Although the author of the last Gospel does not mention his name, he describes himself with sufficient exactness to make it clear that he was none other than John, the "beloved disciple." He was the son of a Galilean fisherman, by the name of Zebedee, and of Salome, a very faithful and devoted follower of Jesus, who did not even forsake her Master when He was hanging on the cross, Matt. 27, 56; Mark 15, 40. John, together with his older brother James, followed his father's occupation on the Sea of Galilee at the time Jesus called him to the apostleship, Matt. 4, 21.22; Mark 1, 19. 20; Luke 5, 1-10. There are some indications that John was well acquainted in Jerusalem and in Judea, where he had become a disciple of John the Baptist, John 1, 35-40. He was known to the high priest, chap. 18, 15. He had an intimate knowledge of the Temple, the Temple equipment, and the Temple worship, as the entire Apocalypse shows, and may therefore have been of priestly descent, He seems to have owned a house in Jerusalem, chap. 19, 27. He returned with Jesus to Galilee, chap. 2, 2. 12, and therefore could hardly have been the bridegroom at the marriage of Cana, as tradition has it. When Jesus, soon after, publicly entered on His Messianic ministry in Galilee, John and James were among the first to be called by Him, Matt. 4, 21.22. These two brothers, together with Peter, were the most confidential disciples of Christ. They alone were chosen by Him to be present at the raising of the daughter of Jairus, Luke 8, 51, at the transfiguration, Matt. 17, 2; Mark 9, 2; Luke 9, 28; during His agony in the garden, Matt. 26, 37; Mark 14, 33. And John was present also under the cross, John 19, 26. He was a witness of the Lord's death and saw the soldier pierce His side with a spear, 19, 34. 35. He was one of the first of the disciples to visit the sepulcher after the resurrection of Christ, and was present with the other disciples when Jesus showed Himself to them on the evening of the first Easter Day, and likewise eight days after, chap. 20, 19-29. Together with Peter, John cured a man who had been lame from his mother's womb, for which act he was cast into prison, Acts 3, 1-10. He was afterwards sent to Samaria, to invoke the Holy Ghost on those that had been converted by Philip the Deacon, Acts 8, 5-25. The Apostle Paul informs us, Gal. 2, that John was present at the council of Jerusalem, of which an account is given Acts 15. There can be no doubt that John was present at most of the happenings related by him in his gospel, that he was an eye- and ear-witness of the Lord's labors, journeyings, discourses, miracles, Passion, crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension.

So far as the character of John is concerned, he, with James, was in his younger days of an excitable temperament, for which reason Jesus surnamed them Boanerges, or Sons of Thunder, Mark 3, 17. This part of their nature came out when they asked the Lord for permission to "bid fire to come down from heaven and consume" the people of a certain village in Samaria who would not entertain their Master, Luke 9, 51-55, and when they forbade a certain man to cast out devils in the name of Jesus, since he was not one of His followers, Luke 9, 49. But when the fires of youth had burned down to a steady glow, John's nature became quiet, receptive, without, however, losing its zeal for the Master.

Of the later life of John, history reports that he went to Asia Minor about the end of the seventh decade, probably after the death of Paul. He was exiled to the island of Patmos, probably under the reign of Domitian (81-96), and there wrote the Apocalypse. Under Nerva (96-98) he seems to have regained his liberty, returning to Ephesus, where he may have spent a decade or more before. By the unanimous consent of the early church historians he reached an advanced age, for Polycarp, who died in 167, at the age of eighty-six, had seen him, Irenaeus relates that he died under Trajan (98-117) , and Polycrates states that he died at Ephesus, where his grave was later shown.

The purpose of the gospel is expressly stated by the author. It is to bear witness of the fact "that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that, believing, ye might have life through His name," chap. 20, 30. 31. This is the chief aim of the gospel, and the reader cannot escape its compelling force. "On the other hand, however, the fourth gospel is so unlike the other gospels and so unique in its character that the attentive reader will involuntarily seek for some special reason why this book should have been written. We find it in the fact that in the latter years of John's life the Church began to be threatened by a dangerous heresy, which made it necessary to describe the life of Christ precisely from the point of view which John chose. Under the eyes of the aged apostle a certain Jewish agitator by the name of Cerinthus is said to have denied the essential and true divinity of Jesus Christ, rejecting the statement that the Son of God suffered death for us. That must have been the beginning of the heresy which later became known as Gnosticism, the adherents of which essayed to amalgamate the Word of God with heathen philosophy, and necessarily fell into blasphemous error. It is well within the limits of possibility that John, recognizing the danger in its beginnings, wrote his gospel against the errors of Cerinthus, since he actually makes it his point to demonstrate the divinity of Christ." 1) Incidentally, the purpose of John to supplement the narrative of the first three gospels is evident throughout. Acquaintance with these gospels is presupposed by John. They had pictured principally the Galilean ministry of Jesus; John confines himself almost exclusively to that in Judea. And even in the parrallel passages there are many additional features that tend to make the aims of Jesus clearer in a number of instances.

The gospel was written chiefly for readers of Greek descent. Hebrew words and Jewish customs are explained, cities of Palestine are located. John uses the Roman division of time, and speaks of the Jews from the standpoint of an outsider. But his gospel was not written under the influence of Greek philosophy, nor was there any connection between his doctrinal exposition and that of the Jewish school of Alexandria. John wrote by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and his gospel is apart of the message of God for the salvation of men.

There are a number of peculiarities or distinguishing features in the gospel which should be noted. The book is remarkable for its vivid dialog, in such a natural tone that there can be no doubt as to its correctness. The intimate addresses of Christ in chapters 15 and 16 are especially noticeable. Chapter 17 ranks with the most beautiful passages in the entire Bible. The person and the work of the Holy Ghost are treated in detail, chapters 14-16. Only eight miracles are recorded in this gospel, but a number of them are treated at some length and become the basis for extended discussions addressed to the people.

The Gospel according to St. John was, by the unanimous testimony of the early teachers of the Church, written at Ephesus, during the last years of John's residence in that city. Its style, content, and language place it into the last decade of the first century, after the Apocalypse had been written.

The outline of the gospel is very simple. Opening with the beautiful prolog, which contains the key for the understanding of the entire gospel, it offers a brief historical introduction. Then comes a detailed discussion of the work of Jesus in the world, His introduction, His revelation in Galilee, in Jerusalem, in Samaria, His battle with the world, with the unbelief of His fellow-citizens, by whom He is finally rejected. The second part of the gospel pictures the Savior in His characteristic work of active and passive obedience, the way through suffering to glory, His last discourses, His high-priestly prayer, the story of the Passion, the story of the resurrection and glorification.