The Disciple Whom Jesus Loved
What he meant by saying "in His bosom," he tells us a little further on, where he says, "on the breast of Jesus." It was that very John whose Gospel is before us, as he afterwards expressly declares. For it was a custom with those who have supplied us with the sacred writings, that when any of them was relating the divine history, and came to something affecting himself, he spoke as if it were about another; and gave himself a place in the line of his narrative becoming one who was the recorder of public events, and not as one who made himself the subject of his preaching.
Saint Matthew acted also in this way, when, in coming in the course of his narrative to himself, he says, "He saw a publican named Matthew, sitting at the receipt of custom, and said unto him, Follow me." [Matt. 9:9] He does not say, He saw me, and said to me. The blessed Moses did the same when writing all the history about himself as if it concerned another, and saying, "The Lord said unto Moses." [Ex. 6:1] Less habitually was this done by the Apostle Paul, not however in any history which undertakes to explain the course of public events, but in his own epistles. At all events, he speaks thus of himself: "I knew a man in Christ fourteen years ago, (whether in the body, or whether out of the body, I cannot tell: God knows;) such an one caught up into the third heaven." [2 Cor. 12:2] And so, when the blessed evangelist also says here, not, I was leaning on Jesus’ bosom, but, "There was leaning one of the disciples," let us recognize a custom of our author’s, rather than fall into any wonder on the subject. For what loss is there to the truth, when the facts themselves are told us, and all boastfulness of language is in a measure avoided? For thus at least did he relate that which most signally pertained to his praise.
But what do the words, "whom Jesus loved" mean? As if He did not love the others, of whom this same John has said above, "He loved them to the end" (v. 1); and as the Lord Himself, "Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends." And who could enumerate all the testimonies of the sacred pages, in which the Lord Jesus is exhibited as the lover, not only of this one, or of those who were then around Him, but of such also as were to be His members in the distant future, and of His universal Church? But there is some truth, doubtless, underlying these words, and having reference to the bosom on which the narrator was leaning. For what else can be indicated by the bosom but some hidden truth?
– Saint Augustine, Tractate 61 on John, NPNF, s. 1, v. 7