He was a fisherman, and so was quite likely not educated much higher than the primary level. The thinking of his days perhaps was that men like him did not need much schooling. They needed to learn the ins-and-outs of their trade fast in order to join the labour force.
Manual labourers depend on their skills to earn a living and feed their families. Furthermore, there was the exorbitant taxes made worse by dishonest tax collectors who lined their own pockets—men like Levi, also known as Matthew.
He came from a family of fishermen. How many generations before him had been fishermen? We have no way of knowing. He went out every evening to the Sea of Galilee with his father, Zebedee, and his brother, James.
His name was John.
John and his fellows often toiled at the nets till daybreak when they returned weary, either with a good catch or a bad one. A good catch meant they were to feed the family and pay for other domestic needs. A bad one, well…
The life of a fisherman has always been a tough existence, especially in the ancient world. They did not have the advantage of modern technology. Much of what they did was heavily dependent on brawn and muscles.
It was not too far-fetched to imagine the young man John was tanned and muscular, a tough guy in a very physical sense.
He might have a rough sense of humour, not uncommon among hard labourers. His work ethic must be good to survive at his trade. What vices did he have? Did he curse and swear? Was he a drinker? We do not know.
What we do know is that John and his brother James had a fiery temper.
Jesus gave the brothers a nickname. He called them “Boanerges, which is, The sons of thunder (Mark 3:17).”
Then there was that incident in Samaria.
“And it came to pass, when the time was come that he should be received up, he stedfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem, And sent messengers before his face: and they went, and entered into a village of the Samaritans, to make ready for him. And they did not receive him, because his face was as though he would go to Jerusalem. And when his disciples James and John saw this, they said, Lord, wilt thou that we command fire to come down from heaven, and consume them, even as Elias did? But he turned, and rebuked them, and said, Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of. For the Son of man is not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them. And they went to another village (Luke 9:51-56).”
The brothers were provoked by the Samaritans so much that they wished destruction upon the Samaritans, just for snubbing their Master.
John, despite his fierce temper and tough exterior, was a loyal and sentimental friend. He ran like the rest of the disciples when Jesus was arrested, but later he and Peter tailed the party and John even managed to make his way into the palace of the high priest (cf. John 18:15).
He was there too at the cross when the Lord entrusted His mother to his care (cf. John 19:26-27).
Many years later he would write his account of the ministry of Jesus—His life, death and resurrection—so readers would believe (cf. John 20:30-31). He would write three letters that would stir later commentators to dub him the apostle of love. He would close the canon of Holy Scripture with the revelation the Lord gave him on the isle of Patmos.
He had a long and fruitful ministry as an apostle of Jesus Christ. He suffered much for the sake of the gospel but he never wavered.
What turned this Son of Thunder into the loving, gentle apostle who constantly exhorted the saints to love one another? Did he mellow with age? Did the sufferings he endured under the harsh conditions of the Roman world as a Christian break his zealous spirit, if not his faith?
No, that was not it. His spirit was not broken. His zeal was not taken from him. He did not mellow with age. What transformed the fiery-tempered young fisherman into the longsuffering apostle of love was his encounter with Jesus Christ.
Jesus loved this disciple dearly. The Holy Spirit called John the disciple whom Jesus loved (cf. John 13:23; 19:26). Over the three and half years he was with the Lord, observing Him up close and learning from Him, John was gradually transformed from a worldly-minded young man into a servant fit for the Master’s use.
Many of us perhaps struggled with a bad temper, like John. We may be bothered by other issues in our lives. Temptations may seem to never leave us alone. We may be secretly ashamed of our lack of success with self-control. We may wish longingly to one day finally be as godly and joyful as certain brethren we admire.
Turn to the Lord Jesus. Saturate yourself in His word. Meditate upon His teachings. Observe Him. Learn from Him. Obey Him, whatever the cost may be. Be persistent in following Him; never quit. One day, by and by, the power of the word will transform you.
A disciple from long ago can vouch for it. He’s been there, done that.
His name was John.