John the Apostle
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John the Apostle

by Angel Studios | January 20, 2023

In the New Testament, we read about John the Apostle, an influential member of the 12 apostles of Jesus Christ. As one of the first disciples and as part of Jesus’ inner circle, John bore witness to many miracles, documented historical events, and taught others about Christ.

John was thought to be the youngest of the 12 disciples, but despite his youth, he’s one of the most well-known apostles. He and his older brother James joined Christ when he called them to come and follow him. We also find John paired with his fellow apostle Peter, especially during their preaching after Christ’s ascension. The two apostles taught and served together for some time in addition to their service with Christ.

Most remarkable was John’s lifelong devotion to Jesus Christ as his beloved and committed disciple. As a powerful witness, a leader among men, and a trusted friend of the Savior, John’s impact on faith, scripture, and Christ’s ministry is unforgettable.

Who Was John Before He Was An Apostle?

Especially because John was fairly young, we don’t know too much about John before he followed Christ; but, we do know what he did for work and who his family was. Like several apostles, John the Apostle was a fisherman by trade before his discipleship.

John the Fisherman

John the Apostle and his older brother James were well-known in the fishing community. Their father, Zebedee, was a prominent fisherman of Galilee, and it’s believed that he was moderately successful, too. Scholars attribute this to Mark 1:20 when Jesus first calls upon James and John to follow him: “and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him.” Because Zebedee could afford to hire other workers to help fish, he probably did well for himself and his family.

The two brothers spent their days fishing on the Sea of Galilee with their father, and likely often worked with Simon (Peter) and Andrew, too. James and John are called “Simon’s partners” during a fishing excursion, after which Christ calls all four of his first apostles to follow him and “fish for people” (Luke 5: 9-10). Simon, Andrew, James, and John began their ministry with Jesus then and transformed from fishermen to fishers of men, bringing others to Christ for the rest of their lives.

Jesus spoke in parables and metaphors often to explain principles of the gospel to his followers and listeners, including his disciples. His ability and loving effort to use metaphors that applied to each person is a defining characteristic of Christ’s personal ministry. He spoke to his disciples in a language that they could understand, which is what we see in this fishing metaphor: that John would be gathering God’s children rather than gathering fish.

John and His Family

James and John worked closely with their father Zebedee, and between their success in business and social merit, John’s family was considerably prosperous. His mother Salome also has some possibly interesting biblical ties. It’s possible that both John and James were cousins of Jesus through their mother’s side, though not explicitly mentioned in the bible.

Salome, the wife of Zebedee, is mentioned in the New Testament, specifically with Mary the mother of Jesus. In John’s gospel, it mentions both Mary (Jesus’ mother) and her sister, along with Mary (the wife of Clopas) and Mary Magdalene at Christ’s crucifixion (John 19:25). In the same setting, Mark identifies Mary, mother of James and Joseph, Mary Magdalene and Salome (Mark 15:40). Some scholars believe the unnamed sister of Mary in the Book of John is the mentioned woman in Mark, Salome.

This idea is also reinforced when Jesus has risen from his tomb and three women, “Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body” (Mark 16:1). At the time, many people used spices to help slow a body’s decomposition. Because tradition suggests that only family members of the deceased would perform such duties, scholars also attribute Salome as Mary’s sister from this verse.

Whether or not John was a cousin of Jesus, we do know that John the Apostle loved the Lord and that Jesus included John in some of his most important work. Between Zebedee’s willingness to let his sons leave their work to follow Christ and Salome’s hand in ministering to and following Christ, scripture suggests that John and his family were active and faithful in Christ’s work.

Names of John

John the Apostle is known by several names, some given to him by Jesus and others given by scholars. Not to be confused with John the Baptist, (a confirmed cousin of Jesus who preached of Jesus’ coming), John the Apostle was one of the 12 apostles who goes by Saint John, John the Beloved, John the Disciple, and more.

