Monday, March 04, 2024

Brother John- Frère Jacques

Though this title is a shout out to the long famous nursery rhyme about a Monk who overslept his duty to ring the bells - Ding, Dang, Dong.... I actually wanted to write a little about John the Apostle and how he is often overlooked, at least in my life.

Throughout my time in reading the Bible, I have often gone into thought experiments about Biblical characters, thinking about their life story and their personality. And in that, I identify a lot with Peter and even have a series on 1st and 2nd Peter where I interweave a fictional re-telling of some of his stories (April/May/June 2020- A Fisherman's Tale

Recently, I have begun to think through the life of John, especially in preparing for a Sunday School series on the Book of Revelation.

Biblical history is tough- there are so many divisions of conservative and liberal Biblical scholars that it makes digging into the history problematic- jaded skepticism and human presupposition makes honest history less science and more narrative.

Even the battle about the date of Revelation leaves plenty of room for doubt. Was it written in 65-68 AD or 95AD? Was John the same John for all the Books in the Bible with his name? The worldview of each scholar is baked into his analysis and conclusion.

So as I weave this 'account' of John, note that it has many dissenters and critics to counter each piece. This account is based on reading both Biblical and extra-Biblical sources and - this is just a blog post and my view....

John and his older brother, James were fisherman. They were the sons of Zebedee and Salome and it is likely they were cousins to Jesus by the fact that Salome and Mary were sisters. It is reasonable to believe that John the apostle was an early follower of John the Baptist and when Jesus called to Andrew, I believe John was the other one. Andrew then went and told Peter about Jesus as well.

The official call for discipleship came soon after that, "going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James, son of Zebedee, and his brother John. They were preparing their nets in a boat with their father, Zebedee. Jesus called them, so they left the boat and followed him (Matthew 4:21:22, Mark 1:19-20)

It is a long church tradition to mention John as the youngest of the disciples.

John was an inner-circle disciple- The one whom Jesus loved and John and James must have been characters to be called Sons of Thunder (Boanerges). In Luke 9, these two wanted to call down fire of Samaritans who rejected Jesus:

When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. [52] And he sent messengers ahead of him, who went and entered a village of the Samaritans, to make preparations for him. [53] But the people did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. [54] And when his disciples James and John saw it, they said, “Lord, do you want us to tell fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” [55] But he turned and rebuked them. [56] And they went on to another village. (Luke 9:51–56)

Sons of Thunder indeed!

Mom shows up in Matthew 20 with her request- notice the brothers answer....

Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came up to him with her sons, and kneeling before him she asked him for something. [21] And he said to her, “What do you want?” She said to him, “Say that these two sons of mine are to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.” [22] Jesus answered, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?” They said to him, “We are able.” [23] He said to them, “You will drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.” (Matthew 20:20–23 ESV)

Sadly, both did- James was the first martyr after faithfully serving the church in Jerusalem.
Acts 12:1–2
About that time Herod the king laid violent hands on some who belonged to the church. [2] He killed James the brother of John with the sword, (Acts 12:1–2 ESV). Please note that this is not the James who was the leader of the Jerusalem council and by tradition was thrown from the Temple and then stoned.

Back to John- 
At the last supper- his place was next to Christ on "Whose breast he leaned"
He was at the crucifixion where Jesus asked him to take care of Mary.
He out raced Peter to the empty tomb where he saw and believed.
He was mentioned with Peter in Acts 3, thrown in prison in Acts 4, and with Peter again in Acts 8

An extra-Biblical source says he was tortured for his faith BEFORE being sent to Patmos where he has the visions and message to write Revelation. 

The church historian Tertulian said that the Roman emperor Domitian commanded that the apostle John be boiled to death in oil, but John only continued to preach from within the pot. Thus John, the head of the church in Ephesus at the time, was banished to Patmos around A.D. 95- 97.

We read from John in Revelation:

[9] I, John, your brother and partner in the tribulation and the kingdom and the patient endurance that are in Jesus, was on the island called Patmos on account of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. (ESV)

[10] I was in the Spirit on the Lord's day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet [11] saying, Write what you see in a book and send it to the seven churches, to Ephesus and to Smyrna and to Pergamum and to Thyatira and to Sardis and to Philadelphia and to Laodicea.” (ESV)

Revelation is a beautiful testimony to the faithful witness of John- it could NOT have been easy to see and write about what he saw! 

And throughout the book we read: then I turned/ when I saw/ after this I looked/ then I saw/ I saw/ then I looked/ now I watched/ and I looked/ after this I saw/ I saw/ then I looked/ then I saw/ this is how I saw it in my vision/ then I saw/ and I saw/ then I saw/ then I looked/ then I saw/ and I saw/ after this I looked/ then I heard/ and I saw/ after this I saw/ .... and ON AND ON- from 1:12 all the way until 22:8

I worry we make too much of the Book if we don't understand that John is being faithful to what Christ is showing Him....

Finally, church tradition says this:

Two years after John’s exile, the emperor Domitian died, and John returned to the church in Ephesus. The youngest of the disciples lived also to be the oldest, dying in peace in Ephesus around the age of eighty after over half a century of resilient service to Jesus’ church.

If the timeline is right, John lost his brother, James in 44AD and then had another 50 years in which he too "drank the cup" to the glory of Christ!

It is believed that John was buried in the southern slope of Ayosolug Hill near Ephesus (modern day Turkey). Three hundred years after his death, a small chapel was constructed over the grave in the 4th century. The church of St John was changed into a marvelous basilica during the region of Emperor Justinian (527 -565 AD).

It later became a mosque and then deemed unusable after an earthquake.

John is NOT SLEEPING- he is alive with Christ and one day I will get to meet him!

No comments: