JESUS LOVED HIS DISCIPLES
How did Jesus relate to His disciples as opposed to the way the other rabbis related to theirs? Was His relationship with them formal and impersonal, like students in a classroom who were there to learn but not to know their teacher intimately? We have nothing in Scripture to tell us about the relationship of, say Hillel or Shammai to their disciples but there is much in the gospels that bear witness to the way Jesus related to the Twelve.
First of all, there is no doubt that Jesus loved His disciples, passionately and completely. He affirmed and verbalised His love for them over and over again. He did not leave them to guess that He loved them. He told them! He wanted His love for them to be the model and motivation for their love for one another.
A new commandment I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. (John 13:34)
This would be the hallmark of His disciples – not how well versed they were in the Torah or how well they performed under the anointing of the Holy Spirit or how many spiritual gifts they had, but how much His love for them was mirrored in their love for one another.
John was the one who recorded these words. What? John! The one who, with his brother James, was nicknamed Boanerges – sons of thunder! Hot heads! They wanted to call down fire on the Samaritans for not offering hospitality to Jesus. They wanted to stop a man from casting out demons in the name of Jesus because He was not one of them. What happened to you, John?
Perhaps the best way to find out what happened to change him is to be a fly on the wall in the Upper Room in Jerusalem on Passover evening. The disciples were arranged around the supper table, lounging on cushions or mats on the floor. No chairs. Judas was sitting on the left of Jesus in the place of honour so that he could converse freely with the host. John was seated on His right. John took pains to tell us that he was leaning on Jesus’s breast.
Instead of protesting, “Hey, you are invading my space!” Jesus said nothing and did nothing. He didn’t move away. He allowed John to lean on Him, to put his head on His chest, to listen to His heartbeat.
John took a huge risk. What if Jesus had rejected him, moved away in irritation, protested against his presumption? Nothing happened. Jesus accepted his weight, the discomfort of his body pressing down on Him. What was He saying? “Lean on me, John. Put your full weight on me. I accept your gesture of trust. I love you, John.”
Was this the moment when the realisation hit John, not just in his head but in his heart. “Jesus loves me!” From then on he called himself “the disciple whom Jesus loved”. That’s how he identified himself. Not “John”; not even “the son of Zebedee” or “the brother of James” but “the disciple whom Jesus loved”. What a life-transforming moment! Boanerges became the apostle of love because he experienced it and felt it. That’s how Jesus loved him.
Jesus also wanted his disciples to experience the Father’s love just as He did. He revealed the Father to them at every opportunity – by making them aware of the Father in Him, and how He referred to and related everything He said and did to the Father. This was in preparation for something much bigger that was to happen to them. He was about to do something that would change their status completely.
God was not only the Father of Jesus; He was their Father as well! After His resurrection, Jesus specifically stated that God was their Father. They would not be sitting outside, looking through the window at a family’s festivities; they would be part of the family of God now, reconciled and brought in through His sacrifice for them. He sent Mary, the first to greet Him when He emerged from the tomb, with a message for His disciples.
Jesus said, ‘Do not hold on to me for I have not yet returned to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’ (John 20: 17)
Did you get that? Their relationship had changed. He was no longer only their rabbi but also their brother as well. God was His Father and their Father, His God and their God. Did that mean that Jesus and His disciples were now on equal footing? In a sense, yes! The writer to the Hebrews picked up on this thought:
In bringing many sons to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the author of their salvation perfect through suffering. Both the one who makes men holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers. (Heb. 2: 10-11)
Wow! Now not only disciples but brothers! O yes, Jesus was elevated to the highest place and given a name above every other name, but He also invited His disciples (and that includes us if we are truly His followers) to sit on the throne with Him. James and John wanted the places of honour beside Him in glory. They had to learn that not only they, who selfishly wanted the best places, but also all who are “in Christ” will share that position with Him.
And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with Him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus. (Eph. 2: 6)
Scripture is taken from THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
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