John as an Apostle
One morning, John and the rest of the disciples of Jesus were called to go up a mountain where Jesus had been praying all night. John must have been excited by being selected as one of just twelve men that would be representatives for the miracle-working man that he believed to be the Messiah. John then followed his cousin down the mountain, where he saw a crowd of people waiting—and Jesus healed the sick and diseased among them.1
After preaching in Decapolis, on the other side of the Sea of Galilee, Jesus returned to Capernaum2 and was approached by the ruler of the synagogue, Jairus,3 concerning his daughter who was near to death. John was one of just three disciples of Jesus who was selected to accompany the Lord inside the house to see this little girl raised from the dead.4
Later on, John was taken by Jesus, along with Peter and James, to a mountain where Jesus prayed. John fell asleep, but when he awoke, the sight before him was quite a shock: Jesus was positively shining, and standing with Him were Moses and Elijah. Then a cloud overshadowed them, and they heard God Himself speak, “This is my beloved Son: hear Him.” And then John looked, and the two Old Testament figures had disappeared, leaving only Jesus. A mixture of fear and excitement was boiling inside John, but Jesus told them not to say anything about what they had seen until after He was risen from the dead.5
Upon returning to Capernaum, John and the other disciples argued about who was the greatest among them. Jesus criticized them all, and said, “If any man desires to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all.”6 This is a lesson that John apparently didn’t learn the first time, because not too long afterwards, he and his brother James had their mother ask Jesus for the two greatest seats in the kingdom, causing Jesus to say almost the exact same words: “Whoever shall be great among you shall be your servant; and whoever of you desires to be the first shall be servant of all.”7
In between these two events, John tells Jesus a story about how, when the apostles were out and about, they saw someone who wasn’t part of their group casting out demons in Jesus’ name. John and some others went to the man and told him to cease, because he wasn’t following them. To this, Jesus replied, “Don’t forbid him, for there is no man who shall do a miracle in my name that can speak evil lightly of me. For he that is not against us is on our side.”8 John learned an important lesson there—don’t forbid people from doing good.
But what happens when people are staunchly rejecting Jesus? John didn’t just want to forbid them, he wanted to kill them!
It came to pass, when the time was come that [Jesus] should be received up, He steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem. And He sent messengers before His face: and they went and entered into a village of the Samaritans, to make [things] ready for Him. And they didn’t receive Him because His face was as though He desired to go to Jerusalem. And when His disciples, James and John, saw, they said, “Lord, do you desire that we command fire to come down from heaven and consume them, even as Elijah did?” But He turned and rebuked them, and said, “You do not know what manner of spirit you are of. For the Son of man is not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them.” And they went to another village.9
Jesus and His disciples came to the Jerusalem area, and stayed at the house of Lazarus on the Sabbath.10 On the next day, John witnessed the “triumphal entry,”11 where Jesus entered the city riding the colt of an ass, and heard the people crying out, “Hosanna! Blessed is He that comes in the name of the Lord!”12 Then John followed Jesus to the temple, where the Lord taught the people, after which they returned to Bethany (probably to the house of Lazarus, Mary, and Martha).13 On Monday, John followed Jesus back into Jerusalem. Along the way, they saw a fig tree, and Jesus desired to eat some of the fruits from it. However, there was nothing but leaves on the tree, and John heard Jesus utter the words “Let no fruit grow on you, henceforward forever!”14 After they came into Jerusalem, and into the temple, John watched:
Jesus went into the temple, and began to cast out those who sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves; and He would not allow that any man should carry any vessel through the temple. And He taught, saying to them, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called by all nations The House of Prayer’? But you have made it a den of thieves!”15
That evening, John accompanied Jesus out of Jerusalem for the night.16
On Tuesday, John again accompanied Jesus into Jerusalem, and they passed the same tree they had the day before. Except this time, the tree was dried up from the roots—completely withered—after which Jesus spoke about the power of faith. They then entered the city and went into the temple, where a group of scribes, elders, and chief priests confronted Jesus and demanded to know where He got His authority to do these things. John must have smiled to himself when he heard Jesus reply by asking them where John’s authority to baptize came from—and saw the Jewish leaders feign ignorance.17
Then, John heard Jesus give a parable, condemning the Jewish leaders—and they knew it was directed at them—for rejecting Him.18 Then he saw Pharisees, Herodians, and Sadducees all working together, taking turns trying to trap Jesus.19 As they were leaving the temple, one of the disciples (we’re not told which one) said to Jesus, “Master, see what manner of stones and what buildings!” To this, Jesus replied, “You see these great buildings? There shall not be left one stone on another, that shall not be thrown down.”20
It was because of this statement of Jesus that John approached Jesus with Peter, Andrew, and James, and asked Jesus to “Tell us when shall these things be? And what shall be the sign when all these things shall be fulfilled?”21 In answer to those questions, Jesus told these four men about the signs to look for, including “when you shall see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation is near.”22 This he did, foretelling the destruction of Jerusalem—which took place 40 years later in AD 70.23
Thursday evening,24 Jesus came with John and the rest of the apostles to a large upper room that was prepared for them to eat the Passover.25 Earlier, Jesus had specifically selected Peter and John, sent them from Bethany into Jerusalem so that this room could be made ready.
