Imagine being among the handful of disciples who followed Christ on Earth from the very beginning of his ministry. Picture the sights and wonders you would have seen, the experiences you would have felt, and the wisdom you would have heard. Perhaps you can envision the aroma of freshly caught fish by the Sea of Galilee. Imagine being there, hauling in those fish. You strain with all your might and power to hoist the net into the safety of the boat, the net bulges like never before, and the wood beneath you groans and creaks under the sheer weight of the load. Even as an experienced fisherman, you’ve never seen a catch like this in all your life. Immediately you are convinced of the power of Jesus, the man who had only approached you moments earlier who now sits alongside you in your boat. Swayed by this miracle, you decide to drop everything and follow Him embarking on a journey that will change your life forever. That’s merely one of John’s stories (see Luke 5:1-11).
Eventually, he will become one of Jesus’ closest friends, an Apostle, a concerned teacher, and even a prophet. Moments after that story, he began a journey unlike any other. He would become “the Beloved” and our lives are still blessed today by that friendship.
If we put ourselves in John’s shoes, we can experience, through the moments he describes, the first-hand the glory of Jesus. It might be difficult to fully appreciate what it was like to see miracles, signs, and wonders performed by Jesus, let alone what it was like to be one of His best friends. John was often called “the one whom Jesus loved” (see John 13:23; 19:26; 20:2; 21:7,20) and I wonder what would it have been like to have that relationship with Jesus? What would it have been like to see one of your dearest friends die on a cross? What would it have been like to see your one of your closest companions fulfill the prophecies of old and become our Savior?
As we begin to look at his life, what seems clear is that John gained the love and trust of Jesus early on in their relationship. Several reasons may explain that. Not only was he one of the first disciples to answer His call, but he could have also been closely related by family to the Lord.¹ In their time together, John witnessed Jesus walk on water, feed thousands of people, and even saw the physical form of Christ be transformed during the transfiguration into a glorious heavenly figure. Through all of these events, John’s faith in Jesus and his bond with the savior flourished. By association and experience, his relationship with Jesus was special.
Now, consider about what it would must been like to stand before Pilate amidst the crowds, as the thunderous roar of the people cried out for the death of someone who loved you dearly. As the fierce legionaries escorted Jesus to His place of execution, imagine what it would have been like to follow them, intent on being present for whatever may unfold. As you watch as the One close to you nailed to a cross and killed slowly and painfully can you imagine the intense feelings that must have overwhelmed him.
How might they affect you? We often forget as we define John as “the disciple whom Jesus loved,” that John must have loved Jesus greatly. Could you bear to watch someone you love die in such an unjust manner? If you witnessed the murder of one of your closest friends, what amount of pain and suffering would you expect to endure? How would you then feel knowing it must happen? While we can’t be certain, do you believe John thought of Isaiah 53 as he saw his friend hang on that cross. The passage in 53:7-9 could have easily been on his mind in that moment as he observed the events:
He was oppressed and He was afflicted,
Yet He opened not His mouth;
He was led as a lamb to the slaughter,
And as a sheep before its shearers is silent,
So He opened not His mouth.
He was taken from prison and from judgment,
And who will declare His generation?
For He was cut off from the land of the living;
For the transgressions of My people He was stricken.
And they made His grave with the wicked –
But with the rich at His death,
Because He had done no violence,
Nor was any deceit in His mouth.
We must not overlook their interactions in those moments. When “Jesus gazed straight upon the young face of John standing nearby. Less than 24 hours earlier, that same face had nestled against His chest. As he looked upon a face that had shone like the sun (see Matthew 17:2), he now looked upon that same face bloody, spit upon and in anguish. He stayed nearby during Christ’s brightest and darkest hours. John was willing to look when others would have covered their eyes, and he beheld Him.”² Knowing that John was there to care for the physical and spiritual well-being of Mary must have been comforting to Christ. If Joseph had already passed, and Jesus the caretaker of Mary, then her care was entrusted to one whom Jesus knew would care for her as He would (remember John 7:5 that his brothers were uninterested in the Messiah and had a strained relationship with Him until His resurrection, Acts 1:14). While Jesus spent most of His public ministry distancing Himself from the constrains of His earthly family, it is wonderful to see Him as He hung on the cross, suffering as the Lamb of God, make provision for her.³ When it says in 19:27, “from that hour that disciple took her to his own home,” it implies that he did more than provide her with a place to stay, from that time he took responsibility for her.4 That action says more about their relationship than most.
