[Jehovah has been gracious].
1. John the Baptist, son of Zechariah and Elizabeth; the forerunner of Jesus. Both of John’s parents were of the priestly house of Aaron. Zechariah was a priest of the division of Abijah.—Luke 1:5, 6.
In the year 3 B.C.E., during the assigned time of service of the division of Abijah, it became Zechariah’s turn to enjoy the rare privilege of offering incense in the sanctuary. As he stood before the altar of incense the angel Gabriel appeared with the announcement that he would have a son, who was to be called John. This son would be a lifetime Nazirite, as was Samson. He was to be great before Jehovah, to go before Him “to get ready for Jehovah a prepared people.” John’s birth would be by a miracle of God, since Zechariah and Elizabeth were both of advanced age.—Luke 1:7-17.
When Elizabeth was six months pregnant she was visited by her relative Mary, then pregnant by holy spirit. As soon as she heard her relative’s greeting, Elizabeth’s unborn child leaped in her womb, and, filled with holy spirit, she acknowledged the child to be born to Mary as her “Lord.”—Luke 1:26, 36, 39-45.
At the birth of Elizabeth’s child the neighbors and relatives wanted to call it by its father’s name, but Elizabeth said: “No, indeed! but he shall be called John.” Then its father was asked what he wanted the child to be called. As the angel had said, Zechariah had been unable to speak from the time of Gabriel’s announcement to him, so he wrote on a tablet: “John is its name.” Then Zechariah’s mouth was opened so that he began to speak. At this all recognized that the hand of Jehovah was with the child.—Luke 1:18-20, 57-66.
BEGINNING OF HIS MINISTRY
The early years of his life John spent in the hill country of Judea, where his parents lived. He “went on growing and getting strong in spirit, and he continued in the deserts until the day of showing himself openly to Israel.” (Luke 1:39, 80) According to Luke, John began his ministry in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar. John would be then about thirty years old. Though there is no record that John engaged in priestly service at the temple, this was the age for priests to enter into full duty. (Num. 4:2, 3) Tiberius began to rule as Roman emperor on August 19, 14 C.E.; his fifteenth year would run from August 19, 28 C.E., to August 18, 29 C.E. Since Jesus (also at the age of about thirty) presented himself for baptism in the autumn, John, six months older, must have begun his ministry in the spring of 29 C.E.—Luke 3:1-3, 23.
John began his preaching in the wilderness of Judea, saying: “Repent, for the kingdom of the heavens has drawn near.” (Matt. 3:1, 2) He wore clothing of camel’s hair and a leather girdle around his loins, similar to the dress of the prophet Elijah. John’s food consisted of insect locusts and wild honey. (2 Ki. 1:8; Matt. 3:4; Mark 1:6) He was a teacher, and was, accordingly, called “Rabbi” by his disciples.—John 3:26.
PURPOSE OF HIS WORK
John preached baptism for forgiveness of sins for those repenting, confining his baptism to Jews and proselytes to the Jews’ religion. (Mark 1:1-5; Acts 13:24) John’s being sent was a manifestation of God’s loving-kindness toward the Jews. They were in covenant relationship with Jehovah, but were guilty of sins committed against the Law covenant. John brought to their attention that they had broken the covenant, and urged honest-hearted ones to repentance. Their water baptism symbolized this repentance. Then they were in line to recognize the Messiah. (Acts 19:4) All sorts of persons came to John to be baptized, including harlots and tax collectors. (Matt. 21:32) There also came to the baptism Pharisees and Sadducees, against whom John directed a scathing message of the judgment that was near at hand. He did not spare them, calling them “offspring of vipers” and pointing out that their reliance on fleshly descent from Abraham was of no value.—Matt. 3:7-12.
John taught those coming to him to share things, not to commit extortion, to be satisfied with their provisions and to harass no one. (Luke 3:10-14) He also taught his baptized followers how to pray to God. (Luke 11:1) At this time “the people were in expectation and all were reasoning in their hearts about John: ‘May he perhaps be the Christ?’” John denied that he was, and declared that the one to follow him would be far greater. (Luke 3:15-17) When priests and Levites came to him in Bethany across the Jordan, asking if he was Elijah, or The Prophet, he confessed that he was not.—John 1:19-28.
While he performed no miracles as did Elijah (John 10:40-42), yet John came with the spirit and power of Elijah. He performed a powerful work in ‘turning the hearts of fathers to children and the disobedient ones to the practical wisdom of righteous ones.’ He fulfilled the purpose for which he was sent, “to get ready for Jehovah a prepared people.” Indeed, ‘many of the sons of Israel he turned back to Jehovah their God.’ (Luke 1:16, 17) He went before Jehovah’s representative, Jesus Christ.
