“20 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?”) 21 When Peter saw him, he asked, “Lord, what about him?”
22 Jesus answered, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.” 23 Because of this, the rumor spread among the believers that this disciple would not die. But Jesus did not say that he would not die; he only said, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you?”
24 This is the disciple who testifies to these things and who wrote them down. We know that his testimony is true.”
John describes himself in his gospel as “The discple whom Jesus loved”(v20), so unsurprisingly church history has him named ” John the Beloved”.
Was John more loved than the other disciples? Does Jesus play favourites? It is important that when we read the Bible we take off our western cultural spectacles:
Firstly, physical affection between men is VERY common outside the west and has none of the sexual overtones it does here. The Filipino pastor I did an internship with used to hold his friend’s hand and even tousel his hair. A good thing I was warned this was normal! Secondly, it is normal and understandable that we can have a special affection for someone without denying others the love they are also due. As the littlest of all my siblings and cousins, I can attest to the fact that your elders can consider you the “indulged baby of the family”, when you know that there is no real favouritism and are just as likely to be told off for being naughty! After all, John was the youngest and was a direct relation of Jesus, so he was probably everyone’s “kid brother” among the disciples.
Jesus seemed to provoke Peter to single minded devotion by playing a little on Peter’s tendency to compare himself to John (v21-21).
Perhaps, though, John intended no special relationship, and it was simply his way of saying “I was there”.
All that said, John was very clear that Jesus loved him. This formed the strongest possible foundation for a long life of sacrificial service. It also led John to speak of the requirement to love EACH OTHER as evidence of our love for Jesus, arguably more than any other New Testament writer.
Yet, here’s the thing: John’s writings (John, 1,2,3 John, Revelation) are among the toughest to read, having the highest, most exacting standards of Christian discipleship shown through love in action.
John may be the “apostle of love”, but that love is no soft option. Real love, born of God, is the fuel for endurance, obedience and sacrifice.
How can I show that kind of love today? Following John’s writings, that must find a concrete, practical expression, or it isn’t real:
“Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.” (1 John 3:18).