So, I must confess to apparently misjudging someone; badly misjudging them. I cannot tell this person to their face, so I will tell you. It appears I badly misjudged the Apostle John. That’s right; I seem to have misinterpreted his words of 20 centuries ago. During a sermon, I sarcastically pointed out that John referred to himself as “The disciple whom Jesus loved.” I considered it presumptuous and a suggestion that Jesus favored him over all the others. Boy, do I have Pharisees-level egg on my face!
First, I should point out that there is debate as to whether John was referring to himself. But it is widely accepted by biblical scholars that he was. My reaction was “how full of himself!” Who is he to believe Jesus loved him more than the others? But John never says exactly that:
After He had said this, Jesus was troubled in spirit and testified, “Very truly I tell you, one of you is going to betray me.” His disciples stared at one another, at a loss to know which of them He meant. 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.” John 13:21-24 (NIV).
When Jesus saw His mother there, and the disciple whom He loved standing nearby, He said to her, “Woman, here is your son,” and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home. John 19:26-27 (NIV).
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 (NIV)
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?”) John 21:20 (NIV)
It is true that this shadowy disciple does seem to be consistently compared favorably with Peter. But Charles Spurgeon made the case that even if John was elevated in Jesus’ eyes, it was not at the expense of the other disciples:
“It is not for a moment to be supposed that anyone suffered from his supreme friendship for John. John was raised, and they were not lowered, but raised with him. All believers are the dear objects of the Saviour’s choice, the purchase of his blood, his portion and inheritance, the jewels of his crown. If in John’s case one is greater in love than another, yet all are eminently great, and therefore if it should so happen that you dare not hope to reach the height of John, and cannot look to be distinguished above others as “the disciple whom Jesus loved,” yet be very thankful to be among the brotherhood who can each say, “He loved me, and gave himself for me.”
But I’m not as sure as Spurgeon seemed to be that John was making the case that he was the only disciple whom Jesus loved. To make this case, I hang my hat on John’s words in his first epistle:
This is how we know that we live in Him and He in us: He has given us of His Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent His Son to be the Savior of the world. If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God. And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.
God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. 1 John 4:13-19 (NIV)
Let’s drill down on verses 14 through 16: And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent His Son to be the Savior of the world. If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God. And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.
It’s possible John had a greater awareness of this love than the others or more confidence in this love of Jesus than the others. But in his first letter, John seems to make it clear that this love is available to all who acknowledge Jesus as the Son of God. And when we do, we can know and rely on the love God has for us.
In his writings, John acknowledges this love Jesus has for him. I’m no longer sure he’s claiming it as exclusively his. He certainly doesn’t in 1 John. There he makes it clear that we who accept Christ can claim we are the disciple (among billions) who Jesus loves. So, my apologies John, it appears I misjudged you badly. But it’s good to know all of us who follow Christ are in good company!
This post is republished with permission from Oakbrook Church, De Pere, WI.