Teaching the Twelve Apostles: James

Although we read more about John, his brother, and Peter, James is significant in that he was part of our Lord’s inner circle. As we will see below, James presents excellent opportunities to teach regarding miracles, jealousy among Christians, and God’s choices. This month we learn of James, called to be a fisher of men and finally martyred for his faith by Herod’s sword.

Key verses regarding James:

Matthew 17:1-3 

And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light. And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him.

Mark 10:35-37

And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came up to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.”  And he said to them, “What do you want me to do for you?” And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.”

Luke 8:50-52 

But Jesus on hearing this answered him, “Do not fear; only believe, and she will be well.” And when he came to the house, he allowed no one to enter with him, except Peter and John and James, and the father and mother of the child. And all were weeping and mourning for her, but he said, “Do not weep, for she is not dead but sleeping.”

What do we know about James?

  • He was a fisherman. (Mark 10:35; Luke 5:10)
  • He was one of the first called to be a disciple. (Matthew 4:21)
  • He was Jesus’ cousin. (Matthew 27:56; Mark 15:40)
  • With his brother John, called the sons of thunder. (Mark 3:17)
  • He was one of Jesus’ inner circle. (Healing of Jairus’ daughter, the Transfiguration, Praying in the Garden of Gethsemane.)
  • Asked our Lord to call down fire on those who would not receive Him. (Mark 3:17; Luke 9:51-56)
  • Was given the name Boanerges, which means “son of thunder”. (Mark 3:17)
  • With his brother, John, asked to sit at Jesus right and left hand in heaven. (Mark 10:35-37)
  • Bore witness to the resurrection of Jairus’ daughter. (Luke 8:51)
  • Was killed with the sword by Herod. (Acts 12:2)

Miracles and the Doubting Heart

James, along with his brother, John, no doubt experienced the temptation to consider himself a step higher in the echelon of Jesus’ ministry. Practically speaking, they, along with Peter, certainly were. James was among the first four men chose to be disciples. He was present for the Transfiguration and was with Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane.

Significantly, along with John and Peter, James also bore witness to Jesus resurrecting Jairus’ daughter. Despite what must have been an overwhelmingly convincing miracle, James repeatedly demonstrates lack of faith in Jesus. Like the other disciples, James was not present at the tomb to welcome Jesus. The son of thunder was incredulous of Jesus as He appeared to them and ate food following His resurrection.

Use the narrative as a backdrop to discuss miracles and the sinful lack of faith. Consider the conversation starters below.

  • Name a few of the miracles Jesus did during His ministry on earth. Does Jesus still do miracles today? If so, give examples.
  • If we have doctors and medicine, why do we need healing from Jesus? Could it be that Jesus heals through doctors and medicine?
  • Why are people so doubtful of miracles today?
  • If you saw a dead person come back to life, what would you conclude?

Help students to understand that God gives us medical understanding as uses this to heal. Explain that Jesus did miracles to give glory to His Father, and that His earthly ministry was ultimately about reversing the suffering caused by sin. Unfortunately, the world tries to explain miracles with science, or seeks to be serve as the Lord’s instrument for their own glory rather than God’s.

God’s Choice, and Jealousy Among Christians

James’ experience as a disciple provides opportunity for discussion and teaching regarding God’s choices. The other disciples may have wondered why James was chosen early and was included in Jesus’ inner circle. Consider the following discussion starters.

  • It can be tempting for us to feel more special than others. Have you ever considered yourself better than another believer?
  • God gives gifts to His children for use in His kingdom. You have such gifts. Have you ever been jealous of another Christian’s gift?

Finally, we can’t know why God gives us gifts or callings that are different from others. We can only know what He tells us in the Bible. It has nothing to do with a person’s merits or faults. Jesus loves and came to save all.


Although its easy to be envious of another’s gifts, we remember that God is the Giver. His arrangement is perfect. What’s more, the gift of forgiveness of sins and everlasting life is infinitely greater and more important that any talent or spiritual gift.

Find ways to teach on the experiences of the twelve apostles for your students.

Learn More about the Twelve Apostles 

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Written by

Phil Rigdon

The Rev. Dr. Philip Rigdon and his wife, Jamelyn, live in Kendallville, Indiana, with their two rabbits, Frankie and Buttons. He serves as pastor of St. John Lutheran Church and School in Kendallville. He enjoys writing, running, and playing guitar.

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