A Better Bible Study Method, Book One
Weighing God's Word
“The Disciple Whom Jesus Loved”
The fourth gospel was written by “the disciple whom Jesus loved” (Fourth gospel 21:20 & 24). This was how the author referred to himself, along with the “other disciple”, “the other disciple, whom Jesus loved”, etc. and his use of these anonymous terms should prompt us to ask questions, such as: Other than who? (Note: this author is never identified as an “apostle”.) Merely declaring this was John does not make it true and it is a logical fallacy to assume that the majority’s opinion must be right. So, we should let scripture be the standard by which truth is judged when it comes to the identity of this gospel author.
The phrase “the disciple whom Jesus loved” is notable for several reasons but primarily because it means that his relationship with Jesus was unique. He is set apart from the rest of the disciples of Jesus as “the disciple” (singular) that has the distinction of being identified as the one whom “Jesus loved”.
If you met a man who referred to himself as ‘the one my mother loved’ you would surely wonder why he did so. This phrase suggests a distinctive relationship and, if it is true, it would indicate that his mother had a unique connection with him. So, when the Bible calls someone “the disciple whom Jesus loved” it should arrest our attention. As the author of the fourth gospel used this term to refer to himself it is fair to ask: What could have led him to do so? Since this curious phrase distinguishes the author based on the unique regard that Jesus had for him, should we not wonder why God’s word took the time to highlight Jesus’ relationship with this author?
The designation “the disciple whom Jesus loved” differentiates this disciple on the basis of Jesus’ relationship to him. This is not the same as his love for Jesus and the use of that term means Jesus’ love for this disciple is a distinguishing factor or else the phrase is stripped of its meaning.
Since the Bible emphasizes this relationship with Jesus, it is logical to search the scriptures for evidence of such a relationship in Jesus’ life. This is precisely what we will do. Let us begin by probing every passage that mentions this unnamed disciple so we can get to know him a little better.
The “Other Disciple” of the Fourth Gospel
The author first differentiated himself from the rest of the disciples when he wrote, “Now there was leaning on Jesus’ bosom one of his disciples, whom Jesus loved” (Fourth gospel 13:23). Then, when Jesus was being put on trial, this author said that Peter and “another disciple” showed up, who is also called “that other disciple” (Fourth gospel 18:15 & 16). [The literal Greek here reads, “the other disciple” in 18:15 and, “the disciple other” in 18:16.] Following this, when Jesus was on the cross, the author wrote that Jesus “saw his mother and the disciple standing by, whom he loved”. This is the one who the author also called, “the disciple” and “that disciple” (Fourth gospel 19:26 & 27). The author then wove together his terms and used “the other disciple, whom Jesus loved”, along with “that other disciple”, “the other disciple”, and “that other disciple which came first to the sepulchre” in recounting his experiences on resurrection morning (Fourth gospel 20:2, 3, 4 & 8).
This disciple was last mentioned when the author wrote about seven disciples who went fishing together. Jesus visited them and the author says he (“that disciple whom Jesus loved”) was the first to recognize Jesus (Fourth gospel 21:7). A few verses later he was also called “the disciple whom Jesus loved” and it was confirmed that he was the one “which also leaned on his breast at supper and said, Lord, which is he that betrayeth thee?” (Fourth gospel 21:20). The terms “him”, “this man”, “he”, and “that disciple” were next used to refer to him (Fourth gospel 21:21-23). The author then wrote, “This is the disciple which testifieth of these things, and wrote these things” (Fourth gospel 21:24). The context reveals he is the one called “that disciple” in verse 23 and “the disciple whom Jesus loved” in verse 20.
The preceding references make it clear that “whom Jesus loved” was the most revealing term that this author used to refer to himself. If the Bible calls someone “the disciple whom Jesus loved” it is reasonable to expect that he was involved in more than just Jesus’ last days on this earth. Given the uniqueness of this designation he undoubtedly had a significant role in the life of Jesus. Moreover, he absolutely must have interacted with Jesus prior to the Last Supper.
Admittedly, these references let us know the author was present for some notable moments of Jesus’ ministry: his last Passover, his crucifixion, and his vacant tomb on resurrection morning. But now carefully read each of the following passages and then consider them together. What is missing?
A Look at the Scriptures
Fourth gospel 13:21-28 (with Jesus at the supper)
Fourth gospel 18:12-18 (with Jesus at his trial)
Fourth gospel 19:25-27 (with Jesus at the cross)
Fourth gospel 20:1-10 (first man at Jesus’ tomb & first to believe)
Fourth gospel 21:2-24 (first to identify Jesus & author of this gospel)
For your convenience, each of these passages is reprinted here with bold typeface highlighting all of the references to “the disciple whom Jesus loved”.
