Tag Archives: Zebedee

Jesus’ Inner Circle: James (Part 4)

The Death of James

James is specifically mentioned just three times after the resurrection of Jesus.  He’s among the apostles who spent all night fishing, catching nothing until Jesus (the next morning) told them to let the net down on the right side of the ship.  Then they caught so many fish, they couldn’t bring the net into the boat.  James was one of the apostles who helped bring the boat to shore, dragging this massive catch with them.  Then Jesus invited James and the others to “come and dine,” which they did.1

Just a matter of days later, James watched as Jesus ascended into heaven after telling all the apostles to stay in Jerusalem until they received the Holy Spirit.  He went into an upper room with his fellow-apostles and other disciples where a replacement was chosen for Judas.  Then, on the Day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came upon James and the other apostles, and they all began to preach the word of God in different languages.  No doubt, James spent a large part of that day happily baptizing some of the 3,000 who gladly received the word of God.2

But things didn’t continue on their positive streak.  Saul of Tarsus and the Jewish leaders stirred up the people in antagonism against the church.  Herod the king, who wanted the Jews to like him, began to persecute the church.3  Some of them he arrested,4 and James was among them.  Since James was a leader of the church, Herod had him killed with the sword.5

So ends the life of a man who was Jesus’ cousin, Jesus’ disciple, and Jesus’ friend.

Traditions About James

Since his life ended in AD 42-44, and the Bible records it, there’s not much in the line of traditions about this member of the “inner circle.”  One writing says that “Zebedee was of the house of Levi, and his wife of the house of Judah.  Now, because the father of James loved him greatly, he counted him among the family of his father Levi, and similarly, because the mother of John loved him greatly, she counted him among the family of her father Judah.  And they were surnamed ‘Children of Thunder,’ for they were of both the priestly house and the royal house.”6

A writing that claims to be written by Clement (the man mentioned in Philippians 4:3) records this incident:

But a certain Samaritan, speaking against the people and against God, and asserting that neither are the dead to rise, nor is that worship of God to be maintained which is in Jerusalem, but that Mount Gerizim is to be reverenced, added also this in opposition to us, that our Jesus was not He whom Moses foretold as a Prophet to come into the world. Against him, and another who supported him in what he said, James and John, the sons of Zebedee, strove vigorously; and although they had a command not to enter into their cities, nor to bring the word of preaching to them, yet, lest their discourse, unless it were confined, should hurt the faith of others, they replied so prudently and so powerfully, that they put them to perpetual silence. For James made an oration concerning the resurrection of the dead, with the approbation of all the people; while John showed that if they would abandon the error of Mount Gerizim, they should consequently acknowledge that Jesus was indeed He who, according to the prophecy of Moses, was expected to come; since, indeed, as Moses wrought signs and miracles, so also did Jesus. And there is no doubt but that the likeness of the signs proves Him to be that prophet of whom he said that He should come, ‘like himself.’ Having declared these things, and more to the same effect, they ceased.7

The Acts of James in India says that James and Peter went to preach to the Jews in India, where they healed a blind man, were imprisoned, were released, and converted the people.8

The Martyrdom of James says that the son of Zebedee preached to the diaspora, the twelve tribes who lived outside the Promised Land, convincing them to give their “first-fruits” to the church as opposed to Herod, which then led to the murder of James by Herod.9

-Bradley S. Cobb

1 This incident is recorded in John 21:1-14.

2 These events are recorded in Acts 1 and 2.

3 Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 18-19, says that this Herod (Herod Agrippa I) was zealous for the Jewish law.  He, like his grandfather, Herod the Great, wanted the Jews to like him.  This is why he persecuted the church, and why he continued when he saw that killing James please the Jews.  See Chuck Northrop’s comments on Acts 12:1-2 in Preaching School Notes (Bible Institute of Missouri) for e-Sword.  Available at TheCobbSix.com.

4 See The NET Bible footnotes on Acts 12:1.

5 Most likely, this means that he was beheaded.

6 See The Genealogies of the Twelve Apostles in Budge, Contendings of the Apostles, Vol. 2, page 49.

7 The Recognitions of Clement, Book 1, chapter 57.  This writing is classed among the pseudo-Clementine literature, because its authenticity is rejected by almost all scholars.  It can be found in The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 8, page 92.

