The twelve: John

The last guy in the inner circle is John, the son of Zebedee, the Boanerges, writer of the Gospel of John, the three epistles and the Revelations. In fact, due to the number of writings that is attributed to him we can learn a great deal about him. He is, one of the few well known apostles (beside Peter and, of course, Judas Iscariot). He was the only apostle that is not martyred, lived is life until his old age. His influence over the early church was monumental.

The second thunder

As discussed in the previous notes, John is very similar in personality compared to his brothers. He is the second Boanerges, sons of thunder. But now, we might also know him as the apostle of love. Try to remember the drawings of him that we have seen in the Sunday school or other places. Usually we will see a polite looking, soft, meek, mild, lying on Jesus shoulders kind of gentlemen. Well, remove that picture out of your head. It was very misleading. John was exactly like his brother James. He is as rugged and hard-edged, intolerant, ambitious, zealous and explosive as his brother was. If you see in the Gospel you can see that he is aggressive, self assertive and intolerant. He is after all, a Boanerges.

There was a time where he mentioned to Jesus that he had rebuked a man for casting a demon in Jesus’ name when he wasn’t a part of the disciples. He was sectarian, narrow-minded and exercising uncontrolled ambition to take all the glory for himself. He was also involved in the event where the Boanerges want to burn the Samaritans, and when the Boanerges asked to be seated beside the Lord in selfish desire.

His world is about black and white. There are no grey shades in his minds. He is that zealous towards the Scripture and the truth that it is almost suffocating. There were numerous phrases in his writings which show this personality like when he said that “we cannot sin” or “we are either of God or of the world”. There were other times where we read him say “if we love, we are born of God, if we don’t love, we are not born of God”. He is that black and white. He made the word said by Paul sound soft. It doesn’t mean that he doesn’t understand about human nature though – he understands it exactly. In fact, we can see it from the way he writes his epistles: warm, soothing, pastoral style. He regarded truth very highly, but at the same time he regarded love very highly as well. And a person, who really understands love, does not sacrifice truth for love.

It is fair to say that this kind of person have a dangerous tendency to push everything into the extremes. And we can see it actually that in his younger days, John was a bit of an extremist. His zeal, sectarianism and intolerance were all sins of imbalance. His greatest strength became the cause of his prominent failures; his best characteristic became the pitfall for him, just like the case with Peter and James. There are nothing wrong with his virtues, it’s just that it is unbalanced, and an unbalanced person lead himself to a serious error.

Love and Truth, Ambition and Humility, Suffering and Glory

John was committed to truth since his younger days. He was following John the Baptist when he met Jesus alongside Andrew. He followed Jesus because he knew he is the truth. He was not only committed to truth, he loves it. Forty-five times the word truth was mentioned in all his writings, what he said about truth exceeds every other Scripture writers. That, however, is still unbalanced.

We go to the story of Jesus’ transfiguration. To cut the story short (believe me, I tried to make the notes shorter, but it isn’t easy), the three closest disciple (Peter, James and John) was brought to witness the full glory of Christ (with Peter as usual talked what he had in mind without thinking seriously in the process). This in turn triggers the usual debate – which is the debate about who is the greatest among them. As usual Jesus rebuked them. He said to them “What was it you disputed among yourselves?”

Jesus doesn’t ask this question because he needed the information. He knew exactly what it was. He wanted confession; He didn’t get any since they were embarrassed. Jesus sat down, and told them something we are very familiar of today. “If anyone desires to be the first, he shall be the last of all and servant of all”, “Whoever receives one of these little children in My name receives Me; and whoever receives Me, receives not Me but Him who sent Me”. It was a lesson about love, and it apparently cut into John’s heart, which let him confess about the incident of casting out of demon I mentioned earlier. He learned about love from this point. And we can see it in his writings, more than 80 times he mentioned about love. He realized that truth without love became brutality. As love without truth became hypocrisy.

He also learned about humility, reflecting this message to his ambitious self. He was able to balance his ambition with humility, as reflected in the humility he shows in his writings, most notably his Gospel account where he refuses to speak of himself in reference to himself. And as what he had said to Jesus when he told him that he is able to drink the cup of suffering, he too experienced that suffering, in balance to the glory that he will receive.

All reliable historical sources points out that he became the pastor of the church in Ephesus (founded by Paul), and was subsequently exiled to Patmos. There, he lived in a cave. Imagine him as an aged man had to endure sleeping on a rock pillow, cut off from those he loved and treated with cruelty. He outlived the other apostles, and in a way, he bears a different kind of suffering. However, he still bears it willingly, as is reflected in what he writes in the Revelations. He learned all those lessons, apply it to his life, and teach them to others.

He reflects us in our youthful nature, unbalanced, ambitious, idealist, intolerant. However, he is a living evident that God changes our sinful nature and use them for His glory. John died around 98 A.D. during the reign of Emperor Trajan. Jerome says in his commentary on Galatians that he was so frail such that he had to be carried into the church. However, one message was always present in his lips: “My little children love one another.” Asked why he always said this he replied, “It is the Lord’s command, and if this alone be done, it is enough.” The son of thunder has become the apostle of love.

Another ordinary man with an extra-ordinary God, and an uncommon calling.



There was a time when I lost my desire to write and to share. There was a time when I didn't see the point of doing a blog to express my thought. I am who I am though, inconsistent as I am in doing this blog, but I do want to share and I do long to write. Today I'm giving it another go. Fingers crossed. But I still wish that "Let there be light" is the message that I convey.
  • January 1st 2012, Kristo