John the Beloved is the son of Salome and Zebedee, a Galilean fishernman. The name John means “Jehovah is gracious.” Indeed, as we study John’s character, we find grace epitomizes his life. We know him as “the beloved disciple” because this is the way he refers to himself (Jn. 21:7). John is initially a disciple of John the Baptist, but when the Baptist points to Jesus as “the Lamb of God” he follows Him from that day forward (Jn. 1). He and his brother James are among Jesus’ first disciples. In the Gospel of Mark, John is always named after James, indicating he is probably the younger of the two.
John is often mentioned along with James and Peter – all of whom are fishermen (Luke 5:9-10). John appears to be one of the three disciples closest to Jesus. It is these three Jesus takes with Him when he heals Jairus’ daughter (Mark 5:37), on the Mount of Transfiguration (Luke 9:28), and when He goes further into the Garden of Gethsemane to pray (Mark 14:33).
John and Peter are seen together on several occasions:
~ Peter and John are sent into Jerusalem to prepare the Passover meal (Lk. 22:8).
~ Peter and John follow Jesus after His arrest to the palace of the High Priest (Jn. 18:15).
~ Peter and John run to Jesus’ tomb (Jn. 20:4).
Early in John’s ministry, he is unsure if anyone except Jesus should be allowed to cast out demons (Luke 9:49). Jesus instructs him not to forbid others from doing this (v. 50). On another occasion, John and his brother James ask to sit on Jesus’ right and left hand in the Kingdom of God (Mark 10:35-36). Jesus informs them such appointments are only awarded by the Father (v. 40). In an inhospitable Samaritan village, James and John suggest calling down fire from heaven to consume them (Luke 9: 52-54). Jesus teaches them that He has not come to destroy men, but to save them (vv. 55-56). Because of their misdirected zealousness, Jesus nicknames James and John the “Sons of Thunder” (Mark 3:17 & Lk. 9:52). Having learned lessons in humility as a young disciple, John retains a contrite spirit throughout his life.
The Gospel of John is written by a man who deeply loves Jesus. His Gospel contains 90% new material – incidents, conversations and miracles not recorded by Matthew, Mark or Luke. John knows of Jesus’ pre-existence with the Father (John 1:14). He is familiar with Jesus’ private prayer life (18:2). He often records Jesus’ emotions (11:33 & 13:21) and writes what the Lord is actually thinking. For example, he records that “He (Jesus) Himself knows what He will do” (6:6). Jesus knows what the disciples are murmuring about (v. 61). Jesus knows from the beginning who will betray Him (v. 64). Jesus knows about His impending crucifixion (18:4).
By the time John writes his gospel, the Church is mostly comprised of Gentiles. He therefore writes from a global perspective. Following Jesus’ Great Commission, his gospel is addressed to “all nations” (Mt. 28:19). The Beloved Disciple proves the Gospel is spreading “not to Israel only – but to the world” (Jn. 11:52). He hears Jesus say that “everyone that comes to me I will accept” (6:37), “I have other sheep that are not of this fold” (10:16), and “I will draw all men unto Me” (12:32). John’s purpose is made crystal clear: “These things are written that you might believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and have eternal life through His Name” (20:31).
John writes of the impulsiveness of Peter, the doubts of Thomas, the guilelessness of Nathaniel, the zealousness of James, the deceptiveness of Judas, the boldness of John the Baptist, the anxiety of Martha, the curiosity of Nicodemus, and the pride of the Pharisees. He is blessed to see Jesus walk on the water. He allows Jesus to wash his feet. He is the disciple who leans on Jesus breast at the supper table (John 1: 37 & 20:21). His gospel bears all the marks of an eyewitness:
~ “The house is filled with fragrance” (Jn. 12:3).
~ “She falls at His feet” (Jn. 11:32).
~ “Jesus weeps” (Jn. 11:35).
~ “Peter is grieved” Jn. 21:17
John is the only one of the twelve to follow Jesus all the way to Calvary. To John alone He entrusts the care of His mother (John 19:26-27). He is present at the Ascension and on the Day of Pentecost. In the book of Acts, we see James and John working miracles. He is with Peter on the Temple porch when the lame man is healed (Acts 3:1-6). He is imprisoned with Peter. The Sadducees see that Peter and John are uneducated, but know from their demeanor both men have spent time with Jesus (4:13). We see these same disciples praying that Samaritans might receive the Holy Spirit (8:14-15). Many years later, Paul refers to Peter and John as pillars in the Church (Gal. 2:9).
After the Gospel of John, he writes three epistles urging us to abide in Christ and obey His teachings (I John 2:27-28). When Peter asks Jesus what will become of John, Jesus responds, “If I want John to live forever, how does this concern you? You follow Me” (Jn. 21:22). There is irony in Jesus’ words, for John outlives all the other apostles. He alone dies a natural death. Except for Judas, all the others are martyred. Tradition maintains John lives to be nearly 100 years old. He is the only disciple who lives through the fall of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. Because the shock is now over, this gives him a unique perspective. As a prisoner on the Isle of Patmos, he records the Revelation about 90 A.D. All five of the books John writes serve to prove the opposition to Jesus is continuous and universal until the end of time.
In the last verses of the Bible, John urges those who are thirsty to come and freely drink of the Water of Life (Rev. 22:17).
Quick Quiz Questions
1. Name John’s brother and their profession (Luke 5:9-10).
2. What did Jesus nickname these brothers (Mark 3:17)?
3. What was John’s signature act of love for Jesus (Jn. 1:37 & 20:21)?
4. What is the meaning of the name John?
5. Which of the following did John have knowledge of?
A. Jesus’ emotions
B. Jesus prayer life
C. Jesus’ preexistence
D. Jesus’ thoughts
E. All of the above
6. The Sadducees realized John was uneducated, but what else did they recognize (Acts 4:13)?
7. What special assignment did Jesus give to John (Jn. 19:26-27)?
8. How does Paul describe John (Gal. 2:9)?
9. About how old was John when he wrote Revelation?
10. What other books of the New Testament did John write?
11. When Peter asks what the future holds for John, how does Jesus respond (Jn. 21:22)?