In the book of John, the apostle John writes many times about the disciple whom Jesus loved. John 13:23 is one of them, “ . . . the disciple whom Jesus loved, was reclining next to him. ” John 19:26, “When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing near by, he said to his mother, 'Dear woman, here is your son'” (NIV). John 2:20, vSo she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved . . . ” (NIV). Who was the disciple whom Jesus loved?
While Jesus lived here on this earth, there was one disciple whom Jesus loved most. He loved one person more. No, He liked one disciple more!
The Twelve Disciples
Yes, Jesus loved all of the people in the world, but He picked only twelve men to be His disciples. He did not wait until our time and pick one of us today. Jesus did not pick a gentile or non-Jew. Jesus did not pick a Jewish leader or Sam down the block, Charlie who was going to seminary, or the tender hearted priest at the temple. Jesus did not pick just anyone. He picked twelve men: Peter, Andrew his brother, James the son of Zebedee, John his brother, Philip, Bartholomew, Thomas, Matthew the tax-gatherer, James the son of Alphaeus, Thaddaeus, Simon the Zealot, and Judas Iscariot. Twelve men.
The Inner Group
Among those twelve men, Jesus spent more time with just three of them: Peter, John, and James. They were together with Jesus at the Mount of Transfiguration (Matt. 17:1-13). They were the only ones with Him when He went to heal a child (Mark 5:37 and Luke 8:51). Jesus selected them from among the twelve. They were the only ones Jesus took with Him to pray with Him in the garden of Gethsemane.
And they came to a place named Gethsemane; and He said to His disciples, “Sit here until I have prayed. And He took with Him Peter and James and John, and began to be very distressed and troubled.” (NKJV) Mark 14:32-33
Jesus did not pick three other disciples such as Judas, Philip and Bartholomew. He picked Peter, the one who would deny Him. He picked James who was John’s brother, and He chose the apostle John, who would later be exiled to the island of Patmos and write the books of 1, 2, and 3 John, as well as Revelation.
The Loved One
Of those three men, there was one man who understood Jesus more than all the others. There was a closer relationship between him and Jesus. He appears to have wanted to be with Jesus more. Yes, Jesus loved all of the disciples. John 13:1 says that He did. But Jesus was closer to this man because this man wanted to be closer to Jesus. John 21:20 says that Jesus loved this disciple. Scripture never says that about any other disciple.
There was reclining on Jesus’ breast one of His disciples, whom Jesus loved. (NASB) John 13:23
When Jesus therefore saw His mother, and the disciple whom He loved standing nearby, He *said to His mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” (NASB) John 19:26
And so she ran and came to Simon Peter, and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken away the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid Him.” (NASB) John 20:2
That disciple therefore whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord.” And so when Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put his outer garment on (for he was stripped for work), and threw himself into the sea.” (NASB) John 21:7
Peter, turning around, saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them; the one who also had leaned back on His breast at the supper, and said, “Lord, who is the one who betrays You?” (NASB) John 21:20
This disciple was the only disciple who stood at the foot of the cross when Jesus was dying. All of the others had deserted Him. Jesus trusted this man, so He asked him to take care of His mother. Is that not what happens when we know someone really loves us? We trust him with valuable things. Jesus did – His mother. After His death and return to life, Mary Magdalene ran into Peter first and then John. John 20:2 says that Jesus loved John. But the Greek word for love is different from all of the other “who Jesus loved.” The Greek word had been AGAPE – God’s love. This time scripture tells us that Jesus PHILEO’ed John. Jesus liked John a lot. It was John who was the most eager to get to Jesus’ empty tomb (John 20:1-4). Of all of the disciples, John loved Jesus more than his own life, more than anything. It should not be a surprise that Jesus felt closer to John because John loved Jesus the most. His actions showed it.
John had spent a lot of time with Jesus. We are left with the impression that John was with Jesus all of the time. Of all of the disciples, John loved Jesus the most. John had risked his life for Jesus at the cross. And when John heard that the one whom he loved was alive, he rushed as fast as his legs would take him to find Him. Later, after Jesus had asked Peter if he loved Him not once but three times, the Holy Spirit reminds us that Jesus and John loved each other. John was the only disciple who remained faithful, loving, and constantly wanting time with Jesus. It should not be surprising that Jesus was able to be closer with John. That was true of Abraham who was called the friend of God (James 2;23), Enoch who “was pleasing to God” (Heb. 11:5), Elijah who was a man of faith (James 5;17-18), and Daniel whom God “highly esteemed” (Dan. 9:23; 10:11, 19). These men all loved God with a passion. John greatly loved Jesus; as a result they were very close.
How can we develop a close relationship like this? It is called time, devotion to Him, faithfulness to Him, and a willingness to sacrifice your life – your all for Him. It means you long to be with Him. Do you long to be with Him constantly? John did. His heart beat for Jesus even at the risk of hardship and death.
There is a difference between not wanting to offend Jesus and loving Him with a passion. The desire to not offend is cautious, but a loving heart only has eyes to eagerly follow and to please. There is a difference between loving Jesus and loving Him as we first did when we came to Him. We have seen John’s first love. Is Jesus still your first love? You might be interested in reading “God’s Great Passion.”