John the Apostle


John means "grace, gift, or mercy of the Lord." He is one of the best known disciples - called the "beloved disciple,"or the disciple "whom Jesus loved."


John 13: 23 - Now there was leaning on Jesus' bosom one of his disciples, whom Jesus loved.


John 19: 26 - When Jesus therefore saw his mother, and the disciple standing by, whom he loved, he saith unto his mother, Woman, behold thy son!


John 20:2 - Then she runneth, and cometh to Simon Peter, and to the other disciple, whom Jesus loved, and saith unto them, They have taken away the LORD out of the sepulchre, and we know not where they have laid him.


John 21:7,20 - Therefore that disciple whom Jesus loved saith unto Peter, It is the Lord. Now when Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he girt his fisher's coat unto him, (for he was naked,) and did cast himself into the sea.


Then Peter, turning about, seeth the disciple whom Jesus loved following; which also leaned on his breast at supper, and said, Lord, which is he that betrayeth thee?


The New Testament mentions Mark once, Luke three times, Matthew five times but John is mentioned thirty-five times! Though he was beloved, he was fiery - "the son of thunder" -


Mark 3: 17 - And James the son of Zebedee, and John the brother of James; and he surnamed them Boanerges, which is, The sons of thunder:


He revealed this characteristic when he wished to destroy Samaritans with fire (Luke 9: 54), and his taking to task one for casting out demons who was not following Jesus (Mark 9:38).



John was born in Bethsaida on the Sea of Galilee.the son of Zebedee (Matthew 4:21) and Salome, who was apparently the sister of Mary, Jesus' mother. Compare the following two verses:


Mark 15:40 - There were also women looking on afar off: among whom was Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the less and of Joses, and Salome;

John 19:25 - Now there stood by the cross of Jesus his mother, and his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalene.



John was also the brother of James the Greater. Together they were often called after their father "the sons of Zebedee" and received from Christ the honorable title of Boanerges, i.e. "sons of thunder" (Mark 3:17).


Originally they were fishermen and fished with their father in the Lake of Genesareth. They became, for a time disciples of John the Baptist, and were called by Christ from the circle of John's followers, together with Peter and Andrew, to become His disciples (John 1:35-42). These first disciples returned with Jesus from the Jordan to Galilee and apparently both John and the others remained for some time with Jesus (John 2:12,22;4:2; 8:27). Yet after the second return from Judea, John and his companions went back again to their trade of fishing until he and they were called by Christ to definitive discipleship (Matthew 4;18-22; Mark 1:16-20). In the lists of the Apostles John has the second place (Acts 1:13), the third (Mark 3:17), and the fourth (Matthew 10:3; Luke 6:14), yet always after James with the exception of a few passages.


From James being thus placed first, the conclusion is drawn that John was the younger of the two brothers. In any case John had a prominent position in the Apostolic body.


We have no positive information concerning the duration of John's activity in Palestine. Apparently John, in common, with the other Apostles remained some twelve years in this first field of labor, until the persecution of Herod Agrippa I led to the scattering of the Apostles through the various provinces of the Roman Empire (Acts 12:1-17).


It is not improbable that John went for the first time to Asia Minor and exercised his Apostolic office in various provinces there. In any case, a Christian community was already in existence at Ephesus before Paul's first labors there (see further, "the brethren", Acts 18:27, in addition to Priscilla and Aquila). It is easy to connect a sojourn of John in these provinces with the fact that the Holy Ghost did not permit the Apostle Paul on his second missionary journey to proclaim the Gospel in Asia, Mysia, and Bithynia (Acts 16:6). There is just as little against such an acceptation in the later account in Acts of St. Paul's third missionary journey. But in any case such a sojourn by John in Asia in this first period was neither long nor uninterrupted. He returned with the other disciples to Jerusalem for the Apostolic Council (about A.D. 51).


Paul, in opposing his enemies in Galatia, names John explicitly, along with Peter and James the Less as a "pillar of the Church." He refers to the recognition which his Apostolic preaching of a Gospel free from the law received from these three, the most prominent men of the old Mother-Church at Jerusalem (Galatians 2:9). When Paul came again to Jerusalem after the second and after the third journey (Acts 18:22; 21:17) he seems no longer to have met John there. Some may wish to draw the conclusion from this that John left Palestine between the years 52 and 55AD.


Of the other New-Testament writings, it is only from the three Epistles of John and Revelation that anything further is learned concerning the person of the Apostle. Both the Epistles and Revelation presuppose that their author, John, belonged to the multitude of personal eyewitnesses of the life and work of Christ (see further, especially I John 1:1-5; 4:14) and that he had lived for a long time in Asia Minor. Obviously, he was thoroughly acquainted with the conditions existing in the various Christian communities there, and that he had a position of authority recognized by all Christian communities as leader of this part of the Church. Moreover, Revelation tells us that its author was on the island of Patmos "for the word of God and for the testimony of Jesus", when he was honored with the heavenly Revelation contained therein (Revelation 1:9). Scholars place the writing of Revelation somewhere between 91 A.D. and 96 A.D.

The Christian writers of the second and third centuries testify that the Apostle John lived in Asia Minor in the last decades of the first century and from Ephesus had guided the Churches of that province. In his "Dialogue with Tryphon" Justin Martyr refers to "John, one of the Apostles of Christ" as a witness who had lived "with us", that is, at Ephesus. Irenæus speaks in very many places of the Apostle John and his residence in Asia and expressly declares that he wrote his Gospel at Ephesus and that he had lived there until the reign of Trajan. Eusebius and others place the Apostle's banishment to Patmos in the reign of the Emperor Domitian (81-96).


Previous to this, according to Tertullian's testimony, John had been thrown into a cauldron of boiling oil before the Porta Latina at Rome without suffering injury. After Domitian's death the Apostle returned to Ephesus during the reign of Trajan, and at Ephesus he died about A.D. 100 at a great age. He expressed a willingness to undergo martyrdom - as did the other apostles - and is accordingly called a martyr in "intention." Some stories say that, although he was imprisoned and exiled for his testimony to the Gospel, he was eventually released and died a natural death in Ephesus: "a martyr in will but not in deed." Other stories say that he had his disciples dig a grave in the shape of a cross, in which he lay down and demanded that they bury him - " a martyr, finally, at his own hand."


Tradition reports many beautiful traits of the last years of his life: that he refused to remain under the same roof with a heretic called Cerinthus, often regarded as the first gnostic; his touching anxiety about a youth who had become a robber; and his constantly repeated words of exhortation at the end of his life, "Little children, love one another."