Who was James the apostle in the Bible?There were a few different men named James in Jesus' circle: James, the half-brother of Jesus who wrote the book of James and was an early church leader (Acts 15:13), James the son of Alphaeus who was one of the twelve disciples (Matthew 10:3; Mark 3:18; 15:40; Luke 6:15), and James the son of Zebedee who was also one of the Twelve. This article focuses on James the son of Zebedee.
Both James and his brother John were disciples of Jesus, and He called them to follow Him while they were in their boats mending fishing nets with their father (Matthew 4:21–22). Jesus had a few disciples who He was closer with than the rest—James, John, and Peter. These three men were mentioned on multiple occasions as the only witnesses to certain miracles that Jesus did, including raising Jairus' daughter from the dead (Mark 5). These same three were witnesses to Jesus' transfiguration on a mountain, where He had a conversation with Moses and Elijah (Matthew 17:1–9). James, John, Peter, and Andrew were eager to understand Jesus' words (Mark 13:2–3) and He shared words with them pertaining to their own futures as well as the end times (Mark 13:5–37).
Jesus called James and his brother John the "Sons of Thunder," implying that these two men may have been marked by strong passionate personalities. They were bold enough to ask Jesus for a special favor: "And they said to him, 'Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory'" (Mark 10:37). Jesus could not do this for them; He did tell them they would suffer, just as He was going to (Mark 10:39). While the other disciples were upset at James and John making such a request, Jesus turned the situation into an opportunity to teach them all about humility (Mark 10:41–45).
When James and John were upset about the Samaritans' refusal to embrace Jesus on His journey to Jerusalem, they asked Him: "Lord, do you want us to tell fire to come down from heaven and consume them?" This speaks to the fiery nature of their names as the "Sons of Thunder." They were rebuked by Jesus. He came to save lives rather than destroy them (Luke 9:51–54).
After Jesus' resurrection, James is recorded as fishing with some of the disciples on the Sea of Galilee and then sharing a meal on the shore with Jesus (John 21:1–11). He was at the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2) and knowing how bold he could be, it is safe to assume that James was a strong faithful witness for the risen Christ. This is made even clearer by the fact that James was persecuted and subsequently killed for his faith (Acts 12:2).
Here are some specific things we can learn and apply to our own Christian walks from what we know about the life of James. First, Jesus sees and knows the depths of who we are, and He is patient to help transform us into His image. Jesus saw James as a "Son of Thunder" and taught him to balance his zealous nature by showing God's grace to others. James was a powerful witness until the end of his life. Just as James experienced persecution for being a bold witness, so will we (2 Timothy 3:12). As we submit to the work of Christ in us, He makes us into strong, powerful believers, well-equipped for every work that He calls us to (2 Peter 1:3).
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