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UCGia Bible Insights Thursday, January 28 2021

James - Half-brother of Jesus

For years James, the younger half-brother of Jesus, had trouble believing Jesus was the Son of God (John 7:5), but after witnessing Christ's crucifixion and resurrection he became an ardent believer and disciple.

by Jerold Aust

Though Jesus and James had the same mother, Jesus was the son not of Joseph, as James was, but of God the Father —a fact James did not fully comprehend until after Jesus' resurrection and His appearance to James and the disciples. It appears that until that time, James and Jesus' other brothers showed Him no honour, which saddened Jesus, who spoke from personal experience when He said, "Only in his hometown, among his relatives and in his own house is a prophet without honour" (Mark 6:4, New International Version).

Once James understood who Jesus really was, he gave himself entirely to God and soon became an important figure in the early Church. In Acts 15:13-21, as pastor of the Jerusalem church, we see him making the final declaration during an early ministerial conference. Peter also told others to report to James about his miraculous release from prison (Acts 12:17), and the apostle Paul, after his conversion, met with Peter and James before seeing any of the other apostles (Galatians 1:18-19). Later we see James advising Paul, and Paul then acting on that advice (Acts 21:18-26).

The Epistle of James

The second-century writer and historian Hegesippus referred to Jesus' brother as ‘James the Just’ and characterised him as zealous for the law of God. Many statements from the book of James prove Hegesippus was right. James was clear that a Christian must prove his faith by his actions—"works"—and that works perfect one's faith. "You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only," he wrote (James 2:24). Talking about Christianity is one thing. Acting on it is quite another.

James also addressed the crucially important topic of sin explaining how sin develops and where it leads. Sin begins with lust (James 1:14), and if we don't control our thoughts, our desires eventually develop into sinful actions (verse 15).

The epistle of James presents many problems to those who hold the view Jesus taught we no longer need to keep God's laws, or that those laws were somehow abolished at Christ's death and resurrection. If anyone knew how Jesus lived and what He taught and believed, it was James, a member of Christ's own household. James repeatedly upholds the need to keep God's laws, emphasizing the Ten Commandments and referring to God's law as "the royal law" (James 2:8). He specifically mentions several of the Ten Commandments, calling them "the law of liberty" (James 2:11-12) and encouraging us to be a "doer of the law" (James 4:11).

The Martyrdom of James

Not long after writing his epistle, James was martyred in Jerusalem in A.D. 62. According to Josephus, he was accused by the high priest and condemned to death by stoning (Antiquities of the Jews, Book 20, chap. 9, sec. 1). Eusebius says he was taken to the top of a wing of the temple, and "demanded that he should renounce the faith of Christ before all the people . . ." But, rather than deny Jesus, James "declared himself fully before the whole multitude, and confessed that Jesus Christ was the Son of God, our Saviour and Lord" (Ecclesiastical History, 1995, pp. 75-76).

Hegesippus tells us that at this point "they went up and threw down the just man [from the temple height], and said to each other, 'Let us stone James the Just.' And they began to stone him, for he was not killed by the fall, but he knelt down and said, 'I entreat thee, Lord God our Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.' One of them, who was a fuller, took the club with which he beat out clothes and struck the just man on the head. And thus he suffered martyrdom" (quoted in Biblical Archaeology Review, November-December 2002, p. 32).

James finally came to realise Jesus had given His life for him, and when the time came, faithfully gave his life for the brother he had once rejected. James, the half-brother of Jesus Christ, will be brought back to life at the resurrection of the just when Christ returns, and then he will continue to follow His brother's perfect example through all eternity.