John the Evangelist

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John the Evangelist, El Greco (c. 1600), Museo del Prado, Madrid
Saint John the Evangelist on Patmos, by Hieronymus Bosch (1505)
John the Evangelist (Frans Hals, c. 1625)

John the Evangelist (* before 20 AD Bethsaida (?), † around 101 AD (?), but at the latest around 117 AD in Ephesus) is the author of the Gospel of John. The Latinised name Johannes (GreekἸωάννης Iōannēs), which in English usually appears as John, is derived from the Hebrew name Yohanan (Hebrewיוחנן) meaning "the LORD (YHWH) is gracious", which in Judaism is seen as expressing a "birth given as a divine gift". John the Evangelist is also considered the author of the Revelation of John and the Epistles of John. According to the traditional theological view, he is identical with John the Apostle and with favourite disciple of the Christ, who is not mentioned by name in the Gospel of John, and who, moreover, according to Rudolf Steiner, was none other than Lazarus, who was raised from the dead by the Christ (see Lazarus-Johannes below). According to Rudolf Steiner, contrary to traditional opinion, he is also not identical with John, the son of Zebedee (GreekἸωάννης υἱὸς [or ὁ] τοῦ Ζεβεδαίου Ioannes hyios [or ho] tou Zebedaion; LatinIohannes Zebedaei), the brother of James the Elder, and was only temporarily his deputy and not an apostle in the proper sense (see also below Lazarus-Johannes).

Life and work of John

Historical testimonies

In the Synoptic Gospels, John is named as the brother of James the Elder, both of whom were sons of Zebedee the fisherman (Matthew 10:2, Mark 3:17, Luke 6:14) and to whom the Christ gave the epithet Boanerges, "sons of thunder" (Mark 3:17). In this case John would have been born in Betsaida northeast of the Sea of Galilee, only a few hundred metres east of the Jordan. The question of how this information fits in with Rudolf Steiner's statements is explored below (see Lazarus-Johannes).

In the Gospel of John, John is not mentioned by name, but, as already mentioned above, according to general tradition he is identified with the favourite disciple of the Christ.

Further evidence of John's life and ministry is found in the Acts of the Apostles and in the Epistles of Paul. In the Epistle to the Galatians, written around 50 AD, the earliest historically tangible testimony to John's life, Paul testifies to John's great reputation as one of the three "pillars" of young Christianity (Gal 2:9).

The later life of John is indicated by the words of the early Christian bishop Irenaeus (c. 130-200 AD), according to which a disciple of Christ named John is said to have lived, worked and written his Gospel in Ephesus as late as the times of the Roman Emperor Trajan (98-117). The decisive statement on which the traditional identification of the apostle with the evangelist and favourite disciple is based is handed down by the early church historian Eusebius of Caesarea (c. 260-340) thus:

"After this John, the disciple of the Lord, who also rested on his bosom, gave forth his Gospel when he was at Ephesus in Asia." (Irenaeus, Adv Haer III 1,1, quoted in Eusebius, Hist Eccl V 8,4).


Many legends about the work of John in Asia Minor are found in the Legenda aurea of Jacobus de Varagine (Lit.: Legenda, p. 65ff). The most important ones should be mentioned here:

It is said that the Emperor Domitian had John seized and plunged into a cauldron full of boiling oil at the gates of Rome at the Porta Latina. But John emerged from the cauldron unharmed and fresh as if from a revitalising bath. As John still did not want to give up his preaching, the emperor sent him into exile to Patmos, where John lived in solitude and wrote his Revelation.

After Domitian's violent death in September 96, John was released and returned to Ephesus. When he entered the city, he was carried dead on a bier to meet Drusiana, who was on friendly terms with him and had wholeheartedly awaited his return. Then John set down the bier, untied the body, and said, "My Lord Jesus Christ awake thee, Drusiana: arise, and go into thy house, and prepare me meat." Then she arose as if from sleep, and did as John bade her.

The next day Craton, a philosopher, called on the people to despise this world. He urged two rich young men, who were brothers, to sell all their goods and to break some of their precious stones. Then John came and said, "If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell all that thou hast, and give to the poor." Then Craton answered, "If indeed God is your Master, ... make the stones whole again ..." And so it was done, and from that time Craton believed. The two young men sold all their goods and followed John.

One day, however, when the two young men saw their former servants walking along in splendid robes, they became quite sad. When John saw this, he made them fetch whips and pebbles from the beach, and changed them into gold and precious stones, saying, "Go and redeem your sold goods, but you have lost the heavenly reward."

