Insights on the Apocalypse of John: Who is John?

Thanks for tuning into another installment of this series of insights I found myself convinced of after my doctoral studies focusing on the Apocalypse of John. This post will deal with the [human] author of this document: John. 

Scholars have, for the most part, taken the identity of this figure as being either the Apostle (John of Zebedee) or a Christian prophet named John, known by the seven churches in Asia Minor. Other suggestions, such as the one proposed in Ford’s commentary in the Anchor Bible series, that this is John the Baptist, have not found many followers. There is a strong tradition tied to the Apocalypse being composed by the Apostle John, but we know how reliable ‘traditions’ can be. Nevertheless, it is prudent to look at all the evidence concerning this person named John before coming to a conclusion on his identity.

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One thing is for certain: John does not claim to be one of the apostles. We know from Paul’s letters (esp. 1 and 2 Corinthians) that, at times, apostles were not hesitant to pull rank in order to bring order to a chaotic Christian community. The John of the Apocalypse does no such thing. We also know from Paul’s letters that an apostle can excommunicate a disobedient member, even when they aren’t physically present at the Christian gathering (cf. 1 Cor. 5:1-3). When a so-called prophetess designated as “Jezebel” stirs up trouble in Thyatira, John does not seem to have the authority to put her out of the church (as Paul demonstrated). He does, however, claim to be a servant (1:1), a brother (1:9), and a fellow partaker in the tribulation, kingdom, and nonviolent endurance (1:9).

The “Twelve Apostles” are mentioned in Rev. 18:20 and 21:14, but they are described as a group distinct from John. He makes no attempt to include himself in this group. It does not, therefore, seem that the John of the Apocalypse is one of the Twelve. If that is the case, who is he and what authority does he really possess? His manner of discourse is through persuasion.

His prophetic authority is derived from his personal conviction that the risen Jesus has commissioned him by signifying the apocalyptic experience through an angelic mediator (1:1, 3; 22:7, 10, 18-19). This means that John saw himself as a Christian prophet whose purpose was to communicate his visionary experiences to the seven churches of Asia Minor. It is difficult to tell how much exposure he actually had with the churches. It is true that he had developed some prophetic rivals, such as the Nicolatians and the prophetess Jezebel. Therefore, the Christian communities in Asia Minor had to decide whether or not the prophet John truly had legitimate prophetic authority.  

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2 thoughts on “Insights on the Apocalypse of John: Who is John?

  1. Hope you do not mind if I put this on FB discussion sites. I’ll leave your name out, unless you want other wise.

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