James the son of Zebedee AD44

Early Church and martyrs

James was the elder brother of the Apostle John and he was the first apostle to be martyred. His story starts in Matthew chapter four. His name of course means Jacob. The Hispanicized form is Stantiago.

“Going on from there, He saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets, and immediately, they left the boat and their father, and followed Him.”

Matthew 4: 21, 22

James and John abandon the world they knew immediately and followed Jesus, never turning back. How many are so quick to surrender to His will? What a statement of trust to leave behind you security, comfort and family for a life unknown. I believe it was this heart attitude and surrender that brought him into the close circle with Jesus. It is possible that James was related to Jesus, a cousin. He was also referred to as James the Great.

“Now after six days Jesus took Peter, James and John his brother, led them up on a high mountain by themselves; and He was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light. And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with Him.”

Matthew 17: 1-3

It is hard to imagine what an incredible event they experienced. They saw the great prophets of old standing right in front of them. They heard the Father speak from heaven. This event must have forever scarred them in a good way.

Tradition teaches that James traveled to the Jews in Spain and preached for fourteen years before his martyrdom. James left a significant mark on the world, especially in areas of Spanish influence like Chile, Cuba, and the Dominican Republic. Today, the “El Camino de Santiago” or the Way of St James, draws many religious people today.

Unlike many of the other apostles we know exactly how and where he died. Jesus had told James…

“But Jesus said to them, ‘You do not know what you ask. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, and the be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with you be baptized;”

Mark 10: 38

We learn from Clement of Alexandria of James bold witness on the way to his death around AD44. The man assigned to guard James was so touched by the courage and witness of James, that he declared himself a Christian and joined James in martyrdom. However, this may have been an embellishment added later. James was beheaded.

“Now it came about that time Herod the king stretched out his hand to harass some from the church. Then he killed James the brother of John with the sword.”

Acts 12: 1, 2