Take the apostle John, for example. Many people know that John is often called the “apostle of love,” and he is often remembered as “… the disciple whom Jesus loved,” who reclined next to him (“leaning on Jesus’ bosom” KJV) during the Last Supper, and who wrote of strange visions in the Book of Revelation. The mental picture many have of John is a somewhat ethereal one based on these images alone – a kind of gentle soul who perhaps didn’t mix well with the rough-hewn fishermen and some of the other disciples, but who understood Jesus’ call to love better than most, and who was a man of mystical, otherworldly visions.
It helps to realize that although John certainly was a teacher of love and recorded mysterious visions, he was also a very real, warm-blooded man who was known as a man of thunder! Mark’s Gospel tells us that when Jesus selected his disciples, he chose among the twelve “James son of Zebedee and his brother John (to them he gave the name Boanerges, which means ‘sons of thunder’)” (Mark 3:17). The nickname is based on the Semitic custom of naming a person or thing after its distinguishing characteristic (as sparks are “sons of fire” - Job 5:7) and clearly reflects an aspect of personality and character that is anything but appropriate to someone who was merely a gentle teacher of love.
It was John and his brother James, we must remember, who wanted to bring fire down from heaven on a village that would not welcome their Master (Luke 9:53-55) and had to be rebuked for this excess. It was John who wanted to forcibly stop the work of someone else casting out demons (Luke 9:49) and who had to be gently rebuked again. But it was John, by the end of Jesus’ ministry, whom Jesus selected as someone who would be both strong and loving enough to protect and look after Mary, his mother (John 19:26).
So John was no mild pushover of soft and ineffectual “love.” Perhaps no other New Testament writer so forcibly teaches the need for truth and turning from darkness. We actually see this firm stress on truth, and on the “light” which symbolizes it, just as much as love in all his writings. And the love John taught was not a wispy or feeble emotion either, it was a reflection of the vigorous and commanding love that his Master, the Christ, had demonstrated every day John had known him – the love that mingled with, touched and helped the sick, the outcasts and the socially undesirable despite the outrage of the religious leaders of the day.
To portray John as an ethereal teacher of love is in clear contradiction to the portrait the Bible actually gives of the apostle. John, perhaps more than any other disciple, constantly portrayed in his writings the balance between an accepting love and uncompromising truth. The apostle of love was always, and equally, an apostle of truth. He was always an apostle of love, and equally a son of thunder.