John is another one of those people in the Bible that can be confusing. There is more than one John in the Bible. The John of Jesus’ disciples was James the Elder’s younger brother and a son of Zebedee and Salome.
John wrote 5 of the books of the New Testament and was known as the Beloved Disciple. In his books he spoke more of love than in any other book in the New Testament. Unlike his brother, James the Elder, who was the first to die among the disciples, John was the last to die. Some say he was martyred while others say he died a natural death. He was, during the time of Domitian, exiled to Isle of Patmos.
John, along with Peter and his brother, comprised the inner circle of Jesus’ ministry. Those 3 men saw miracles that the other disciples didn’t.
Matthew 17:1 – After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves.
One of the things the inner circle witnessed that the other disciples didn’t include Jesus’ conversation with Moses and Elijah. That is something I wish I would have been a fly on the wall for! He and Peter are also the first two disciples to see the empty tomb.
James & John came from a more well-off family than most of the other disciples. They father had hired servants for the fishing business.
Mark 1:20 – Without delay he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him.
This might have fed into their ambition and desire during Jesus’ ministry. For example, in Mark 9 we see John forbidding a man to drive out demons in Jesus’ name because he wasn’t one of the twelve disciples. Needless to say, Jesus rebuked him for that.
Later we see both James & John wanting to call down fire to destroy a Samaritan village because they didn’t welcome Jesus. And yet again, Jesus rebuked them.
Even later we see that, at the request of their mom, they requested to be seated on Jesus right and left sides in heaven. This caused some discord among the brothers and the rest of the twelve.
Matthew 20:20-24 – Then the mother of Zebedee’s sons came to Jesus with her sons and, kneeling down, asked a favor of him. “What is it you want?” he asked. She said, “Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom.” “You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said to them. “Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?” “We can,” they answered. Jesus said to them, “You will indeed drink from my cup, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared by my Father.” When the ten heard about this, they were indignant with the two brothers.
But John matured very well.
His proximity to and discipling by Jesus taught him love. He left his explosive temper behind. He was humbled and dropped his need for human ambition. He left everything but Jesus and His command to love.
John’s gospel is the only to record the washing of the disciples’ feet.
John 13:4-5 – so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.
I believe this might have been the turning point in the humbling of John.
Jesus had so much confidence in John that, during the crucifixion, Jesus turned to John and told him to care for his mother. John took this task very seriously.
John 19:25-27 – Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, “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’s early ambition melted away for humility and compassion.
Eventually, according to historical evidence, John was exiled to Patmos. According to Pliny the Elder, the Roman philosopher and naturalist, Patmos was an island about 30 miles wide. Other literary evidence shows that Patmos was an island that worshipped Apollo and had fishing villages on it.
Cassius Dio, a Roman historian, outlined how long John might have been exiled. It last up until Domitian’s death, at which point Emperor “Nerva released all who were on trial for high treason and restored the exiles.”
Eusebius, a Christian historian from the second century, adds “the sentences of Domitian were annulled, and the Roman Senate decreed the return of those who had been unjustly banished and the restoration of their property…the Apostle John, after his banishment to the island, took up his abode at Ephesus.”
According to church tradition, Travels of St. John in Patmos was written by the same Prochorus that is listed in Acts 6:5. It is an apocryphal writing that was translated in the 17th century and is very interesting reading, although I don’t put much stock in apocryphal writings as it is also seen as pseudopigrapha. Basically, apocryphal means it goes beyond the revelation given in the infallible Bible and cannot be proven through Scripture and pseudopigrapha means it is outright false. The reason Prochorus’ Travels is in this group is because it cannot be proven to be from Prochorus and there is no earlier text than the 5th century, which makes it a wonder if an earlier text exists. But it does give some accurate history of the island of Patmos around the time of John’s exile.
There are examples of miracles that John performed on Patmos written in the book that, to this day, are celebrated at various churches on the island.
Going back to the canon of Scripture, John has a lot to teach us. There is no one in Scripture that has more to teach us about either love or truth than John (except for Jesus, of course).
3 John 4 – I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.
He gave his strongest condemnation against those who perverted the truth, especially those who claimed to be believers.
1 John 2:4 – Whoever says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in that person.
Not only truth, but love he preached. He even called himself the “one whom Jesus loved.” His entire first epistle is to believers “whom I love in truth” and he exhorts them to “love one another” as they walk in the commands of Jesus.
John teaches us a lot about the relationship between love and truth. Zeal for the truth must always be balanced by a love for people. Without love, zeal for truth turns to judgmentalism. On the flip side of that, love without care of the truth become simple sentimentality. As John matured, he learned the importance of both.
The next thing we learn from John is that humility needs to win out over personal ambition. While confidence is an important quality to have, if it is not tempered by grace and compassion then we become smug and unapproachable. Jesus took the time to rebuke John when his confidence got in the way of his testimony.
John is an amazing character study when looking at how God trains up people and prepares them for the ministries for which they are called.
Next time I will start looking at the rest of the apostles, those who we don’t hear as much about.