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 #9212

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9212. 'If you ever take your companion's clothing as a pledge' means if factual knowledge of truths is dispersed by illusions that are a product of sensory impressions. This is clear from the meaning of 'taking as a pledge' as receiving a token for goods that are supplied, for 'a pledge' is a token for goods that are being lent. When spiritual things are understood instead of these, supplying goods means giving instruction in truths, and the token or pledge in this instance means truth on the level of the senses. For 'the clothing' here which is given as a pledge means the lowest level of the natural, which is that of the senses. Since illusions abound on this level and illusions wipe out truths, 'taking your companion's clothing as a pledge' means the dispersing of truths by illusions that are a product of sensory impressions. The fact that these things are meant is clear from the whole train of thought in the internal sense.

[2] In general 'clothing' means everything that clothes another, and so whatever is relatively more external. Consequently the external or natural man is called the clothing in relation to the internal or spiritual man. In a similar way truth is called the clothing in relation to good, because truth clothes good; likewise factual knowledge of truth in relation to the truth of faith which belongs to the internal man. Sensory perception, which constitutes the lowest level of life with a person, is the clothing in relation to factual knowledge of truth.

'Clothes' are lower things that cover higher ones, or what amounts to the same thing, exterior things that cover interior ones, see 2576, 5248. In general they are truths, 4545, 4763, 5319, 5954, 6914, 6917, 9093, factual knowledge of truths, 6918, or truths on the level of the senses, 9158. Sensory perception constitutes the lowest level of life with a person, 4009, 5077, 5125, 5128, 5767, 5774, 6201, 6313, 7442, 7693, and sensory perception is subject to illusions, 5084, 5089, 6201, 6948, 6949, 7442.

(References: Arcana Coelestia 6948-6949)

[3] The meaning of 'clothes' as truths owes its origin to representatives in the next life. There angels and spirits appear dressed in clothes in keeping with the state of faith or truth that is theirs, and their clothes are varied in keeping with the changes which that state undergoes. Those governed by authentic truth appear dressed in white garments, and those governed by truths springing from good in shining ones. But those governed purely by good, as angels of the inmost heaven are, called celestial angels, appear naked. So it is then that clothes are truths, and that truths are meant in the Word by 'clothes', as may be seen from places referred to above. To these places let the following in the Gospels be added:

[4] In Matthew,

When Jesus was transfigured His face shone like the sun, and His garments became [white] as the light. Matthew 17:2.

'Face' in the Word means the interiors, in particular the affections, 358, 1999, 2434, 3527, 3573, 4066, 4796, 4797, 5102, 5695, 6604, 6848, 6849, and 'God's face' Goodness itself, 222, 223, 5585. 'The sun' means God's love, 2441, 2495, 3636, 3643, 4060, 4321 (end), 4696, 7083, 8644. From this it is evident what the meaning is when it says that the Lord's face shone like the Sun, namely that His interiors were the Good of Divine Love. 'His garments became [white] as the light' means Divine Truth radiating from Him, which also appears in heaven as the light, 1521, 1619-1632, 3195, 3222, 3485, 3636, 3643, 4415, 5400, 8644.

(References: Arcana Coelestia 222-223, Arcana Coelestia 4796-4797, 6848-6849)

[5] In the same gospel,

When Jesus drew near to Jerusalem they brought the she-ass and the colt and laid their garments on them and set Him on them. But a very great crowd spread their garments on the road, while others were breaking off branches from trees and spreading them on the road. Matthew 21:1, 7-8.

Riding on a she-ass and her colt was a representative sign of the Supreme Judge and King, see 2781, as also is evident from what comes before in verse 5,

Tell the daughter of Zion, Behold, your King is coming to you, meek, seated on a she-ass, and on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.

It is also evident in Mark 11:1-12; in Luke 19:28-41; in John 12:12-16; and in Zechariah 9:9-10, where it says of the Lord that He would ride on an ass, and on a young ass, a son of she-asses. There He is called a King, and in addition it says that His dominion will be from sea even to sea, and from the River even to the ends of the earth. The fact that the supreme judge rode on a she-ass, and his sons on young asses, see Judges 5:9-10; 10:3-4; 12:14; and that the king rode on a she-mule, and the king's sons on mules, 1 Kings 1:33, 38, 44-45; 2 Samuel 13:29.

