John never mentions himself by name in the fourth Gospel, which gives us a reason for believing that whenever we read of the “disciple who Jesus loved” that he is referring to himself. The first time we see John in the Gospel he is with Andrew, but leaves himself unnamed.
Prior to the baptism of Christ, John was a disciple of John the Baptist, “Again the next day after John stood, and two of his disciples” (1:35). After John the Baptist indicated that they should now become disciple of Christ, both John and Peter followed Him, “And the two disciples heard him speak, and they followed Jesus … One of the two which heard John speak, and followed Him, was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother” (1:37, 40).
As mentioned above, John called himself the “disciple who Jesus loved”. He expresses this idea on various occasions throughout the Gospel.
1. At the Last Supper: “One of His disciples, whom Jesus loved” (13:23)
2. At the Cross: “The disciple standing by, whom He loved” (19:26)
3. Resurrection day: “The other disciple, whom Jesus loved” (20:2)
4. By Galilee: “Therefore the disciple whom Jesus loved” (21:7)
5. After the resurrection: “The disciple whom Jesus loved” (21:20)
John may have come from a prominent / wealthy family since he was known personally by the High Priest, “And Simon Peter followed Jesus, and so did another disciple: that disciple was known to the high priest, and spake unto her that kept the door, and brought in Peter” (John 18:16), and was able to look after Mary in his home, “And from that hour that disciple took her unto his own home” (19:27).
John was amongst the first in many things in the Gospel account:
1. One of the first disciples.
2. First to as “Is it I?” when Jesus said one would betray Him (13:25)
3. First at the tomb on Jesus’ resurrection (20:1-4)
4. First to recognise Jesus on the shore in Galilee (21:7)
John’s love for Jesus is obvious as we read his work. He was not afraid to stand watching as Jesus was being judged by the Sanhedrin, Pilate and Herod, nor was he fearful about being beneath the cross as Jesus hung there. We see something of this at the Last Supper as we see John “leaning on Jesus’ bosom” (13:23). Because of this he could write some of the greatest verses about love in the Bible.
Jesus had a special plan for John, the beloved disciple. When Peter asked Him what would become of John, Jesus replied, “If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? Follow thou me.” (21:22). Though rumours that Jesus said that John would not die were spread around, we understand that Jesus was simply referring to John’s long life. Tradition tells us that he outlived all the disciples – the last work of the Bible being written by John (Revelation).
B. John the Author
This Gospel is written by someone who was there at the time – an eyewitness of the events. He says as much in 21:24, “This is the disciple which testifieth of these things; and we know that his testimony is true.” Commenting directly on the person of Christ he writes, “We beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father” (1:14). The disciple who describes himself as the “disciple whom Jesus loved” does not present second-hand details, but factual eyewitness accounts, “He that saw it bare record, and his record is true: and knoweth that he saith is true, that ye might believe.” (19:35).
We know that John was a disciple and apostle of Jesus Christ. He names other disciples of Christ, and goes into some detail regarding names of persons and places involved in the story of the life of the Lord, yet he consistently leaves his own name out of the record. By its very absence we know that the name of the author has to be John. When we link details from other Gospels to this account (such as the two at the tomb on resurrection morning) it is beyond doubt that John is the author.
The author knows his facts, he knows Israel, and he knows the Jewish customs and religion. Because of this we know that he must be a Jew living in Israel at the time Jesus was alive. We know that he must be a Jew and a disciple who accompanied Jesus. When all the evidence is read we are left with the fact that the nameless disciple whom Jesus loved is the apostle John.