The one word that would seem to best represent the Holy Apostle John would have to be: LOVE. His first letter (1 John) is filled with that word: God loves us, we should love God, and we should love others (repeat several times). He could easily be called the Apostle of Love. But that is now…what was he known as in those early years with Jesus?
When Jesus appointed the 12 Apostles He called the two sons of Zebedee, James and John, the “Sons of Thunder” (Mark 3:17). That does not bring to mind any “Apostle of Love” type of person. In my mind, I picture a couple of huge “Hulk Hogan” type of men that weren’t to be messed with. Their actions early on with Jesus would support their being Sons of Thunder.
At one point, Jesus and His Apostles were heading to a Samaritan village. The people didn’t want them in their town. The two Sons of Thunder, James and John, in anger asked the Lord: “Do you want us to call down fire from heaven to destroy them?” We are told the Lord rebuked them and told them that He had come to save people’s lives, not to destroy them (Luke 9:51-56). Wanting to kill people doesn’t sound much like an Apostle of Love.
Another time, James and John come to Jesus and plainly tell Him: “We want you to do for us whatever we ask.” Again, I picture in my mind, two huge men towering over Jesus in this conversation. When Jesus asks them what they want Him to do for them, they answer that they want to sit one at His right hand and the other at His left hand. In other words, they wanted positions of power and prestige in this new kingdom the Lord would establish. Jesus corrects them and explains that if anyone wants to be great in His Kingdom, they must learn to be the servant of all. That incident is found in Mark 10:35-45. A hunger for power and prestige doesn’t fit the picture of an Apostle of Love.
Truly the Apostle John was a work in progress. By the time we get to the crucifixion of Jesus, we find a different John at the foot of the cross. He is the only Apostle that follows Jesus all the way to the cross. Jesus tells His mother that John is now her son and He tells John that Mary is now his mother. John cares for Mary the rest of her life. Jesus saw something in this Son of Thunder from the beginning and John’s life is slowly transformed into becoming a great man of God…indeed, the Apostle of Love.
All of us are still “works in progress” as we journey with our Lord. Jesus didn’t quit on John because of his botch-ups and He doesn’t quit on us as we botch things up in our lives. Some of us may still be wanting to call fire down on certain people we know or we may be caught up with a desire for power and prestige. The Lord rebukes us for such thoughts, but He doesn’t give up on us. He sees us as we could become and He continues to mold and shape us each day.
Some folks may think it is impossible to love certain individuals, but our God is the God of the impossible. Even though we might not be there now, God is able to do an amazing work in us as we journey on with Him. The life of the Apostle John should give all of us hope. We too can grow and become all that we can be in Christ. We can become more and more like our Lord. That journey with Him continues right now.
“We love, because He first loved us!” (1 John 4:19)