JOHN INTRODUCES “THE LAMB OF GOD”
In the autumn of 29 C.E. Jesus came to John to be baptized. John at first objected, knowing his own sinfulness and the righteousness of Jesus. But Jesus insisted. God had promised John a sign so that he could identify the Son of God. (Matt. 3:13; Mark 1:9; Luke 3:21; John 1:33) When Jesus was baptized the sign was fulfilled: John saw God’s spirit coming down upon Jesus and heard God’s own voice declaring Jesus to be His Son. Evidently no others were present at Jesus’ baptism.—Matt. 3:16, 17; Mark 1:9-11; John 1:32-34; 5:31, 37.
For about forty days after his baptism, Jesus was in the wilderness. On His return, John pointed Jesus out to his disciples as “the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world.” (John 1:29) The following day Andrew and another disciple, probably John the son of Zebedee, were introduced to the Son of God. (John 1:35-40) Thus John the Baptist, as a faithful “doorkeeper” to the “sheepfold,” began to turn his disciples over to the “fine shepherd.”—John 10:1-3, 11.
While Jesus’ disciples did baptizing in Judean country John was also baptizing in Aenon near Salim. (John 3:22-24) When a report came to John that Jesus was making many disciples, John did not become jealous, but replied: “This joy of mine has been made full. That one must go on increasing, but I must go on decreasing.”—John 3:26-30.
CLOSING DAYS OF HIS MINISTRY
This statement of John’s proved to be true. After a year or more of active ministry, John was forcibly taken out of the field. He was thrown into prison by Herod Antipas because John had reproved Antipas for his adulterous relationship with Herodias, whom he had taken away from his brother Philip. Antipas, nominally a Jewish proselyte accountable to the Law, was afraid of John, knowing him to be a righteous man.—Mark 6:17-20; Luke 3:19, 20.
When John was in prison he heard of Jesus’ resurrecting a widow’s son at Nain, and of other powerful works. Desiring verification from Jesus himself, he sent two of his disciples to ask Jesus: “Are you the Coming One, or are we to expect a different one?” Jesus did not answer directly; but before John’s disciples he healed many persons, even casting out demons; then he told the disciples to report that the blind, deaf and lame were being healed, and so forth, and the good news was being preached. Thus, not by mere words, but by the testimony of Jesus’ works, John was comforted and reassured that Jesus was truly the Messiah (Christ). (Matt. 11:2-6; Luke 7:18-23) After John’s messengers had left, Jesus revealed to the crowds that John was more than a prophet; in fact, he was the one of whom Jehovah’s prophet Malachi had written. He also applied the prophecy of Isaiah 40:3 to John, as John’s father Zechariah had previously done.—Mal. 3:1; Matt. 11:7-10; Luke 1:67, 76; 7:24-27.
Jesus Christ also explained to his disciples that John’s coming was a fulfillment of the prophecy at Malachi 4:5, 6, that God would send Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and fear-inspiring day of Jehovah. Nevertheless, great as John was (“Among those born of women there has not been raised up a greater than John the Baptist”), he would not be one of the “bride” class who will share with Christ in his heavenly kingdom rule (Rev. 21:9-11; 22:3-5), for “a person that is a lesser one in the kingdom of the heavens is greater than he is.” (Matt. 11:11-15; 17:10-13; Luke 7:28-30) Jesus also, by inference, defended John against the charge that John had a demon.—Matt. 11:16-19; Luke 7:31-35.
Some time after this occasion, Herodias carried out her grudge against John. During Herod’s birthday celebration the daughter of Herodias delighted Herod with her dancing, upon which Herod swore to her that he would give her whatever she asked. Influenced by her mother, she asked for the head of John. Herod, out of regard for his oath and for those present, granted her request. John was beheaded in prison and his head delivered on a platter to the girl, who brought it to her mother. John’s disciples later came and removed John’s body and buried him, reporting the matter to Jesus.—Matt. 14:1-12; Mark 6:21-29.
After John’s death Herod heard of Jesus’ ministry of preaching, healing and casting out demons. He was frightened, fearing that Jesus was actually John who had been raised from the dead. Thereafter he greatly desired to see Jesus, not to hear his preaching, but because he was not sure of this conclusion.—Matt. 14:1, 2; Mark 6:14-16; Luke 9:7-9.
