Three prominent men in the New Testament were named James. First, the son of Zebedee and brother of John, was a Galilean fisherman and one of the twelve Apostles (Matthew 4:21; 10:2; Mark 1:19; 3:17; Luke 5:10). Second, James, the son of Alphaeus, was also one of the twelve (Matthew 10:3; Mark 3:18; Luke 6:15; Acts 1:13). And third, James was one of the four half-brothers of Jesus (Matthew 13:55; Mark 6:3).
It's hard to imagine growing up in a home with an older brother who was reportedly the Son of God. “James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas” (Matthew 13:55) must have wondered about a boy who was “tempted in every way … yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). They never saw Jesus lie or cheat. He was never worried and He never lost His temper. They knew Jesus was different, but James, likely the oldest of the four half-brothers, couldn’t believe that his brother was the Messiah. “Nope! Can’t be!” In fact, when Jesus left the carpenter’s shop to begin his intenerate preaching ministry, they were so embarrassed that “they set out to restrain him, because they said, ‘He’s out of his mind’ ” (Mark 3:21).
James wasn’t alone in his unbelief. When Jesus preached in the synagogue at Nazareth,
“many who heard him were astonished. ‘Where did this man get these things?’ they said. ‘What is this wisdom that has been given to him, and how are these miracles performed by his hands? Isn’t this the carpenter, the son of Mary, and the brother of James, Joses, Judas, and Simon?’ ” (Mark 6:2-3). “They were deeply offended and refused to believe in him” (Mark 6:3, NLT).
So, when was James converted? When did he become a Christian? When was God’s abounding grace poured out on the disbelieving brother? After Jesus’ atoning death at Calvary, after three days in the grave, and after His victorious resurrection on Easter morning, Jesus “appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve. Then he appeared to over five hundred brothers and sisters at one time... Then he appeared to James” (I Corinthians 15:5-7). James, the one who had been embarrassed by his brother’s religious zeal, received a gracious revelation, a special visit from the Resurrected Redeemer.
Jesus may have appeared to James much as He appeared to Saul of Tarsus on the road leading to Damascus, with a flash of blinding light and an echoing call from heaven (Acts 9:3-4). Or maybe, the Lord’s appearance to James was similar to His appearance in the upper room when “Jesus came, stood among them, and said to them, ‘Peace be with you’ ” (John 20:19). How, where, and when, we can’t be certain. But surely, when Jesus appeared with the nail-prints fully visible, James must have fallen at his brother’s… no … at his Savior’s feet!
Days later, following Jesus’ ascension to heaven, when the Apostles and the one-hundred-twenty were gathered in the upper room, “they all were continually united in prayer, along with the women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers” (Acts 1:14). James, a new-born believer was gathered with the new-born church!
Years later, James, a leading member of the church in Jerusalem (Acts 15:12-13; 21:18; Galatians 1:18-19), wrote the epistle that bears his name. As he penned the letter, he resisted the temptation to say, “I’m James. I shared a bunkbed with Jesus! We ate our Cheerios together, and we stood, side-by-side at the carpenter’s workbench.” Instead, he wrote, “James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ … Greetings” (James 1:1). Then he admonished his readers: “submit to God … Draw near to God … Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you” (James 4:7–10).