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Who Were Jesus' Friends?

Who Were Jesus' Friends?

“You are my friends.” (John 15:14)

Jesus had a close circle of 12 on this earth, but He calls us friends, too. The NKJV Chronological Bible Notes for this verse explain,“While He was not implying that His friends were His equals, He was offering to share with them what belonged to Him.” And the second half of John 15:14, “You are my friends, if you do what I command,” gives us a glimpse into Jesus’ perspective of friendship. 

It’s important to consider what friendship meant in Bible times. The NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible states that “the language of friendship was applied to patron-client relationships, in which patrons supplied some needs of clients.” NKJV Chronological Study Bible Notes says, “In the Roman world, a ‘friend’ was often a political ally who owed one a favor, or a more powerful patron on whom one could depend.”

But we don’t often think of the friends of Jesus as political allies or business acquaintances. Jesus took a concept familiar to those that surrounded Him at the time, and redefined what it meant to be a friend. “Jesus is our model for love… If believers obey His command to love, they enjoy the intimacy of His friendship. Friendship… is not a once-for-all gift, but develops as the result of obeying Jesus’ command to love” (NKJV Study Bible).

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1. The Twelve

1. The Twelve

“Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:13

Loyalty and the sharing of secrets were important to ancient friendships, and the Greeks held the expression to die for a friend as the highest expression of loyalty (NKFV Notes). Jesus took care in choosing the those closest to Him. “Disciples of teachers were like apprentices; the best could ideally carry on the teacher’s work” (NIV SB).  

“Here are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon (also called Peter), then Andrew (Peter’s brother), James (son of Zebedee), John (James’s brother), Philip, Bartholomew, Thomas, Matthew (the tax collector), James (son of Alphaeus), Thaddaeus.” (Matthew 10:2-3)

The apostles held no qualifications to be apprentices of the Savior of the world. They were average men at best. But Jesus saw something in them, as He does in us, unknown even to them. They left everything to follow Him, and with that simple step of obedience, He molded them into fishers of men. 

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2. The Big Three

2. The Big Three

Scripture reveals a lot about Jesus’ friendships with Peter, James, and John. James and John were brothers, and the three of them had been called to follow Christ while out fishing on John’s father’s boat. (Luke 5:1-11

These three were present for miracles that the others were not. Jesus specifically brings only those three along with him to Jarius’ house, where He raised his daughter from the dead. “He allowed no one to go with Him but Peter and James and John.” (Mark 5:37) They were also taken up the mountain for the miraculous transfiguration of Jesus. “Jesus took with Him Peter and James and his brother John.” (Matthew 17:1)

They all turned out to be big time leaders of the early church. Though we are all followers of Jesus, not all are called to lead the founding of churches and write Gospel accounts. Perhaps Jesus took the extra care to personalize their apprenticeship, knowing what lay ahead for them.

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3. The One Jesus Loved

3. The One Jesus Loved

The Apostle John referred to himself as “the one Jesus loved” (John 14:13) as He reclined on Him at the Last Supper. But John’s loyalty as a friend to Jesus surpassed his speech. He was there for Him in the Garden, and the only one of the 12 at the foot of the cross. 

“When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, ‘Dear woman, here is your son, and to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother.’ From that time on this disciple took her into his home.” (John 19:26-27)

He was called just like the other 12, and witnessed miracles alongside the big three. John, however, was the only apostle that wasn’t martyred. He was given the vision that we study in the book of Revelation. John wrote something particularly touching about Jesus at the foot washing at the Last Supper:

“Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love.” (John 13:1b) 

Perhaps John was the most eloquent with words, among his other gifts. Though we get a very matter of fact view of the Gospel account from Mark, John wrote a palpable picture of what it felt to like to be close to Jesus… an important quality to embrace and understand as we seek our own friendship with Him. 

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4. Mary, Martha, and Lazarus

4. Mary, Martha, and Lazarus

Jesus’ friendship with these three siblings began with hospitality. “As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him” (Luke 10:38). Jesus taught a distracted Martha to sit still in His presence. All of our friendships can be improved upon by sitting still with Jesus. 

Later on in the Gospel accounts, the two sisters run to Jesus when their brother Lazarus is sick. Jesus goes before us, and knows more about what we need than we do. He wept for what His friends had to go through to get to the miracle (John 11:35). There will always be suffering in our sin-laden world, but the hope of Jesus cannot be trumped by any temporary pain on earth. Overwhelming and seemingly unfair as life can and will be at times, we can trust our friend Jesus, as Mary, Martha, and Lazarus learned to do.

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A Prayer for Friendship

A Prayer for Friendship

Father, Praise You for the opportunity to learn more about the friendships of Jesus through the pages of Your Word. May the lessons and love we read about here today penetrate our hearts and move us into action in our own friendships. May we seek to love and serve our friends as He did, and learn to guard our hearts when necessary. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Meg Bucher (Megs) writes about everyday life within the love of Christ on her blog, Her passion is to encourage others to seek Him first. A stay-at-home mom, freelance writer and blogger, Bible study teacher, and children’s worship team leader, faith in action is an important priority. She resides in Ohio with her husband of ten years, two dancing daughters, and their Golden-doodle.

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