John, Part 1 - Fisherman And Apostle

INTRODUCTION: This Bible study is part one of a brief biographical sketch of the apostle John, drawing from the four gospel accounts. There are subsections with scripture passages under each outline heading, and also some inserted parallel passages within the comments sections to bring out other points. In the gospel written by the apostle John, he does not refer to himself by name, so every appearance of the name John in that gospel refers to the Baptist, the son of Zacharius and Elizabeth. The apostle John is not mentioned by name in any of the letters written in the New Testament, including his own letters. The name in the Greek New Testament that is translated into English as John is of Hebrew origin, and the apostle was a descendent of Israel, though from which tribe is not mentioned. The Greek name appears in the New Testament 133 times, with only 36 of those referring to the apostle, while 92 refer to John the Baptist, 4 to John Mark, and 1 to a man who was a member of the Sanhedrin. This short study series is intended to provide some basic information about the apostle John before looking at each chapter of 1 John in subsequent MPN studies.

NOTE: All Bible passages are taken from the World English Bible.


A1 - John the fisherman and a disciple

Mark 1 "14 Now after John was taken into custody, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the Good News of the Kingdom of God, 15 and saying, "The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God is at hand! Repent, and believe in the Good News." 16 Passing along by the sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew the brother of Simon casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. 17 Jesus said to them, "Come after me, and I will make you into fishers for men." 18 Immediately they left their nets, and followed him. 19 Going on a little further from there, he saw James the son of Zebedee, and John, his brother, who were also in the boat mending the nets. 20 Immediately he called them, and they left their father, Zebedee, in the boat with the hired servants, and went after him."

COMMENTS: Matthew and Mark both indicate that John the Baptist was already in prison when Jesus called Peter, Andrew, James, and John away from their boats to follow him. It is exclusively from John's gospel that we learn of the first encounter with Jesus for Andrew and another unnamed disciple of John the Baptist. John 1:36 "and he looked at Jesus as he walked, and said, "Behold, the Lamb of God!" 37 The two disciples heard him speak, and they followed Jesus. 38 Jesus turned, and saw them following, and said to them, "What are you looking for?" They said to him, "Rabbi" (which is to say, being interpreted, Teacher), "where are you staying?" 39 He said to them, "Come, and see." They came and saw where he was staying, and they stayed with him that day. It was about the tenth hour. 40 One of the two who heard John, and followed him, was Andrew, Simon Peter's brother. 41 He first found his own brother, Simon, and said to him, "We have found the Messiah!" (which is, being interpreted, Christ). 42 He brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him, and said, "You are Simon the son of Jonah. You shall be called Cephas" (which is by interpretation, Peter)."" By the passage from John's gospel we know that Andrew and Peter had already personally encountered Jesus before he called them away from their occupation to follow him. It is very likely that James and John also knew something of Jesus before their call.


A2 - Luke 5:1-11

"1 Now it happened, while the multitude pressed on him and heard the word of God, that he was standing by the lake of Gennesaret. 2 He saw two boats standing by the lake, but the fishermen had gone out of them, and were washing their nets. 3 He entered into one of the boats, which was Simon's, and asked him to put out a little from the land. He sat down and taught the multitudes from the boat. 4 When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, "Put out into the deep, and let down your nets for a catch." 5 Simon answered him, "Master, we worked all night, and took nothing; but at your word I will let down the net." 6 When they had done this, they caught a great multitude of fish, and their net was breaking. 7 They beckoned to their partners in the other boat, that they should come and help them. They came, and filled both boats, so that they began to sink. 8 But Simon Peter, when he saw it, fell down at Jesus' knees, saying, "Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, Lord." 9 For he was amazed, and all who were with him, at the catch of fish which they had caught; 10 and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. Jesus said to Simon, "Don't be afraid. From now on you will be catching people alive." 11 When they had brought their boats to land, they left everything, and followed him."

COMMENTS: In this passage, in a portion exclusive to Luke, we find that four seasoned fishermen see a most unusually large catch of fish as Peter obeys the word of Jesus after their tested fishing methods had been very disappointing. Then at the word of Jesus, all four of them immediately "left everything" and followed Jesus as his disciples, with no record of any questions from them about what would lie ahead. This gives us just a little more information than the parallel accounts in the gospels of Matthew and Mark. John does not record in his gospel any details of the calling of the four fishermen to leave everything to follow him. These early beginnings of the ministry of Jesus took place in the northern part of the kingdom of Israel that had fallen to the Assyrians centuries earlier, and at this time was under the control of the Roman Empire. With no national Jewish Sovereignty as in the days of the Kings of Israel in the north or in the days of the kings of Judah in the south, the Jewish people had been waiting for many, many generations for the appearance of their promised Messiah while under foreign rule.


