PHARISEES, Jewish Religious Leaders

The Pharisees were at various times a political party, a social movement, and a school of thought in the Holy Land during the Second Temple period. Pharisaic beliefs became the liturgical and ritualistic basis for Rabbinic Judaism (commonly known as simply Judaism).

The Pharisees were behind much of the opposition Jesus faced, and, sometimes, were the “in-your-face” source of opposition. It’s sad they didn’t realize they had much more in common with Jesus than any of the other religious groups of Jesus’ day. Jesus shared two of the Pharisees’ most important theological doctrines; a bodily resurrection, and a deep devotion to the Torah (the Jewish Law laid out in the first 5 books of the Old Testament).

But, there was a deep chasm between the Pharisees and Jesus. Why?

The Pharisees had become so zealous for correctly interpreting and holding people to the law, they turned it into a power thing. They were legalists. They were so concerned about the letter of the law, they missed the spirit of the law… and, thereby, missed the point of the law. Whether Jesus helped people or not was not nearly as important to them as how and when He did it.

They held themselves up above the people… and vigorously opposed anyone who represented a threat to their power and influence; we see this in their opposition to John the Baptizer, and then to Jesus.

The Jewish historian, Josephus, himself a Pharisee, estimated the total Pharisee population prior to the fall of the Second Temple to be around 6,000. The Pharisees seem to have received the backing and goodwill of the common people, apparently in contrast to the more elite Sadducees. Pharisees claimed Mosaic authority for their interpretation of Jewish Laws, while Sadducees represented the authority of the priestly privileges and prerogatives established since the days of Solomon, when Zadok, their ancestor, officiated as High Priest.

Some of the Pharisees mentioned in the NT were Nicodemus, Simon, Joseph of Arimathea, Gamaliel, and Saul (who would become Paul).

The word “pharisee” (and its derivatives: “pharisaical”, etc.) originally referred to ‘one who is separate/detached’ or ‘one who interprets’; it has come to describe a hypocritical and arrogant person who places the letter of the law above its spirit.


Modern-day Pharisees in churches today are not hard to find. There are still those who put process above all else. There are still those who are threatened if they sense their power is slipping away. There are still those who try to draw a circle around themselves and then point accusing fingers at those who aren’t in their circles.

But Jesus came to show Pharisees – then and now – a better way. The way of love and grace.

You can read of the Pharisees in secular history; and also in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John; and the book of Acts.

SAMARITAN WOMAN, Who Met Jesus at a Well

The Samaritan woman must have hated going to the well for water every day… all that work, all that gossip about her and her shameful situation; but, it was at that very well that this woman found the source for living water.  This would be water that would truly satisfy and bring eternal life.

No… it wasn’t a Fountain of Youth; it was the Savior of you!

The Samaritans lived in the north-central part of Israel, and they were descended from both Jews and foreign people who had been relocated to Israel by the Assyrians hundreds of years before.  So, Jews views Samaritans as “half-breeds”; both groups despised each other.

I.  The Savior at Sychar (John 4:1-6)

When Jesus was traveling from Jerusalem to Galilee, He took the most direct route – the route most Jews avoided – through Samaria.  There, He stopped at a well known as “Jacob’s Well” at Sychar.  And, there, He met the woman at the well, at midday (a time of day when most woman avoided going to a well for water).

II.  The “Sinner” at Sychar (John 4:7-27)

-  The Contact  (v.7-9)

The woman went at midday to avoid running into other people… people who would look down on her in their judgment of her.

Jesus asked her for water… and she wanted to know why He – a Jewish man – would be talking to her – a Samaritan woman.

-  The Contrasts  (v.10-27)

Jesus spoke to her.  He spoke to her of the difference between liquid water and living water.  He spoke to her of her situation… her many previous marital situations, and her current live-in situation.  He spoke to her of her need for something better… something more.   He spoke to her of true worship.

III.  The Soul-winner at Sychar  (John 4:28-42)

-  Her Faithfulness  (v.28-38)

She was amazed at Jesus… and went back to her village to tell others about Jesus.

