Meet the Apostle James: First to Die for Jesus

St. James the Elder by Rembrandt (1661)
St. James the Elder by Rembrandt (1661).

Public Domain

The apostle James was honored with a favored position by Jesus Christ. Not only was he one of the twelve chosen disciples of Jesus, but he was also one of three men in Christ's inner circle. The others were James' brother John and Simon Peter. One more great distinction of the apostle James was to be the first to die a martyr's death.

Apostle James

  • Also Known as: James of Zebedee; Nicknamed by Jesus “Boanerges” or “Son of Thunder.”
  • Known for: James followed Jesus as one of the 12 chosen disciples. This apostle James (for there were two) was the brother of John, and a member of Christ’s inner circle of three, along with Peter and John. He proclaimed the gospel after Jesus' resurrection and was the first apostle to be martyred for his faith.
  • Bible References: The apostle James is mentioned in all four Gospels and his martyrdom is cited in Acts 12:2.
  • Father: Zebedee
  • Mother: Salome
  • Brother: John
  • Hometown: He lived in Capernaum on the Sea of Galilee.
  • Occupation: Fisherman, disciple of Jesus Christ.
  • Strengths: James was a loyal disciple of Jesus. He apparently had outstanding personal qualities that are not detailed in Scripture, because his character made him one of Jesus' favorites.
  • Weaknesses: With his brother John, James could be rash and unthinking. He did not always apply the gospel to earthly matters.

Who Was the Apostle James?

James was among the first of the twelve disciples. When Jesus called the brothers, James and John were fishermen with their father Zebedee on the Sea of Galilee. They immediately left their father and their business to follow the young rabbi. James was probably the older of the two brothers because he is always mentioned first.

Three times James, John, and Peter were invited by Jesus to witness events no one else saw: the raising of the daughter of Jairus from the dead (Mark 5:37-47), the transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-3), and Jesus' agony in the Garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26:36-37).

But James was not above making mistakes. When a Samaritan village rejected Jesus, he and John wanted to call down fire from heaven upon the place. This earned them the nickname "Boanerges," or "sons of thunder." The mother of James and John also overstepped her bounds, asking Jesus to grant her sons special positions in his kingdom.

James' zeal for Jesus resulted in his being the first of the twelve apostles to be martyred. He was killed with the sword on order of King Herod Agrippa I of Judea, about 44 A.D., in a general persecution of the early church.

Two other men named James appear in the New Testament: James, the son of Alphaeus, another of Christ's chosen apostles; and James, the brother of the Lord, a leader in the Jerusalem church and author of the book of James.

Life Lessons

In spite of everything James experienced as a disciple of Jesus, his faith remained weak until after the resurrection. Once, when he and his brother asked Jesus for the privilege of sitting beside him in glory, Jesus promised them only a share in his suffering (Mark 10:35–45). They were learning that the greatest calling of a servant of Jesus is to serve others. James discovered that following Jesus Christ can lead to hardship, persecution, and even death, but the reward is eternal life with him in heaven.

Key Verses

Luke 9:52-56
And he sent messengers on ahead, who went into a Samaritan village to get things ready for him; but the people there did not welcome him, because he was heading for Jerusalem. When the disciples James and John saw this, they asked, "Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?" But Jesus turned and rebuked them, and they went to another village. (NIV)

Matthew 17:1-3
After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus. (NIV)

Acts 12:1-2
It was about this time that King Herod arrested some who belonged to the church, intending to persecute them. He had James, the brother of John, put to death with the sword. (NIV)

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Zavada, Jack. "Meet the Apostle James: First to Die for Jesus." Learn Religions, Aug. 17, 2021, learnreligions.com/profile-of-apostle-james-701062. Zavada, Jack. (2021, August 17). Meet the Apostle James: First to Die for Jesus. Retrieved from https://www.learnreligions.com/profile-of-apostle-james-701062 Zavada, Jack. "Meet the Apostle James: First to Die for Jesus." Learn Religions. https://www.learnreligions.com/profile-of-apostle-james-701062 (accessed December 2, 2021).