The Apostle John; The Son of Thunder or the Apostle of Love?

James son of Zebedee and his brother John (to them he gave the name Boanerges, which means “sons of thunder”)

Mark [3:17]

Other than Peter and Paul, no name is mentioned or associated with the New Testament more than that of John. John in Hebrew means; “Jehovah has been gracious and has shown favor.” At the time of Jesus, John was one of the most popular names, representing five percent of the population. The John we most frequently read about in the New Testament is John the Apostle, whom Jesus referred to as one of the Sons of Thunder.

Now, this is part of what makes the Apostle John such an interesting character to know. When the Apostle John was with Jesus, he was rambunctious and quick to create noise. Part of the reason Jesus referred to John and his brother James as the Sons of Thunder.

In Luke [9:54], after Jesus had been refused a place to stay as he was traveling through Samaria, John and his brother James asked Jesus;  Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them? Jesus rebuked the brothers and moved on to another village. And this is an example of why Jesus gave John and his brother this nickname. John in this case was certainly not gracious as his name would imply.

John was one of Jesus’s projects. He was an overly eager worker who was just interested in getting things done, no matter what means he used, Including destroying a village that refused to welcome Jesus. Jesus wanted John to be able to get things done and with love.

Over time, Jesus’s lessons helped calm John down. In fact, in his later life, he became referred to as the Apostle of Love. Quite a remarkable turn in his life.

We see this in the writings of John in the New Testament. There are five books associated with John; the Gospel of John, Revelations, and the three Epistles of John.

This part gets a little complicated; traditionally all five books were assumed to be written by John and are referred to as  Johannine Literature. But many scholars believe these books weren’t actually written by John the Apostle.

There is little known about who the actual writer was. In fact, some scholars would say it might have been a group in Ephesus that wrote these five books during the last decade of the first century. Some think it may have been another John, called John the Evangelist. And all these theories may be right or wrong. There is little hard evidence to say exactly who this John was and wrote these books.

I know my professors will shudder at my next comment, but it seems to me that whoever wrote the five books isn’t as important as the message of the five books. Trying to discover the writer is a great historical exercise but takes us away from understanding the message of John. And the message is undeniably about love. Love is mentioned fifty-one times in these five books or equal to twenty-five percent of the entire New Testament! love is mentioned twenty times in the Gospel of John or almost equal to the other three Gospels combined.

So we can see why in his later life, the Apostle John was no longer called one of the Sons of Thunder, but the Apostle of love. Whether he wrote these books or not, John at least impacted these writings and in turn, has become associated with love.

This is the value of Jesus in someone’s life. Even a very eager person, like John, committed to getting things done at any cost; including destroying a village, will change because of Jesus and his teachings.

It is not a coincidence that Jesus picked John to be an Apostle. He saw that John’s eagerness could be tamed and directed to propelling the Gospel.  Jesus saw that once his weaknesses were chiseled away, he would become committed to leading with love as his first response.

And so it is for us. We all have wonderful strengths and blind spots. And it is the strengths that Jesus sees and wants to be what defines us. With our blind spots, Jesus wants us to see them and not let them guide us.

History is littered with people who tried noble things and failed. Mostly because they forgot about love. They failed not because of their strengths, but because of their blind spots.

Jesus did a wonderful job mentoring John. Turning an eager person with wonderful gifts away from his shortcomings to becoming the Apostle of Love.

Jesus has the same plan for us; no matter how old or young. No matter where we have been or what we look like, Jesus has a plan for us. One that is rooted in love as our first response.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

Photo by Jordan Wozniak on Unsplash