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.

8 thoughts on “John and Messianic Expectations

  1. John seems as though he is a man who wants things to happen immediately. When Jesus comes, he wants it to be time for the Messiah to come and do all he has promised to do. But John definitely got a wake up call when he realized he had to wait for these things and that they would not even happen in his lifetime. I’m sure that as he got older and more mature in his old age that it got easier for him to listen to God’s will, but at the young age he must have been at when Jesus walked this earth, it was very difficult. And just like John learned, so can we. I feel as though we as Christians today have a mentality that we want what we ask for right now. We pray about it and want something to happen immediately. But God does not work in that way. He wants us to be patient and wait for his timing, which is surely the best. If we can only be patient and trust in God, I’m sure we will reap the benefits, just as John did.

  2. Imagine what our lives would be like if we shared the same zeal for Christ and his ministry and reign as John did. As it stands, we find ourselves falling into the monotony of prayer, thanking God for the day and the sun, asking him to keep us safe and to provide, and even to help us become more like him, but when have we ever thought to ask God for more than that? We often see James and John as having the ‘audacity’ to ask Christ to sit at his right and left hand, but James and John had the faith to ask Christ to sit at his right and left hand. They were excited about the rule of Christ and wanted to be right there with him.

    John is looking forward to the kingdom, and that is something that I think we have lost in today’s culture. We do not expect Christ’s kingdom to come today or tomorrow, but it is something that is coming in the future. Because of the mentality that John had, he was more than willing to put himself in a position that may have made him look like a fool at the time, but showed his zeal for Christ in the long run. He asked what no one dared to ask. He sought to begin God’s judgment then and there at Samaria. John exhibited the hope and expectation that we can only imagine living in today’s culture.

    • I agree that sometimes we do not get excited about the kingdom enough. There are some people who are overly excited and do not pay any attention to what is happening here and now and neglect things that we as humans were put in charge of because they are not thinking of how the Earth will be renewed in the end as the second earth, not that this one will be destroyed and a new one will come.

    • It is true that this kind of hope and expectation is rare in believers today. We reason with ourselves that Christ’s kingdom will come in the future, and do not often get excited about the possibility of the coming of Christ being very soon. I think John is a perfect example of the zeal we should all have for Christ. I believe I have experienced moments of excitement and expectation, but this is nothing compared to the continuous zeal John had.

  3. “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.”(P.Long) It is interesting to note, even though James and John are the ones who seek to call down fire on the Samaritans, John also writes about the Samaritan woman at the well who had faith. John 4 describes this encounter and it doesn’t seem altogether negative, but rather positive towards the Samaritans. In fact, they seem to be the good guys in the story, because the woman is chosen to serve Jesus instead of the disciples and many Samaritans come to belief afterward. This is an indication of John’s maturity when it comes to his prejudices against Samaritans later in his life. I think that Christ’s mission revealed, forced him to look back on his experiences and challenge his presuppositions.

  4. Whenever thinking about that story, the majority of sermons or teachings I’ve heard had a negative perspective on the story, saying that they were prideful, rather than being zealous. Casey, I agree with you and think about the exact same thing – what would it be like if our lives reflected that same kind of zeal? Not zeal without love as Paul talks about, where we are just a noisy gong, or clanging symbols, but where our love motivates our zeal.

    A key principle to leadership, or “effective” living is this idea of starting with the end in mind. I feel as if James and John [even Paul] did this. They had this expectation that Christ would return, and lived as if he would come at anytime. Obviously this idea of Jesus coming and returning had more Jewish background which gave a little more implication…. A struggle for me is from a christian perspective, how can I live with that in mind… or what “end” should I be living for?

  5. I think that John was a man who was on fire for the Lord. I do believe that he may not have always acted in a way that would have shown that, but I think that the things that he did do, were because he was excited about Jesus and he wanted to see Him set up His kingdom. He was excited to know what the Lord was going to do. We may not have much information on John, but he was a man who greatly impacted this world for the Lord. I think that he may have been a little younger when the others were doing their ministry. So he may not have been doing a lot of the speaking when the writers were writing about the disciples. He may have done a lot of “helping” work. But then later on in his life, I do believe that he was a man who would have spoken for the Lord. Even though he wanted to sit on the right hand of God and asked his mother to ask Jesus for him, he just wanted to be someone important. It may not have been the right thing to do, but he just wanted to be close to Jesus at all times. I think that we get that way to. We look at the mistakes that they have made because some of them are written for us, and we think bad about them, but just take a look at them and see how many things we do in our own lives. We have not room to talk about making mistakes. They may have made mistakes, but I think that they just wanted to do anything to please Jesus and be close to Him, they just did not realize that they were not going about it the right way.

  6. John’s zeal is indeed impressive as evidenced by the story of calling down fire from heaven mentioned above. I appreciated Jacob Rodger’s comment about the portrayal of the Samaritan woman showing a maturity he later gained in life. John obviously has a zeal for the truth and God’s kingdom and most importantly God’s people. Jesus’ example of grace and love towards the Samaritan woman made quite an impression on John. In 1 John 4:8 he says, “He who does not love does not know God, for God is love.” John makes so many statements about the importance of love. “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love another (1 John 4:11). John’s zeal comes through in the sharp contrast me makes about many things. “If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has seen?” John never loses his zeal, but he does mature in his understanding of who God is.

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