One of them, the disciple whom Jesus loved, was reclining next to him. [John 13:23 (NIV)]
While Matthew, Mark, and Luke mention the Apostle John several times in their gospels, the gospel that bears John’s name doesn’t mention his name once. Instead, the author refers to an unnamed witness and a disciple described only as the one “whom Jesus loved.” Since John is conspicuously absent from his gospel, it would seem that he was both the witness and this much loved disciple.
While the gospel of John may have been written any time between 55 and 95 AD (with 80 to 85 AD most likely), there isn’t much dispute about its author. We might wonder why the Apostle hid himself in the gospel by referring to himself simply as another unnamed disciple or as that specially loved one. John may have chosen to remain incognito simply because he knew the good news wasn’t about him and his relationship with a man named Jesus. It was about the Messiah Jesus and His relationship with mankind. By remaining nameless, the story stayed centered on Jesus as opposed to its author.
But why would John choose to designate this unnamed disciple as especially beloved by Jesus? Did he want to point out (possibly even flaunt) the special relationship he enjoyed with Christ—a relationship not enjoyed by the other disciples? In a gospel filled with examples of Christ’s love, integrity, righteousness, humility, and sacrifice, a Messiah who blatantly favored one over others seems unlikely and a disciple who would boast of his special status seems equally implausible.
Perhaps John was simply engaging some word play. In Hebrew, the disciple’s name was Johanan. The first part of his name was Yah, a shortened version of YHWH, the name of the Lord. The last part was from the verb hanan which meant to be gracious. John’s name literally meant Yahweh is Gracious (or the one whom Jehovah loves)!
The five times this nameless disciple is mentioned as being so loved by Jesus all occur during the events surrounding Jesus’ death and resurrection—a time it became abundantly clear to all of the disciples just how much Jesus loved not just them but all of mankind! Perhaps John used this designation because it represented what is true of all of Christ’s disciples: each person who follows Jesus is a disciple loved by Jesus!
If you were asked, “Who are you?” how would you answer? While you might provide your name, marital status, profession, or background, any one of those could be changed and you would still be you (slightly different but still you). Regardless of circumstances, or even whether you’re alive or dead, the one thing about you that won’t change is your identity as a child of God and, if you are a believer, that you are a disciple of Christ. The highest honor John could claim was that Jesus loved him and yet it is an honor to which we all can lay claim! Who are you? As for me, I am the disciple Jesus loves!