« PreviousContinue »
Temple, it claimed their allegiance. This state of affairs continued until the year 67, when the exodus of the Church of Jerusalem to Pella took place. After that, in the year 70, the Temple was destroyed. Then a new era appeared, that of the Messianic Kingdom. Jesus preached the Gospel of the Kingdom (Matt. ix. 35). The Apostles were sent to preach it. It is generally recognised that God's Church is His KingdomChurch Militant and Church Triumphant. When the Temple and Judaism fell, Christianity stood alone, and the primacy of the Church passed away from Jerusalem. S. John's life was spared to chronicle these events and their relation to the Kingdom. This is a part of his Revelation.
“When the days of Pentecost were accomplished, the Apostles were all together in one place. ... And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and they began to speak with divers tongues, according as the Holy Ghost gave them to speak” (Acts ii. 1, 4). Besides the Aramaic of his native Galilee, it is probable that S. John knew Greek, which was the lingua franca of the East. Greeks are not mentioned amongst those surprised at the Apostolic display of the gift of tongues. “But Parthians and Medes and Elamites and inhabitants of Mesopotamia," are mentioned (Acts ii. 9). There is reason to believe, as we shall see presently, that S. John spent some years preaching “the Kingdom” in Mesopotamia, where he would have amongst his hearers, Parthians, Medes and Elamites.
S. John seems to have prayed regularly in the Temple, as an orthodox Jew. “Now Peter and John went up into the Temple at the ninth hour of prayer. And a certain man who was lame from his mother's womb was carried ” to the gate of the Temple. “He when he had seen Peter and John about to go into the Temple asked to receive an alms. But Peter with John fastening his eyes upon him, said, Look upon us” (Acts iii. I, 4). Whereupon ș. Peter lifted him up and made him sound of limb, miraculously, in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth. "And as he held Peter and John all the people ran to them to the porch, which is called Solomon's, greatly wondering (Acts iii. 11). S. John was associated with S. Peter in the performance of this great miracle, and shared with him in the honour of it. S. Peter took the opportunity of preaching Jesus Christ to the assembled crowds. In this also he appears to have been helped by S. John. “And as they were speaking to the people, the priests and the officer of the Temple and the Sadducees came upon them. ... And they laid hands upon them and put them in hold till the next day, for it was now evening” (Acts iv. 1-3). They were both imprisoned for the night, and next day they were tried before “Annas the high
priest and Caiphas and John and Alexander and as many as were of the kindred of the high priest" (Acts iv. 6). “Now seeing the constancy of Peter and of John, understanding that they were illiterate and ignorant men, they wondered.” “They charged them not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John answering said to them. If it be just in the sight of God to hear you rather than God, judge ye. “But they threatening sent them away, because of the people" (Acts iv. 13-21).
As the result of other miraculous cures wrought by S. Peter, the Apostles were put in prison. “And they laid hands on the Apostles and put them in the common prison ” (Acts v. 18). This was S. John's second imprisonment. “But an Angel of the Lord by night opening the doors of the prison and leading them out, said, Go, and standing speak in the Temple to the people, all the words of this life" (Acts v. 19). Accordingly we find S. John preaching in the Temple with the other Apostles. They were again arrested and brought before the Council, who were so cut to the heart by Peter answering, that they thought to put them to death. But Gamaliel, a member of the Council, dissuaded them from it. Instead of killing them, they scourged them and dismissed them with orders not to preach Jesus. S. John experienced the lash as well as imprisonment. Nevertheless he and the other Apostles every day ceased not in the Temple, to teach and preach Christ Jesus (Acts v. 26-42). Not long after this S. Stephen was martyred, and a great persecution was raised against the Church of Jerusalem, so that Christians were dispersed through Judea and Samaria, except the Apostles. “Now when the Apostles who were in Jerusalem had heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent unto them Peter and John ” (Acts viii. 14), showing that these two great Apostles were looked upon as colleagues. Some time after this, when the Church had peace throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria, S. Peter went visiting all the Churches (Acts ix. 31, 32). It seems that on this occasion S. John stayed in Jerusalem. In the meanwhile S. Paul had been converted and had spent some years evangelising the Gentiles with great success. However, some disciples from Judea who believed in the necessity of complying with the Old Law, came amongst them and taught them, "That except you be circumcised after the manner of Moses, you cannot be saved ” (Acts xv. I). This led to Paul and Barnabas, who objected to putting such an imposition on the Gentiles, going up to Jerusalem to get the matter settled by the Apostles. A council was held at which S. John was present. S. Paul says, And when they had known the grace that was given to me,
James and Cephas and John, who seemed to be pillars, gave to me and Barnabas, the right hands of fellowship, that we should go unto the Gentiles and they unto the circumcision " (Gal. ii. 9). This was about the year 52 A.D.
