“Feed My Sheep”

“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 21:16

“IF YE LOVE ME, KEEP MY commandments.” (John 14:15) It is a thought similar to this that Jesus emphasized in his dialogue with Peter on the occasion of one of the last of his appearances to his disciples before his ascension. The account of this revealing conversation between the two is recorded in John 21:15-17.

During the closing days of Jesus’ ministry, Peter had professed great love for him, although he had manifested it in ways which the Master did not approve. It was his love for Jesus that prompted Peter to advise him not to enter Jerusalem, where his enemies were plotting to kill him. It was also his love for the Master that caused Peter to draw his sword and cut off the ear of one of the servants of the High Priest. Peter avowed that he would lay down his life for the Master, asserting that though all should forsake him, he would not.


Jesus knew that Peter was sincere in his love, but that he had gone through a great trial of his faith, so on this occasion by the lakeside Jesus questioned him about his love, and gave instructions as to the real way it should be demonstrated. He asked Peter, “Lovest thou me more than these?” It is not too clear just what Jesus meant by ‘these.’ ‘These’ are believed to refer to the other disciples. Peter had said, “Though all men shall be offended because of thee, yet will I never be offended.” (Matt. 26:33) Peter professed greater love for Jesus than all the other disciples. They might flee (and they did) but he would stand by to defend him. Before the day was over, he denied the Master three times! It is also thought by some that ‘these’ refers to the fishing business.

Jesus questioned Peter three times concerning his love, and each time, when the apostle confirmed the fact of his love, Jesus commissioned him to ‘feed’ his ‘sheep,’ or, as in the first instance, his ‘lambs.’ How wholly this is in keeping with what Jesus previously had said, “If ye love me, keep my commandments.” Jesus knew that it would be only a little while till Peter would no longer be able to see him, and that there would be nothing he could do for him personally by which he could demonstrate his love. But here was something he could do; he could serve the Lord’s people by helping to supply them with needed spiritual food.


How wonderfully Peter carried out his commission, as is evidenced particularly in his two remarkable epistles. In his first epistle, he dwells at length on the subject of Christ’s suffering, and the fact that we are called to share in those sufferings. He explains that this is in keeping with the testimonies of the prophets, when they had foretold the “sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow.” (I Pet. 1:11) He explains that this foretold suffering of the Christ (I Pet. 2:20,21) results not from doing evil, but from doing good. Discussing the subject still further, Peter wrote, “Think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you: But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy.”—I Pet. 4:12,13

Christian suffering is related to one of the precious doctrines of the truth—that great fact of the church’s participation in the ‘better sacrifices’ of the Gospel Age. Some might be inclined to say that this doctrine is unimportant, and that it would be better simply to concentrate on our efforts to love Jesus. But apparently Peter did not feel this way about it, for it was in obedience to Jesus command, ‘Feed my sheep,’ that he wrote nearly an entire epistle for the purpose of strengthening the brethren in this great truth of the Divine plan. And he did it in demonstration of his love for Jesus.


“Be ye holy; for I am holy” (I Pet. 1:16), Peter quoted from the Old Testament. He recognized the importance of ‘holiness unto the Lord’ on the part of all those who have named the name of Christ, so in feeding the ‘sheep’ he stressed this point. He admonished the ‘sheep’ also, to lay aside “all malice, and all guile, and hypocrisies, and envies, and all evil speakings.” He explained that in their innocence the Lord’s people should be as “newborn babes” desiring the “sincere milk of the Word” that they might “grow thereby.” (I Pet. 2:1,2) There is nothing in this admonition to indicate that a Christian should ever be anything else than childlike in his simplicity and sincerity. Perhaps in writing these words Peter remembered a statement by Jesus, “Suffer little children … to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven.”—Matt. 19:14

One of Satan’s subtle sophistries is his teaching that Christians should get out of the babyhood stage and become spiritual giants in their ability to understand the ‘mysteries’ of the Bible. Many have been lured away from their simplicity in the truth by this appealing philosophy, and have become proud, conceited in their alleged superior knowledge. But let us remember that what the Lord is looking for in those who love him is purity of heart and childlike simplicity in their zeal to know and to do his will, for ‘of such is the kingdom of heaven.’

