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


The Last Judgement #39

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39. Because the Christian world does not know that there can be no faith without charity, or what charity towards the neighbour is, not even that it is the will which is the real person, and his thought contributes only so far as it is inspired by the will, I should like, so as to shed some intellectual light on these matters, to add here my collected notes of passages in ARCANA CAELESTIA, which may be of use as illustration.


If anyone does not know that all things in the universe relate to truth and to good and that they have both to be linked for anything to be produced, he also does not know that all things in the church relate to faith and to love and to their linking (7752-7762, 9186, 9224).

All things in the universe relate to truth and good and to their linking (2451, 3166, 4390, 4409, 5232, 7256, 10122, 10555).

Truths belong to faith, and kinds of good to love (4352, 4997, 7178, 10367).

(References: Arcana Coelestia 885, 1798-1799, 2243, 2426, 2429, 2452, 2517, 3412-3413, 3419-3420, 3451-3452, 3876-3877, 4096-4097, 4647, 5028, 5033, 5859, 6865, 7262, 8033, 8120-8121, 9133, 9232, 10109-10110)

[2] If anyone does not know that every detail in the make-up of a human being relates to the intellect and the will and to their linking, which must happen for the person to be human, neither do they know that everything in the church relates to faith and love and to their linking, which must happen for the church to be present in a person (2231, 7752-7754, 9224, 9995, 10122).

A person has two faculties, one called the intellect, the other the will (641, 803, 3623, 3539).

The intellect is assigned to the reception of truths, and so of things to do with faith; the will is assigned to the reception of kinds of good, and so of things to do with love (9300, 9930, 10064).

Hence it follows that it is love or charity which makes a church and not faith alone, that is, faith separated from love and charity (809, 916, 1798, 1799, 1834, 1844, 4766, 5826).

[3] Faith separated from charity is no faith (654, 724, 1162, 1176, 2049, 2116, 2343, 2349, 2417, 3419, 3849, 3868, 6348, 7039, 7342, 9783).

A faith of this kind is lost in the other life (2228, 5820).

Teachings about faith alone destroy charity (6353, 8094).

Those who separate faith from charity are represented in the Word by Cain, Ham, Reuben, by the first-born of the Egyptians and by the Philistines (3325, 7097, 7317, 8093).

The further charity is withdrawn, the stronger becomes the dogma of faith alone (2231). A church in course of time turns aside from charity to faith, and finally to faith alone (4683, 8094).

In the final period of a church there is no faith because there is no charity (1843, 3489, 4689).

If anyone regards faith alone as offering salvation, he is excusing wickedness of life; and those who lead wicked lives have no faith, because they have no charity (3865, 7766, 7778, 7790, 7950, 8094).

These people are inwardly subject to the falsities of their own evil, although they do not know it (7790, 7950). Consequently good cannot be linked to them (8981, 8983).

In the other life too they oppose good and those who have good in them (7097, 7127, 7317, 7502, 7545, 8096, 8313).

Those who are simple at heart know better than the wise what constitutes goodness of life, and so charity, but not what faith is separately (4741, 4754).

[4] Good is being and truth is coming into existence from this being. Thus the truth of faith has its being in life from the good of charity (3049, 3180, 4574, 5002, 9154).

Consequently the truth of faith is given life by the good of charity; so the life of faith is charity (1589, 1947, 1997, 2571, 4070, 4096, 4097, 4736, 4757, 4884, 5147, 5928, 9154, 9667, 9841, 10729).

A person's faith is not alive when he merely knows and thinks about matters to do with faith, but only when he wills them and by willing does them (9224).

The Lord is not linked with a person by faith, but by the life of faith, which is charity (9380, 10143, 10153, 10578, 10645, 10648).

Worship based on the good of charity is true worship; but if it is based upon the truth of faith without the good of charity it is only an external act (7724).

[5] Faith alone, that is, separated from charity, is like light in wintertime when everything on earth is sluggish and no growth takes place. But faith with charity is like light in spring and summertime, when everything flowers and grows (2231, 3146, 3412, 3413). Winter light, that given by faith separated from charity, is in the other life turned into thick darkness, when light pours in from heaven.

Those whose faith is of that kind are then reduced to blindness and stupidity (3412, 3413).

Those who separate faith from charity are in darkness, or in ignorance of the truth, so they are subject to falsities; for these are darkness (9186).

They plunge themselves into falsities and so into evils (3325, 8094); the errors and falsities into which they plunge (4721, 4730, 4776, 4783, 4925, 7779, 8313, 8765, 9224).

The Word is a closed book to them (3773, 4783, 8780).

They do not see or pay attention to all the Lord's many statements about love and charity (1017, 3416).

Neither do they know what good or heavenly love or charity are (2057, 3603, 4136, 9995).

[6] Charity makes the church, not faith separated from charity (809, 916, 1798, 1799, 1834, 1844)

How much good there would be in the church, if charity were regarded as its primary concern (6269, 6272).

If charity were its essential element, there would be one church, not a division into many; and it would then not matter if their teachings about faith and external forms of worship were different (1285, 1316, 2385, 2853, 2982, 3267, 3445, 3451, 3452).

