Many of our readers probably noticed that Peter and Paul referred to themselves as “Apostles” (Rom. 1:1; 1 Pet. 1:1). The Apostle Paul told the Corinthians, “I was in no respect inferior to the most eminent apostles, even though I am a nobody (2 Cor. 12:11). Paul further described himself by the following: “The distinguishing marks of a true apostle were displayed among you with all perseverance, by signs, wonders, and miracles” (2 Cor. 12:12). As Paul taught, the “proofs” of apostleship were “signs, wonders, and miracles.” However, there were many exceptional believers who did not perform “signs, wonders, and miracles.” For example, there is no proof that John, the Baptist ever performed “signs, wonders, [or] miracles.” John, the Baptist was never called an apostle. On the other hand, most of our readers are familiar with the original Twelve Apostles, and that several others, like Paul, Barnabas, and James (the Lord’s brother) were added to the list of Apostles (Acts 14:14; Gal. 1:19).
For our purposes, it is important to note that the author of the Book of Revelation, the Gospel of John, and I, II, & III John never referred to himself as the Apostle John. The author of the Book of Revelation referred to himself as simply a servant or slave of God (Rev. 1:1). The author of II and III John referred to himself as the Elder (2 John 1:1; 3 John 1:1). The author of the Gospel of John referred to himself as “the disciple who is testifying about these things” (John 21:24), “the disciple whom Jesus loved” (John 13:23, 21:20), and the “other disciple” (John 18:16, 20:2,3,4, 8). Of course, the question about the true identity of John has not escaped the notice of a number of scholars. German scholar Martin Hengel has advanced (in my opinion) a convincing theory about the true identity of John, the Elder. Professor Hengel pointed out that around AD 125-135, Papias of Hieropolis wrote of two Johns teaching in Asia Minor. One John was associated with the Twelve, but the other was John, the Elder.
Despite what many modern scholars contend, Irenaeus (writing in AD 180) taught with certainty that John, the Elder wrote the Gospel of John, The Revelation, and the three letters. Irenaeus believed that John wrote his gospel in Ephesus. Irenaeus never referred to him as John, the Apostle. Irenaeus taught that John, the Elder, lived until and during the reign of Trajan (AD 98-117).
In my view, Professor Hengel provided a fascinating theory and profile about John, the Elder, which answers many questions about the New Testament narrative. First, John, the Elder, was probably several years younger than the Twelve Apostles. Instead of coming from Galilee, this John was from an aristocratic family in Jerusalem. He was either closely associated with or even a member of the High Priest’s family. This would explain how Peter, a Galilean fisherman, was allowed access by the “other disciple” to the House or Houses of Annas and Caiphas on the night of Jesus’ betrayal and imprisonment (John 18:15). The Scripture clearly states that this “other disciple” knew the High Priest and went and spoke to the doorkeeper to allow Peter access to the mansion of Annas and Caiphas (John 18:15-16). Perhaps the reader recalls that while Peter was at the household, he famously denied knowing Jesus three times (John 18:16-27). Interestingly, archeologists have since uncovered the impressive mansion of Caiphas. In my book, Eyes to See the Revelation, I made mention of the fact that Annas was the father-in-law of Caiphas (John 18:12-14), and the two essentially shared the power associated with the Office of the High Priest (Luke 3:2).
John, the Elder, would have also provided all of the information and bird’s eye viewpoint of the various interrogations and trials of Jesus. It is interesting to note that there was a “John” listed as being a member of the High Priest’s family (Acts 4:6). Specifically, the text states that Annas, Caiaphas, John, and Alexander all shared in high-priestly descent (Acts 4:6). Was this John later known as John, the Elder? Professor Hengel points out that there was also an ancient letter of Polycrates of Ephesus written to Victor of Rome that described John, the Elder, as “a priest [who] wore the high-priestly plate on his forehead.” Professor Hengel suggests that this would explain why John was exiled to Patmos. It was common for the Romans to exile disfavored aristocrats, but others, like Peter and Paul, were simply executed or enslaved.
At the famous Last Supper, John (the Elder) was a young man pictured as a favorite disciple reclining adjacent to Jesus, reclining at Jesus’ chest (John 13:23). He was called “the one whom Jesus loved” (John 13:23). In the Gospel of John, he is pictured as an ideal witness with unique insights. He was not a member of the Twelve, but in many ways, he was a more insightful witness. The unique insightfulness of this witness was revealed literarily. On Sunday, after the crucifixion of Jesus, Mary Magdalene reported the empty tomb. John (the one whom Jesus loved) raced Peter to the tomb (John 20:1-5). John beat Peter to the tomb and saw the linen wrappings, but he did not immediately enter because (in my opinion) he was in the process of deducing the resurrection. He “believed” (John 20:8). John (the disciple whom Jesus loved) saw the wrappings and believed (John 20:8), but the other disciples did not understand that Jesus must rise from the dead (John 20:1-8). When John said that he “believed,” he is contrasting himself with the rest of the disciples, including Peter.
Writing under the inspiration of the Spirit, John revealed a friendly competition between the older Galilean fisherman (Peter) and the younger aristocrat from Jerusalem. In our earlier blog, we discussed how the Lord built his Church on the toughness and humility of Peter, but the Lord crowned his Church with the heightened spiritual sensitivity of the unique witness John, the Elder. This friendly competition is apparent in the final chapter of John’s Gospel.
