Ask Me Anything - Who Is The Disciple Referred To As "The One Jesus Loved"?

November 06, 2019
Brad Shockley

Episode Notes

Ask Me Anything

Who is the disciple referred to as “the one Jesus loved”?

This title, or maybe better to call it a designation of a person, is found exclusively in John’s Gospel in five instances…

The first is…

John 13:21–27 (ESV) — 21 After saying these things, Jesus was troubled in his spirit, and testified, “Truly, truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.” 22 The disciples looked at one another, uncertain of whom he spoke. 23 One of his disciples, whom Jesus loved, was reclining at table at Jesus’ side, 24 so Simon Peter motioned to him to ask Jesus of whom he was speaking. 25 So that disciple, leaning back against Jesus, said to him, “Lord, who is it?” 26 Jesus answered, “It is he to whom I will give this morsel of bread when I have dipped it.” So when he had dipped the morsel, he gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot. 27 Then after he had taken the morsel, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, “What you are going to do, do quickly.”

We know this person is a disciple who must have been one of the twelve and very close to Jesus in relation to the other disciples (they all would have known him as “the one Jesus loved”). The title implies that. I’m tempted to look at it as kind of a half jest half serious thing. Like when my two older daughters refer to the youngest as the “favorite.” But I don’t think it’s like that. I think this disciple and the others were okay with it. It’s certainly not bragging on his part.

We see him again in…

John 19:23–27 (ESV) — 23 When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his garments and divided them into four parts, one part for each soldier; also his tunic. But the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom, 24 so they said to one another, “Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it to see whose it shall be.” This was to fulfill the Scripture which says, “They divided my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots.” So the soldiers did these things, 25 but standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26 When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” 27 Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home.

Jesus earthly father, Joseph, must have been dead at this time, so being the eldest he made sure his mother was cared for and chose his closest and evidently most dependable disciple for the job. I’m not sure how that squares with the fact that Jesus had brothers. They were most likely still rejecting Jesus and their mother by her association with him.

Next is…

John 20:1–10 (ESV) — 1 Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. 2 So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” 3 So Peter went out with the other disciple, and they were going toward the tomb. 4 Both of them were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 And stooping to look in, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen cloths lying there, 7 and the face cloth, which had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen cloths but folded up in a place by itself. 8 Then the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; 9 for as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead. 10 Then the disciples went back to their homes.

And next…

John 21:4–14 (ESV) — 4 Just as day was breaking, Jesus stood on the shore; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. 5 Jesus said to them, “Children, do you have any fish?” They answered him, “No.” 6 He said to them, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in, because of the quantity of fish. 7 That disciple whom Jesus loved therefore said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his outer garment, for he was stripped for work, and threw himself into the sea. 8 The other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, but about a hundred yards off. 9 When they got out on land, they saw a charcoal fire in place, with fish laid out on it, and bread. 10 Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” 11 So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, 153 of them. And although there were so many, the net was not torn. 12 Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. 13 Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and so with the fish. 14 This was now the third time that Jesus was revealed to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.

And finally in John 21, just after Jesus had that famous conversation with Peter about loving him and feeding his sheep… 

John 21:20–25 (ESV) — 20 Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them, the one who also had leaned back against him during the supper and had said, “Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?” 21 When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, “Lord, what about this man?” 22 Jesus said to him, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!” 23 So the saying spread abroad among the brothers that this disciple was not to die; yet Jesus did not say to him that he was not to die, but, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?” 24 This is the disciple who is bearing witness about these things, and who has written these things, and we know that his testimony is true. 25 Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.

Now we know that the disciple whom Jesus loved is the author of this Gospel. So who is he? Do we know his name using only the info contained in the Gospel he wrote? NO.

Nowhere in this book is the disciple whom Jesus loved named or the author named. But what’s the name of the Gospel? The Gospel of John.

Why is it called John’s gospel, as in one of the twelve disciples John, if the book doesn’t tell us that?

