John was the darling of the twelve. This isn’t to say that he had always been kind-spirited. But when a passionate and warm-hearted person, the baby of a group in terms of age, also has a bit of a temper, even the temper can be endearing. Ladies call it cute (when it isn’t directed at them or their friends.)
From his own epistle, we know John as the “disciple whom Jesus loved” and the one that “leaned on his breast” (John 13:23; 20:2; 21:7, 20).
If you are like me, you don’t picture the aged John quite the same way you do the young man. The youth you associate with thunder; the elder with the calm spirit of the sage.
And Jesus didn’t play favorites when He allowed himself to be closest to John. For Jesus, the principle “draw near to God and He will draw near to you” had no boundaries. If John would draw closer than the twelve, then he would be closer than the twelve.
We will come back to John in a few moments.
But Jesus was sweeter than John. We can’t make a man, even the beloved apostle, into a model that compares well with the standard. Jesus, the Friend of sinners, looked out for the best interest of even His deadly enemies. He cared for them in a way that led to strange-appearing actions (from his disciples’ perspectives.) It was for his enemies, for example, that Jesus bade healed people to keep a low profile. Jesus wished no new wall of prejudice to hamper their journey to the Kingdom.
But when we talk about the sweetness of Jesus, I am reminded of the question of one of my past students in Revelation class. She asked, “If this book is a Revelation of Jesus, why does it have so much to say about Babylon and the whore and persecution and blood and plagues?”
(No, I don’t remember her words. Truth be told, I don’t even remember her gender. I just remember the effect of the question on my class.)
Let me answer that question for you. Think of someone you know well, perhaps your father (if that is a pleasant thought). When he played with you, he didn’t say anything about himself. But you learned about him. When he spanked you, he didn’t say anything about himself. But you learned about him. When he got angry, or discouraged, or finished a big project, you were getting to know him.
We learn about people by what they say and do, even if they don’t talk about themselves.
Revelation teaches about Jesus that way. When you see how King Jesus relates to the evil in the world, you are learning about King Jesus. When you see how He hates the systems that cause little ones to die in darkness, you are learning about His love of little ones. And so, all of the book is a Revelation of Jesus, even if only a Revelation from Him.
Now let’s get back to the Apostle John, the sweetest of them all.
He was one serious administrator.
“What?” I hear you asking. Yes, John was no sissy. He knew how to take a bull by the horns. And when it came to a rebellious congregation, John didn’t butter them up and hope for future funerals to fix things. He didn’t just wait for outcome. Instead, he wrote ahead and said, “I may show up any time. And if and when I come, I will deal with Mr. Out-of-Order and with his angry remarks against us apostles.”
Do you remember this story? No? It is in 3 John.
I wrote unto the church: but Diotrephes, who loves to have the preeminence among them, receives us not. Wherefore, if I come, I will remember his deeds which he doeth, prating against us with malicious words: and not content therewith, neither doth he himself receive the brethren, and forbids them that would, and casts them out of the church (3 John 1:9-10).
How far had things gone in the rebellious congregation? Church discipline there was being used against those who were maintaining the positions of the apostles. The bad guys were left holding church membership while the faithful ones were put outside the flock.
And John said, “I’m ready to come.” He said, “I trust I will see you soon and speak face to face” (3 John 1:14).
Now what, exactly, did John plan to do? Three verses later we have a hint. John mentions another name, one that might make a better administrator for the church.
Demetrius hath good report of all men, and of the truth itself: yea, and we also bear record; and ye know that our record is true (3 John 1:12).
If John’s plan was to unseat Diotrephes and to replace him with Demetrius (and I frankly admit that the latter part is speculative, even if the first part is certain), it would be in harmony with God’s general plan for such situations.
Woe be unto the pastors that destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! says the LORD. Therefore thus says the LORD God of Israel against the pastors that feed my people; Ye have scattered my flock, and driven them away, and have not visited them: behold, I will visit upon you the evil of your doings, says the LORD. And I will gather the remnant of my flock out of all countries whither I have driven them, and will bring them again to their folds; and they shall be fruitful and increase. And I will set up shepherds over them which shall feed them: and they shall fear no more, nor be dismayed, neither shall they be lacking, says the LORD (Jeremiah 23:1-4).
Where is the sweetness in this? Sweetness to lambs can look like harshness to shepherds. That is why Paul made a difference between the leaders and the followers when certain persons dared to oppose the decisions of the world church regarding the behavior of Gentiles.
A little leaven leavens the whole lump. I have confidence in you through the Lord, that ye will be none otherwise minded: but he that troubles you shall bear his judgment, whosoever he be. And I, brethren, if I yet preach circumcision, why do I yet suffer persecution? then is the offence of the cross ceased. I would they were even cut off which trouble you (Galatians 5:9).
The sweetness in John’s promise regarding Diotrephes is the same sweetness that moved Moses to make men drink gold-laced water. It is the same sweetness that sent Jonah to preach to Nineveh a message of doom.
And so I say again, John was the sweetest of the apostles, even into his old age. And he knew what to do with rebellion.
Now someone is thinking, “you are just writing this because of the proposal before Annual Council.”
Yes, that is true. I don’t think the situations are precisely parallel in any sense. I only think that sweetness is often unrecognized when it comes in the form of discipline. And sometimes, that is the very form that is needed.
Jesus is sweet this way.
Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent (Revelation 3:19, ESV).
Some people thought that Ellen White was very hard-nosed over the Battle Creek Dime Tabernacle. But that would be the subject of another article, maybe “The Sweet Messenger.”
It was Jesus that replaced Saul with David, a man with faults but without the rebellion. He also replaced Solomon. He also replaced the dynasty of Ahab. When He gets fired up, replacing men is just what He intends to do:
Thy princes are rebellious, and companions of thieves: every one loves gifts, and follows after rewards: they judge not the fatherless, neither doth the cause of the widow come unto them. Therefore says the Lord, the LORD of hosts, the mighty One of Israel, Ah, I will ease me of mine adversaries, and avenge me of mine enemies: And I will turn my hand upon thee, and purely purge away thy dross, and take away all thy tin: And I will restore thy judges as at the first, and thy counsellors as at the beginning: afterward thou shalt be called, The city of righteousness, the faithful city (Isaiah 1:23-26).
Do you see the action in the passage just quoted? Leaders are displaced. And the new appointments are like the faithful of past ages. That kind of change makes a difference.
I don’t know that it will happen in the Adventist church soon. But I am sure it will happen at some point. And when it does, I hope you will have qualified yourselves to be used in the places formerly filled by Diotrephes.
Eugene Prewitt directs the Bible Teacher Training hosted by Aenon. From there, his teachers train young people from around Asia to reach the various people groups of South East Asia. During school breaks and on weekends he and his wife Heidi frequently travel to put on presentations on Bible topics, canvassing and on Christian Education.