob, and it has fallen on Israel. Isaiah 9:7-8.

Elsewhere in the same prophet,

A mighty king will have dominion over them, said the Lord, Jehovah Zebaoth. Isaiah 19:4.

In Malachi,

Behold, suddenly there will come to His temple the Lord whom you are seeking and the angel of the covenant in whom you delight. Behold, He is coming, says Jehovah Zebaoth. Malachi 3:1.

More plainly, in Isaiah,

I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up. Above Him stood the seraphim; each had six wings. One called to another, Holy, holy, holy is Jehovah Zebaoth. Woe is me! For I am cut off; for my eyes have seen the King, Jehovah Zebaoth. And I heard the voice of the Lord. Isaiah 6:1-3, 5, 8.

From these places it is evident that Jehovah Zebaoth and the Lord have the same meaning.

(References: Isaiah 6:1, Isaiah 6:3)


[3] But 'the Lord Jehovih' is used more particularly when the help of omnipotence is sought and prayed for, as in Isaiah,

Say to the cities of Judah, Behold your God! Behold, the Lord Jehovih will come with might, and His arm will exercise dominion for Him; behold, His reward is with Him, and His work before Him. He will pasture His flock like a shepherd. Isaiah 40:9-11.

For further examples of this use of 'the Lord Jehovih', see Isaiah 25:8; 40:10; 48:16; 50:4-5, 7, 9; 61:1; Jeremiah 2:22; Ezekiel 8:1; 11:13, 17, 21; 12:10, 19, 28; 13:8, 13, 16, 18, 20; 14:4, 6, 11, 18, 20-21; Micah 1:2; Psalms 71:5, 16; and many other places.

[4] What is more, in the Old Testament Word 'the Lord' entails the same as 'Jehovah', that is to say, 'the Lord' is used when good is dealt with, and therefore also the Lord is distinguished from God in the same way as Jehovah is from God; as in Moses,

Jehovah your God, He is God of gods, and Lord of lords. Deuteronomy 10:17.

In David,

Confess the God of gods, for His mercy is for ever; confess the Lord of lords, for His mercy is for ever. Psalms 136:1-3.

[5] But nowhere in the New Testament Word, neither in the Gospels nor in the Book of Revelation, is Jehovah used. Instead of Jehovah the name the Lord occurs - for hidden reasons to be dealt with below. The fact that in the New Testament Word the Lord is used instead of Jehovah is quite clear in Mark,

Jesus said, The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord. Therefore you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your thought, and with all your strength. Mark 12:29-30.

The same is expressed in Moses as follows,

Hear, O Israel, Jehovah our God is one Jehovah; and you shall love Jehovah your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength. Deuteronomy 6:4-5.

Here it is evident that the name 'the Lord' is used instead of Jehovah. Likewise in John,

I looked, and behold, a throne had been set in heaven, with one seated upon the throne. Around the throne were four living creatures, full of eyes in front and behind. Each had for himself six wings round about him, and was full of eyes within. They were saying, Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God omnipotent. Revelation 4:2, 6, 8.

This is described in Isaiah as follows,

I saw the Lord seated upon a throne, high and lifted up. Above Him stood the seraphim; each had six wings. One called to another, Holy, holy, holy is Jehovah Zebaoth. Isaiah 6:1-3, 5, 8.

In this case 'the Lord' is used instead of 'Jehovah', that is, 'the Lord God omnipotent' instead of 'Jehovah Zebaoth'. The fact that the four living creatures are the seraphim or cherubs is evident in Ezekiel 1:5, 13-15, 19 and following verses; 10:15. That in the New Testament 'the Lord' is Jehovah is also clear from many other places, as in Luke,

An angel of the Lord appeared to Zechariah. Luke 1:11.

'An angel of the Lord' is used instead of 'an angel of Jehovah'. In the same chapter the angel told Zechariah regarding his son,

He will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. Luke 1:16.

'To the Lord their God' is used instead of 'to Jehovah their God'. Also in the same chapter, the angel told Mary regarding Jesus,

He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give to Him the throne of David. Luke 1:32.

'The Lord God' is used instead of 'Jehovah God'. Still in the same chapter,

Mary said, My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Saviour. Luke 1:46-47.

Here also 'the Lord' is used instead of 'Jehovah'. And again in the same chapter, Zechariah prophesied, saying,

Blessed is the Lord God of Israel. Luke 1:68.

'The Lord God' is used instead of 'Jehovah God'. In the same gospel,

An angel of the Lord stood before the shepherds, and the glory of the Lord shone around them. Luke 2:9.

'An angel of the Lord' and 'the glory of the Lord' are used instead of 'an angel of Jehovah' and 'the glory of Jehovah'. In Matthew,

Blessed is He coming in the name of the Lord. Matthew 21:9; 23:39; Luke 13:35; John 12:13.

'In the name of the Lord' is used instead of 'in the name of Jehovah'. There are many other places besides all these, such as Luke 1:28; 2:15, 22-24, 29, 38-39; 5:17; Mark 12:10-11.

(References: Isaiah 6:1, 6:3; Revelation 1:1)


[6] Among the hidden reasons why people called Jehovah the Lord were the following: If when the Lord was in the world they had been told that He was the Jehovah mentioned so many times in the Old Testament, see 1736, they would not have accepted it because they would not have believed it. And there is the further reason that as regards the Human the Lord did not become Jehovah until He had in every respect united the Divine Essence to the Human Essence, and the Human Essence to the Divine Essence, see 1725, 1729, 1733, 1745, 1815, 2156, 2751. These became fully united after the final temptation, which was that of the Cross; and it was for this reason that after the Resurrection the disciples always called Him Lord, John 20:2, 13, 15, 18, 20, 25; 21:7, 12, 15-17, 20; Mark 16:19-20; and Thomas said,

My Lord and my God. John 20:28.

And as the Lord was the Jehovah mentioned so many times in the Old Testament, therefore He also told the disciples,

You call Me Master and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If therefore I your Lord and Master have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one anothers' feet. John 13:13-14, 16.

These words mean that He was Jehovah God, for in this instance He is called 'Lord' as regards good, but 'Master' as regards truth. That the Lord was Jehovah is also meant by the angel's words to the shepherds,

To you is born this day a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord. Luke 2:11.

'Christ' is used instead of 'Messiah', 'Anointed One', and 'King', 'the Lord, instead of 'Jehovah' - 'Christ' having regard to truth, 'the Lord' to good. Anyone who does not examine the Word carefully cannot know this, for he believes that our Saviour was called Lord because this was an everyday expression that was used to offer respect to Him, as to others, when in reality He was so called by virtue of His being Jehovah.

(References: Genesis 23:6)

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   Study this Passage
From Swedenborg's Works

Inbound References:

Arcana Coelestia 3017, 3035, 3061, 3195, 3318, 3367, 3441, 3702, 3704, 3737, 3854, 3938, 4068, 4208, 4240, 4559, 4692, 4715, 4766, 4973, 5663, 6281, 6303, 6402, 6839, 6903, 6945, 7066, 7091, 7209, 7406, 7444, 7499, 7539, 7598, 7636, 7664, 7727, ...

Heaven and Hell 86

The White Horse 9

The New Jerusalem and its Heavenly Doctrine 305


References from Swedenborg's unpublished works:

Apocalypse Explained 401

Other New Christian Commentary

Jehovah God 1

Lord (as in ruler or master) 1

Jehovah 1

The Lord 1

Jehovah Zebaoth and Lord 1


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


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