“Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them, the one who also had leaned back against him during the supper and had said, “Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?” When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, “Lord, what about this man?” Jesus said to him, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!” So the saying spread abroad among the brothers that this disciple was not to die; yet Jesus did not say to him that he was not to die, but, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?” This is the disciple who is bearing witness about these things, and who has written these things, and we know that his testimony is true. Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.” (John 21:20–25, ESV)
I began this journey through John in June of last year, and it has been incredible. After many years of reading through the gospels and studying portions of them, taking time to work through this particular one has shown me more about the character of our Lord than probably any other study I have done. In doing it I have been greatly blessed, and I am so thankful to God for giving me His Word that is made alive anew in our hearts as we hide it there. It becomes fresh when we meditate on it, and it encourages us when we are tempted or become discouraged.
John did not continue his writing up to the point of Jesus ascension and returning to the Father, but he left it there on the beach. He didn’t even end it with the powerful reaffirmation of Peter as he could have as a reminder of the power of Christ to redeem lives and use them for the glory of God. What John left it with just before his powerful statement of his truthful words as an eyewitness was Peter turning to Jesus and asking what about John? It was John who referred to himself as the disciple whom Jesus loved, and it was John who leaned against Jesus after He spoke of His betrayal to ask Him which one of them it was who was going to do such a thing. Obviously Peter and John had grown quite close. Jesus had just told Peter that he was going to live to become old, and Peter turned to Jesus to ask Him about his good friend John.
But Jesus did not make the same statement of a long life concerning John. Rather He looked at Peter and said, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!” That appears to be the end of the discussion, and for all intent and purpose it seems that the record of Jesus by John had ended with this question—what about John?
I had not thought about this question much until wrapping up this letter. But several years ago, when a church I was on staff with was going through some restructuring and decisions were being made about which staff were to remain and which ones were to go, the leadership could not come to a clear decision concerning me. I remember going to one congregational business meeting where what they had been working through was being updated and there a PowerPoint slide was put up on the wall. It simply stated, “What about Joe?”
I must admit that seeing these words really hurt, but it was the question they had been trying to answer and the one for which neither they nor Robin and I had a clear answer. They were not trying to force an answer, but were honestly trying to let the congregation know that this one big answer was still being awaited. They loved God and wanted to do His will. They loved us and they wanted our best. The congregation loved us and desired to know. But only God had the answer, and over the next couple of weeks God would make that answer known in part, assuring Robin and I that it was time to step aside and await His leading to a new position. This was not an easy thing to do, nor has it been an easy path to walk, and it is one on which I have struggled greatly at times.
But Jesus did not just tell Peter that it was none of his business. No, He added (in front of John), “If it is my will….” These are incredibly powerful words. They are the words that remind me that no matter what else is going on or what else might be pushing in that God is always in charge and He will do things just right according to His will. And if it was His will that John would remain until Jesus’ returns then it was really no one else’s decision but God’s. Jesus had told Peter to be faithful to follow Him, and to leave to Him the details about how the other things work out. We can all take great encouragement from this knowing that God has not given to us the charge to solve every issue out there or to have every answer. What He has given us is the charge to faithfully follow Him and to trust Him to order our days, making decision based in the wisdom that comes generously from Him (James 1:5).
Jesus said that He came to do the will of the Father. If I take nothing else from this study (which I know I have gotten so much more), it is my prayer that I might also be found faithful to follow Him all the days of my life.
This is the end of what John wrote. Though he could have written so much more, how fitting it is to end with the extreme affirmation that John knew that Jesus held Him firmly in His hands and that He was the one who held every day of John’s life. Regardless of what others thought it might have meant (as John indicated), God knew every detail to its smallest fragment. And this is only the tip of the iceberg.
John, the disciple whom Jesus loved, did indeed live longer than the other disciples. While we do not know for certain when or how he died, early church tradition speaks of him being released from his imprisonment on the island of Patmos where he received and recorded the book of Revelation, and finishing his final days in Ephesus where he might have died close to 100 a.d.