John, Apostle and Evangelist

“St. John the Evangelist”, Francois-Andre Vincent (1793).

John, one of the Apostles, possibly lived the longest life associated with the Gospel, an author in that time and Evangelist spreading the Gospel to many in the Mediterranean area who were not of Jewish background. He is believed to be the only Apostle not martyred for the cause. We remember him on Dec. 27.

John, son of Zebedee, was one of the twelve apostles.  In the Gospels the two brothers are 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). They were high-spririted and apparently John had a quick temper. Originally they were fishermen and fished with their father in the Lake of Genesareth.

Near the beginning of the second year of Jesus’ public ministry, when Jesus was conducting his greater Galilean ministry, Jesus called John and James, Peter and Andrew, to follow him full time as his disciples. They then left their fishing business (cf. Matthew 4:18-22; Luke 5:10,11) and became Jesus’ apostles (cf. Matthew 10:2).

Together with his brother James and with Simon Peter, he formed a kind of inner circle of Three among the Twelve.  The three beheld the miracle of the Great Catch of Fish, the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law, the raising of the daughter of Jairus, the Transfiguration  and Gethsemane  in Easter Week. Only he and Peter were sent into the city to make the preparation for the Last Supper (Luke 22:8).

At the Supper itself his place was next to Christ on Whose breast he leaned (John 13:23, 25). According to the general interpretation John was also that “other disciple” who with Peter followed Christ after the arrest into the palace of the high-priest (John 18:15) John alone remained near Jesus at the foot of the Cross on Calvary with Mary and the other women, and took Mary into his care as the last legacy of Christ (John 19:25-27). John was the only one of the Twelve Apostles who did not forsake Jesus at thes Passion.

After the Resurrection John with Peter was the first of the disciples to hasten to the grave and he was the first to believe that Christ had truly risen (John 20:2-10). When later Christ appeared at the Lake of Genesareth John was also the first of the seven disciples present who recognized his Master standing on the shore (John 21:7.

After Christ’s Ascension, John took, together with Peter, a prominent part in the founding and guidance of the Church. He was company of Peter at the healing of the lame man in the Temple (Acts 3:1). With Peter he is also thrown into prison (Acts 4:3). Again, we find him with Peter visiting the newly converted in Samaria (Acts 8:14).

After Jesus ascended into heaven, John was an active witness in Jerusalem to the crucified and risen Christ. John was with Peter when at the gate of the temple they healed the beggar who was lame from birth and Peter preached to the crowd that then gathered in the temple (cf. Acts 3:1-26). John, too, was arrested with Peter for preaching the gospel of Jesus in the temple, imprisoned, and brought before the Sanhedrin, the ruling council of the Jews. When commanded not to preach in the name of Jesus, John, as well as Peter, testified that he could not stop speaking what he had seen and heard (cf. Acts 4:1-22). No doubt John was with the other apostles when the Sanhedrin arrested them, jailed them, tried them for preaching the gospel of Jesus in Jerusalem, and flogged them (cf. Acts 5:17-42). John remained in Jerusalem with the other apostles when the Sanhedrin initiated in connection with the stoning of Stephen the persecution of Jewish Christians in the city (cf. Acts 7:57-8:2).

John became one of the recognized leaders in the church of Jerusalem. Paul stated that John was one of the reputed pillars of the church. John, as well as James the brother of the Lord Jesus and Peter, also extended the right hand of fellowship to Paul at the Apostolic Council in Jerusalem (cf. Galatians 2:9; Acts 15:1-29).

It is believed that John left Jerusalem around A.D. 66 before the Jews’ war with the Romans, which led to the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. John then settled in Ephesus and ministered there as an apostle until his death around A.D. 100. Irenaeus, bishop of Lyons, who lived until around A.D. 180, attested to John’s ministry in Ephesus. Irenaeus had a direct link to John via Polycarp, who had been a pupil of John’s. Irenaeus also knew others who had been with John in Ephesus.

He expressed a willingness to undergo martyrdom  as did the others. However although 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”, one of the few.John is thought to be the only apostle who died a natural death. Because of the contents of his gospel and letters, John has become known as the apostle of love.

John is credited with the authorship of three epistles and one Gospel, although many scholars believe that the final editing of the Gospel was done by others shortly after his death.

It is said John was banished in the late 1st century to the island of Patmos, during the reign of the Emperor Domitian, after being plunged into boiling oil in Rome and suffering no injuries. It is also said that all those who witnessed the miracle in the Colosseum were converted to Christianity. He is believed to be the author of the book of Revelation written on Patmos although this identification is less certain. Some attribute authorship to John of Patmos or John the Presbyter.

In the Gospel of John, the phrase “the disciple whom Jesus loved,” or “the Beloved Disciple” is used five times, but is not used in any other New Testament accounts of Jesus. John is called the Apostle of Charity. The “beloved disciple” died in Ephesus after AD 98, where a stately church was erected over his tomb. It was afterwards converted into a Mohammedan mosque.

John is the patron saint of love, loyalty, friendships, and authors. He is often depicted in art as the author of the Gospel with an eagle, symbolizing “the height he rose to in his gospel.” In other icons, he is shown looking up into heaven and dictating his Gospel to his disciple.

Gospel of John

John is the only Gospel which does not have a separate year devoted to it as does Matthew, Mark and Luke. Instead it is interspersed in each of the three years of the other Gospel. The Gospel includes information not found in the other Gospels. While John filled in the gap of Jesus’ first year of ministry left by the three synoptic gospels, he wrote nothing about the second year of Jesus’ ministry, which the three synoptics covered in detail. John jumped from the first year of Jesus’ ministry to the third and final year, starting with the Passover and Jesus’ feeding of the five thousand.

Alexander Shaia, author of the Hidden Power of the Gospels has written the following about the Gospel.

“The Gospel of John stands apart from the other gospels in many ways. Rather than employing a story line of Jesus’s life to accomplish his objectives, John used long, philosophical narratives, with a primary metaphor of garden—specifically, the Garden of Eden. It is likely that these discourses were used as prayer—part of believers’ preparations for the early Christian baptism ritual in the city of Ephesus. By the time this gospel was written at the end of the first century, followers of Jesus called themselves Christians, and they came from many backgrounds, not just Judaism. The new faith spread rapidly-in this thriving port city and spirits were high—but the euphoria of those high spirits threatened to slip into self-righteousness and division. John sought to establish a common and deeper grounding for the followers of the young Christian faith and warned them of the dangers presented by their immaturity.”

John’s chief purpose of his gospel is stated at the beginning of his concluding epilogue in John 20:30,31. He stated the purpose of his gospel was to show that Jesus is Christ the Son of God. It was not a missionary appeal unlike the others. Rather it sought to strengthen and deepen the faith of those who were already Christian believers. John was aware that among the Jews there were those who remained disciples of John the Baptist and did not accept his testimony to Jesus being the Christ.

He also had to counter the gnostics who believed that Jesus was only a man. They believed that the heavenly Christ entered the man Jesus at his baptism and occupied him for the three years of his public ministry to impart true knowledge Up front in the beginning of the Gospel he sets up his key beliefs -the divinity of Jesus, faith in him, and having life in him.

The first 18 verses are known as the Prologue. We typically include the prologue as the last reading in the first Sunday after Christmas’ Lessons and Carols.

Where Matthew and Luke have nativity stories, and Mark has no nativity story, John’s Gospel shows that Christ has always been. This implication of Jesus’ preexistence contrasts sharply with the synoptic gospels, in which Jesus is born of a virgin or his birth is not mentioned at all

J” 1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4 In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

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