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OF THE FIRST
EPISTLE OF THE APOSTLE JOHN.
The History of John the Apostle.
JOHN the writer of this epistle and of the gospel which bears
his name, was the son of Zebedee, a fisher who had a boat, and nets, and hired servants, Mark i. 20, and followed his occupation on the sea of Galilee.-From Matt. xxvii. 55. compared with Mark xv. 40. it appears that the naine of Zebedee's wife was Salome; for in the former of these passages, she is called the mother of Zebedee's children, who in the latter is named Salome.-Zebedee had another son whose name was James, and who seems to have been elder than John. Both of them were fishers like their father, and assisted him in his business, till they were called to follow Jesus.-They seem all to have lived in one family in the town of Bethsaida, which being situated near the sea of Galilee, was a convenient station for fishers.
Because the mother of Zebedee's children, is mentioned among the women who followed Jesus from Galilee to the last passover, ministring to him, as related, Matt. xxvii. 56. Lardner conjectures, that Zebedee was then dead, and that the two brothers lived in separate houses. For when our Lord, upon the cross, recommended his mother to John, it is said, John xix. 27. From that hour that disciple took her unto his own home. Perhaps John and his mother Salomè lived together.-Theophylact was of opinion that John's mother was related to our Lord: And Lardner, whom I have generally followed in giving John's history, supposes that that relation encouraged her to ask the two chief
places in Christ's kingdom for her sons; and that it was the occasion of our Lord's committing the care of his mother to John. But there is no evidence in scripture of Zebedee's children being related to our Lord by their mother.
John had not the advantage of a learned education. For we are told, Acts iv. 13. that the Council perceived Peter and John were unlearned men. Nevertheless, like the generality of the Jewish common people of that age, they may have been well acquainted with the scriptures; having often heard them read in the synagogues. And as with the rest of their countrymen, they expected the coming of the Messiah about that time, they lent a willing ear to the Baptist, when he published, that Messiah was actually come, though the people did not know him, John i. 26.—Aferward when the Baptist pointed out Jesus to his disciples, ver. 29. as the lamb of God who taketh away the sin of the world, he said to them, ver. 35. I knew him not to be Messiah, but he who sent me to baptize with water the same said to me, upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending and remaining on him, the same is he who baptizeth with the Holy Ghost, 34. And I saw and bare record that this is the Son of God. If the sons of Zebedee were of the number of those to whom John testified that Jesus was the Son of God, we may believe they attached themselves early to him, and were among those who are called his disciples, and to whom he manifested his glory at the marriage in Cana, by turning water into wine, John ii. 11.
After the miracle in Cana, the sons of Zebedee seem to have followed their ordinary occupation, till Jesus called them to attend on him constantly, as mentioned, Matt. iv. For the evangelist having related the calling of Peter and Andrew, adds, ver. 21. And going on from thence, he saw other two brethren, James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, in a ship with Zebedee their father mending their nets; and he called them, 22, and they immediately left the ship and their father, and followed him; namely, when he went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing all manner of sickness, and all manner of disease among the people.
Some time after this, Jesus chose twelve of his disciples to be with him always, that they might be eye and ear-witnesses of all he did and said, and be qualified to testify the same to the world; and in particular, qualified to bear witness to his re
surrection from the dead. These chosen persons Jesus named apostles; and the sons of Zebedee being of that number, he sirnamed them Boanerges, or sons of thunder, to mark the courage with which they would afterwards preach him to the world, as Christ the Son of God.-How well James fulfilled his Master's prediction, may be known from his being put to death by Herod. Agrippa not long after our Lord's ascension, on account of his boldly testifying the resurrection of Jesus from the dead; so that he became the first martyr among the apostles.—Cave in his life of James, says the sons of Zebedee had the sirname of Boanerges given them, on account of the impetuosity of their tem pers. And it must be acknowledged that they shewed too much anger, in their proposal to have the Samaritans destroyed by fire from heaven, because they refused to receive Jesus, as he was going up to Jerusalem to worship, Luke ix. 54. Lord wilt thou, that we command fire to come down from heaven, and consume them, even as Elijah did?
But although James and John shewed improper zeal on the occasion mentioned, they were highly esteemed by their Master, for their other good qualities; as appears from this, that of all the apostles they only, with Peter, were admitted by him to be the witnesses of the resurrection of Jairus's daughter, and of our Lord's transfiguration, and of his agony in the garden. John more especially was so much beloved of Jesus, that he was called the disciple whom he loved. His benevolent disposition John manifested in this his first epistle, by the frequency and earnestness with which he recommended mutual love to the disciples of Christ. With benevolence, John joined great fortitude and constancy in his attachment to his Master. For he only of the twelve, attended him during his crucifixion; and saw the blood and water issue from his side, when the soldier pierced it with a spear; and, I doubt not, was present when his body was laid in the sepulchre; and saw the sepulchre closed with a stone. He with Peter, ran to the sepulchre, when Mary Magdalen brought word that the Lord's body was taken away. He was present also when Jesus shewed himself to his apostles, on the evening of the day of his resurrection; and on the eighth day thereafter. He with his brother James, was present when Jesus shewed himself to his disciples at the sea of Tiberias; and to the five hundred on the mountain in Galilee, mentioned Matt. xxviii. 16. Moreover, he was present with the rest of the apostles, when our Lord ascended into heaven from the mount of
Olives. So that, with the greatest propriety and truth, he could begin his first epistle with saying, That which was from the beginning which we have heard, which we have seen, &c. we declare unto you; referring to his gospel, in which he hath narrated the crucifixion, miracles, sufferings, death, and resurrection of the living Word; his appearances to his disciples after his resurrection; and last of all, his ascension into heaven.-To conclude, John was one of the one hundred and twenty upon whom the Holy Ghost descended, on the day of Pentecost which immediately followed our Lord's ascension.
After the effusion of the Holy Spirit, John displayed the greatest boldness in maintaining his master's cause, when with Peter he was brought before the council, and was strictly charged not to teach in the name of Jesus. For on that occasion, he made the noble answer recorded, Act. iv. 19. Whether it be right in the sight of God to harken unto you rather than unto God, judge ye. For we cannot but speak the things which we have heard and
We are told, Acts viii. 14. That when the apostles who were at Jerusalem, heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent to them Peter and John, that they might receive the Holy Ghost. It seems none could confer that gift but apostles.
From Gal. ii. 9. it appears that John was present at the council of Jerusalem, which met A. D. 49. or 50. to determine the great question agitated in the church of Antioch; namely, whether it was necessary to the salvation of the believing Gentiles, that they should be circumcised.—And if, as is probable, John had his ordinary residence in Jerusalem till that time, he had his share in working the many signs and wonders, which are said to have been done by the hands of the apostles, Acts ii. 43. iv. 33. v. 12.
We are told, Rev. i. 9. That John was banished to the Isle of Patmos, for the word of God, and for the testimony of Jesus. In that island, he was favoured with the visions, which he hath recorded in his book of the Revelation.
The foregoing particulars concerning John, are all mentioned in the New Testament. The fathers in their writings add, that John lived to a great age; that he spent the latter part of his life mostly at Ephesus the metropolis of the province of Asia; that the Roman emperor Domitian banished him to Patmos about the year 95; consequently after the destruction of Jerusalem. But Grotius and Sir Isaac Newton, place John's banishment to