Saint John was one of the twelve apostles and traditionally believed to have authored the fourth book of the New Testament. Some believe he also wrote the Book of Revelations, but among scholars this is debated. He was the son of Zebedee, a fisherman on the Sea of Galilee, probably not of the poorer class (Mark 1:20; Luke 5:10), and Salome (Mark 15:40). He was the younger brother of James (Matthew 4:21) and lived in Bethsaida (Luke 5:10; John 1:44).
There is reason to believe his mother, Salome, fostered the religious training of her son (Matthew 20:20) and the possibly John was a disciple of John the Baptist before following Jesus (John 1:35-39). John mentioning of Andrew is consistent with his usual manner of naming himself as “that other disciple.” When John the Baptist pointed to Jesus walking by, and exclaimed, “Behold the Lamb of God,” his two disciples immediately followed Jesus asking where he dwelled. Jesus invited them to come and see, when they did they continued following him.
John remained with Jesus throughout his ministry, being among Jesus’ inner circle. He shared in Jesus’ emotions and plans, giving in return his confidence and love. John was present:
- at the restoration of Peter’s mother-in-law (Mark 1:29-31),
- the ordination of the apostles (Mark 3:17),
- at the raising of Jairus’ daughter (Mark 5:35-37),
- at the transfiguration (Matthew 17:1),
- with Jesus upon the Mount of Olives when he foretold the destruction of Jerusalem (Mark 13:3), sent by Jesus, with Peter,
- to prepare for the Passover (Luke 22:8);
- and John at the supper, urged by Peter, asked the Lord who it was that would betray him as he leaned his head on Jesus’ breast (John 13:23-26);
- with Peter and James in Gethsemane (Mark 14:32, 33),
- after the betrayal, he and Peter follow along far behind, but it is John, through a personal acquaintance with Caiaphas, who gain entrance into the palace (John 16:15, 16);
- he is the only apostle present at the crucifixion, and who is asked by Jesus to care for his mother, Mary, as a son (John 19:26, 27).
- Following the death and burial of Jesus John and Peter remain friends despite of Peter’s denial of Christ. It is to them that Mary Magdalene runs with the news of the empty sepulcher (John 20:2), and they are the first to enter the sepulcher (John 20:4-8).
The close association of the two men continues in the Book of Acts. Together the witness Jesus’ ascension, share in the election of Matthias, and the Pentecostal baptism. They enter the temple as worshippers (Acts 3:1) only to be imprisoned and protest against the threats of the Sanhedrin (Acts 3-4, sq.).
Following this they preached to the Samaritans (Acts 8:14). John and the other apostles proceeded with their activities during the persecution by Saul, and because of personal tragedy, his brother suffered martyrdom during the persecution of Herod Agrippa (Acts 12:2), John did not meet Paul when the latter returned to Jerusalem as a convert.
He is still found in Jerusalem fifteen years after Paul’s first visit, still a pillar of the Church, and help settle a dispute between Jewish and Gentle Christians (Acts 15:6, 13 ; Galatians 2:9).
The rest of his life hinges on speculation.
Supposedly John never departed from Jerusalem until after the death of Mary, fulfilling the obligation that Jesus gave him while on the cross. From New Testament writings it is assumed that John then went to Ephesus, the persecution there forced him to Patmos (Revelations 1:9).
The seven churches of Asia Minor were special to him (Revelations 1:11). That in his work he ran up against those that denied the truth on which his faith rested (1 John 4:1; 2 John 7), and others who disputed his authority (3 John 9:10). It might be further assumed that s he grew older he gradually outlived friends and companions, even of his mature years, which seemed to contribute to a belief that Jesus had give him a promised immortality.
Tradition holds that John was shipwrecked off of Ephesus, arriving there in time to check the heresies arising after Paul’s departure. It was in this persecution under Domitian that he was taken to Rome and placed in boiling oil that had no power to hurt him. He returned to Ephesus and wrote the fourth epistle. He introduced the Jewish mode of celebrating Easter, and labored there till he was frail.
The purpose of the author, John, in the fourth gospel of the New Testament was to show the divine side of Jesus, Divine and Human, the opposite of Luke’s purpose of showing Jesus as Human and Divine.
The gospel of John is purely spiritual, although many opinions have been advanced, the purpose is clearly stated in verses 30 and 31 of chapter 20: “Many other signs truly Jesus did in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book:
But these are written, that ye may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.” The book emphasizes Jesus’ relationship to God. It contains a prologue describing Jesus as God’s “logos; a book of signs” including the testimony of John the Baptist, previously mentioned; Jesus’ ministry in Judea and then in Galilee (1:19-12:50), a “book of glory,” including Jesus farewell to the disciples (13-17); death and resurrection (18-20); as well as an epilogue (21).
John’ description of Jesus’ God’s “logos,” in the prologue of the gospel, also served to form the Christian cosmology:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
The same was in the beginning with God.
All things were made by him; and without him was not anything made that was made.
In him was life; and the light was the light of men.
And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness overcame it not.
John also wrote three epistles, and worked on a fourth. The first epistle attacked various forms of heresy, particularly Cerinthian Gnosticism, which denied the incarnation of Christ, that he had come in the flesh, influenced by the Gnostic teaching that matter was evil.
The epistle also attacked the false mysticism that denied the reality of the sin-nature in the Christian; and inveighed against the violation of Christian fellowship and the rejection of Christian love. This epistle was written sometime between 90 and 95 AD.
The Second and Third epistles are very short. The Second epistle is addressed to the Christian mother, more appropriately the Church, and her family, styled “elect lady and her children.” It like the First gives prominence to the commandment of love. It warns against false prophets; heretics were to be sternly treated and shown no hospitality. John indicates that those receiving the message should only rely on “the truth” substantiated by the Scriptures.
The Third epistle was probably written around 95 AD. In it the aged apostle arraigned the church for permitting one Diotrephes to exercise dominating power within the church. In the early church such a thing was incredible since the individual was understood to have rejected apostolic authority.
Historically this small epistle outlines the commencement of clericalism and priestly arrogation of authority which in later centuries was to develop in such evil proportions. This epistle is not authored by John as an apostle, but as an elder to comfort the church faithful, it also stresses personal responsibility in daily decisions. A.G.H.
Unger, Merrill F., Unger’s Bible Dictionary, Chicago, Moody Press, 1966, pp. 596-597
Bowker, John, The Oxford Dictionary of World Religions, New York, Oxford University Press, 1997, p. 506