How would you feel always being in the shadow of your much younger sibling? James was just that. He was the older brother to one of the better known disciples. However, James is almost always listed as the second disciple behind Peter before either of their brothers. James came from a very prominent family- the family of Zebedee with a great reputation. James and John were great friends with the other brother pair Peter and Andrew. They were all fishermen together in Galilee. But the main difference between them was that James and John were from a prominent family while Peter and Andrew were less than their status. However, all four of them were closest to Jesus, with Andrew being the least closest.
James, along with his brother, were nicknamed “Sons of Thunder”…which by all accounts in history, this was not exactly the kind of nickname one would hope to acquire. James was passionate but also abrasive. He was zealous, fervent, ambitious, but also bloodthirsty. You could probably assume that James was going down the road to self-destruction and possibly even family dishonor when he met Jesus. He was so overflowing with passion that it was rarely a good quality for him. But then he met Jesus. The way Peter must have felt when referred to as Simon, is probably the same way James (and John) must have felt when called the “Sons of Thunder”.
James was very opposite to Andrew. His focus was not the individual like Andrew. In fact, he rarely cared about others period. He was outspoken, intense, and overly impatient with any sinner. He was so quick to forget that he had just been someone like who he was condemning. The zeal he had was not good. It was apart from knowledge which, in turn, was damning and far from righteous. It was a dangerous zeal lacking wisdom. He was insensitive to the needs of others. His zeal was selfishly driven.
At one point in the ministry of Jesus’ and the disciples, a village did not want to turn to Jesus’ teaching. Samaria- the very people any good Jew should hate- was exactly where Jesus wanted to preach. He wanted to give hope. Selfishly and burning with contempt, James and his brother John asked Jesus- out of their arrogance probably one of the most insensitive and misguided things anyone could ask Jesus. They asked, “Lord do you want us to command fire to come down from Heaven and consume them?”
Who was James to think he had the right to do something like that? Who was James thinking he could lead his younger brother and ask such a ridiculous question? They were asking Jesus- the Lord who came from Heaven to let them have the power to incinerate a village. They expected Jesus to give them such a power, asking Jesus to enable them to do what they knew he would not do. Jesus stood on the grounds of grace and love, giving time for repentance when all James wanted to do was condemn.
How quick we are to condemn…to call fire down. How quick we are to forget where we came from.
There was another ridiculous moment in James’ life under Jesus’ discipleship that just makes me laugh. James and John, I am positive, were momma’s boys. They were rich kids from a good family among 10 others [the 12 disciples] that were probably all from lesser families. At one point, James and John asked their mom to talk to Jesus for them. Her request, of course came from their mouths, most likely James’. She went to Jesus asking him to allow for her sons to sit on each side of him on thrones in Heaven. Those were seats of honor they felt they deserved, for some odd reason.
Jesus’ response was profound, though at the time they didn’t quite get it. “Are you able to drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I have?” Jesus was referring to his own death, the crucifixion. However, James and John said they were able, thinking purely in the literal. It wasn’t until 14 years after Jesus’ death and resurrection that James fully understood the significance of that question and he lack of wisdom in his answer. During those 14 years, James learned to turn his thunderous spirit into something good. He helped change the world. He was bold and unashamed of how Jesus changed his life. He was condemned to death for preaching the message of Christ. It is recorded that in his death, which was to be by the sword (beheading), a Roman official also gave their life to Christ and died right there with him. So it was at the end of those 14 years that his final breath would be, not as a Son of Thunder, but as an apostle of Jesus Christ, the true Messiah.