Clement, in the ninth book of his Institutions, says that Peter and James and John, after the Ascension of our Saviour, though they had been preferred by our Lord, did not contend for the honour, but chose “ James the Just” as Bishop of Jerusalem (Euseb. H. E. ii. 1). James, the brother of John, was beheaded for his faith by Herod Agrippa, c. 42 A.D. (Acts xii. 1 f.). S. Paul recognised James the Just, S. Peter and S. John as pillars of the Church of Jerusalem. And he agreed with them that he should go unto the Gentiles and they unto the Circumcision. S. Peter had but lately returned from Rome, where there was a very large colony of Jews. He seems to have been forced to leave by the edict of Claudius expelling Jews from Rome, C. 51 A.D. He returned to Rome later. The next period of S. John's life is not well documented.
Here we may pause and review some conditions in the Nazarene Church, which appear to be reflected in the Revelation of S. John. When our Saviour died the Apostles, according to Apollonius (c. 180 A.D.), remained in Jerusalem for twelve years (Euseb. H. E. v. 18). The Blessed Virgin was there, and it may be supposed that all those who were connected by ties of kindred or marriage to the Holy Family and the Apostles, were also there and formed the nucleus of the Nazarene Church. Thousands of other converts were made by the Apostles. See Acts ii. 41 and iv. 4, where eight thousand altogether are mentioned. “And the word of the Lord increased and the number of the disciples was multiplied in Jerusalem exceedingly, a great multitude also of the priests obeyed the faith” (Acts vi. 7).
When S. John refers to “the elect,” he has in his mind the Nazarene Church, in which he had many friends, and possibly relations. All these converts looked to him, especially, for guidance as a pillar of the Church, for he was longer associated with Jerusalem than S. Peter or any other Apostle.
In its early days, the Nazarene Church shared its possessions and held all things in common. “Continuing daily with one accord in the Temple” (Acts ii. 44 f. and iv. 32 f.). S. John refers to this in the Revelation as the “first charity" of the Church (R. ii. 4).
"In those days the numbers of the disciples increasing, there arose a murmuring of the Greeks against the Hebrews for that their widows were neglected in the daily ministration” (Acts vi. I). The words used are των Ελληνιστών προς τους Εβραιους. These Greeks were Hellenised Jew converts from Alexandria, the
great cities of Asia Minor, the Isles of Greece, and the continent of Europe. Seven officials were appointed to superintend the distribution, one of whom was Stephen, the first martyr, and another, Nicolas, a proselyte of Antioch. The name of this Nicolas was drawn into the explanation of parts of the Ephesian and Pergamon Letters of the Apocalypse by early Exegetes. (See Commentary on Rev. ii. 6 and 15.)
A fierce persecution of the Nazarene Church took place at the time of the martyrdom of S. Stephen. “Saul made havock of the Church entering from house to house and dragging away men and women, committed them to prison.” “And they were all dispersed through the countries of Judea and Samaria” (Acts viii
. 1 f.). Living from hand to mouth the Church was free to leave Jerusalem at a moment's notice. The scattered disciples sowed the seed of Christianity in the countries of Judea. So that there was a considerable number of Jewish Christians outside Jerusalem when the Roman army of invasion appeared in Judea. These also must be warned in time to fly to Pella. The Revelation was sent by S. John in time to warn them. We shall have more of this in the Commentary.
