Is John the Apostle Dead?

The Bible promises, “It is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment” (Heb 9:27). However, there have been two men taken by God that have survived thousands of years up the present day. Enoch’s translation is described in Genesis (Gen 5:24) where the text simply says, “He was not; for God took him”. Likewise, Elijah was taken up by God as described in II Ki 2:11 where it says, “Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven”. These men were sterling representatives of the first two dispensations, the Patriarchical and Mosiaical. However, there is no explicit account of a similar translation from the Christian age. There is, though, both secular and prophetic evidence that the apostle John did not die, but was taken up. He is the Christian witness to the end of the age of the power of God and the truthfulness of His word.

As evidence that John is not dead, consider, first, Jesus’ peculiar remarks concerning John when Peter asked Him how John would die. Jesus answered, “If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee?” (Jn 21:22). Now, that is not a direct promise that John would live until Jesus came, as John himself points out (Jn 21:23), but it does leave open that possibility. Next, consider the strange circumstances surrounding the supposed death of John. Hippolytus reports concerning John,

John, again, in Asia, was banished by Domitian the king to the isle of

Patmos, in which also he wrote his Gospel and saw the apocalyptic

vision; and in TrajanÂ’s time he fell asleep at Ephesus, where his

remains were sought for, but could not be found.

Early Church Fathers, Vol. 5, Hyppolytus on the Twelve Apostles, p535

So, according to the early church, John’s remains were never found and he was consequently PRESUMED dead. There is, however, a prophecy in the ancient Jewish literature, the Ascension of Isaiah, that says,

these are the days of the completion of the world.

2 After it is consummated, Beliar the great ruler, the king of this world, will descend, who hath ruled it since it came into being; yea, he will descent from his firmament in the likeness of a man, a lawless king, the slayer of his mother[Nero–JRJ]: who himself (even) this king.

3 Will persecute the plant which the Twelve Apostles of the Beloved have planted. Of the Twelve one will be delivered into his hands. Asc Isa 4:1-3

Unless God raises up one of the dead apostles, this prophecy (the same account that describes Isaiah being sawn in two–cp Heb 11:37) strongly suggests that one apostle must survive until Jesus comes, for it is appointed unto men ONCE to die (Heb 9:27).

To me, the most compelling evidence that John is not dead are two prophecies that cannot be fulfilled if John died a natural death in AD 101. The first is Jesus’ promise to James and John, the sons of Zebedee (Mk 10:35), that “ye shall indeed drink of the cup that I drink of; and with the baptism that I am baptized withal shall ye be baptized” (Mk 10:39). What cup did Jesus drink? Jn 18:11 tells us that the cup of which Jesus was drank was the fate of His death on the cross for confessing that He was the Son of God (Mt 26:63-66). The Bible says that King Herod beheaded James the son of Zebedee to vex the church, apparently for James’ testimony that Jesus was the Son of God (Acts 12:2, cp Acts 4:2). However, though Tertullian says that John was plunged into boiling oil by the Emperor Domitian in AD 95 (Tertullian, Early Church Fathers, Vol 3, Part Second, The Prescription Against Heretics, Ch 36, p489), John emerged unscathed and was subsequently sentenced to the mines on Patmos where he received the Revelation. After John was released from Patmos, he returned to Ephesus, from which city he disappeared around AD 100-104. If John died a natural death in Ephesus, as most historians suppose, he did not drink the cup that Jesus and James, John’s brother, and all of the other apostles drank. Since God CANNOT lie, and since John did NOT drink the cup that Jesus drank before his disappearnce in AD 101, John must still live and must still face the fate foreseen by Isaiah.

The second prophecy that makes the death of John impossible is the promise Jesus made to John on Patmos. Through His angel, Jesus promised John, “THOU must prophesy AGAIN before MANY peoples, and nations, and tongues, and kings” (Rev 10:11, cp Rev 1:1). Now if John was on Patmos in AD 95 when he received and wrote the Revelation, and John was released from Patmos when Nerva came to the throne in AD 96, then it was only 4 years from the time that John was released until he disappeared from Ephesus. At the time of his release, John was nearly 100 years old, and history says that John was feeble, and had to be carried to the services of the church at Ephesus. There is no historical record whatever of John fulfilling the prophecy made by the angel in Rev 10:11. There is, however, a promise that John will return and apparently witness to the world at end of the age (see quotation above from Asc Isa 4:1-3). Since God cannot lie, the promise that John must prophesy again before many peoples, and nations and tongues and kings must be fulfilled, and in order for it to be fulfilled, John must still be alive.

An interesting consequence of the continued life of one of the apostles who was an auditioner of Jesus address in Mt 16:27-28 is the complete negation of the preterit doctrine. In Mt 16:27-28 Jesus speaks of His glorious return to earth at the end of the age and promises that some listening to Him speak would still be alive when He came again. Jesus promises, “For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works. 28 Verily I say unto you, There be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom” (Mt 16:27).

The preterit position is that every prophecy of God was fulfilled by AD 70, and they cite Mt 16:27-28 as proof their doctrine. They use the supposed fact of the deaths of all the apostles to argue that Jesus must have figuratively come in His glory in AD 70. They say Mt 16:27 proves their view because they aver that none of the apostles could still alive. It is, however, impossible to reconcile the preterit world view with God’s revelation, for their teaching that all prophecy was fulfilled by AD 70 completely destroys the promises to the faithful that they will bodily rise from the dead (cp. Rom 8:11, I Cor 15:12-32) and inherit the kingdom of God (Mt 5:5, I Cor 3:21-22, II Pet 3:13, Rev 22:14). Since the preterit world view obliterates the hope and core of Christianity as it is clearly revealed by God, it cannot be right, and therefore their contention that nobody witnessing Jesus’ discourse in Mt 16:27 could still be living cannot be true. A living apostle stands as an irrefutable negation of their error, for his miraculous preservation to the end of the world is testimony certain that God was not done in AD 70. The living John provides for the literal fulfillment of Mt 16:27 at the Second Coming, for if John still lives, as the prophets say he must, then since he was one standing and listening to Jesus in Mt 16:27, then Jesus’ words can still be literally fulfilled at some future date when Jesus comes in His glory.

As we have seen, the Bible evidence requires that John the apostle still lives. Ancient prophecy points to his eventual return and sacrificial death. His being caught up and ultimate return provides an eyewitness of Christ from the Christian dispensation to those who live at the end of the age and completes the company of witnesses from the Patriarchical, Mosaical and Christian dispensations.

About James Johnson

Bible student for 60 years. Preacher of the gospel for over 40 years. Author of commentary on Revelation, All Power to the Lamb. Married with children. Worked in aerospace and computer engineering for over 40 years.
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