“Listen to a story that is not a story but a true account of John the apostle preserved in memory.” These words are recorded by Clement, an early church father, about an extra-biblical story of the Apostle John. It is not God’s Word, but it is informative and a great story of love and courage in the Lord.
John, now an old man, returned from Patmos to Ephesus, after the tyrant who sent him there had died. He would travel the surrounding areas appointing bishops and other ministerial duties. Near Smyrna he happened upon a young boy and committed him to the bishop with the words: “I leave this young man in your keeping, with Christ as my witness.”
The bishop raised the young boy and baptised him, but then afterwards relaxed his oversight. He fell in with some bad kids and together they began committing robberies and worse crimes. Clement says: “Renouncing God’s salvation, he went from petty offenses to major crimes and formed the young renegades into a gang of bandits with himself as chief, surpassing them all in violence and blood cruelty.”
After some time, John returned to the city and said to the bishop, “Come now, Bishop, return the deposit that Christ and I left in your keeping with the church as witness.” After some confusion, the bishop replied, “He is dead.”
“How did he die?” John asked.
“He is dead to God. He turned out vile and debauched: an outlaw. Now he is in the mountains, not the church, with an armed gang of men like himself.”
John was distraught and ordered a horse brought to him and someone to show him the way to the boy. The old man rode to the hideout and demanded to be taken to their leader. As he approached the young man, he was recognized and the youth began to flee. John ran after him as hard as he could, despite his age, and cried out:
“Why are you running from me, child – from your own father, unarmed and old? Pity me, child, don’t fear me! I will give account to Christ for you and, if necessary, gladly suffer death and give my life for yours as the Lord suffered death for us. Stop! Believe! Christ sent me.”
The man stopped, threw away his weapons and wept. He threw himself onto the old man’s shoulders and begged for forgiveness “…baptized a second time with his own tears but keeping his right hand hidden.” He withheld his hand, because of all the violence he had committed. John instead took that hand and pronounced that he had found forgiveness through Jesus Christ.
Together they returned and John stayed with them awhile until he was restored to the church.
Adapted from pages 111 and 112 of with direct quotes from Eusebius: The Church History Trans. Paul L. Maier.