The Disciple Jesus Loved

Throughout his gospel John calls himself ‘The disciple Jesus loved.’ Did John think Jesus favoured him above the others? I think not. Did John think he was closer to Jesus than the others? Yes, I think it’s likely that he considered himself to be the closest of the disciples. I will give some evidence for that below. But I don’t think that was the main reason for the description. I think the description was primarily John’s way of telling the world that he experienced the raw love of Jesus and it transformed him.
Evidence suggests that when John first began to follow Jesus he was not the most loving individual. In fact Jesus referred to John and his brother James as the ‘Sons of Thunder’ (Mark 3:17). And we don’t have to look far to know why. When a Samaritan village rejected Jesus and his disciples, James and John wanted to call down fire from heaven to burn them up (Luke 9:54). But towards the end of John’s life we find him to be a different man. There we find him encouraging the Jewish and Gentile blended churches to ‘love one another’ (1 John 3:11-20) saying ‘this is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us’ (1 John 3:16). John talks so much about love in his various writings that many scholars today refer to him as the ‘apostle of love.’ The fact is that by the time Jesus ascended to heaven John was a transformed man, and it was the love of Jesus that changed him – love revealed in their daily interactions but shown supremely at the cross. And so the description ‘The disciple Jesus loved’ seems to express John’s personal revelation of love having interacted one on one with his Divine Friend.
Let’s stop for a moment and consider the closeness of Jesus and John. John was not just one of the twelve disciples; he was also one of the inner three along with Peter and James.
When Jesus went to pour out his heart in the Garden of Gethsemane he took Peter, James and John with him. When his appearance changed on a mountain and he was seen speaking with Moses and Elijah, it was just Peter, James and John who witnessed the event. These three were the inner core of Jesus’ followers. But in addition to this we also find evidence that John was even closer to Jesus than either Peter or James.
At the last supper before his crucifixion Jesus announced that one of the disciples would betray him, and Peter quietly asked John to find out from Jesus who the betrayer was. It was almost as if John was the only one who knew Jesus well enough to ask that kind of question.
Now, of course it could be argued that John was only asked because he was sitting next to Jesus. But when John finally spoke to Jesus he did something we would not expect – he lent back against Jesus’ chest to get the confidential piece of information (John 13:25). You don’t do that to anyone, let alone your Lord and Rabbi, unless you know them really well. And John knew this because he is very quick to remind us at the end of his gospel that he was the one who lent back against Jesus to ask the question (John 21:20). It is almost like John is trying to draw attention to the fact that their relationship was kind of special.
But this is not the only evidence that Jesus and John were close. Who can forget the moment when Jesus looks down from the cross at his mother and John standing together, and Jesus saying to her ‘Dear woman, here is your son,’ and then to John ‘Here is your mother’ (John 19:26-27). What was Jesus doing? He was asking John to look after his mother now that he was dying. The Scripture specifically says ‘From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.’ Don’t you love that? Jesus entrusted his mother to John. And it goes without saying that we entrust our most precious things to those we know and have proven worthy.
There is one other incident that reveals the closeness of Jesus and John. In the final chapter of John’s gospel as Jesus and Peter are walking along Jesus informs Peter that he will die in a way that glorifies God. While Jesus is speaking Peter turns and sees John following and asks ‘Lord, what about him?’ Peter singles out John for special attention, but why? Surely it is because Peter perceives that John has an important place in the heart of Jesus. But Jesus tells Peter not to concern himself with what will happen to John; he tells Peter just to concentrate on following – which is quite a fair reply to someone who has just denied knowing you – as Peter had.
Soon after this event Jesus ascended to heaven. Was that where it all ended? Was the relationship between of John and Jesus finally over? Well, I’m sure most Christians would say no, because John would have continued to pray to Jesus and Jesus would have continued to speak to John through the Holy Spirit. But Jesus did arrange one more meeting with John, and in a sense it was face to face.
In the first chapter of the book of Revelations John describes how he was in the Spirit on the Lords day when he heard a loud voice behind him. And as he turned he saw his Divine Friend standing behind him. The sight was overwhelming, because Jesus was shinning with all his heavenly glory. And John says he was so overcome by what he saw that he fell at Jesus’ feet as if he were dead (Revelations 1:9-17).
The heavenly Jesus then begins to show John what is to happen before he returns, and that is what the rest of the book of Revelations is all about. But here once again we see Jesus entrusting John with something very precious. First he entrusts John with his mother and now he entrusts John with inside information on the future of the world and the church.
But I would like to focus on something that Jesus says at the end of this revelation. Jesus says something which must have been quite significant to John. He says ‘Behold, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end’ (Revelations 22:12-13).
This would have meant more to John than anyone else. John along with Andrew was the first of Jesus’ disciples. He was previously a disciple of John the Baptist. He had watched as the eccentric prophet baptised Jesus at the start of his ministry, but now here he was exiled on the Island of Patmos as an old man. He had seen each of the twelve apostles die for their faith and he was the last one standing. In fact his survival into old age had caused a rumour amongst the churches. People had begun to say that he wouldn’t die before Jesus returned. But as the end of his gospel states (John 21:22-23), this was not true.
Now why would these words of Jesus be so meaningful to John? Well, he was the first disciple in and the last disciple out. He was there at the beginning and he was there at the end. So it’s significant that Jesus says ‘I am the first and the last, the beginning and the end.’ He was probably saying ‘Look John, you’ve seen it all, and so have I. You and I have been in this together. Now don’t give up, because I am coming, I know you’re the last man, but stay strong, my reward is with me.’
Is there a lesson for us in all this? Yes. John is a wonderful example of closeness and perseverance. Jesus knew he could trust him, and he trusted him with his some of his most precious things. If you want God to trust you and use you, get close and stay close and don’t ever give up. One day you’ll hear a voice behind you, or above you, or somewhere. And you’ll turn to see the one who laid down his life for you, and his reward will be with him.

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