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Few particulars are recorded in the sacred history concerning this eminent Apostle and Evangelist; but those few present him to us in the most amiable and instructive point of view.
He was a native of Galilee, and the names of his parents were Zebedee and Salome. John and his elder brother James exercised their father's calling as fishermen at Bethsaida, a town situated on the banks of the lake of Gennesareth, and at the influx of the river Jordan. Peter, Andrew, and Philip were also inhabitants of the same place, and it is probable that all of them were disciples of the Baptist. It is indeed a reasonable conjecture that John was that “other disciple” who was with Andrew when he left the Baptist to follow our Saviour, it being customary with this Evangelist, when relating any thing which concerned himself, to conceal his name.
In the catalogue of the Apostles given by St. Mark, James and John are said to have received from our Lord the appellation of Boanerges, or Sons of Thunder, which title is to be understood of the energy and success of their labours, in the propagation of the gospel.
It has been supposed that the extraordinary request made by Salome to our Lord, for her two sons, that the one should sit on his right hand and the other on his left in his kingdom, proceeded from the claim of relationship. This, however, is by no means clear, and on one occasion the two brothers incurred a severe censure, when they desired permission to call down fire from heaven upon a Samaritan village, the inhabitants of which had refused to receive our Saviour in his journey to Jerusalem. Jesus quickly turned to James and John and rebuked them saying “Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of; for the son of man is not come to destroy men's lives, but to save them.”.
Though John was the youngest of all the apostles, he was admitted to the closest intimacy with our Lord, and enjoyed more of his confidence than any other of his brethren. He is called “that disciple whom Jesus loved," and there is one incident recorded in the evangelical history, which marks
very strongly the particular favour with which he was distinguished by his master.
When, at the last supper, Jesus declared that one of the twelve would betray him, Peter, though he was anxious to know who the traitor was, did not presume to put the question himself to Jesus, but beckoned to John, that he should make the inquiry in a private manner. This the beloved disciple
accordingly did, and received a token by which he perceived that Judas Iscariot was the betrayer.
Notwithstanding the avowal which John made in common with his brethren, that “ though all should forsake his Lord yet would not he," when the hour of trial came and Jesus quietly submitted to the soldiers, this apostle as well as the rest forsook him and fled. But he soon recovered his spirits and manifested the sincerity of his affection, by entering into the palace of the high priest to whom he was personally known. It appears also that John was the only one of the apostles who attended Jesus to Mount Calvary, or at least who made a public profession of his attachment to the sufferer by standing at the foot of the cross. In his last moments our Saviour gave the most affectionate proof of his regard for John, by committing the virgin mother to his care and protection.
The first intelligence of the resurrection was communicated to Peter and John, who readily believed the miraculous event, though as yet " they knew not the scripture that Jesus was to rise from the dead."
When our Lord appeared to several of his disciples, at the sea of Tiberias, and gave them a sensible proof of his restoration to life, by partaking with them of the fish they had caught, St. Peter inquired what would befal St. John ?
The spirit of curiosity which prompted this question, Jesus reproved by saying to Peter, “ if I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee, follow thou me.” This answer certainly implied nothing more than a reprehension of that anxiety which leads men to search into the condition of others, and to make themselves acquainted with the secrets of providence, instead of attending to their own character and calling. Yet plain as the design of our Lord's declaration evidently was, and practical as the instruction was which it conveyed, some of the brethren misunderstood it, and concluded that “this disciple should not die.” This strange interpretation, St. John thus corrected in his gospel; “ Yet Jesus said not unto him, he shall not die; but if I will that he tarry till I come what is that to thee?!!
St. John continued a considerable time at Jerusalem after the ascension, and twice he suffered imprisonment, once with St. Peter on the occasion of the miraculous cure wrought on a cripple in the porch of the temple; and another time with all the apostles, but they were delivered by the angel of the Lord, who directed them to preach publicly to the people the words of eternal life.
Not long after this release John and Peter were deputed by the apostolical college to visit and confirm the Samaritans, who had been converted to the christian faith by Philip the deacon,
Here the scripture history of St. John closes; but according to Eusebius this apostle remained in Judea till the death of the Virgin Mary, which happened, by his account, at Jerusalem, about the year 48.
The sphere in which St. John afterwards exercised his ministerial labours was the lesser Asia, where he planted several churches, particularly those of Smyrna, Pergamus, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea; but he fixed his principal residence at Ephesus.
Having spent many years in the delightful employment of propagating the religion of his master, and in building up the converts in “ that faith which worketh by love,” the venerable apostle was accused tô Domitian, by whose command the proconsul of Asia sent him bound to Rome. Immediately after his arrival he was brought before the emperor, who caused him to be cast into a cauldron of boiling oil, but instead of being destroyed or hurt, the aged saint appeared refreshed and strengthened by the burning fluid.' This miracle however, made no impression upon the sanguinary tyrant, who continued his persecution of the christians with unabated rigour, and banished the apostle to the isle of Patmos in the Egean sea, where he lived many years instructing the inhabitants in the saving truths of the gospel, and putting into writing for the edification of the church, an account of the prophetic ivsions with which he was there favoured.