A Study of John 21:15-17

When you read John 21, the words that leap from the page are: “Feed My Sheep”.

In John 21 the Lord Jesus Christ appeared to His disciples after He had risen from the grave, and while they were fishing in the Sea of Galilee, the Lord Jesus gave them a miraculous catch of fish. So miraculous that they knew without a doubt that it was Jesus.

The Origin of the Church

John 21:14
This is now the third time that Jesus shewed himself to his disciples, after that he was risen from the dead.

John 21:15
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.

John 21:16
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.

John 21:17
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.

John 21:18
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.

John 21:19
This spake he, signifying by what death he should glorify God. And when he had spoken this, he saith unto him, Follow me.

John 21:20
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?

John 21:21
Peter seeing him saith to Jesus, Lord, and what shall this man do?

John 21:22
Jesus saith unto him, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? follow thou me.

Here we have the origin of the Church. The Lord Jesus Christ gave Peter, and the other Apostles, a direct command to “feed my sheep”. Christ changed Peter’s profession from fishing to shepherding. 3 ½ years earlier He had appointed Peter to be a “fisher of men”, which is the figure of an “evangelist”. But now Christ appointed Peter to be a “pastor and teacher”.

The order is very appropriate: First people need to become saved. Then, those who have become saved need shepherding, which means: caring for and feeding and defending. And those whom Christ first commends to Peter were not the “sheep”, but the “lambs”, the weak and feeble of the flock. These must have our first priority.

Why did Jesus ask him three times: “Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou Me ?” Peter was grieved because he said unto him the third time, “Lovest thou me?” Three times the Lord challenged his love, because Jesus was reminding Peter that he denied his Lord three times in the courtyard of the high priest. Peter was grieved, not because he was insulted, but because he was reminded of this terrible night when he denied to know Jesus three times.

But then, Jesus reinstates Peter as a “shepherd” of His sheep. What grace! Christ remains the Chief Shepherd. Christ says: Peter these are not your sheep, but “My sheep”.

What grace! The Lord commends to the Apostles, and to us, that which was dearest to Him on this earth: His sheep. We will get back to this passage later. But first:

Without a doubt, Peter was reminded of this day when he in turn charges us:

Feed the flock (1 Peter 5:1-3) Please turn with me to I Peter, chapter 5

1 Peter 5:1
The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed:

1 Peter 5:2
Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind;

1 Peter 5:3
Neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being ensamples to the flock.

When God writes to the Church of our day, through the hand of the Apostle Peter: “Feed the flock of God”, He is addressing the Church worldwide. There are a number of truths revealed about the Church in this passage.

What is the Church?

There is an external Church which is visible as Church organizations throughout the world. But we know that not everyone within the external Church is a child of God. For example, the Lord Jesus, in His Letter to the seven Churches of Revelation 2 and 3, clearly states that only 2 out of the 7 Churches are faithful Churches, and the other 5 have mostly gone apostate.

There is not only an external Church, but there is also an Eternal Church, consisting of all those who truly have become Born Again, all those who have been made alive from the dead. They were spiritually dead, they were born that way, but they have been made alive by the Holy Spirit, because Christ has purchased them on the cross and has paid for all their sins.

Of this Church, the Eternal Church, Christ is called the Head, the Firstborn.

Christ is called the Firstborn (Colossians 1:15-18)

Colossians 1:15
Christ, Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature:

Colossians 1:16
For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him:

Colossians 1:17
And he is before all things, and by him all things consist.

Colossians 1:18
And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence.

Here God defines what He means by “the firstborn”.

Because Christ is the Firstborn from the dead, He has in all things the preeminence. Therefore He also is the Head of the Church, which is called His Body.

This is the Church of the Firstborn. The invisible Eternal Church.

It is the one worldwide Church consisting of all those who have been made alive from the dead; all those who have been Born Again. They are UNITED to Christ, as firmly as the Head is firmly attached to the Body.

