Now there was leaning on Jesus’ bosom one of His disciples, whom Jesus loved.
Simon Peter therefore beckoned to him, that he should ask who it should be of whom He spake.
He then lying on Jesus’ breast saith unto Him, Lord, who is it?
The Apostle John is universally believed to have been the one sitting next to Jesus; he is referred to often as “the disciple Jesus loved.” That doesn’t mean He didn’t love the others. “Loved” is used in a comparative sense. There was an especially tender relationship between Jesus and John, to whom Jesus assigned the care of His mother as He hung on the cross. Perhaps, as we know from other scripture, it was because John was the youngest. Perhaps it was because Jesus knew John’s future, and the incredible suffering he would endure as well as the writing of the final book of the Bible.
John refers to himself in this way four different times:
Here in the upper room (John 13:23)·
At the cross of Jesus (John 19:26)·
At the empty tomb (John 20:2)·
With the risen Jesus at the Sea of Galilee (John 21:20)
Leaning on Jesus’ bosom: It can be hard for us to picture the kinds of relationships that were normal and ordinary in that time and place. Physical affection was not withheld for fear of seeming inappropriate. The leaning that is described here was most likely due to the posture the men took at the table, with John leaning with his back against Jesus’ chest, as perhaps between a father and young son.
Cultural norms differ, and sometimes we are too quick to judge. When I was in Bible college, there were two brothers from a foreign country who also attended my school. As was normal in their culture, they often walked hand in hand as they were in town together. But in that time, in midwestern America, two men holding hands in public was NOT okay. Someone called the school to complain, and the brothers were asked to refrain from holding hands as they walked. They didn’t understand at all, and were hurt and confused. I share this story here to try to cast a different perspective on the relationship Jesus had with John. It was normal in that day and time for such physical closeness to be obvious, and there was nothing in it that was inappropriate.
As John leaned in on Jesus, he noticed that Peter was beckoning to him to ask Jesus who would betray Him. Apparently Peter was not sitting close enough to Jesus to simply ask Him himself without getting the attention of everyone in the room.
And, for the second time in this story, we see Peter trying to take a leading or controlling role. First, he tried to direct Jesus during the foot washing. Now, he is directing John to ask Jesus the question that was on all their minds.
Peter was a natural “take charge” kind of guy. He was impatient, quick to object, wanting to know all that was going on. Once he fully dedicated himself to serving Jesus, there was no stopping him.
John did as Peter directed, and asked Jesus, “Who is going to betray you?”