"St Peter & St John Run to the Sepulchre" by James Tissot
Who was "the disciple whom Jesus loved"?
This phrase is used six times in The Gospel of John. By a process of examination of the text and elimination of possible candidates, scholars have deduced that the Apostle John was the Beloved Disciple. A second century quote of Polycrates of Ephesus (c. 130s - 196), recorded by Eusebius in his Church History, supports the idea of John as the Beloved Disciple. In John 21:24 we read…
This is the disciple who testifies to these things and who wrote them down. We know that his testimony is true.
The Apostle John, an eyewitness to the events he recounts, has written down for us the words and deeds of Jesus. He has written down for us an account of what other people following Jesus looks like. In fact, John gives us more individual portraits of the followers of Jesus than any other Gospel. Those portraits are detailed; they provide us with much guidance for our own journeys. Furthermore, most importantly: “We know that his testimony is true.” Perhaps, these words were written down by a trusted friend of the Apostle, a member of what has been called the Johannine community, a group of disciples who gathered around John and learned from him, perhaps in Ephesus.
What can we learn from this? I believe that as we prayerfully read Scripture in community as a living Church today, and in the communion and guidance of the saints down through the ages, Jesus will show each one of us what he wants our following of him to look like.
The Gospel of John ends with an interesting note:
Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.
Chapter 21 of John’s Gospel was obviously added by a member of the Johannine community. Whoever wrote these words knew that the Gospel of John already had a proper ending at the conclusion of chapter 20. There we read…
Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
Now the author or authors of chapter 21 begin their conclusion in a similar way. They write that: “Jesus did many other things as well.” Like most people telling a story, John and his community both selected and arranged, out of all the stories they knew about Jesus, certain ones to tell to achieve a certain purpose: that we might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing we might have life in his name.
Furthermore, the author or authors of chapter 21 tell us that if all the things Jesus said and did were written down, the world could not contain the books. In addition to libraries that hold physical books, of course today we have the capacity to digitize. Naturally, electronic storage systems today have a greater capacity to hold information than our physical libraries. Therefore, on a very literal level, if everything Jesus said and did had been written down, the world would have enough space to hold that information.
However, there is another way in which the world cannot contain all the information about Jesus’ life and words. The world cannot contain that information because it is too explosive. The stories of Jesus’ life and words are powerful. The Greek word for this is “dunamis” from which we get our word “dynamite”. The New Testament is TNT.
While the world cannot quite handle such power, I believe God does continue to channel that power through human beings. We receive the power of Jesus’ life through prayerful, Holy Spirit empowered, community based, reading of Scripture. As we receive that power to follow Jesus in our world today, the Word that was in the beginning with God continues to manifest himself in human flesh, our flesh.
Thanks be to God!