-  Her Fruitfulness  (v.39-42)

Many Samaritans came back to that well with her to meet Jesus for themselves… and, that day, many of those Jews came to saving faith in Jesus as the Christ.


This woman had a checkered past.  And she wasn’t bragging about her present, either.  And, more than that, her future didn’t look to be any different.

Until, one day – a day that surely started out like any and every other – she met Jesus.  He reminded her of her past, but did not push her away because of it.  He reminded her of her present, but did not stop the current conversation.  And He reminded her of the future that could be hers.

No matter who you think you are, or what you are sure you have done, Jesus is anxious to have this same conversation with you.  Even today!

You can read the story of this Samaritan Woman in John 4:1-42.

NICODEMUS, Religious Leader Taught by Jesus

Nicodemus’ faith did not appear in a moment of sudden illumination.  Instead, it seems to have happened gradually.

The Bible tells us of only 3 episodes from Nicodemus’ life – all of the are recorded in the Gospel of John.

Scene 1

Nicodemus sat for a discussion with Jesus, hoping to hear more from the popular Rabbi/Teacher.  They met at night, leading many to conclude that Nicodemus feared the consequences of being seen with the controversial Jesus.  In Jesus’ encounter with Nicodemus, Jesus told the interested Pharisee that not one could experience God’s kingdom without being reborn.  Nicodemus was unable to see the difference between “earthly things” and “heavenly things” (John 3:12); he received a mild rebuke from Jesus… accompanied by further explanation (which included the most quoted verse in the Bible – John 3:16).

John does not tell us whether Nicodemus walked away from that conversation with Jesus having believed in Jesus… but the other two episodes that mention Nicodemus are revealing.

Scene 2

As the conspiracy against Jesus grew, some of the religious leaders rebuked the temple guards for not arresting Jesus when they had the chance.  In response, those same guards came to Jesus’ defense.  To this, the Pharisees reported that – since no religious leader had put his faith in Jesus as the Christ – neither should the guards.  Possibly in opposition of this claim, Nicodemus spoke up… challenging his colleagues for condemning Jesus without a hearing (John 7:45-51).

Scene 3

At the death of Jesus, Nicodemus helped Joseph of Arimathea take Jesus’ body from the cross and quickly bury it in an unused tomb (John 19:39-42).


Nicodemus’ spiritual journey can almost be seen taking one slow step after another… slow, but steady, growth.  He gradually became bolder in revealing his devotion to – and possibly love for – Jesus as the Christ.

Can others see similar growth in your life?

What is one action you can take today to show you identify with Christ?

*  A sure sign of growth is a faith of increasing boldness.

You can read the story of Nicodemus in John 3:1-21; 7:50,51; 19:39-42.

THOMAS, Apostle of Jesus

Thomas is best known for having doubting tendencies, but this disciple of Jesus – named Didymus – was capable of demonstrating courage and resolve, too.

When Jesus’ friend, Lazarus, died, Jesus set out for Bethany, near Jerusalem – not to pay His last respects, but to raise Lazarus from the dead!  But, doing so meant walking directly into the enemies’ lair.  The disciples were aware of the danger.  Jesus had already alluded to His death (John 10:15), so the disciples had their ears perked for any possible threat.  They were not blind to the growing opposition of the religious leaders.  They knew Bethany was risky.  Yet, Thomas was the only one who spoke in favor of Jesus’ plan, saying if their Master was going to die, the rest of them might as well die with Him.

Thomas was the one who asked a further question after Jesus spoke of the place God is preparing for His believers.  Jesus had just said, where He would go, these – and others – could follow.  Thomas said, “But we don’t know where You are going; so, how can we know the way there?”  Jesus answered, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life; no one comes to the Father except through Me.”

But, most people remember Thomas’ display of doubt concerning the resurrection of Jesus.  Thomas had been away from the rest of the apostles when Jesus appeared to them 10 other apostles in the upper room.  When he arrived later – and heard the news from the apostles (his closest friends) – he refused to believe it.