8 See The Acts of James in India, in Budge, Contendings of the Apostles, Vol. 2, pages 295-303.  This work, among other things, seeks to elevate the status of Peter, having James call him “my father” multiple times.

9 See Budge, Contendings of the Apostles, Vol. 2, pages 304-308.  This writing is shown to be a forgery because it is historically inaccurate.  James was killed between AD 42-44, yet The Martyrdom of James claims that James was teaching people not to serve Nero—who was at that point no more than seven years old, and who wouldn’t become emperor for at least another ten years.  See also International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, “James.”

Jesus’ Inner Circle: James (Part 3)

James of the “Inner Circle”

The idea of an “inner circle,” a group closer to Jesus than the rest of the apostles, first appears the next time James shows up in the biblical record.  There are three times where Jesus specifically separated James, Peter, and John from the rest of the apostles and had them join Him for an important event.

Jairus’ Daughter Raised

Jesus returned to Galilee where a crowd of people had been waiting for Him,1 and a man named Jairus, the ruler of the synagogue, fell to Jesus’ feet and begged Him, “My little daughter lies at the point of death; come and lay your hands on her so that she might be healed; and she will live.”2  Jesus, along with His disciples and a mob of people, followed Jairus towards his house; but then Jesus stopped, turned around, and said, “Who touched me?”3  James looked around at the massive crowd that was “thronging” Jesus, and in effect said, “What do you mean?  Everyone’s touching you!”4  But Jesus saw the woman who had touched the hem of His garment, and told her “Daughter, your faith has made you whole; go in peace, and be whole of your plague.”5

Then someone from Jairus’ house came and said, “Your daughter is dead, why trouble the Teacher anymore?”  Jesus responded by telling Jairus, “Don’t be afraid, just believe.”6 It is at that point that Jesus hand-picks James, his brother John, and Peter to be the only ones who are permitted to follow Him to the house.  And when they got to the house, finding people weeping and mourning, Jesus told them “Why are you making this noise and weeping?  The damsel didn’t die, but is sleeping.”  When the people mockingly laughed at Jesus, He sent them all out, only allowing James, Peter, John, and the girl’s parents to come into the room and see what He would do.  Then He took the girl by the hand and said, “Maid, arise.”  And she came back to life.  This was followed by a command not to tell anyone what happened.7

The Transfiguration

Some time later, Jesus took James (along with Peter and John) up to a mountain where He prayed.  Then something happened.  Jesus’ face began to shine like the sun,8 and His clothing was white as the light.9  But James, John, and Peter were extremely tired and had fallen asleep while Jesus was praying.  When they woke up, they “saw His glory” and they saw Moses and Elijah standing with Jesus, talking to Him.10  James was silent, but he watched as Peter said to Jesus, “It’s good for us to be here.  If you want, let us make here three tabernacles; one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”11

Then a [bright] cloud overshadowed them: and they feared as they entered into the cloud.  And there came a voice out of the cloud, saying, “This is my beloved Son, [in whom I am well-pleased]. Listen to Him.”12

And when the disciples heard it, they fell on their faces and were very afraid.  And Jesus came and touched them, and said, “Arise, and don’t be afraid.”  And when they had lifted up their eyes, they saw no man except Jesus only.13

And as they came down from the mountain, He charged them that they should tell no man what things they had seen until the Son of man was risen from the dead.  And they kept that saying with themselves, questioning one with another what the rising from the dead should mean.14

On the way down the mountain, James and the other two asked Jesus about the scribes’ contention that Elijah must come first.  After hearing the Lord explain that the scribes were right, but that Elijah had already come, understanding washed over the “inner circle” and they understood that Jesus had reference to John the Immerser.15

Inquiring About the Temple

After Jesus tells His disciples that “There shall not be one stone left upon another that shall not be thrown down,” James (along with Peter, Andrew, and John) ask Him privately, “Tell us, when shall these things be?  And what shall be the sign when all these things shall be fulfilled?”16  Jesus proceeds to give them, in some detail, information about the destruction of Jerusalem, including the events leading up to it.17

