How was the Apostle John known by the high priest?

And Simon Peter followed Jesus, and so did another disciple: that disciple was known unto the high priest, and went in with Jesus into the palace of the high priest. But Peter stood at the door without. Then went out that other disciple, which was known unto the high priest, and spake unto her that kept the door, and brought in Peter.” (John 18:15-16)

This is a perplexing question, how could a young fisherman from Galilee, be known by the high priest in Jerusalem? Let’s see if we can find a possible answer.

Could the Apostle John have possibly been a cousin to Jesus?

The first time we read of John in the New Testament, is when he, and Andrew (who was Peter’s brother), were following John the Baptist and saw him baptize Jesus and proclaim Him to be the Lamb of God. When Jesus walked out of the Jordan River, they immediately left John the Baptist and followed Jesus and stayed with him for the night. (John 1:36-40) It is assumed that Jesus, after that night, went directly into the wilderness to fast for 40 days to be tempted by the devil, while John and Andrew returned home to Galilee, to their fishing business, where they worked as partners with Andrew’s brother Peter, John’s brother James and his father Zebedee. After 40 days in the wilderness, Jesus went to the Sea Galilee, and called these four men to be his disciples.

“he was astonished, and all that were with him, at the draught of the fishes which they had taken: And so was also James, and John, the sons of Zebedee, which were partners with Simon. And Jesus said unto Simon, Fear not; from henceforth thou shalt catch men. And when they had brought their ships to land, they forsook all, and followed him.” (Luke 5:9-11)

It has been suggested that the reason James and John left their father so readily was because they were all anticipating that this would happen someday. There seems to be evidence that James and John were actually cousins of Jesus because their mother, Salome, was the sister of Mary, the mother of Jesus. 

To arrive at this conclusion, compare these three verses surrounding Christ’s crucifixion and burial:

1. “And many women were there beholding afar off, which followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering unto him: Among which was Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James and Joses, and the mother of Zebedee’s children.” (Matt 27:55,56)  (the mother of Zebedee’s children is Salome, Zebedee’s wife, and Mary the mother of James and Joses was Jesus’ mother, “Is not this the carpenter’s son? is not his mother called Mary? and his brethren, James, and Joses, and Simon, and Judas?” (Matt 13:5)

2. “And when the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, had bought sweet spices, that they might come and anoint him.” (Mark 16:1) (Again, Mary the mother of James would be Jesus’ mother and in this verse Salome, the mother of James and John, is actually named by Mark)

3.“Now there stood by the cross of Jesus, his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalene.” (John 19:25) This verse has two interpretations, it could be interpreted that John doesn’t name his aunt Salome outright, and instead calls her, Jesus’ mother’s sister. This would be typical for John to not name her directly because he also never refers to himself by his name, but rather, “the disciple whom Jesus loved”

In this verse, are there three or four women who stood by the cross with Jesus’ mother? If John describes four women at the cross, then by referencing the other verses, his “mother’s sister” would be identified as Salome, his own mother. If there are three women, then Mary, Cleophas’s wife, would be Mary’s sister. But then, where would Salome be?

It makes sense to me that Mary’s sister would have been at Mary’s side supporting her during such a distressing time. If Salome is Mary’s sister, then her husband, Zebedee would have been Jesus’ uncle, and John and James, their sons, would be Jesus’ cousins.

If so, Salome, Zebedee, James and John, certainly would have known during all the time they spent growing up with Jesus, that Jesus was the Anointed One sent by God. They would have heard Mary tell stories of her son Jesus being the Messiah. Jesus would have been their loving older cousin who played with and took care of them in their youth. They would have known how extraordinary he was. And they would have waited in anticipation when he would turn 30 yrs and begin his ministry.

When Jesus finally called James and John to follow Him, they would have had done so with a natural confidence and boldness about them, because of their relationship with Jesus. They had already been prepared for this day. And since Peter was John’s business partner and friend, he would have known of this also and been prepared.

This also explains why James and John were called the “Sons of Thunder” by Jesus. They were the sons of their mother, Salome, who was already so familiar with Jesus, she had the audacity to be request, “Grant that these my two sons may sit, the one on thy right hand, and the other on the left, in thy kingdom” (Matt 20:20-21). Perhaps she thought she had a special access to Jesus because she was his “auntie”.

So, if John’s mother, Salome, was Mary’s sister, that would make Mary and Salome cousins to Elizabeth (the mother of John the Baptist), “behold, thy cousin Elisabeth, she hath also conceived a son in her old age” (Luke 1:36). Then Zacharias, (the father of John the Baptist), would be John the Apostle’s uncle.

Zacharius in the temple being told by an angel

Zacharias was the priest in Jerusalem who offered incense in the Holy of Holies before John the Baptist’s birth. Caiaphas was the high priest during this time so it is possible that John had visited his uncle Zacharias on occasion in his youth and been introduced to Caiaphas in the Temple where he worked. John would have been known by Caiaphas.

The birth of John the Baptist

By the way, Caiaphas was also the high priest when John the Baptist was beheaded.

Discovering this information was quite surprising to me even though it seems to make sense, and whether one chooses to believe it or not, it is really not that significant. It makes no difference in the big picture. What’s important is that Christ was born into a family on earth and that he fulfilled all prophecies concerning Him, and He took the blame and paid the price for man’s sins with His death on the cross and because He rose again. We now have access into the “Holy of Holies” where we can have sweet fellowship with God forever!

Make you have a blessed Easter and rejoice and celebrate the great things God has done.

In Christ,

Robert Newhouse

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