The Correction of James
There are two specific incidents in the life of James (and his brother John) where he has to be corrected in his thinking. The first is found in Luke 9. Jesus determined to go to Jerusalem, because His time was nearing, and sent messengers1 to go before Him into a village of Samaria. But the Samaritans would not receive Jesus because His plan was to go to Jerusalem.2 As a result, James and his brother (living up to their name, Boanerges, or “Sons of Thunder”) came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them, like Elijah did?” But Jesus stopped, turned around, and rebuked them both, and said “You don’t know what manner of spirit you are, for the Son of man is not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save.”3
The second incident occurs in Mark 10:35-45. James, along with John, approached Jesus (Matthew 20:20-21 tells us that they had their mother ask for them):
Saying, “Master, we desire that you should do for us whatever we shall ask.” And He said to them, “What do you desire me to do for you?” They said to Him, “Grant to us that we might sit, one on your right hand, and the other on your left hand, in your glory.”
But Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Can you drink of the cup which I am drinking? [Can you] be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?”
And they said to Him, “We can.” And Jesus said to them, “Indeed the cup I am drinking, you shall drink; and the baptism with which I am being baptized with, you shall be baptized. But to sit on my right hand and on my left hand is not mine to give; but for whom it shall be prepared.”
Of course, as a result, the rest of the apostles were very upset with James and John for asking for superiority over the rest of them.4 In this statement is a prophecy of the martyrdom of James and John, for Jesus was enduring the baptism of suffering, the cup of sorrow, the rejection that would lead to His death.5
Then, Jesus told them (and the rest of the apostles), “Whoever shall be great among you shall be your servant; and whoever among you shall be the greatest shall be the servant of all.”6
-Bradley S. Cobb
1 The Greek phrase is απεστειλεν αγγελους (apesteilen angelous), which is the verb form of “apostle” followed by the plural for “messengers” (or “angels”).
2 It must be remembered that the Samaritans rejected the idea of worshiping in Jerusalem (see John 4:5-20, especially the first and last verses of that section). So it shouldn’t be surprising that they weren’t very interested in preparing to welcome a religious leader whose practice contradicted their own.
3 Luke 9:54-56. The quotation from Jesus is missing in some corrupted manuscripts, and because of that, most modern translations leave it out. However, it is in the majority of Greek manuscripts, and was providentially preserved by God through the ages. The same is true for the phrase “like Elijah did” in verse 54.
4 Perhaps, as part of the inner circle, and having known Jesus the longest (they were cousins after all), they thought they were entitled to it. But they showed their cowardice (not a good trait in your right-hand man) by having their mother ask Jesus for them, while they stood there with her.
5 It is understood that most Bible scholars claim John died a natural death around 100 years old. However, it is almost universally agreed that when James was beheaded in Acts 12, it was a fulfillment of what Jesus said to him in Mark 10 and Matthew 20. If the death of James fulfilled that passage, then John had to die as well, otherwise Jesus was only half-right, and was therefore a false prophet. We will deal more with it in the chapter on John, but James’ brother was murdered prior to the destruction of Jerusalem.
6 Mark 10:43-44.