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Who's That Writing?

John the Revelator

John 20:30-31

30 And truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book; 31 but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.

He is known as “The Elder.” He is a living legend to the local churches that he serves in the coastal towns of this part of Asia Minor. He is an elder in age as well as in the title he holds, for in his nearly eight decades of life he has beheld places and events that changed the world. He has looked into the eyes of the Lamb of God and known not only his savior but the closest friend he would ever have.

The Elder is the John the Elder, the younger brother of James, the son of Zebedee. He is the last living apostle of Jesus—and now he will give us his account of the Christ.

He is surrounded by friends and fellow believers in this community. Many probably come to him to learn at his feet or to hear stories of Jesus from one who witnessed them happen. As John speaks he gets the faraway look of misty memory in his eyes as he recalls the dusty roads of Judea and the dark fragrant gardens of the Jerusalem hills.

It will not last much longer, for in just a few years persecution under Roman emperor Domitian will spike and John will find himself exiled to the rocky island of Patmos. There he will receive the earth-shattering vision of the Final Victory that will become the Book of Revelation. He will be known by some in later centuries as “”John the Revelator”—at least in circles of American blues:

John the Revelator, great advocator
Gets 'em on the battle of Zion
Lord, tellin' the story, risin' in glory
Cried, "Lord, don't you love some I"

Now tell me who's that a writing? John The Revelator
Who's that a writing? John The Revelator
Who's that a writing? John The Revelator
A book of the seven seals               

- Blind Willie Johnson 1930

These words were first recorded by bluesman Blind Willie Johnson for Capital Records in downtown Atlanta in 1930. Joined by his wife Willie B. Harris who sings the almost mournful refrain, they together produce a sound that seems to echo the tone of terrible judgment and joyous liberation that join as in a time of release from physical slavery and slavery to sin.

If you wish to hear the tune you can find it here: (5) Blind Willie Johnson - John the Revelator - YouTube or for a more contemporary take by guitar virtuoso Phil Keaggy you can check it out here: (5) Blues Counsel w/ Phil Keaggy - John The Revelator - YouTube [warning: both links contain intense amounts of talent that may result in high levels of blues entering your bloodstream, leading to a permanent conditions of enjoyment.]

First, however, John remembers the past and how even yet it illuminates the present. He casts his mind across the decades since those sunny days on the run with the beloved maverick rabbi and his fellow disciples.

It has been sixty years since John walked and talked with his beloved teacher and friend.

Sixty years since he beheld the wonder of the lame man healed and rising from his bed.

Sixty years since he carried a basket and collected loads of fish and bread after five thousand people had been fed from a little boy’s lunch.

Sixty years since the agonizing days of the betrayal, the trial, the cross, and the running ahead of Peter to stumble through the door of the empty tomb.

Sixty years of serving the man from Galilee as he ministered to the communities of believers who flocked to hear more of the words and life of Jesus.

You may recall the refrain of the old hymn, most likely composed by enslaved African-Americans in the 19th century:

Were you there when they crucified my Lord?
Were you there when they crucified my Lord?
Oh, sometimes if causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.
Were you there when they crucified my Lord?

Yes, John was there.

And now he wants to take you back there with him. John has reached a place in life where he has been compelled by the Holy Spirit to use the wisdom of his years and experience to compose his Gospel.

Other Gospels have already been penned—Matthew, Mark and Luke—each with their own themes and picture of the Christ. They are synoptic and even seem to build upon the other at times. Mark has its abundant accounts of Jesus’s miracles. Matthew and Luke are filled with parables.

Though each Gospel contains elements of all of the others in accounts of miracles, parables, and stories of the Christ, John’s Gospel will be different. It will seem to fill in the gaps, but, in reality, will also reflect John’s own deeply personal experiences with his powerful savior, beloved teacher, and best friend.

