The Life-Changing Love of God
A Study of the Beloved Disciple
“Now there was leaning on Jesus’ bosom one of His disciples, whom Jesus loved.”
The Gospel of John is incredibly unique. The writings of Matthew, Mark and Luke were written not long after the resurrection, and they are referred to by many as Synoptic Gospels based on their parallel descriptions of Christ’s earthly ministry.
John’s Gospel, on the other hand, was written after the holy city of Jerusalem had been destroyed by the Romans. All of the original apostles, including Paul, had been martyred for their faith, leaving John alone and with plenty of time to reflect on the significance of the events he was about to describe. And so with pen in hand, John begins his Gospel by introducing us to the Son of God with the timeless words, “In the beginning was the Word” (1:1).
“John found his identity in the love of Christ.”
Of course John was among the “inner circle” of disciples and he personally witnessed miracles such as the Transfiguration and the raising of Jairus’ daughter. It’s especially remarkable, then, to consider that over the course of the next 21 chapters, John is not identified by name even once. Instead, he humbly refers to himself as “the disciple whom Jesus loved.”1
At the risk of pointing out the obvious, this is a nickname John gave himself. Years earlier he debated with the other disciples which of them was the greatest (Lu. 9:46); now he couldn’t bring himself to write his own name in a book dedicated to the glory of Christ. He was simply the disciple whom Jesus loved.
We know from Peter’s testimony in Acts 10:34 that “God is no respecter of persons,” and so it’s apparent that John’s title of “the beloved disciple” doesn’t reflect any favoritism or special treatment he received from the Lord. Instead, it seems to indicate that John was especially aware — perhaps more than the other disciples — of “the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge” (Eph. 3:19). John found his identity in this love, and after introducing us to a God Who “so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son,” John introduces himself as an unworthy recipient of that love.
But what made John so keenly aware of the love of Christ? I believe the answer is found in this simple passage of Scripture:
“Now there stood by the cross of Jesus His mother . . .
and the disciple standing by, whom He loved.”
In all four Gospels, none of the other disciples are found at the foot of the cross. John, however, had a front row seat to the crucifixion of the Messiah. As Christ’s blood stained the earth, perhaps John recalled the words of the prophet Isaiah: “He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities” (53:5).
“The love of God forever changed John’s life, and permanently redefined the way he viewed himself.”
Such a gruesome sight would have a permanent impact on nearly anyone, and John was no exception. The sight of the disfigured Son of God was no doubt at the forefront of his mind years later as he wrote, “Hereby perceive we the love of God, because He laid down His life for us” (1 John 3:16).
The love of God forever changed John’s life, and permanently redefined the way he viewed himself. As he wrote about the life of Christ, he refused to mention himself without also mentioning the love of Christ towards him. It’s doubtful that John ever questioned that love, but if so, he simply traveled back in memory to those moments he spent at the foot of the cross when God demonstrated “His love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8).
1See also John 13:23; 19:26; 20:2; 21:7, 20.