13:21-28: “When Jesus had thus said, he was troubled in spirit, and testified, and said, Verily, verily, I say unto you, that one of you shall betray me. Then the disciples looked one on another, doubting of whom he spake. Now there was leaning on Jesus’ bosom one of his disciples, whom Jesus loved. Simon Peter therefore beckoned to him, that he should ask who it should be of whom he spake. He then lying on Jesus’ breast saith unto him, Lord, who is it? Jesus answered, He it is, to whom I shall give a sop, when I have dipped it. And when he had dipped the sop, he gave it to Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon. And after the sop Satan entered into him. Then said Jesus unto him, That thou doest, do quickly. Now no man at the table knew for what intent he spake this unto him.”
18:12-18: “Then the band and the captain and officers of the Jews took Jesus, and bound him, And led him away to Annas first; for he was father in law to Caiaphas, which was the high priest that same year. Now Caiaphas was he, which gave counsel to the Jews, that it was expedient that one man should die for the people. And Simon Peter followed Jesus, and so did another disciple: that disciple was known unto the high priest, and went in with Jesus into the palace of the high priest. But Peter stood at the door without. Then went out that other disciple, which was known unto the high priest, and spake unto her that kept the door, and brought in Peter. Then saith the damsel that kept the door unto Peter, Art not thou also one of this man’s disciples? He saith, I am not. And the servants and officers stood there, who had made a fire of coals; for it was cold: and they warmed themselves: and Peter stood with them, and warmed himself.”
19:25-27: “Now there stood by the cross of Jesus his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus therefore saw his mother, and the disciple standing by, whom he loved, he saith unto his mother, Woman, behold thy son! Then saith he to the disciple, Behold thy mother! And from that hour that disciple took her unto his own home.”
20:1-10: “The first day of the week cometh Mary Magdalene early, when it was yet dark, unto the sepulchre, and seeth the stone taken away from the sepulchre. Then she runneth, and cometh to Simon Peter, and to the other disciple, whom Jesus loved, and saith unto them, They have taken away the Lord out of the sepulchre, and we know not where they have laid him. Peter therefore went forth, and that other disciple, and came to the sepulchre. So they ran both together: and the other disciple did outrun Peter, and came first to the sepulchre. And he stooping down, and looking in, saw the linen clothes lying; yet went he not in. Then cometh Simon Peter following him, and went into the sepulchre, and seeth the linen clothes lie, And the napkin, that was about his head, not lying with the linen clothes, but wrapped together in a place by itself. Then went in also that other disciple, which came first to the sepulchre, and he saw, and believed. For as yet they knew not the scripture, that he must rise again from the dead. Then the disciples went away again unto their own home.”
21:2-24: “There were together Simon Peter, and Thomas called Didymus, and Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, and the sons of Zebedee, and two other of his disciples. Simon Peter saith unto them, I go a fishing. They say unto him, We also go with thee. They went forth, and entered into a ship immediately; and that night they caught nothing. But when the morning was now come, Jesus stood on the shore: but the disciples knew not that it was Jesus. Then Jesus saith unto them, Children, have ye any meat? They answered him, No. And he said unto them, Cast the net on the right side of the ship, and ye shall find. They cast therefore, and now they were not able to draw it for the multitude of fishes. Therefore that disciple whom Jesus loved saith unto Peter, It is the Lord. Now when Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he girt his fisher’s coat unto him, (for he was naked,) and did cast himself into the sea. And the other disciples came in a little ship; (for they were not far from land, but as it were two hundred cubits,) dragging the net with fishes. As soon then as they were come to land, they saw a fire of coals there, and fish laid thereon, and bread. Jesus saith unto them, Bring of the fish which ye have now caught. Simon Peter went up, and drew the net to land full of great fishes, an hundred and fifty and three: and for all there were so many, yet was not the net broken. Jesus saith unto them, Come and dine. And none of the disciples durst ask him, Who art thou? knowing that it was the Lord. Jesus then cometh, and taketh bread, and giveth them, and fish likewise. This is now the third time that Jesus shewed himself to his disciples, after that he was risen from the dead. So when they had dined, Jesus saith to Simon Peter, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my lambs. He saith to him again the second time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my sheep. He saith unto him the third time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? Peter was grieved because he said unto him the third time, Lovest thou me? And he said unto him, Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee. Jesus saith unto him, Feed my sheep. Verily, verily, I say unto thee, When thou wast young, thou girdedst thyself, and walkedst whither thou wouldest: but when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, and carry thee whither thou wouldest not. This spake he, signifying by what death he should glorify God. And when he had spoken this, he saith unto him, Follow me. Then Peter, turning about, seeth the disciple whom Jesus loved following; which also leaned on his breast at supper, and said, Lord, which is he that betrayeth thee? Peter seeing him saith to Jesus, Lord, and what shall this man do? Jesus saith unto him, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? follow thou me. Then went this saying abroad among the brethren, that that disciple should not die: yet Jesus said not unto him, He shall not die; but, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? This is the disciple which testifieth of these things, and wrote these things: and we know that his testimony is true.”
