James, the brother of Jesus

Were you there—when He rose up from the grave?

6. James, the Brother of Jesus

5. The Disciples | Index | 7. More than 500 brothers

James, the Brother of Jesus

The verses we are considering in this chapter will be read shortly, together.

Look for the right ‘James’

The ‘James’ we are considering now is named six times in the New Testament. The few verses quoted have the name ‘James’ in them. Those brief verses speak for themselves.

In the longer passage, Acts 12:12–22, see his name once, but notice that James takes the initiative in verse 13 as President of the Council, in a very detailed and crucial matter which involves many Christians and Christian leaders. He announces his decision in verse 19. He is in charge, under God.

  • Galatians 1:1819: ‘Then after three years, I went up to Jerusalem to get acquainted with Peter and stayed with him fifteen days. I saw none of the other apostles—only James, the Lord’s brother.’
  • Galatians 2:9:James, Peter and John, those reputed to be pillars, gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship.’
  • Galatians 2:12: ‘Before certain men came from ’
  • Acts 12:17: ‘Peter motioned with his hand for them to be quiet and described how the Lord had brought him out of prison. “Tell James and the brothers about this.”’
  • Acts 15: 1222: ‘Then all the multitude kept silent and listened to Barnabas and Paul declaring how many miracles and wonders God had worked through them among the Gentiles. 13 And after they had become silent, James answered, saying, “Men and brethren, listen to me: 14 “Simon has declared how God at the first visited the Gentiles to take out of them a people for His name. 15 And with this the words of the prophets agree, just as it is written: 16 ‘After this I will return And will rebuild the tabernacle of David, which has fallen down; I will rebuild its ruins, And I will set it up; 17 So that the rest of mankind may seek the LORD, Even all the Gentiles who are called by My name, Says the LORD who does all these things.’ 18 Known to God from eternity are all His works. 19 Therefore I judge that we should not trouble those from among the Gentiles who are turning to God, 20but that we write to them to abstain from things polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from things strangled, and from blood. 21 For Moses has had throughout many generations those who preach him in every city, being read in the synagogues every Sabbath.” 22 Then it pleased the apostles and elders, with the whole church, to send chosen men of their own company to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas, namely, Judas who was also named Barsabbas, and Silas, leading men among the brethren.’
  • Acts 21:18: ‘The next day Paul and the rest of us went to see James, and all the elders were present.’

 Crucified, punished, dead—and rose again!

We continue to ‘meet’ people who met the risen Lord Jesus Christ, God the Son. He died on the cross to bear our sins. Jesus was punished in our place in darkness divinely sent at mid-day. He willingly suffered there out of sight from the gathered crowd, as in anguish He paid, in three divinely concentrated hours, the eternal penalty for our sins from God the Father. On the third day He rose from the grave. The tomb was empty! We have seen already that the once crucified, but now risen, loving Lord met the women who came there, then Simon Peter, then the two travellers to Emmaus, and then the gathered disciples.

Which James?

But we are also told that, between appearing to the crowd of ‘five hundred of the brothers,’ which we will look at in the next chapter, and the apostles, whom we included when considering the disciples, He ‘Then He appeared to James.’ You might ask ‘Which James?’ There are four men named ‘James’ in the New Testament. Let us see, briefly, who the other three are.

First, there is James the brother of John, who with his brother became apostles and once were nick-named ‘Boanerges, which means Sons of Thunder’ (Mark 3:17). James was ‘put to death with the sword’ by Herod Agrippa I in AD 44 (Acts 12:2). Jesus had said that James and John would suffer after their mother had asked for a high place in God’s glory for them (Mark 10:39). James’ brother, John, was exiled to the Isle of Patmos, from where he wrote the book of Revelation under the Holy Spirit’s inspiration.

Second, there is another Apostle, James the son of Alphaeus (Matthew 10:3; Acts 1:13). He is also known as ‘James the younger’ (Mark 15:40)—or ‘James the less’ in some translations. His mother is Mary—not Mary the mother of Jesus, nor Mary Magdalene. (There were a number of Marys, too.)

Third, a man called James is the father of the least known Apostle, Judas, who is not Judas Iscariot (Jesus’ betrayer who committed suicide in remorse.) We know this Judas is not Judas Iscariot, who is mentioned separately in the list of the apostles (Luke 6:16).

This leaves us with the fourth James. He met the risen Lord individually, after the 500 brothers had met their resurrected Saviour, but before the apostles met Him (1 Corinthians 15:7). We now concentrate on him and see how God’s grace works in a remarkable way!

James, Jude and their physical brother—the Lord Jesus Christ

This James is a physical brother of Jesus Christ (Matthew 13:55; Mark 6:3; Galatians 1:9). He is also Jude’s brother. (Jude is also called Judas at times.) Jude wrote a book one chapter long, which bears his name and comes just before the book of Revelation. Jude 1:1 identifies Jude as, ‘a servant of Jesus Christ and a brother of James.’ So James has Mary as his mother—exactly like Jesus, except that James has a human father as well as a human mother. Remember that the virgin Mary conceived Jesus as the Holy Spirit came on her. She resumed sexual relations with her husband only after Jesus was born.

