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


Arcana Coelestia #4973

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4973. 'And he was in the house of his lord the Egyptian' means to enable it to be introduced into natural good. This is clear from the meaning of 'lord' as good, dealt with below, and from the meaning of 'the Egyptian' as factual knowledge in general, and from this as that which is natural, dealt with in 4967. The reason 'being in the house' means being introduced is that 'house' is the mind in which good dwells, 3538, in this case the natural mind. Moreover 'house' is used in reference to good, 3652, 3720. The human being has both a natural mind and a rational mind. The natural mind exists within his external man, the rational within his internal. Known facts make up the truths that belong to the natural mind, and these are said to be there 'in their own house' when they are joined to good there; for good and truth together constitute a single house like husband and wife. But the forms of good and the truths which are the subject at present are of a more interior kind, for they are suited to the celestial of the spiritual from the rational, which is represented by 'Joseph'. Those suitable interior truths within the natural are applicable to useful purposes, while interior forms of good in the same are the useful purposes themselves.

[2] The expression 'lord' is used many times in the Word, but unless a person is acquainted with the internal sense he assumes that 'lord' has no other meaning than what the word has when used in ordinary conversation. But 'lord' is used nowhere in the Word other than in reference to good, as is similarly the case with the name 'Jehovah'. When however reference is being made to truth, 'God' and also 'king are used. This then is the reason why 'lord' means good, as may also be seen from the following places: In Moses,

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

In David,

Confess Jehovah, confess the God of gods, confess the Lord of lords. Psalms 136:1-3

In these places Jehovah or the Lord is called 'God of gods' by virtue of Divine Truth which goes forth from Him, and 'Lord of lords' by virtue of Divine Good which exists within Him.

[3] Similarly in John,

The Lamb will overcome them, for He is Lord of lords, and King of kings. Revelation 17:14.

And in the same book,

The One sitting on the white horse has on His robe and on His thigh the name written, King of kings and Lord of lords. Revelation 19:16.

The Lord is called 'King of kings' by virtue of Divine Truth, and 'Lord of lords' by virtue of Divine Good, as is evident from the individual expressions used here. 'The name written' is His true nature, 144, 145, 1754, 1896, 2009, 2724, 3006. 'His robe' on which it is written is the truth of faith, 1073, 2576, 4545, 4763. 'His thigh' on which likewise that nature is written is the good of love, 3021, 4277, 4280, 4575. From this too it is evident that by virtue of Divine Truth the Lord is called 'King of kings and by virtue of Divine Good 'Lord of lords'. For more about the Lord being called King by virtue of Divine Truth, see 2015, 2069, 3009, 3670, 4581.

(References: Arcana Coelestia 144-145)

[4] From this it is also plain what 'the Lord's Christ' means in Luke,

Simeon received an answer from the Holy Spirit that he would not see death until he had seen the Lord's Christ. Luke 2:26.

'The Lord's Christ' is the Divine Truth that goes with Divine Good, for 'Christ' is one and the same as Messiah, and Messiah is the Anointed or King, 3008, 3009, 'the Lord' in this case being Jehovah. The name Jehovah is not used anywhere in the New Testament Word, but instead of Jehovah, the Lord and God are used, see 2921, as again in Luke,

Jesus said, How can they say that the Christ is David's son when David himself says in the Book of Psalms, The Lord said to my Lord, Sit at My right hand? Luke 20:41, 41.

The same appears in David as follows,

Jehovah said to my Lord, Sit at My right hand. Psalms 110:1.

It is obvious that Jehovah in David is called Lord in the gospel, 'Lord' in this case standing for the Divine Good of the Divine Human. Omnipotence is meant by 'sitting at the right hand', 3387, 4592, 4933 (end).

(References: Arcana Coelestia 3008-3009; Luke 20:41-42)

[5] While in the world the Lord was Divine Truth, but once He was glorified, that is, had made the Human within Him Divine, He became Divine Good, from which Divine Truth subsequently goes forth. This explains why after the Resurrection the disciples did not call Him Master, as they had before, but Lord, as is evident in John 21:7, 12, 15-17, 20, and also in the other gospels. Divine Truth - which the Lord was while in the world and which subsequently goes forth from Him, that is, from Divine Good - is also called 'the Angel of the Covenant', in Malachi,

Suddenly there will come to His temple the Lord whom you are seeking, and the Angel of the Covenant in whom you delight. Malachi 3:1.

[6] Because 'Lord' is used to mean Divine Good and 'King' Divine Truth, therefore in places where the Lord is spoken of as having dominion and a kingdom 'dominion' has reference to Divine Good and 'a kingdom' to Divine Truth. For the same reason the Lord is called 'Lord of the nations' but 'King of the peoples', for 'nations' means those governed by good, 'peoples' those governed by truth, 1259, 1260, 1849, 3581

[7] Good is called 'lord' as against a servant, and 'father' as against a son, as in Malachi,

A son should honour his father, and a servant his lord. If I am a Father, where is My honour? And if I am a Lord, where is the fear of Me? Malachi 1:6.

And in David,

To be a slave JOSEPH was sold. The word of Jehovah tested him. The king sent and released him, he who had dominion over nations set him free and placed him as lord of his house and as one with dominion over all his possessions. Psalms 105:17, 19-22.

Here, as is evident from each individual expression, 'Joseph' is used to mean the Lord, 'lord' in this instance being the Divine Good of the Divine Human.

(References: Arcana Coelestia 1259-1260)

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