|John the Apostle |
Younger than his brother James; being named after him in Matthew and Mark, the earlier Gospels; but Luke (Luke 9:28; Acts 1:13, the Sinaiticus, Vaticanus, Alexandrinus manuscripts), writing when John had gained so much greater prominence in the church, ranks him in the order of church esteem, not that of nature. Youngest of the twelve, probably of Bethsaida upon the sea of Galilee (John 1:44; Luke 5:10), the town of their partners Simon and Andrew. Caspari (Chronicles and Geogr., Introd. to Life of Christ) accounts for John's brief notice of Christ's Galilean ministry and fuller notices of His ministry in Judaea thus: Jewish tradition alleges that all Israelites dwelling in the Holy Land were entitled to fish in the sea of Gennesaret a month before each Passover, and to use the fish for the many guests received at the feast in Jerusalem. John used to stay in Galilee only during that month. However, no hint of this occurs in our Gospels. Zebedee his father owned a fishing vessel, and had "hired servants" (Mark 1:20).
Salome his mother ministered to the Lord "of her substance" (Luke 8:3), and was one of the women who came with Him in His last journey from Galilee to Jerusalem (Luke 23:55; Luke 24:1; Mark 16:1), and after His death bought spices to anoint His body. John's acquaintance with the high priest (John 18:15) had been in early life, for it is not likely it would commence after he had become disciple of the despised Galilean. Hence, probably arose his knowledge of the history of Nicodemus which he alone records. John had a house of his own to which he took the Virgin mother, by our Lord's dying charge (John 19:27). The name, meaning "the favor of God", had become a favorite one in the age where there was a general expectation of Messiah, and members of the high priestly families bore it (Acts 4:6). These hints all intimate that John belonged to the respectable classes, and though called by the council "unlearned and ignorant" he was not probably without education, though untrained in their rabbinical lore (Acts 4:13).
Zebedee's readiness to give up his son at Jesus' call speaks well for his religious disposition. Salome went further, and positively ministered to Jesus. Even her ambitious request that her two sons, James and John, might sit on either side of our Lord in His coming kingdom shows that she was heartily looking for that kingdom. Such a mother would store her son's memory with the precious promises of Old Testament. The book of Revelation in its temple imagery shows the deep impression which the altar, the incense, the priestly robes, and the liturgy had made on him. John's first acquaintance with the Lord was when John Baptist pointed his two disciples Andrew and John to the Lamb of God. John followed Jesus to His place of sojourn. John probably accompanied Him on His homeward journey to Galilee from Jordan (John 1), and then to Jerusalem (John 2-3), again through Samaria to Galilee (4), and again to Jerusalem (5), for he describes as an eye witness. Resuming his fishing occupation he received his call to permanent discipleship after the miraculous draught of fish (Luke 5:10; Matthew 4:18-22).
In the selection of the twelve subsequently the two sons of Jonas and Zebedee's two sons stand foremost. Peter, James, and J. form the inner-most circle. They alone witnessed the raising of Jairus' daughter, Jesus' transfiguration, His agony in Gethsemane, and with the addition of Andrew heard His answer to their private inquiry as to when, and with what premonitory sign, His prediction of the overthrow of the temple should be fulfilled (Mark 13:3-4). Grotius designates Peter as the lover of Christ, John the lover of Jesus. John as a "son of thunder" (Mark 3:17) was not the soft and feminine character that he is often portrayed, but full of intense, burning zeal, ready to drink the Lord's bitter cup and to be baptized with His fiery baptism (Isaiah 58:1; Jeremiah 23:29; Matthew 20:22; Luke 12:49-50), impatient of anyone in separation from Jesus' company, and eager for fiery vengeance on the Samaritans who would not receive Him (Luke 9:49; Luke 9:53-54).
Nor was this characteristic restricted to his as yet undisciplined state; it appears in his holy denunciations long afterward (1 John 2:18-22; 2 John 1:7-11; 3 John 1:9-10). Through his mother John gained his knowledge of the love of Mary Magdalene to the Lord, which he so vividly depicts (John 20). The full narrative of Lazarus' restoration to life (John 11) shows that he was an eye witness, and probably was intimate with the sisters of Bethany. He and Peter followed Jesus when apprehended, while the rest fled (John 18:15), even as they had both together been sent to prepare the Passover (Luke 22:8) the evening before, and as it was to John reclining in Jesus' bosom (compare Song of Solomon 8:3; Song of Solomon 8:6) that Peter at the supper made eager signs to get him to ask our Lord who should be the traitor (John 13:24). While Peter remained in the porch John was in the council chamber (John 18:16-28). John, the Virgin Mary, and Mary Magdalene accompanied the Saviour to Calvary, and to him Jesus committed as to a brother the care of His sorrowing mother.