To come back to the life of S. John. It is probable that not long after the Council of Jerusalem he set out to preach to the Jews of Mesopotamia. He spent the next ten years of his life wandering about the valley of the Euphrates and Tigris. We have more than one reference to the Euphrates in the Revelation.
Here he would be constantly in touch with Parthians. There is a tradition that S. John spent some years in Parthia before taking up the Apostolate of the cities of Asia Minor. There are references to Parthia in his Revelation. In S. Augustine's Quæst Evang. (I. 3, c. 39), the first epistle of S. John is addressed "ad Parthos.” The same appears in some Latin MSS. Venerable Bede supports this tradition. Alban Butler affirms that some missionaries before his time, 1750, reported that the inhabitants of Bassora (a city at the mouth of the Tigris and Euphrates), related a tradition, received from their ancestors, that S. John planted the Christian faith in their country, Layard, in his wanderings between Mosul, on the Tigris, and Lake Van in Armenia, found two rock-cut tablets at the mouth of a cave near the village of Gunduk. The cave is called Guppa d'Mar Yohanna, or the “Cave of S. John,” by the Nestorian Kurds who inhabit the district. One of these bas-reliefs appears to be of Christian origin (Nineveh and Babylon, p. 188). The patriarch of the Nestorian Kurds lived at a place called Kotchannes, a name apparently derived from Yohannes. This place is on the foot-hills of the highlands of Armenia. In S. John's wanderings in the region of the Persian Gulf he would
be in frequent contact with Parthians, Armenians, and Hindus, many of the latter bearing, painted on their dark foreheads, a red or yellow mark, the insignia of their Gods. The talk of the Mesopotamian bazaars would be of Roman defeats and Parthian victories. For more than a hundred years Parthia and Rome had been at war with varying results. The celebrated defeats of Crassus and Anthony had lowered the prestige of Rome. The Parthians no longer looked upon Rome as invincible. For many years the struggle had been for the possession of the Kingdom of Armenia. In the year 52, Tiridates, the Arsacid, was placed on the Armenian throne by Parthia. War followed. Cæsennius Pius, the Roman General, was defeated and capitulated in the year 62. As the outcome of this defeat, it was agreed that Tiridates should go to Rome to be crowned King of Armenia by Nero, as if the gift of the crown came from Nero. These events took place during S. John's mission in the East. We find a picture of Tiridates, symbolising a conqueror of Rome, in the Revelation, with the remark, “and a crown was given to him" (R. vi. 2).
About this time, A.D. 62, S. James, called the Just, was put to death at the instance of Ananus the younger (Josephus Ants. xx. 9, I). He was Bishop of the Nazarene Church of Jerusalem (Acts xxi. 18).
Eusebius says that there is a report that the Apostles and disciples, who were then living, went to Jerusalem to choose a successor to James, in the headship of the Church, and elected Simeon, the son of Cleophas (H. E. iii. II). This would probably have caused S. John to return from the East. His solicitude for the Church at Jerusalem is well known. The time required for his journey from Mesopotamia and stay in Jerusalem would bridge the interval between the death of Š. James, and the appearance of S. John at Ephesus, about the year 64.
It is generally admitted that S. John was not at Ephesus when S. Paul wrote from Rome his Epistles to the Colossians, Ephesians, and to Timothy. S. Paul founded the Church of Ephesus and placed Timothy there as Bishop. In his Epistles he writes with the transparent freedom of one in a position of unchallenged authority. He so completely ignores the existence of another apostle at Ephesus, that we may infer that the great Apostle S. John was not living there then. In the year 64, before Nero's persecutions broke out, S. Paul left Rome on a Missionary tour in Spain. It is probable that S. John arrived at Ephesus later in the year 64.
S. John's movements do not appear to have been affected in any way by Roman persecution up to this time.