Biblical Interpretation from Someone with no Training in Biblical Interpretation
We are confronted in the Gospel of John a few times with a character referred to as, “The disciple whom Jesus loved” or some variant of that. It is one of the oddities of the Gospels, since it only appears in the late-written Gospel of John. Most of the facts point to this disciple probably being John. One can assume this since he was certainly one of the twelve apostles, considering that he attended the Last Supper. After Jesus revealed that he was going to be betrayed, the disciples were up in arms and John 13:23-24 records, “One of them, the disciple whom Jesus loved, was reclining next to him. Simon Peter motioned to this disciple and said, “Ask him which one he means.” So we know he’s in The Twelve. Next, he was a fisherman for after Jesus had been crucified, most of the disciples went back to what they had been doing before Jesus came. We read,
Simon Peter, Thomas (Called Didymus), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples were together. “I’m going out to fish,” Simon Peter told them, and they said, “We’ll go with you.” So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing (John 21:2-3)
We already know “the disciple whom Jesus loved” was not Peter, since he talked to said disciple and both Thomas and Nathanael were mentioned by name so there would be no reason to cover them up later. The sons of Zebedee were James and John as we can learn from Matthew 4:21-22,
Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them, and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.
It couldn’t have been James though, since he dies before any other member of the twelve (and we’ll talk about why this rules him out in a second). This leaves John and two unnamed disciples as the final three candidates because when Jesus shows up we read,
Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, “It is the Lord,” he wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water (John 21:7).
So we know it was somebody who was at this particular event. Later in the chapter we learn that “This is the disciple who testifies to these things and who wrote them down. We know that his testimony is true” (John 21:24). Now, if the Gospel of John did actually come out around 90-100ad as many scholars think, then James is automatically ruled out because he died during the events of the book of Acts. It is assumed that this disciple was especially close to Jesus (likely one of the three closest since he seems very confident in his standing with the Lord). Also, this disciple often went where Peter went, for we see him automatically following Jesus and Peter in John 21:20,
Peter turned and saw that the disciple whom Jesus loved was following them. (This was the one who had leaned back against Jesus at the supper and had said, “Lord, who is going to betray you?)
This helps us to presume that “the disciple whom Jesus loved” was probably one of the three closest apostles who had gone everywhere with Jesus even when others did not. We read who these are in Mark 9:2, “After six days Jesus took Peter, James and John with him and led them up a high mountain, where they were all alone. There he was transfigured before them.” If it’s not Peter and it can’t be James, this leaves only John.
Ok, now with all of that out of the way let’s get to the point of this: why? Some presume that John was trying to create anonymity (considering that he’s not directly named in the book that bears his name). But it seems odd that John- the only living apostle around 90ad- would edit his name out when logic dictates he’s the most likely person to fill the slot in his Gospel. Instead, I would like to suggest that John did this not to cover himself up, but to teach us a lesson about understanding where we are in Christ. As his place as the youngest apostle, John didn’t think much about doctrine, he just listened to what Jesus said and followed along. Compared to the other disciples, John likely had fewer years of education, and certainly fewer years of actual experience with his religion. Peter on the other hand was constantly leading the charge trying to better understand Jesus and just exactly what he was. As quoted above, John was certainly not freaking out around Jesus or trying to understand his place with Christ. Oh no, we find that even after Jesus had announced someone would betray him- one of his closest friends no less- John just casually leans on him. He had no reason to worry like the other apostles about betraying his master, because John was too busy basking in Jesus. But, John didn’t hold any greater position in the Twelve than the other members. Jesus loved all of his friends, he even says it himself in John 13:34, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” So by calling himself “the disciple whom Jesus loved,” John was not trying to put himself in a separate section of the discipleship. No, John wrote himself in this way to teach us all how we should see ourselves in Christ. While his older peers were wrestling with their doubts and their fears about Jesus, John understood the most important part: Jesus loved him. Jesus loved everyone, but John actually understood his position fully as a follower of Christ.
This concept is actually taught by Jesus in the Gospel of Luke. Jesus was at Martha and Mary’s house and Martha had been very busy preparing and serving. Mary on the other hand just sat around listening to Jesus (as opposed to helping her sister serve the Lord). Naturally, this frustrated Martha. We read in Luke 10:40,
“But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”
One can understand Martha’s position, she is trying to serve the Lord, but she can’t even enjoy her time with him because her lazy sister is just sitting there listening to him talk. However, Jesus’ opinion is not the same as Martha’s. The story continues,
“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:41).
All Mary had been doing was enjoying Jesus. Just like John leaning against the Lord during what most apostles had considered a crisis time; when she should have been working, Mary took the time to enjoy our Lord.
Many Christians today find themselves becoming Marthas. We’re busy trying to please God. Some sectors of the Christian world still believe that through good works one can please the Lord. However, this is not what the Bible teaches. Look at the example of the apostles and Jesus. Peter walked on water, made great statements of faith, and even cut a guy’s ear off in order to defend the Lord. However, John just sort of followed Jesus around, listened to him, and enjoyed being with him. Yet, when it came down to it, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ said to all of them, “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you. Now remain in my love” (John 15:9). Jesus didn’t differentiate between the over-achieving Peter and the relaxed John. Likewise, Jesus and our Father in Heaven do not differentiate between those who carry out man good works and those who do not. As Christians, we are called to do good, however it is not who we are. A person who is all wrapped up in their commitments to Christ will have difficulty fully appreciating the Lord. Now I’m not saying to stop doing good; by all means, every Christian should go out and do the best they can, for Peter tells us, “Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us” (1 Peter 2:12). And of course one who is in Christ will likely naturally want to do good things. What I am saying though is that it is more important to take the time to just enjoy the Lord and bask in your relationship with him. For it is written, “Therefore, since the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it” (Hebrews 4:1). We’ve been called away from our stressful lives apart from the Lord to enjoy Christ and all that comes with him. Who is the disciple that Jesus loved? It’s you; so bask in the relationship you have with the Lord, for he loves you so much that he gave himself over to death in order to get close to you.
Rock on God!