The Garden of Gethsemane

After the Last Supper, Jesus took the apostles with Him to Gethsemane, and instructed eight of them to “Sit here, while I go and pray [over] there.”  But He took with Him Peter, James, and John, and told just these three men, “My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even unto death.  You wait here and watch with me.”  After going a bit further and praying, Jesus returned to find the inner circle sleeping, and woke them up, saying (primarily to Peter, but also to James and John),18 “What?  Couldn’t you watch with me for one hour?  Watch and pray, that you do not enter into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”19

Jesus again went off to pray, and when He returned, they had fallen asleep again.  He said something to them, but then He went back to pray some more.20  After this third time, He told them (perhaps sarcastically), “Sleep on now, and take rest.  Behold, the hour is at hand, and the Son of man is betrayed into the hands of sinners.  Rise, let’s be going.  Look, He who betrays me is at hand.”21

The Inner Circle

Each time Jesus specifically called Peter, James, and John to come with Him, He had something important in mind.  First was to show His power to raise the dead.  Second was to His transfiguration where His superiority to Moses and Elijah was spoken from heaven.  Third was to watch with Him (apparently to keep an eye out for Judas and the soldiers) while He was deep in prayer. But just moments after this last event, the entire inner circle ran in fear as Jesus was taken prisoner by the band of soldiers led by Judas.

-Bradley S. Cobb

1 Luke 8:40.

2 Mark 5:21-23.

3 Mark 5:30 shows Jesus turning around and asking this question, but there the quotation is “Who touched my clothes?”  Luke 8:45 gives the quotation as “Who touched me?”  There is no contradiction here, for it is very possible that Jesus said, “Who touched me?  Who touched my clothes?”  Or it could also be that Luke records the exact quote while Mark gives the more exact meaning—since the woman didn’t actually touch Jesus, but touched His clothing.  In both accounts, the disciples asked why Jesus said “Who touched me?”

4 Mark 5:31.  This statement was made by all the disciples, and as is seen a little further in the narrative, James was indeed there.

5 Mark 5:32-34.

6 Mark 5:35-36.  Most translations render it “only believe,” which is a legitimate rendering, but “just believe” carries with it the same meaning and is more in keeping with modern speech.

7 This paragraph is an amalgamation of the accounts given by Luke (8:49-56) and Mark (5:35-43).  Matthew adds that Jesus’ fame spread because of this event (Matthew 9:23-26), probably from the people who had mocked Him just minutes before.

8 Matthew 17:2 is the only account where this description is given.  Luke simply says “His countenance was changed,” which is quite the understatement!

9 Mark 9:3 adds “like as no laundryman on earth can bleach them.”

10 Luke 9:32 is the only place where this information is given to us.  We aren’t told how exactly the three apostles knew that the two additional figures were Moses and Elijah.  Most likely it was due to overhearing part of the conversation that they were having with Jesus.  Perhaps they called each other by name as they talked.

11 It is interesting that with Moses, Elijah, and Jesus, God Himself was responsible for their deaths.  God killed Moses on Mt. Nebo, and buried him in Moab (Deuteronomy 34:5-7); God took Elijah in the whirlwind, ending his physical existence (2 Kings 2:11); and God was the one who caused the death of Jesus Christ (Acts 2:22-23).  Moses was buried, Elijah ascended, and Jesus Christ did both.

12 Luke 9:34-36.  The bracketed material is found in Matthew’s account, Matthew 17:5.

13 Matthew 17-6-8.  Matthew is the only writer to include this information.

14 Mark 9:9-10.  The other writers do not give us the information about Peter, James, and John’s conversation.

15 Mark’s account reveals for us that it was Peter, James, and John who asked this question (see Mark 9:2-13, and put with Matthew 17:9-13), and it wasn’t until after Jesus answered that they came to the other disciples (Mark 9:14, Matthew 17:14).

16 Mark 13:1-4.  That Andrew was part of this company is not surprising, since he was (1) Peter’s brother, and (2) is always joined with the other three in the listings of the apostles.

