John 21:20-21 – What About the Beloved Disciple?

At some point Peter and Jesus have walked away from the group, with the Beloved Disciple following along behind. Perhaps this is a subtle point, but it appears as though once again the Beloved Disciple is doing what he is suppose to (following Jesus) while Peter is still asking questions! This is one of five separate times after the resurrection when the Beloved Disciple understands something about Jesus before Peter (at the tomb in 20:4-7, on the boat in 21:7).

Why does Peter ask about John? Sometimes this is taken as a self-serving question, perhaps betraying some rivalry between Peter and the Beloved Disciple. But Peter is talking to the resurrected Jesus, who has just forgiven him and restored him as the shepherd of his flock. What would motivate Peter to jealousy at this point?

The question may be about the Beloved Disciple’s faithfulness. If I am right reading Peter’s restoration in the light of his recent defection from Jesus, then perhaps Peter is asking if other disciples will also be restored, including the Beloved Disciple. (The question could then be unpacked as saying “is the beloved Disciple restored too?”)

Some writers have suggested that Peter is still interested in rooting out potential traitors. If Judas betrayed Jesus, perhaps the Beloved Disciple is also a traitor! In the light of Jesus’ rebuke, it is common to read Peter’s question as a reflection of jealousy.

Rather than jealousy, Peter may have been concerned that the younger John would have to suffer and die

Jesus’ response seems a bit rude, almost as if he is saying, “that is none of your business!” The best way to understand this line is to realize that there is a great deal that Jesus cannot tell his disciples. He refuses to tell them the time of his return, for example. In fact, he basically says that it is none of their business when that happens, so they better be busy with the commission which they have already been given (Acts 1:6-8).  Rather than rude, then, Jesus is reminding Peter that his sole concern ought to be for following Jesus alone, his Peter’s case by shepherding the flock Jesus is leaving behind.

The word order of the Greek New Testament helps make this clear: “You. Me. Follow.” Jesus emphatically places Peter first in the sentence, highlighting the fact that Peter’s sole concern ought to be following Jesus, not what other disciples are doing (or not doing).

This sort of response ought to be on our mind when we observe what other Christians are doing (or not) in their service of God. It seems that congregations tend to judge their pastors by sermons they here on the radio or online. It is not fair to compare how our pastor does ministry to the way any other pastor does ministry, especially former pastors. Does anyone like to be compared to an older sibling? “Why can’t you be more like your brother?” What pastor wants to be compared to a former pastor of a church?

While there is room for constructive criticism, we ought to set up one style of ministry as “the only way to do things” and belittle another style. We are called to “follow Jesus,” which ought to occupy our hearts and minds to the point we do not have time to criticize others for “not being me.”

9 thoughts on “John 21:20-21 – What About the Beloved Disciple?

  1. When I look at this section of John, I wonder who this person is … that Peter points to. Bauckham in Jesus and the Eyewitnesses believes that the Beloved Disciple could not have been John son of Zebedee. (A fisherman from Galilee would not have been able to get access to the high priest’s house after the arrest of Jesus etc etc .) G John does not say who the BD is. What’s the average non-scholar Christian to do with that issue? I have decided to live with the mysterious aspects of this, and defer to the traditional church teaching that John son of Zeb is the BD. We can’t be certain of everything.

    • Good point, Tom. I think that the desire to be certain that the Gospel comes from an Apostle is part of the canonical process, and for the most part the majority of “average non-scholar Christians” (as you put it) are OK with a non-apostle as the author of the book.

      I think that the access to Caiaphas is a problem, unless you are willing to think of John (and Zebedee) as wealthy business owners, rather than subsistence-level fishermen. They very well could have access to the upper crust of Jerusalem politics and society if they were themselves upper-class. Of course, we like to think of the disciples as simple working class people, but that might be only because it preaches better.

  2. Excellent point, Phil, and I should have mentioned Pope Benedict’s book, Jesus of Nazareth Vol 1 (2007) where in the chapter on the Gospel of John he makes that point, that John’s father Zebedee was likely a priest who had the fishing as a side business up north. The priests tooks shifts working at the temple – and so Zebedee and the sons (James and John) could have had a presence in both Galilee and Jerusalem. That would help to explain the apostle John’s access to the high priest. The Pope argues that the Gospel of John is a product of a Christianized temple aristocracy, and in making that argument Benedict also has a good explanation of the “two Johns” mentioned by Papias.