The rest of the apostles were obviously excited; chattering with one another about what – Who! – they had seen.  And Thomas listened.  But, he was still unconvinced… and voiced his doubts.  And that moment of honest questioning tagged him with the label “Doubting Thomas”; not by those apostles present, but by history since.

It must have been a miserable week for Thomas… until Jesus appeared to the apostles again – this time including Thomas – in that same upper room the next Sunday night.  Jesus suddenly appeared, and looked at Thomas; not with condemnation, but love: “Stop doubting and believe”.  Whatever uncertainty there was turned to immediate and total trust: “My Lord and my God!”

It’s easy to judge Thomas harshly; he is known throughout history as “Doubting Thomas” (as though none of the other apostles – or any Christian since, for that matter – ever doubted).  But, Thomas was not condemned by Jesus… nor was his belief rejected.  Jesus used that occasion to encourage Thomas… and also to bless those from that point on who would have faith without having seen with their own eyes.


Temporary, occasional doubts are normal in the Christian life.  They can even be a good thing if they motivate us to search harder for God… and get to know Him better.  It is only when we stay in our unbelief – or are too timid to dig deeper – that we displease God.

If you are struggling with doubts today, ask God to give you a fresh look at Jesus.  And, when He does, stop doubting and believe!

Thomas would be present with the other apostles at Jesus’ ascension… and, I assume, he was with them from that second Sunday night on.  Tradition says Thomas took the gospel to other places, outside of Galilee, as far as India.  And most of his time seems to have been spent in Parthia, which included parts of modern-day Turkey, Iraq, and Iran.  He is said to have died in Edessa, in modern-day Turkey.  Tradition says the cause of his death was 4 spears thrust into him by local soldiers in Edessa.

You can read the story of Thomas in John 11:16; 14:5; 20:24-29; Acts 1:13.

JUDAS ISCARIOT, Who Betrayed Jesus

It’s always been popular to give a child a biblical name.  But how many kids do you know named “Judas”?

Judas Iscariot is considered one of the most despised people in history. He did not accuse Jesus… or condemn or try or sentence Jesus… or mock or spit on or put the scourge to the back of Jesus… he did not drive the nails in Jesus’ hands & feet.  Yet, he is considered the more evil one in the crucifixion story.  Why?

Maybe because anyone could have done any or all of those other things to Jesus.  But, only a “friend” could betray Jesus.  You have to be close… trusted… to betray.  Betrayal is a personal offense.

-  List of Apostles… Matt. 10:4; Mark 3:19; Luke 6:10

judas is always listed last, and is usually listed with the descriptor as “the one who betrayed Jesus”.

We’re not told how or when Judas was called to follow Jesus.  We can only assume it was with the same enthusiasm and intent as the others.  I doubt he began to follow Jesus with the intent of betraying Him; He would have had many opportunities before the opportunity he took.  I think he saw Jesus, believed in Him (or, at least, His cause), and followed Him like the other apostles did.

He was chosen to be treasurer of the group… evidently trusted by someone to some extent.  There must have been some positive things about Him.

-  Jesus Foretells of Judas… John 6:70,71

-  Annointing at Bethany… John 12:1-7

-  Plot with the Religious Leaders…  Matt. 26:14-16; Mark 14:10,11; Luke 22:3-6

-  With Jesus in the Upper Room… Matt. 26:20-25

-  Jesus Washes Judas’ Feet…  John 13:2-5

-  Judas Identifies Judas as Being His Betrayer…  John 13:21-30

-  Jesus’ Prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane…  John 17:12

-  The Official Act of Betrayal…  Luke 22:47,48; Matt. 26:47-49; Mark 14:43-45; John 18:1-5

Why?  Was Judas greedy… and wanted the money?  If so, why did he then return it to the religious leaders who hired him?

Was it because he was an “outsider”… from Kerioth in S. Judah, and he never felt part of the group?

Was he “demon-possessed” and had no choice in the matter?

Was he disillusioned by Jesus and His teaching, and he saw himself as an enemy?

