“There was leaning on Jesus’ bosom one of His disciples, whom Jesus loved” (John 13:23).
The practice of holding lavish banquets goes back to ancient times. Cultural practices varied, but these celebrations often included luxurious amounts of food and entertainment. They were for socializing, for political connections, to honour people, or for religious purposes. Ro- man banquets were held by the wealthy to impress guests with extravagant decorations and food. Greek symposia were held to discuss politics and philosophy.
It was common in both Roman and Greek banquets for guests to recline on their left elbow on couches that surrounded a low table. The Romans used a triclinium, which was an angled couch with cushions that extended around three sides of a table. One end was open for attendants to serve food.
When Jesus and His disciples celebrated the Last Supper, they were reclined in this fashion around a low table. While Leonardo da Vinci’s famous masterpiece, the Last Supper, shows them sitting at a table, they were more likely leaning on cushions and eating with their right hand.
In this context we can more easily visualize John’s statement in our text: “There was leaning on Jesus’ bosom one of His disciples, whom Jesus loved” (John 13:23).
The apostle John’s favourite designation for himself in the Gospel that bears his name is “the disciple whom Jesus loved” (John 21:20). How is it that the spoke of Jesus’ love for him so personally? Didn’t Jesus love all of His disciples? Yet here we see one of them so deeply touched by Christ’s love for him that he could actually lean in close to his Master.
Perhaps there is a deeper lesson found in this little vignette of John leaning on Jesus’ bosom. Each of us has a “personal space” that allows others to come only so close to us. The deeper the friendship, the smaller this bubble. Evidently John’s love for Christ was so strong that he could rest his head on Jesus.
Do you feel safe in the arms of Jesus?
“Safe in the arms of Jesus, safe on His gentle breast; there by His love o’ershaded, sweetly my soul shall rest.”
For Further Study: Psalm 17:8; John 13:18–30; 21:20; 1 John 3:1