John, Chapter 21 described the famous beach scene along the shores of the Sea of Galilee (a/k/a Sea of Tiberius). The disciples were out fishing on the Sea. Present were Peter, Thomas, Nathaniel, the sons of Zebedee (James and John) and two other unnamed apostles (one of whom Professor Hengel believed was John, the Elder). The disciples went out fishing all night, but with no success. At daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach, but the disciples did not recognize him. Jesus yelled to them, asking if they had caught any fish. The disciples answered, “no” (John 21:5). They still did not recognize Jesus. Jesus instructed them to fish on the right side of the boat, and they caught a great number of fish. Immediately, the disciple whom the Lord loved recognized Jesus, and he proclaimed, “It is the Lord!” (John 21:7). Dressing quickly, Peter threw himself into the Sea and swam to meet the Lord. Thereafter, the rest of the disciples dragged the great catch of fish to the shoreline. Then Peter helped pull the net, full of fish, up on the shore.
Upon the beach, Jesus invited the disciples to a barbecue breakfast. This was the third time that the resurrected Christ appeared to His disciples. During the breakfast meal, Jesus asked Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” (John 21:15). Peter responded, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love you” (John 21:15). Then the Lord responded, “Tend my lambs” (John 21:15). Correlating with Peter’s three denials of Christ, Jesus repeated his question three times. Peter was hurt by the Lord’s repeated questioning, and in answer to the third question, Peter responded, “Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You” (John 21:17). The Lord responded again, “Tend My sheep” (John 21:17). Thereafter, the Lord prophesied Peter’s death by crucifixion, and told Peter, “Follow Me” (John 21:19). It is interesting to note that at the time of the publication of the Gospel of John, Peter’s crucifixion would have occurred decades earlier.
After Peter learned about his predestined crucifixion, a fascinating discourse was exchanged between Peter and the Lord. “Peter turned around and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them – the one who also had leaned back on the Lord’s chest at supper and said, ‘Lord, who is the one who is betraying you?” (John 21:20). Peter looked to the Lord and asked, “[w]hat about this man?” (John 21:21). Interestingly, Peter did not inquire about the fate of anyone else. Peter wanted to know about a particular, unique witness, who Peter knew had a special relationship with the Lord. Curtly, the Lord responded, “If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you. You follow me!” (John 21:22). We Christians must be careful about being overly competitive, which is a type of lust (inordinate desire). Each of us is to simply follow Christ and seek His will.
Professor Hengel asserts that the title and heading “The Gospel According to John” was a part of the text. Further, at John 21:24, we read another description of the author, “This is the disciple who is testifying about these things and wrote these things, and we know that his testimony is true.” Again, John was simply called “the disciple”, not “the apostle.” Professor Hengel believes that in verse 21:24, the “we” were students of John the Elder, who assured that the Gospel of John was published (after John’s death) and circulated.
Finally, it should be noted that all of the gospel writers included a description of the arrest of Jesus. Each narrative included the information about how one disciple accompanying Jesus drew his sword and struck the ear of the High Priest’s slave. However, only John includes the name of the slave, being Malchus (John 18:10). This piece of trivia is unnecessary, but by including this information, the author (John) signaled to the reader that he had a special and intimate knowledge about the family of the High Priest. John also added that Peter was the disciple who drew his sword.
There is no doubt that John was purposely cryptic about his identity. It is reasonable for us to ask, “Why?”. John (the Apostle) and John (the Elder) both lived in Ephesus. They probably knew each other well. John (the Apostle) probably died several decades before John (the Elder). The Elder was not one of the Twelve. At various times, John’s ministry and message was under severe attack. We can surmise that to John, the message was what mattered, not who got the credit. He probably encouraged the conflation of his name with John, the Apostle’s name to piggyback on the reputation of John, the Apostle – one of the original Twelve (a miracle worker). This is one potential explanation. Additionally, I believe that the mystery surrounding the identity of John is representative of the reality surrounding all Church Age believers. The Old Testament heroes of faith were generally recognized as public figures. As a further example, Hebrews, Chapter 11, lists the names of a number of special Old Testament heroes of faith. We also learn from the pages of the New Testament the many names of certain special First Century heroes of faith. However, the heroes of faith living during the Church Age are largely anonymous. As stated in my previous blog, John, the Elder, succinctly described the beauty and simplicity of the New Covenant Spiritual Life. However, only God is fit to judge who and how many actually live and fulfill this new way of being. Such knowledge is hidden from human observation. The Church Age heroes of faith live incognito. The true heroes of the Church Age will be revealed in our future. In fact, there are many mysteries that will not be explained or unveiled until the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.
 Hengel, Martin. The Johannine Question. Translated by John Bowden. SCM Press, London / Trinity Press International, Philadelphia,1989, pp. 16-17.
 Hengel, pp. 16-17.
 Hengel, pp. 2-3.
 Hengel, pp. 2-3.
 Hengel, pp. 2-3
 Hengel, pp. 124-126.
 Fraser, Ryan. “The High Priest Caiaphas’ House.” Jackson Sun, 15 Mar. 2018, https://www.jacksonsun.com/story/opinion/columnists/2018/03/15/high-priest-caiaphas-house/429788002/.
 Smith, T. Kenan. Eyes to See The Revelation: A Spiritual Journey. Westbow Press, 2019, pp. 169-170.
 Hengel, p. 125.
 Hengel, p. 126.
 Hengel, pp. 74-75.
 Hengel, pp. 83-84.