Then came the day of unleavened bread, when the Passover must be killed. And He [Jesus] sent Peter and John, saying “Go and prepare us the Passover, so that we may eat.” And they said to Him, “Where do you wish that we prepare it?”
And He said to them, “Behold, when you have entered into the city, a man will meet you there, carrying a pitcher of water; follow him into the house that he enters. And you shall say to the goodman of the house, ‘The Master says to you, “Where is the guest-chamber where I shall eat the Passover with my disciples?”’ And he will show you a large upper room furnished: there make ready.”
And they went, and found [everything] as He had said to them: and they made ready the Passover.26
Based on the command of Jesus and John and Peter’s obedience, it appears that these two disciples actually did the killing and cooking of the lamb in preparation for what is usually called “The Last Supper.”
When they were all gathered together in the upper room, Jesus said, “With desire I have desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.”27 It was during this occasion that Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper, followed by announcing that one of the twelve was going to betray Him.28 The apostles all began to ask, “is it I?”29
Now there was, leaning on Jesus’ bosom, one of His disciples [John], whom Jesus loved. Therefore, Simon Peter motioned to him, so that he should ask who it would be about whom He spoke. He, then, lying on Jesus’ chest, says to Him, “Lord, who is it?” Jesus answered, “He it is, to whom I shall give a sop, when I have dipped it.” And when He had dipped the sop, He gave it to Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon.30
Then, the same old argument came up again about which one would be greatest among them. It is possible that James and John had learned their lesson by this point and kept their mouth shut, but it’s also possible that their ego took over again.31 And like before, Jesus had to teach them the lesson about being a servant.32 Yet just hours after they were arguing about who would be the greatest, they all (even John) ran away and forsook Jesus.33
Before abandoning Jesus, however, John was taken by Jesus with Peter and James in order to “watch” while He prayed.34 But John, like the other two, fell asleep. After being awakened by the Lord, John again went to sleep shortly after the Lord left to go pray a second time. The next time John woke up, Judas was arriving with a band of soldiers.35
After abandoning Jesus, John regained some of his composure, and began to follow the crowd to the high priest, Annas. The high priest knew John, which many have taken as evidence that John’s family was wealthy, and so this disciple was permitted to enter into the court to view the proceedings. He watched as Jesus was interrogated and brutalized during this mock trial.36
Whether John followed Jesus to his other trials that morning isn’t stated, but he stood at the cross, looking up at His Master who was hanging, bleeding, and beaten. He heard the Lord say to His mother Mary, “Woman, behold your son!” Then John heard Jesus speak directly to him, “Behold, your mother!” And from that moment, John took care of her.37
-Bradley S. Cobb
1 Luke 6:12-19.
2 Matthew places this incident with others which took place in Capernaum. See Matthew 9:1 (“His own city”), 9:9-17 (the call of Matthew, followed by the feast at Matthew’s house), after which Matthew says “While He spoke these things to them, behold, a certain ruler [Jairus] came to Him…” Mark places these events in Capernaum (Mark 2:1-22).
3 This Jairus, being the ruler of the synagogue in Capernaum, would have been on hand to see Jesus casting out the demon, as recorded in Luke 4:31-37.
4 Luke 8:51-55.
5 Luke 9:28-36, Mark 9:8-9.
6 Mark 9:33-35.
7 Matthew 20:20-24; Mark 10:35-44, especially verses 43-44. The KJV says “chiefest,” but the Greek is the same as in 9:35 and 10:44.
8 Mark 9:38-40. Neither Mark nor Luke (the only other gospel writer who mentions this event) tell us who this man casting out demons in Jesus’ name was. Some (Lange, Lightfoot, and others) have suggested that this man was a disciple of John the Immerser who cast out demons by the name of the “Messiah” which he expected to come, not necessarily doing it in the name of “Jesus”—but there is no evidence that any of John’s disciples were able to perform miracles. Others (Calvin, most notably) take the ridiculous stance that this man “proceeded inconsiderately to work miracles.” Clarke suggests that this man might have been one of the seventy who had been given miraculous abilities, yet who decided to not be part of the mass of disciples after returning from his mission—except that this event took place before Christ chose the seventy (see Luke 9:49-10:1).
