The disciple John is often described as ‘the one who Jesus loved’. In his own book, he describes himself that way 6 times (for example, in John 13: 23). Most people agree that John was the youngest of the 12 disciples and the others were therefore like big brothers to him. There are hints of that, even a few years on, in key stories in the early chapters of Acts where another older disciple is taking the lead.
So, Jesus would also have been an older brother John looked up to, especially as his rabbi and teacher, and therefore it is not surprising if Jesus had a special affection for him.
In that kind of relationship, not only would Jesus have been especially protective of him, but he might also see what John could become. Have you ever wondered why Peter, James and John were chosen for some missions that the other nine disciples were not? (For example, to accompany Jesus on the mount of transfiguration in Mark 9).
I want to suggest that from the first time Jesus met John he saw what John could become.
What was John like as a young man following Jesus? He was passionate for the things of God – even before he met Jesus, it is very possible he was already following John the Baptist. He continued in his enthusiasm as a student of Jesus, although he might have been a little too zealous in his black and white judgment of others, for example suggesting fire from heaven upon a village that gave an unwelcome reception to Jesus.
Searching other Scriptures, we find that John was ambitious – to serve God, for leadership, for a position. But with a distinct lack of wisdom (and humility). In Mark 10: 37, he and his brother James had no qualms asking for the top positions in the life to come.
And yet Jesus loved him! He was the one who Jesus loved. He saw through the immaturity, looked past the rough edges because he knew his life could change. Jesus knew what John could become.
Just like He sees what we can become. How our lives can change.
When we start looking at John later in life, we see some contrasts to earlier behaviours and attitudes. For example, in Gal 2: 9, John is now a respected leader – a ‘pillar’ or column. A strong support. In his letter that we call 1 John, we find the one who had once wanted to call down fire from heaven, now makes an impassioned plea to those in his care to love one another (in 1 John 3: 11).
What made the difference? Obviously, Christ’s death and resurrection and then a new age of the Spirit starting in Acts 2, but the internal workings of the Holy Spirit in the heart of John are visible only to the Lord. What joy it must have been for Jesus to witness the beginnings of transformation while with John on earth and then continue throughout his life. Until the day he can be entrusted to write, not only one of the four gospels, but be the recipient of God’s most powerful prophetic message in the book of Revelation.
God sees what you can become too.