In John’s Gospel there is no genealogy as in Matthew, such as one that would appeal to a Jewish reader seeking confirmation of the Davidic prophesies. He does not launch into Jesus’s ministry as does Mark, who seems to bear his message of the Christ with urgency to his audience of Jewish followers of The Way. Nor does John include the Nativity story in such detail as Luke—who geared to a gentile Christian audience, goes through great pains to show Jesus’s  birth as the infant child of God now among men.

The other Gospels most often quote the Old Testament from the Law as they relate Jesus’s words and His perfect fulfillment of the debt of sin. John quotes most often from passages of wisdom.

This focus on wisdom is one of the most striking characteristics of John’s Gospel. It is clear from the very first verse that a new account is being presented:

 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

 Something new and different is happening here from the first words of the first verse. The gulf of heaven is being crossed and a new beginning is taking place—a spiritual as well as physical rebirth.

Clement of Alexandria claimed that John’s Gospel was the most spiritual of the accounts of Jesus. In some aspects this is true in that John’s picture does capture the intensity of the Man of Sorrows as He makes His way to the cross through the joys and pains of His earthly ministry.

You would assume that a more spiritual account of Jesus would make Him unattainable to you—another marble god in a pantheon of many. Instead, the uniqueness of John’s account is that it also shows how human Jesus is. Instead of driving you away from His perfection, the spiritual heart and focus of Christ only serves to bring Him closer to us.

His holiness and majesty do not repel us but attract us to him. In his sheer apartness he is near to our need. He is able to save us not only because he is like us, but also because he is different from us. The isolation into which he was "lifted up" not only on the cross but also even in his exaltation draws us to himself (John 12:32). –Ronald S. Wallace, The Gospel of John

In John’s Gospel we see a wondrous blend of deep spiritual thoughts and the pure simplicity of the Nazarene who came to live, as well as to die, to conquer death.

John uses simple images in his themes that you can almost touch and feel: light, water, bread, seed.

It is not hard to imagine John hearing the crunch of bread being broken in the upper room and remembering the words spoken by Jesus as he fed thousands:

35 And Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst.–John 6:35

He would come to realize that the hands that broke the bread truly belonged to the Bread of Life—whose own hands would be cruelly broken within a few painful hours.

John crafts his account as he relates the life of Jesus and the wisdom that the Savior gives in dichotomies that fire the mind:

Light and darkness
Love and hate
Above and below
Life and death
Truth and falsehood

This would speak to the hearts of his largely Greek gentile Christian audience just as it does to your modern heart today. These themes capture what you experience along the road of life and will answer the deepest questions you have.

As John looks back as a man in the twilight of his years, you can easily imagine him drawing on his treasured memories of Jesus and the long years of his own ministry. He now takes the time to share this wisdom with you through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Can you imagine being part of that community of believers in the early church and worshipping with John? Have you ever met a celebrity? It is hard to say whether John would have had true celebrity status in his home community, although it is thought that he had his own core of disciples who assisted him with his gospel and ministry. If you sat at the feet of John to listen to him teach or at the Love Feast of the table, you would be aware that he had met and loved The Lamb in person.

Why did John write his gospel? The answer can be found in chapter 20:

31 but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.–John 20:31

John reveals why he wrote his account of Jesus: “that you may believe.”

Do you believe? I assume you do, but there can be a difference in simply believing and growing in wisdom and understanding. As you explore John’s Gospel, pray that God would reveal to you His wisdom in the sweet words of Jesus and the account of His life that is filled with simplicity, as well as the deep knowledge of ancient promises fulfilled and eternal hopes realized.


The Monday—Friday DEEPs are written by Mike Slay and this Saturday Deep is written by Matt Richardson. To subscribe to all the DEEPs click here:

The weekly study guides, which include the Monday–Friday devotionals plus related questions for discussion or meditation, are available for download here:

Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. ESV stands for the English Standard Version. © Copyright 2001 by Crossway. Used by permission. All rights reserved. NIV stands for The Holy Bible, New International Version®. © Copyright 1973 by International Bible Society. Used by permission. All rights reserved. KJV stands for the King James Version.


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