Formations 06.14.2020: At Jesus’ Side

Carl Bloch, The Last Supper, late 19th century

John 13:18-30

Biblical scholars debate the identity of the disciple “whom Jesus loved” (John 13:23). Tradition identifies him as John son of Zebedee, but the Gospel of John itself is more tight-lipped. John is not a bad guess, but neither would be Lazarus, or perhaps Andrew, or even some other figure from early Christian history.

The Beloved Disciple’s true name is a matter of historical curiosity, but it isn’t an article of faith. To me, far more important than the Beloved Disciple’s identity is the Beloved Disciple’s role in the Fourth Gospel. In a number of scenes, he serves as an example of the ideal disciple. He is first disciple to believe in the resurrection based on nothing but the empty tomb. At the cross, he is the disciple to whom Jesus entrusts his mother.

In today’s passage, this Beloved Disciple makes his first official appearance at the table when Jesus announces that one of his disciples will betray him. But he isn’t just at the dinner table, he is positioned closest to Jesus: “reclining next to him” (v. 23)—a position implying both honor and intimacy. The other disciples recognize that he is in a privileged position with respect to Jesus, so they ask him to find out who the betrayer is.

The Gospel writer draws sharp contrasts between the Beloved Disciple and other disciples at the table. He is closer to Jesus than Peter, even though Peter is usually thought of as the leader of the apostles. Yet here we see him deferring to the Beloved Disciple, acknowledging that Peter doesn’t know Jesus as well as he does. We see an even greater contrast with Judas, who leaves the table—and is thus farthest from Jesus just as the Beloved Disciple is closest—to go and seal his betrayal.

Now, as you and I read the Gospel of John, we get to choose. Where will we stand with respect to Jesus?

Will we leave the room like Judas did?

Will we “follow the leader”—traditions, chains of command, and standard operating procedures—while still keeping a respectful distance from Jesus?

Or will we rest at his side in intimate communion?


• What are the characteristics of intimate relationship with Christ?
• How does such intimacy relate to both betrayal and rank-and-file participation?
• What does it take to be like the Beloved Disciple?

Darrell Pursiful is the editor of Formations. He is an adjunct professor at Mercer University and an active member of the First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon, Georgia.


For further resources, subscribe to the Formations Teaching Guide and Commentary. Additionally, the Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary series is a scholarly but accessible means for enhancing your study of each lesson.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email