The Beloved Disciple

Six times in the Gospel of John (and found in no other account), the terminology of “the beloved disciple” is presented: 13.23, 25, 19.26, 20.2, 21.7, 21.20. The Apostle John, writing toward the end of his life, identified himself as author of this gospel which we know by account comparison: This is the disciple who testifies about these things and has written these things, and we know that his testimony is true (John 21.24 NET). The end note of knowing the veracity of John’s testimony is probably a reflection by his team of followers and amanuenses about his exemplary life and testimony of The Spirit.

Proverbs 13:24: The one who spares his rod hates his child, but the one who loves him is prompt in disciplining him.

Here is a proverb which explains a concern over a child’s ultimate welfare. The parent who loves a child in the best possible way gives him or her the attention required for guidance. Even though this proverb  contrasts the love of discipline exhibited by a parent with the hate of sparing the rod, hate is probably not the direct opposite of love. Ignoring the child, rather, would probably be the antithesis of love.

This illustration of love from Proverbs helps to explain the act of discipleship. To mentor someone involves attentive effort instead of self concern and/or given attention to others. Hypothetically, any would-be mentor must isolate those of his pupils who are the most interested in his teaching and who would be adept at propagating it. This explains why Jesus loved one disciple especially: John, the son of Zebedee. This was James’ younger brother who along with him and Peter formed an inner circle of special disclosure. Even though John was prominent from the beginning of the church (Acts chapters 3-4), his enduring contribution is seen through the Revelation account, Gospel, and epistles. John’s unique understanding and writings reflect the purposes of Jesus in mentoring the young disciple.

This concept of an ‘inner circle’ is seen in the lists of disciples from the Synoptic Gospels and Acts: Mt. 10.2-4, Mk. 3.16-19, Lk. 6.14-16, Acts 1.13. This ‘inner circle’ are always listed first. They were the ones that Jesus called first to follow after John the Baptist was imprisoned (Mk. 1.16-20). Andrew, however, fades into the background from this inner circle for an undisclosed reason. The ‘inner circle’ is seen by who Jesus allows to accompany during extraordinary events: The raising of Jairus daughter from the dead (Mk. 5.37), The Transfiguration of Christ (Mk. 9.2), and the Garden of Gethsemane prayer (Mk. 14.32-35). Also, to these three disciples Jesus gave new names: “Peter” to Simon bar Jonah, and Sons of Boanerges (thunder) to James and John.

John was younger than James most probably since he is listed after his brother. He may not have been out of his teens  when called by Jesus since a Hebrew boy became a man at age 12. Being called to discipleship at a younger age had the advantage of not having to relearn faulty approaches to life which were common among the other disciples. Jesus could take John and disciple him before he could form erroneous spiritual ideas such as the then current thinking of the Pharisees, Scribes, and Sadducees.

It was the ‘inner three’ who received the bulk of the rebukes of Jesus. Often, the ‘inner three’ they put themselves forward in their misguided zeal: James and John wanting to call fire upon their adversaries (Luke 9.51-56), Peter hindering Jesus’ purpose (Mt. 16.21-23), John and James wanting to sit with Jesus in His kingdom (Mk. 10.35-45). As is the case in Proverbs, John recognized authorial instruction from a godly figure as loving.

John was very aged at the time of his recorded writings, and inevitably, the question arose: How would he refer to himself in his recounting the events in his gospel? After all, one of the purposes of his gospel was to correct a few (but important) misconceptions which were starting to form from the accounts in the Synoptic Gospels alone (John wrote an additional account and not a replacement). Any eyewitness publishing his historical account seeks to represent himself to his audience as a participant to achieve any credibility for his assertions. On the other hand, truly and ultimately (and also in the other scriptures) the author is God and John probably is sensitive to this fact (see John 14.26). After a lifetime of reflection upon the person of Jesus and all the events John experienced including the start of the Church Community, John could have happily concluded he was beloved by God, and so chose that moniker when composing The Gospel of John.


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