A3 - Mark 1:21-31

"21 They went into Capernaum, and immediately on the Sabbath day he entered into the synagogue and taught. 22 They were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as having authority, and not as the scribes. 23 Immediately there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, and he cried out, 24 saying, "Ha! What do we have to do with you, Jesus, you Nazarene? Have you come to destroy us? I know you who you are: the Holy one of God!" 25 Jesus rebuked him, saying, "Be quiet, and come out of him!" 26 The unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. 27 They were all amazed, so that they questioned among themselves, saying, "What is this? A new teaching? For with authority he commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him!" 28 The report of him went out immediately everywhere into all the region of Galilee and its surrounding area. 29 Immediately, when they had come out of the synagogue, they came into the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. 30 Now Simon's wife's mother lay sick with a fever, and immediately they told him about her. 31 He came and took her by the hand, and raised her up. The fever left her, and she served them."

COMMENTS: While still in the area of Galilee, Jesus routinely taught in synagogues on the Sabbath. This particular day in Capernaum, on the shore of the sea of Galilee, the text states "he taught them as having authority." A disturbance arose when a man cried out, and Jesus commanded the "unclean spirit" and it immediately obeyed him to leave the man. After they left the synagogue, Jesus healed the mother of Peter's wife of a fever simply by taking her by the hand so she could rise and serve them. John saw these early demonstrations of power by Jesus as a willing disciple and an eye witness, before he was appointed as an apostle of Christ with the other chosen eleven.


B - John is chosen to be among the twelve apostles

Mark 3 "13 He went up into the mountain, and called to himself those whom he wanted, and they went to him. 14 He appointed twelve, that they might be with him, and that he might send them out to preach, 15 and to have authority to heal sicknesses and to cast out demons: 16 Simon, to whom he gave the name Peter; 17 James the son of Zebedee; John, the brother of James, and he surnamed them Boanerges, which means, Sons of Thunder; 18 Andrew; Philip; Bartholomew; Matthew; Thomas; James, the son of Alphaeus; Thaddaeus; Simon the Zealot; 19 and Judas Iscariot, who also betrayed him. He came into a house."

COMMENTS: The gospel of John does not record the event of Jesus calling out the twelve to be his apostles, or in any other way list all of their names. Matthew, Mark, and Luke each have passages providing this information. However, only in Mark are we told that Jesus called James and John Boanerges, which means, Sons of Thunder. We might have thought that term to be more appropriately applied to the somewhat impetuous Simon Peter. Mark lists three reasons that Jesus appointed these apostles (sent ones): 1) that they might be with him, 2) that he might send them out to preach, and 3) for them to have authority to heal sicknesses and to cast out demons. There were times when Jesus had many followers who could be characterized as disciples, but the apostles had a special distinction of being uniquely appointed by the Lord. The twelve apostles were to travel with Jesus throughout his ministry, and Luke bears record that they did so. Luke 7:50 He said to the woman, "Your faith has saved you. Go in peace." 8:1 It happened soon afterwards, that he went about through cities and villages, preaching and bringing the good news of the Kingdom of God. With him were the twelve,"


C1 - Peter, James, and John become more prominent in the gospel accounts

Mark 5 "35 While he was still speaking, people came from the synagogue ruler's house saying, "Your daughter is dead. Why bother the Teacher any more?" 36 But Jesus, when he heard the message spoken, immediately said to the ruler of the synagogue, "Don't be afraid, only believe." 37 He allowed no one to follow him, except Peter, James, and John the brother of James. 38 He came to the synagogue ruler's house, and he saw an uproar, weeping, and great wailing. 39 When he had entered in, he said to them, "Why do you make an uproar and weep? The child is not dead, but is asleep." 40 They ridiculed him. But he, having put them all out, took the father of the child, her mother, and those who were with him, and went in where the child was lying. 41 Taking the child by the hand, he said to her, "Talitha cumi!" which means, being interpreted, "Girl, I tell you, get up!" 42 Immediately the girl rose up and walked, for she was twelve years old. They were amazed with great amazement. 43 He strictly ordered them that no one should know this, and commanded that something should be given to her to eat."

