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After playing a prominent part in Christ’s ministry with his brother James and the other apostles, the Apostle John helped establish the first church in Jerusalem, and later served other congregations in Ephesus and Asia Minor.
John also wrote five books of the Bible: the Gospel of John, the three New Testament books that bear his name and, at the end of his life while imprisoned on the island of Patmos, God also inspired him to write Revelation, the last book of the Bible.
John’s father was Zebedee (Matthew 4:21). His mother was apparently the Salome who served Jesus in Galilee and was present at the crucifixion (compare Mark 15:40-41 and Matthew 27:56). Salome appears to have been a sister of Mary the mother of Jesus (compare John 19:25 and Mark 15:40). If this is so, then John was Jesus’ cousin and, since Jesus and John the Baptist were also cousins, this would also make him a cousin to John the Baptist, whose mother, Elizabeth, was a close relative of Jesus’ mother (Luke 1:36).
John is named as one of the first five disciples Jesus chose (John 1:35-51) and was with Christ throughout His ministry. He was there when Christ performed His first recorded miracle at the wedding feast at Cana in Galilee (John 2:2-11) and he stood up as one of Christ’s followers, in spite of the dangers involved, at Christ’s crucifixion. In fact their relationship was so close that as Christ hung on the cross in agony he committed the care of His mother, Mary, to John. “...When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing near by, he said to his mother, ‘Dear woman, here is your son, and to the disciple, 'Here is your mother.' From that time on, this disciple took her into his home” (John 19:25-27, NIV). In His Gospel the Apostle John, also famously indirectly refers to himself as that disciple whom Jesus loved.
Interestingly, early in his life Jesus nicknamed the Apostle John a Son of Thunder which may have indicated that, along with his brother James, he had a quick temper. For example, on another occasion Jesus had to rebuke John for his hotheadedness when he wanted to call down fire from heaven onto a Samaritan village (Luke 9:52-56).
John’s writings, however, reveal a completely different man. John had changed his outlook as he followed Christ, heeding His teachings. Rubbing shoulders with Jesus, hearing Him speak of godly love and watching Him practice it among those who didn’t appreciate Him could have been what transformed John into one of the three disciples of Jesus’ inner circle.
John’s Gospel and his three epistles focus on love. They are filled with statements to help us understand how God’s love contrasts with human love. In fact John gives us a direct definition of godly love in his first epistle explaining how God communicates His love through the laws He has given us: “For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome” (1 John 5:3).
In his old age John was imprisoned on the island of Patmos in the Aegean sea, during the Christian persecutions under Emperor Domitian (81-96). There, some 65 years after Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection, Christ revealed to John the dark days that lay ahead--- especially the troubling and tumultuous times just before His return to this earth, which enabled John to write the book of Revelation.
Few men knew Jesus of Nazareth as well as John did and Jesus had a special love for John. A mutual understanding and respect for the unselfish love of God bound their relationship and John was faithful to Christ in all these things in spite of the threat of persecution and death.
The Good News magazine