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In search of the Apostles, John 'The Beloved'
My favorite writer
The Gospels themselves are amazing pieces of literature, four different accounts of the one life, yet at the same time because they are each trying to argue their case from different perspectives they all seem to start at different times.
Mark is reputed to be the first written, and as it seems to have been written in a hurry (Peter was awaiting execution and dictated the gospel to John Mark, or so the tradition goes) it starts with the start of Jesus' ministry by the river Jordan.
Matthew is concerned that Jesus is the Jewish Messiah, the long awaited one who was to be the deliverer of the Jewish nation. He starts his account with the lineage of Jesus going right back to Abraham and shows how the lineage can be traced back through the Royal line of David (important to Matthew and to the Jewish nation) all the way back to Abraham and how Jesus can claim to be the 'seed of Abraham' who'll inherit the promise given.
Luke argues for Jesus being the 'son of man' and traces the lineage way back into antiquity right back to Adam but not through Cain or Abel but through Seth as the promise said it would be in the Garden, he shows how Jesus is the promise to Eve fulfilled as the 'seed of the woman'. He also goes through and shows how Jesus 'as a son of Adam' was also (because Adam was) a 'Son of God'.
John does something else, something quite unique. He doesn't stop at Adam, or even at the creation of the world, he keeps going back in time to the very moment when the universe sprang into being, and then claims that he was right there 'in the beginning'
I have to admit, on those grounds alone the fourth Gospel is my favorite, as it shows us just whom Jesus really is!
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.— John Chapter 1 verse 1
But who was John?
Jesus had twelve disciples, and this series is trying to explore a bit about who these men really were and what they were like? How could a bunch of seemingly simple folks, ordinary working class people have such an impact on their world and the lives of countless billions that came after them that they're still shaping our world today?
And what really was their message?
Is their world really so different to our today?
I've actually just spent a couple of hours writing on another site about the seven wars that my home country (Britain) is currently involved in throughout the Middle East! It'd be easy for me to say that things were so different then, life was so much slower and there wasn't so much bad news around, and it would be total BS! (Yes I did use those initials on a site that I'm supposed to be writing about 'nice Christian stuff' on! but there's no other way to describe it!)
The world of Ancient Rome was just as dangerous a place as our world today, yet they managed to change their world and largely for the better! How?
In previous hubs, we've looked at the lives of Peter, James, Andrew and Mary, we've seen some of the challenges that they faced and how they dealt with it, but as we look at John's life things are a little different.
Let's take a look.
John the Beloved
Start at the right place, the END!
When John wrote his gospel, he was actually at the end of his life, his are the musings and fond memories of an old man, remembering the 'good times' and some of the not so good that went on in his 'youth'
Historians reckon that John's Gospel was written around 90 AD not long after (or maybe before) his writing of Revelation. There are some differences in the two books that have led scholars to argue that if John wrote the one then maybe he didn't write the other, things like the fact that the Greek in the gospel of John is pretty good, but the grammar in Revelation would certainly have gotten him a 'fail' mark with Aristotle or Socrates! It's apparently atrocious!
Then again, take a look at the two books, in one there's stories of Jesus and Jesus explaining parables etc where in the other it's serpents, marching armies destruction and the ultimate horror only to be stopped by the final coming King. In one the Messiah comes and is rejected by most where in the other all hell is breaking loose on the earth and no one can stop it, until the coming back of the promised Messiah!
Even the first story in John's gospel has the feel of an old man telling a disciple what it was like to walk and talk with Jesus, he even remembers what he and Andrew asked Jesus that first time they met him, just after his Baptism.
You can hear him saying, "We asked him where he was staying?" but he replied. "Come and see!"
It's known that Emperor Domitian (circa 90 AD) tried a few times to have John executed, but it seemed that nothing they tried worked! but it does show us that he was probably well into his eighties at the time and that would make him very young at the time the gospel accounts start (if he was 80 in AD 90 then he would have been about 18 when he first met Jesus in AD 28!)
Here's a thought, how many of us would trust an eighteen-year-old to change the world? Yet that's how old John was! and Andrew probably wasn't that much older!
I'm saying that as they were both with John the Baptist when they met Jesus, they probably hadn't started 'formally' learning the business their brothers and John's father were in, yes they'd probably done nights on the sea and knew how to fish, but actually learning a trade was something that Jewish men did in their twenties so that by the age of thirty they were fully equipped and ready to take on life as an adult as well as a wife.
An old man remembers
We all love to reminisce about the 'old days' and there's probably times when we sit and think about how wild those 'old days' really were.
Pandemonium as a wedding because someone swapped the wine around and let everyone get drunk on the cheap stuff before bringing the 'good stuff' out! (but the servants knew what really happened, and they didn't mix the wine up!)
P#$%ing the authorities off for their stealing in the Temple! Sorry but no authority figures like being called a bunch of thieves, but John was there when Jesus did that, he remembers the chaos as everyone was running for the door, being whipped by a furious Rabbi from backwood Galilee who's cussing and calling them a few choice names as they run!