Was he disillusioned by Jesus’ actions and teaching as Messiah and, as a friend, he wanted to back Jesus into a corner, forcing Him to act… and to become the Messiah Judas thought He should be?

-  Returning the “Blood Money”…  Matt. 27:1-10

Was this an act of regret?  Remorse?  Even repentance?

He didn’t go back to the family of believers, but suffered alone… until his “grief” drive him to suicide.

-  His Death…  Acts 1:16-20 (Ps. 41:9; 69:25; 109:8)

There are more questions than answers about Judas.  Why did Jesus pick him to be an apostle, knowing what Judas would eventually do?  Why did Judas betray Jesus?  Was Judas’ sorrow after the betrayal unto repentance?  Is Judas in Heaven or Hell?

To be honest, the reason most of these questions are continually asked is because the answer lies only with God.  Only God knows…


To most people – maybe even to the other apostles – Judas appeared to be a committed follower of Jesus.  He was the treasurer of the group!  He had been given a task of importance no other apostles were not given.  So, he had to have been a believer, right?  Wring!  It is evidently possible to be very involved in Christian activity, and learn the lingo of the church, and look and act like a follower of Jesus… and still be lost.


Judas probably expected a military Messiah… a conquering King who would overthrow the Romans and set God’s people free.  Judas had seen how Jesus could impact people with His words… and miracles.  So, Judas wondered why Jesus didn’t do something?  Instead of acting forcibly, Jesus spoke of being a servant… turning the other cheek… being changed from the inside out… and taking up one’s cross.  So, maybe Judas had decided to try to force Jesus’ hand; maybe Judas was trying to back Jesus into a corner so He would have to come out swinging… with all of Heaven behind Him.

But, Jesus never deviated from His God-given mission.  And His mission was to save people from lostness.

We should be VERY cautious about trying to tell God what His agenda should be.  Rather than trying to manipulate God into doing what we want done, we should submit ourselves to His plan.

Whose agenda are you working today?

You can read the story of Judas in Matthew 10:4; Mark 3:19; Luke 6:16; John 6:70,71; 12:1-7; Matthew 26:14-16; Mark 14:10,11; Luke 22:3-6; Matthew 26:20-25; John 13:2-5,21-30; 17:12; 18:1-5; Luke 22:47,48; Matthew 26:47-49; Mark 14:43-45; Matthew 27:1-10; Acts 1:16-20.


Bartholomew was one of the Twelve Apostles of Jesus, and is identified as Nathanael in John’s Gospel.

Bartholomew comes from the Aramaic bar-Tôlmay, meaning son of Tolmay, or son of the furrows (probably a plowman/ farmer).  Bartholomew is listed among the 12 Apostles of Jesus in the 3 Synoptic gospels: Matt. 10:1-4; Mark 3:13-19; Luke 6:12-16.  He is mentioned as one of the witnesses of the Ascension; see Acts 1:4,12,13; each time he is named in the company of Philip.

Bartholomew has been identified with Nathanael, as presented in the Gospel of according to John 1:43-51.  Nathanael is introduced as a friend of Philip, and is introduced to Jesus by Philip.  Nathanael reappears in John 21:1,2 as one of the disciples to whom Jesus appeared at the Sea of Galilee after the Resurrection.


Eusebius of Caesarea’s Ecclesiastical History (5:10) states that, after the Ascension, Bartholomew went on a missionary tour to India, where he left behind a copy of the Gospel of Matthew.  Other traditions record him as serving as a missionary in Ethiopia, Mesopotamia,Parthia, and Lycaonia.  Popular traditions and legends say Bartholomew preached the Gospel in India, then went to Greater Armenia.

Mission to India

2 ancient testimonies exist about the mission of Saint Bartholomew in India. These are of Eusebius of Caesarea (early 4th century) and of Saint Jerome (late 4th century).  Both of these refer to this tradition while speaking of the reported visit of Pantaenus to India in the 2nd century.

His Death

Along with his fellow apostle Jude/Thaddeus, Bartholomew is reputed to have brought Christianity to Armenia in the 1st century.  Thus, both saints are considered the patron saints of the Armenian Apostolic Church.