JOHN’S BAPTISM ENDS
John’s baptism continued until Pentecost day, 33 C.E., when the holy spirit was poured out. From that time baptism “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the holy spirit” was preached. (Matt. 28:19; Acts 2:21, 38) Those who thereafter were baptized in John’s baptism had to be rebaptized in the name of the Lord Jesus in order to become receivers of holy spirit.—Acts 19:1-7.
2. Father of the apostle Simon Peter. At John 1:42 and 21:15-17 he is called John, according to the Sinaitic Manuscript, the Vatican Manuscript No. 1209 and the “Old Latin” Version, but is referred to as “Jona” in the Alexandrine Manuscript, the Vulgate, the Syriac Peshitta Version and the Sinaitic (palimpsest) codex. Jesus calls him Jonah at Matthew 16:17.
3. John Mark. One of Jesus’ disciples and the writer of “The Good News According to Mark.” He is often called “Mark the Evangelist.” Mark was his surname. The home of his mother Mary in Jerusalem was a gathering place for the disciples. (Acts 12:12) He accompanied Paul and Barnabas on Paul’s first missionary tour. (Acts 12:25; 13:5) He left them at Perga in Pamphylia and returned to Jerusalem. (Acts 13:13) On this account Paul later refused to take Mark along on his next tour, so Barnabas went in another direction, taking Mark with him. (Acts 15:36-41) Mark, however, evidently proved later that he was a reliable and diligent worker, for Paul wrote to Timothy from Rome, where he was imprisoned: “Take Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful to me for ministering.”—2 Tim. 4:11.
4. A Jewish ruler (possibly a relative of the chief priest Annas) who shared with Annas and Caiaphas in having the apostles Peter and John arrested and brought before them. Though they had proof of Peter’s miracle in healing a lame man, they commanded Peter and John to stop their preaching and further threatened them. But having no ground on which to take action against the apostles and being afraid of the people, they released them.—Acts 3:1-8; 4:5-22.
5. The apostle John, son of Zebedee and Salome (compare Matthew 27:55, 56; Mark 15:40) and brother of the apostle James, likely James’ younger brother, as James is usually named first where both are mentioned. (Matt. 10:2; Mark 3:14, 16, 17; Luke 6:14; 8:51; 9:28; Acts 1:13) Zebedee married Salome of the house of David, evidently the natural sister of Mary the mother of Jesus.
John’s family seems to have been fairly well situated. His father Zebedee employed hired men in his fishing business, in which he was partner with Simon. (Mark 1:19, 20; Luke 5:9, 10) Zebedee’s wife Salome was among the women who accompanied and ministered to Jesus when he was in Galilee (compare Matthew 27:55, 56; Mark 15:40, 41), and she took part in bringing spices to prepare Jesus’ body for burial. (Mark 16:1) John evidently had a house of his own.—John 19:26, 27.
Zebedee and Salome were faithful Hebrews, and the evidence indicates that they raised John in the teaching of the Scriptures. He is generally understood to be the disciple of John the Baptist that was with Andrew when John announced to them: “See, the Lamb of God!” His ready acceptance of Jesus as the Christ reveals that he had a knowledge of the Hebrew Scriptures. (John 1:35, 36, 40-42) While it is never stated that Zebedee became a disciple of either John the Baptist, or Christ, it appears that he offered no resistance to his two sons’ becoming full-time preachers with Jesus.
When John, along with Peter, was brought before the Jewish rulers, they were viewed as “unlettered and ordinary.” This did not mean, however, that they had no education or were unable to read and write, but that they had not received their training at the rabbinical schools. It is stated, rather, that “they began to recognize about them that they used to be with Jesus.”—Acts 4:13.
BECOMES CHRIST’S DISCIPLE
After being introduced to Jesus Christ in the fall of 29 C.E., John undoubtedly followed Jesus into Galilee and was an eyewitness to His first miracle at Cana. (John 2:1-11) He may have accompanied Jesus from Galilee to Jerusalem, and again on his return through Samaria to Galilee; for the vividness of his account seems to stamp it as that of an eyewitness to the events described. However, the record does not so state. (Chaps. 2-5) Nevertheless, John did not leave his fishing business for some time after becoming acquainted with Jesus. In the following year, as Jesus walked alongside the Sea of Galilee James and John were in the boat with their father Zebedee repairing their nets. He called them to the full-time work of being “fishers of men,” and the account by Luke informs us: “So they brought the boats back to land, and abandoned everything and followed him.” (Matt. 4:18-22; Luke 5:10, 11; Mark 1:19, 20) Later they were selected to be apostles of the Lord Jesus Christ.—Matt. 10:2-4.
