JOHN THE SON OF THUNDER
Dr. W. A. Criswell
4-27-86 8:15 a.m.
Now in your Bible turn to the third chapter of Mark; Mark chapter 3, and if you are listening on radio, join with us in the First Baptist Church of Dallas, to Mark chapter 3. We are going to read verses 13 through 17. Mark chapter 3, verses 13 through 17; now let’s read it out loud together:
And He goeth up into a mountain, and calleth unto Him whom He would: and they came unto Him.
And He ordained twelve, that they should be with Him, and that He might send them forth to preach,
And to have power to heal sicknesses, and to cast out devils:
And Simon he surnamed Peter;
And James the son of Zebedee, and John the brother of James; and He surnamed them Boanerges, which is, the Sons of Thunder.
I feel this morning as though I am entering the very Holy of Holies of heaven. This is the introductory message on the series that the pastor will be delivering from the Gospel of John; the title of the message today, John the Son of Thunder. God called him Boanerges, the Son of Thunder.
John’s name is forever linked with the ancient Greek city of Ephesus. There is in the modern counterpart of Ephesus a section called Ayasuluk, which is a Turkish corruption of the Greek hagios theologos, “the holy theologian.” It is so named because the apostle lived there and pastored the church there for an uncounted number of years; we don’t know how long. When John was a hundred years old he was still alive. That’s why the addendum to his Gospel: the twenty-first chapter is added to the Gospel. There was the supposition that John would be alive when Jesus came, and he writes that addendum delineating where the rumor came from and how it was not exactly what the Lord said. John lived to an ancient age; and meditated all through those years and years upon the meaning of Jesus the incarnate Son of God to the world.
In the first chapter of the Book of John, verse 6, he writes, “There was a man sent from God whose name was John.” There have been many men sent from God whose name is John: John the Baptist; John Chrysostom, John the Golden Mouth, the most incomparable preacher who ever lived, pastor at Antioch and later at Constantinople; John Huss; John Wycliffe; John Calvin; John Knox; John Milton; John Bunyan. When the Baptist World Alliance was organized the first president was a London preacher, John Clifford. There are more children named for John than any other man in the history of the human race. He belonged to a Galilean family in the fishing business. His father was Zebedee. His mother was Salome, who was a sister of Mary the mother of Jesus. His brother was James. And their business was large enough that they had hired servants.
God gave to John a mind like unto none other in the history of mankind. He is veritably a Christian Plato. The difference lies not in their profundity of thinking or the depth of their philosophy or their quiet meditative spirit; the difference lies in their teaching. The teacher of Plato was Socrates; and those three great books that Plato wrote, they reflect the teaching of Socrates; the Symposium, the Apology, and the Phaedo. But the difference lies in the great teacher of John. His teacher was God, the incarnate Lord Jesus. And in his Gospel, and in the epistles, and in the Apocalypse we have before us the depths and the heights and the breadth of the meaning of God to the world and to us.
In the prologue, which is the finest piece of literature ever composed, the finest whether by men or angels, in the prologue, the first fourteen verses of the Gospel of John, he speaks of the Logos, logos. That’s a Greek philosophical conception, translated in the King James Version “Word”: “In the beginning was the Word, in the beginning was the Logos.” A contemporary of John was Philo, the great, far-famed Jewish philosopher of Alexandria. Philo wrote a book on the logos. The difference between Philo and John: the logos in Philo is a cold, barren conception; it’s a notion; it’s an idea of the expression of God. But in the Gospel of John, the Logos is a human being: it is Jesus, it is the incarnate Deity. And the difference is between heaven and earth.
The real John is so different from the conception of the world. John in art and in literature and in stained-glass windows, John is always presented with the delicate, refined features of a woman. He is always beardless, he is always youthful, and he’s always mystical, and retired, and timorous, self-effacing and gentle. But the real apostle John is a thousand miles different from what you see in art and in literature and in the stained glass window. You have a fine idea of his personality in the Gospels: he was belligerent, he was volative, he was vindictive, he was explosive!
