This week we embark on a journey through the Gospel According to John. As the disciple that Jesus loved, John is uniquely qualified to write this extraordinary account of Jesus’ words and actions when He dwelt among us. It was John who leaned on Jesus’ breast at the last supper. It was John who Jesus trusted to take care of Mary as He hung on the cross. (John 19:26f) In fact, John was the only apostle who followed Jesus all the way to the cross. All the others had forsaken Him and fled. It is likely that Jesus and John grew up together as childhood friends, since John was Jesus’ cousin. This can be deduced by comparing Matthew 27:56, Mark 15:40, and John 19:25. [T]he mother of Zebedee’s children … Salome … and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Cleophas are all the same person. Her full name was Mary Salome Zebedee. She was Mary’s (Jesus’ mother’s) sister-in-law. Therefore, Cleophas Zebedee, John and James’ father, was Jesus’ uncle, making both John and James cousins of Jesus. Although John was the one who was the closest to Jesus, the Holy Spirit waited around 58 years before giving him the Gospel that is before us. After a lifelong process of sanctification through the ministry of the Holy Spirit, being conformed into the image of Christ, John penned his Gospel circa 90 AD.
You may be familiar with Tertullian’s account of how John was boiled in oil, yet miraculously protected like Daniel’s friends in the fiery furnace. This was how he came to be banished to Patmos, a rock mining colony that used slave labor—but could the publication of his personal Gospel account be what got him in ‘hot water’ in the first place? John said he was in the isle that is called Patmos, for the word of God, and for the testimony of Jesus Christ. (Rev 1:9) After writing the Revelation, John was released from Patmos. He returned to Ephesus where he died sometime after 98 AD. He was the youngest of the apostles and the last one to die. He is also the only one to die of natural causes. So why was John saved from the boiling oil when the other apostles were all martyred? Well, he still had to write the Revelation, didn’t he?
John’s Gospel was written for a specific purpose. John tells us why he wrote it near the end of the Book:
…..But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name.
In Isaiah 55:11, God said his word shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it. Therefore, if we study John’s Gospel we will believe and have life through his name. That is why John is a great place to start people when you are evangelizing them.
John came from an upper-middle-class family that operated a fishing business in Capernaum. He also had a residence in Jerusalem. (John 19:27) He was personally acquainted with Caiaphas the high priest. (John 18:15) Although the high priest had a great deal of power, it was a shared power. Caiaphas, Herod Antipas, even Pilate the Roman governor, they were all at Rome’s mercy—and Rome ruled with an iron fist. Garrisons of Roman soldiers were stationed throughout the empire. The high priest as well as all of the other rulers were mere vassals to emperor Tiberius.
John was born into the Golden Age of Rome. Also described as Pax Romana, or the Peace of Rome, this was a time without civil war from 27 BC to 180 AD. Augustus, the first Roman emperor, greatly influenced the course of the empire after he came to power in 27 BC. Over the next 207 years, the empire would grow in size, power, and influence. The legal system became the basis of law for Western culture. The economy flourished. Architecture, literature, and the arts flourished as well. Rome built its roads, its temples, its colossal structures and aqueducts with slave labor acquired from the lands it conquered. One of these lands was Israel. Jerusalem was conquered by Pompey Magnus in 63 BC. The Jews greatly resented being the subjects of Rome. The reason the publicans in the gospels were so despised was that they were traitors who collected taxes for Rome. John and his fellow countrymen had high hopes that the Messiah would come and free them from the yoke of the Roman Empire.
John lived through the reign of thirteen different Roman emperors. With the exception of Augustus, these emperors were known for their treachery and cruelty, as well as their persecution of Jews and Christians in many cases. Rome was the final empire that Daniel saw in his dream in Daniel 7. In Nebuchadnezzar’s dream (Dan 2), the various stages of the Roman Empire were delineated as two legs of iron representing east and west, and feet of iron mixed with clay with the ten toes, representing the New World Order and its ten kings. This is how man views Rome, as separate entities in different eras. Daniel, however, saw Rome as one single beast: After this I saw in the night visions, and behold a fourth beast, dreadful and terrible, and strong exceedingly; and it had great iron teeth: it devoured and brake in pieces, and stamped the residue with the feet of it: and it was diverse from all the beasts that were before it; and it had ten horns. (Daniel 7:7) This is Rome from God’s point of view. Irrespective of the time or place, Rome is Rome and God knows how it ends. From the Roman Republic to the Roman Empire to the Holy Roman Empire to modern-day Rome to its final manifestation as the full-blown New World Order of the Antichrist, Rome spans the ages as a world power. The influence Rome has had on the world and her power to shape world history are beyond measure. Although Rome has worked diligently to keep this influence hidden, astute historians and careful observers of current events know differently.
John is known as the apostle of love, but he did not start out that way. Jesus surnamed John and his brother James Boanerges, which means the sons of thunder. They wanted to call fire down from heaven on the Samaritans when they did not receive them. The more time John spent with Jesus, however, the more he became like Him. The same is true for you and me. As we spend time with Jesus by meditating on his word, we learn to let go of our hate. We learn to love others the way He commands us to. If there was ever a time when we as Christians need to be transformed by the renewing of our minds, need to resist being conformed to this world, need to take up our crosses and follow our King despite what the world may say, that time is now. John’s Gospel will help us to do that. Although there is no Olivet Discourse in John’s Gospel, no Sermon on the Mount or the Plain, the Book is a prophetic masterpiece like none other. It is in John’s Gospel that we read, Never man spake like this man. Like Solomon’s mines, John’s Gospel is an inexhaustible repository of treasures, a wellspring of living water. It is in John’s Gospel that we will see Jesus as the Word … as the way, the truth, and the life … the I am. I invite you to come with me as we explore this epic account of the life and times of the only begotten Son … the Son of man … JESUS OF NAZARETH THE KING OF THE JEWS … the Son of God.