-JOHN: From Son Of Thunder To Apostle Of Love

JOHN: From Son Of Thunder To Apostle Of Love  

Picture FrameHoliday Experience Young John, a son of Zebedee, was on vacation from his family’s fishing business. He and his friend and business associate, Andrew, had come from Galilee to the Jordan River east of Jerusalem.1 They had been drawn to the stirring preaching of another John, a prophet, who was attracting crowds with his fervent denunciations of wickedness.2 His theme was “Prepare the way of the Lord,” 3 and he was baptizing those who came to him in sincere repentance.4 When quizzed by the religious authorities, he disclaimed being the Messiah or the prophet many were looking for 5 as they chafed under the Roman yoke. He was, so he stated, simply a voice crying in the wilderness.6   The two friends’ curiosity was piqued one afternoon by an event they witnessed while standing with John the Baptist. As a Man walked by, John the Baptist exclaimed, “Behold the Lamb of God!” 7 The previous day he had called attention to this Man by referring to Him as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” 8 Enough said. The two young men left John and followed this Stranger.9 When He asked what they were seeking, they asked where He was staying and were welcomed to come and see. They spent the day with Him.10 But more than that, this encounter made a lasting impact, changing their lives forever.

Follow Me!
Vacation was over, and John was back home engrossed in the family fishing business with his father Zebedee, his brother James, their partners Simon and Andrew, and the hired men.11 Jesus came by and borrowed Simon’s boat to use as He addressed the crowd. He compensated Simon by giving him a huge catch of fish, so many that his boat couldn’t hold them. James and John helped.12

When it was time to mend the nets, Jesus came by and said, “Follow Me” to both sets of brothers. Business couldn’t have been better, but Zebedee and the hired men would have to manage without them. Young John, his brother James, their business associates Andrew and his brother Simon, whom Jesus had called Peter (a stone) left all and followed this magnetic Stranger, the Lamb of God! 13

Tremendous Experiences
Following Jesus brought tremendous experiences. First came a wedding at Cana where, without any fanfare, Jesus turned six large containers of water into delectable wine. The joyful feast could continue without embarrassment to its host. His disciples believed in Him! 14 And as the weeks rolled by, they witnessed Him healing the sick, cleansing lepers, even casting out demons.15 They heard Him teach with authority, unlike their scribes and Pharisees who leaned on precedent and opinions of men.16

When huge crowds followed Jesus they took part in passing out the vast quantity of food He produced from just a few small loaves and fish – and could afterwards gathered the leftovers.17 They rode out fearful storms, and saw Him walking on the rough sea 18 and calming it with His voice, as if it had been an excited puppy: “Peace, be still!” 19

John, his brother James, and their friend Simon Peter were given special favors by the Lord. They accompanied Him into the home of Jairus, a synagogue ruler whose daughter had died. They saw Jesus bring her back to life.20 They climbed a mountain with Him, and fell asleep as He was praying. Awakening, they saw Moses and Elijah, and even entered into the cloud of God’s glory and heard God Himself speak to them – an awesome experience, but also a bit scary! 21 And life went on – never a dull moment.

Proud Ambition
Young John was ambitious and a bit pushy. After the experience on the mountaintop and a humbling one in the valley below, he soon informed Jesus how he and his fellow disciples had forbidden a man who was casting out demons in Jesus’ name to do so: “We forbade him because he does not follow us.” The Lord replied, “Do not forbid him … He who is not against us is on our side.” 22 How easily we let privilege go to our head! How readily we attack, downgrade or try to stop the service of those who do not follow us!

But worse was yet to come, as is illustrated when the Lord, who knows our hearts, called Zebedee’s two sons the “Sons of Thunder.” When passing through Samaria – a distasteful thing for any red-blooded Jew – the Lord and His disciples were refused accommodation because they were headed toward Jerusalem. James and John were furious: “Lord, do You want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them, just as Elijah did?” They could have said, “We have scriptural precedent.23 Elijah didn’t take such treatment lying down! You’ve given us power! Now let us use it!” But the Lord rebuked them: “You do not know what manner of spirit you are of. For the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives but to save them.” And we read that “they went to another village.” 24

Repeatedly, the disciples argued among themselves which of them would be the greatest in the coming kingdom.25 Once, James and John enlisted their mother’s help. Kneeling, she requested of the Lord that one of her two sons might sit at His right hand and the other at His left, in the coming kingdom. Needless to say, this request was not granted. But it certainly did not endear these two brothers to their fellow disciples.26

Near the Lord
Thankfully, there is a better side to this picture. John truly loved the Lord. He never states this, but it is plain to see. In his Gospel in later years, he repeatedly wrote of himself as “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” 27In his first epistle he tells us, “We love Him because He first loved us.” Some manuscripts read, “We love because He first loved us.” 28

Love did not originate with us. Our love is a response to His. As we learn to appreciate His love, love is awakened in us – toward Him, and to others. He becomes important. We are satisfied to fade into the background. John also refers to himself as “the other disciple.” 29 When named with others, his name is not first, contrary to human nature which strives to be first.

