Of the three apostles who comprised the inner circle of Jesus’ disciples (Peter, James and John), we know the least about the apostle James. James was the eldest brother of the apostle John and that their father’s name was Zebedee. There is some evidence that James was the first cousin of Jesus the Messiah and had been acquainted with Him from infancy. It is believed that his mother Salome was the sister of Jesus’ mother Mary.
Together with Peter and John, they were privileged to behold the Transfiguration (Mat 17:1, Mark 9:2, Luk 9:28), to witness the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law (Mark 1:29) and the raising of the daughter of Jairus (Mark 5:37), and to be called aside to watch and pray with Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane on the night before His death (Mat 26:37 = Mark 14:33).
James, John, Peter and Andrew were all partners in a fishing business prior to being called by Christ Jesus to follow Him. Zebedee was, also, a partner in the business. James and John were apparently from a higher social level than the average fisherman. Their father could afford hired servants (Mark 1:20), and John (assuming him to be identical with the “beloved disciple”) had connections with the high priest (John 18:15).
Jesus nicknamed the two brothers “sons of thunder” (Mark 3:17), perhaps meaning that they were headstrong, hot-tempered, and impulsive; and so they seem to be in two incidents reported in the Gospels. On one occasion (L 9:54ff), Jesus and the disciples were refused the hospitality of a Samaritan village, and James and John proposed to call down fire from heaven on the offenders. On another occasion (Mat 20:20-23 = Mark 10:35-41), they asked Jesus for a special place of honor in the Kingdom, and were told that the place of honor is the place of suffering.
Not much is known of his ministry after Jesus’ resurrection. It is believed that within this 14 year period before he die, James visited the Jewish colonist and slaves in Spain to preach the Gospel. By order of Herod Agrippa I, James was beheaded in Jerusalem about the feast of Easter, 44 AD. James was the first of the Twelve to suffer martyrdom, and the only one of the Twelve whose death is recorded in the New Testament.
It has been said that when the apostle James was led out to die, a man who had brought false accusations against him walked with him to the place of execution. He had doubtless expected to see James looking pale and frightened but he saw him, instead, bright and joyous, like a conqueror who had won a great battle. The false witness greatly wondered at this and became convinced that the Savior in whom the prisoner by his side believed must be the true God or He could not impart such cheerfulness and courage to a man about to die. The man himself, therefore, became a convert to Christianity and was condemned to die with James the apostle ( both were consequently beheaded on the same day and with the same sword.)
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