Peter and John were in the same abode the ensuing sabbath, and to them Mary Magdalene first runs with the tidings of the tomb being empty. Ardent love lent wings to John's feet, so that he reached the tomb first; but reverent awe restrained him from entering. Peter more impulsive was first to enter (John 20:4-6). For at least eight days they stayed at Jerusalem (John 20:26). Then they appear in Galilee (John 21) again associated in their former occupation on the sea of Galilee. As yet they were uncertain whether the Lord's will was that they should continue their apostolic ministrations or not; and in the interval their livelihood probably necessitated their resuming their fishing occupation, which moreover would allay their mental agitation at that time of suspense. John with deeper spiritual intuition was first to recognize Jesus in the morning twilight, Peter first in plunging into the water to reach Him (John 21:7). Peter's bosom friendship for John suggested the question, after learning his own future, "Lord, and what shall this man do?" (John 21:21).
In that undesigned coincidence which confirms historic truth, the Book of Acts (Acts 3:1; Acts 4:13; Acts 8:14) represents the two associated as in the Gospels; together they enter the temple and meet the impotent man at the Beautiful gate; together they witness before the council; together they confirm in the faith, and instrumentally impart the Holy Spirit by laying hands on, the deacon Philip's converts in Samaria, the very place where John once would have called down fire to consume the Samaritans. So complete was the triumph of grace over him! At Stephen's death he and the other apostles alone stayed at. Jerusalem when all the rest were scattered. At Paul's second visit there John (esteemed then with James and Peter a "pillar") gave him the right hand of fellowship, that he should go to the pagan and they to the circumcision (Galatians 2:9). John took part in the first council there concerning circumcision of the Gentiles (Acts 15:6). No sermon of his is recorded, Peter is always the spokesman.
Contemplation and communion with God purified the fire of his character, and gave him that serene repose which appears in his writings, which all belong to the later portion of his life. He is not mentioned as married in 1 Corinthians 9:5, where, had he been so, it would probably have been stated. Under Domitian (about A.D. 95) John was banished to Patmos (Revelation 1:9; Revelation 1:11). "I John ... your companion in tribulation, and in the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ, was in the isle ... Patmos, for the word of God, and for the testimony of Jesus Christ." The seven churches of western Asia were under his special care. In the Acts, epistles to Ephesians, and Timothy, recording Paul's ministry in connection with Ephesus, no mention occurs of John being there. Again John does not appear in Jerusalem when Paul finally visited it A.D. 60. Probably he left Jerusalem long before settling at Ephesus, and only moved there after Paul's martyrdom, A.D. 66. Paul had foreseen the rise of Gnostic heresy in the Ephesian region.
"Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them" (Acts 20:30; compare 1 Timothy 1:6-7; 1 Timothy 1:19-20; 1 Timothy 4:1-7; 2 Timothy 1:13; 2 Timothy 1:15; 2 Timothy 2:16-18; 2 Timothy 2:3; Titus 1:9; Titus 1:16). These heresies, as yet in seminal form, John in his Gospel and epistles counteracts (John 1; 1 John 4:1; 1 John 2:18-22; 2 John 1:7; 2 John 1:9-11; 3 John 1:9-10). His tone is meditative and serene, as contrasted with Paul's logical and at the same time ardent style, His sharp reproof of Diotrephes accords with the story of his zeal against error, reported as from Polycarp, that entering the public baths of Ephesus he heard that Cerinthus was there; instantly he left the building lest it should fall while that enemy of the truth was within. In John's view there is no neutrality between Christ and antichrist. Clement of Alexandria ( Quis Dives Salvus? ) reports of John as a careful pastor, that he commended a noble looking youth in a city near Ephesus to the bishop. The latter taught, and at last baptized, the youth.
Returning some time afterward John said to the bishop: "restore the pledge which I and the Saviour entrusted to you before the congregation." The bishop with tears replied: "he is dead ... dead to God ... a robber!" John replied, "to what a keeper I have entrusted my brother's soul!" John hastened to the robber's fortress. The sentinels brought him before their captain. The latter fled from him: "why do you flee from me, your father, an unarmed old man? You have yet a hope of life. I will yet give an account to Christ of you. If need be, I will gladly die for you." John never left him until he had rescued him from sin and restored him to Christ. Jerome records as to his characteristic love, that when John, being too feeble through age to walk to the Christian assemblies, was carried there by young men, his only address was: "little children, love one another." When asked why he kept repeating the same words he replied, "because this is the Lord's command, and enough is done when this is done."
John's thought and feelings became so identified with his Lord's that his style reflects exactly that of Jesus' deeper and especially spiritual discourses, which he alone records. He lives in the unseen, spiritual, rather than in the active world, His, designation, "' the divine," expresses his insight into the glory of the eternal Word, the Only Begotten of the Father, made flesh, in opposition to mystical and docetic gnosticism which denied the reality of that manifestation and of Christ's body. The high soaring eagle, gazing at the sun with unflinching eye, is the one of the four seraphim which represents John Irenaeus, Polycarp's disciple (Adv. Haer. 2:39, Eusebius 3:23), states that John settled at Ephesus and lived to the time of Trajan. Tertullian's story of his being cast into boiling oil at Rome and coming forth unhurt is improbable; none else records it; the punishment was one unheard of at Rome.