The Apostle John is an amazing character. He is most well known by the title he gave himself in his own gospel account: “The disciple that Jesus loved”, second to this title, John is often referred to as ‘The Apostle of love’, due to his continual reference to love in his letters to the Church. What many of us seem to either forget, or never really see, is that the Apostle John was not always defined by ‘love’.
Jesus originally gave John, and his brother James, the title of: ‘sons of thunder’, most likely due to their passion, a passion that was for God, but not necessarily for love. It’s interesting that when John heard some people, in this case Samaritans, refused to accept Jesus, he was so disgusted at their willful rejection of his Lord, that he went to Jesus and asked, full of faith, if he should call down fire and brimstone from heaven and destroy them for their willful rejection of Jesus. At this point, to John’s shock, Jesus rebuked him for such a thought.
As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem. And he sent messengers on ahead, who went into a Samaritan village to get things ready for him; but the people there did not welcome him, because he was heading for Jerusalem. When the disciples James and John saw this, they asked, “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?” But Jesus turned and rebuked them. Luke 9: 51-55
Not many people remember Johns early days as a ‘fire and brimstone’ preacher, but that was what he originally thought it was about. So what changed John’s mind?
Perhaps it was while he held Jesus’ weeping mother in his arms as they watched Jesus dying for the sins of the world?
Perhaps it was when he heard Jesus offer his final request up to God before his last breathe: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”
Perhaps it was when he ran to the tomb and saw it was empty, realising his Lord had not only died for the sins of the world, but he had also conquered death, and was resurrected in glory, and believed?
Perhaps it was the decades that pasted by, where he witnessed time and time again the power of God’s grace to draw the wickedest of people into the arms of their redeemer; transforming their lives into a testimony of God’s love?
We’ll never know what changed John’s understanding and theology, but his life shows us a journey we take. No matter where we start, even if it is a fire and brimstone preacher like the Apostle John, or a murdering Christian hater like the Apostle Paul, we can all journey to be known for something greater, something purer, something far more divine. My hope is that I too end my life being remembered as a disciple of Jesus who couldn’t stop testifying to the greatest truth a human heart will ever know: God is love.
“And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.” 1 John 4:16