John 17-21

Jesus gives a short speech to his disciples, saying that the hour of this death has come, and that eternal life consists in knowing the Father and Jesus whom he had sent.  Jesus and his disciples go to a garden across the Kidron valley, where Judas betrays him and he is arrested.  Jesus is brought before Caiaphas, the high priest.  Caiaphas hands him to Pilate, who finds him completely innocent–even though Jesus claims to be king of the Jews, he clarifies that his kingdom is not of this world.  After a long dispute with the Jews, who insist that he be crucified, Pilate relents.  Jesus is crucified on the day of Preparation for the Passover, and a disciple (Joseph) buries him in a tomb.

On Sunday, Mary Magdalene sees that the stone in front of the tomb had been removed; she calls Simon Peter and the “beloved disciple”, who verify what she saw and return home.  Two angels appear to Mary outside the tomb, followed by Jesus, who tells her to tell the disciples what she saw.  Jesus appears to some disciples that evening, then appears to Thomas the Twin (who didn’t witness the first appearance) a week later.

Epilogue (chapter 21): Seven disciples went fishing; they didn’t catch anything.  Jesus appears to them and tells them to cast the net again, after which they immediately catch 153 fish.  Jesus entrusts Peter to lead Jesus’ followers.

Commentary: Who is the enigmatic “beloved disciple”?  The author of John never names him, but tells us that this gospel is based on his testimony:

Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them; he was the one who had reclined next to Jesus at the supper […]

This is the disciple who is testifying to these things and has written them, and we know that his testimony is true. (John 21:20, 21:24)

At the Last Supper, Peter asks the beloved disciple to ask Jesus who his betrayer will be.  At the crucifixion, Jesus tells Mary (his mother) to adopt the disciple as her son.  After Mary discovers the stone in front of Jesus’ tomb rolled away, she runs to tell two people: Peter and the beloved disciple.

Unfortunately, the beloved disciple does not appear in any of the synoptic gospels, or for that manner, anywhere else in the New Testament.  In the synoptic versions of the Last Supper, the disciples either discuss among themselves who the betrayer could be (Luke 22:23), or they ask Jesus “is it I?” (Matthew 26:22, Mark 14:19).  At the crucifixion, Mark and Matthew only mention women as witnesses, while Luke doesn’t get more specific than “all his acquaintance.”  At the tomb following Jesus’ resurrection, Mark has three women running away and telling nobody what they saw (16:8); Matthew has two women running off to tell the disciples (28:8); Luke has many women telling the disciples, who don’t believe them until Peter sees the tomb for himself (24:10-12).  In none of the synoptics does any man except Peter see the empty tomb.

Christians have traditionally believed that the beloved disciple is John the Apostle, essentially by a process of elimination.  The other gospels mention three apostles as Jesus’ “inner circle”: Peter, James, and John.  Peter and the beloved disciple are clearly separate people, and James was martyred early enough that the author of Luke-Acts knew about his death (Acts 12:2), leaving only John.

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