This final short section of John’s Gospel has an interest for us because of its reference to John the evangelist, whose testimony about Jesus is enshrined in his gospel. It is probable that John had just died, and with him, the last of the original band of apostles. But the death of John raised a question regarding an assumption about him in the early Christian community.
The assumption was that he, John, would not see death until the Lord came again as he had promised.
In his appearance to his disciples at the lakeside after his resurrection, Jesus had bidden Peter follow him. Peter notices John, and asks the Lord out of curiosity, “but what about him?” meaning, what death would he, John, undergo. Jesus refuses to satisfy Peter’s curiosity, and merely says: “if it be my will that he should wait until I come, what is it to you?”
This was the source of the common belief that John the evangelist would never see death until the Lord came. We tend to forget that the imminent return of the Lord was a strong belief among the early Christians, traces of which can be found in other New Testament writings. Almost all the early disciples felt that the ‘Day of the Lord’ would dawn soon – a day of glory for the faithful, and of judgment for the wicked. As this date kept getting delayed, the community of believers had to read the Gospels afresh to understand what the Endtime really meant.
The final lines of the Gospel re-affirm the witness of John. It is he who is responsible for its text and all that it implies. He has made a selection of events in Jesus’s life. He has presented them to the believer to read and reflect on, so that “through this faith you may possess eternal life in his name.”