James, Son Of Zebedee

INTRODUCTION: James was the older brother of John, and they both worked for their father Zebedee as commercial fishermen. Jesus called them to leave their boat and follow him. James is mentioned frequently in the gospels with Peter and John in some very significant events, but Peter and John emerged as the more prominent apostles especially after Christ was resurrected. James became the first apostle to be martyred when King Herod began to violently oppress leaders of the church.

NOTE: Scripture passages are from the World English Bible.


Mark 1 "14 Now after John was taken into custody, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the Good News of the Kingdom of God, 15 and saying, "The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God is at hand! Repent, and believe in the Good News." 16 Passing along by the sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew the brother of Simon casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. 17 Jesus said to them, "Come after me, and I will make you into fishers for men." 18 Immediately they left their nets, and followed him. 19 Going on a little further from there, he saw James the son of Zebedee, and John, his brother, who were also in the boat mending the nets. 20 Immediately he called them, and they left their father, Zebedee, in the boat with the hired servants, and went after him."

Mark 3 "13 He went up into the mountain, and called to himself those whom he wanted and they went to him. 14 He appointed twelve, that they might be with him, and that he might send them out to preach, 15 and to have authority to heal sicknesses and to cast out demons: 16 Simon, to whom he gave the name Peter; 17 James the son of Zebedee; John, the brother of James, and he surnamed them Boanerges, which means, Sons of Thunder; 18 Andrew; Philip; Bartholomew; Matthew; Thomas; James, the son of Alphaeus; Thaddaeus; Simon the Zealot; 19 and Judas Iscariot, who also betrayed him."

COMMENTS: Mark listed three reasons that Jesus appointed the apostles (sent ones): (1) that they might be with him, 2) that he might send them out to preach, and 3) for them to have authority to heal sicknesses and to cast out demons. Jesus had many followers who could be characterized as disciples, but the apostles had a special distinction of being uniquely appointed by the Lord. The twelve apostles are listed in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, with James always among the first four and listed with his brother John.


Mark 5 "35 While he was still speaking, people came from the synagogue ruler's house saying, "Your daughter is dead. Why bother the Teacher any more?" 36 But Jesus, when he heard the message spoken, immediately said to the ruler of the synagogue, "Don't be afraid, only believe." 37 He allowed no one to follow him, except Peter, James, and John the brother of James. 38 He came to the synagogue ruler's house, and he saw an uproar, weeping, and great wailing. 39 When he had entered in, he said to them, "Why do you make an uproar and weep? The child is not dead, but is asleep." 40 They ridiculed him. But he, having put them all out, took the father of the child, her mother, and those who were with him, and went in where the child was lying. 41 Taking the child by the hand, he said to her, "Talitha cumi!" which means, being interpreted, "Girl, I tell you, get up!" 42 Immediately the girl rose up and walked, for she was twelve years old. They were amazed with great amazement. 43 He strictly ordered them that no one should know this, and commanded that something should be given to her to eat."

Mark 9 "1 He said to them, "Most certainly I tell you, there are some standing here who will in no way taste death until they see the Kingdom of God come with power." 2 After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James, and John, and brought them up onto a high mountain privately by themselves, and he was changed into another form in front of them. 3 His clothing became glistening, exceedingly white, like snow, such as no launderer on earth can whiten them. 4 Elijah and Moses appeared to them, and they were talking with Jesus. 5 Peter answered Jesus, "Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let's make three tents: one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah." 6 For he didn't know what to say, for they were very afraid. 7 A cloud came, overshadowing them, and a voice came out of the cloud, "This is my beloved Son. Listen to him." 8 Suddenly looking around, they saw no one with them any more, except Jesus only.""

COMMENTS: Both events are recorded in Matthew, Mark, and Luke with varying details. In the first passage, it is clear that the daughter of Jairus was dead, and apparently Jesus wanted Peter, James, and John to witness that he restored her life with just the touch of his hand and a gentle command. In the second passage, Peter, James, and John had the privilege of seeing the power of the kingdom of God before they died, as Jesus took only these three to the mount of transfiguration. There were no separate observations about James in either of these events.


Matthew 20 "20 Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came to him with her sons, kneeling and asking a certain thing of him. 21 He said to her, "What do you want?" She said to him, "Command that these, my two sons, may sit, one on your right hand, and one on your left hand, in your Kingdom." 22 But Jesus answered, "You don't know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?" They said to him, "We are able." 23 He said to them, "You will indeed drink my cup, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with, but to sit on my right hand and on my left hand is not mine to give; but it is for whom it has been prepared by my Father.""

