Saturday, March 2, 2019

The Disciple Whom Jesus Loved: The Character & Personality of John

He was the sage who wrote the most beautiful, eloquent, and theologically deep description of the life of Jesus. He followed Jesus all the way to the cross when the rest of the disciples fled. He was so humble and self-effacing that he only mentioned himself in his gospel account as ‘the disciple whom Jesus loved’ (John 13:23 NIV). And at the end of his life he encountered the risen Christ once again, and was given an extended vision of the end of the world (Revelation 1 NIV). Today we are looking at the character and life of the apostle John.

The Apostle John was one of the sons of Zebedee, a fisherman, along with his brother James (International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, 1982). John was most likely the younger brother as he is always listed second to James (Chadwick, 2017). John was on a boat fishing with his father Zebedee when Jesus called him to “come and follow me.” Before following Jesus, John and his brother had been followers of John the Baptist. His mother was Salome. He was one of Jesus’ inner circle, being present at the healing of Jairus’ daughter and the transfiguration. John and his brother James were referred by Jesus as the ‘sons of thunder’ perhaps because of their passion and zeal for the faith (Chadwick, 2017). It is traditionally believed that John’s mother Salome was the sister of Mary the mother of Jesus, which would make him and Jesus cousins (International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, 1982). John authored the gospel of John, as well as 1st, 2nd, and 3rd John. According to most traditional sources, the apostle John is the same “John of Patmos” who recorded the book of Revelation, though some dispute this claim (International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, 1982). The author of Revelation claims to be “John” though no further identification is given (Walton & Keener, 2016, p. 2216). The apostle John’s authorship is generally supported by early church tradition (Walton & Keener, 2016, p. 2216).

Let us consider the Apostle John’s character. He was certainly prone to error just as any of the other disciples were. Him and his brother desired to be the greatest in the kingdom of God, and requested Jesus would do it for them (Mark 10:37 NIV). He forbade a man to cast out demons in the name of Jesus because he was not a follower with them, but was rebuked by Jesus for doing so (Luke 9:49-50 NIV). He had also desired to cast down fire on a village that rejected the teachings of Jesus along with his brother James (Luke 9:54-55).

Yet we see the apostle John is a thoughtful, deep thinker who followed Jesus faithfully as one of the inner circle of disciples (Matthew 17:1-9, Mark 5:37 NIV). In his gospel he refers to himself rarely, and quietly accounts the fact that he stayed with Jesus all the way through the crucifixion when the rest of the disciples fled. He was trusted so thoroughly by Jesus Christ that when Jesus was upon the cross he looked at John and his mother Mary and said, “Woman, here is your son,” and to the disciple, “Here is your mother” (John 19:26-27). His love and devotional to Jesus seemed to go beyond Peter, James, or any of the other disciples, as he loyally followed Jesus through his passion and to the cross itself. This would’ve taken great courage and fierce loyalty. Later in life John would be the one whom Jesus would trust his revelation of the end times to through a vision. John would record Jesus’ instructions to the seven churches of Asia Minor in Revelation as well.

Beyond what is recorded in the gospels and epistles, John’s history and actions outside the scriptures fades into myth and legend (Chadwick, 2017). Polycrates and St. Irenaeus, early church fathers indicated that John died in Ephesus and that his tomb was there (Chadwick, 2017). During the second century it was reported by Tertullian, another church father, that John was dropped into a giant pot of boiling oil but miraculously came out unburned (Chadwick, 2017). Other legends went around that John was martyred in some way (Chadwick, 2017).

In conclusion, the apostle John famously wrote in his gospel account, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:1-5). John’s gospel gives us a look at the life of Jesus in deeper theological context. It gives us a greater understanding of God’s love, the hope of everlasting life, and brings out the fullness of the passion of Jesus Christ. He was a zealous and devoted man, though not immune to error and sin, he was part of Jesus’ inner circle, and entrusted with the care of Jesus’ mother Mary. Overall, the Apostle John through his simple, yet provocative life gives us a picture of a quiet, thoughtful, yet imperfect man made into a hero by the power of a loving God. 

Chadwick, H. (2017, August 29). St. John the Apostle. Retrieved January 25, 2019, from
Silva, M., & Tenney, M. C. (2009). The Zondervan Encyclopedia of the Bible: Volume 3, H-L. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. (1982). Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Pub.