What was Jesus really like? How different were His teachings compared to that of His disciples? If we only used the four Gospels as our example to follow the Lord, would they be enough? For the next little while, we will look closely at Jesus’ sermons, His interactions with people, His take on the Scriptures and His views of the society and culture of His day. How He related to the people, politics, and issues in His world, plays a huge part in how we relate to them, as His followers, in our world.
To be a disciple of Jesus means “to follow Him.” But what does that look like for the 21st century Christian? Where does one start in not only following Jesus but in knowing Him? We start with an eye-witness to His life, death, and resurrection – the Apostle John.
Who was the Apostle John? What was his relationship to Jesus?
You might be surprised to discover that James and John, the “Sons of Thunder” as Jesus called them, were His cousins. The next few Scriptures make this clear.
“Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them, and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him” (Matthew 4:21-22).
“These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon (who is called Peter) and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John” (Matthew 10:2).
“Many women were there, watching from a distance. They had followed Jesus from Galilee to care for his needs. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joses, and the mother of Zebedee’s sons” (Matthew 27:55-56).
We see right away that the father of James and John was Zebedee. But who was the mother of Zebedee’s sons? We get our answer in the following verse:
“Some women were watching from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome” (Mark 15:40).
Mark 15:40 confirms that Salome was Zebedee’s wife. But how is she related to Jesus? We find out, at the cross.
“Now there stood by the cross of Jesus His mother, and His mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene” (John 19:25).
“There were also women looking on from afar, among whom were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the Less and of Joses, and Salome” (Mark 15:40).
At Jesus’ cross, we see his mother, and two other Mary’s – Mary Magdalene and Mary, the wife of Clopas. This Mary was the mother of James the Less and Joses. And we see one other woman – Mary’s sister – Salome – wife of Zebedee, mother of James and John and Jesus’ cousins.
Now we know who John was and why Jesus loved him so (John 13:23, John 21:20). He was family. It is easy now to see why James and John left their father Zebedee to follow Jesus. It wasn’t a random event where some guy comes to their fishing boat, preaches and says, “Come follow me!” People don’t up and leave their livelihood to follow a stranger. But they do when they know the background of that stranger. They do when they’ve heard the stories growing up about his conception and birth. They follow because they know who He is. And that is where John begins his gospel – with Jesus’ identity. And that is where we will start too.
Who is Jesus?
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it” (John 1:1-5).
“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only-begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).
The Word has always been. He was with God and was God. All things were made through the Word. In the Word was life and the life was the light of men. And that Word became flesh and dwelt among us. His name was Jesus.
Who is Jesus?
He is God.
God came to earth. He took on human flesh and dwelt among us. He was His own firstborn. His “begotten” son. Jesus’ name “Emmanuel” literally means “God with us.” But God wanted the whole experience as a human, so He gave up his divinity to experience humanity with all its temptations, its sickness, its highs and lows, its harshness and cruelty, to show us how to live.
“Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:5-11, NKJV).
The Word (the Torah) which explains so clearly how holy God is and how we should live, literally became flesh to be a living example of what that entails. At any point, He could have stopped the experiment. He was the King of the universe who could have rained down fire from the cross on his tormentors, but instead chose to save them by completing His mission. And what was His mission? To save us.
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved” (John 3:16-17, NKJV).
John 3:16 is famous, but John 3:17 is a keeper as well. God didn’t come into the world to condemn us, but to save us. But a lot happened before the cross. Lessons on how to live not only for God but how to live with each other.
We will look at those in the weeks ahead as we get to know Jesus.