John wrote his Gospel that, ‘ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name’, 20. 31, and his first Epistle so that, ‘ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God’, 5. 13. He is very clear that eternal life is essentially a relationship with God the Father and Son, John. 17. 3; 1 John 1. 1-4, and that through this our joy might be full, 1 John. 1. 4. The Psalmist tells us that it is in His presence there is fulness of joy, Ps. 16. 11, and thus it is interesting that the hunger for the presence and knowledge of Christ permeates the record of John’s life, from the moment of his first question, ‘Master, where dwellest thou’, John. 1. 38, to the last longing of his heart, ‘Even so, come, Lord Jesus’, Rev. 22. 20. Perhaps his finest hour therefore, was the culmination of a life enjoying fellowship with the Son when the ‘Revelation of Jesus Christ’ was sent to ‘his servant John’, Rev. 1. 1.
So begins John’s gospel and it is interesting, assuming John is correctly identified as the unnamed man with Andrew in chapter one, that, at the very beginning of his relationship with Him, he asks Jesus, ‘Master, where dwellest thou?’ In his book, Jesus among other gods, Ravi Zacharias suggest that this goes beyond simply wanting to know where He was staying, and is rather an example of typical Eastern thinking. Where someone is from, or rather who they are from, is of the utmost importance. Illustrating the point, he recalls a time when he was speaking in India and the 10-minute introduction – much to his Canadian wife’s bemusement – was filled with his father’s achievements rather than his own! Having been directed to Jesus as the Lamb of God, to understand where this One was from became the priority. In those sublime early verses of his gospel he gives us the answer to the question before it is asked, ‘the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father’, 1. 18. In answer to the question, Jesus does not give an address, but an invitation, ‘Come and see’. In his Gospel, John guides us through what he discovered as Jesus performed the signs that proved that He was ‘the only begotten of the Father’, 1. 14.
Right from the beginning, John’s desire was to know Christ; for the fathers he wrote to, he could have no greater desire than that they continued to ‘know him that is from the beginning’, 1 John 2. 13, 14. That others might do the same and thus enter the fellowship and joy he and the other apostles enjoyed, was the reason why he declared all that he had heard and seen, 1. 3. According to John, the very essence of Christian life is knowing the Father and Son; to such was the Revelation given. Do we have eternal life? Let us ask how much of a priority is this relationship to me?
‘And they immediately left the ship and their father, and followed him’, Matt. 4. 22. The fact that there were servants in the boat helping, Mark 1. 20; that his mother helped support Christ in His life, 15. 40, and provided spices for His burial, 16. 1; and that John seemed to be acquainted with the High Priest, John 18. 15, all indicate that his family were successful in business and had connections with the higher classes. However, in response to the call of the Lord and the evidence of His power and glory, Luke. 5. 9, he was prepared to forsake it all for Christ. We have seen his desire to know Christ and here he receives a test; Christ demands a willingness to give all. Discipleship demands devotion, 14. 25-27, and John, counting the cost, found in Christ one that he could follow all the way to exile on the Isle of Patmos where he received the greatest revelation of His glory.
After his calling, John was chosen as one of the twelve, Matt. 10. 2, as one of three, Mark 5. 37, then as one of two, Luke 22. 8, and finally as the sole person into whose care Jesus could commit His mother, John 19. 26, 27. He was recognized by the others as close to the Lord, and who dared to ask the question all the others wished to know the answer to. He delighted to be near, and his writings are permeated by the instruction to abide, remain and continue in Christ. Was it this nearness that enabled him to comprehend while others were only seeing, 20. 8? In Revelation we see him as an old man ‘in the Spirit’; still close, still abiding and consequently able to receive a foretaste of the full answer of the prayer he heard in John chapter 17 verse 24.
Is it significant that this disciple, who so appreciated the love of Jesus, 13. 23; 19. 26, was the one left to the end of the first century to defend His very nature? In seeing the life-giving grace to a girl and glimpsing the radiant glory on the mount, he was sure of His deity, and in the grief in the garden, His humanity. Was Jesus also the Christ, 1 John 2. 22? Absolutely, with the very ability of man to enjoy fellowship with the Father dependent upon this fact, v. 23! What joy and confirmation for this old saint to receive this final revelation of the ultimate glory of Christ from, ‘I Jesus’, Rev. 22. 16, for, ‘at the name of Jesus, every knee shall bow’, Phil. 2. 10!
Even one so close as John occasionally needed to be corrected – beware of the pride that is never far from any of us. Let us guard against a feeling of superiority in service and remember the Lord’s rebuke, ‘he that is not against us is for us’, Luke 9. 50. His suggestion to scorch the Samaritans who rejected the Saviour could appear noteworthy in terms of his apparent indignation of the affront to their Lord and the faith that would be able to bring fire down, but it rather displayed ignorance concerning the Lord’s purpose during His first advent, Luke 9. 53-56, and was perhaps a manifestation of why he was surnamed a ‘Son of Thunder’! Again, we would admire the expectation of faith in his request, along with James, for superiority in status, but learn the lesson that, in the kingdom of God, glory is preceded by suffering, Mark 10. 38, 39; position is sovereignly prepared, v. 40; and greatness is achieved through service, vv. 42-45. Would he have reflected on these lessons as the great Revelation was given and he saw the One who had been prepared to serve rather than be served and to give His life a ransom for many now highly exalted?
If the name that the Lord Jesus gave to him is any indication, John and his brother were of fiery disposition; sons of thunder – even in Revelation chapter 10 verse 4 John is told to supress the voice of thunder! It is perhaps an indication of the truth of his name, Jehovah is gracious, that John is generally linked with love rather than judgement. For the one who learned through fellowship with his Lord to keep the thunderous side of his nature under control, there is the revelation of the judgement of God, the understanding that, ‘Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord’, Rom. 12. 19, is no idle threat.
Through persecution, John was a pillar, Acts 4. 21, Gal. 2. 9. In old age and exile on Patmos he still persevered, Rev. 1. John wrote that there is no fear in love, 1 John 4. 18. Is it a coincidence that he describes himself as the disciple whom Jesus loved and that he, alone among the disciples, is found at the cross? In understanding that he was loved by Christ, he could not be daunted by man. He had remained faithful to the Word made flesh, John 1. 14, and now he was richly rewarded in the final visions he received of the Word riding out in power and glory with His armies, acknowledged as ‘KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS’, Rev. 19. 16.
John tells us that the Good Shepherd came that we might have life and that we might have it more abundantly, John 10. 10, for ‘in him was life’, 1. 4. Eternal life is enjoyed as we know Him and abide in the Vine, for there we will bear fruit of the same character. For John, perhaps his finest hour on earth was that of the revelation of Jesus Christ, for he entered life that bit deeper. But John was looking beyond this earth, longing for the promise of his ascended Lord that ‘where I am, there ye may be also’, 14. 3, for then would not just be a fine hour, but fullness of eternal life as the children of God see Him and become ‘like him; for we shall see him as he is’, 1 John 3. 2.