However, all these Believers throughout the world are not sitting there like loose sand. Christ has commanded them to unite, and unitedly take on His task of spreading the Gospel throughout the world. The outward manifestation of this invisible Eternal Church is the external Church. Followers of Christ are commanded to meet together as an external Church. This has led to:

The Development of a local Church

It is God who draws a congregation such as this together. The local church is a complete Church of Christ, fully equipped with everything that is required for its government. There is no need that any government from the outside by a Denomination should be imposed on it.

For example, the Church at Antioch was not subject to the Church at Jerusalem. The local group is spoken of embodying the fulness of the Church. Another example, when God addressed the Church at Corinth He says:

1 Corinthians 1:2
Unto the church of God which is at Corinth, to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called (to be) saints,

Now, this may come as a surprise to some of you, but the Scriptures speak of each local Church as an independent organization, with only Christ as the Head. There is no evidence in Scripture that Churches must unite to form a denomination.

What should the first priority of every Church be? The same first priority that Christ has:

Feed My sheep (2 Timothy 4:1-4)

Preach the Word! Christ is the Head of this Body. Therefore we must obey Him.

Is there another reason we must preach the Word?

We read in 2 Timothy 4:1-4:

2 Timothy 4:1
I charge thee therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom;

2 Timothy 4:2
Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine.

2 Timothy 4:3
For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears;

2 Timothy 4:4
And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.

Paraphrased, God says: Keep preaching the truth from the Bible; there will come a time when the truth of the Word of God will not be heard, because people prefer to listen to fables.

There will come a time when they will not like to listen to sound doctrine. The sound doctrine of the grace of God. They will prefer to glorify man, rather than glorify God.

A living organism

According to the Bible, there is a certain pattern how God develops the local Church from an organization to a living organism. First of all, Christ must be the Head. He must breathe life into this organization. Christ does that by bringing in people who are qualified for Elders and Deacons.

Let us turn again to 1 Peter 5 to see what God has to say about Elders:

1 Peter 5:1
The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed:

1 Peter 5:2
Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind;

1 Peter 5:3
Neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being ensamples to the flock.

The Elders are not to function as lords over God’s heritage, but as examples to the flock. In other words they are to be servants to the flock rather than lording it over them. The Elders and the Deacons are accountable to the congregation, because they are servants rather than lords. The Pastor is accountable to the Congregation, because he is a servant, rather than lord. The congregation may fire the Pastor or an Elder or a Deacon.

But what are the Elders taking the oversight off?

They have been given charge of overseeing the spiritual needs of the congregation, such as preaching and teaching. And if we are called the Body of Christ, or the Temple of God, then our Church must reflect that we hold high the honor of being called the Temple of God. Therefore, our Church holds high the honor of serving the Lord’s Supper. And certain safeguards should be approved by the congregation to hold high this honor that we may serve the Lord’s Supper. One of those safeguards is that we must require a credible profession of faith of all those who desire to celebrate the Lord’s Supper.

What is a profession of faith?

It is a public declaration of the work that God has done in our life, through the preaching of the Word. That is why we must truthfully preach the Word.

But notice: God says in 1 Peter 5:1 that Peter is a “partaker of the glory that shall be revealed”. Don’t try to imagine streets of gold. That is nonsense. It is a glory that has not yet been revealed. We cannot understand it, because it is a glory that is incomprehensible for the human mind.

God continues in 1 Peter 5:4 to speak about:

The wonderful future of the Church

1 Peter 5:4
And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away.

1 Peter 5:5
Likewise, ye younger, submit yourselves unto the elder. Yea, all of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble.

1 Peter 5:6
Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time:

1 Peter 5:7
Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you.

What a lovely words:

For He careth for you (1 Peter 5:4-7)

How much did He care for you?

Think of the Hymn that goes like this:

When I survey the wondrous cross, On which the Prince of Glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss, And pour contempt on all my pride.

John 21:15
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.

John 21:16
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.

John 21:17
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.

By Alfred Chompff

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