(References: John 12:12-15; Luke 19:28-40; Mark 11:1-11; Matthew 21:5; Zechariah 9:9)

[6] When the disciples laid their garments on the she-ass and her colt, it represented the recognition that truths in their entirety were the foundation on which the Lord as supreme Judge and King rested; for the disciples represented the Lord's Church in respect of truths and forms of good, see 2129, 3488, 3858 (end), 6397, and their garments truths themselves, 4545, 4763, 5319, 5954, 6914, 6917, 9093. This same recognition was likewise represented when the crowd spread their garments, also the branches of trees, on the road. Another reason why they spread them on the road was that 'the road' means the truth by means of which a member of the Church is led, see 627, 2333, 3477. And the reason why they also spread the branches of trees was that 'trees' meant perceptions and also cognitions or knowledge of truth and good, 2682, 2722, 2972, 4552, 7692, so that their branches are the truths themselves. Those actions were also performed then because it was customary for the chief persons among the people to lay their garments on supreme judges and kings' she-asses and mules when they rode in pomp on them, and for the people themselves to spread their garments on the road, or the branches of trees instead. For in heaven judgeship consists in Divine Truth derived from Good, and kingship in Divine Truth, 1728, 2015, 2069, 3009, 4581, 4966, 5044, 5068, 6148.

[7] In Luke,

No one adds a piece of a new garment onto an old garment; in doing so he splits the new, and the binding from the new is unsuitable for the old.

Luke 5:36.

The Lord used this comparison to describe the truth of the new Church and the truth of the old Church; for 'garment' means truth. Sewing on one or binding it to the other means destroying both; for the truth of the new Church is interior truth, thus truth for the internal man, whereas the truth of the old Church is exterior truth, thus truth for the external man. The latter kind of truth prevailed in the Jewish Church, for by means of external things this Church represented internal ones, whereas the Church of today has knowledge of the internal truths that were represented then, because the Lord has revealed them. The fact that these truths are not suited to external ones in such a way that they can exist together is what the words used by the Lord serve to mean. From all this also it is evident that 'garment' means the Church's truth.

[8] In John,

Jesus said to Peter, Truly, truly I say to you, When you were a boy you girded your loins and walked where you wished. But when you are old you will stretch out your hands, [and] another will gird your loins and lead you where you do not wish. John 21:18.

No one without knowledge of the internal sense can see what these words imply; plainly, they contain arcana. In the internal sense 'Peter' means the Church's faith, see the Prefaces to Genesis 18, 22, and 3750, 6000, 6073 (end), 6344 (end). Consequently Peter when he was a boy means the nature of the Church's faith as it is initially, and Peter when he would be old means the nature of the Church's faith as it is finally. From this it is evident what 'when you were a boy you girded your loins and walked where you wished' means, namely that the Church's faith as it is initially is faith composed of truth derived from good, thus faith composed of charity towards the neighbour and of love to the Lord. And at this time a member of the Church in doing what is good acts freely, because his actions spring from the Lord. For aspects of the good of love are meant by 'the loins', 3021, 3294, 4280, 4575, 5050-5062, so that 'girding the loins' means clothing good with truths; and living is meant by 'walking', 519, 1794, 8417, 8420, so that 'walking where one wishes' means leading a life that is free. Those people lead a life that is free, or act freely, whose faith springs from love to the Lord and charity towards the neighbour; for they are led by the Lord, 892, 905, 2870-2893, 6325, 9096. 'When you are old you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird your loins and lead you where you do not wish' means that the Church's faith as it is finally will be none at all, at which time falsities that arise from evil springing from self-love and love of the world will take the place of faith and enslave it. This is the arcanum which these words spoken by Lord contain and which can be seen only from their internal sense. All this shows once again the kind of way in which the Lord spoke, namely in such a way that an inner meaning might be present within every detail, to the end that heaven might be joined to the world by means of the Word. For without the Word, that is, without Divine Truth that has been revealed, they are not joined together; and if they are not so joined the human race perishes.

(References: Arcana Coelestia 2135, 2760 [1-2], 2870, Arcana Coelestia 9593; Exodus 22:26)

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From Swedenborg's Works

Inbound References:

Arcana Coelestia 9213, 9214, 9216, 9276, 9331, 9357, 9360, 9372, 9382, 9391, 9396, 9400, 9408, 9477, 9595, 9688, 9726, 9806, 9814, 9822, 9952, 9960, 9996, 10028, 10107, 10227, 10252, 10258, 10375, 10536

Apocalypse Revealed 424

The White Horse 1

The New Jerusalem and its Heavenly Doctrine 50, 259

References from Swedenborg's drafts, indexes & diaries:

Apocalypse Explained 9, 31, 38, 64, 140, 240, 271, 355, 543, 946

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