When John preached against riches, a young man was carried dead before him, who had taken a wife thirty days before. She fell at the apostle's feet, together with the young man's mother and other friends, and begged him to raise the dead man. Then John wept and prayed long for the young man, and he rose. And John commanded him that he should describe to the two rich young men what torment of hell awaited them after death, and what blessedness they had lost. And so it was done, and at last the young man who had been raised, together with the other two, fell at the apostle's feet and begged for mercy. And John said, "Repent thirty days and pray that the crops and stones may return to their former nature." So it was done, and the young men received again the grace of the virtues which they had formerly had.

John was travelling through the country preaching, when the idolaters made a rebellion and wanted to force John to sacrifice in the temple of Diana. Then John suggested: "Let us both call upon our gods; you shall ask Diana to destroy the church of Christ, and if she does, I will sacrifice to her; but I will ask Christ to destroy the temple of Diana, and if he does, you shall believe in him." And John prayed, and the temple of Diana fell. But Aristodemus, the chief priest of Diana, would not accept this judgment of God, and continued to stir up unrest among the people, so that at last one part of the people was in battle with another. Then John went to Aristodemus and said, "I will do anything to make you forget your anger." Aristodemus answered, "I will give thee poison to drink; if it bring thee no hurt, I will believe that thy God is the right God." "But," Aristodemus continued, "I will also that thou see other men die of this poison first, that thou mayest the more despair." And he had two criminals condemned to death brought and gave them to drink the poison in the presence of all the people, and they immediately fell dead to the ground. Then he handed the cup to John. Then John struck the cross over the cup and the poison escaped as a serpent, so that John took no harm when he taught the cup. Then he handed his cloak to Aristodemus so that he might throw it on the dead criminals. He did so and the dead came back to life. Then Aristodemus was converted and peace returned to the land.

When John was already of old age, he would not speak more than to say to each of his steps, "Little children, love each other." This is how Jerome reports it.

When John was in the 99th year of his life, and in the 67th year after the Lord's death, the Lord appeared unto him with his disciples, and said, "Come now, my chosen one, unto me; it is time that thou shouldest be fed at my table with thy brethren." Then John wanted to come immediately, but the Lord said. "On Sunday you shall come to me." On Sunday much people gathered and John preached from the first cockcrow. Then he had a square hole dug beside the altar, prayed to God and entered the tomb. Then such a bright light appeared around him that he could no longer be seen, and when the light disappeared, the tomb was full of heavenly bread (manna = manas), which still grows there today on the tomb's bottom like fine sand in a spring of water.


Juan de Flandes, The Raising of Lazarus (c. 1500-1510), Museo del Prado, Madrid

According to Rudolf Steiner, the name "Johannes" or "John" is a general designation for spiritually advanced people who are ready to receive the Buddhi (life-spirit) in which the Christ-power works, which pours into the Manas (spirit self) from above through grace (Lit.:GA 94, p. 250ff). This is especially true of the Evangelist John, and that in this case it points to a profound spiritual rebirth is evident from Rudolf Steiner's far-reaching account, as he gave it as early as 1902 in his writing «Das Christentum als mystische Tatsache und die Mysterien des Altertums» (Christianity as a Mystical Fact and the Mysteries of Antiquity, GA 8). According to this, the evangelist and apostle John is said to have been Lazarus from Bethany who was raised from death (John 11:3–44), the disciple whom Jesus "loved" (John 11:3; 13:23; 19:26; 20:2; 21:20–24). According to Steiner, this raising of the dead, described in the canonical writings only[1] in the Gospel of John (John 11:1–45), was in reality an act of initiation induced by fate, in the course of which Lazarus, as was customary in the ancient pre-Christian mysteries, went through a three-and-a-half-day sleep of death, from which he was awakened by the Christ. Lazarus was awakened as a representative of the ancient Persian culture on behalf of Zarathustra, who, with the baptism in the Jordan River, had made his body available for the incarnation of the Christ.

„So the Christ Jesus could not awaken Zarathustra as the appointed representative of the second post-Atlantean age. But another individuality was, as it were, embodied on earth in that time, whose development and most significant mission for humanity went in a strange way parallel to that of Zarathustra. This was Lazarus, the reborn Hiram Abiff, the most significant of the Sons of Cain, who had likewise worked on the earth mission from the human I, as Zarathustra had done in ancient Persia.“ (Lit.:GA 264, p. 231)

„The writer of the Gospel of John was a high seer initiated by Christ Himself.

