The Apostle John is the author of five New Testament books: the gospel of John,  the three short epistles that also bear his name (1, 2, and 3 John) and the book  of Revelation. John was part of Jesus’ “inner circle” and, along with Peter and  James, John was given the privilege of witnessing Jesus’ conversation with Moses  and Elijah on the mount of the transfiguration (Matthew  17:1-9). His importance in the twelve grew as he matured, and after the  crucifixion, he became a “pillar” in the Jerusalem church (Galatians 2:9), ministered  with Peter (Acts 3:1, 4:13, 8:14), and finally was exiled to the island of Patmos by  the Romans, where he received from God the majestic visions that comprise the  book of Revelation.

Not to be confused with John the Baptist, the  Apostle John is the brother of James, another of the twelve disciples of Jesus.  Together, they were called by Jesus “Boanerges,” which means “sons of thunder,”  and therein we find a key to John’s personality. Both brothers were  characterized by zeal, passion and ambition. In his early days with Jesus, at  times John acted rashly, recklessly, impetuously, and aggressively. We see him  in Mark 9 forbidding a man to cast out demons in Jesus’ name because he was not  part of the twelve (Mark  9:38-41). Jesus gently rebuked him, saying no one could cast out demons in  Jesus’ name and then turn around and speak evil of Him. In Luke 9:51-54, we see the  brothers wanting to call down fire from heaven to destroy the Samaritans who  refused to welcome Jesus. Again, Jesus had to rebuke them for their intolerance  and lack of genuine love for the lost. John’s zeal for Jesus was also influenced  by his natural ambition, as seen in his request (through his mother) that he and  his brother be seated on Jesus’ right and left hands in the kingdom, an incident  that caused a temporary rift between the brothers and the other disciples (Matthew  20:20-24).

In spite of these youthful expressions of misdirected  passion, John aged well. He began to understand the need for humility in those  who desired to be great. John’s is the only gospel that records Jesus washing  the disciples’ feet (John  13:4-16). Jesus’ simple act of servitude must have impacted John greatly.  By the time of the crucifixion, Jesus had enough confidence in the young man to  turn the care of His mother over to him, a charge John took very seriously. From  that day on, John cared for her as if she were his own mother (John 19:25-27). John’s  rash request for special honor in the kingdom had given way to a compassion and  humility that would characterize his ministry in his later life. Although he  remained courageous and bold, his ambition was balanced by the humility he  learned at Jesus’ feet. This willingness to serve others and suffer for the sake  of the gospel must have enabled him to bear his final imprisonment on Patmos  where, according to reliable historical sources, he lived in a cave, cut off  from those he loved, and was treated with cruelty and reproach. In the opening  of the book of Revelation, which he received from the Holy Spirit during this  time, he referred to himself as ‘your brother and companion in the suffering and  kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus” (Revelation 1:9). He had  learned to look beyond his earthly sufferings to the heavenly glory that awaits  all who patiently endure.

John was passionately devoted to the  proclamation of truth. No one in Scripture, except the Lord Jesus, had more to  say about the concept of truth. His joy was proclaiming the truth to others and  then watching them walk in it (3 John 4). His  strongest condemnation was for those who perverted the truth and led others  astray, especially if they claimed to be believers (1 John 2:4).  His passion for truth fueled his concern for the sheep who might be deceived by  false teachers, and his warnings about them take up much of 1 John. He had no  qualms about identifying as “false prophets” and “antichrists” those who tried  to pervert the truth, even proclaiming them to be demonic in nature (1 John 2:18, 26, 3:7, 4:1-7).

At the  same time, John is also called the “apostle of love.” In his own gospel, he  refers to himself as “the one whom Jesus loved” (John 13:2320:2, 21:7, 21:20). He is  depicted as the one leaning against Jesus’ breast at the last supper. His brief  second epistle is filled with expressions of his deep love for those in his  care. He addresses his first epistle to a group of believers “whom I love in the  truth” and exhorts them to “love one another” by walking in obedience to Jesus’  commands (1 John 1:15-6).

John’s life serves to remind us of several lessons which we can apply  to our own lives. First, zeal for the truth must always be balanced by a love  for people. Without it, zeal can turn to harshness and judgmental.  Conversely, abundant love that lacks the ability to discern truth from error can  become gushing sentimentality. As John learned as he matured, if we speak the  truth in love, we, and those we touch, will “in all things grow up into him who  is the Head, that is, Christ” (Ephesians  4:15).

Second, confidence and boldness, un-tempered by compassion  and grace, can quickly turn to pride and smugness. Confidence is a wonderful  virtue, but without humility, it can become self-confidence, which can lead to  boasting and an attitude of exclusiveness. When that happens, our witness of the  grace of God is tainted, and others see in us exactly the kind of person they  wish not to be. Like John, if we are to be effective witnesses for Christ, our  demeanor should be one that reflects a passion for the truth, compassion for  people, and a steadfast desire to serve and represent our Lord by reflecting His  humility and grace.