Luke 9 "51 It came to pass, when the days were near that he should be taken up, he intently set his face to go to Jerusalem, 52 and sent messengers before his face. They went, and entered into a village of the Samaritans, so as to prepare for him. 53 They didn't receive him, because he was traveling with his face set towards Jerusalem. 54 When his disciples, James and John, saw this, they said, "Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from the sky, and destroy them, just as Elijah did?" 55 But he turned and rebuked them, "You don't know of what kind of spirit you are. 56 For the Son of Man didn't come to destroy men's lives, but to save them." They went to another village."

Mark 13 "3 As he sat on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked him privately, 4 "Tell us, when will these things be? What is the sign that these things are all about to be fulfilled?" 5 Jesus, answering, began to tell them, "Be careful that no one leads you astray. 6 For many will come in my name, saying, 'I am he!' and will lead many astray. 7 "When you hear of wars and rumours of wars, don't be troubled. For those must happen, but the end is not yet. 8 For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places. There will be famines and troubles. These things are the beginning of birth pains. 9 But watch yourselves, for they will deliver you up to councils. You will be beaten in synagogues. You will stand before rulers and kings for my sake, for a testimony to them. 10 The Good News must first be preached to all the nations."

COMMENTS: Matthew documents that the apostles and some other disciples were with Jesus as they traveled up to Jerusalem. There clearly was much confusion among the apostles about the role of Messiah. James and John had allowed their mother to ask Jesus to grant them special positions in his kingdom. In the passage above from Luke, it is interesting that James and John thought they had the power to call down destruction upon a city. There is no indication that James took the lead in the request as it is simply attributed to James and John. Here is a comment from Luke's gospel after Jesus had again told the twelve that he would be crucified. Luke 18 "34 They understood none of these things. This saying was hidden from them, and they didn't understand the things that were said."

The Jewish religious leaders with their high level of scriptural education did not receive Jesus as Christ, and the chosen apostles were working class men who had been taught the Hebrew Scriptures and Jewish traditions. In Mark chapter 13 Peter, James, John, and Andrew had a private audience for the answer from Jesus about when the buildings would be destroyed. But they must have been shocked and baffled by the explanation that had more extensive details that foretold very harsh treatment for the apostles, and later developments that would involve the people of the whole earth. Again, there are no separate observations about James in these accounts.


Matthew 26 "26 As they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks for it, and broke it. He gave to the disciples, and said, "Take, eat; this is my body." 27 He took the cup, gave thanks, and gave to them, saying, "All of you drink it, 28 for this is my blood of the new covenant, which is poured out for many for the remission of sins. 29 But I tell you that I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on, until that day when I drink it anew with you in my Father's Kingdom." 30 When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives."

Matthew 26 "36 Then Jesus came with them to a place called Gethsemane, and said to his disciples, "Sit here, while I go there and pray." 37 He took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be sorrowful and severely troubled. 38 Then he said to them, "My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death. Stay here, and watch with me.""

Mark 16 "9 Now when he had risen early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, from whom he had cast out seven demons. 10 She went and told those who had been with him, as they mourned and wept. 11 When they heard that he was alive, and had been seen by her, they disbelieved. 12 After these things he was revealed in another form to two of them, as they walked, on their way into the country. 13 They went away and told it to the rest. They didn't believe them, either. 14 Afterward he was revealed to the eleven themselves as they sat at the table, and he rebuked them for their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they didn't believe those who had seen him after he had risen. 15 He said to them, "Go into all the world, and preach the Good News to the whole creation."

Acts 2 "1 Now when the day of Pentecost had come, they were all with one accord in one place. 2 Suddenly there came from the sky a sound like the rushing of a mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. 3 Tongues like fire appeared and were distributed to them, and one sat on each of them. 4 They were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak with other languages, as the Spirit gave them the ability to speak."

COMMENTS: All four gospels record that Jesus arose from the tomb on the first day of the week. Mark's account gives a brief summary of several events that are not covered by Matthew, and those are made clearer with extra details in the gospels of Luke and John. Mark's text indicates that Jesus rebuked the eleven (his apostles minus Judas) because they had not believed the report of Mary who had seen Jesus at the tomb, nor did they believe the report of the two who had seen him on the road to Emaus. Peter and John both are mentioned specifically in a few events prior to the resurrection, but there are no separate details about James. All eleven apostles would not believe the report of others, even though Jesus had told them he would be killed at Jerusalem and rise on the third day.


