SHEPHERDING THE LORD’S FLOCK
In verse 15 the Lord said to Peter, “Feed My lambs”; in verse 16, “Shepherd My sheep”; and in verse 17, “Feed My sheep.” Here the Lord seemed to be saying, “Peter, since you love Me, you should feed My sheep. You don’t need to go fishing any more. Instead, take care of My sheep; shepherd My flock. Instead of taking care of your own eating, you need to feed My flock. You should not only feed the sheep—you should also shepherd them.”
Shepherding includes feeding, but feeding does not comprise shepherding. Feeding is a matter of providing food to the hungry ones. A shepherd, of course, will feed the flock. Psalm 23 has the thought of feeding. According to this Psalm, the Lord as our Shepherd causes us to lie down in the tender grass, and He leads us beside the waters of quietness. He even prepares a feast for us in the presence of the enemy. This points to the shepherd’s feeding of the flock. The main thing the shepherd does is to take care of the feeding of the sheep. However, shepherding includes more than feeding. When a wolf comes, the sheep need to be protected. Therefore, in Psalm 23 the Shepherd has the rod and the staff to use in protecting the flock from anything that would cause harm.
In John 21 the Lord first tells Peter to feed His lambs; then He charges him to shepherd His sheep. In these verses the words “lambs” and “sheep” refer to the flock, which is a collective noun denoting the church. Shepherding is for the flock (10:14-16), which is the church (Acts 20:28).
Later, in his first Epistle Peter charges the elders to shepherd the flock of God (1 Pet. 5:1-4). According to 1 Peter 2, we need to long for the milk of the word so that we may grow. This is a matter of feeding. Growth is for the building of the spiritual house, the church. As we have seen, the church is God’s flock. In his first Epistle Peter regards the Lord as the chief Shepherd and all the elders, including himself, as shepherds caring for God’s flock. This indicates that the matters concerning which the Lord trained Peter in John 21 were deeply impressed upon him. Peter certainly received the Lord’s training.
In John 21 the Lord Jesus went on to give Peter further training, training concerning his death to glorify God (vv. 18-22). In verse 18 the Lord said to Peter, “Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were younger, you girded yourself and walked where you wished; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish to go.”
Here the Lord was telling Peter, “Peter, when you were young, you went wherever you wanted. If you wanted to go fishing, you went fishing. But for the sake of My commission to take care of My flock, the day will come when another will gird you and carry you where you do not want to go. You will be arrested as I was arrested, and you will be put on a cross even as I was put on a cross.” The Lord said these words to signify “by what kind of death he would glorify God” (v. 19). After the Lord had spoken these words to Peter, He said to him, “Follow Me!”
Peter, when he heard that he would be martyred to glorify God, wanted to know what would happen to another disciple, the one whom Jesus loved. “Peter therefore seeing him said to Jesus, Lord, and what about this man?” In this matter, we are the same as Peter. If we were called by the Lord to be martyrs, we would want to know about the destiny of other brothers in the Lord. The Lord answered Peter in a wonderful way: “If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow Me!” (v. 22).
Apparently what is described in 21:18-22 is simple and easy to understand. Actually, what is recorded here is deep, for it is part of the aggregate sign in this chapter. In these verses we have two matters: martyrdom and living until the Lord’s coming. Many of the Lord’s followers will die, but some will live until His coming. If we die, we should die in such a way as to glorify God. If we live, we should live in such a way that we shall give a good account to the Lord at His coming. This is the real sense of the Lord’s word here. Those who die should die for the glorification of God, and those who live until the Lord’s coming need to prepare themselves to give a good account to Him at His coming back.
If we put together all the matters covered in chapter twenty-one of the Gospel of John, we shall see that this chapter is all-inclusive. It answers the questions we may have about our living, about the way to carry out the Lord’s commission, and about our future as followers of the Lord.
(The Fulfillment of the Tabernacle and the Offerings in the Writings of John, Chapter 62, by Witness Lee)