John, the writer of the Gospel of John, referred to himself five times as the disciple Jesus loved (13:23; 19:26; 20:2; 21:7, 20). But didn’t Jesus love all twelve of the disciples? Yes, yes, and yes again, even the one who would betray Him. John knew the great love of God even for sinners! He wrote the dearly loved verse in the Bible,
Jn 3:16, “For God so loved the world, He gave His only begotten Son…” So what must John have had in mind when five times he wrote that he was the one whom Jesus loved? An argument could be made that John was the most intimate of Jesus’ disciples. He seemed always to be close by. Sometimes his motivation was not good; he appeared to be a social climber, but he was there! And time with Jesus has a way of chiseling off the rough spots. In the three years he spent with Jesus, he was loved but he was disciplined and rebuked as well. A writer from the In Touch website writes:
He needed Jesus’ counsel as much as any other of the Twelve, for he and James seem to have possessed unusually ardent temperaments. Jesus called them ‘sons of thunder,’ or, by a more literal rendering, ‘sons of tumult’ (Mark 3:17), writes Merrill C. Tenney. “Their bigotry and truculence were revealed in their readiness to rebuke the man casting out demons because he did not follow with them (Luke 9:49), and in their desire to call down fire from heaven on the Samaritan villages that would not receive Jesus (9:52-54). Both rashly asked their mother to petition Jesus that he would grant them the seats of primacy in his kingdom (Matt. 20:20-29). Jesus sharply rebuked these crudities of spirit, even though they may have been motivated by loyalty to him and his work.[i]
There were several occasions when John was one of three disciples whom Jesus took on special missions. Luke gives account of three of these very private occasions. John was present when Jesus raised Jairus’ daughter (5:37). He was a witness to the transfiguration of Jesus (9:2). And he was present in the garden during the suffering of Jesus (14:33). How John must have grieved to have failed Jesus by going to sleep here so near the end! Only a short time before, he and Peter had prepared the passover meal (Lk. 22:8), he had sat next to Jesus, and he had “lain on Jesus’ bosom” (Jn. 13:23) during that last meal. Perhaps his failure in the garden gave him the determination to not fail Jesus again; he stayed to the end. He was a witness of Jesus’ trial (Jn. 18:15) and he was there when Jesus died (Jn. 19:26). In the end John’s dedication was rewarded. Jesus would have died with one more burden – who would care for Mary – but for John.