Everyone in heaven is seen from the point of view of charity, and no one from that of faith without charity (1258, 1394, 2364, 4802).

[7] The Lord's twelve disciples represented the church as regards the whole of faith and charity taken together, in the same way as the twelve tribes of Israel (2129, 3354, 3488, 3858, 6397).

Peter, James and John represented respectively faith, charity and the good works of charity (3750). Peter stands for faith (4738, 6000, 6073, 6344, 10087, 10580); John the good works of charity (AC preface to chapters 18, 22 of Genesis).

There being in the final periods no faith in the Lord because there is no charity was represented by Peter's thrice-repeated denial of the Lord before the cock crew the second 1 time; for Peter in the representative sense there is faith (6000, 6073).

Cock-crow and twilight mean in the Word the final period of a church (10134).

Three or thrice means final completion (2788, 4495, 5159, 9198, 10127).

There is a similar meaning in the Lord's words to Peter, when he saw John follow the Lord, 'What is it to you, Peter? Follow me, John.'

For Peter said about John 'What of him?' John 21:21-22 (10087).

John reclined on the Lord's breast, because he represented the good works of charity (3934, 10081).

All personal and place names in the Word stand for abstract qualities (768, 1888, 4310, 4442, 10329).


[8] Heaven is divided into two kingdoms, one called the celestial kingdom, the other the spiritual kingdom. Love in the celestial kingdom is love to the Lord, called celestial love, and love in the spiritual kingdom is charity towards the neighbour, called spiritual love (3325, 3653, 7257, 9002, 9835, 9961).

The division of heaven into those two kingdoms is described in HEAVEN AND HELL 20-28. The Lord's Divine in the heavens is love to Him and charity towards the neighbour (13-19).

[9] There is no knowledge of what good and truth are without knowledge of what love to the Lord and charity towards the neighbour are, since all good has to do with love and charity, and all truth has to do with good (7255, 7366).

Knowing truths, willing truths and having affection for truths for truths' sake, that is, because they are true, is charity (3876, 3877).

Charity consists in an inward affection for doing what is true, and not in an outward affection without an inward one (2439, 2442, 3776, 4899, 4956, 8073).

Charity equally consists of performing services for their own sake and its nature depends upon the services performed (7078, 8253).

Charity is a person's spiritual life (7081).

The whole of the Word is a lesson in love and charity (6632, 7261).

There is ignorance to-day about what charity is (2417, 3398, 4776, 6632).

Still one can know even by the light of one's own reason that it is love and charity that make one a person (3957, 6273); also that good and truth are in harmony, and belong each to the other, and so do charity and faith (7627).

[10] In the highest sense the Lord is the neighbour, because He is to be loved above all. Consequently everything that proceeds from Him and in which He is present, and so good and truth, are the neighbour (2425, 3419, 6706, 6819, 6823, 8124).

The difference between one neighbour and another depends upon the nature of good, and so on the Lord's presence (6707-6710).

Every person and every community, as well as one's country and one's church, and in the universal sense the Lord's kingdom, are the neighbour. Loving the neighbour is doing good to them appropriately to their condition. So the neighbour is the good of those for whom one should take thought (6818-6824, 8123).

Civic good, which is justice, and moral good, which is goodness of life in the community, are the neighbour (2915, 4730, 8120-8122).

Loving the neighbour is not loving a person, but what he possesses which gives him his nature, so his good and truth (5025, 10336).

Those who love a person, and not what he possesses and which gives him his nature, love evil as much as good (3820).

These people do good to wicked as much as to good people, yet doing good to the wicked is doing harm to the good; and this is not loving the neighbour (3820, 6703, 8120).

A judge, who punishes the wicked to reform them and to prevent the good being infected by their evil, is loving the neighbour (3820, 8120, 8121).

[11] Loving the neighbour is doing good, behaving fairly and correctly in every task and in every office (8120-8122).

Thus charity towards the neighbour extends to every single thing a person thinks, wills and does (8124).

Doing what is good and true for the sake of goodness and truth is loving the neighbour (10310, 10376).

Those who do this love the Lord, who is in the highest sense the neighbour (9210).

A life of charity is living in accordance with the Lord's commands, so living in accordance with Divine truths is loving the Lord (10143, 10153, 10310, 10578, 10645).

[12] True charity seeks no reward (Arcana Caelestia 2027, 2273, 2 2380, 2400, 3887, 6388-6393), because it comes from inward affection, so from the pleasure of doing good (2273, 2400, 3887, 6388-6393).

In the other life, those who separate faith from charity regard faith and what seem outwardly like good deeds they have done as deserving reward (2273).

[13] The teaching of the Ancient Church was about how to live, which is teaching about charity (2385, 2417, 3419, 3420, 4844, 6628).

The ancients who belonged to the church reduced the good deeds of charity to an order and divided them into classes, giving each its name. This was the source of their wisdom (2417, 6629, 7259-7262).

The wisdom and intelligence of those who have lived a charitable life in the world increase immeasurably in the other life (1941, 5849).

The Lord fills charity with Divine truth, because this is the real life of a person (2363).