17 See Matthew 24, Luke 21, and Mark 13.

18 Matthew 26:40 shows that Jesus spoke to Peter, but he uses the plural “you” (“ye” in KJV) to show He is referencing the three of them.  It appears that even at this point, Peter was viewed somewhat as a leader among the apostles, for Jesus said this to Him.

19 Matthew 26:36-41.

20 When Mark records this incident, He says that the three men “did not know what to answer Him” the second time He came back (Mark 14:40).

21 Matthew 26:42-46.  That this is possibly sarcasm is seen in that Jesus tells them to “sleep on,” and almost immediately says “rise up.”

Jesus’ Inner Circle: James (Part 2)

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.

Jesus’ Inner Circle: James (Part 1)

We now come the point in our study where we begin to focus our attention on the men who writers call Jesus’ “inner circle”1 of the apostles: Peter, James, and John.  These men enjoyed a close relationship with Jesus, and as such, the Bible gives us more information about them than any of the other original apostles.

James and His Relations

James is unique among the “inner circle” in that every time he is mentioned in the Bible, he is always mentioned in connection with at least one of his relatives.

He is known as one of the “sons of Zebedee.”  In part, this is to distinguish him from another apostle, “James, the son of Alphaeus”; but there is also something noteworthy about Zebedee himself.  Zebedee was almost certainly a very devout child of God.  He raised two sons who later became apostles, and who left their business at a moment’s notice to follow Jesus.  His own wife was a firm (though misguided) believer in the coming kingdom,2 most likely a personal financier of Jesus’ ministry,3 and was present at the crucifixion of Jesus.4  These facts point to the likelihood of Zebedee being a very faithful child of God who worked hard to instill a love of the Lord in the hearts and minds of his family.

There is not a single passage in Scripture that mentions James without also mentioning his brother John.  And with only one exception, James is always mentioned first.5  This shows that these two brothers worked well together.  They were fishermen together,6 they were sent out as a pair to preach the gospel together,7 they were told together about the suffering they would endure for Jesus,8 and were in Jerusalem together until James was put to death.9

James was most likely Jesus’ cousin.  Matthew 27:56 lists three women who were at the cross:

  • Mary Magdalene
  • Mary the mother of James and Joses [also known as Mary, the mother of Jesus],10 and
  • The mother of Zebedee’s children.

John 19:25 mentions four women:

  • Mary, the mother of Jesus,
  • Mary’s sister [Salome],11
  • Mary, the wife of Cleophas, and
  • Mary Magdalene.

The mother of Zebedee’s children (his wife) could not be the same as the wife of Cleophas.12  Thus, the only other possibility is that James’ mother was Salome, the sister of Mary.13  Therefore, James and John were cousins of Jesus and His brothers.

James the Apostle

James was one of the first disciples to be called to be a permanent follower of the Lord.14 The fullest account of his calling is given by Luke:

It came to pass, that as the people pressed on Him to head the word of God, He stood by the lake of Gennesaret [Sea of Galilee], and saw two ships standing by the lake.  But the fishermen were gone out of them, and were washing their nets.  And he entered into one of the ships, which was Simon’s, and asked him that he would thrust out a little from the land.  And He sat down, and taught the people out of the ship.

Now when He had finished speaking, He said to Simon, “Launch out into the deep, and let down your nets for a draught [a catch].”

And Simon, answering, said to Him, “Master, we’ve toiled all the night, and have taken nothing: nevertheless at your command, I will let down the net.”  And when they had done this, they caught a great number of fish, and their net broke.  And they beckoned to their partners which were in the other ship, that they should come and help them.  And they came and filled both the ships, so that they began to sink.

When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.”  For he was astonished, and all that were with him, at the draught of the fish that they had taken.  And so also were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, which were partners with Simon.