Then there's the Miracles! Imagine the scene, the body's been in the grave four days, the mourning ceremony is well and truly ended, but the family, still there as Lazarus has been put in the family tomb, people are still arriving to pay their respects and offer condolences when Jesus arrives. They think he's come to do the same, but Mary and Martha just can't help themselves and they let him have it!
Like a double barreled shotgun, they both tell him "IF YOU'D BEEN HERE, LIKE WE ASKED, THIS WOULDN'T HAVE HAPPENED!!!" (Don't believe me? read it for yourself, John Chapter 11 verses 20-22 for Martha, she gives Jesus a 'way out' but Mary isn't so kind in verse 30)
it's like John is saying "I was there when these things happened!
The bit about that story is what happens next, imagine the uproar when Jesus stands at the tomb and calls out "Lazarus, get out here!" and for a few seconds nothing happens, you can almost hear the laughter begin, but then total bewildered silence as the once dead Lazarus slowly shuffles his way out the tomb, still bound, but very much alive!
What do you think happened next? A praise meeting? or total chaos as people ran about not knowing what the heck they just saw, they knew Lazarus had been dead, and no one's come back from that place before, but here he is, living, breathing, walking and talking!
Incidentally, the story tells us that the Jewish authorities wanted to kill not Just Jesus, but Lazarus too! just to hide the miracle!
Who was he?
Okay, we've seen a little about whom it is telling the story, an old man reminiscing about his earlier days when he walked and talked with Jesus, but who was he?
Well, the Bible and the other gospels do tell us a little about him, his father (Zebedee) had a fishing business on the sea of Galilee, by the accounts Zebedee had actually done quite well with the business and he had a couple of boats, possibly even a few servants, some scholars even think that Simon (later called Peter) kind of 'subcontracted' from Zebedee or at least they worked closely together as there are times when they're literally 'in each other's boats'
John himself was a disciple of John the Baptist (as was Andrew) and that's where he first appears, he's there when Jesus is Baptized and gets to talk with him afterward. From there the friendship grows.
But there's another clue, John's Mum is named Salome and she's actually the one who often literally 'bankrolled' Jesus' ministry! Maybe it was her and Zebedee together (she's just the one shows up with the money) or maybe Zebedee died not long afterward, we just don't really know.
Some women were watching from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger (brother of Jesus) and of Joseph,[a] and Salome.— Mark 15 verse 40
Who really wrote the gospels?
Man of influence
Apparently, tradition has it that Mary (the mother of Jesus) and Salome were sisters! That means one married a carpenter and the other a fisherman, but they were both cousins of Elizabeth who was married to a priest and was the mother of John the Baptist!
All these family connections are going to play an important part in the drama as it plays out. Mary and Joseph had done well, but with other kids to feed they would struggle supporting Jesus and his ministry. Jesus is known to have had other brothers and sisters so the purse strings would have been stretched thin.
Salome and Zebedee seem to have had the two boys and done pretty well financially, they were in a position to support Jesus, and they did, is that why Salome asked the special blessing on her boys?
When the time came, and Jesus was on trial before the Sanhedrin there was one disciple who had the family connections to 'get in' and listen to the trial, to be able to report back on what happened, Peter had to wait outside, hoping not to be recognized, John was right there, with Jesus and I wonder if he really cared or not about being recognized? everyone knew they were cousins! (it's just us who don't pick up on these things!)
John could tell us the full story of what went on, it's John that tells us it wasn't the full Jewish Sanhedrin that met! Just enough for a 'quorum' and "Make sure they're all Jesus haters" you can almost hear the high priest say!
John seems also to have followed Jesus into Pilate's presence and tells us the discussion that went on there, or at least he knew what was said!
And he wasn't yet twenty-one!
The trial of Jesus
John tells us exactly what went on at Jesus' trial, he doesn't and can't really rely on the other accounts as none of them were actually there!
Yes, Matthew was there listening to the crowd when Pilate offers either Jesus or Barabbas to walk free, he was there when the crowd (incited by the religious leaders) screamed for Jesus to be crucified, but he wasn't there when Jesus faced Pilate, John was! John was right there when Jesus faced all the accusations, he was there when he replied (or didn't) and he was there right at the foot of the cross when Jesus was nailed to it! Jesus even talks to John right there 'on the cross' and asks him to look after his Mum for him, in other words, to take over the role of an 'oldest son' (and John's not yet twenty-one!)
Even now, as I think about it I can almost hear John the 'old man' remembering what Jesus said to him right there when he must have felt like everything was lost, all that they'd worked for over the last three years was vaporising right before his very eyes! All the hopes of changing the world, all the dreams of future glory disappearing as Jesus slowly dies on the cross, and John's left to pick up the pieces.
But it's 'John the old man' who knows the end of the story that's telling us what it was like, the story didn't end there, and even though we're going to stop for a while the story doesn't end there.
Which gospel's your favorite?
All for now
That's all for now folks, we're not finished with the Apostle John yet, but there's so much to write that I thought a break might be in order.
Hopefully, after reading this you'll never look at the Gospels the same way again, they're old documents, yes, but they were written by real people, with hopes, dreams and they weren't that much different to you and me, they just lived in a different time and place.
As the song says
And we all know
That people are the same
Wherever you go— Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder (From the song 'Ebony and Ivory'