A person resembles a garden when charity and faith are linked in him, a desert when they are not (7626).

In so far as a person departs from charity he equally departs from wisdom (6630). Those who lack charity are ignorant about Divine truths, however wise they think themselves (2417, 2435).

The life of angels consists in performing the good deeds of charity, which are services (454).

Spiritual angels are models of charity (553, 3804, 4735).


[14] A person has two faculties, one called the intellect, the other called the will (35, 641, 3539, 10122).

Those two faculties constitute the true person (10076, 10109, 10110, 10264, 10284).

The nature of those faculties determines the person's nature (7342, 8885, 9282, 10064, 10284).

These faculties serve to distinguish man from animals, because the human intellect can be uplifted by the Lord so as to see Divine truths; and likewise the will can be uplifted so as to perceive Divine kinds of goodness. Thus a person can be linked to the Lord by the two faculties which constitute him.

But the case is different with animals (4525, 5114, 5302, 6323, 9231).

Because man is superior to animals in having that ability, he is unable to die as regards the interiors which belong to his spirit, but he lives for ever (5302).

[15] All things in the universe relate to good and truth; so all things in a person relate to the will and the intellect (803, 10122), because the intellect receives truth and the will receives good (3332, 3623, 5835, 6065, 6125, 7503, 9300, 9930).

It comes to the same thing whether you speak of truth or of faith, since faith has to do with truth and truth with faith. It comes to the same thing whether you speak of good or of love, since love has to do with good and good with love.

A person calls true what he believes and he calls good what he loves (4353, 4997, 7178, 10122, 10367).

It follows from this that the intellect is a receiver for faith and the will for love (7179, 10122, 10367).

Because a person's intellect is capable of receiving faith in God and his will is capable of receiving love to God, he can by faith and love be linked to God; and being capable of this, he cannot ever die (4525, 6323, 9231).

[16] A person's will is the real being of his life, because it serves to receive love or good. His intellect is the coming-into-existence of his life from this source, because it serves to receive faith or truth (3619, 5002, 9282).

Thus it is the life of the will which is the chief element in a person's life, and the life of the intellect is derived from it (585, 590, 3619, 7342, 8885, 9282, 10076, 10109, 10110); similarly light comes from fire or flame (6032, 6314).

A person makes his own what enters into the intellect and at the same time into the will, but not what only enters into the intellect (9009, 9069, 9071, 9128, 9182, 9386, 9393, 10076, 10109, 10110).

What is received by the will becomes part of a person's life (3161, 9386, 9393).

It follows from this that what makes a person human depends on his will and on his intellect derived from it (8911, 9069, 9071, 10076, 10109, 10110).

It is also true that every individual is loved and esteemed by others in proportion to the good of his will, and thus of his intellect. Anyone who wishes well and understands well is loved and esteemed, and anyone who understands well but does not wish well is rejected and criticised (8911, 10076).

After death a person remains in the state of his will and intellect derived from it (9069, 9071, 9386, 10153).

Matters of the intellect which are not at the same time matters of will then fade away, because they are not in the person (9282).

To put it another way, a person's state after death remains such as was his love and thus his faith, or such as was his good and thus his truth. Matters which have to do with faith, but not also with love, or matters to do with truth, but not also with good, then fade away, because they are not in the person or part of him (553, 2363, 10153).

A person can grasp intellectually what he does not willingly do; that is, he can understand what he cannot will, because it opposes his love (7539).

The reason why people have difficulty in making the distinction between thinking and willing (9995).

[17] How perverse is the state of those whose intellect and will do not act as one (9075).

This state is found in hypocrites, tricksters, toadies and charlatans (3573, 4327, 4799, 8250).

[18] All willing of good and thus understanding of truth is from the Lord; but not the understanding of truth separated from the willing of good (1831, 3514, 5482, 5649, 6027, 8685, 8701, 10153).

It is the intellect which is enlightened by the Lord (6222, 6608, 10659).

This enlightenment occurs to the extent that a person receives truth in his will, that is, to the extent that he wishes to act in accordance with truth (3169).

The intellect depends upon light from heaven, just as sight depends on light from the world (1524, 5114, 6608, 9128).

The nature of the intellect is determined by the nature of the truths derived from good by which it is formed (10064).

The intellect is properly formed by truths derived from good, but not by falsities derived from evil (10675).

It is the function of the intellect on the basis of experience to see truths, causes, connexions and logical consequences (6125).

It is the function of the intellect to see and perceive whether a thing is true before it is proved, not to be able to prove anything whatever (4741, 7012, 7680, 7950, 8521, 8780).

The ability to see and perceive whether a thing is true before it is proved is only possible for those who have an affection for truth for truth's sake, those, that is, who enjoy spiritual light (8521).

The light afforded by proofs is natural light, which even the wicked may possess (8780).

All dogmas, however false, can be proved to the point where they appear to be true (Arcana Caelestia 2482, 2490, 5033, 6865, 7950 3 ).


1. [The first edition has 'the third time'.]

2. [The first edition gives the references 2340, 2373. The numbers in the text seem most likely to have been intended.]

3. [The first two references appear to be incorrect.]

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