And Jesus said to Simon, “Fear not; from now on, you shall catch men.”  And when they had brought their ships to land, they forsook all, and followed Him.15

Matthew and Mark both record that James was “called” by Jesus at this time.16

James, along with his brother John, followed Jesus to Capernaum, entered with him into the synagogue, and listened to Him teach with authority.  James must have turned with surprise when a man in the synagogue screamed out, “Leave us alone!  What do we have to do with you, you Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us?  I know you, who you are, the Holy One of God!”  And James watched with amazement as Jesus said, “Hold your peace and come out of him,” which was immediately followed by the man convulsing17 as a demon fought a hopeless battle to keep from being cast out of him.18

The same day, James accompanied Jesus as they went to Peter and Andrew’s house, where the Lord healed Peter’s mother-in-law.  That evening, James saw a crowd of people coming to Jesus from all over Capernaum, bringing all the sick, and all the demon-possessed people to Him—and Jesus healed them.  The next morning, James awoke from sleep and found that Jesus had left, so he accompanied Peter and looked until they found Him on a mountain where he had gone to pray.19

Some days later,20 James was called by Jesus to come to a mountain, and was selected to be part of a special group of twelve men, whom Jesus named “apostles.”21

-Bradley S. Cobb

1 The King James Commentary, on Luke 9:28, says, “Peter, James, and John made up the inner circle of disciples. At the outer perimeter was the group of five hundred who saw Christ after His resurrection (1 Cor. 15:6 ). A bit closer were the seventy disciples who were sent out two by two to preach and heal (Luke 10:1, 17 ). Still closer were the Twelve, of whom these three were specially selected to witness this event [the transfiguration], the raising of Jairus’ daughter, and Jesus’ agony in Gethsemane.”

2 Matthew 20:20-21.  More will be said on this passage later in this chapter.

3 Matthew 27:55-56 shows that Mrs. Zebedee (whose name was Salome) was among those who “followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering to Him.”  Luke 8:2-3 describes certain women, and “many others” who ministered to Jesus out of their own substance.  Most likely, then, Salome was one of the women who personally financed Jesus’ ministry.  See also the Dictionary of Christ in the Gospels, ed. James Hastings, “James” (second footnote).

4 Matthew 27:55-56.

5 That one exception is Luke 9:28, where Jesus takes “Peter and John and James” to the mount where He is transfigured.  Both Matthew and Mark, when describing the same event, say “James and John.”  There are also some Greek manuscripts which also have James listed after John in Luke 8:51 and Acts 1:13 (see ESV at those verses), but the manuscripts that God saw fit to providentially preserve throughout the past two millennia read “James and John.”

6 Matthew 4:18-22.

7 See Matthew 10:1-4, and Mark 6:7.

8 Matthew 20:20-23.

9 Acts 8:1, 14; 12:2, 12; 13:13; Galatians 2:1, 9.

10 Matthew 27:56 and Mark 15:40 do not describe Mary as “the mother of Jesus,” because Jesus had died, whereas John 19:25 mentions her prior to Jesus’ death, thus calls her “His [Jesus’] mother.”

11 See Mark 15:40.

12 John refers to himself as one of “the sons of Zebedee.”  It is beyond credulity to believe that he would then identify his mother as the wife of some other man when his father was in all likelihood still alive (see Mark 1:20).

13 As discussed in the chapter on “James, the Son of Alphaeus,” the Catholic Church wants to make Mary, the wife of Cleophas, the same as the sister of Mary (mother of Jesus).  This suggestion has been thoroughly disproven both in that chapter, as well as in writings from other individuals, and as such is not even mentioned as a possibility here.

14 See Matthew 4:18-22.  It is generally believed that, like Peter and Andrew, the two sons of Zebedee followed Jesus prior to their official calling.  Many think that John (the brother of James) refers to himself in John 1:35-37, and that after being told that Jesus was “the Lamb of God,” he would have run to tell his brother.  Behind this supposition is the fact that John never mentions himself or his brother by name in his gospel account, though it is obvious (based on the other gospel writings) that both were present.

15 Luke 5:1-11.

16 Matthew 4:18-22; Mark 1:16-20.

17 Mark 1:26, Modern Literal Version.

18 These events are recorded in Mark 1:21-28, as well as Luke 4:31-37.

19 These events are recorded in Mark 1:29-36, as well as Luke 4:38-44.

20 We are not told how much time elapsed between the events in Luke 4 and in Luke 6.  It could have been several months, considering that Jesus went around Galilee preaching in the synagogues prior to selecting the apostles (Mark 1:39, see also 2:1, 3:13-19).

21 Luke 6:12-16.