COMMENTS: This event is recorded in Matthew, Mark, and Luke with varying amounts of detail. It is clear that the daughter of Jairus was dead, and apparently Jesus wanted Peter, James, and John to witness that he restored her life with just the touch of his hand and a gentle command. There are other accounts of Jesus bringing life back into a deceased person with a larger group of witnesses, but this time he allowed these three disciples to be eye witnesses along with the parents of the girl. It is interesting that the only eye witness of this event among the four writers of the gospels did not include this event in his own gospel account.


C2 - Luke 9:20-22 and 27-36

""20 He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?" Peter answered, "The Christ of God." 21 But he warned them, and commanded them to tell this to no one, 22 saying, "The Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and the third day be raised up." ...

"27 But I tell you the truth: There are some of those who stand here, who will in no way taste of death, until they see the Kingdom of God." 28 It happened about eight days after these sayings, that he took with him Peter, John, and James, and went up onto the mountain to pray. 29 As he was praying, the appearance of his face was altered, and his clothing became white and dazzling. 30 Behold, two men were talking with him, who were Moses and Elijah, 31 who appeared in glory, and spoke of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. 32 Now Peter and those who were with him were heavy with sleep, but when they were fully awake, they saw his glory, and the two men who stood with him. 33 It happened, as they were parting from him, that Peter said to Jesus, "Master, it is good for us to be here. Let's make three tents: one for you, and one for Moses, and one for Elijah," not knowing what he said. 34 While he said these things, a cloud came and overshadowed them, and they were afraid as they entered into the cloud. 35 A voice came out of the cloud, saying, "This is my beloved Son. Listen to him!" 36 When the voice came, Jesus was found alone. They were silent, and told no one in those days any of the things which they had seen."

COMMENTS: John's gospel does not, but Matthew, Mark, and Luke all have passages dealing with the "mount of transfiguration." Those accounts give us some personal aspects of the apostles to show us that they were common men to be transformed by the Lord God to become very "uncommon." Peter, James, and John had the privilege of seeing the kingdom of God coming before they died, as Jesus took only these three to the mount of transfiguration. Luke records for us though, that it was difficult for them to fight off drowsiness even for this unique event. After Moses and Elijah disappeared, Peter spoke out of his bewilderment. Then the voice came from heaven to declare "This is my beloved Son. Listen to him!" This was similar to the voice from heaven at the baptism of Jesus as recorded in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. We have this further detail from Mark 9:9 As they were coming down from the mountain, he commanded them that they should tell no one what things they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead. 10 They kept this saying to themselves, questioning what the "rising from the dead" meant."


C2 - Mark 9:30-34

"30 They went out from there, and passed through Galilee. He didn't want anyone to know it. 31 For he was teaching his disciples, and said to them, "The Son of Man is being handed over to the hands of men, and they will kill him; and when he is killed, on the third day he will rise again." 32 But they didn't understand the saying, and were afraid to ask him. 33 He came to Capernaum, and when he was in the house he asked them, "What were you arguing among yourselves on the way?" 34 But they were silent, for they had disputed one with another on the way about who was the greatest."

COMMENTS: Based on Mark's gospel, Jesus had already given this message before, and Peter James, and John had even been on the mount of transfiguration with Jesus. These select twelve men had all the normal characteristics of fallen man, just as each Christian does today. They did not understand what Jesus had told them about rising from the dead, and it probably did not at all fit their concept of the coming of Messiah. It must have been a strong temptation for them to consider how much they might benefit personally from being part of a select group chosen by the long awaited Messiah. At this point they did not grasp the great sacrifice that lay ahead, and were not yet ready to live the metaphor of "taking up their cross daily."


C3 - Mark 10:32-41

"32 They were on the way, going up to Jerusalem; and Jesus was going in front of them, and they were amazed; and those who followed were afraid. He again took the twelve, and began to tell them the things that were going to happen to him. 33 "Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem. The Son of Man will be delivered to the chief priests and the scribes. They will condemn him to death, and will deliver him to the Gentiles. 34 They will mock him, spit on him, scourge him, and kill him. On the third day he will rise again." 35 James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came near to him, saying, "Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we will ask." 36 He said to them, "What do you want me to do for you?" 37 They said to him, "Grant to us that we may sit, one at your right hand, and one at your left hand, in your glory." 38 But Jesus said to them, "You don't know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, and to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?" 39 They said to him, "We are able." Jesus said to them, "You shall indeed drink the cup that I drink, and you shall be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with; 40 but to sit at my right hand and at my left hand is not mine to give, but for whom it has been prepared." 41 When the ten heard it, they began to be indignant towards James and John."

