Jesus singled out three of his 12 disciples for special training. James, his brother John, and Peter made up this inner circle. Each eventually played a key role in the early church. Peter became a great speaker, John became a major writer, and James was the first of the 12 disciples to die for the faith.
The fact that his name is always mentioned before John’s indicates that James was the older brother. Zebedee, their father, owned a fishing business where they worked along with Peter and Andrew. When Peter, Andrew, and John left Galilee to see John the Baptist, James stayed back with the boats and fishing nets. Later, when Jesus called them, James was as eager as his partners to follow.
James enjoyed being in the inner circle of Jesus’ disciples, but he misunderstood Jesus’ purpose. He and his brothers even tried to secure their role in Jesus’ kingdom by asking Jesus to promise them each a special position. Like the other disciples, James had a limited view of what Jesus was doing on earth, picturing only an earthly kingdom that would overthrow Rome and restore Israel’s former glory. But above all, James wanted to be with Jesus. He had found the right leader, even though he was still on the wrong timetable. It took Jesus’ death and resurrection to correct his view.
James was the first of the 12 disciples to die for the gospel. He was willing to die because he knew Jesus had conquered death, the doorway to eternal life. Our expectations about life will be limited if this life is all we can see. Jesus promised eternal life to those willing to trust him. If we believe this promise, he will give us the courage to stand for him even during dangerous times.
Strengths and accomplishments:
- One of the 12 disciples
- One of the special inner circle of three with Peter and John
- First of the 12 disciples to be killed for his faith
Weaknesses and mistakes:
- Two outbursts from James indicate struggles with temper (Luke 9:54) and selfishness (Mark 10:37). Both times, he and his brother, John, spoke as one
Lesson from his life:
- Loss of life is not too heavy a price to pay for following Jesus
- Where: Galilee
- Occupations: Fisherman, disciple
- Relatives: Father: Zebedee. Mother: Salome. Brother: John
- Contemporaries: Jesus, Pilate, Herod Agrippa
Key verses: “Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him, ‘Teacher,’ they said, ‘we want you to do for us whatever we ask.’ ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ he asked. They replied, ‘Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory’ “ (Mark 10:35-37).
James’ story is told in the Gospels. He is also mentioned in Acts 1:13 and 12:2.