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Bridgeway Bible Dictionary

John the Apostle

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Various names have been used of John the apostle. Many of the people of his time referred to him as ‘the disciple whom Jesus loved’, perhaps because of his special relationship with Jesus (John 13:23; John 19:26-27). But Jesus himself often referred to John and his older brother James as ‘sons of thunder’, perhaps because they were sometimes impatient and over-zealous (Mark 3:17; Mark 10:35-40; Luke 9:49-56). John was one of the most highly respected leaders in the early church, and later generations knew him as ‘the elder’ (2 John 1:1; 3 John 1:1). (For his writings see JOHN, GOSPEL OF; JOHN, LETTERS OF.) He has traditionally been regarded as the writer of the book of Revelation (Revelation 1:1; Revelation 1:9; Revelation 22:8; see REVELATION, BOOK OF).

In the time of Jesus

John’s father was a fisherman named Zebedee (Matthew 4:21). His mother, Salome, appears to have been the sister of Mary the mother of Jesus (Matthew 27:56; Mark 15:40; John 19:25-27). The family lived in a town on the shores of Lake Galilee, where James and John worked as fishermen in partnership with another pair of brothers, Peter and Andrew (Matthew 4:18-21; Luke 5:10).

Most likely all four men had responded to John the Baptist’s preaching. They became disciples of the Baptist and were part of that minority of true believers who looked expectantly for the promised Saviour. John was probably one of the two disciples (the other was Andrew) whom the Baptist first directed to Jesus Christ (John 1:35-40). Soon both pairs of brothers had become followers of Jesus (Matthew 4:22), and later all four were included in Jesus’ group of twelve apostles (Matthew 10:2). Peter, James and John developed into an inner circle of disciples who were particularly close to Jesus (Mark 5:37; Mark 9:2; Mark 14:33).

As the ministry of Jesus progressed, Peter became increasingly more prominent. James and John, with their mother, tried to outdo Peter by going to Jesus and asking him to give the top two positions in his kingdom to them. They received no such guarantee from Jesus; only a rebuke for their selfish ambition and a promise of persecution ahead (Matthew 20:20-28). By the time Jesus’ ministry had come to an end, Peter and John were clearly the two leading apostles (Luke 22:8; John 19:26-27; John 20:2-9; John 21:20).

In the early church

After Jesus’ return to his Father, Peter and John provided the main leadership for the Jerusalem Christians. Their boldness amid persecution was an example to all (Acts 1:13; Acts 3:1-4; Acts 3:11; Acts 4:13-20; Acts 5:40). They were the first Christian leaders to show publicly that God accepted non-Jewish converts into the church equally with Jewish converts (Acts 8:14-17). John’s willingness to preach in Samaritan villages was in marked contrast to his hostility to Samaritans a few years earlier (Acts 8:25; cf. Luke 9:52-56). With James the Lord’s brother they formed a representative group who expressed the Jerusalem church’s fellowship in the mission of Paul and Barnabas to the Gentiles (Galatians 2:9).

The Bible contains little information about John’s later activities, though there are early records outside the Bible that refer to him. According to these, John lived to a very old age (as Jesus had foretold; John 21:20-23) and spent most of his later years in Ephesus. From there he wrote his Gospel and the three letters that bear his name. It seems also that he was imprisoned on Patmos, an island off the coast from Ephesus, from where the book of Revelation was written (Revelation 1:9).


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Bibliography Information
Fleming, Don. Entry for 'John the Apostle'. Bridgeway Bible Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/bbd/j/john-the-apostle.html. 2004.

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