When Jesus proposed to go into a Samaritan village and they wouldn’t receive Him, John, following the precedent that he read in the life of Elijah, John said, “Lord, let’s call down fire from heaven on them! Let’s burn them up!” [Luke 9:54]. That’s John. When John came across somebody casting out devils in the name of the Lord Jesus, John forbad them because they didn’t follow the Lord Jesus. That’s John. And when you think of him as being self-effacing and gentle and retiring, it was John who with James came to Jesus and said, “Lord, when You come into Your temporal kingdom, let me sit on Your right hand and my brother on Your left hand” [Mark 10:35-37]. He was ambitious as well as volative. But there’s something about a man like that, a spirit like that, a volative response like that, that God can use.
A ship that is steaming with great power through the ocean you can guide and steer; you can’t do anything with a ship that is wallowing as a drifter in the trough of the sea. Iron that has temper in it, you can hone down to a razor edge and make it a fine surgical instrument; you can’t do anything with soft mush. Jesus was so sensitive to that. In the third chapter of the Revelation, he speaks of the Laodiceans: “You are neither cold, you are neither hot, you are not fish, fowl, or flesh; you make Me sick. I could spew you out of My mouth” [Revelation 3:15-16]. People who are indifferent to the great gospel of Christ and the message of the Lord God are opprobrious in His sight; they’re useless. But a man who has spirit, and dedication, and life, and response, God can use a man like that. That’s John. That’s John.
I speak now of the Gospel; John and the Gospel. And I say, when I come to the preparation of these messages on the Fourth Gospel, the Gospel of John, I have the feeling I am walking into the presence of the great God our Savior. I’m entering the Holy of Holies. I am looking on the face of God Himself. You see, John meditated and prayed and communed with the Lord Jesus for over seventy years, and in the profundity of that companionship and fellowship and communion, he wrote this Gospel for the world.
The most marvelous organ of the human frame is the eye, to see. The most wonderful faculty of the soul is the inward eye, to see, to be sensitive to, to understand; and that’s John. Thinking, communing, praying through the scores and the scores of years, he came into a profound knowledge of the meaning of the incarnation of God in Christ Jesus. And the wonder and the miracle of it all is this: writing the most profound book in human language; if you read it in Greek it is the simplest Greek you’ll ever read; if you read it in English it’ll be the simplest words you’ll ever follow; profound but simple, deep but a child can understand. That’s John.
He writes of God the Father. I took my concordance and counted the number of references John makes to God the Father; there are one hundred twenty-three. In ancient art, John is always portrayed as an eagle soaring up to the heavens. It’s the only bird that can look into the face of the sun. That’s the ancient depicture of John: soaring up into the heavens and in the heights there seeing God as light and life and love.
John and the Holy Spirit, Deity: if you would read what the Holy Spirit means for us, we turn to the Gospel of John. He uses a word to describe the Holy Spirit that is peculiar to Him: he calls Him parakletos, the Paraclete. Para means “alongside,” kaleo means “to call”; translated in the King James Version “the Comforter.” The Holy Spirit of God is the One who walks with us alongside, who is with us in our deepest being, who lives in our hearts, who is our strength and guide and Comforter, who is always with us. Let me say it like this: to John, the doctrine of the Holy Spirit is not something written out in cold language, it’s an experience of the soul. The fellowship, the presence of God in us, that’s the Holy Spirit according to John.
And when I speak of John and the Lord Jesus, how can God give me words to describe its meaning and its depth. As John thought of the Lord, communed and prayed, the incarnation of God in Jesus became an increasing amazing and wondrous miracle. The climax of his Fourth Gospel is the twentieth chapter. And the climax of the twentieth chapter is the doubting Thomas exclaiming, “My Lord and my God” [John 20:28]. Jesus, God, the Godhead, the incarnation of the great Jehovah God; that’s John.
