Brother, beloved, disciple: John
We begin a journey in the summer of 2015 by learning about one of the original and last of the original 12 disciples of Jesus Christ. He was the son of Zebedee and Salome. His life was rich, full and long lasting. John was one of the rare individuals that followed Christ and lived into his 90’s (4-100AD). He had a brother named James who was also an apostle. Together, Jesus referred to them as the sons of Thunder. John was very young during his life with Jesus, probably in his late 20’s. John wrote many books of the Holy Scriptures that are contained in the canon (John, 1 John, 2 John, 3 John and Revelation). Through out the bible and history John was referred to as John the evangelist, John of Patmos and the Beloved Disciple.
Out of the four Gospels, the book of John was the last one written. Of the four Gospels, John is by far the most different. The other three Gospels, Matthew, Mark, and Luke are known as the synoptic Gospels, that they are somewhat in parallel of each other, taking different views of the same experiences with Jesus.
Distinct from Synoptics
The Gospel of John is different from the three Synoptic Gospels. First, John omits events and references that are extremely important in the others. John does not describe Jesus’ birth, His baptism or the breaking of the bread and giving of the cup at the Last Supper. Jesus refers to the kingdom of God only in one conversation in John (3:3–6), whereas the kingdom was a central topic of Jesus’ preaching in the Synoptics. Jesus performs no exorcisms in John or healing of lepers. Whereas Jesus performs many miracles, usually in front of crowds in the Synoptics, John records seven “signs” which point to Jesus’ identity. John records none of the parables that are a mainstay of Jesus’ preaching in the Synoptics. Second, Jesus’ ministry in John features conversations with individuals such as Nicodemus (John 3), the Samaritan woman (John 4), and the disciples in the upper room (John 13–17). John does not record much of Jesus’ public preaching.
Do you learn better when hearing a public message or a personal lesson?
What is your favorite insights from Jesus?
John has much information that the Synoptics leave out. Over 90 percent of John is unique. Jesus makes at least four visits to Jerusalem (John 2:13; 5:1; 7:10; 12:12). The Synoptics record only one. The raising of Lazarus is recorded only in John. While John omits references to the bread and cup at the supper, he records the washing of the disciples’ feet. Jesus is called the “Lamb of God” only in John, a reference that recurs only in Revelation.
If you were going to describe Jesus to some that did not go to church or understand the basics of the Bible, how would you describe Jesus of Nazereth?
If you met up with a old friend that had been introduced to the Gospel and went to church for years, but now struggling to keep their faith and maybe even slipped away, how would you engage with them?
The most significant additions John makes concern Jesus’ identity and the nature of proper response to him. First, John emphasizes the deity of Jesus from the beginning of his Gospel. The prologue affirms that He is the eternal Word (logos) who was both with God and was God. Jesus is the Word incarnate (John 1:14). Jesus uses the significant phrase “I am” seven times in John, claiming the personal name of God as His own. In John, Jesus is always in charge and knows what will happen in advance. For example, John states that Jesus knew what Judas would do all along (John 6:71). Jesus informed Pilate that he would have no power over Him “if it hadn’t been given you from above” (John 19:11).
Second, Jesus’ teaching focuses on life, eternal and abundant, which is the present possession of those who believe (John 3:16; John 10:10). Eternal life is knowing God and Jesus Christ (John 17:3). Further knowledge of God comes from believing and knowing Jesus. Knowing and believing are key terms for John. Both occur over 90 times in this Gospel and are always used as verbs. Jesus’ teaching in John reminds us that knowing God and believing in Jesus are expressed in action. Furthermore, while belief in Jesus may be based on the signs, Jesus’ followers are to move to a deeper kind of faith. He wants them to believe in His Word (John 8:31; 2:23–25).
His mother’s name was Salome, who, though not without her imperfections, was one of those dear and honored women who accompanied the Lord on one of His preaching circuits through Galilee, ministering to His bodily wants; who followed Him to the cross, and bought sweet spices to anoint Him after His burial, she was one of those surprised at his resurrection from the tomb.
His father, Zebedee, appears to have been in good circumstances, owning a fishing fleet and having hired servants.
John was the youngest of the twelve Apostles. Interesting enough, John did not join Jesus right away. In Matthew 4:21-22, Jesus comes along and sees the sons of Zebedee mending their nets, and Jesus calls them and they follow. But a little while later in Luke 5:1-11, John and his brother James were still fishing partners with Peter and were noted to leave everything and follow Jesus. Let us remember that not everyone leaves everything and follows when first invited.
Did you or someone you know hesitate in the invitation to follow Jesus?
|Jesus is:||Promised King||Servant of God||Son of Man||Son of God|
|Original Readers||Jews||Gentiles, Romans||Greeks||Christians everywhere|
|Significant Themes||Jesus is the Messiah because He fulfilled Old Testament prophecy||Jesus backed up His words with action||Jesus was God but also fully human||Belief in Jesus is required for salvation|
|Greatest Emphasis||Jesus’ Sermons & Words||Jesus’ Miracles & Actions||Jesus’ Humanity||The Principles of Jesus’ Teaching|
How many Johns were there?