In demonstrating his love for the Good Shepherd by feeding his sheep, Peter explains that they are as stones in a building—“lively stones”—which form a spiritual house; that they are a holy priesthood to offer sacrifice, and that Jesus is the Head of this new spiritual house. Then he adds that they are a “chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light.”—I Pet. 2:5-9

In feeding the Lord’s sheep further, Peter explains that Jesus, by his example, preached to “spirits in prison”—spirits, or angels, who were disobedient at the time of the Flood—and that the salvation of Noah and his family in the Flood was typical of Christian baptism.—I Pet. 3:19-21

In obeying the commission, “Feed my sheep,” Peter warns us that our “adversary the Devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour,” and then adds, “Whom resist stedfast in the faith.”—I Pet. 5:8,9


In Peter’s second epistle, he feeds the Lord’s sheep by presenting the great truths pertaining to the kingdom and the Second Presence of Christ, using these as an incentive to add to our faith, fortitude, knowledge, self-control, patience, godliness, brotherly kindness, and love. He says that if we do these things an abundant entrance shall be ministered unto us “into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.” (II Pet. 1:4-11) Peter explained that he wrote this second epistle in order that the brethren might have it as an encouragement after he died. Thus did he make sure that he was faithful to his Master’s commission.

He tells about the vision of transfiguration which he had witnessed, and that this had convinced him he had not followed cunningly devised fables in making known “the power and coming [parousia; presence] of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (II Pet. 1:15-18) He adds, however, that we have a more “sure Word of prophecy” unto which we should take heed, as “unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the Day Star arise.” (vs. 19) In other words, Peter recognized that the prophetic testimony of the Bible was very important spiritual food for the Lord’s sheep, and that it is essential for them to take heed thereto.

II Peter, chapter two, is devoted almost entirely to a warning against false teachers in the church, particularly those who were at one time seemingly sound in the truth, but who became like the dog which is turned to its vomit; and to the sow that was washed, to her wallowing in the mire. These, he warns, would promise ‘liberty’ to the Lord’s sheep, yet they themselves are virtually in bondage to their own corruptions of the truth.—vs. 19


In the third chapter, Peter returns to the theme of the Lord’s Second Presence, and the establishment of the kingdom. He explains that in the last days there would come scoffers, saying, “Where is the promise of his coming [parousia, presence]?” (II Pet. 3:4) In answering these scoffers, Peter reminds us of our Lord’s use of the days of Noah as an illustration of the ‘days of the Son of Man.’ He speaks of the world which was before the Flood, the present ‘heavens and the earth’ and the ‘new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness.’ Reminding us that the ‘present evil world’ would be destroyed as a result of the Lord’s presence, he adds, “What manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness …?”—II Pet. 3:11

There can be no mistaking the implication of Peter’s two epistles, written, as they were, to feed the Lord’s sheep; for in them virtually every phase of the Divine plan is touched upon, either directly or indirectly, and throughout he draws heavily upon the prophecies and promises of the Old Testament as an important source of spiritual food.

And all of these spiritually nourishing truths are given to the church by Peter as evidence of his love for the Master and his desire to obey the commission, “Feed my sheep.” Since this represents Peter’s understanding of how one can demonstrate his love for Jesus, we can safely view the matter in the same way. What it means is that our love for Jesus, and, in fact, our love for the Heavenly Father also, is manifested by our appreciation of and loyalty to the great truths of the Divine plan given to us in the Word.


‘If’ we love our Master, then our love will be demonstrated by obeying his commandments, by our willingness to lay down our lives for the brethren, and by an appreciation of the truth and faithfully using it in building up the brethren in our most holy faith.

Thus, our love for Jesus and for our Heavenly Father is taken out of the abstract, visionary realm, and made a practical, understandable power in our lives. While we remain in the flesh, we cannot see God, nor can we see Jesus; but we can ‘see’ and appreciate the precious truths of the Word which reveal their characters to us; and we can see our brethren, and lay down our lives for them. And may this love fill and control our lives more and more each day! May it, indeed, become an all-possessing influence in our lives, impelling us to sacrifice everything in the service of him whom we love more than life itself.

Jesus summed up the thought for us beautifully, saying to his disciples, “He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him.” (John 14:21) The Apostle John, who reported this wonderful promise, later wrote to the church saying, “This is love, that we walk after his commandments.” And also, “Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son.”—II John 6,9

Dawn Bible Students Association
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