Matthew speaks of Jesus as the Messiah fulfilling all of those prophecies of the Jewish Old Testament. Mark is a Roman writer, speaking of Jesus as the great doer. Luke, with a spirit of a woman, speaks of Jesus tenderly as our great sympathizer and sufferer. John portrays Jesus as God, the Son of God. To John, the essence of antichrist and unbelief is a denial of the incarnation. To John, the very substance and essence and quintessence of the truth of the living Lord is that God was in Christ Jesus, reconciling the world unto Himself [2 Corinthians 5:19]. To John, the great divide in all doctrine is the incarnation of Christ. Jesus is God, and as such, John worshiped the Lord. John exalted the Lord. John lifted Him up. And when we enter that Fourth Gospel, we also will find ourselves on our faces and on our knees, bowed in awe and reverence, in worship and adoration of the great God and our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. That is John.
And he presents the deity of our Lord in a wondrous and glorious way. He does it in his own heart, and in his own language, and in his own presence, and in his own experience. He was there. He was there. And he writes out of the fullness of the meaning of what he saw, what he shared, and what he felt. When John the Baptist lifted up his hand and voice and said, “Behold the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world” [John 1:29], John was there, and John followed after the Lord Jesus. He was there. He writes out of the depth of his personal response.
When the Lord entered His miraculous ministry, John was there. The whole Judean ministry of Jesus is told only by John. He was there. The resurrection, the raising from the dead of Lazarus is told only by John. He was there. He writes out of the fullness of what he’d seen, what he’d heard, what he’d experienced. He was there.
When the Lord drew aside those apostles that were most intimate and closest, John was there. He was one of them. When the Lord instituted the Lord’s Supper, he was there. He leaned on the bosom of the Lord Jesus. He was there. Five times he refers to himself as “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” He was there.
When the Lord was on trial before Caiaphas the high priest, John was there. The Fourth Gospel says that he was known to the high priest, and he had entree into that judgment hall presided over by Caiaphas. He was there. And when the Lord Jesus was crucified and raised up on a cross, John was there. He was the only disciple who was there. And when the Lord looked down, saw His mother; He commended her to the care and love of John [John 19:27]. He was there. And when they laid Him in the tomb, John was there. And when He arose up from the dead, the first believer in the resurrection of Jesus was John. He was there. Before He was even seen alive, glorified, immortalized, when John saw the grave clothes undisturbed but empty, he believed that Jesus was raised from the dead [John 20:8]. He was there, the first believer in the resurrection of the Lord.
And when John wrote the conclusion to his Gospel, he reached out to us: he said, “There are so many other things that Jesus did,” he calls them semeia, “confirming signs,” affirming presentations of the deity of God, “There are so many other semeia that if I were to write them, the world itself would not hold the books that would be written [John 21:25]. But these are written,” he says, “that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you might have life through His name” [John 20:30-31]; reaching out to the generations who should follow after, and reaching out to us – “These things are written, that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and believing you might have life in His name.”
Were you there?
Were you there when they nailed Him to the cross?
Were you there?
Were you there when they laid Him in the tomb?
Oh, sometimes it [causes] me to tremble, tremble, tremble.
Were you there when they laid Him in the tomb?
Were you there?
Were you there when [God raised Him] from the [tomb]?
Were you there?
Oh sometimes I feel like shouting Glory! Glory! Glory!
Were you there when [God raised Him] from the [tomb]?
[adapted from “Were You There?” African American Spiritual]
And will you open your arms to receive Him when He comes in clouds of glory down from the sky?
Lord, grant it I’ll be in that number, loving Thee, believing in Thee, trusting Thee, serving Thee, waiting for Thee, ready for Thee. Grant it, Lord, for us, without loss of one. Ready, Lord, any day, any time: come.
This is the Gospel of John.
Denny, we’re going to sing us a song. And while we sing that hymn of appeal, to open your heart to the Lord Jesus, to come into the fellowship of His church, to answer some appeal of the Spirit in your heart, just to come for prayer, maybe facing a decision, maybe seeking God’s strength and help and presence, as the Lord would place in your heart the yielded surrenderedness to answer with your life, come and welcome. “Pastor, this is God’s day for me, and I’m on the way.” In this moment when we stand and sing our appeal, on the first note of the first stanza, come. A thousand times welcome. And may angels attend you in the way. In the balcony round, down one of these stairways; in the press of people on this lower floor, down one of these aisles, “Pastor, God has spoken to me, and here I stand.” The Lord bless you as you come, while we stand and while we sing.