James Put to Death: Part 2 of 2

by John Lowe
(Laurens SC, USA)

2 He killed James the brother of John with the sword;

Herod had several believers arrested, among them James, the brother of John, whom he had killed “with a sword.” James, who was that apostle called “the son of Zebedee,” became the first of the apostles to be martyred. When you think about his death in the light of Matthew 20:20-28, it takes on special significance. There we read that James and John, with their mother, had asked Jesus for thrones, but Jesus made it clear that there can be no glory apart from suffering. “But Jesus answered, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?” They said to him, “We are able” (Matthew 20:22). Their bold reply was “We are able.”

Of course, they did not know what they were saying, but they eventually discovered the high cost of winning a throne of glory. James was arrested and killed, and John became an exile on the Isle of Patmos, a prisoner of Rome. “I John, your brother, who share with you in Jesus the tribulation and the kingdom and the patient endurance, was on the island called Patmos on account of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus” (Rev. 1:9). Indeed, they did drink of the cup and share in the baptism of suffering that their Lord had experienced.

If Herod executed James in the Roman fashion “with the sword,” he was beheaded. If he used the Jewish mode of execution, which forbade beheading as a desecration to the body, he had “the edge of the sword” thrust through his body. The execution of James is reported with the utmost brevity. Luke did not want to dwell on it but used the incident to set the stage for his main emphasis—God’s deliverance of Peter.

This article from Foxe's Book of Martyrs, by 'John Foxe' sheds a bit more light upon the martyrdom of the Apostle James.

The next martyr we meet with, according to St. Luke, in the History of the Apostles' Acts, was James the son of Zebedee, the elder brother of John, and a relative of our Lord; for his mother Salome was cousin-german to the Virgin Mary. It was not until ten years after the death of Stephen that the second martyrdom took place; for no sooner had Herod Agrippa been appointed governor of Judea, than, with a view to ingratiate himself with them, he raised a sharp persecution against the Christians, and determined to make an effectual blow, by striking at their leaders. The account given us by an eminent primitive writer, Clemens Alexandrinus, ought not to be overlooked; that, as James was led to the place of martyrdom, his accuser was brought to repent of his conduct by the apostle's extraordinary courage and undauntedness, and fell down at his feet to request his pardon, professing himself a Christian, and resolving that James should not receive the crown of martyrdom alone. Hence they were both beheaded at the same time. Thus did the first apostolic martyr cheerfully and resolutely receive that cup, which he had told our Savior he was ready to drink. Timon and Parmenas suffered martyrdom about the same time; the one at Philippi, and the other in Macedonia. These events took place A.D. 44.

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