John and Messianic Expectations


John is described in the Gospels as actively looking forward to the reign of the Messiah.  Two stories illustrate this fact.  First, when Jesus was refused by a Samaritan village, James and John offer to call down fire from heaven to destroy the unbelieving village (Luke 9:51-56).  Context in critical in this short story.  Luke 9:51 is the major transition in the book of Luke, at this point Jesus begins a journey to Jerusalem which will result in the crucifixion, He is absolutely aware of what he is about to do, and it is possible that this “resolution” was communicated to his disciples. James and John therefore see this as the time of the Messiah coming – Jesus is going to Jerusalem to judge those who are not living in accordance with the Law and to establish True Israel (with the disciples a s new twelve tribes, James and John on the right and left, etc.)

Why call down fire from Heaven?  These Samaritans have rejected Jesus and the truth that he is the Messiah.  James and John see themselves as re-enacting Elijah’s ministry.  Elijah was the prophet who confronted Baalism in Samaria and called fire down form heaven in order to judge those who had already rejected the Lord.  James and John, therefore, should be seen as preparing for the kingdom to come immediately, or perhaps, they believe that it has already come in the person of Jesus when he “resolutely set out” toward Jerusalem.

James and John request to sit on either side of Jesus when the kingdom is established (Mk 10:35-45).  In this well known story, James and John were so zealous for the Lord that he was willing to ask Jesus for the highest place in the kingdom, along with his brother John.  Presumably they were both there when their mother made the request.  This request as necessarily a bad thing, at least it was better than seeking the last possible seat in the Kingdom for fear of having to really do any work.  They were zealous for the Lord’s work, although it expressed itself badly. At that time, Jesus told the brothers they would in fact drink from the same cup as he would.  James was the first of the Lord’s disciples to be martyred (Acts 12).  John, on the other hand, lived a very long life, probably into the 90’s .  It is possible he was quite young during the ministry of Jesus, maybe even a young teen, but to live into the 90’s indicates he was quite old at that time.

In Acts, Luke describes Peter and John as a kind of ministry team (Acts 2-4 and 8:14-25).
They were the pair of disciples who preached the imminent kingdom in the Temple.  But as far as Luke describes it, Peter is the spokesperson, John is silent. The pronouns used to describe Peter and John in chapter four indicate that they are both considered bold, despite Luke only giving us the words of Peter.   The last time John appears in the narrative of Acts in 8:14-25. Like chapters 2-4, he is only mentioned alongside Peter as the two disciples who went to Samaria to investigate Philip’s ministry there.  Both returned to Jerusalem after Peter rebuked Simon Magus, and there is no indication in Acts that the apostles had much to do with Samaritan ministry.

While Luke has no interest in tracking the ministry of John, this does not mean he was inactive after Acts 8. In fact, we know he was very active from the body of literature which he produced in the New Testament.