The Gospel of John, 1–3 John, and Revelation provide internal biblical evidence about John the Apostle. However, these biblical books show differences and similarities in style, vocabulary, and theology, which lead to varied conclusions about the identity of the author. There were many people named John in first-century church leadership, which further complicates that matter. The current scholarly debates about the identity of John the Apostle are particularly informed by three factors: identity of the Beloved Disciple, whether there was one or multiple Johns doing the writings in the early church and whether John of Ephesus was martyred or whether he lived a long life followed by a non-violent death.
Identity of the Beloved Disciple
The early church’s nearly universal understanding is that the Beloved Disciple was John the Apostle, son of Zebedee, and author of the Gospel of John. The author of the Gospel of John is not declared in the chapter itself. There has been question about why an individual would be called the Beloved Disciple, except to retain anonymity, such as the woman at the well, the man healed at the pool, and the man born blind.
Early Church Witness: How many Johns?
There is Ecclesiastical History by Eusebius that interprets around 100-120AD as referring to two different Johns: John the Apostle, who is deceased, and John the Elder, who was living at the time. Irenaeus’ writes about “the disciple of the Lord” or “the author of the Gospel” as referring to someone besides John the Apostle, son of Zebedee. There have been countless investigations and studies about the multiple Johns outlined in the new testament, and there is equal evidence that states they are all one in the same. The later thoughts are supported by witnesses Irenaeus and Tertullian suggesting that, after his exile in Patmos, John the Apostle resided for many years in Ephesus and died a peaceful death. Some scholars believe that their views may be skewed by their own desires for claiming apostolic origins.
The Death of John the Apostle
The debate about John’s death centers on the mode of John’s death – specifically, whether he was martyred in mid to late first century or whether he lived a long life before dying a peaceful death. There has been speculations that Paul actually killed John before he was converted and renamed Paul.
Why does the death of John matter?
The mode of John’s death is of particular concern with regard to Jesus’ prophecy that the sons of Zebedee (James and John) will drink from the same cup and undergo the same baptism as He would—a metaphorical reference to Jesus’ violent death (Mark 10:35–40; Matt 20:20–23). It also relates to a definition of apostleship that includes undergoing the same sufferings of Christ. James was killed for his faith by Herod Agrippa in the early AD 40s (Acts 12:1–3), and his death aligns with both Jesus’ prophecy and this definition of apostleship. It is unclear whether John was killed for his faith.
Polycarp (ca. AD 69–150) was a disciple of the Apostle John and, according to Tertullian, was ordained Bishop of Smyrna by John (Tertullian, De praescriptione, 32.2). The Harris Fragments indicate that Polycarp, who was burned at the stake in his old age, had the privilege of dying as a martyr in place of the Apostle John (Weidmann, Polycarp and John, 137–141).
Some non-biblical views of the Gospel of John
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) teaches that John received the promise of immortality from Jesus Christ, as recorded in John 21:21–23 and the seventh chapter of the Doctrine and Covenants. It also teaches that in 1829, along with the resurrected Peter and the resurrected James, John visited Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery and restored the priesthood authority with Apostolic succession to earth. John, along with the Three Nephites, will live to see the Second Coming of Christ as translated beings. The LDS Church teaches that John the Apostle is the same person as John the Evangelist, John of Patmos, and the Beloved Disciple.
Islamic & Muslim references
The Quran also speaks of Jesus’ disciples but does not mention their names, instead referring to them as “helpers to the work of God”. Muslim exegesis and Quran commentary, however, names them and includes John among the disciples. An old tradition, which involves the legend of Habib the Carpenter, mentions that John was one of the three disciples sent to Antioch to preach to the people there.
The adventure begins…
Now that we have a bit of background on John and the mosaic of the bible, the Gospels, let us take the journey through the book of John with anticipation of love, enlightenment and joy of the Holy Spirit revealing himself to us as we come face to face with Jesus along with John.
Hackel, T. D. (2012, 2013, 2014). John the Apostle, Critical Issues. In J. D. Barry, L. Wentz, D. Mangum, C. Sinclair-Wolcott, R. Klippenstein, D. Bomar, … D. R. Brown (Eds.), The Lexham Bible Dictionary. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.
Jamieson, R., Fausset, A. R., & Brown, D. (1997). Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible (Vol. 2, p. 126). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.
Cabal, T., Brand, C. O., Clendenen, E. R., Copan, P., Moreland, J. P., & Powell, D. (2007). The Apologetics Study Bible: Real Questions, Straight Answers, Stronger Faith. Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers.
Faithlife Corporation. (2015). Gospel of John (Version 6.2 SR-1) [Computer software]. Logos Bible Software Factbook. Bellingham, WA: Faithlife Corporation. Retrieved from logos4:Factbook;ref=bk.$25GospelOfJohn$5FWriting