John, the son of Zebedee and younger brother of James, is believed to be the author of the Gospel that bears his name and close companion of Jesus during His final days in Jerusalem. Although the Johannine authorship is not without detractors according to Dr. Eckhard Schnabel “no early tradition ever disputes this identification.”
When looking at the historical context according to Andreas Köstenberger there is sufficient internal an external evidence to easily support Johannine authorship. John was an Apostle, one of the Twelve, eyewitness to the last days of Jesus, the only Apostle not to be martyred and lived to an age that even by todays standards would be considered exceptional. Additionally, he was productive to his very senior age.
John was one of the first four disciples called by Jesus (Mt.4.13-22; Mk.1.16-20; Lk.4.31a) as He was “walking by the Sea of Galilee.” Jesus called four fishermen to be His first disciples – two sets of brothers. The latter pair, James and John may have been cousins to Jesus if indeed their mothers were sisters.
Jesus sent John with Peter to prepare the Passover (Lk.22.8; Mk.14.13). It is worth noting that John and Peter witnessed a number of events together such as the resurrection and the transfiguration. According to Darrel Bock preparing the Passover was more then simply finding a room. They would have to get “a lamb slain at the Temple, pick up bitter herbs, purchase unleavened bread and obtain wine for the meal.”
There are at least three unique interactions involving John during the last supper. He is located on the right hand of Jesus (Jn.13.22), he is prodded by Peter to inquire who Jesus’ betrayer was (Jn.13.25; 21.20), and he is likely involved in and perhaps in the center of the dispute as to who would be considered the greatest (Lk.22.24; Mt.20.20-28; Mk.10.35-45) since he was known as having “political aspirations.”
Jesus invited the disciples to “sit here while I go over there and pray” (Mt.26.36). John along with his brother James and Peter were invited by Jesus to come a little closer and to “watch with me” (Mt.26.38b). According to Ronald Kernaghan Jesus “had something different in mind when he told Peter, James and John to keep watch, after telling His other followers to stay behind.”
The Gospel accounts make clear that Jesus was tried in two general phases, the religious and the political. Significant concerning John was his familiarity with Annas’ household and thus Annas himself (Jn.18.16). Bruce Milne states, “the denial story [Peter’s] has certain eye-witness details which would confirm that. While the idea of a Galilean fisherman having ties to the high religious society in Jerusalem seems implausible a number of commentators support the idea. Among supporters to Zebedee ties to the High Priest is William Barclay who argues for a “branch office” in Jerusalem for the Galilean fishing business.
John was the only one of the Twelve present at the cross as Jesus died. Jesus gave responsibility for His mother to John as opposed to His brothers “because they were not sympathetic to His ministry.” As the only eyewitness of the disciples, John adds three “cameos” to use Milne’s phrase. First, the dividing of Jesus’ clothing (Jn.19.23-24), secondly, the inscription above Jesus on the cross (Jn.19.19-22), finally, the “presence of loyal supporters” (Jn.19.25).
John claims to be an eyewitness of Jesus’ crucifixion (19.35). Köstenberger states that “the eyewitness character of the entire Gospel is affirmed in the phrase ‘he knows that he is telling the truth’” (19.35; also 20.30-31; 21.24-25). Supporting the idea of wealthy fishing family connections to the house of Annas, John mentions two Jewish religious leaders and followers of Jesus (19.38-39). He describes how Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus took Jesus’ body, prepared it as they placed it in the tomb provided by Joseph. Since Nicodemus and Joseph were Judean followers, they were probably not known to the loyal supporters John lists at the cross. John records somewhat humorously that when informed with Simon Peter by Mary Magdalene that the tomb was empty a race ensued (20.3-4). A race that John notes he won.
John records that Jesus showed Himself to seven of the disciples at the “Sea of Tiberias” (21.1-14). This expedition is often considered disobedience of the disciples. How could they, after witnessing the death and resurrection of Jesus and presumably His commission return home to “business as usual?” Milne quotes G.R. Beasley-Murray saying, “Never has a fishing trip been so severely judged! However, two of the Gospel writers, Matthew and Mark record Jesus telling the apostles to return to Jerusalem (Mt.28.7; Mk.16.7).
It is fitting that John is the disciple to record Peter’s return to ministry (21.15-25) – no less “significant” that the disciple “whom Jesus loved” would document Jesus’ challenge to Peter to do precisely what he boastfully stated before the betrayal. That is, Jesus “challenged Peter to love Him more than the other disciples.” After breakfast, provided by Jesus, Peter and John go for a walk with Jesus at which time Peter asks what is to become of John. Much speculation surrounds this dialogue (21.20-25). It is possible Peter is simply curious for his friend’s destiny since he had been told of his own martyrdom. It is also possible that a certain jealousy of favoritism existed. Jesus, in essence told Peter “it was none of his business.” Just as Peter fulfilled God’s purpose by martyrdom, so John would fulfill God’s purpose by living a long life before assumedly dying a natural death.
John makes clear the purpose of His Gospel, “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”