Being in Jesus’ physical family could not and did not save James

Remarkable as it is, having Jesus as his brother could not save James or Jude. Everyone needs to repent and trust in Jesus personally as their Saviour and Lord, as God the Holy Spirit works in his or her life. In Mark 3:20–21 Jesus is in a crowded house. And so many are there, that Jesus and His disciples are not ‘even able to eat.’ His family think that Jesus is ‘out of His mind’ and go to ‘take charge of Him.’ None of Jesus’ brothers are then listed as apostles. There is no hint that James or Jude trust in or follow Jesus at this particular time. They are probably there with all the family, trying to control Jesus. What a bizarre thought, that they thought they knew better than Jesus did! This also reminds us that neither can any of us become a Christian just by being a member of a Christian family: it is a personal relationship with Jesus, through repentance and personal belief in Him, that counts.

Where and when were James and Jude converted?

What changes James and, later, Jude? Risen Jesus meets James—separately from the apostles. Each of the two brothers must, at some time, have come to believe the dual truth of Jesus’ resurrection and His death on the cross to forgive and change sinners who turn from sin and trust in Him personally. We are not told when or where that happened. It is vital for any saved person to know now that he or she is saved: where and when are secondary. Sometimes those facts are easily recalled, but sometimes not. The main point is that a new spiritual life in Christ always displays saving faith, even if the person concerned finds it hard to say exactly when and where it happened (2 Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 6:15).

But if Christ takes control of your life, He forgives, cleanses and empowers you to live for Him. Things do change radically. Jude 24–25 show what Jude now thinks and passionately believes about his once rejected brother, Jesus, ‘To Him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before His glorious presence without fault, and with great joy—to the only God our Saviour be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen.’ Read all Jude’s short letter correcting false teachers who teach error about Jesus and who try to make Christians live sinful lives.

James’ life changes dramatically. Who would have thought that God would make a sceptical brother into such a loving follower of Jesus and become such an inspiring leader of fellow Christians?

The Holy Spirit inspires all writers of all the Bible’s books. This includes the book of James. It teaches some precious truths, including that ‘faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead’ (James 2:17). It is not really faith unless it produces a changed lifestyle. Faith is more than mere head belief. ‘Even the demons believe [that ‘there is one God’]—and shudder’ (James 2:19). No demon can be saved! You are saved only if you turn from sin, and trust in Jesus by asking him into your heart as your Lord and Saviour.

James, now knowing the risen Jesus as his Saviour, becomes the influential leader and overseer of the entire church in Jerusalem. You will see that is so by reading the answers, given below, to some important questions about the early church. See how God changes, enables and uses a man who trusts in Christ. God makes him a blessing to others. That can, and should, include you!

  • Who does the recently converted Paul of Tarsus go to see in Jerusalem to be assured by him that he is on the right road? James
  • Who are the church’s three pillars hearing of the work of Paul and Barnabas with the Gentiles? James, Peter and John (in that order).
  • Who sends the men to discuss a problem with Paul? James
  • Who does Peter say should be told when he is freed from jail? James
  • Who leads the meeting of the leaders and the church about considering the place of Gentiles in the early church? James
  • Who takes the authority to come to a decision after the discussion in that meeting, and who suggests a plan of action to follow? James
  • Who is asked for advice about how things should be done? James
  • Who starts with no confidence in Jesus, along with his family? James
  • Who is changed entirely by meeting the risen Jesus after He died on the cross to bear his sins and their penalty? James
  • Who is inspired by God’s Holy Spirit to write a book which points out that if you are really saved your life will show it? James
  • What is the name of that challenging book of five chapters? James
  • Who do you think historians say sealed his testimony of faith in Christ by being stoned as a martyr in AD 61, by order of the then high priest Ananus, after the procurator, Festus, died? James

 Encouraging and amazing

Only God’s grace can produce such a change in a man who, along with his wider family, is sceptical and does not trust Jesus, much less trust in Him. A good church or group leader must first be a soundly converted man, then someone who trusts and obeys the Lord Jesus in everyday life and duties. James obviously finds His understanding of God and spiritual issues growing to the point where he becomes a member of Jesus’ three man ‘inner cabinet’ and ends up as President of the Council of true believers in the Lord Jesus Christ. Maybe God has a very responsible task or position for you in His plans? You will never be able to do it properly unless you love the Lord with all your heart, mind, soul and strength, and are prepared to love your neighbour—meaning a person in need—as yourself (Luke 10:27). God’s grace, that changed an unbelieving physical brother into a truly effective and devoted spiritual brother and child of God, is sufficient for you too. If you become a Christian leader in the days ahead, humbly remember it all started with repentance and faith, and keep living like that and honouring Jesus.

Some final questions for you!

Do you realise that Jesus died so you can be forgiven and changed? Do you know Jesus dwelling in your heart as your risen and living Lord and Saviour?  If so, though not a historic apostolic leader like James, does your life bless others now? Are you a good and humble example to others?  Are you prepared to suffer for Christ, if and when that is required of you? Have you read the book of James carefully? Have you read the book of Jude equally carefully? Are you spending time each day with God in your quiet time of prayer and Bible reading?

Please check the verses on James given at the start of this chapter. They support the answers to the questions posed.