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Who was John the apostle in the Bible?

There are two important men named John in the New Testament, John the Baptist and John the Apostle. The first was Jesus' cousin who set the stage for Jesus' ministry, preparing the people for the coming Messiah. The latter was one of Jesus' twelve disciples who helped lay a foundation of biblical Scripture to guide believers until Jesus' second coming.

John the Apostle and his brother James were the sons of a man named Zebedee. They worked as fishermen in Galilee in partnership with Simon Peter and likely his brother Andrew (Luke 5:10). Andrew was a disciple of John the Baptist (John 1:35–42); Peter, James, and John might have been as well. When Jesus called the men to follow Him, they immediately left their fishing boats and joined Him (Matthew 4:18–22; Mark 1:16–20; Luke 5:1–11).

John was among the first disciples to follow Jesus and became part of His inner circle along with Simon Peter and James. These three went in with Jesus when He resurrected Jairus' daughter from the dead (Mark 5:35–43). They also witnessed first-hand when Jesus was transfigured before them and Moses and Elijah appeared and spoke with Him on the mountain (Matthew 17:1–9). In addition, they were the disciples Jesus kept closest as He prayed in the garden of Gethsemane awaiting His impending crucifixion (Matthew 26:37). In His last few moments on the cross, Jesus entrusted His mother to John's care (John 19:25–27).

Jesus nicknamed the brothers James and John the "sons of thunder," perhaps for their passionate personalities. While their zeal for serving Jesus certainly led to great ministry, at times it was misdirected. Sometimes it was born out of pride rather than humility. One time, John rebuked a man for casting out demons because he was not one of the twelve disciples (Luke 9:49–50; Mark 9:38–41). Jesus told him, "Do not stop him, for the one who is not against you is for you" (Luke 9:50). Later, John and James wanted to call down fire from heaven on a group of Samaritans who were unwilling to receive Jesus (Luke 9:51–56). But Jesus rebuked them. James and John, via their mother, also requested to be seated at Jesus' right and left side when He came into His kingdom. They were seeking to exalt themselves, not understanding the full measure it would take to follow Jesus until the end (Matthew 20:20–27; Mark 10:35–45).

After Jesus' death John was one of the pillars of the new church, as were all the apostles. We see John in crucial moments alongside Peter several times in the book of Acts, for example in healing the lame beggar at the temple and subsequently being arrested (Acts 3—4) and in going to Samaria to pray for the believers there to receive the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:14). John's brother James was the first of the twelve apostles to be martyred (Acts 12:1–2). Later in his life John wrote five books of the New Testament: the Gospel of John; the epistles of 1 John, 2 John, and 3 John; and Revelation. These were all written somewhere between AD 80 and 98.

John does not write of himself in first person on the Gospel of John, other than as an author (John 20:30–31; 21:24–25). He does refer to himself as "the one whom Jesus loved" (John 13:23; 20:2; 21:7, 20). John's Gospel was written years after the other Gospels and has a different style. It contains some accounts not found in the Synoptic Gospels and seems to have as its main purpose setting forth Jesus' deity as opposed to giving a chronological narrative of His life (John 20:30–31).

The Gospel of John, 1 John, 2 John, and 3 John all have an emphasis on truth and love. In fact, John is sometimes called the "apostle of love." His assurance that Jesus loved him and his various discourses on love, particularly in the book of 1 John, have helped to earn him that nickname.

John wanted his readers to know the truth Jesus taught and be able to identify false prophets who were trying to deceive them. He also wanted them to understand the condition of their souls as sinners and Jesus' sacrifice that gave them access to eternal life. John portrayed the intimate loving relationship that Jesus desires to have with each person. Through his personal experiences with Jesus he knew that truth must be shared in love in order to be effective (cf. John 1:14; Ephesians 4:15). Truth by itself can come across as arrogant, but love on its own is only sentimental. Together truth and love can transform the heart. John encouraged his readers to follow in Jesus' footsteps, "By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth" (1 John 3:16–18). He wrote so that his readers would have assurance of salvation in Jesus Christ (1 John 5:13). He warned his readers about false teachers (1 John 2:18–27; 4:1–6; 2 John 1:7–12). He assured them, "And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life. Little children, keep yourselves from idols" (1 John 5:20–21).

Revelation was written as John was given visions of the future while he was exiled on the island of Patmos and living alone in a cave. It speaks of judgment in the end times, the Antichrist, and Jesus' triumphant return. It also tells of Jesus' one-thousand-year reign on earth while Satan is bound in the Abyss, then of God releasing Satan and the nations gathering to war against Him. But fire comes down from heaven and consumes them (Revelation 20:7–9). Satan is thrown into the lake of fire, joining the Antichrist and the false prophet (Revelation 20:10). Then the dead are judged (Revelation 20:11–15). God makes a new heaven and a new earth, where all who have put their faith in Jesus Christ will dwell and God will dwell with them (Revelation 21—22).

John was the only disciple who was not martyred and instead died of old age. Even after enduring the deaths of all his fellow disciples and the agony of solitary exile, John never lost sight of Jesus' promises. In the last words of Revelation he wrote, "He who testifies to these things says, 'Surely I am coming soon.' Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen" (Revelation 22:20). From John we can learn zeal for the Lord, the importance of truth, security in Christ's love for us, how to love others well, and hope for Jesus' return.


Related Truth:

Who were Jesus' twelve (12) disciples / apostles?

Who was James the apostle in the Bible?

Who was Peter in the Bible?

How can a Christian be an ambassador for Christ?

How are our lives a testimony for Jesus?


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