1. The earliest manuscripts title this book “John’s Gospel.”

2. The Church fathers as early as the second century designated the apostle John as its author.

I think it’s safe to say the disciple whom Jesus loved and the author of the gospel is John, one of the sons of Zebedee.

We’re first introduced to him and his brother in…

Matthew 4:18–22 (ESV) — 18 While walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon (who is called Peter) and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. 19 And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” 20 Immediately they left their nets and followed him. 21 And going on from there he saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets, and he called them. 22 Immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.

John was probably younger than his brother, James, since James is mentioned first. They were fishermen, sons of a man named Zebedee, who became two of Jesus’ twelve disciples…

Matthew 10:2–4 (ESV) — 2 The names of the twelve apostles are these: first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother; 3 Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; 4 Simon the Zealot, and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.

Jesus gave James and John a special shared nickname (if you want to call it that)…

Mark 3:13–17 (ESV) — 13 And he went up on the mountain and called to him those whom he desired, and they came to him. 14 And he appointed twelve (whom he also named apostles) so that they might be with him and he might send them out to preach 15 and have authority to cast out demons. 16 He appointed the twelve: Simon (to whom he gave the name Peter); 17 James the son of Zebedee and John the brother of James (to whom he gave the name Boanerges, that is, Sons of Thunder);

Some think Jesus gave them that name because of their “fiery temperaments.”[1]

Luke 9:51–56 (ESV) — 51 When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. 52 And he sent messengers ahead of him, who went and entered a village of the Samaritans, to make preparations for him. 53 But the people did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. 54 And when his disciples James and John saw it, they said, “Lord, do you want us to tell fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” 55 But he turned and rebuked them. 56 And they went on to another village.

It is very interesting to note that in every instance save one the disciple whom Jesus loved is mentioned in the company of Peter. The exception is at the cross when Peter denied Jesus. One commentator observes…

In a number of the passages in which the beloved disciple is mentioned, he is paired with or contrasted to Peter… [He] asked [the disciple whom Jesus loved] to question Jesus about the identity of the betrayer (13:23–24). In 20:2–10 that disciple outran Peter to the tomb and believed first. In 21:7 it is that disciple who recognized the risen Lord and identified him for Peter at the miraculous catch of fish. Then at 21:20–23 it is that disciple who became the foil for the Lord reminding Peter that he must concentrate on his calling to serve Jesus and not compare his mission to others… One cannot avoid the observation that in all of these cases the beloved disciple is shown to be superior to Peter in some way. But it must be stressed that in all of these comparisons there is really no degrading of Peter.

Yet in all of the passages that refer to that other disciple, including what would seem to be his testimony at the cross (19:35–37), there is not even the hint of a rebuke concerning that disciple. The same, however, can hardly be said about Peter. In chaps. 1–11 Peter is mentioned briefly in two contexts (1:40–44 and 6:68; cf. also 6:8), and both are positive reflections. But [eventually, as the story unfolds] Peter is portrayed as a well-meaning but impetuous, misguided person who misunderstood the meaning of the foot washing and tried inappropriately to correct his error with Jesus (13:6–10). Then he misunderstood the meaning of Jesus’ departure and made a misinformed offer to follow him (13:36–38). Thereafter he made a daring but foolish attempt to save Jesus through violence (18:10–11) yet collapsed under the threefold questioning in the courtyard (18:17, 25–27). And even though he vowed a strong threefold “love” for Jesus, he seemed to be more concerned about how the call to Christian discipleship would affect that disciple when compared with his own call to death (21:20–22).

In these comparisons the beloved disciple is pictured as a genuine model the followers of Jesus should seek to emulate, while Peter becomes a kind of realistic picture of the many well-meaning but failure-prone persons who in general form the community of faith. Both portraits are necessary for the reader of this Gospel to contemplate. Both pictures are attached to real people. They are not mere constructs, even though their qualities may be highlighted by the writer. But the portraits are also unique in that when taken together they epitomize the two sides of most followers of Jesus: the side that at times can model for others the life Jesus intended for his disciples and the side that struggles valiantly to overcome failure and well-meant misunderstanding.[2]

Early on John was a son of thunder. He would have been one of those church members that made you nervous with his zeal. He’d also be one the pastor would have to sit down with and say something like, “I appreciate your passion and all, but we aren’t about taking down folks that disagree with us or scaring people into getting saved. 

But later he came to be know as John the Elder, the apostle of truth and love. The kind of Christ-follower all would do well to be like. I think probably that image was projected backwards into his gospel, since it was written when he was very old.

As an elder, he oversaw a region of churches in what we know now as Turkey. He wrote letters to them (1, 2, 3 John). That’s where we see the big change…

1 John 2:7–11 (ESV) — 7 Beloved, I am writing you no new commandment, but an old commandment that you had from the beginning. The old commandment is the word that you have heard. 8 At the same time, it is a new commandment that I am writing to you, which is true in him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining. 9 Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness. 10 Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling. 11 But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes.

1 John 3:16–18 (ESV) — 16 By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. 17 But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? 18 Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.

From son of thunder to good shepherd, just like Jesus. That’s the transforming power of the good news.

He also wrote the final book of the Bible, Revelation, the first part of which is addressed to the seven churches of Asia, that region he oversaw. Of particular interest to us is…

Revelation 1:9–20 (ESV) — 9 I, John, your brother and partner in the tribulation and the kingdom and the patient endurance that are in Jesus, was on the island called Patmos on account of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. 10 I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet 11 saying, “Write what you see in a book and send it to the seven churches, to Ephesus and to Smyrna and to Pergamum and to Thyatira and to Sardis and to Philadelphia and to Laodicea.” 12 Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, 13 and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around his chest. 14 The hairs of his head were white, like white wool, like snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire, 15 his feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the roar of many waters. 16 In his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength. 17 When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me, saying, “Fear not, I am the first and the last, 18 and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades. 19 Write therefore the things that you have seen, those that are and those that are to take place after this. 20 As for the mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand, and the seven golden lampstands, the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.

In this vision Jesus appears to John and gives him the revelation. This is interesting when you realize it ties into something Jesus said about the disciple whom he loved. Go back to…

John 21:20–23 (ESV) — 20 Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them, the one who also had leaned back against him during the supper and had said, “Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?” 21 When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, “Lord, what about this man?” 22 Jesus said to him, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!” 23 So the saying spread abroad among the brothers that this disciple was not to die; yet Jesus did not say to him that he was not to die, but, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?”

John in his gospel made sure to correct a legend that arose about himself based on what Jesus said here. The disciples interpreted it as John never dying since he was to remain until Jesus came back. But John said, “ehhh, that’s not really what Jesus meant.” If he did, John would be sure somewhere right now!

But John did live until Jesus came, in the vision! Some time that after that he died in his 80s (rare for that time) of natural causes according to church history. He was the only disciple not martyred.

When you study the gospels, you discover Jesus did have favorites in a way. Of the many disciples that followed him, he chose twelve special ones to teach and equip to the lead the church (as well as have special roles in the new heavens and earth). Of those twelve there were three closest to him, three who saw things like the transfiguration and spent time with Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane — which the others were not privy too. Those three were…




And of those three, our study tonight indicates one was the closest, so close he was called the disciple whom Jesus loved. John.

NEXT WEEK: Do babies go to heaven if they die?

[1] Nässelqvist, D. (2016). John the Apostle. In J. D. Barry, D. Bomar, D. R. Brown, R. Klippenstein, D. Mangum, C. Sinclair Wolcott, … W. Widder (Eds.), The Lexham Bible Dictionary. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

[2]  Borchert, G. L. (2002). John 12–21 (Vol. 25B, pp. 92–93). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

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