John was one of the three most intimately associated with Jesus. Peter, James and John were taken to the mountain of transfiguration. (Matt. 17:1, 2; Mark 9:2; Luke 9:28, 29) They only of the apostles were allowed to enter the house of Jairus with Jesus. (Mark 5:37; Luke 8:51) They were privileged to be the ones taken by Jesus farther than the others into the garden of Gethsemane on the night of his betrayal, although at that time even they did not realize the full significance of the occasion, falling asleep three times and being awakened by Jesus. (Matt. 26:37, 40-45; Mark 14:33, 37-41) John occupied the position next to Jesus at his last Passover and the institution of the Lord’s Evening Meal. (John 13:23) He was the disciple who, at Jesus’ death, received the signal honor of being entrusted with the care of Jesus’ mother.—John 21:7, 20; 19:26, 27.
IDENTIFYING JOHN IN HIS GOSPEL
In John’s Gospel he never refers to himself by his name John. He is spoken of either as one of the sons of Zebedee or as the disciple whom Jesus used to love. When he speaks of John the Baptist, unlike the other Gospel writers he calls the Baptist only “John.” This would be more natural for one of the same name to do, since no one would misunderstand about whom he was speaking. Others would have to use a Surname or title or other descriptive terms to distinguish whom they meant, as John himself does when speaking of one of the Marys.—John 11:1, 2; 19:25; 20:1.
Viewing John’s writing in this light, it becomes evident that he himself was the unnamed companion of Andrew to whom John the Baptist introduced Jesus Christ. (John 1:35-40) It was he who gained entrance for himself and Peter into the courtyard of the high priest because the high priest knew him. (John 18:15, 16) After Jesus’ resurrection John passed Peter up as they ran to the tomb to investigate the report that Jesus had risen. (John 20:2-8) He was privileged to see the resurrected Jesus that same evening (John 20:19; Luke 24:36) and again the following week. (John 20:26) He was one of the seven who went back to fishing and to whom Jesus appeared. (John 21:1-14) John was also present at the mountain in Galilee after Jesus rose from the dead, and personally heard the command: “Make disciples of people of all the nations.”—Matt. 28:16-20.
JOHN’S LATER HISTORY
After Jesus’ ascension John was in Jerusalem at the assembling of about 120 disciples when Matthias was chosen by lot and reckoned along with the eleven apostles. (Acts 1:12-26) He was present at the outpouring of the spirit on the day of Pentecost and saw 3,000 added to the congregation on that day. (Acts 2:1-13, 41) He, along with Peter, stated before the Jewish rulers the principle followed by the congregation of God’s people: “Whether it is righteous in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, judge for yourselves. But as for us, we cannot stop speaking about the things we have seen and heard.” (Acts 4:19, 20) Again, he joined the other apostles in telling the Sanhedrin: “We must obey God as ruler rather than men.”—Acts 5:27-32.
After Stephen’s death at the hands of enraged Jews, great persecution arose against the congregation in Jerusalem and the disciples were scattered. But John, with the other apostles, remained in Jerusalem. When the preaching of Philip the missionary moved many in Samaria to accept the word of God, the governing body dispatched Peter and John to assist these new disciples to receive the holy spirit. (Acts 8:1-5, 14-17) In 49 C.E., John was present at the conference of the governing body on the issue of circumcision for Gentile converts. (Acts 15:5, 6, 28, 29) Paul said that John was one of those in Jerusalem “who seemed to be pillars” of the congregation. John, as a member of the governing body, gave Paul and Barnabas the “right hand of sharing together” as they were sent on their mission to preach to the nations (Gentiles).—Gal. 2:9.
While Jesus Christ was still on earth he had indicated that John would survive the other apostles. (John 21:20-22) For some seventy years he faithfully served Jehovah. Toward the end of his life John was imprisoned on the isle of Patmos, where he came to be “for speaking about God and bearing witness to Jesus.” (Rev. 1:9) This proves that he was energetically active in preaching the good news, even at a very old age (in about 96 C.E.).
While on Patmos, John was favored with the marvelous vision of Revelation, which he faithfully wrote down. (Rev. 1:1, 2) It is generally believed that he was exiled by Emperor Domitian and was released by Domitian’s successor, Emperor Nerva (96-98 C.E.). According to tradition, he went to Ephesus, where he wrote his Gospel and his three letters entitled the First, Second and Third of John, about 98 C.E. Traditionally, it is believed that he died at Ephesus in 100 C.E. during the reign of Emperor Trajan.