What is important to note is that John doesn’t say the man was trying to cast out demons (like the sons of Sceva in Acts 19), but that he was actually doing it. Jesus even acknowledges that this man was actually working miracles by saying “Don’t forbid him [from casting out demons].” Thus this man had been given miraculous power by God (probably via Christ), because he was a true disciple of the Lord, even though for whatever reason, he was unable to devote all of his time to following Jesus on His preaching tours.
9 Luke 9:51-56. The first-rate chronological historian gives no record of events between John’s misplaced zeal for forbidding those who believed in Jesus and his desire to destroy the ones who rejected Him. It’s as though John was saying, “Jesus, I get that we aren’t supposed to forbid those who are doing good, but surely you can’t have a problem with us wiping out those who are refusing to help you at all!” What John didn’t understand at that point was the patience of the Lord, and that the Lord Himself will take care of punishing the wicked at judgment.
10 John 12:1-13, with special emphasis on the first and last verse of that section.
11 It is never called that in Scriptures, but it is the commonly accepted name for what took place on the Sunday prior to Jesus’ crucifixion.
12 Mark 11:9; Luke 19:38 (Luke says “Blessed is the King…”). This is a quotation of Psalm 118:26. Most likely, the Jews who were saying this would have quoted the verse as it is written, which is “Blessed is he that comes in the name of Jehovah!”
13 Mark 11:11, Luke 19:47. Mark provides some specifics on the passage of days during this week (see Mark 11:12).
14 Mark 11:12-14; Matthew 21:19. Mark adds the detail that it wasn’t time for figs yet (verse 13).
15 Mark 11:15-17. This was a significant event which emboldened the scribes and chief priests to even more want Jesus dead (Mark 11:18).
16 Mark 11:19.
17 Mark 11:20-33; Luke 20:1-8.
18 The fullest account of this exchange between Jesus and the Jewish leadership is found in Matthew 21:33-46.
19 Mark 12:13-27. This is astounding, because these are (for lack of a better term) different political parties within Judaism. They were violently opposed to each other (see Acts 23, for example), but they all recognized that Jesus was a danger to their positions of power.
20 Mark 13:1-2, Matthew 24:1-2, Luke 21:5-6.
21 Mark 12:3-4 is the only place that tells us that this question was asked by just these four men.
22 Luke 21:20. Matthew calls it “the abomination of desolation” which Daniel foretold, meaning that Jesus described something that had been prophesied hundreds of years earlier.
23 There are disagreements about the exact year of Jesus’ death, but biblically and historically speaking, it is most likely AD 30, which makes Jerusalem’s destruction in AD 70 forty years away.
24 For the Jews, the new day of the week began at 6pm, because of Genesis 1, which says “the evening and the morning were the first day.” So Thursday evening to them, because it began a new day, is what we would refer to as Wednesday evening.
25 Mark 14:12-17.
26 Luke 22:7-13.
27 Luke 22:15. This is another way of saying, “I have desired very much…”
28 Some have argued, based on Matthew and Mark’s accounts (juxtaposed with John’s) that Judas left prior to the institution of the Lord’s Supper. However, Luke (who claimed to write chronologically) places the announcement of betrayal (“the hand of him that betrays me is with me on the table”) after the institution of the Lord’s Supper (Luke 22:14-22).
29 Mark 14:18.
30 John 13:23-26. It seems strange that though Jesus positively identified Judas as the betrayer, none of the other apostles seemed to catch what He was saying. Judas had them all fooled.
31 Luke 22:24. It’s interesting that this should come right on the heels of Jesus announcing that one of them would betray Him. It may be that they went from saying, “Is it I?” to “It couldn’t be me,” to “I know it couldn’t be me, because I’m the most devoted follower Jesus has.”
32 Luke 22:25-30.
33 Matthew 26:56.
34 Mark 14:32-34.
35 Matthew 26:36-47.
36 John 18:15-22.
37 John 19:26-27. Some have questioned why it is that Jesus would ask John to take care of his mother instead of asking His own brothers. First, it is most likely that Joseph was no longer alive at this point (otherwise Jesus would be asking His mother to leave her husband, which is ridiculous). Second, John wasn’t a stranger—he was Mary’s nephew, so John is still family. Third, at this point, the brothers of Jesus were not believers, and perhaps Jesus didn’t want to subject His mother to staying with non-believers. Fourth, John was apparently wealthy—the family fishing business was large enough to employ servants, and John was on friendly terms with the high priest (which couldn’t be said of many—if any—poor people). We don’t know that the Jesus’ brothers were financially able to care for their mother.