Son of Thunder

John and James were given the name “Boanerges” by Jesus, which translates to “sons of thunder” (Mark 3:17). The title was likely given because of the bold and zealous temperament of both brothers. Galilean people were already known for being hardy, industrious, and taking great pride in their work and culture. John the Apostle certainly magnified this and often had reactive responses, including during their service with Christ.

One such time was when James and John were upset by the way some Samaritans were treating Jesus. At this time, Samaria and Jerusalem were prejudiced against each other, which resulted in conflict and contention. During a trip to Samaria, Jesus (via a messenger he has sent ahead) was refused a place to stay by a Samaritan because of their prejudice against the Jews. The interaction led to James and John asking Jesus if he wanted the two of them “to call fire down from heaven to destroy them” (Luke 9:54). Jesus rebuked them for their response, but this is a clear example of the boldness and passion of James and John. This nickname may also be related to the power of their testimonies and righteousness, but most commonly, it’s associated with their strong temperament and quickness to anger.

The Apostle of Love

Even though he had a temper in his younger days as a follower of Christ, John the Apostle became known as the Apostle of Love, especially because of how often he uses the word “love” over 80 times in scripture. Though he was rebuked for his rashness and unkindness towards the Samaritans in his early years, John’s lasting legacy is being a beacon of love and charity. This is a great example of the transformation each of us can have through Christ: to go from a Son of Thunder to an Apostle of Love is an exciting change we get to see John experience.

The Beloved Disciple

John is considered especially close to Christ by many scholars. Not only was he present for some of the most important events of Christ’s ministry, but he is also remembered as a good friend to Jesus. During the Last Supper, scripture mentions an apostle who leaned on Jesus, or more specifically: “one of them, the disciple whom Jesus loved, was reclining next to him” (John 13:23). Tradition identifies this disciple as John the Apostle, and though it’s not definite, John is the most widely accepted disciple for this title.

Several other supporting scriptures that point to John as the disciple whom Jesus loved. It’s likely that “the disciple whom Jesus loved” was part of the inner circle, which included Peter, James, and John. We know it isn’t Peter because at one point, “ Peter turned and saw that the disciple whom Jesus loved was following them” and asked the Lord about him (John 21:20-21). Jesus comments on the longevity of this disciple’s life, and John outlives all of the other 12 apostles.

Immediately following these verses, the last chapter of the Book of John says about the beloved disciple of Christ: “This is the disciple who testifies to these things and who wrote them down. We know that his testimony is true” (John 21:24). Tradition also believes John to be the source or author of the Book of John, which would make this disciple John.

If tradition is accurate and John the Apostle is the Beloved Disciple, he was also the person that Christ asked to look after his mother. During his crucifixion, Jesus looks to his mother and “the disciple whom he loved standing nearby…he said to her, ‘Woman, here is your son,’ and to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother.’ From that time on, this disciple took her into his home” (John 19:26-27). This is an ultimate statement of Christ’s trust in John, clearly showing us that John was beloved.

Significant Events Involving John the Apostle

John was one of the first four disciples called by Christ, meaning he helped Jesus build the foundation of his work and served the Lord from the beginning. We can assume that John was able to witness many miracles and events involving Jesus because of how early his tutelage and service began.

Inner Circle

John, along with Peter and James, were part of Jesus Christ’s “inner circle” during his earthly ministry. There were specific events that only these three disciples were invited to be a part of. The three of them spent a great deal of time with Jesus and were exceptionally close to him.

Though the apostles were witnesses to many miracles performed by Jesus, the three main events that Peter, James, and John were specifically privileged to see include the Raising of Jairus’ daughter, Jesus’ Transfiguration, and the events of Gethsemane.

A local synagogue leader named Jairus approached Jesus one day saying that his young daughter was dying, and he asked the Lord: “please come and put your hands on her so that she will be healed and live” (Mark 4:23). Jesus accompanied him to his daughter, but when they arrived, everyone was mourning the passing of the little girl. When Jesus told them that she was only sleeping, the people laughed at him, convinced that she was dead. Jesus then took Peter, James, and John the Apostle with him, and there, the three apostles witnessed the miracle of the Savior healing the girl.