He is said to have been martyred in Albanopolis in Armenia.  According to one account, he was beheaded; but a more popular tradition holds that he was flayed alive and crucified, head downward.  He is said to have converted Polymius, the king of Armenia, to Christianity.  Astyages, Polymius’ brother, consequently ordered Bartholomew’s execution.


Bartholomew/Nathanael was skeptical of Jesus at first.  But, Jesus wasn’t deterred by his skepticism.  In fact, Jesus seems to have had a sense of humor about it.  And, eventually, Bartholomew saw Jesus for who He really is.

God is not frightened by one’s skepticism; He is a big God.

Check Him out… honestly… with all of your doubts and concerns.  If you do so… honestly, I’m pretty sure you will come away as assured as Bartholomew did.  He was so confident Jesus is who He said He is, he would eventually die for his faith… by a very gruesome death.

You can read the Biblical account of Bartholomew’s story in John 1:43-51; Matt. 10:1-4; Mark 3:13-19; Luke 6:12-16; Acts 1:4,12,13; and John 21:1,2.


Thaddaeus/Jude/Judas (and even Lebbaeus!) was one of the twelve apostles of Jesus.

In the Roman Catholic Church, he is the patron saint of desperate cases and lost causes.

New Testament

Jude is clearly distinguished from Judas Iscariot, another apostle and the betrayer of Jesus. See Matt. 10:3; Luke 6:16; John 14:22; Acts 1:13.

Also Named Thaddaeus

To avoid any confusion, he is often called Thaddaeus. In the apostle-lists of Matt. 10:3 & Mark 3:18, Jude/Judas is omitted, but a Thaddaeus is mentioned in his place. “Thaddaeus” may have been his nickname; again, to distinguish him from Judas Iscariot.


Imagine being known throughout history, but not really known. In fact, by our time, no one can really be sure what his actual name was! And, there was no problem with the name… until it is associated with someone whose name will go down in history by leaving a bad taste in peoples’ mouths.

What is the importance of a name?

What do people associate YOUR name with?

You may not be famous… either today or sometime in the future. But, God knows who you are!

Tradition & Legend

Tradition says Jude preached the gospel in Judea, Samaria, Idumaea, Syria, Mesopotamia, & Libya. He is also said to have visited Beirut & Edessa.

In all probability, he spoke both Greek & Aramaic, like most of his contemporaries. It is thought he was a farmer by trade.

According to legend, Jude was a son of Cleopas & his wife, Mary, a cousin of Mary, the mother of Jesus. Tradition says Jude’s father, Cleopas, was martyred because of his forthright and outspoken devotion to the risen Christ. After all, Cleopas had spent Resurrection afternoon with Jesus!

Death & Remains

According to tradition, Jude suffered martyrdom by beheading about 65AD in Beirut, in the Roman province of Syria, together with the apostle Simon the zealot, with whom he is usually connected. The ax he is often shown holding in symbolic art is believed to have been the tool of his death.

Sometime after his death, Jude’s body was brought from Beirut to Rome and placed in a crypt in St. Peter’s Basilica.

You can read Jude’s few mentions (usually just in the context of the listings of the apostles) in Matthew 10:3; Mark 3:18; Luke 6:16; John 14:22; & Acts 1:13.

MATTHEW, Tax-Collector-turned-Apostle

Matthew the Apostle was 1 of the 12 Apostles of Jesus, and 1 of the 4 Gospel writers.

- Called to Be an Apostle… Matthew 9:9-13; Mark 2:13-17; Luke 5:27-32

Among the early followers and disciples of Jesus, Matthew is mentioned as a former tax-collector from Capernaum who was called into The Twelve by Jesus. He is sometimes called Levi; he was a son of Alpheus.

Matthew was a first-century Galilean. During the Roman occupation, Matthew collected taxes from the Hebrew people for Herod Antipas, the Tetrarch of Galilee. His tax office was located in Capernaum. Jews who became rich by collecting taxes were despised and were considered traitors… treated as outcasts. But, as a tax-collector, he would have surely been literate in Aramaic & Greek.

