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An Exposition Of The Gospels by The Most Rev. John Macevilly D.D.

ST. JOHN, the Apostle, the inspired author of this fourth Gospel, was son of Zebedee and Salome. He, as well as all the other Apostles, if we except the Traitor Judas, were natives of Galilee. He followed his father’s humble occupation of fisherman on the lake of Galilee. Zebedee, it would seem, was possessed of some means, as he had in his employment hired servants (Mark 1:20). John himself, it would appear, was also possessed of some means. For, we find, he took into his own house in Jerusalem, the Blessed Mother of God, who had been confided to his filial care by her dying Son and Saviour (19:27).

His mother Salome is reckoned among the pious women, who accompanied our Lord in His mission, and ministered to Him out of their substance (Mark 15:40, 41; Matthew 27:55, 56). She faithfully followed Him to the foot of the cross (Matthew 27:56). Nor did she leave Him until He was placed in His sepulchre (Mark 16:1).

It is said that John was one of the two disciples of the Baptist, who attached themselves, in the first instance, for a short time, to our Blessed Lord (John 1:37). Likely, he was among the few disciples who were present at the Marriage Feast of Cana (chap. 2), which, as an eye-witness, he so graphically and minutely describes. Having returned, for a time, to his ordinary occupation of fisherman, he was permanently called by our Lord, while engaged with his father Zebedee, and his elder brother James, afterwards called “James the Greater,” in mending their nets on the shore of the sea of Tiberias or lake of Galilee (Matthew 4:21, 22).

He is known, as the beloved disciple, “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” (13:23, etc.) No doubt, he made a grateful return, from all his heart, for the singular love which his Divine Master had shown him on several occasions. By the constant repetition of the holy name of Jesus, throughout his Gospel and Epistles, he shows how this adorable name was uppermost in his mind, engraven on his heart, and the chief absorbing thought of his inmost soul.

On several occasions, our Lord had selected him as the object of special favour. He was chosen to be present at the raising of Jairus’s daughter from the dead (Mark 5:41); also at our Lord’s glorious Transfiguration. (Matthew 17:1, etc.) To him was granted the singular privilege of leaning on our Lord’s bosom (John 13:23) at the Last Supper, when he was instituting the adorable Eucharist. It was in reply to his question, proposed on that occasion, at the request of Peter, our Lord made known who the traitor was. Finally, our Lord gave him the crowning proof of His singular love, by committing to him from the lofty summit of His cross, the care of His beloved Mother, whom He bequeathed to him, and to us all, as the last precious legacy of His dying love (19:26, 27). He was specially favoured in being among the first of the Apostles to whom was communicated the earliest tidings of our Lord’s Resurrection. He was also privileged to be the first to recognise our Lord at the miraculous draught of fishes after the Resurrection (21:7).

After our Lord’s Ascension, he remained some time in Jerusalem (Acts 1:13; 3:1; 4:13). Charged by her divine Son with the filial care of His beloved Mother, (19:27), it can hardly be supposed, he left Jerusalem till after her death and Assumption into heaven. Indeed, Nicephorus (Hist. Eccles. Lib. 2, c. 42), and St. Epiphanius expressly assures us, that this was the case. He was at Jerusalem on the occasion of St. Paul’s visit there, in the year 52 (Gal. 2:3–9). When St. Paul visited Ephesus in the year 58, St. John was not there. It was only after St. Paul’s martyrdom, that St. John fixed his permanent abode at Ephesus, with the view of counteracting the efforts of the false teachers, who had made their appearance there after St. Paul’s departure (Acts 20:29).

While displaying his wonted Apostolic zeal, thundering against Heresy and Infidelity, and especially against the worship of the great Diana of the Ephesians, he was denounced, as a dangerous character, to the tyrant Domitian, who had raised a second furious persecution against the Church. Having been sent to Rome, and confronted with the jealous Emperor Domitian, this cruel persecutor of the Christians, he was condemned to an extraordinary kind of punishment. He was sentenced, as we are told by Tertullian (de Presc. 36) to be thrown into a cauldron of boiling oil, whence he came forth, as St. Jerome assures us (Contra. Iovin.) quite uninjured, thus earning for himself the glorious title of Martyr, as the punishment inflicted would have caused his death, were he not miraculously preserved. Domitian fearing that any further attempts on his life might prove abortive, had him banished to the little island of Patmos, one of the Sporades in the Ægean sea. It is commonly held, that it was here, he wrote the Apocalypse. The acts of Domitian, so remarkable for cruelty, having been, on that account, cancelled under his successor, the Emperor Nerva, St. John was permitted to return to Ephesus, where he died in peace, after having reached an extreme old age. The precise year of his death cannot be exactly determined; it must have closely bordered on the 100th year of our Æra.

This disciple of love, which he is never tired of inculcating in all his writings, was particularly distinguished for his horror of Heresiarchs, the founders of pernicious sects and propagators of false doctrines. We can have no doubt, that in his charity he was tolerant towards those who, having the misfortune of drinking in false doctrines with their mother’s milk, were educated and brought up in the bosom of heresy. He would surely extend the greatest consideration towards those who, brought up from infancy in the profession of false doctrines, may, it is to be hoped, be more or less excused on account of their sincerity and good faith. He surely, would inculcate the same charitable feelings in regard to all future generations. But for the wicked propagators of false doctrines, the founder of Heretical sects, he had no toleration. It is of such, whom he frequently designates as “Antichrists,” he says, notwithstanding the great charity he taught and practised, “If any man come to you and brings not this doctrine, receive him not into the house, or say to him, ‘God speed you,’ for he that saith to him, ‘God speed you,’ communicates with his wicked works” (2 John 10, 11).

Of this he gave a practical example. On one occasion, hearing that Cerinthus was in the same bath with him, he cried out, “Fugiamus ne cadat et opprimat nos balneum in quo lavatur Cerinthus, inimicus veritatis” (Iræneus iii. 4). A similar incident is recorded of St. Polycarp, a disciple of St. John, in relation to the Heretic, Marcion, whose salutation the Saint returned, by saying, “Cognosco primogenitum Diaboli.” Such conduct, far from being uncharitable, is the perfection of the charity we owe our own souls and those of our brethren.


THE Evangelist himself assures us, that his chief object in writing this Gospel was to prove our Lord’s Divinity and Humanity as well, and thus beget faith in this fundamental article of Christian truth, as a necessary means for securing salvation (see page 5). By establishing this fundamental article of faith, the Evangelist fully refutes all the errors, past, present or future, regarding our Lord’s Divinity and His Incarnation. Whether he had also directly intended to refute the errors that sprang up in his own time, is questioned by some. It is, however, generally asserted by ancient ecclesiastical writers, that he had specially in view to meet the errors of Ebion and Cerinthus, who propagated pernicious doctrines even in the Apostle’s lifetime regarding our Lord’s Divinity and Humanity. St. Jerome tells us (Proæm. in Mattheum), he did so, at the earnest entreaty of the Bishops and faithful of Asia, and that he consented, on condition, that a general fast would be proclaimed and fervent prayers offered up to God to erlighten him. After this, eagle-like, gazing steadily on the Son of Justice, transcending all creatures, all space and time, he burst forth into the sublime words, “In principio erat verbum,” etc.


IT is commonly held, that it was written at Ephesus, after the Epistles and Apocalypse, towards the close of the Apostle’s life, shortly before the 100th year of our Æra.

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