Becoming a People of One Thing – John the Apostle: the Beloved of the Lord (John 21:20)

Who is John the Apostle?

John the Apostle was Jesus’ beloved and favorite among the 12 disciples. But before John became a beloved of Jesus, he went through a transformation from living in the flesh[1] to walking in the spirit. From a self-centered, prideful, angry, bitter, self-righteous person with no kingdom mentality, John became a beloved disciple after Jesus’ heart.

Knowing the before and after of John gives the rest of us hope; hope that even as we see ourselves as inadequate and sinful before God, we can still become who God made us to be – His beloved. Like how Jesus chose His 12 disciples, He chose us not based on how good we are,or on our personality, gifting or talent, but how our hearts are postured towards Him – our attitudes, mindsets or mentalities.

When John first followed Jesus when he was about 17-20 years old, Jesus gave John the name “Boanerges” which signifies “Sons of Thunder”. It is a name that could have two interpretations – one, it signified his impetuous personality or the thunder of God’s power to be displayed in John’s life.

John… to whom He gave the name Boanerges, that is, “Sons of Thunder”
(Mark 3:17)

As we study and imitate John’s life and devotion to Christ, we too can become Jesus’ beloved.

Gospel of John

John wrote the Gospel of John at the age of 90, near the end of his life. Hence, this Gospel gives a powerful insight into the heart of John – of his understanding of God and what matters to him in life.

In John 21:20, John summed up his identity, posture and pursuit in life. This 3-fold identity of John correlates to his relationship with Jesus – who he was in Jesus, how he came before Jesus and what he desired of Jesus. Our definition of this 3-fold identity in our lives will also determine how we live our lives and run with God.

“Then Peter, turning around, saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following, who also had leaned on His breast at the supper, and said, “Lord, who is the one who betrays You?” John 21:20

  • John’s Identity: “the disciple whom Jesus loved…”
  • John’s Posture and Pursuit: “leaned on His breast…” (Loving Jesus)
  • John’s Desire and Pursuit: “who is the one…” (Receiving God’s Secrets)

John’s Identity: “the disciple whom Jesus loved…”

John had great accomplishments[2], but he did not boast in them through his bible writings. He did not even mention his own name in the Gospel of John, but 5 times, he referred to himself with much confidence as “the disciple that Jesus loved.” (John 13:23; 19:26; 20:2; 21:7, 20). John knew who he was in Christ. His core identity was found in Jesus and not in his accomplishments, knowledge, anointing or ministry. By defining himself as the one Jesus loved, John knew deeply that Jesus loved him as the Father loved Jesus.

John 15:9 “As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you; abide in My love.”

John 17:23 “I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me.

Similarly, when our identities are rooted and grounded in God’s love, greatness and success is not so much in what we achieve, but who we become in Christ. This pits the world’s values against biblical values. If we see success as becoming the beloved of Jesus, we will seek Him first before everything else. Nothing can touch our hearts because Jesus has our hearts. Ministries and feelings come and go, but God’s love for us is forever.

As we grow to understand who we are in Christ and be a beloved of Christ, we can confidently say that “I am great and successful because I am the one whom Jesus loves.” Our understanding of our identities will determine who we become and set the course of how we live our lives.

John’s Posture and Pursuit: “leaned on His breast…” (Loving Jesus)

John leaned on Jesus to be near Him to know and feel His affections. This posture is what God is looking for, a bride coming out of the wilderness leaning upon Him (Songs 8:5a). John saw Jesus as his primary reward. To John, God’s promises, calling, favors, anointing, blessings and prosperity were merely secondary rewards.

When people do not know how to carry their hearts before God, they make these secondary rewards primary. In such cases, they get burnt out, their spirits get dulled, disillusioned and disappointed amidst difficulties, failures and opposition. However, if we see Jesus as our primary reward, we would be unmovable and unshakable regardless of the circumstances. This is because we are strongly secured in His love as we seek to be His beloved. All of us can be His beloved if we pursue to do so.

Jesus is coming back for us, not our accomplishments. When we recognize Jesus as the One who desires our intimacy more than our ministry, our relationship with Jesus then becomes our pursuit in life. We will want to be close to Jesus and His heart. As we grow more intimate with the Lord, we will have a greater revelation and assurance of His love for us. And so when our calling is not fulfilled according to our timeline, we are able to wait and let go. We know He loves us and will plan and provide accordingly. During God’s pruning process in our lives (John 15:2), nothing will move us, because we know God who loves us is in control. In times of suffering, our heart will not grow bitter. This is because we know that our loving Father wants to produce perseverance, character and hope in us (Romans 5:3-5).

God determines His anointing for us, but fresh anointing will overflow from our intimacy with God. Ultimately, our relationship with God depends on how much we desire such intimacy with Him and how much we press in to get the revelation of God’s love for us.

John’s Desire and Pursuit: “who is the one…?” (Receiving God’s Secrets)

When Jesus was troubled in spirit and testified that one of the disciples would betray Him, only John dared to ask Jesus who the traitor was, not even Peter dared to ask (John 13). John was confident that Jesus would share His secrets with him because of their intimate relationship. Not only that, John was also driven by his desire to know what is in Jesus’ heart, and in this case, to know who was causing Jesus such agony.

In our prayers, we often ask things from God rather than to hear what is on His heart. However, a friend or lover does not seek to get something from you; rather he is more concerned about what you think, what you feel, and what you do. Likewise, our desire should be to know what is in God’s heart and be there for God, and not to go before Him to see what we can get from Him. It is only from a place of intimacy that God will reveal the secrets of His heart to us.


John’s story can be our story. Like John, we can also be transformed to become the beloved of Jesus. John’s grasp of his utmost identity in Jesus as a beloved determined how he postured himself before Jesus. This posture enabled him to gain more revelation of Jesus’ love for him, which in turn determined his pursuit and desire in life – that is to become a beloved of God who wants to know His heart. As we experience the heart of God, nothing else matters but God and God Himself

[1]When John was younger, he was a self-centered person who wanted to be the greatest (Mark 9:33-34) and sit beside Jesus’ throne in heaven (Mark 10:32- 41). With pride as the chosen 12, he had no kingdom mentality (Luke 9:49-50), and too much anger and bitterness from being self-righteous (Luke 9:51-55).
[2]John had a special relationship with Mary and was one of the key apostles. He played a major role in 3 revivals – in Jerusalem (Acts 1-6), Antioch/ Samaria (Acts 8 ) and Ephesus (Acts 19), He had great revelations and encounters – the Transfiguration of Jesus and seeing Jesus in the book of Revelation (Rev 1:4-5). John wrote 5 books of the Bible. Only Moses and Apostle Paul wrote more books than him.


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