On the night before the cross, we find John “leaning on Jesus’ bosom” asking that question too touchy for anyone else to ask.30 The next day he is the only disciple present at the cross, the one to whom Jesus can entrust the care of His mother. (He carries out this trust the rest of her life.) 31

He outruns Peter to the tomb.32 He is the first to recognize Jesus early in the morning on the seashore.33 And at the end of his gospel we read that “Peter, turning around, saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following, who also had leaned on His breast at the supper, and said, ‘Lord, who is the one who betrays You?’” He is still following, and drinking in His words.34 He writes of “contemplating” the Lord,35 a term that not only suggests nearness, but also intimacy, consideration and a true appreciation of who He is.

Apostle Of Love
Indeed, once the Lord had ascended to heaven and sent down the Holy Spirit to empower His followers, we find John eager to share the Lord. He and Peter heal the lame beggar in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth.36 They preach the gospel to the crowd drawn together by this miracle,37 and the next day they boldly preach Christ to the priests and rulers who had occasioned His crucifixion.38 They endure threats and beatings.39

John is one of the apostles we now see “rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name.” 40 No longer does he want to call down fire on the adversaries. Now he and Peter pray for and lay their hands on Samaritans that have believed, so that these too may receive the Holy Spirit.41 The two preach “the gospel in many villages of the Samaritans.” 42 And young as he is, John is one of the pillars in the assembly at Jerusalem.43

Years later, when he is old and the last of the apostles alive, he is still suffering “for the word of God and for the testimony of Jesus Christ.” 44 The Lord commissions him to write letters to “the seven churches which are in Asia” 45 and ultimately five books of the New Testament.

His love shines out, especially in his letters. He writes to the brethren as “little children.” 46 His purpose in writing is that their “joy may be full.” 47 He writes about the love of God,48 the love of the Father,49 loving in deed and in truth,50 loving our brother 51 and loving one another.52 He warns against those who do not abide in the doctrine of Christ.53 He rejoices to hear of children walking in truth,54 is grieved about domineering Diotrephes,55 commends faithful Demetrius,56 and encourages godly Gaius who shows practical love to the Lord’s servants who come visit.57 For believers He counters false teaching of his day with sound teaching, always presenting Christ. For unbelievers he writes a magnificent gospel booklet, the Gospel of John. Its profound depths thrill the hearts of believers as well.

What a transformation! Nearness to the Lord Jesus and occupation with Him transformed the hot-headed Son of Thunder into an Apostle of Love. Let us learn from him and go and do likewise.

1. Jn. 1:28
2. Mt. 3:5
3. Mt. 3:3 NKJV
4. Mt.3:6-8; Mk. 1:5
5. Jn. 1:19-22
6. Jn. 1:23
7. Jn. 1:35-36
8. Jn. 1:29
9. Jn. 1:37
10. Jn. 1:38-39
11. Mk 1:16-20
12. Lk. 5:17
13. Mk. 1:19-20
14. Jn. 2:1-11
15. Mk 1:21-45
16. Mt. 7:28-29
17. Jn. 6:1-13
18. Jn. 6:19
19. Mk 4:37-41
20. Lk 8:41-56
21. Lk. 9:28-36
22. Mk. 9:38-40
23. Lk. 9:54; 2 Ki. 1:9-12
24. Lk. 9:51-56
25. Mk. 9:33-34; 22:24
26. Mt. 20:20-24
27. Jn. 13:23; 19:26; 20:2; 21:7,20
28. 1 Jn. 4:19 NIV, NASB, NT
29. Jn. 20:3-8
30. Jn. 13:21-26
31. Jn. 19:25-27
32. Jn. 20:4
33. Jn. 21:7
34. Jn. 21:20-23
35. Jn. 1:14; 1 Jn. 1:1 NT
36. Acts 3:1-8
37. Acts 3:11-26
38. Acts 4:5-13
39. Acts 4:18-21; 5:40
40. Acts 5:41
41. Acts 8:14-17
42. Acts 8.25
43. Gal. 2:9
44. Rev. 1:9
45. Rev. 1:11,19
46. 1 Jn. 2:1,12; 3:18
47. 1 Jn. 1:4
48. 1 Jn. 4:9
49. 1 Jn. 2:15;3:1
50. 1 Jn. 3:18
51. 1 Jn. 3:14
52. 1 Jn. 4:7,12
53. 2 Jn. 9
54. 2 Jn. 4; 3 Jn. 4
55. 3 Jn. 9-11
56. 3 Jn. 12
57. 3 Jn. 5-8

By Eugene P. Vedder, Jr.

With permission to publish by: Sam Hadley, Grace & Truth, 210 Chestnut St., Danville, IL., USA. Website:


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