Although he was one of the characters in the book he wrote, he never mentioned himself by name. It is generally understood, however, that “the disciple whom Jesus loved” in the Gospel of John was the apostle himself.
In referring to himself as “the disciple whom Jesus loved,” was John saying that Jesus loved him more than the others? He certainly held a special place among the disciples. He was the one reclining next to Jesus at what we know as the Last Supper. As he was dying on the cross, Jesus entrusted his mother into John’s care. After the resurrection, John was the first apostle to look into the empty tomb. Then he was the first disciple on the fishing boat to recognize the risen Lord on the shore. At the end of his gospel, John identified himself not only as “the disciple whom Jesus loved” but as the one “who testifies to these things and wrote them down.” (John 13.23; 19.26, 27; 20.2; 21.7; 21.20, 24)
As I read the gospel of John, I don’t believe John saw himself as a favorite of Jesus. I believe John saw himself as special not because Jesus loved him best, but because Jesus loved him at all. He had been one of the “Sons of Thunder” who asked Jesus to destroy an unresponsive village. He and his brother James had had the audacity to ask for a special place in Jesus’ kingdom. But through his faith in Jesus, he later became “the elder” writing to his own disciples and the one who was chosen to pen Jesus’ last words in the book of Revelation. (Mark 3.17; Luke 9.54; 3 John 1; Revelation 1.1)
When John wrote that he was loved, he was expressing a gratitude for the special love that Jesus has for every one of his disciples, a tender spot in his heart for each one of his children. I am that disciple “whom Jesus loves.” And if you follow Jesus, then you can say with the same eternal gratitude and joy that John had that you are also that disciple “whom Jesus loves.”