James grew up in the same house as Jesus and, after Christ's death and resurrection when his mind was opened to understand these momentous events, he served as the leading apostle in Jerusalem, wrote the book of James and finally died a martyr.
Although James grew up in the same household as Jesus Christ he and his siblings did not initially share Christ’s mission or beliefs (John 7:3-5). But from Jesus’ resurrection on, James gave himself entirely to God and soon became an important figure in the early Church. Some Bible students think it’s possible a special appearance by Jesus to James, mentioned only in 1 Corinthians 15:7, may have played a major part in James’ change of heart.
James apparently became the overseeing pastor in Jerusalem, because in Acts 15:13-21 we see him making the final declaration during an early ministerial conference. Also, the apostle Paul met with Peter and James before seeing any of the other apostles (Galatians 1:18-19), and later we see James advising the Apostle Paul (Acts 21:18-26).
The Epistle of James, written some 30 years later, is full of encouragement and advice to help build Christian character. The second-century writer and historian Hegesippus referred to Jesus’ brother as James the Just and characterized him as zealous for the law of God. Many statements from James’ epistle prove Hegesippus was right; it represents a book of Christian proverbs covering subjects touching many aspects of Christian life.
James also addresses another subject fundamental to true Christianity—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,” (James 2:24). In other words “talk is cheap; prove your words by your actions.” Talking about Christianity is one thing. Acting on it is quite another.
James taught true faith is not just a feeling or an emotion, but is demonstrated by what we are, how we live and what we do. He tells us how sin develops and where it leads. Sin begins with lust, the desire to have or do something we should not have or do (James 1:14), and if we don’t control our thoughts, our desires eventually develop into sinful actions.
The epistle of James is best known for presenting 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. James repeatedly upholds the need to keep God’s laws, emphasizing the Ten Commandments. If anyone knew how Jesus lived and what He taught and believed, it was James, a member of Christ’s own household.
Not long after writing his epistle, James was martyred in Jerusalem in A.D. 62. According to the first-century Jewish historian Josephus, James was accused by the high priest and condemned to death by stoning ( Antiquities of the Jews, Book 20, chap. 9, sec. 1). Eusebius, a fourth-century church historian, adds details of James’ death. He states the scribes and Pharisees took James to a public place, 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 Savior and Lord” ( Ecclesiastical History , 1995, pp. 75-76).
The life and death of James the Just, the half brother of Jesus Christ, was a shining example of what it means to live—and die—by true faith.
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