It was in this setting that Jesus called Matthew to be 1 of the 12 Apostles. Few would have approached Matthew’s tax booth willingly, but Jesus did.


It might seem strange to some that Matthew would leave behind such a wealthy career to wander the countryside with a traveling preacher. But, Jesus may have been the only one to have ever offered Matthew an invitation of any kind! He may have been the first to look into Matthew’s eyes and see someone beyond who he was at the moment.

After his call, Matthew invited Jesus home for a feast. On seeing this, the Scribes & Pharisees criticized Jesus for eating with tax-collectors and sinners. This prompted Jesus to answer, “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners”.


Matthew turned the invitation given to him into an invitation offered to others.

He simply threw a party, and invited his buddies. He didn’t invite them into a religious setting, where they might have felt uncomfortable… and maybe even unwelcome. He brought the Good News into their world! They had been turned off – or rejected – by religion, but they were attracted to – and intrigued with – Jesus.

Before you worry about reaching total strangers with the gospel, think about your non-Christian friends, neighbors, and co-workers. God has put these people in your life – and you in theirs – for a reason.

And, by the way, if you don’t have any unsaved friends, neighbors, or co-workers, you need to get out more! Don’t isolate yourself rom those you are supposed to be reaching!!


As you consider this gathering, do you put yourself inside the house with Matthew… or on the outside with his accusers?

In God’s eyes, we are ALL like those inside the house… and He loves us anyway!

- Listed as an Apostle… Matthew 10:1-4; Mark 3:13-19; Luke 6:12-19

As a disciple, Matthew followed Jesus. He was one of the witnesses of the Resurrection, and the Ascension.

Afterwards, the disciples withdrew to an upper room (Acts 1:10-14) in Jerusalem. The disciples remained in and around Jerusalem, and proclaimed that Jesus was the promised Messiah.

Later, church fathers such as Irenaeus and Clement of Alexandria claimed Matthew preached the gospel to the Jewish community in Judea, before going to other countries. Tradition says Matthew died a martyr.

Matthew’s Gospel

The Gospel of Matthew was written by Matthew the Apostle. His Gospel was written for primarily a Jewish audience first… for the very people who once hated him.

You can read Matthew’s story in the book of Matthew, but also interspersed throughout the other 3 Gospels (Mark, Luke & John).

PHILIP, Apostle of Jesus

Philip was one of the 12 apostles of Jesus.

- Philip’s Call to Be a Disciple of Jesus… John 1:43-47

Philip lived in Bethsaida, and was connected to Andrew & Peter, who were from the same town. He is also connected to Nathanael (Bartholomew), who Philip first introduced to Jesus.

- Philip’s Call to Be an Apostle of Jesus… Matt. 10:2-4; Mark 3:16-19a; Luke 6:13-16; Acts 1:13

Philip is always listed as 5th among the apostles.

- Philip Is Quizzed by Jesus… John 6:4-6

Philip was asked how they could feed 5,000 people. Philip hadn’t studied for this pop quiz. With thousands of hungry people gathered, and nothing to feed them, Philip was the apostle who was singled out. How could Philip come up with enough food for everyone? Would he look for the solution through the lens of faith or the lens of resources?

Jesus intended to perform a miracle that day. When He asked Philip how they could feed all those thousands of people, the apostle could only look at the crowd and focus on his lack of resources. So, his Teacher kept teaching.


How do you respond when it seems God has asked you to do the impossible? Do you answer, “It can’t be done” or “I don’t know how this is going to work out, but I trust you, God”?

* God always blesses faith that leads to action.

- Philip Introduces Others to Jesus… John 12:20-36

Philip was approached by Greeks who wanted to see Jesus.

Of the 4 Gospels, Philip figures more prominently in John’s Gospel. His 2 most notable appearances are as a link to the Greek community. “Philip” was a Greek name, and we might infer from the context that Philip spoke Greek. Philip introduced members of his community… his own people… to Jesus.

- Philip at the Last Supper… John 14:8-11

Philip had been with Jesus for 3 years… and it seems he wasn’t completely sure… or completely satisfied.

