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James, Son of Thunder

What do we know about James the son of Zebedee and Salome?

Despite the fact that James, together with his brother John, father Zebedee, and Simon and Andrew all ran a prosperous fishing business out of Capernaum on the Galilee, their latest catch was dismal. In fact, they had caught nothing. But that was all about to change. Indeed, just hours later they suddenly found their boats overflowing with fish—so many, in fact, that they began to sink. What was their secret? Actually, it wasn’t a what but a Who. Namely, Jesus of Nazareth. The Lord had performed this miracle partly as a sign and illustration of what these fishermen were to become: fishers of men. Without hesitation, James, along with the other three gave up everything to become Jesus’ disciples.

“King Herod Agrippa had him killed by the sword during persecution of the church.

Stephen Miller

Although in time Jesus came to have many disciples, James was a part of the inside group known as the Twelve. In fact, he (along with John and Peter) was a part of an even “finer distillation” referred to as “the Three”. This inner circle of disciples witnessed events that no one else saw including the raising of Jarius’ daughter from the dead (Mark 5:37-47), the Transfiguration of Jesus Christ (Matthew 17:1-3), and Jesus’ agony at the Garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26:36-37). Unfortunately for James and John, their privileged position led them to think of themselves more highly than they ought to and with the help of their mother Salome, asked Jesus for places of honour at His left and right hand in His coming kingdom. As a result of this power play, they suffered the indignation of the other ten disciples, though Jesus was able to use this as an opportunity to teach His disciples about the importance of serving others. On another occasion, James and John wanted to call down fire on a Samaritan village because of their rejection of Jesus. Of course, Jesus declined, but nicknamed them the “sons of thunder” seemingly due to their rash and fiery temperament.

As far as these two brothers go, James was probably John’s elder brother. Though Scripture does not explicitly tell us, in each passage where the apostles are numbered, James is listed third and John is listed fourth. If this is so, then “it may have been difficult for James, as the older brother, to watch the younger John gain more recognition as a leader than he did. However, there is no indication…of jealousy or rivalry on James’ part during the early years of the church.”[1] If anything, James (like John seemed to do) probably grew more compassionate as he matured in his faith. Sadly, unlike his brother who apparently died a natural death, James was the first of the disciples to be martyred. In fact, of all the disciples, the Bible only reports his death (Acts 12:1-2). “King Herod Agrippa had him killed by the sword during persecution of the church, a campaign intended to boost Agrippa’s popularity with the Jews.”[2] Of course, “Other Christians were arrested along with James in Herod Agrippa’s persecution (v. 1). Apparently, Agrippa intended to make James’ death a warning to the church (vv. 1–2). But, whatever advantage Agrippa may have thought he gained by killing James was short-lived. Soon Peter was miraculously freed from prison (vv. 3–19), probably a great embarrassment to Agrippa. Then Agrippa himself died an excruciating death which Josephus described as being from violent stomach pains. Scripture attributes the death to Agrippa’s failure to ‘give praise to God’ (v. 23), which may also include retribution for persecuting God’s people, including the martyrdom of James.”[3] And James’ witness for Christ will not be soon forgotten. Indeed, according to Christian tradition before he died James preached in Spain where his now the patron saint.[4]

Ryan Hembree is a daily co-host, speaker, and writer of Bible Discovery. He also hosts a YouTube channel that shows the unity of the Bible and how science and Scripture fit together. Ryan also has an honorary Masters of Ministry in Creation Science from Phoenix University of Theology.

[1] New International Encyclopedia of Bible Characters, James.
[2] Stephen Miller, Who’s Who and Where’s Where in the Bible, James, 182.
[3] New International Encyclopedia of Bible Characters, James.
[4] Stephen Miller, Who’s Who and Where’s Where in the Bible, James, 182.

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