John the Apostle: The Disciple Whom Jesus Loved

4 min

John the Apostle enjoyed a close relationship with the Lord Jesus. At the Last Supper, he was reclining at the table next to Jesus. Later, of all of the disciples, he was the only one specifically mentioned as being present at the Crucifixion. After Christ’s resurrection, it was John who identified Him on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. John was also the one to whom Jesus entrusted the care of His mother, Mary. In the Gospel record that bears his name, John carefully avoided using his own name. Instead, he referred to himself as “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” (See John 13:23, 19:26, 20:2, 21:7, 20.) Asserting that Jesus loved him was far from an expression of pride. Rather, John’s reference to himself was an expression of great humility. The Greek verbal tense emphasizes the true meaning of John’s term for himself: “The disciple whom Jesus kept on loving.” In other words, John was amazed that Jesus kept on loving him in spite of his many failures.

John was reared by his parents, Zebedee and Salome, in Capernaum, a little fishing village on the Sea of Galilee’s northwestern shore. When the four Gospel records are compared, a strong case can be made that John’s mother, Salome, was the sister of Mary, the mother of Jesus, as mentioned in John 19:25. This connection would make Jesus the first cousin of James and John. This family connection could explain the boldness of John’s mother to ask that her two sons sit on the right and left hand of Jesus in His kingdom (Matthew 20:21). This family relationship could also be one of the main reasons that Jesus entrusted John with the care of an aging Mary.

When we examine the Gospel record, we can get a glimpse of the personality of the Apostle John. He is often called “the apostle of love.” However, he certainly did not start out as a meek and mild young man. On the contrary, Jesus referred to these two specific disciples as Boanerges, which means “The sons of thunder” (Mark 3:17).

John became fiercely loyal to Christ. On one occasion, John and his brother, James, were deeply angered when a village of Samaritans refused hospitality to the Master and His disciples (Luke 9:54). Following the example of Elijah the prophet in II Kings Chapter 1, John and James desired to call down fire from heaven to consume the ungrateful Samaritans. Jesus rebuked them for their wrong attitude.

As a member of Christ’s inner circle, John had the opportunity to see and hear special events in Jesus’ life that some of the other disciples did not. He witnessed the raising of Jairus’s daughter, the Transfiguration, and Jesus’ agony in the Garden of Gethsemane.

When John’s mother approached Jesus and asked Him for the privilege of her sons sitting on His right hand and on His left hand in the Kingdom, Christ addressed their ambitions when He said: “Ye know not what ye ask. Are ye able to drink of the cup that I shall drink of, and to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” (Matthew 20:22). John and his brother answered Jesus sincerely, “We are able.”

The sincerity of that response was proven over and over in the lifelong testimony of the Apostle John. John carefully recorded the details of the final hours the disciples spent with Jesus celebrating the Passover in the Gospel chapters referred to as the “Upper Room Discourse.” This beloved disciple was a witness to the agonies of the Crucifixion. He accepted the responsibility of caring for Mary, the mother of Jesus. John was one of the first to enter the empty tomb and believe. He was the first to recognize Jesus on the shores of the Sea of Galilee after the resurrection. This disciple preached a risen Christ in the early chapters of the Book of Acts. He was beaten and tried by the Sanhedrin. When the rulers of the Sanhedrin saw that John and Peter were “unlearned and ignorant men, they marvelled; and they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13).

After Christ’s resurrection, John the Apostle had a ministry to the Samaritans in Acts Chapter 8. In the very same place where he once sought to call down the fire of judgment, John went again to call down the fire of the blessing of the Holy Spirit! The “son of thunder” had become a man of mercy.   

For many years, John ministered for Christ. His brother, James, was the first of the disciples to give his life as a martyr for the Lord Jesus. Early church history records that John lived the longest of all the disciples. Besides caring for Mary, the mother of Jesus, he also pastored the church at Ephesus and eventually wrote the Gospel that bears his name as well as three epistles and the Book of Revelation.

Church history records that John the Apostle suffered much for the testimony of Jesus. On one occasion, John was tortured by being dipped into a cauldron of hot oil. On another occasion, he was forced to drink poison. Both times the disciple survived these torments, significantly proving his youthful determination to “drink of the cup” and to “be baptized” (Mark 10:39) with the baptism of Christ’s suffering.

How touching that Jesus once again visited John again in his old age! When the beloved apostle was exiled to the Isle of Patmos in the Aegean Sea, the Lord Jesus appeared to him in radiant glory, as recorded in Revelation Chapter 1. Christ’s head that was once crowned with thorns appeared now as “white like wool” (verse 14). His side that was pierced with a spear was now girded about with “a golden girdle” (verse 13). The feet that still bore the awful wounds of our redemption were now “like unto fine brass” (verse 15). John the Apostle fell down at the feet of the Lord Jesus and received His words of comfort: “I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen” (verse 18).

John received the message of hope recorded in the Book of Revelation. He encouraged future generations of Christians to keep on living, keep on trusting, keep on serving, and keep on looking for the Christ that he himself had so faithfully served for so many years. The apostle lived the message that he preached, loving and serving the Christ Who so faithfully had first loved him. John closes in Revelation 22:20 with his prayer of confident hope: “Even so, come, Lord Jesus.”

This article is from our Matters of Life & Death teaching series.

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