During the Last Supper, when Philip asked Jesus to show them the Father, he provided Jesus the opportunity to teach His disciples about the unity of the Father & Son.

Philip wanted to see God. That night, it was confirmed to him that his desire could be satisfied in Jesus.

Christian Tradition

Philip is mentioned more often in sources outside the Bible.

An early story about Philip is preserved in the Letter from Peter to Philip, dated at the end of the 2nd century or beginning of the 3rd (obviously not written by either Peter or Philip). This text begins with a letter from Peter to Philip, asking him to rejoin the other apostles at the Mount of Olives. This letter is believed to hint that Philip had travelled as a missionary, and may have been reluctant to stop his work to meet with the other apostles.

Later stories about Philip’s life can be found in the Acts of Philip, in which his preaching and miracles are described, as well as his death. According to this account, through a miraculous healing and preaching, Philip converted the wife of the proconsul of Hierapolis. This enraged the proconsul, and he had Philip & Bartholomew (and Philip’s sister, Mariamne) tortured. Philip & Bartholomew were then crucified upside-down, and Philip preached from his cross. As a result of Philip’s preaching, the crowd released Bartholomew from his cross… but Philip insisted they not release him, and he died.

On July 27, 2011, Philip’s tomb was evidently discovered in Hierapolis.

You can read Philip’s story throughout the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John).

JAMES, Apostle of Jesus, Son of Zebedee, & Brother of John

What would it have been like to have been one of Jesus’ closest companions? And one of the closest of the closest companions? Imagine being able to ask Jesus anything at anytime. Imagine watching how Jesus handled everyday things like traveling from place to place, or dealing with weather. This was a great privilege for James.

James, son of Zebedee & Salome, was one of the 12 Apostles of Jesus. He was a brother to John, also an apostle; together, they were known as the “Sons of Thunder”. He is sometimes referred to as “James the Greater” to distinguish him from James, son of Alphaeus (sometimes referred to as James the Less). He is traditionally considered to be the first apostle to be martyred.

- Call to Discipleship… Matt. 4:21,22; Mark 1:19,20

James was one of the first disciples to join Jesus. James & John worked with their father in the family fishing business. When they heard Jesus call them to “follow” Him, they immediately left their fishing nets and did so. They left their father, the family business, everything… to follow Jesus. We have no record they asked about the destination or the agenda; they simply followed.


What if Jesus came to your place of business and said to you, as He did to James & John, “Follow Me”. Could you? Would you?

- Call to Apostleship… Matt. 10:2-4; Mark 3:16-19; Luke 6:13-16

- Transfiguration of Jesus… Matt. 17:1-8; Mark 9:2-8; Luke 9:28-36

James was one of only three apostles Jesus selected to bear witness to His transfiguration.

James was part of the “inner circle” who was allowed to be part of some things the other apostles were not to be part of; raising Jairus’ daughter from death, the Transfiguration, Jesus’ agony in Gethsemane, etc.

- Indignant for God… Luke 9:51-56

James & John wanted to call down fire on a Samaritan town that “dissed” Jesus, but Jesus, instead, rebuked them.

- Wanting to Be Recognized as Great… Matt. 20:20-28; Mark 10:35-45

James & John (seemingly prompted by their mother) made a bold, audacious request to Jesus. They wanted Jesus to give them the best two seats of honor when Jesus assumed His throne. That request didn’t sit well with the other apostles.


Do you want to be great in God’s Kingdom? Make serving others your life’s ambition.

- James’ Death… Acts 12:1,2

“Herod the King” (Herod Agrippa, grandson of Herod the Great) had James executed by sword (44AD). He is the only apostle whose martyrdom is recorded in the New Testament, and is believed to be the first of the 12 to have been martyred for his faith.


It is interesting to contrast James’ execution with Peter’s release from execution (both mentioned in Acts 12). That James should die… while Peter was freed by divine intervention… is a mystery of divine providence.

You can read the story of James throughout the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke & John) and in the first part of Acts.