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The Other Disciple

In the familiar narrative of Peter’s denial of Jesus, John records in his gospel the ancillary detail that Peter was not the only disciple present at Jesus’ “trial.” Indeed, there was another disciple who was present for both the trial and the denial. While the focus of the text is rightly on Peter and his denial, it’s still worth reflecting on the presence of the other disciple. And such a reflection needs to begin with the fact that the other disciple had a decidedly different experience of Jesus’ final hours than Peter did.

In the first place and at the most basic level, this other disciple had more or less free access to the proceedings surrounding Jesus’ arrest and trial, which is something that Peter lacked (cf. John 18:15-16). Who was this “other disciple” that he had this free access? To make a long story short, it probably is, but doesn’t have to be, John, the son of Zebedee, the writer of the gospel. How is it that he had free access while Peter didn’t? He could have been known to the high priest in any number of ways, but whatever theories we might propose are simply theories. John’s point is not to provide background information on the other disciple’s access. The point, rather, is simply that he was known, and so he had free access past the doorkeeper. Not only that, but he also had enough influence to convince the doorkeeper to let Peter pass through.

With that said, we can make at least two observations about the other disciple. First, he inadvertently played a part in Peter’s denial. Through no fault of his own, he facilitated the occasion for Peter’s denial by helping Peter past the doorkeeper. Now, I’m not trying to lessen the seriousness of what Peter did; I simply want to point out that “neutral” events in our lives, even those facilitated by fellow followers of Christ, very well might bring us to a point of great temptation such as Peter experienced after the other disciple’s help. God forbid that we shift blame in such a situation, for the responsibility rests with the one who falls to temptation. Peter himself actually models this well. When Jesus restores him at the end of John’s gospel, Peter doesn’t shift blame to John: “But he let me into the courtyard in the first place!” Peter was responsible for his personal betrayal of his Lord, even if this other disciple facilitated it. Let’s also take personal responsibility for our sins.

Here’s a second observation: John’s presence reminds us of the variegated backgrounds and personalities of the followers of Christ. To be sure, we get no psychological profile of either Peter or John in these verses—as characters they are both very flat, which is to say that little time is spent developing them as people in the present situation. Likely this is the case because John wants us to focus on the words of Peter instead of his psychological mindset. Nevertheless, we can discern to a degree even in this text the difference in background and personality between these two disciples. This begins with the fact that one had free access in the first place while the other didn’t. John is, to a degree, an insider in the religious world of the day, while Peter is an outsider. Moreover, it seems consistent with the portrayal of Peter elsewhere in Scripture that he attracts more attention than most others, including the other disciple it would seem. To be sure, Peter was the kind of person to draw his sword, and that says something about him over against the other disciples.

With these two observations in mind, my point is that there is not one single “model disciple” for the church to consider. To that we could also say that neither is there one way to blow it in betraying the Lord Jesus! The fact of our varied backgrounds and personalities means that we are able to (and in fact have) personally offended and abandoned the Lord Jesus to his shameful and painful death on the cross with rich variety. But our varied backgrounds and personalities also mean that we may serve the Lord, having been made a new creation through Christ’s painful and shameful death on the cross, with rich variety.

For a practical takeaway, this means that we need not try to fit into a single or even a few “models” of discipleship. Not everyone is wired like Peter, nor is everyone made like Paul. A believer is not lacking in true discipleship if he or she is missing a Damascus Road conversion or a dramatic episode of backsliding. On the positive side, the other disciple reminds us that we can meaningfully bring our own personalities and backgrounds to the service of the Lord, and that variety in how we serve itself glorifies our great God.

 

 

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