Wednesday, November 2, 2011

First John Chapter One, Part 1 of 5

John the apostle was one of the twelve, called to follow Christ along with Peter, Andrew and James, Matthew 4:18-22. These four men were the first four to be called by our Lord after His baptism, Mark 1:16-20. Although it does appear that Peter and Andrew were disciples before John, John 1:40-42. The fact that the calling of these four is mentioned specifically in the gospel seems indicative of the importance these men had within the budding church while the gospel accounts were being recorded.
 
It was these same four that approached Jesus shortly before His betrayal and inquired of Him regarding the end times, Mark 13:3-4. We know of these four men that James was martyred (Acts 12:2) and Peter likewise (John 21:18-19); though history does not clearly record how Peter died, despite the popular notion that he was crucified upside down. However, the Apostle John did one thing that none of his fellow disciples did: he stayed with his Lord through Christ’s most agonizing moments on earth, John 19:26-27.


James and John, along with Peter, would become the three who were a part of an inner circle within the twelve; Jesus’ three closest disciples, Matthew 17:1; Mark 14:33. John appears to be the younger brother of James since the two were generally mentioned together and James is listed first. It is speculated that John was quite young when called to follow our Lord; perhaps a teenager yet. It is also Church tradition that John was an elder of the church at Ephesus in his later years, and a future bishop named Polycarp laid claim to being a convert of John’s who would likewise become bishop of Ephesus. This cannot be ascertained for certain, but we can know that John was an elder in the church at Jerusalem during the first great Christian council; Acts 15; Galatians 2:9. What happened to John between this famous council and his exile to Patmos near the end of the first century cannot be known with certainty.

John was supposed to have lived until almost the advent of the second century AD, writing 1-3 John, the Gospel bearing his name, and the Revelation of Jesus Christ between 85 and 100 AD, depending on the source.  There is a fragment of John's gospel that is extant, dating all the way back to about 125-150 AD or so, containing chapter 1:1-18. This finding single-handedly damages liberal arguments that John's writing came long after the church was founded.

All of the dates for the latter portion of John’s life are more speculation than verifiable truth so we must take them with a pinch of salt. It is assumed that John’s gospel was first written, perhaps to embellish the concept of grace, faith and love: doctrines that utterly saturate the fourth gospel. Bill Wells (a teacher at New Hope Bible Church) believes John’s gospel was written in part to counteract legalism budding within the first century church as the first three “synoptic” gospels were being quoted out of context to affirm salvation by works of human righteousness (such as keeping the Law or water baptism). The first three epistles were written thereafter, with the Revelation of Jesus Christ being divinely bestowed upon John while he was suffering as a prisoner of Rome in Patmos near the end of the first century. It is believed that John died shortly after Emperor Trajan assumed the throne about 98 AD. Again, these are not solid facts, so do not take them as such.

John’s youth as given in the four gospels however is a little more verifiable. John along with his brother James, were named “sons of thunder” by Jesus, Mark 3:17. This title seems to have been due to the headstrong nature of the brothers. This was manifested when they demanded to sit at Jesus’ right and left hands in glory, Mark 10:35-45; a second incident had the brothers wanting to call down fire from Heaven to destroy a Samaritan village that rejected their Lord, Luke 9:51-56. Clearly, Peter did not have the monopoly on reckless or impetuous behavior among the apostles. It is equally clear by the writings of both men, however, that the Holy Spirit matured them into calm, reliable pillars of the church that were capable of dispensing sound counsel, by the grace of God. The change that was wrought in John was apparent during the opening chapters of Acts when he assumed a leadership role beside Peter and was with Peter to examine the claims that Samaria had been evangelized, Acts 8:14-25. In his youth John wanted to rain fire on the Samaritans, and now he came to confirm the work of grace begun by the Holy Spirit through Philip.

An apparently popular rumor amidst the first century church which John answers in his gospel concerns his apparent immortality. John clarifies our Lord’s statement, letting the young church know that Jesus never said that John would not die; He merely stated that if He chose to leave John on earth until His return that was His business. In a manner of speaking He did just that when our Lord visited John in glory on the isle of Patmos and brought to the elderly apostle the Revelation. It is my opinion that John was given the honor of this vision due to the fact that out of the original count of apostles he remained by his Lord’s side at the crucifixion. John was apparently so moved by his Master’s suffering, so moved with love for Him that it didn’t enter his mind what might happen to him, being affiliated with the hated and humiliated Nazarene. Or, if he was aware, his love for Jesus overrode any thought of self-preservation, and he stood fast beside Mary, the mother of our Lord. For this Jesus honored him with the Revelation, because to him who has, more will be given, Matthew 13:12.

We conclude our small character sketch of the Apostle John by focusing on his close relationship with Jesus. On more than one occasion John was called the “disciple whom Jesus loved,” John 13:23; 19:26; 20:2; 21:7. The word “love” in its various forms (love, loveth, lover, etc) is used 257 times in the New Testament. In Matthew, Mark and Luke combined it is found 35 times. In all of Paul’s epistles (Romans through Philemon) it is found 90 times. In the general epistles (discounting John’s) it is found 17 times. John’s gospel utilizes the word 56 times; his 3 epistles 53 times and the Revelation 6 times. This makes a total of 115 times that John, by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, opts to use the word love in its various forms and expressions. That happens to be almost half of the times that the word is found in the whole of the New Testament. As an interesting side note, the word “love” is not used at all in the book of Acts.

John was simply filled with the love of Christ shed abroad in his heart (Romans 5:5), and from such intimate contact with his Lord and Master he became alive with the love God so has for the world. One of John’s emphases was that man’s love for God ought to manifest in a love for those born of Him. Those that did not manifest this brotherly love for the saints were out of fellowship with Christ or simply did not know God. John’s test was love: love of the brethren as Jesus commanded, John 13:34-35. There are two New Testament commands: to believe in Jesus Christ and love one another. The first justifies a man (John 3:16; Acts 16:31) the other fulfills all the Law, Romans 13:10; Galatians 5:14. This was John’s litmus test for saints: the prerogative of love.

1 comment:

  1. Great review of John's life and ministry. I also find it interesting that John avoids mentioning himself as much as possible, seeking to place the emphasis on on others.

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