In our profiles of the gospel writers, we have examined a man Jesus directly called, a man who knew Jesus' followers well and a man who was converted long after Christ's ascension. Each of these men had varying levels of connection to Christ the man.
However, none knew him or was as close to him as the subject of today's topic. John was closer to Christ than any of his followers and would go to places and depths that no other person would reach. Today, we examine all of that and see how we can relate to such a seemingly larger than life figure.
Several times, John is classified as the disciple Jesus loved. This is not to say that Christ lacked love for all of his disciples. He loved all of his followers just as he loves all of us (John 13:1). However, there was one that found favor with Christ as he walked on the earth (John 13:23, 20:2, 21:7, 21:20). These are the only references John makes of himself in his book. He doesn't call himself by name. Much like Mark, he ignores shining light on himself. However, he wanted to make sure that people knew his relationship with Christ. This is important for us in relating with John.
It's not about us when it comes to Christ. It's about how we relate with him. In John 13, the disciples were full of questions and accusations, trying to figure out who was going to betray Christ and get as many answers to their urgent inquiries. John is simply content to be next to Christ. This was going to be his last night to spend in the company of his Master. Though he didn't know completely when Christ would be taken away, but he was going to make the most of his time with Christ. His time was spent posturing or asking a bunch of what ifs. He wanted to simply be in the presence of God. By doing that, he was getting everything he needed and we will, too.
It's not that questions are bad or wanting to be in the right position isn't good. However, when all of that comes at the cost of actually relating with God, we're cheating ourselves. One who loves God and receives the love He has to give knows that all they need (the answers, the positioning in our calling, trying to figure out who is right and wrong, etc.) will come to them when they simply position themselves in the presence of God. Remember, everything that Christ had to say was easily heard by John because of where he chose to place himself in relation to Christ.
The other places John references this title is in the revelation that Christ was no longer in the tomb (20:2), when he identifies Christ after having been risen (21:7) and when he is given consideration by Christ near the end of his earthly ministry (21:20). When we get into a loving and fruitful relationship with Christ, we will be given access to revelations and illuminations that few others get. God is seeking to reveal and shew Himself in clearer and brighter ways, but He wants people who truly love Him to receive those views. Likewise, when we love Christ deeply, we'll be able to see when He shows up in all of His glory. We won't have to question His presence because we will have been so familiar with it. Finally, when the time comes for Christ to empower His church, those who love Him deeply and allow themselves to be loved by Him deeply (i.e. having a life that is open to receive all that God has to offer and submit) will find themselves called especially for His great purposes. To think, all of this just comes from loving God and being open to be loved by Him.
The Son of Thunder
As much as Christ loved Him (and loves us), Christ also noted something else in John. In Mark 3:17, John and his brother James are given a name by Christ, That name is Boanerges, which translated means sons of thunder. This denotes that he and his brother were fiery and passionate. Perhaps, they spoke boldly. Perhaps, they acted with great vigor and desire.
However, with all that fire and passionate resolve, Christ is also highlighting a potential problem for both James and John. A lot of people have fire and passion. They have desire and vigor in their voices and actions. However, not everyone uses it for the right purpose and plan for their lives. Perhaps, Christ used this name, not to glorify their traits, but to highlight and remind them of the gift God had bestowed them so they would use it correctly. James and John had a natural gift for passionate action and discourse. However, if they mishandled it and flew off the handle, they could alienate or deter people from Christ's call. If they misappropriated this gifting for their own purposes, they could find themselves corrupted by it and outside of Christ's call themselves. The name Sons of Thunder came to these talented and passionate young men to remind them to use it wisely.
Christ did this with Simon when he renamed him Peter, which means rock. This was to let him know what Christ was going to do with and through him. However, when Peter started using it incorrectly, Christ called him the devil (Mark 8:33). The moniker Peter was to infer that he was a solid person in the Kingdom of God. When he misused that new found identity, Christ corrected him.
God has a plan and a purpose for all of us. Whether he gives us a special name or not (though we all have the name of Jesus applied to us when we are saved) is inconsequential. However, we all feel that plan and that perfect calling in our lives when we start to relate to Christ the right way. The important thing is to recognize the pitfalls and the traps the devil might lay for us in that pursuit. We don't want to try to use our newfound calling to usurp God's will like Peter, but we also don't want to misuse it as so many have done. Neither James nor John are recorded as overreaching or misappropriating their gift. For John, we can certainly say that it was tied to how he related with Christ and opened himself up to receive what Christ had to give.
The final moniker given to John is not actually found in the Bible. However, it has been ascribed to him based on the final book in the Bible, The Book of Revelation. John has long been known as the revelator, the revealer of God's mighty plan for final judgment of the world and redemption of His people. God chose to give this vision to John alone. Their were glimpses shown to the other close followers and even Paul has insights into the final days.
However, only John gets to see all of what will happen in detail. God trusts John with one of the greatest mysteries, one that man has sought since the fall of Adam: what will the end of time look like. Why did God give this task and privilege to John? Why was he so special? You have to also realize that John avoided death multiple times and began the writing of this book while exiled to die on a barren island in the Mediterranean Sea. Why would God preserve such a man for so long to give Him this revelation?
Because God knew John's love for Him and He loved John deeply. God loves us all, but we can allow God to love us deeper and deeper when we open ourselves up fuller and fuller. John made himself available to receive all that God had to give. As such, God trusted John with insights and understandings that no other human being had or has received since.
The thing is, John's not special. He was just open to receive what God had to give, and first and foremost of those gifts was love. When we decide to receive God's love completely, He starts to pour other things into us as well. When we let God's love in, that when God's power and authority can take hold. When we let God's love in, that's when vision and direction become clear. When we let God's love in, that's when we become all that Christ has for us to be. An openness to God's love is an openness to salvation, an openness to ministry, an openness to purpose, and an openness to deeper and deeper relationship with the One who made us and desires to relate with us. When choose to be like John, we'll find ourselves close to God, with a clearer purpose and plan for our lives and how to use it, and a vision that is greater than we ever thought possible!
This case study on John is not over! It's too big for us to handle in one sitting. We'll have Pt. 2 out next week (hopefully Wednesday!). Until then, enjoy this read and keep searching!
Chris Farris is the author of The Way, a manual detailing how to implement the Beatitudes into your life. He review events and other media and offers other insights into writing and working for the Kingdom of God.