John, the Beloved Apostle
TO THE Christian familiar with his Bible, the names of the various apostles immediately bring associations with them. Matthew, the tax collector; Thomas, the doubter; Peter, the apostle with the keys; Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles; Judas Iscariot, the betrayer. And the apostle John? The beloved apostle.
John was among the first four, all fishermen, called by Jesus to be his disciples. At the time Jesus called him he and his brother James were busy repairing nets in a boat with their father Zebedee. (Matt. 4:21, 22) When called by Jesus John did not ask, What will happen to my father’s fishing business? How shall I provide for myself if I become Jesus’ follower? Neither did he ask for time to first think it over. No, he immediately left his father and his fishing business and started on his career as a fisher of men.
What a new life thus opened up to John! What a privilege was his to be in such intimate association with the long-looked-for Messiah; with the One who had been with Jehovah God since of old, before anything or anyone else was created; to be with the One who was the firstborn of all creatures, and by whom all other things came into existence! (Prov. 8:22-30; Col. 1:15; John 1:3, NW) What valuable training he, in common with the other disciples, received as daily he listened to Jesus’ preaching and accompanied him on his missionary tours! And then to be given the commission and power to carry on the same work! “As you go, preach, saying, ‘The kingdom of the heavens has drawn near.’ Cure sick people, raise up dead persons, make lepers clean, expel demons. You received free, give free.” Compare such work with mending nets? Never!—Matt. 10:5-15; Luke 8:1, NW.
John is generally considered as having been the youngest of the twelve, and not without good reason. Not only did he evidently survive the rest, but in the Scriptural accounts, whenever he is mentioned with one, two or three others his name always comes last. John was one of the three disciples whom Jesus repeatedly preferred over the others, as at the raising of the daughter of Jairus, at the transfiguration scene, and in the garden of Gethsemane. (In later years Peter and John, along with James the brother of Jesus, were referred to by Paul as being like pillars in the church.)—Matt. 17:1; Mark 5:37; 14:33; Gal. 2:9.
Not only was John among the favored, preferred few, but Jesus put him in a class by himself by bestowing special affection upon him; so much so that John repeatedly refers to himself as the disciple Jesus loved. John occupied the bosom position of his Master at that last passover together and to him Jesus commended his mother the following afternoon. Why did Jesus thus prefer John?—John 13:23; 19:26; 20:2; 21:7, 20.
Jesus had come to the people bearing the name of Jehovah, but who instead of worshiping Him were steeped in tradition. They were merely going through the outward forms of worship, while their hearts were far removed from Jehovah. And their religious leaders had as little love for their fellow men as they had for Jehovah God. What cared they that the dead were being raised, lepers were being cured, the lame were being healed and the poor were having the good news of God’s kingdom declared to them? Their chief concern was their reputation among the people.—Matt. 6:1-8; 11:4-6; Mark 7:1-15.
Jesus exposed their folly and hypocrisy and showed them that the entire law can be summed up in just one word, love, and that God wanted mercy and not sacrifice. In fact, Jesus’ entire ministry was a continuous expression of love, for his heavenly Father and for his fellow man, both by word and by action. From the writings of John it is apparent that he keenly appreciated this emphasis that Jesus placed on love. No wonder, therefore, that Jesus found in John a closer kinship, a more harmonious meeting of the mind and heart than he found in any of the others.—Matt. 9:13; 22:37-40.
Note the following examples bearing out the point above made: “For God loved the world so much that he gave his only-begotten Son.” “You also ought to wash the feet of one another.” “By this all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love among yourselves.” “If anyone loves me, he will observe my word, and my Father will love him, and we shall come to him and make our abode with him.” “This is my commandment, that you love one another just as I have loved you. No one has love greater than this, that someone should surrender his soul in behalf of his friends.”—John 3:16; 13:14, 35; 14:23; 15-12, 13, NW.
And not only did John highlight Jesus’ emphasis on love but he himself made love the theme of his epistles. “See what kind of love the Father has given us, so that we should be called children of God.” And again: “Beloved ones, let us continue loving one another, because love is from God, and everyone who loves has been born from God and gains the knowledge of God. He that does not love has not come to know God, because God is love.”—1 John 3:1; 4:7, 8, NW.
