John, the disciple, was one of the original twelve apostles. He was the brother of James, their parents were Zebedee, a prosperous fisherman, and Salome who was one of the women at the crucifixion watching from a distance, as we heard last week.
Jesus referred to James and John as ‘sons of thunder’ because of their fearless and somewhat aggressive tendencies. When Jesus sent a messenger into a Samaritan village we’re told they “did not want to receive him” (Luke 9:53) James and John said, “Lord, do you want us to tell fire to come down from heaven and consume them.” Jesus rebuked them for their attitude – maybe he said something like, “I appreciate your loyalty but fire and brimstone is not the right response here.”
John, like Simon Peter, Andrew and James, responded immediately when Jesus called him. He gave up everything to be a disciple. He ended up writing five of the New Testament books. John’s gospel, the three letters to early Christians and towards the end of his life during his exile on Patmos, the book of Revelation.
John’s gospel is written from a different perspective to the other three. Matthew, Mark and Luke are known as the synoptic gospels because they all have a similar narrative and tell a similar story. John has other priorities.
Some commentators say that we read Matthew, Mark and Luke to learn about Jesus and what he did, and we read John:
– to get to know Jesus more deeply and personally,
– to better understand the relationship between Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
– to better understand the relationship that JESUS offers to believers who put their faith in Him.
In fact, moving on to John’s perspective on the events leading up to Jesus’ arrest, crucifixion and resurrection, the entire gospel of john details no more than the last three weeks of His life and ministry. Chapters 13-19, a third of the book, concentrates on the last twenty four hours.
John is also the only gospel writer to state the purpose of his writings.
(John 20.30-31) Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
Not all of the disciples had exactly the same relationship with Jesus. We know from Matthew, Mark and Luke that Jesus took Peter, James and John up the mountain for His transfiguration. John doesn’t include this story which appears in the other 3 gospels.
John only refers to his own presence, when it’s really necessary, using the phrase “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” Elsewhere, he just refers to “the disciples.” It’s generally believed that the term John uses to refer to himself, rather than mentioning his own name, is a way of drawing attention away from himself. His writings focus on communicating, as fully and accurately as possible, the person of Jesus and who he really is. We do see something of John’s special and unique personal relationship with Jesus, but John ensures that this is not a central theme.
The first time he uses this way of referring to himself occurs in John 13 at the last supper.
He begins by quoting Jesus.
(John 13.18-27 I send accepts me; and whoever accepts me accepts the one who sent me.’ 21 After he had said this, Jesus) ‘I am not referring to all of you; I know those I have chosen. But this is to fulfil this passage of Scripture: “He who shared my bread has turned against me.”[Psalm 41] 19 ‘I am telling you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe that I am who I am. 20 Very truly I tell you, whoever accepts anyone was troubled in spirit and testified, ‘Very truly I tell you, one of you is going to betray me.’ 22 His disciples stared at one another, at a loss to know which of them he meant. 23 One of them, the disciple whom Jesus loved, was reclining next to him. 24 Simon Peter motioned to this disciple and said, ‘Ask him which one he means.’ 25 Leaning back against Jesus, he asked him, ‘Lord, who is it?’ 26 Jesus answered, ‘It is the one to whom I will give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.’ Then, dipping the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot. 27 As soon as Judas took the bread, Satan entered into him.
When Jesus says he’s going to be betrayed, the disciples look around at each other, then Simon Peter says to John – go on – you ask him who it is – and John simply asks the question, maybe this is an example of John’s confidence because of his close relationship with Jesus. We’ll look at another example later which is rather more tangible.
We find that John is always focused on his mission: “these things are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”
So to get this message across, John’s writings say a lot about who Jesus really was, and is, and what he said about himself. He is less concerned with stories and parables. In fact many scholars say that there are no parables in John’s gospel. Some say there are two narratives that should be considered.
(ch 10 – the shepherd and his flock and ch 16 v21 the woman in childbirth).
We don’t know if, or how, John recorded events as they unfolded, but we do know that without John’s account of the teachings of Jesus about himself and who he is, the gospel message really would be incomplete.
