Son of Thunder

John is known as the Apostle of Love. His gospel account differs significantly from the Synoptic gospels; one need not be a Biblical scholar to notice John’s focus on love. His gospel bleeds a tenderness of spirit. Five times in his gospel he identifies himself as “the disciple whom Jesus loved,” a hint that being loved by Christ had become John’s deepest identifier. In the sea of love, it is easy to forget that the John Jesus initially encountered had a very different spirit.

John was a zealous fisherman who with his brother earned the nicknames the sons of Thunder. They were ready for the Messiah to come bringing fire and brimstone down on those who oppressed the Jewish people. He was hot-headed and selfishly ambitious, desiring a coveted and powerful seat on the right or left of Jesus when He established His kingdom.

While impetuous Peter’s sanctification usually takes center stage, the transformation that took John from a Son of Thunder to a tender son is no less dramatic or miraculous.

Even before the Holy Spirit’s descent at Pentecost we see that John was markedly different than in his early days with Jesus. He is the one leaning into Christ’s chest at the Last Supper, and he is the one disciple who stays constant through the trials and hearing that came upon its heals. The one who formerly wanted to rain fire down from Heaven at injustice sat with weeping women at the foot of the Cross, the greatest moment of injustice in human history.

Rather than becoming the right hand man in the powerful coming of a literal and political regime, John found himself the caregiver for a distraught Mary and spent his “retirement” years in a cave on Patmos alone.


What enabled such a radical transformation in this son of Thunder?

Constant exposure to the powerful presence and love of Christ transformed John’s spirit entirely.

Perhaps John is the only disciple who recorded Jesus’ discourse on abiding in God’s love (John 15) simply because that was the very thing that had had the deepest impact on him. Perhaps those words stood out in bold and italics in John’s hearing because they resonated most deeply with his experience with the living Christ.

As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. John 15: 9-11. 

As one who tends to be a hot-head and who wrestles with selfish ambition, I find great hope in John’s transformation by the powerful love and presence of Christ. John’s story makes me want to linger longer in the Word of God where I am enabled in my own way to sit in the presence of Jesus; it makes me want to lean more often on the chest of my Savior.

Son of Thunder

A Son of Thunder,
Softened by love,
Calls fire no more,
But grace from above.

Divisive spirit,
Us versus them,
Made irenic
As love did stem.

His bold request,
A seat of power,
Left for service
In the darkest hour.

One who rode zeal
Reclines in rest.
Ambition stilled
On Jesus’ chest.

From zealous child
To Mary’s new son;
Tender caregiver
Who did not run.

The Son of Man met
the Son of Thunder.
Love remade him
A Son of Wonder.



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