The disciple John is nowhere mentioned in the whole Gospel of John. He is only referred to as "the disciple whom the Lord loved", for example in chapter 19, verse 26. This is a technical expression and refers to the one who was initiated by the Master himself. John describes his own initiation in the raising of Lazarus, chapter 11. Only by this can the Christ's most secret relations to world development be revealed, that the writer of John's Gospel was initiated by the Lord Himself. As said above, the old initiations lasted three and a half days; hence the raising of Lazarus on the fourth day. It is also said of Lazarus that Christ loved him (chapters 11:3, 35 and 36). This is again the technical term for the favourite disciple. While the body of Lazarus lay in the grave as if dead, his etheric body was brought out to undergo initiation and receive the same power that is in Christ. Thus he became a raised man, the same one whom the Lord loves, from whom the Gospel of John is derived. If you then read through the Gospel of John, you will see that no line contradicts this fact, except that the process of initiation is represented under a veil.“ (Lit.:GA 100, p. 240f)

This initiation of Lazarus is furthermore closely connected with the individuality of John the Baptist (see below John the Evangelist and John the Baptist).

The question remains open how Steiner's account can be reconciled with the statements of the Synoptic Gospels. Emil Bock expressed the following conjecture in this regard, though not based on historical facts:

„I believe that it would not be correct to make a simple equation. I imagine that they are two different personalities, but that the one who took John's place in the circle of the twelve disciples was the Lazarus of John's Gospel. But perhaps Lazarus was not so constantly present in the circle of the twelve disciples before his initiation in Bethany, and since the number of twelve was experienced as a cosmic completeness, there may have been a kind of substitute in the son of Zebedee, John.“ (Lit.: Bock, p. 765)

Elisabeth Vreede's memorial notes on a lecture by Rudolf Steiner «Über Meisterpersönlichkeiten im Zusammenhang mit den Auferweckungen in den Evangelien» ("On Master Personalities in Connection with the Awakenings in the Gospels"), which have been preserved without any indication of place or date, are informative in this respect:

„Among the twelve apostles, Lazarus-John himself is in turn represented, as it were, by another. John, the brother of James and son of Zebedee, is not an apostle in the proper sense. James and John are in a certain sense one, they represent among the more intimate disciples of the Christ Jesus the power of the intellectual or mind soul, which has a double function in man, but is nevertheless a unity. Hence they are called "sons of thunder", for thunder is macrocosmically the same as thought is in the human microcosm. But when Lazarus becomes John, he takes the place of the one son of Zebedee, and as such he is the one who lay at the breast of Jesus at the Last Supper.“ (Lit.:GA 264, p. 232f)

It is possible, however, that the decisive factor here is not the physical paternity, but the spiritual meaning of the name Zebedee. Zebedee means "Gift of Yahweh" (see also Matthew) and Bethsaida, the place of birth, means "house of the fish" and the fish was the early Christian symbol of the Christ. According to this interpretation, John was born as a divine gift from the spirit of Christ, which precisely characterises the initiation of Lazarus. From this point of view, it is not the bodily but the spiritual relationship of John and James that is important, in that James also belongs to the closest circle of Christ's disciples. The Gospels are usually taken too externally. However, they never describe purely external facts, but these are always a picture of spiritual connections and can therefore only be regarded as historical sources in the usual sense to a very limited extent. As Rudolf Steiner has shown, this spiritual pictorial character, which covers up the external historical events and often even makes them unrecognisable, comes more to the fore, contrary to the widespread theological view, especially in the three Synoptic Gospels, while the most spiritually profound Gospel, the Gospel of John, at the same time also most faithfully reproduces the external events. In fact, it takes the highest spiritual, artistic power to depict the external events unadulterated in such a way that they become at the same time a speaking real symbol of the spiritual events behind them. What a weaker force is only able to represent through a more symbolic form of expression, John can let speak through the images of the immediate external events themselves. But one must then also take the images as such, as they impartially paint themselves in our soul, and listen to what they tell us. A mere intellectual interpretation of the symbols only leads astray.

There is still more to be considered. According to the Synoptics, James and John came from the "house of the fish" and, like other apostles, were fishermen who spent a large part of their lives on the fish-rich Sea of Galilee. Elsewhere Rudolf Steiner has shown how life on the sea fosters a nature-like imaginative clairvoyance, which, however, is not compatible with the clear, awake I-consciousness that must be founded on firmer ground. This clairvoyance, inherited from ancient times, was certainly present in abundance in James and John, but also in Peter and Andrew; precisely because of this they were suited to sense something of the true essence of the Christ and to follow him. But in order to truly become his disciples, they had to learn to renounce these natural powers and to acquire new ones that drew directly from the I. In other words, they first had to step from the sea onto land. And this is indeed how the Synoptics figuratively describe the calling of the first disciples:

„16 Passing alongside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew the brother of Simon casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. 17 And Jesus said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.” 18 And immediately they left their nets and followed him. 19 And going on a little farther, he saw James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, who were in their boat mending the nets. 20 And immediately he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants and followed him.“