In John’s account as we move on from the Passover and the betrayal, we come to Peter’s denial – well documented in all four gospels. Then in chapter 14 through 17 John records some of the most profound teaching that Jesus gave about who he was and what he would accomplish, much of which does not appear anywhere else. So, we can say that John’s role during this period was to be attentive to what Jesus was saying and teaching so that it could be passed on to the early Church and then later on become part of Scripture.
In this period before Jesus is arrested (in chapter 18) it seems as though John hangs on every word that Jesus says, he ’soaks up’ and takes in so much. We won’t read it all but this is where Jesus says:
– Don’t be troubled, trust in God and in me, I’m going to prepare a place for you.
– I am the way the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father except through me;
– Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father;
– The counsellor, the Holy Spirit, whom the father will send in my name, will teach you all things, and will remind you of everything I have said to you.
This is where Jesus says, I am the vine you are the branches, he warns the disciples of the troubles and suffering to come and finishes by saying “In this world you will have trouble, but take heart I have overcome the world.”
John’s gospel was the last gospel to be written, a good number of years after these events actually took place. Thankfully the Holy Spirit was at work in John’s memory so that he was able to record things in such detail for us.
Chapter 17 is where John records what is known as the Farewell or High Priestly prayer. This doesn’t appear anywhere else in the Bible. Things are really hotting up at this point, Jesus is about to be arrested, the disciples know that something is going to happen because of the way Jesus is speaking. John must have been determined not to miss out on anything Jesus was saying.
In this Farewell prayer Jesus prays for Himself as the Son of God and Head of His Church. He prays for his followers and for us too – verse 20 –
(John 17.20-26) ‘My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one – 23 I in them and you in me – so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. 24 ‘Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world. 25 ‘Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. 26 I have made you[e] known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.’
We know from scripture that, after this prayer, Jesus went with his disciples to an olive grove where He was arrested, and the events that followed led to his crucifixion.
Where was John at the crucifixion? We find the answer in John 19. 25-27: Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26 When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing near by, he said to her, ‘Woman,[b] here is your son,’ 27 and to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother.’ From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.
So John was present at the crucifixion, and here we have a more tangible example of the close relationship between John and Jesus. Jesus asks John to look after his mother, he trusts him with her welfare and John arranges for her to come and live at his house.
So here we have John in another role. He was a disciple of Jesus, an apostle, a writer of scripture which included prophecy, and here we have him as a carer.
Jesus death came shortly after this discourse. The next time we come across John is in the story of the empty tomb.
(John ch 20 v 1-9) Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. 2 So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, ‘They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!’ 3 So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. 4 Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter came along behind him and went straight into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, 7 as well as the cloth that had been wrapped round Jesus’ head. The cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the linen. 8 Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. 9 (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.) 10 Then the disciples went back to where they were staying.
So, here we have John as the faster runner, but he hesitates and Simon Peter is the first one to go in. They still didn’t fully understand what had happened at this point, not even John despite all that teaching that he’d taken in.
Then, later on in this chapter, Jesus appears to Mary Magdalene, and afterwards to the disciples where he breathed on them and said, Receive the Holy Spirit. It’s likely that John was present here.
The last chapter of John deals with the last time that Jesus appeared after his resurrection when he helped some of the disciples catch fish and had breakfast with them. Here again John refers to himself the disciple whom Jesus loved and on this occasion, was the first to recognise Jesus.
Probably, during the years that followed, John’s spiritual insight that came from knowing Jesus personally, helped him to “put all the pieces together” so that he could write the magnificent account that we have today.
Even the opening verses are astonishing where he describes Jesus as the word who became flesh and dwelt among us. He was there, he saw it all, from the calling of the disciples, through the ministry and the miracles, and the events leading to the crucifixion, to the glorious victory of the resurrection.
So John’s role in the events leading up to Jesus’ death. He had a practical one in looking after Mary which Jesus entrusted to him just before he died. On a spiritual level he ensured that a ‘vital spiritual chronology’ of Jesus’ words and teachings found its way into the bible, to complement the chronology of the practical events.
I believe he achieved the declared purpose of writing his gospel:
These things are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
Let’s believe, and so have life in Jesus’ name! I encourage you to read, or re-read, John’s Gospel and to let God speak to your heart through his words.