by Christopher W. Skinner, “Who Was the Beloved Disciple?”, n.p. [cited 27 Mar 2016], Society of Biblical Literature (SBL).
…The shadowy figure known as “the disciple whom Jesus loved” appears in five scenes in the Gospel of John (John 13:21-30, John 18:15-18, John 19:26-27, John 21:7 with John 21:20), though some also regard the unnamed disciple in John 1:35-39 as the beloved disciple. In these scenes the beloved disciple stands in contrast to Simon Peter, who is characterized less positively. In each instance the beloved disciple responds to Jesus in a way that the narrator considers praiseworthy, while Peter expresses confusion, doubt, and misunderstanding before he denies that he knows Jesus. In a sense, the beloved disciple gets everything right: twice he is found in a location that indicates his loyalty to Jesus (John 18:15-18, John 19:26-27); he responds appropriately by believing at the empty tomb, even when he does not understand (John 20:3-8); he also recognizes the risen Jesus from afar while the other disciples do not (John 21:7). In what is probably the most important comment about the beloved disciple, the narrator depicts him as “leaning back on the chest of Jesus” (author’s translation, John 13:25)—an English rendering of the same Greek phrase used to describe the relationship between Jesus and God the Father (“close to the Father’s heart,” John 1:18). Each of these depictions reinforces the idea that the beloved disciple should be seen as an ideal follower of Jesus—one with whom any faithful reader can and should identify.
Perhaps a historical individual actually stood behind the figure of the beloved disciple. Nevertheless, the beloved disciple is anonymous in the text and must remain so to fulfill the role given him in the story. The point John’s Gospel makes is that any reader who wishes to follow Jesus can become a beloved disciple by following his lead. From the pages of the story the beloved disciple beckons the reader: “Follow Jesus as I have followed him, and you too can become a disciple whom Jesus loves.”