The Bible tells us that John was the son of Zebedee and Salome and the brother of James the Greater, who was also one of the twelve Apostles. He was born in Bethsaida, a small town of ancient Galilee, just a few miles beyond Nazareth. Today the town of Bethsaida is nothing more than a pile of desolate ruins, but there is a marker there which tells us that the town was the birthplace of St. John and St. James. Before being called to be an Apostle, John was a follower of John the Baptist and is said to be the youngest of the Apostles. He was about 25 years old when called by Christ and was known as "the Beloved Disciple."
Of all the twelve Apostles, John, his brother James, and Simon Peter formed a close inner circle with Jesus. These were his closest friends, and they were privileged to witness many miracles that the others didn't get to see.
The Gospels tell us that both John and James were known to be "hot headed" young men and so they earned the nickname of "Sons of Thunder." As the years went by, however, John mellowed out and preached a strong message of brotherly love. He also wrote three letters in which he says, "Beloved, let us love one another because love is of God."
As the son of a prosperous fisherman, John grew up to learn that trade. When the Prophet John the Baptist came on the scene, telling the people that the Messiah was about to come, John became one of his many disciples. It was while St. John was a disciple of John the Baptist that Christ came and called him, along with Peter and Andrew, to become His own disciples.
As the inner circle of the Disciples, Peter, James, and John were the only witnesses of the raising of Jairus's daughter, of the Transfiguration of Christ on the Mount of Transfiguration, and of the Agony of Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane. Only he and Peter were sent into the city to make the preparation for the Last Supper. At the Supper itself John's place was next to Christ. After Jesus was arrested, Peter and John both followed Christ into the palace of the high-priest. John was the only Apostle who stayed near his Lord at the foot of the Cross as Jesus was crucified on Mt. Calvary. And it was to John that Jesus entrusted the final care of his mother.
After the Resurrection John , along with Peter, was the first of the disciples to run to the grave, and he was the first to believe that Christ had truly risen from the dead. When Christ later appeared at the Lake of Galilee John was also the first of the seven disciples present who recognized his Master standing on the shore.
After Christ's Ascension and the Descent of the Holy Spirit, John took, together with Peter, a prominent part in the founding and guidance of the Early Church. We see him in the company of Peter at the healing of the lame man in the Temple. With Peter he also gets thrown into prison. And again, we find him with the Peter visiting the newly converted Christians in Samaria.
Along with the other Apostles, John remained about twelve more years in this in the Jerusalem area, building up the Church there, until the persecution of Herod Agrippa I led to the scattering of the Apostles throughout the various provinces of the Roman Empire.
BTW, the Church of Jerusalem is still there today, still going strong in spite of the great persecutions throughout history. The Bible tells us that James was the first Bishop of Jerusalem. Today the Bishop is Patriarch Diodoros (Known as Successor of St. James).
After John left Jerusalem, he began to travel around some parts of Asia Minor in order to build up the Churches. In the year 51 AD, he returned to Jerusalem with the other disciples for an important Church Council, known to us as the Apostolic Council (Acts 15).
In St. Paul's letter to the Galatians, Paul tells us that when he went to Jerusalem he discovered that John, along with Peter and Bishop James, was considered to be one of the pillars of the Church. Paul then tells us how he submitted his gospel message to Peter, John, and Bishop James, in order to see if he was really preaching the right gospel, and how that they approved of his message, and encouraged him to keep preaching wherever God led him. The interesting thing to note about this is, as great as theApostle Paul was, and even though he had special revelations and visions of Christ, he still submitted his teaching to the leaders of the Church. He wasn't out doing his own thing. He wanted to make sure that the message he was preaching was approved by the Apostles, and was the same message the Christ had given them. He didn't just rely upon the visions and revelations - because even Satan can take the form of an angel of light. So anything he received from a special revelation, he submitted it to the authority of the Church, to see if it lined up with what they were preaching and teaching. If it didn't, he would've known that it wasn't from God, and he would've stopped preaching it.
In any case, this was at the Jerusalem Council in 51 AD. It's believed that John left Jerusalem between 52 and 55 AD, and became a part of the Church in Ephesus. He lived there during the last decades of the first century, and from Ephesus he helped guide the Churches of the area. It was also from Ephesus that St. John wrote the last of the four Gospels that have been handed down to us.
During John's stay in Ephesus, another persecution came upon them. John, as one of the leaders of the Church, was soon arrested for his faith and sent to Rome. Because he wouldn't deny Christ, he was thrown into a large pot of boiling oil. In the providence of God, John somehow survived that torture, and was later banished to a small island in Greece called Patmos. He was on that island for 15 years (81-96), and while there he received the famous vision from Christ. He wrote the vision down, and we still have a copy of today in our Bibles - we call it the "Book of Revelation."
After the Roman Emperor's death, the Apostle was allowed to return to Ephesus, and at Ephesus he died in around the year 100 AD. His feast day, or the day in which we especially remember his death, is Dec. 27.
While in Rome, John had an interesting encounter with one of the most well-known heretics during that day - a man by the name of Cerinthus. He claimed to have been taught by angels. As John was going into the public bathhouse, he saw Cerinthus inside. John immediately ran out of the bathhouse screaming out, "Let us flee, lest even the bath fall in, because Cerinthus, the enemy of the truth is within."