The most unusual thing about the author is that he seems to appear unexpectedly from out of nowhere. It should arrest our attention when we first find out that there is no mention of anyone called “the disciple whom Jesus loved” prior to chapter 13 of the fourth gospel. This person’s history with Jesus is missing! Why?
The very first time we read about this one unnamed disciple whom “Jesus loved” is at Jesus’ last Passover. (At that event the disciples wondered who was going to betray Jesus and Peter eventually looked to the one whom “Jesus loved” to ask Jesus who the betrayer would be.) Before this episode we do not find the terms “other disciple” or “the disciple whom Jesus loved” in the fourth gospel. What can account for this?
It does not make sense that someone could suddenly appear on the scene during the last days of Jesus’ earthly ministry and just instantly become “the disciple whom Jesus loved”.
The “other disciple” had a special relationship with Jesus and that degree of friendship does not materialize out of thin air. So why do the scriptural references to this unnamed disciple seem to begin on the day before Jesus is killed? The questions get even more curious.
The terms “the disciple whom Jesus loved”, “other disciple”, etc. appear in only five passages of scripture (those being the ones just quoted above). Why? Surely someone who was close enough to Jesus to be called “the disciple whom Jesus loved” had to have been interacting with Jesus before that last Passover. Yet, we find no prior mention of an unnamed “disciple whom Jesus loved” in the book that he himself wrote. So where should we look?
Erased from the Bible?
The bad news is that no other books of the Bible contain any reference to any person called “the disciple whom Jesus loved”. You will not find this phrase outside of this author’s own gospel. As a matter of fact, the other three gospel writers avoided mentioning the presence of this “other disciple” even when we know for certain that he was present!
For example, all four gospels note that Peter followed Jesus into the palace of the high priest on the night of Jesus’ arrest. But the first three gospels totally ignore the “other disciple”, who was there and who got Peter through the door. Since no one else is mentioned in those reports, someone reading one or all of those accounts might think it safe to assume that Peter was alone when this occurred. Wrong!
We know that Peter and the “other disciple” both followed Jesus that night (Fourth gospel 18:15-16). But there is no mention of this “other disciple” in either Matthew 26:58, Mark 14:54, or Luke 22:54-55, all of which tell only of Peter’s following Jesus on that night. Why would the writers of those gospels purposely omit the presence of the “other disciple”?
Why would “the disciple whom Jesus loved” get no visible mention outside of his own gospel? He was very close to Jesus and played a role during several of the weightiest moments of Jesus’ life. He was the author of one of the four gospels. Yet, if we didn’t have his gospel, we would not know about Jesus’ unique relationship with him nor would we have any way to know that he even existed! Doesn’t this seem strange to you?
The fact the other three gospels never refer to the one whom “Jesus loved”, “other disciple”, etc. is significant. You’ll soon see that this “other disciple” was set apart from the rest of the disciples in a very special way by the actions of Jesus – a key piece of evidence that will help us to identify him.
A Few More Questions Before the Answers
This unnamed disciple did not just suddenly pop up in the days before Jesus was killed. So then why does it appear this way in scripture? Why did “the disciple whom Jesus loved” write his gospel in such a way that he seems to come from out of nowhere? The scriptures suggest a reason, one that will also help to prove the author’s identity.
What can we learn from the fact that the first mention of this unnamed disciple doesn’t occur until chapter 13 of the fourth gospel? Why did the author of the fourth gospel choose that point in his own gospel narrative to start referring to himself?
Chapter 13 tells us a lot about Jesus’ last Passover but it does not explain either the timing of, or the reason for, the sudden appearance of the one whom “Jesus loved”. Still, there is a significant event recorded in the Bible that does help to answer each of those questions and that event occurred just prior to that same Passover. We will focus on that episode a little later. First, though, let’s take a closer look at the Apostle John.
Read: The Beloved Disciple?