Scholars have generally concluded that John was a nonactive person, sentimental and introspective. As one commentator puts it: “John, with his contemplative, stately, ideal mind, went angel-like through life.” They base their evaluation of John’s personality on the fact that John speaks so much about love, and because he does not appear so prominently in the Acts of the apostles as do Peter and Paul. Also, they note that he seems to have let Peter take the lead in speaking when they were together.
It is true that, when Peter and John were together, Peter is always foremost as the spokesman. This would be natural, however, for Peter was evidently the older man, and John would let him take the lead in speaking, just as he had been taught respect for those who were his seniors from the Hebrew Scriptures and as the Christian Greek Scriptures also counsel. (Job 32:4-7; 1 Tim. 5:17) But the accounts do not say that John was silent. Rather, when before the rulers and older men both Peter and John spoke without fear. (Acts 4:13, 19) Likewise, John spoke boldly, as did the other apostles before the Sanhedrin, although Peter is specifically mentioned by name. (Acts 5:29) And as to being the active, energetic type, did he not anxiously outrun Peter in reaching Jesus’ tomb? But he did show courtesy and respect toward Peter as an older Christian brother when he waited for Peter to enter Jesus’ tomb first.—John 20:2-8.
Early in their ministry as apostles, Jesus gave the surname Boanerges (“Sons of Thunder”) to John and his brother James. (Mark 3:17) This title certainly does not denote any soft sentimentality or lack of vigor, but, rather, dynamism of personality. When a Samaritan village refused to receive Jesus, these “Sons of Thunder” were ready to call down fire from heaven to annihilate its inhabitants. Previously, John tried to prevent a man from expelling demons in Jesus’ name. Jesus gave reproof and correction in each case.—Luke 9:49-56.
The two brothers on those occasions showed misunderstanding and, to a great extent, lacked the balance and the loving, merciful spirit that they later developed. Nevertheless, these two occasions manifested a spirit of loyalty and a decisive, vigorous personality that, channeled in the right direction, made them strong, energetic, faithful witnesses. James died a martyr’s death at the hands of Herod Agrippa I (Acts 12:1, 2), and John endured as a pillar “in the tribulation and kingdom and endurance in company with Jesus” as the last living apostle.—Rev. 1:9.
When James and John apparently got their mother to request that they sit next to Christ in his kingdom, they demonstrated an ambitious spirit that made the other apostles indignant. But it afforded Jesus a fine opportunity to explain that the one great among them would be the one who served the others. Then he pointed out that even He came to minister and to give his life a ransom for many. (Matt. 20:20-28; Mark 10:35-45) However selfish their desire was, the incident reveals their faith in the reality of the Kingdom.
Certainly if John’s personality had been as painted by religious commentators—weak, impractical, lacking in energy, introverted—Jesus Christ would not likely have used him to write the stirring, powerful book of Revelation, in which Christ repeatedly encourages Christians to be conquerors of the world, tells of the good news to be preached world wide, and issues forth the thunderous judgments of God.
It is true that John speaks about love more than the other Gospel writers. This does not give evidence of any soft sentimentality. Conversely, love is a strong quality. On love the entire Law and the Prophets were based. (Matt. 22:36-40) “Love never fails.” (1 Cor.13:8) Love “is a perfect bond of union.” (Col. 3:14) Love, of the kind that John advocated, sticks to principle and is capable of strong reproof, correction and discipline, as well as kindness and mercy.
Wherever he appears in the three synoptic Gospel accounts, as well as in all of his own writings, John always manifested the same strong love and loyalty toward Jesus Christ and his Father Jehovah. Loyalty and hatred of that which is bad are manifest in his noting of bad motives or traits in the actions of others. He alone tells us that it was Judas who grumbled at Mary’s use of expensive ointment to anoint Jesus’ feet and the reason for Judas’ complaint: because he carried the money box and was a thief. (John 12:4-6) He points out that Nicodemus came to Jesus ‘under cover of night.’ (John 3:2) He notes the serious flaw in Joseph of Arimathea, that he was “a disciple of Jesus but a secret one out of his fear of the Jews.” (John 19:38) John could not countenance the fact that anyone could profess to be a disciple of his Master and yet be ashamed of it.
John had developed the fruits of the spirit to a far greater degree when he wrote his Gospel and letters than when he was a young man newly associated with Jesus. He was certainly not the same person who had asked for a special seat in the Kingdom. And in his writings we can find expression of his maturity and good counsel to help us to imitate his faithful, loyal, energetic course.