The fact that Peter and Andrew threw their nets into the sea and James and John mended theirs may also have a deeper symbolic meaning, indicating that Peter and Andrew draw even more from the old strengths than the other two apostles. In any case, the disciples had to renounce their inherited spiritual wealth, in keeping with Christ's words: "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." Matthew 5:3 This is especially true for John, who was to progress furthest in the supersensible knowledge awakened in the I by the Christ. He had to enter the "house of poverty" and give away his inherited wealth. Lazurus was, the legend says, a rich youth, but he gave away his wealth, and he lived in Bethany and that translates as: House of Poverty (or also House of Sickness, Death or Mourning). The parable of the rich man and poor Lazarus (Luke 16:19) also points in this direction, albeit in a completely different way. If one reads the symbolic language of the Gospels in this way and does not take it merely as an external description, one begins to suspect its deeper spiritual meaning and many an apparent contradiction dissolves (cf. on this also (Lit.: Bock, p. 174ff)).

Earlier and later incarnations of John

Rudolf Steiner has given individual details of earlier and later incarnations of the evangelist John. According to this, Hiram Abif, the master builder of Solomon's Temple, who in his incarnation at that time came to the limit of initiation, was reborn as Lazarus, who after his revival by the Christ bore the initiatory name John. Lazarus-John was reborn and initiated again in the 13th century and shortly afterwards in the 14th century and has since borne the name Christian Rosenkreutz, who became the founder of the Rosicrucian current

GA 265, p. 405ff and GA 265, p. 420“ (Lit.: {{{2}}})

}. In between, according to Rudolf Steiner, there is another incarnation mentioned by name in the 7th/8th century AD, which is connected with the legend of Floris and Blancheflour.

„In the initiate circles it was said: the same soul which was in Flos or Flor and which is sung of in the song, appeared again incarnate in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries for the foundation of a new mystery school, which has to cultivate the Christ-mystery in a new way corresponding to modern times, in the founder of Rosicrucianism.“ (Lit.:GA 57, p. 422f)

In the 18th century John/Christian Rosenkreutz was then reborn as the Count of Saint-Germain. Further incarnations are not known by name, but high initiates usually incarnate in every century and there are usually only very short periods of time between the individual incarnations. To prevent a false personality cult, however, the name of such a high initiate may not be publicly known until 100 years after his death.


References to the work of Rudolf Steiner follow Rudolf Steiner's Collected Works (CW or GA), Rudolf Steiner Verlag, Dornach/Switzerland, unless otherwise stated.
Email: URL:
Index to the Complete Works of Rudolf Steiner - Aelzina Books
A complete list by Volume Number and a full list of known English translations you may also find at Rudolf Steiner's Collected Works
Rudolf Steiner Archive - The largest online collection of Rudolf Steiner's books, lectures and articles in English.
Rudolf Steiner Audio - Recorded and Read by Dale Brunsvold - Anthroposophic Press Inc. (USA)
Rudolf Steiner Handbook - Christian Karl's proven standard work for orientation in Rudolf Steiner's Collected Works for free download as PDF.


  1. The raising of Lazarus is also reported in the so-called Secret Gospel of Mark, an extended text variant of the canonical Gospel of Mark, which has survived only in two fragments found in a letter attributed to Clement of Alexandria, but only preserved in an 18th century copy. This was discovered by Morton Smith (1915-1991) in the monastery of Mar Saba near Jerusalem and published in 1973. The authenticity of the document is not considered certain, but philological investigations suggest that Clement's authorship is quite possible. The passage in question is said to be inserted between Mark 10:34 and 10:35 and reads:
    "And they came to Bethany, and a certain woman, whose brother was dead, was there. And coming near, she prostrated herself before Jesus and said to him, 'Son of David, have mercy on me.' But the disciples rejected her. And Jesus, being enraged, went with her into the garden where the tomb was, and immediately a loud cry was heard from the tomb. And coming nearer, Jesus rolled away the stone from the entrance of the sepulchre. And straightway he went in where the young man was, and put forth his hand, and took hold of the young man's hand, and drew him up. But the young man, when he looked upon him, loved him, and began to beseech him that he might be with him. And they went out of the sepulchre, and came into the young man's house, for he was rich. And after six days Jesus told him what he should do, and in the evening the young man comes to him, wearing a linen cloth over [his] naked [body]. And he stayed with him that night, for Jesus taught him the mystery of the kingdom of God. And from there he arose and went back to the other side of the Jordan."
    This is followed in the canonical Gospel of Mark by a conversation of the Christ with the two sons of Zebedee, James and John, about ruling and serving. The second surviving fragment of the Secret Gospel follows on from this, adding after the words "And he cometh to Jericho" in Mark 10:46:
    "And the sister of the young man whom Jesus loved, and his mother, and Salome [Zebedee's wife and John's mother] were there, and Jesus received them not".