The disciple John came from the town of Capernaum (Mt. 4:21-23; Mk. 1:20-21) on the northern side of the Sea of Galilee. His family was in the fishing business and along with his brother James, John made his living on the “sea”. He was apparently the youngest of the original 12 disciples (Lk. 5:10-11; 6:14) and according to tradition out-lived all the others. Another early tradition maintained by extra-Biblical writers who knew John, has him settling in Ephesus where he cared for Mary, the mother of Jesus and established a church. The Bible records that John was one of Jesus’ “inner circle” (Mt. 17:1; 26:37; Mk. 5:37; 14:33; Lk. 8:51), that he was a pillar of the Jerusalem church (Gal. 2:6-10), and most commentators believe that he is “the disciple whom Jesus loved” mentioned in Jn. 13:23; 19:26; 20:2 and 21:7, 20-24. He was briefly exiled to the island of Patmos and it is there he received a vision from the Lord which became the Book of Revelation. After this he returned to Ephesus and later died of old age earning him the distinction of being the only original disciple who was not martyred.
Lawrence Richards writes, “Three incidents in the Gospels give a surprising picture of this “apostle of love”: 1) his passion for purity in Jesus’ ministry (Lk. 9:49); 2) his expressed and fiery response to inhospitality toward Jesus (Mk. 3:17); and 3) his sense of positioning when Christ’s kingdom would be established (Mt. 20:20-28). In each of these cases John appears to be aggressive and self-centered. But perhaps a better description might be that John was passionate about his faith and the One he believed in. It is evident from John’s writings that those characteristics and that passion changed drastically under the influence of Jesus. The transformation of John is summed up in a beautiful passage from his first letter, “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God…since God so loved us, we ought to love one another” (1 Jn. 4:7, 11).
John is accredited with 5 books within the pages of Scripture: the Gospel which bears his name, 3 “pastoral” letters and the Book of Revelation. Throughout his Gospel and within the verses of his letters John is concerned with a growing influence on the early church. Known as Gnosticism, this philosophy claimed that anything in the material world was evil and only the spiritual world was good. But the common man could not “know” the spiritual realm without some sort of special knowledge which was acquired through punishing the body through self-denial and mystical practices to remove worldly influences on the spirit. Simply put, without special “knowledge” a person could not really know God. John however was absolutely certain that God could be known but not through Gnosticism. A key word throughout John’s Gospel is “witness” which implies the use of the 5 senses to understand and testify to the event or person in question. According to John, if you can see it, touch it, hear it, smell it, or taste it, you can know it!
Therefore John claims we CAN know God. He writes in 1 Jn. 2:13-14, “I have written to you because you know Him Who has been from the beginning.” But perhaps his most compelling arguments come from the first chapter in his Gospel. Jn. 1:2 proclaims that the Word (Jesus) was manifested to us. He could be perceived and understood through the use of the senses. And Jn. 1:18 takes this a step further by saying that Jesus enables us to know God because He has explained Him. This understanding is not just “knowing” as in the ability to pull out some sort of trivial fact about a random topic. It is a deep and abiding knowledge that comes from hands-on experience. Of course the key component of this knowledge is time spent with the Person in question. Like any good relationship, to really know God you must spend time with Him- in prayer, in His word and with His people. “Yes!” John says, “You can know God. Just look at and listen to Jesus.”
Ann H. LeFevre, M. Div.
Week of 4/23/2017