"Listen to a tale, which is not a mere tale, but a narrative concerning John the apostle, which has been handed down and treasured up in memory. For when, after the tyrant's death, [John] returned from the isle of Patmos to Ephesus, he went away upon their invitation to the neighboring territories of the Gentiles, to appoint Bishops in some places, in other places to set in order whole churches, [and] elsewhere to choose to the ministry someone of those that were pointed out by the Spirit. When he had come to one of the cities not far away…, and had consoled the brethren in other matters, he finally turned to the Bishop that had been appointed, and seeing a youth of powerful physique, of pleasing appearance, and of ardent temperament, he said, 'This one I commit to thee in all earnestness in the presence of the Church and with Christ as witness.' And when the Bishop had accepted the Charge and had promised all, he repeated the same injunction with an appeal to the same witnesses, and then departed for Ephesus. But the Priest - [referring to the Bishop] taking home the youth committed to him, reared, kept, cherished, and finally baptized him. After this he relaxed his stricter care and watchfulness, with the idea that in putting upon him the seal of the Lord [meaning Baptism and anointing with oil, symbolizing the seal of the Holy Spirit] he had given him a perfect protection. But some young people of his own age, idle and wicked, and accustomed to evil practices, corrupted him when he was thus prematurely freed from restraint. At first they enticed him by costly entertainments; then, when they went forth at night for robbery, they took him with them, and finally they demanded that he should unite with them in some greater crime. He gradually became accustomed to such practices, and ... leaving the right path, and taking the bit in his teeth like a hard-mouthed and powerful horse, he rushed the more violently down into the depths. And finally despairing of salvation in God, he no longer [thought about] what was insignificant, but having committed some great crime ..., he expected to suffer a similar fate with the rest. Taking them, therefore, and forming a band of robbers, he became a bold [chief of the robbers], the most violent, most bloody, most cruel of them all. Time passed, and some necessity having arisen, [the Church in that city] sent for John. But he, when he had set in order the other matters on account of which he had come, said, 'Come, O Bishop, restore to us the deposit which both I and Christ committed to you, the Church, [of which you are the Priest] ... But the Bishop was at first confused, thinking that he was falsely charged in regard to [some] money which he had not received ... But when [John] said, 'I demand the young man and the soul of the brother,' the old man [the Bishop], groaning deeply and at the same time bursting into tears, said, 'He is dead.' 'How, and what kind of death?' John asked. 'He is dead to God,' [the Bishop] said; 'for he turned wicked and abandoned the faith, and at last became a robber. And now, instead of in the Church, he lives on the mountain with a band like himself.' But the Apostle tore his clothes, and beating his head with great sorrow, he said, 'A fine guard I left for a brother's soul! But let a horse be brought to me, and let someone show me the way.'
John rode away from the Church just as he was, and coming to the place, he was taken prisoner by the robbers' outpost. He, however, neither fled nor [asked to be free], but cried out, 'For this did I come; lead me to your captain.' The latter, meanwhile, was waiting, armed as he was. But when he recognized John approaching, he turned in shame to run away. But John, forgetting his age [around 85 or 90 years old], pursued him with all his might, crying out, 'Why, my son, do you run away from me, your own father, unarmed, and old? Pity me, my son; fear not; you still have hope for life. I will [pray to] Christ for you. If need be, I will willingly endure your death as the Lord suffered death for us. For you will I give up my life. Stand, and believe; for Christ has sent me.' And [the robber], when he heard [John talk like this], first stopped and looked down; then he threw away his weapons, and then he trembled and wept bitterly. And when the old man approached, he embraced him, making his confession with great sorrow as he was able to, baptizing himself a second time with [his own] tears, and concealing only his right hand
[-- that was the hand which he held his weapon, and by which he did his crimes - and he didn't want such a hand that was used for such evil purposes to touch the Holy Apostle].
But John, pledging himself, and assuring him on oath that he would find forgiveness with the Saviour, ... fell upon his knees, and kissed his right hand itself [to show that it was] now purified by repentance, and led him back to the Church. And making intercession for him with many prayers, and struggling together with him in continual fastings, ... [John] did not depart ... until he had restored him to the Church, furnishing a great example of true repentance and a great proof of regeneration, a trophy of a visible resurrection."
To put things in context: two disciples of John were St. Ignatius and St. Polycarp - Ignatius was appointed by Peter as Bishop of the Church at Antioch, and Polycarp was appointed by John as Bishop of the Church at Smyrna.
In the year 180, Polycrates, Bishop of Ephesus (where John lived only 85 years earlier), wrote to Bishop Victor of Rome concerning that last days of St. John the Apostle, telling him how John himself was not only an Apostle, but also a Bishop of the Churches:
"Again there is John, who leaned back on the Lord's breast, and who became a sacrificing Priest (referring to the bread and the wine of Communion) and he wore the miter (the Bishop's distinguishing hat); he became a martyr (he had been imprisoned for Christ) and was [our] teacher. He too sleeps in Ephesus."
God Our Father, You have revealed the mysteries of Your Word through St. John the Apostle. By prayer and reflection may we come to understand the wisdom he taught. Grant this through Our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.