John the Apostle was also present during the Transfiguration of Jesus. Along with Peter and James, Jesus had taken the three of them up the mountain where they witnessed Christ be transfigured before them. Scripture describes this extraordinary event by telling us that “His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them. And there appeared before them Elijah and Moses, who were talking with Jesus” (Mark 9:3-4). The moment was so powerful, it was actually frightening for the three apostles. Finally, a cloud appeared and Peter, James, and John heard God’s voice tell them: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!” (Mark 9:7). John was a crucial witness to this event and again exhibits Christ’s confidence in him.

During his most painful moment, in the Garden of Gethsemane where he performed the Atonement, Christ asked Peter, James, and John to accompany him and keep watch. As he suffered for the sins of all of God’s children, he specifically asked the three disciples to “stay here and keep watch with me,” which we understand as Jesus asking them to stay awake” (Matthew 26:38). Even though by bringing them, Christ was showing great love for and faith in these three men, they still fell asleep three times.

When Christ woke them the first time, he addressed Peter, saying, “couldn’t you men keep watch with me for one hour?” Then he instructed them to “watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:40-41). Despite the weakness of the men, Peter, James, and John were uniquely invited and taught by Christ to participate in unbelievable miracles and life-altering events.

The Miracle of the 153 Fish

Like all of the 12, John the Apostle was also a witness to many significant moments and miracles performed by Jesus Christ. Most likely the first miraculous event John saw was during a fishing expedition with Simon Peter. When Jesus first approached John to come and follow him, John and James were helping Simon Peter try to catch anything, but with no luck. Jesus told the men to cast their net on the other side of the boat, even though the fishermen had already tried fishing in that spot. Once they obeyed and cast their net where Jesus instructed, they couldn’t even haul the net in because of how overflowing the net was with fish. Then “the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, ‘It is the Lord!’” (John 21:7).

Accomplishments of the Apostle John

John accomplished many things in his life that have brought him praise. Aside from being one of the first and most trusted disciples of Christ, John the Apostle also did the following:

  • He is credited with writing the Gospels of John, the letters of 1st, 2nd, and 3rd John, as well as the Book of Revelation.

  • He was an elder in the church and helped spread the gospel throughout Jerusalem. 

  • Though Christ’s disciples did scatter as he predicted, John was at the cross with Mary according to tradition.

  • Some scholars believe John to be the second man with Andrew the Apostle who first followed and recognized Jesus as the Messiah.

  • John and Peter were the only two allowed to prepare the meal of The Last Supper.

  • John and Peter also proselyted together after Christ was resurrected, and during this time they healed a crippled man at the temple and ended up in prison together.

  • John was the only disciple who wasn’t martyred after Christ rose again, and instead lived a long life of preaching, taking care of Mary, and presumably recording historical events that we read in the bible today.

  • He was the first of the 12 apostles to see the empty tomb after Savior had overcome death and been resurrected.

Because of the persecutions Christians were facing from Rome, John had to escape Judea for a long time, caring for Mary, Jesus’ mother, until she passed. Eventually, Romans exiled him to the Greek island of Patmos, which is where tradition suggests he wrote the Book of Revelation. Some people may ask, “how did John the Apostle die?” As the only apostle who wasn’t martyred, John died a natural death in Ephesus around 98 C.E, surviving much hardship and persecution.

See John the Apostle in The Chosen

John the Apostle was one of Jesus’s most trusted confidants and disciples. He played a huge role in spreading the gospel through his writings and missionary work and ministered unto others for the rest of his life.

As the Beloved Disciple, John is a beautiful example of obedience, devotion, and endurance in the gospel. Continuously loyal and faithful, John was transformed into a man of great love and strength through Christ, and we can all become our best selves through Christ, too.

You can watch and learn about John the Apostle and his relationship with Jesus Christ today in The Chosen. Download the iOS app or Android app to start with episode 1!

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