COMMENTS: In Matthew's account, the mother of James and John makes this request of Jesus for her sons. The other ten may have been indignant toward James and John for wanting this honor for themselves, but they had argued earlier as a group about who would be greatest in the kingdom. There clearly was much confusion among the apostles about the role of Messiah. Here is a comment from Luke's gospel after Jesus had told the twelve that he would be crucified. Luke "18:34 They understood none of these things. This saying was hidden from them, and they didn't understand the things that were said." The religious leaders with their high level of scriptural education did not receive Jesus as Christ, and the chosen apostles were working class men who had been taught the Hebrew Scriptures and Jewish traditions. They needed to combine faith with their knowledge, to put their trust in the LORD rather than to lean only on their own understanding. This process could not progress at any rate other than that designed by God for His glory, as the text in Luke said "This saying was hidden from them, and they didn't understand the things that were said." This may help us to realize that if chosen apostles had limits set on their ability to understand events until a time decided by the Lord, we should not be surprised when we don't understand why certain things happen as they do in our lives.


C4 - Luke 9:51-56

"51 It came to pass, when the days were near that he should be taken up, he intently set his face to go to Jerusalem, 52 and sent messengers before his face. They went, and entered into a village of the Samaritans, so as to prepare for him. 53 They didn't receive him, because he was traveling with his face set towards Jerusalem. 54 When his disciples, James and John, saw this, they said, "Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from the sky, and destroy them, just as Elijah did?" 55 But he turned and rebuked them, "You don't know of what kind of spirit you are. 56 For the Son of Man didn't come to destroy men's lives, but to save them." They went to another village."

COMMENTS: Perhaps this was an indication of why Jesus had designated James and John as "sons of thunder!" In other passages from the gospels, we have examples of great faith exhibited by Samaritans and Gentiles that Jesus commended as being not often demonstrated by the children of Israel. I am so thankful that Jesus said that he "didn't come to destroy men's lives, but to save them." The mercy of the Lord does endure forever, and His ways are often not our ways, even past finding out by our own reasoning.


D - Prayer and growth in faith are essential to all believers

Luke 11 "1 It happened, that when he finished praying in a certain place, one of his disciples said to him, "Lord, teach us to pray, just as John also taught his disciples.""

Luke 17 "5 "The apostles said to the Lord, "Increase our faith.""

COMMENTS: These two selected passages may indicate times when the apostles knew they needed to depend completely on the Lord, even while there were other times they acted or reacted out of their own thoughts or emotions. The next part of this study will start with the last few weeks for Jesus with his apostles before he went to the cross.


--- Reflections in prayer ---

Lord, you chose common men to demonstrate that your strength is perfected in weakness, and that the wisdom of God is foolishness to men. That is especially true in the preaching of the cross which is foolishness to those who perish, but to those who are saved it is the power of God. Even for those who may think they are from humble circumstances, it is important for every person to humble themselves in the sight of the Lord. The spirit of Satan in the world around us is always ready to propose lies that seem to be plausible to those who do not place full trust in the Word of the Lord. I know from the scriptures that if I do not renew my mind through your Word, I cannot bear the fruit made available by being a branch grafted into the true vine.

I want to make the words written in chapter 17 of the prophet Jeremiah's book part of my personal prayer of thanksgiving to you Lord as I acknowledge your truth. "9 The heart is deceitful above all things, and it is exceedingly corrupt: who can know it? 10 I, Yahweh, search the mind, I try the heart, even to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his doings."

I also rejoice at the wording the apostle Paul provided in the first chapter of 1 Corinthians, that I might give you, my Lord, all the glory for my calling to eternal life through the righteousness of Christ. "26 For you see your calling, brothers, that not many are wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, and not many noble; 27 but God chose the foolish things of the world that he might put to shame those who are wise. God chose the weak things of the world, that he might put to shame the things that are strong; 28 and God chose the lowly things of the world, and the things that are despised, and the things that are not, that he might bring to nothing the things that are: 29 that no flesh should boast before God. 30 But of him, you are in Christ Jesus, who was made to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption: 31 that, according as it is written, "He who boasts, let him boast in the Lord." Amen and Amen!

John, Part 2 - Lazarus Resurrected
John, Part 3 - Jesus Is Risen!
John, Part 4 - The Foundation of the Church

Published 15 May 2011