Saint John The Theologian, Apostle, Evangelist And Revelator
Each September 26th we commemorate our parish’s patron saint, John the Theologian—one of Jesus’ Twelve Apostles. He’s known by several different titles: John the Apostle; the Evangelist; the Theologian; John of Patmos; the Elder; the Beloved Disciple (or the Disciple Whom Jesus Loved); and the Revelator.
Saint John was the son of Zebedee and Salome. Zebedee ran a rather large fishing business in Galilee, which would have included the supervision of several boats & equipment, along with employing a large number of fishermen & laborers. Since Zebedee was a person of means, it’s reasonable to surmise that he was regarded as a significant member of the Jewish community near Galilee, with a better than average connection to the Jewish Temple and its leaders. Scripture tells us that John’s mother, Salome, was among the women who used her possessions to help support our Lord’s ministry.
At first, young John was a disciple of John the Baptist. Yet, when he heard the Baptist & Forerunner point to Jesus as “the Lamb of God Who takes away the sins of the world,” the young fisherman, John, and his good friend, Andrew, dropped everything and began following Jesus around Galilee, fascinated with His unconventional teaching about the Kingdom of Heaven. Later, the Lord Himself called John and his brother James into the role of Apostleship after a mind-bogglingly successful catch of fish in the Sea of Galilee. Jesus included John as part of His closest inner circle of three men, together with Peter and James…whom He invited to be with Him during some of the most important and triumphant times of His earthly life, like the Transfiguration.
Of course, just like any of the rest of us, Saint John also began with his own struggles in spiritual immaturity. He was so filled with zeal for the Lord, that he became easily angered at those who stood in opposition to Jesus or who were apathetic toward Him. Perhaps we could say that he was one of the original fans of “fire & brimstone,” since at one point, John even asked the Lord’s permission to call down fire from heaven to consume the residents of a Samarian town who wouldn’t receive Him. That “zeal without understanding” is part of why Jesus nicknamed, both John and his brother James, “sons of thunder.”
However, John matured along the way. At the crucifixion, Jesus even gave care of His mother to His beloved disciple, John, saying, “Behold your mother.” Obeying the Lord’s command, John brought the Holy Virgin Mary to his own home in Ephesus, and from that point on, he cared for her as though she were his very own mother. Thereafter, he never left her side until her death, when he finally went to preach in other lands.
John, the Theologian, Apostle, Evangelist, and Revelator, is the author of 5 books of the New Testament—the “Gospel of John,” the three universal Epistles of John (“1st, 2nd, & 3rd John”), and the “Book of Revelation.”
By the time the harsh tyrant, Emperor Domitian, came upon the scene, the Apostle John was now the only surviving Apostle. Domitian had John brought to Rome and then ordered him to be thrown into a cauldron of boiling oil. Miraculously, just as God had once saved the three Old Testament youths from the fiery furnace, God also kept John from being harmed in the boiling cauldron. Domitian was so stymied by this miracle, that he exiled John to the desert island of Patmos. That’s where John wrote the book of Revelation (the Apocalypse).
After the evil Domitian’s death, the Apostle John left his exile in Patmos and returned to Ephesus. The Bishops and priests of the Ephesian Church showed him three Gospels written by the Apostles Matthew, Mark and Luke, which had been written decades earlier. It was near the end of the 1st century, and some beguiling Gnostic sects had begun spreading a heresy, saying that Jesus was not God. They insisted that Christ never existed before Mary bore him into the world. Although John was glad to see the other three Gospels in circulation, he felt, since
he was the last of the living eyewitnesses, that he now needed to refute these Gnostic sects with a supplement to the first three Gospels, offering what he knew about Jesus. This Gospel would protect the faithful from that false and harmful teaching. That’s why, in the very first verses of his Gospel, John assertively affirmed the pre-existence of Jesus. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was there in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him and nothing was made without Him. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men…And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John, chapter 1). When compared with the first three Gospels, this was a very different way of speaking.
The first three Gospels (Matthew, Mark & Luke) were written for those newly converted to Christianity and so they took on a simpler approach. John, however, went further in his Gospel to explain in greater detail the meaning of the sermons that Jesus preached throughout His ministry. He offered these explanations for the learned Jewish scribes, explaining the most profound truths of faith about the Son of God who existed from before all time being born in human flesh; about the Creator; about the redemption of humankind; about spiritual rebirth; about the grace of the Holy Spirit; and about Communion. Thus, John’s theology can be challenging for some to understand. That’s why, in some Orthodox icons you’ll see John the Theologian depicted along with the symbol of an eagle. This is because the eagle was considered to be the highest flying of all the birds of the air…reflecting the loftiness of Saint John’s theology. Near the end of His Gospel, the Apostle John tells us exactly what his aim was in writing it. There he says, “But these things are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing in Him you may have life in His name” (John 20:31).
All the other Apostles died martyrs’ deaths, except for Judas (who hung himself). So, John outlived every one of them…becoming the only Apostle to die of natural causes. Having retired back at his original home in Ephesus, he defied all odds, living to the ripe old age of 105. On the day of his death, he asked to be brought out to the middle of town on a stretcher to address his flock. In his dying breath, he offered them once more something that he repeated quite often in his waning years…the simplest of profound messages…“Children, love one another.”