I truly hope you are enjoying our new sermon series on “The 12 Apostles of Jesus Christ”. More than that, I hope you are learning and applying the truths we’re discussing to your life. The apostles were ordinary men, each with various strengths and weaknesses. Like us, they were flawed and sinful. Yet Jesus personally chose them and developed them into mature, strong, and uncompromising believers. He can do the same thing with us…
Today’s message focuses on the life and ministry of John. He and Peter are perhaps the most commonly recognized of the apostles. John was also a prolific writer whose inspired works have been preserved in the Bible and read by millions of people. Under the unction of the Holy Spirit, John penned the most famous verse of Scripture - John 3:16.
I. GENERAL INFORMATION
The apostle John is sometimes called “the son of Zebedee”, “Boanerges” (Son of Thunder), “The Beloved Disciple” (or “The Disciple that Jesus Loved”), “The Evangelist”, and/or “The Revealer”. John was the brother of James, the son of Zebedee and Salome. Some scholars identify Salome as Mary’s sister, which would thereby make John (and James for that matter) cousins of Jesus. John was a professional fisherman who worked with his father and brother, along with his partners Peter and Andrew. It is important to distinguish the apostle John from John the Baptist, and also from the New Testament missionary John Mark.
Like his brother James, John did not always have the most thoughtful or virtuous attitude and the pair shared the dubious nickname “The Sons of Thunder” (Mark 3:17). He desired vengeance upon those who refused Jesus passage through their village (Luke 9:51-55). John tried to hinder someone who was casting out demons in Jesus’ name but wasn’t following Him (Mark 9:38-41). He selfishly asked for special recognition when seeking to sit at Jesus’ side in glory (Matthew 20:20-23). It is widely believed that John was the youngest of the apostles, possibly just a teenager, and many of his statements prior to the Lord’s resurrection certainly revealed a lack of maturity. But as he aged, John’s behavior radically changed and he became an important figure in the early church.
The apostle John wrote 5 books of the Bible - the gospel of John, the 3 epistles titled 1st, 2nd, and 3rd John, and the apocalyptic vision called Revelation. All of these were written later in John’s life, likely 30-50 years after the crucifixion of Christ. The gospel of John is uniquely different than the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) and is considered by many Christians to be their favorite book of the Bible.
II. HIS MINISTRY WITH JESUS
Many Bible experts suspect that John (the apostle) was in fact the unnamed disciple of John the Baptist who was mentioned in John 1:35-42. If so, both he and Andrew would have met and become somewhat acquainted with Jesus prior to their famous encounter on the shore of Lake Gennesaret. Perhaps they had told Jesus where they worked, so later He went to that specific area of the beach looking for them. Whether intentional or incidental, when Jesus arrived He called 4 fishermen to leave their boats and nets behind to follow Him. John was one of these men, along with James, Peter, and Andrew (Mark 1:16-20).
In his gospel, John referred to himself anonymously as “the disciple whom Jesus loved”. He obviously had a close personal relationship with the Lord. He was a member of the “inner circle” of apostles that were privileged to experience the Transfiguration, the healing of Jairus’ daughter, and a few other special events that have been mentioned previously in this series. John seemed to follow his brother James’ lead, or perhaps it was the other way around, as they often approached and conversed with Jesus together.
John really begins to stand out among the apostles at the very end of Jesus’ earthly ministry. The Lord asked him (and Peter) to prepare the upper room for the Last Supper (Luke 22:8). John wrote extensively about the events that happened at the dinner that night. John is the only gospel writer to record that Jesus washed the apostles’ feet. This act of humility had a profound and lasting effect on John. He reclined right next to Jesus during the Last Supper, even leaning upon Him at times (John 13).
When Jesus was arrested and taken to the high priest, John was permitted to go inside the court and was even able to convince them to let Peter in the gate (John 18:15-16). Later John was standing with Jesus’ mother and a few other women at the foot of the cross during the crucifixion. He may have been the only apostle present at Calvary to actually witness the death of Jesus. It was on this occasion that the Lord asked John to take care of His aging mother Mary (John 19:25b-27). The fact that Jesus asked John to undertake such an important responsibility is very telling.
On the morning of Jesus’ resurrection, John and Peter ran to and even entered the empty tomb after receiving Mary Magdalene’s remarkable report (John 20:1-10). Later John and the other disciples saw and spoke with the resurrected Christ in the upper room. John was the first to recognize Jesus when He appeared to the 7 apostles at the Sea of Galilee (John 21:7). John also witnessed Jesus ascending from the Mount of Olives into heaven.
III. HIS MINISTRY AFTER JESUS WAS GONE
John was with the other apostles in Jerusalem when they chose Matthias to serve as Judas Iscariot's replacement, and on the day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit fell upon them. In the years that immediately followed, John and Peter worked together to spread the message of Jesus (Acts 3:1). Though likely not as outspoken as Peter, still John was arrested for his bold preaching. He told the authorities that he’d continue to proclaim the name of Jesus, despite their threats of persecution (Acts 4:19). John and Peter traveled to Samaria to help strengthen and establish the new believers that were there (Acts 8:14-15).
John, Peter, and James (the brother of Jesus) were all regarded as pillars of the early New Testament church (Galatians 2:9). It is widely believed that after Jesus’ mother Mary died (who John had been taking care of) he left Judea and moved to Ephesus. There he became a prominent leader in the Ephesian church and an active evangelist in the region. He made several acquaintances with area pastors and wrote letters to communicate with and encourage them and their congregations (1st, 2nd, and 3rd John).
Tradition states that the Romans arrested John in Ephesus and condemned him to death. They cast him into a cauldron of boiling oil, yet miraculously he was unharmed. This is reminiscent of the Old Testament story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. Having failed to kill him, they exiled him to the small island of Patmos. There are various theories about what John did while he was banished there. While imprisoned on Patmos, John had a God-given vision which he described in the book of Revelation. Most historians believe that John was eventually released, likely due to his old age, and he returned to Ephesus where he died of natural causes sometime around 100 AD.
It is generally believed that John was the only apostle who lived to an old age and died of natural causes. I personally believe this occurred because John took good care of Jesus’ mother Mary after the crucifixion. He treated her as his own. The 10 Commandments plainly state that those who honor their parents may have their “days prolonged” upon the earth. This assertion is evident in the life of John and provides an adequate explanation for why he seemed invincible at times.
In his writings, the apostle John wrote extensively about God’s love as evidenced through Jesus Christ. He was amazed that God could love sinners, such as himself, so completely and so selflessly. John urged all Christians to share this same deep and abiding love with one another. He wrote that God is love, and that those who don’t love do not know God. John recognized love as the supreme virtue upon which all others rested. As such, he sought to love others as Christ loves them. May we all do likewise…
Next week we will discuss the first of yet another pair of brothers who were also apostles. There were Peter and Andrew, James and John, and… well, I can’t tell you yet. It would spoil the surprise! See you next week.