John wasn’t always known as “the disciple Jesus loved,” Jesus called him and his brother the “Son of Thunder” (Mark 3:17), likely because of their fiery tempers. Fits of temper occasionally landed John in trouble, such as the time he wanted to call down a fiery judgment from heaven on a Samaritan village that refused to welcome Jesus (Luke 9:51-56).
John, a blue-collar worker like most of the other disciple, was a fisherman from Capernaum. He recognized the rare privileges he enjoyed as part of Jesus’ inner circle. John was present for Jesus’ transfiguration. He heard the voice of God. He saw the heavenly Father’s glory physically manifested in Jesus.
Perhaps due to the elite company he kept, John occasionally struggled to keep his ego in check. He once tried to stop a an from doing the Lord’s work simply because the man wasn’t an official disciple. He and his brother James earned the ire of the other disciples when their mother requested exclusive places of honor for them in Jesus’ future kingdom.
But those incidents merely reflected the spiritual growing pains of a man coming to grips with the extraordinary and responsibilities that were laid out before him.
Through it all, John maintained a fierce loyalty and unshakable closeness to Jesus. It should come as no surprise, then, that he emerged as a go-to-guy among the disciples. When the time came to prepare the Passover feast that became the Last Supper, Jesus put John in charge of making the arrangements. More significantly, while Jesus hung on the cross, he entrusted John with the responsibility of taking care of his mother, Mary, after his death.
When the news of Jesus’ resurrection reached the disciples, John was the first one to reach the empty tomb (John 20:1-5). Perhaps he sensed that the end of Jesus’ earthly ministry would be the start of his own.
After Jesus ascended to heaven, John emerged as one of the leaders of first-century Christianity. The book of Acts records his early ministry efforts with his fellow disciple Peter. In the Lord’s name, they healed a lame man at the temple in Jerusalem. Everywhere they went, they spoke to crowds about Jesus and salvation through him-at considerable risk to themselves.
The persecution of Christians was underway. Those who identified themselves with the fledgling Christian movement were subject to imprisonment, torture, and death.
When John was arrested and stood before the Sanhedrin to defend his actions, he acquitted himself masterfully (as did Peter). According to Acts 4:13, “When they observed the boldness of Peter and John and realized that they were uneducated and untrained men, they were amazed and recognized that they had been with Jesus.”
The apostle Paul cited John as one of the “pillars” of the Christian church (Gal 2:9). In time, John became an elder stateman of sorts-a trusted adviser to various first-century evangelists and congregations.
John was tapped to write one of the four definitive accounts of Jesus’ life. It is through his words that many people come to know Christ. In addition to the Gospel of John, three New Testament epistles-1 John, 2 John, and 3 John-as well as the apocalyptic book of Revelation are credited to the faithful fisherman from Capernaum.
Church history tells us that John was the only apostle who did not die a martyr’s death. Instead, he was banished to the prison island of Patmos, where he lived out his final days-faithful to the end.