By Javan Rowe
The apostle John has always intrigued me. We know much about Peter because he always seemed to be the first to talk and act. John, though, referred to himself as “the disciple whom Jesus loved” (John 13:23). You might say John was Jesus’ best friend on earth.
John was a fisherman when Jesus called him. He and his brother James were fishing partners with Simon Peter. John was a disciple of John the Baptist before he discovered that Jesus was the Lamb of God. Upon hearing this, John immediately abandoned his life as a fisherman to follow Jesus.
Being perhaps the youngest disciple, John still became one of Jesus’ most trusted men. John, Peter, and James were given opportunities the other disciples did not have. He often accompanied Peter and James but seemed to be more hesitant. An example of this is seen when Peter and John came to the empty tomb and Peter was the first to rush in, even though John arrived first (John 20:4-6).
More than merely being tentative, I would say John was the quintessential deep thinker. This is seen in the depth of understanding portrayed in his writings, especially in the opening section of his Gospel that describes Jesus as the Word. His more introspective demeanor allowed him to soak up Christ’s words and eventually relay Jesus’ heart to fellow believers.
It appears John was closer to Christ than even the inner three. On the night of Jesus’ arrest, during the Last Supper, Jesus revealed his forthcoming betrayal. Scripture then says, “His disciples stared at one another, at a loss to know which of them he meant. One of them, the disciple whom Jesus loved, was reclining next to him. Simon Peter motioned to this disciple and said, ‘Ask him which one he means.’ Leaning back against Jesus, he asked him, ‘Lord, who is it?’” (John 13:22-25).
This passage shows an intimate interaction between friends as even Peter recognized that John was the one to ask this question.
Closeness to Christ did not mean immediate perfection, though. John’s life was one of slow sanctification. He shared the same shortcomings as the other disciples, such as misunderstanding Jesus’ primary mission of providing redemption. Like the others, he expected the Lord to oppose Rome’s oppression. He stood with the others and declared his undying loyalty, but when the men came to arrest Jesus, he fled. The fact that Jesus nicknamed John and James Boanerges, or Sons of Thunder (Mark 3:17), seems to reflect John’s zealous tendencies (see Luke 9:51-56).
Because of the inner three’s special privileges, such as witnessing the raising of Jairus’s daughter and the transfiguration of Jesus, John and his brother may have begun to view themselves as superior disciples. They once asked the Lord if they could have special places in Heaven on either side of him (Mark 10:35-40). On another occasion, John ordered a man to stop casting out demons because he was not a part of their group (Mark 9:38).
John learned and grew in faith and character. While he shared the same kinds of faults we have today, he was slowly conformed into the image of Christ. Where he once demonstrated a lack of humility, he learned meekness. Interestingly, he doesn’t even mention himself by name in his Gospel. Jesus showed his confidence in John when he appointed John the caretaker of his mother—over Jesus’ half-brothers (John 19:26, 27).
John was on a steady path toward maturity. He continued to grow in sanctification throughout his life, evidenced in his inspired writings.
John’s writings have been loved by many because of the unique mix of straightforward doctrine with flowing elegance. John wrote one of the Gospels, three letters, and the book of Revelation. From his works we learn about Christ and how we are to live. We also discover a bit about John along the way.
John’s Gospel was the last Gospel written, 90 percent of which is unique to him. John knew Christ’s heart and wanted others to know the Jesus he had known so well. He did not want Christians to miss the vital truths about Jesus—truths about his deity and his great love.
In his letters, John urges us toward the high calling of abiding in Christ, which was most likely influenced by Jesus’ teaching about the vine and the branches. He was also concerned with the subjects of truth and light—both topics Jesus addressed as well. His writings are filled with stark contrasts, reminiscent of Jesus’ statement, “Whoever is not with me is against me” (Matthew 12:30). Despite heavy doses of truth, John’s discussions consistently return to love.
As John grew older, he felt increasingly more responsibility toward the sheep under his care. The closing words of his letter show he considered himself an elderly father and viewed fellow believers as his children. John wrote well into his old age, culminating with one of the greatest works in literature, the book of Revelation.
The disciple Jesus loved witnessed the same miracles as the others. He ministered, learned, and grew during the three years he accompanied Christ. Then, standing on the hillside with Mary, he witnessed the death of his greatest friend on a cross. John’s pain continued as he grieved the loss of his fellow disciples in martyrdom, beginning with his brother James.
According to New Foxes Book of Martyrs (Bridge-Logos Publishers, 2002), John led a church at Ephesus, but was arrested and sent to Rome. He was tortured by being thrown into a vat of boiling oil, but did not die. He was then banished to the Isle of Patmos, where he wrote the book of Revelation based on visions given to him by the Lord. He was eventually released, where he returned to Ephesus and died of old age in AD 98.
John, whose tendency was to follow the lead of others, even when their leadership was misdirected, grew into a powerhouse of the Christian faith. This observer and thinker used his observations and intellect to craft some of the greatest writings the church has seen.
Though he stood for truth, sometimes to the neglect of love, he became a herald of truth and a beacon of love to the early church. Like the absolutes in his writings, John’s personality also went to the extremes. In the end, he became known as the apostle of love. Where he once lacked compassion, he learned how to balance truth with the love Jesus taught and exhibited.
John adored his Lord to the very end. When called, he followed Christ immediately. He leaned on Jesus during the Last Supper. He could not bear to leave the Lord as he hung on the cross. He gave everything for the Lord, and though he did not suffer a martyr’s death, he was willing to lay down his life.
John’s example challenges us to take our faith seriously and live each moment in surrender. Above all, John asks us to adore Christ, our greatest friend.
Javan Rowe is a freelance writer in Columbus, Ohio.
The Doubting Disciple
No one ever survived Golgotha. The cross was the most brutal of punishments ever to be endured. Jesus was dead. His tomb was sealed. All was lost.
Yes, I had seen the Christ heal the sick, feed the hungry, and raise the dead, and yet I could not imagine how he could restore his own life after such injury, after such foul decay.
I gazed around at my brothers. The desolate grief and feverish desire to see our Lord alive again had made them weak in their minds. I feared they had conjured up a ghost or seen a man who merely resembled our Lord.
Talk as blustery as winter’s wind erupted from the sons of thunder who sat next to me. They stole me from my contemplations, and yet nothing could dispel my doubts about the Christ.
Not until I saw him for myself.
Then a sight—a human form—manifested itself inside the house where we stayed! The man, a stranger, had come through the door, and yet it was locked. What trickery of the eyes was this?
The stranger stepped toward us and said, “Peace be with you!”
Then the man, who now seemed familiar, turned to me and said, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”
Could it be my Lord?
Obeying almost without thinking, I touched his hands and saw the marks where the nails had been. I placed my hand on his side, and felt the scar from the spear that had pierced him, where blood and water had flowed from his body. The man was indeed Jesus, and he was among the living again! Why had I doubted? His life, his ministry, his countless miracles, had been more than enough proof of his lordship.
Shame washed over me, drenching me, like a great wave on the shore. “My Lord and my God!”
I knelt before him. Forgive my doubts.
Then Jesus said to me, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
An excerpt from Where God Finds You by Anita Higman