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The Author's Life.
John the Apostle, was evidently born and reared in the vicinity of the sea where he afterwards assisted his father in the calling of a fisherman. It has been thought that Bethsaida on the northern shore was his early home. As James is usually mentioned first, John is supposed to have been the younger of the two sons of Zebedee. Salome, his mother, is thought to have been a sister of Mary the mother of Christ, a hypothesis that would make John the 15 cousin of our Savior. He was probably a few years younger than Jesus as all antiquity testifies that he lived until the year 98 of our era. His parents seem to have been in comfortable circumstances, since we have an allusion to the hired servants of his father, and his mother was one of that band of noble women who followed Jesus, supported him with their means, who brought spices to his tomb, and who were last at the cross and first at the open sepulcher. John was himself a personal acquaintance of the high priest and seems to have had a home in Jerusalem into which he received the mother of our Lord after the crucifixion. The fact that he was called on to do so favors the idea that he was a kinsman.
He was pronounced by the Jews (Acts 4:13) an “unlearned and ignorant man.” This, however, does not mean that he was illiterate, but that he had taken no theological course in the rabbinical schools, without which they thought that it was great presumption for any one to assume to be a teacher of religion. The education of John was such as all respectable Jewish children were wont to receive and we know that they were better educated than the children of any other nation in the world. There never was a people where the requirements of home education were so rigid and, in addition, a school was attached to the synagogue. Familiarity with the Scriptures in the Hebrew original was required from the earliest childhood, five years being the age named by the Jewish writers as that at which the child should begin to read, and the education was continued by regular gradations to the age of eighteen. John had not only passed through this course but had also been a disciple of John the Baptist and enjoyed the benefit of his preparation for the ministry of Christ. In addition to this, before he entered upon the work of the Twelve as the representatives of the will of Christ on the earth, he had sat for three years at the feet of Jesus and enjoyed the benefit of his constant teachings. Surely with these opportunities few men have enjoyed such educational opportunities as the author of the Fourth Gospel.
It was while attending upon John as his disciple that he was pointed to Jesus by the Forerunner, and left him to become a disciple of our Lord. This incident occurred on the banks of the Jordan where John was baptizing, shortly after the Temptation. A little later he was enrolled as one of the Twelve, and becomes one of the Three who stood nearest of all to Christ, who beheld his transfiguration and the scene of the Garden of Gethsemane. He leaned on the bosom of Christ at the last Supper, followed him to the court of the high priest, alone of all the apostles stood near the cross at the crucifixion, and was entrusted by the dying Savior with the care of his mother. He was the first to recognize the Savior at the sea of Galilee, and seems to have had a rare faculty of spiritual perception, shown in the reception of the deepest sayings of the Lord.
While quiet, contemplative and loving, he was not without traits of a different character. It is James and John who are styled by the Savior the Sons of Thunder, a name which seems to imply a fiery, energetic temper; it is James and John who wish to call down fire upon the Samaritan village which had refused to receive Jesus (Luke 9:54-56); it is John who forbade others who were doing a good work in the name of Christ, because they were not of the 16 apostolic circle (Luke 9:49); it is Salome who asks, in behalf of her two sons, that they may be the prime ministers of Christ in the earthly kingdom that they expected him to establish; and it is John who in his epistles exhibits the most intense indignation over the wiles of opposers. Here every one who dishonors the Christian profession is a liar; one who hates his brother a murderer; one who sins wilfully a child of the devil, and those who deny the incarnation are Antichrist. Evidently John's was a strong, fiery nature, of intense feeling, but sweetened down by the love of Christ and guided by the Holy Spirit.
From the era of the founding of the Church on Pentecost John stands along with Peter as one of the foremost characters. At a little later period Paul speaks of Peter and James and John “as seeming to be the pillars” (Gal. 2:9), and as apostles of the circumcision, while Paul and Barnabas represented the uncircumcision. With Peter he heals the cripple at the gate of the temple; he is arrested with Peter and threatened by the Sanhedrim, and with him he was sent to confirm the Christian converts at Samaria. While it is evident that he made his home in Jerusalem and Judea for twenty or thirty years after the establishment of the Church, he seems to have stood aloof from the Judaizing controversy that assumed such prominence during that period. Though not mentioned by name he is included in those said to be present at the conference on this question about A. D. 50 or 51, and Paul, in Gal. 2:9, referring to a visit to Jerusalem which is believed to have been at this time, says expressly that he saw him. At the fifth and last visit of Paul, made some eight or ten years later, he saw only James (Acts 21:18). All the apostles living had dispersed to other fields of labor.
It seems probable from this that before the year 60 John had left Jerusalem. He must have made that city his home until the death of Mary, but from this time we have no scriptural testimony of his whereabouts until we behold him as an exile on the island of Patmos.
The gap that remains between his disappearance from Jerusalem and his reappearance at Patmos can only be partly filled from the testimony of the early church. There can be no doubt but that he passed many years in Asia Minor with his headquarters at Ephesus, but it is almost certain that he did not remove there until after the death of Paul, placed by the best authorities in A. D. 68. According to Conybeare and Howson Paul wrote to Titus from Ephesus in A. D. 67, and in the same year wrote to Timothy at Ephesus. In neither epistle is the name of John mentioned, which is sufficient proof that he was not yet in that part of the world. Already the disturbances had begun which culminated three years later in the destruction of Jerusalem, and as after a few years John was at Ephesus, we are justified in concluding that on, or shortly before, the overthrow of the Jewish state, he left Judea, and finally was led by the need of apostolic influence in the flourishing churches of Asia Minor, after the death of their founder, to locate at Ephesus. This change could hardly have taken place until after the fall of Jerusalem.
Concerning the length of the period John spent in this section of the world, or the details of his evangelical labors, we can do little more than conjecture. It is only in the dim twilight of the apostolic age that we again behold him 17 certainly as the exile of Patmos. Of the following facts we may be sure: 1. That at some time during this period he wrote his Gospel, the Epistles ascribed to him, and Revelation. 2. That he was exiled for a season to Patmos and while there wrote the last named book. 3. That the Seven Churches of Asia, of which Ephesus was the center, were to him special objects of solicitude (Rev. 1:11), and if we accept the voice of antiquity he died and was buried at Ephesus in the reign of Trajan, and at that place his grave was pointed out for centuries.
It is a pleasing picture that the early writers draw of the closing years of the last of the Apostles. He is described as the apostle of love, who in his extreme old age was carried on the arms of the disciples to the place of meeting, and repeated again and again the exhortation, “Little children, love one another.” Various legends have come down, some of which may be true, but are not confirmed by satisfactory testimony.
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