Thankfully, the power of the Savior triumphed and John was reunited with Jesus after His resurrection. How wonderful must have been to see that empty tomb (see John 20:5) and eat that breakfast by the sea (see John 21:1-13)?
After Christ’s ascension, John’s faith and love for Jesus were proven by his dedication to the Kingdom. As an Apostle, he helped build the very foundation of the first-century Church from Pentecost to the end of the first century. He was determined to spread the gospel, not just in person but also as the author of the Gospel that bears his name. As an “elder,” he wrote to several Churches correcting their problems and helping them secure a place in the Kingdom. As a prophet, he relayed a message from the Lord Himself to the Church warning them of the perilous times to come. Through his hard work and diligence to the cause of Christ, we can be 100% certain his faith and love for Christ were genuine.
Even though John was referred to as “the one whom Jesus loved” in his gospel, is Christ’s love exclusive? The answer to this question lies within John’s very own writings, 1 John 3:16 says:
By this we know love, that he laid down His life for us.
And John 3:16 which says:
For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.
John was indeed “the one whom Jesus loved,” but aren’t we all in some sense “the ones who Jesus loves” and continues to love? As brothers and sisters in Christ, we get to take comfort in and enjoy a special love from our savior that goes beyond all knowledge. Consider what the Apostle Paul said in Ephesians 3:14-19:
For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man, that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height – to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
Since Christ loves us as He loved John, we have an obligation to love Christ back, just as John loved Christ. What does this mean for us? If we are to abound in the love of God, we also ought to walk in the light, as John makes perfectly clear in First John 1:5-7:
This is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.
Just as we can know that John’s love and faith in Christ were genuine, we too ought to be able to prove our love and our faith through our dedication and desire to serve God.
We hope this first chapter points you to an idea fundamental to all Christians. John’s story is not over. Even though he died long ago. he’s waiting alongside every other faithful Christian for the return of Jesus. He was there in Acts 1:11 when the angels said: “this same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven,” and he’ll be with us in the world to come.
The final stage of John’s life takes place in Heaven alongside all the redeemed. Thankfully, we don’t have to imagine or pretend what this part of his life will be like. We have the opportunity to experience that story ourselves. We can witness the full glory of God and Christ in Heaven with him. That eternal experience will be greater than any miracle John ever saw. All we have to do to join him there is to follow God’s plan that’s been clearly laid out for us in His Word. John was there in Jerusalem when men first heard it at Pentecost and while he’s no longer here, men still hear the message he taught long ago.
He didn’t just know Jesus. They were the best of friends. By his life and his writings, John made a point to exclaim, “Have you seen Jesus my Lord? He’s here in plain view.” We hope to do the same with this series of lessons.
After all, He’s is our friend as well.
¹ A woman named Salome is mentioned in Mark 15:40 and 16:1 accompanying Mary, the mother of Jesus at the crucifixion and the tomb of Jesus on the first day of the week. That close proximity to intimate moments between the Savior and His mother (and the Apostle John in John 19:25-27) implies a relationship that was more than a run-of-the-mill disciple. When you combine it with Matthew 27:56 that says the “mother of Zebedee’s sons” was there as well you see something substantial. While we can’t be certain, it seems probable, this Salome is the same woman and not just the wife of Zebedee and mother to the Apostles, but perhaps a close relative (even a sister) to Mary, the mother of Jesus. If that were the case, then Jesus would have been first cousins to the Apostles James and John.
² Beth Moore, The Beloved Disciple, (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2003), 69-70.
³ D.A. Carson, The Gospel According to John, The Pillar New Testament Commentary, (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1991), 616-617.
4 Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John, New International Commentary on the New Testament, (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1995), 718.
All Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright (c) 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.