Acts 4 "1 As they spoke to the people, the priests and the captain of the temple and the Sadducees came to them, 2 being upset because they taught the people and proclaimed in Jesus the resurrection from the dead. 3 They laid hands on them, and put them in custody until the next day, for it was now evening. 4 But many of those who heard the word believed, and the number of the men came to be about five thousand."

Acts 5 "17 But the high priest rose up, and all those who were with him (which is the sect of the Sadducees), and they were filled with jealousy, 18 and laid hands on the apostles, and put them in public custody. 19 But an angel of the Lord opened the prison doors by night, and brought them out, and said, 20 "Go stand and speak in the temple to the people all the words of this life.""

Acts 7 "55 But he, being full of the Holy Spirit, looked up steadfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God, 56 and said, "Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!" 57 But they cried out with a loud voice, and stopped their ears, and rushed at him with one accord. 58 They threw him out of the city, and stoned him. The witnesses placed their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul. 59 They stoned Stephen as he called out, saying, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!" 60 He kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, "Lord, don't hold this sin against them!" When he had said this, he fell asleep." 8 "1 Saul was consenting to his death. A great persecution arose against the assembly which was in Jerusalem in that day. They were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except for the apostles."

Acts 12 "1 Now about that time, King Herod stretched out his hands to oppress some of the assembly. 2 He killed James, the brother of John, with the sword. 3 When he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to seize Peter also. This was during the days of unleavened bread. 4 When he had arrested him, he put him in prison, and delivered him to four squads of four soldiers each to guard him, intending to bring him out to the people after the Passover. 5 Peter therefore was kept in the prison, but constant prayer was made by the assembly to God for him."

COMMENTS: Peter and John were apprehended two separate times by the Jewish religious leaders, but there was no mention of James being involved in these events. Later, Stephen was taken outside Jerusalem by an angry Jewish mob because of his bold declarations about how they had rejected the true Christ, and he was stoned to death. There is no record that any of the apostles witnessed this event. The church continued to grow, and even Gentiles were being brought into their number as Peter had been directed by the Lord to Gentiles at Caesarea. The name James appears in Acts only twice: in chapter 1:13 in a list of apostles, and in chapter 12:1 his death is recorded. The name James does not appear anywhere in the gospel of John. There is no other definitive record of James, the son of Zebedee, in the rest of the New Testament. James was the first of the chosen apostles of Christ to fully experience his inheritance of eternal life. Matthew 19 "29 Everyone who has left houses, or brothers, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name's sake, will receive one hundred times, and will inherit eternal life."


Thank you, Lord, for the details in scripture about James as he was willing to leave his father's fishing business to follow you. Your call on his life was very significant in that he was one of the twelve chosen apostles out of all the other disciples who were attracted to your public ministry. What a great privilege James had to witness the raising of the daughter of Jairus from death, and then to see Moses and Elijah and hear the voice of the Father from heaven! The appearance of Moses and Elijah reminds me that those who believe and trust in you will never die, and will also have that incorruptible spiritual body spoken of by the apostle Paul.

Lord, I am encouraged as I struggle in my Christian walk to know that those who walked with you in the flesh could not grasp the details of your plans unless you opened their understanding. When James and John requested to sit on your right and your left in the kingdom, they had already personally been with you to witness your miraculous power, and perhaps thought that making the request was open to those who would ask of you. Their zeal then carried them to the point of desiring to destroy a Samaritan village because the people there had rejected you. Help me, Lord, not to ask amiss in my prayers, as James said in his letter, and also not to make harsh judgments of others when final judgment belongs only to you, my God and my King.

James and the few others of the apostles who were with you on the Mount of Olives had a desire to know the end of the present world system. I thank you, Lord, that the many centuries that have passed since then, and the additional scripture now available, helps me to be more patient when I feel the strong desire to see your kingdom fully established immediately. Give me the confidence, Lord, to know that even if I face harsh persecution to the point of death, that you have promised to supply all the grace I need to trust in the salvation you have secured for me. I want to wait patiently for the time you have set for the gospel to first be preached to all the nations, until you have brought to the point of salvation everyone you have chosen to be in your kingdom.

James was with you, Lord, when you had the last supper with your apostles, and he was with John and Peter as you went just a little distance from them for your prayer at Gethsemane. When your church was started in Jerusalem, James was prominent enough that he became the first apostle to be seized by the orders of Herod, and he was killed with the sword. With all the revealed truth I have in your Word, Lord, help me to trust more fully as the apostles did after your resurrection. Thank you for giving me your Holy Spirit, and I pray that you will guide me to resist the misdirection of my own fallen nature until I join those who have already experienced the promised resurrection. Hallelujah and amen.

Published 10 February 2015