JOHN NO SENTIMENTALIST
Because of Jesus’ love for John and John’s emphasis on love in his writings some have concluded that John was a weak and sentimental person. Nothing could be farther from the truth. His coming with his brother and mother to Jesus with the request to receive the chief places in his kingdom would indicate that he was not at all backward and retiring. (Matt. 20:20-23; Mark 10:35-40) Boanerges, “sons of thunder,” is what Jesus called him and his brother. When the Samaritans refused to receive their Master these two “sons of thunder” asked: “Master, do you want us to tell fire to come down from heaven and annihilate them?” Note also John’s report regarding another incident: “Instructor, we saw a certain man expelling demons by the use of your name and we tried to prevent him, because he is not following with us.” Yes, “we tried to prevent him.” But Jesus set them straight.—Mark 3:17; Luke 9:49, 50, 54, 55, NW.
The love between Jesus and John was not based on mere sentimentality, but on their mutual love for righteousness; like the bond between David and Jonathan. And, like the psalmist, John hated all unrighteousness. (Ps. 139:21, 22) His love of righteousness and hatred of unrighteousness caused him to record rebuke after rebuke not to be found in the other accounts of Jesus’ ministry, outstanding of which are Jesus’ words to the religious leaders of his day: “You are from your father the Devil and you wish to do the desires of your father.” He alone records the taunting words of the natural brothers of Jesus, telling that they did not exercise faith in him. Other accounts tell us that there was grumbling at the expense of the ointment used by Mary to anoint the feet of Jesus, but only John gives us the details. It was Judas who grumbled; and why? Because he carried the money box and was a thief. (John 8:44; 7:5; 12:6, NW) For other examples see John 2:4; 19:38, NW.
Another point of interest in John’s Gospel and which throws light on his personality is the fact that he never refers to himself by the name “John”. He is either one of the sons of Zebedee or the disciple whom Jesus loved, preferred or had affection for. And so, since the only John he mentions is John the Baptist, he simply refers to him as “John”. This characteristic of John, incidentally, lends weight to the opinion of some that he himself is the unnamed companion of Andrew mentioned at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry and also the unnamed disciple mentioned at the close of his ministry; the one who followed Jesus into the courtyard of the high priest and who gained entrance because he was acquainted with the high priest and who arranged for Peter to also gain entrance.—John 1:35-40; 18:15, 16.
To John we are indebted for much information regarding the ministry of Jesus. He alone records the counsel Jesus gave on the night of his betrayal as well as his prayer. He alone pinpoints the prime purpose of Jesus’ coming into the world, to “bear witness to the truth”. He alone records four passover feasts that Jesus attended, thus helping us to establish that Jesus’ ministry took three and a half years. He alone quotes Jesus’ direct references to his prehuman existence.—John 3:13; 8:58; chapters 13-17.
Jehovah God and Christ Jesus used the beloved apostle John to record the last inspired prophecy to be given to man, the book of Revelation. What a preview of history, as much as three thousand years in advance, John there had! The birth of the Kingdom, the war in heaven, the great conflict at Armageddon, and the final destruction of the Devil and his hosts! What a cast of characters! What action! What drama! All of which, incidentally, John recorded before he wrote his three epistles and his Gospel account. As we read the things John was used to give us, we are reminded of Jesus’ first miracle (recorded only by John) of changing water into wine, where the best wine was served last.
Self-styled higher critics in their efforts to discredit the Bible dispute John’s authorship of Revelation and the Gospel bearing his name. However, their argument that John was too mild-tempered to write the book of Revelation is certainly without foundation in view of what we have already noted regarding his righteous indignation. And their claim that the Gospel of John was written either in the year 132 or 150 is likewise without foundation in fact. Papyrus fragments of John’s Gospel written in the first half of the second century were recently found in Egypt. The time required for copies of John’s Gospel to be translated and to reach from Ephesus to Egypt would clearly put its composition within the lifetime of John.
John the beloved apostle proved worthy of Jesus’ love. For some seventy years he faithfully served Jehovah God and toward the end thereof he gave us Revelation, three epistles and the Gospel bearing his name. John’s life, works and writings underscore the truth of Jesus’ words: “He that has my commandments and observes them, that one is he who loves me. In turn, he that loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and will plainly show myself to him.” (John 14:21, NW) What greater happiness could one want?