People who met Jesus : 7 : John
Mk 3:17 James son of Zebedee and his brother John (to them he gave the name Boanerges, which means Sons of Thunder)
When we come to the apostle John we come into an area of dispute and it’s really to do with whether he was the author of the fourth Gospel and if he was, was he the one described there as “the disciple whom Jesus loved”. My own conviction is that he was both. Our verse above shows John in the list of the twelve appointed by Jesus, where we also see that Jesus nicknamed he and his brother James, ‘sons of thunder’. They were clearly loud and noisy as we’ll soon see.
They were called immediately after Andrew and Peter: “Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them, and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.” (Mt 4:21,22) and there was no indication, like the other two, that they had been seekers who had gone to John the Baptist. Perhaps this designation, ‘sons of thunder’ also suggests that they were rough and ready and not of the same ilk as Andrew and Peter. If that is so, what is wonderful about these two being called, is that Jesus could see what they would become rather than what they were.
This tendency to be loud and noisy also had a negative nature to it, which we see in Luke chapter 9: “Master,” said John, “we saw a man driving out demons in your name and we tried to stop him, because he is not one of us.” (Lk 9:49) John was clearly loyal to Jesus and didn’t want anyone else horning in on the act! Jesus simply gently corrected him. A bit later we find, “When the disciples James and John saw this, they asked, “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?” (Lk 9:54) in respect of the Samaritans who rejected Jesus. Again Jesus simply rebukes them gently.
A further illustration of their forwardness came when, “James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. “Teacher,” they said, “we want you to do for us whatever we ask.” “What do you want me to do for you?” he asked. They replied, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.” (Mk 10:35-37) They clearly have leading positions but not much of a clue as to what the kingdom of God was about. Jesus explained that this was not possible but when the other disciples heard about this they “became indignant with James and John.” (v.41)
Without doubt he was one of the ‘inner three’: “After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves,” (Mt 17:1) and so they share in the wonder of the experience on the Mount of Transfiguration. (We’ll see more of these three in the next meditation).
Later Jesus used John with Peter to make preparations for the Last Supper: “Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, “Go and make preparations for us to eat the Passover.” (Lk 22;8) It was during the Last Supper that we find John’s Gospel inferring that John was particularly close to Jesus, possibly even closer than Peter: “One of them, the disciple whom Jesus loved, was reclining next to him. Simon Peter motioned to this disciple and said, “Ask him which one he means.” (Jn 13:23,24)
So let’s consider John’s Gospel. John’s name is not mentioned once. Peter is mentioned over 30 times. Andrew, Peter’s brother is mentioned 6 times. James, John’s brother is not mentioned at all; not surprising if it is the apostle John writing and he’s keeping his family out of it. We have already just seen one reference to “the disciple whom Jesus loved” in Jn 13:23. Another such reference is, “When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Dear woman, here is your son,” (Jn 19:26) Why would such a designation be given unless it was the writer himself? Why would Jesus commit his mother into the care of anyone other than one who had been with him throughout his ministry? After the resurrection, reporting on Mary Magdalene, we find, “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!” (Jn 20:2) We know from the Synoptic Gospels that it was Peter and John who she encountered.
Later in the boat up on the Sea of Galilee we find, “Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, “It is the Lord,” he wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water.” (Jn 21:7) This is a fisherman in the boat with Peter, surely John.
Finally we find, “Peter turned and saw that the disciple whom Jesus loved was following them. (This was the one who had leaned back against Jesus at the supper and had said, “Lord, who is going to betray you?”) When Peter saw him, he asked, “Lord, what about him?” Jesus answered, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.” Because of this, the rumor spread among the brothers that this disciple would not die. But Jesus did not say that he would not die; he only said, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you?” This is the disciple who testifies to these things and who wrote them down.” (Jn 21:20-24)
Thus five times, from chapter 13 to 21, we have John testifying to his awareness of being loved by Jesus. By the time he wrote the Gospel, he is a self-deprecating, humble, senior, old leader in the church. The transformation that has taken place in John is possibly greater than in any of the other disciples, or at least as far as the evidence we have tells us. From being a somewhat loud mouthed, judgmental and self-seeking disciple, he has become a gentle, humble, wise, insightful leader – all because he has been loved. Thus he was able to write in his first letter, “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us.” (Jn 4:10) John’s life is a testimony to the transforming love of Jesus. May ours be the same!