Questions and observations for discussion:
1. What can we glean from the N.T. about the personal background of John the disciple of Jesus Christ?
John (together with his brother James) was a son of Zebedee who ran a family fishing business near Capernaum on the north shore of Galilee (Mark 1:19-21) They must have been moderately successful since they could hire servants (Mark 1:20). Besides his early calling at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry he was also chosen as one of the twelve and is referred to as an apostle (Mark 3:14, 17). James was probably his older brother since he is always mentioned after his brother in all the N.T. lists of disciples (e.g., Mark 1:9, Mark 3:17). There is the suggestion that since a certain Salome is mentioned as a bystander at Jesus’ crucifixion in Mark 15:40 and that James and John’s mother is mentioned in Mat 27:56 as a bystander this Salome may have been their mother. Both James and John appear to have been fairly temperamental to earn the title “sons of thunder” by Jesus (Mark 3:17).
2. How do we know that this is the same John as the author of the Gospel of John which never explicitly uses his name, or the author of Revelation which uses this name but does not identify him as the disciple John, or as the author of 1, 2, 3 John in which this name does not occur at all?
As for the Gospel of John we have allusions to the ‘beloved disciple’ (e.g. John 13:23-26, John 19:26-27, John 19:35, John 20:2-10, etc.). Two significant occurrences are found in John 21:2 and John 21:7 where Peter asks about the fate of this beloved disciple. Jesus answer implies he would live longer than the rest. If Revelation should be dated in the early 90”s A.D. during the persecution under Domitian, this may make a plausible connection. Also, the author’s simple identification as John without need for further amplification fits with a person of John standing as disciple. As for 1, 2, 3 John the writing style and vocabulary have clear parallels with the Gospel of John. Also 1 John 1:1 includes the author among those who saw and touched Jesus.
3. What was significant about John as a disciple of Jesus in the earliest church and for us today as an example of an agent of hope?
On the negative side, John and his brother asked for the most privileged positions of power at Jesus’ side based on their misunderstanding of his kingdom (Mark 10:35-45; Mat 20:20-21 has their mother asking for them, but with their consent!). Luke 9:52-56 records their desire to call divine fire down on a Samaritan town that refused to accept Jesus and their rebuke by Jesus. On the positive side, John was part of a trio with James and Peter who received special attention by Jesus. They alone were allowed at several special events: the raising of Jairus’ daughter from the dead (Mark 5:37), the transfiguration of Jesus (Mark 9:2-4), the agony of Jesus in the garden (Mark 14:33). We learn from Paul in Gal 2:9-10 that this trio were pillars of the Christian community in Jerusalem who gave him strong support for his mission to the Gentiles.
Early church sources indicate that he moved to Ephesus and carried out a faithful ministry that centered on love until his death in old age. 1 John 4:7-21 is a fitting summary of his focus on God’s atoning love for all humankind and its consequence of our love for one another.