Meeting the Apostle James (Son of Zebedee)

Meeting the Apostle James (Son of Zebedee) May 29, 2024

Our examination of the twelve apostles has, so far, revealed the lives and ministries of three of them: Peter, Andrew, and Philip. We’ve seen the incredible journeys they made, moving from people living ordinary lives thrust into a powerful world of Kingdom transformation. They teach us about good leadership, overcoming flaws, and learning to seek faith in a deeper way. In this installment, we will learn about the Apostle James (son of Zebedee).

Among apostles with short biographies, the Apostle James (sometimes called James the Great) might be the shortest. That’s because he was the first to be martyred for his ministry. Read on to learn all we can know about the Apostle James the Great.

St. James the Elder by Peter Paul Rubens, public domain. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Who was James the Great?

We don’t have any early history for James the Great. He was from Capernaum on the Sea of Galilee. Scripture tells us his father was named Zebedee (Matthew 4:21-22, Mark 1:19-20) and his mother, Salome (Matthew 27:56, Mark 15:40). Salome was Mary’s cousin, thus making James a cousin of Jesus. In Orthodox tradition, Salome is considered a Myrrhbearer, one of the first women to visit the tomb and witness the resurrection of Jesus. His brother, John, was also an apostle (and prominent New Testament writer). Both he and his brother were also fishermen, as were Peter and Andrew.

James and his brother, John were nicknamed Boanerges, meaning “sons of thunder.”

James son of Zebedee and his brother John (to them He gave the name Boanerges, which means “sons of thunder”). (Mark 3:17, NIV)

Such was to indicate their temperament; quick to anger and impulsive behavior without much consideration or thought for results.

James the Great (sometimes called James the Elder) is so-called to distinguish him from James son of Alpaheus, another apostle named James.

James’ walk with Jesus

The Apostle James is considered to have been in Jesus’ inner circle, along with Peter and John. There are three specific events only those three were able to witness:

  • Raising of Jarius’ daughter from the dead: James was there when Jesus raised Jarius’ daughter from the dead (Mark 5:37 and Luke 8:51).
  • The Transfiguration: Peter, James, and John were privileged to see the transfiguration of Jesus. (Matthew 17:1-13).
  • The agony in the garden of Gethsemane: As Jesus prepared to die, He took the three with Him through His time of reflection and agony (Mark 14:33 and Matthew 26:37).

There are two experiences unique to James and John. The first was their desire to rain down fire to destroy a Samaritan village (Luke 9:51-56). Jesus rebukes them before going on to another village. The second is when James and John had their mother ask Jesus for a seat on His right and left in the Kingdom (Mark 10:35-40). Jesus tells them that such isn’t His to assign.

They replied, “Let one of us sit at Your right and the other at Your left in your glory.”

“You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said. “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?”

“We can,” they answered.

Jesus said to them, “You will drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with, but to sit at My right or left is not for Me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared.” (NIV)

In all other references, James is part of the greater group of the twelve apostles.

James after the resurrection

Outside of the replacement of Judas in Acts 1:12-14, there’s one other mention of the Apostle James in the New Testament:

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. (Acts 12:1-2, NIV)

The Apostle James (son of Zebedee) was martyred somewhere around 44 AD. Prior to this, many believed he ministered in Palestine and Spain.

It’s unlikely James the Greater was author of the book of James, nor was he the James that led the church at Jerusalem. Both are assigned to James son of Alphaeus, sometimes called James the Younger. (We will explore his life and ministry in a later column.)

Later accounts

There are no later accounts of the Apostle James (son of Zebedee), due to his early martyrdom.


The Apostle James played a major role during Christ’s ministry. Even though his ministry work was shorter than the other apostles, it doesn’t lack purpose and zeal. This son of thunder was able to transform his rash energy into energy for spiritual momentum. This accomplishment is one all young, immature, emotional, and temperamental ministers can learn from the maturing of his ministry.

As the time approached for Him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem. 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. (Luke 9:51-55, NIV)

About Lee Ann B. Marino
Dr. Lee Ann B. Marino, Ph.D., D.Min., D.D. (”The Spitfire”) is “everyone’s favorite theologian” leading Gen X, Millennials, and Gen Z as apostle of Spitfire Apostolic Ministries. Her work encompasses study and instruction on leadership training and development, typology, Pneumatology, conceptual theology, Ephesians 4:11 ministry, and apostolic theology. She is author of over thirty-five books, host of the top twenty percentile podcast Kingdom Now, and serves as founder and overseer of Sanctuary International Fellowship Tabernacle - SIFT and Chancellor of Apostolic University. Dr. Marino has over twenty-five years of experience in ministry, leadership, counseling, mentoring, education, and business. You can read more about the author here.

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