    • Many people argue that a simple fisherman couldn’t acess a high priest house but them there’s a problem with John 21, that shows the beloved disciple is a fisherman. Unless the “other disciple” and “the beloved disciple” are two different people. We can also see there was a similar miraculous catching of fish in Luke 5. Like,the beloved disciple possibly remembered a past catching of fish.

  3. When I was little, I was obsessed with following my older sister. If my parents told her that she could do something, I wanted to do it too. I remember one night when she went to our neighbors hot tube and I did not get to go. I was frustrated and upset at my parents for telling me that I had to stay in and watch a movie or go to bed. I was so focused on the fact that I was upset, that I did not enjoy the movie. Looking back, I see how this connects to Peter asking Jesus about John. Jesus did not want Peter to focus on what was happening with John and what His plans for John’s life were, but Jesus wanted Peter to focus on Him.
    In our lives, it is my prayer that we would not turn around and ask Jesus to tell us the details on other people’s lives, but that we would ask Him His heart four ours.

  4. The beloved disciple, evidently, was one of, if not Jesus’ favorite disciple. We also know this disciple to known as John. Why was John known as the beloved disciple? As it mentions in the first paragraph of the blog post, it seems as though he had always followed Jesus with out question. This is in reference to when Peter and Jesus walked away, but still John simply followed them. After Jesus died, many of the disciples either Hid or denied Jesus, in fear. After Jesus was brought back to life, Jesus finds His disciples, and talks to them. One of them was Peter, the man who denied Jesus 3 separate times in one night. Jesus then restores him. Peter then ask if the other disciples, namely John, the beloved disciple would also be restored. As mentioned in the post, people easily could have seen this as Jealousy, but the post tells a different idea. It suggest that he would have been asking out of concern, hoping that the others, especially the young John, would also be restored. While Jesus likely wanted to give the answer, He couldn’t. Rather he responded with the idea, of that it isn’t Peters information to know. As mentioned in the post, the response translate to You. Me Follow. Essentially saying that your first concern is to be following me, and not worried about these other things. What we should take away from this story is that instead of worrying about these other things, we should be focused on Jesus.

  5. I tend to think that the purpose of the call out of the Beloved Disciple’s potential lifespan, may be there simply to highlight the connection between this disciple and Peter (Long, p.162). The two appear together multiple times in the Gospel to the exclusion of the other disciples such as in John 20 where the two seemingly race to make it to the tomb, or in John 19 where the Beloved Disciple is present yet Peter is not. The two respond to Jesus in their own unique ways, each providing lessons of their own through their positive and negative examples. As for Jesus’ comment about the Disciple’s supposed longevity Jesus would be correct in saying that he has the right to determine his fate as much as he does Peter’s. If it is Peter’s lot to suffer and die for Christ it is not his place to complain, nor is it any of his business if Christ determines that John on the other hand will endure until Christ’s return. And while the final lines of John clarify that Jesus is speaking on his sovereignty rather than being literal, part of me can’t help but humorously entertain the notion that perhaps the statement was literal and poor John is out there somewhere several millennia old and working at Starbucks.

  6. This conversation between Peter and Jesus is quite interesting to read. I think throughout it we can learn different things about Peter and Jesus as people. In verse 20 Peter asks Jesus, who is going to betray you? In response, Jesus replies by saying words that can be quite harsh and stern. it is quite interesting as to why Jesus would repond this way from Peter suggesting the beloved disciple. I can relate this conversation to a parent/child arguing. For example, at work I see children asking their parents for candy and the checkout. For the most part the parent says no and the child is angry and mad at their parent. I can see this teaching relationship between Peter and Jesus. Jesus is saying to be patient and what does it matter, you follow me. That’s the key part, Jesus saying you follow me because that’s that most important part. The things in which you desire after will determine your end result. That is what I believe Jesus was thinking about in this verse.

  7. I think here that Jesus is laying down a sort of attitude that people should take when deciding whether or not to allow themselves to get sidetracked in following Jesus for the sake of being concerned about a fellow believer. It is easy to get caught up in the drama of having someone else fall away or face persecution and trouble. Someone who otherwise would have been an effective witness and servant of Christ and His Church can become stagnant in their grief or obsession with being overly concerned with the walks and lives of those around them.
    More often then not, reaching out and helping a brother is the right call, but being obsessive over them and seeking to know and find out things that aren’t necessary for the works that God has prepared for you only gets in the way of being an effective minister and serving in the way that God wants you to. In most cases, it is better not to know than be distracted by knowing someone else’s impending success or failure. Simply follow Jesus, no matter what happens in the lives of those around us. He will lead you to go where you need to go, do what you need to do, and know what you need to know.

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