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 #9824

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9824. 'And an ephod' means Divine Truth there in an outward form, in which inner things terminate. This is clear from the meaning of 'an ephod' as Divine Truth in an outward form. The reason why 'an ephod' has this meaning is that Aaron's holy garments represented forms of Divine Truth in the spiritual kingdom, in their proper order, see above in 9822, and the ephod was the outermost of the three garments, Aaron's holy garments being the ephod, the robe, and the checkered tunic. Not only does what is outermost contain inner things; but inner things also terminate in it. This applies to the human body, and therefore also applies to the heavens, to which aspects of the human body correspond. It applies similarly to truths and forms of good, for both these constitute the heavens.

[2] Since the ephod represented the most external part of the Lord's spiritual kingdom it was holier than all the other garments; and on it there was the breastplate containing the Urim and Thummim, by means of which answers from the Divine were given. The reason why the most external part is holier than the things within is that what is outermost contains all inner things in their proper order. It contains them in an outward form and in a connection which are so perfect that if what is outermost were taken away the things within would disintegrate; for the things within not only terminate there, but also exist together there. The truth of this may be recognized by people who know about the nature of things that succeed one another and those that exist together with one another, namely that those which succeed one another, that is, proceed and follow one another in their proper order, also stand together with one another at the last and lowest levels. Let end, cause, and effect exemplify this. The end is the first in order, the cause is the second, and the effect is the last and lowest, so that these too progress one after another. Yet within the effect, which is last, the cause at the same time manifests itself, as does the end within the cause. Consequently the effect is the completion of the inner or prior things, which have also been brought together in it and lodge there.

[3] The situation is similar with human will, thought, and action; will comes first, thought second, and action last. Action is also the effect that has the two prior or inner things existing together within it. For to the extent that action contains what the person thinks and what the person wills, inner things are contained in a form and in connection. This explains why the Word says that a person will be judged according to his deeds or works, which means that he will be judged according to his thought and will, for these are present within deeds as the soul is within its body. Now since inner things present themselves together in what is last and lowest, then if the order is perfect that which is last and lowest, as has been stated, is held to be holier than the inner things, because it is there that the holiness of the inner things exists in its fullness.

[4] Since inner things exist together in the last and lowest in the same way, as has been stated, as a person's thought and will - or, on a spiritual level, his faith and love - exist together in his deeds or works, John more than all the other disciples was loved by the Lord and leaned on His breast, John 13:23; 21:20, 22. This was because that disciple represented the works of charity, see Prefaces to Genesis 18, 22, and also 3934. This too shows why what is outermost or last within perfect order is holier than the things within if considered separately from it. For when the Lord is present in what is last and lowest He is at the same time present on all levels; and when He is present in it inner things are contained in their proper order, connection, and form, and are under His control and guidance, subject to His good will. This is the arcanum that was meant in 9360, as you may see.

(References: Arcana Coelestia 2135, 2760 [1-2])

[5] This then is the reason why the ephod, being representative of the last and lowest part of the Lord's spiritual kingdom, was held to be holier than the rest of the garments belonging to the priestly office. Therefore the ephod was the chief of the priestly vestments, being made from threads of gold in among the violet, purple, twice-dyed scarlet, and fine twined linen, Exodus 39:3, though the rest of the priests had ephods made of linen, 1 Samuel 2:18; 22:18. This goes to explain why the word 'ephod' stood for a priest's whole attire and why he was said 'to wear the ephod', meaning that he was a priest, 1 Samuel 2:28; 14:3. It also goes to explain why the breastplate was tied to the ephod and why answers were given through the Urim and Thummim there. That is to say, this vestment was a representative sign of the lowest part of the Lord's spiritual kingdom, and answers from God present themselves in things last and lowest; for they pass through all the inner levels one after another, declaring themselves on the last and lowest because they terminate there. The fact that answers were given when they wore the ephod is clear from 1 Samuel 23:6-13; 30:7-8, and also in Hosea,

The children of Israel sat many days with no king, and no prince, and no sacrifice, and no pillar, and no ephod, and no teraphim 1 . Hosea 3:4.

'Teraphim' means answers from God, for in former times answers were given through them, Zechariah 10:2. Furthermore the word 'ephod' in the original language is derived from the root 'to enclose all inner things', as is evident from the meaning of that word in Exodus 29:5; Leviticus 8:7.


1. A plural Hebrew word denoting images

(References: Exodus 28:4)

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