Seeing the Resurrection of Jesus through the Life of James, His Brother (Guest Post)
It’s 62 A.D. and James “the Just” (the brother of Jesus), stands atop the parapet of the Temple. Festus, the Roman provincial governor, has just died and his replacement, Albinus, has yet to arrive in Jerusalem to restore order. The Jewish Sanhedrin seize this opportune time to strike against its enemies. As James is forced to stand on this dangerous ledge overlooking the crowded courtyard below, the Jewish leaders say: “We call on you to restrain the people, since they have gone astray after Jesus, believing him to be the Christ. We call on you to persuade all who come for the Passover concerning Jesus, since all of us trust you…‘O righteous one, whom we all ought to believe, since the people are going astray after Jesus who was crucified, tell us, what does ‘the door of Jesus’ mean?’ He replied with a loud voice, ‘Why do you ask me about the Son of Man? He is sitting in heaven at the right hand of the Great Power, and he will come on the clouds of heaven.’… So they threw down the righteous one. Then they said to each other, ‘Let us stone James…,’ and they began to stone him, since the fall had not killed him… Then one of them, a laundryman, took the club that he used to beat out clothes and hit the Just [James] on the head. Such is his martyrdom.”
When I came across the account of James’ martyrdom I was awestruck. I asked, what fueled such confidence? What moved the earliest disciples to make such costly sacrifices?
I am delighted to contribute a blog on the Resurrection this Easter. Ever since I took a course on this subject a few years ago, I’ve realized just how peripheral this doctrine was in my own life. This, I think, was the general attitude in the churches I attended throughout childhood. I was taught to have a deep love and trust in the Bible and that it was to be the foundation of my faith. However, I’m not sure that’s the role the Scriptures were meant to play. As much as I love and believe the Bible, I think this emphasis led to me place all of my attention to defending inerrancy and almost no apologetic was given for the resurrection. I’m convinced that the resurrection of Jesus was always to be the cornerstone of Christian faith and this should command our strongest witness (c.f. I Corinthians 15:17).
Perhaps to make this point further, we can look at the sermons recorded in the book of Acts. What do we see in these precious windows into the earliest confessions of the first disciples? A repeated witness to the resurrection of Jesus (Cf. Acts 2:14-22; 4:2, 33; 10:39-41; 13:30; 17:18,31; 25:19). In fact, the original meaning of the word “martyr” means: “witness.” This actually makes an important point regarding the first Christian martyrs. They were not killed for a mere belief (i.e. a belief they were told was true by someone else, as with modern martyrs); they were being killed for what they had witnessed! Therefore, I believe it was a profound and robust belief in the bodily resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth that nourished the early church and is the only sufficient explanation for what happened in first century Palestine.
There are many ways to go about demonstrating the reasonableness of the Christian belief in the bodily resurrection of Jesus. While historical events are not repeatable and therefore cannot be “proved” in a scientific sense, we can weigh the evidence and conclude that an historical event took place “beyond reasonable doubt.” I purposefully choose this phrase since it is the same threshold of evidence that must be reached to convict someone in a criminal court. So, can we say that the evidence for the resurrection is so persuasive that if this were a murder trial the evidence would be conclusive? I believe it is. Since we are limited on space, I will only be able to provide one piece of convincing evidence that Jesus truly was raised from the dead. Since we started with the story of James’s martyrdom, perhaps we should examine how James’s life supports Jesus’ resurrection.
Seeing how James’s life ended one may easily jump to the conclusion that James was an early follower of his elder brother and was the logical choice to carry on his brother’s movement after Jesus’ crucifixion. However, that would be a terrible mistake. In fact, there was probably no one more skeptical of Jesus in his hometown than his brothers! Notice how John’s gospel records his interaction with them, “So his brothers said to him, “Leave here and go to Judea, that your disciples also may see the works you are doing. For no one works in secret if he seeks to be known openly. If you do these things, show yourself to the world.” (John 7:3-4) Jesus’ brothers (James is in this group: see Mark 6:3) believe that Jesus should move his “dog and pony show” to the capital, Jerusalem. This same unbelief was exhibited by others from his hometown. “He went away from there and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. And on the Sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue and many who heard him were astonished, saying, ‘Where did this man get things? What is the wisdom given to him? How are such mighty works done by his hands? “Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James… and they took offense at him.” (Mark 6:1-4) Sadly, this was not the only time. Once before after Jesus had selected his twelve disciples, a crowd gathered at his home in Nazareth and disrupted dinner. His family heard about the scene Jesus was making. Mark records, “And when his family heard it, they went out to seize him for they were saying, ‘He is out of his mind’.” (Mark 3:21) John concludes his comments about Jesus’ brothers with: “For not even did his brothers believe in him.” (John 7:5).
So, now we have to ask ourselves, “Would Jesus’ public and shameful crucifixion have changed James (and his other siblings) minds about their older brother?” The answer is No! If anything the crucifixion would have confirmed their unbelief in Jesus’ messianic claims. So how do we get from “skeptical unbelieving brother” to “bold, death-scorning disciple?” Answer: A post-death appearance of Jesus. In fact, that is exactly what Paul records happened. In I Corinthians 15:3-8 Paul is recounting a creed he had taught this church in A.D. 51. This creed declares: “Then he [the Risen Jesus] appeared to James…” (v.7). Even critical scholar Reginald Fuller admits that even if the creed was absent and there were no record of Jesus appearing to his brother James we would have to invent one. Why? Because James transforms from a skeptic (and non-disciple) in the gospels to a leader in the Jerusalem Church (See Acts 15 and Galatians 1:15-2:2) Recall, since James was not a member of Jesus’ band of disciples, he is not present in any of the Easter narratives recorded in the gospels. He’s a skeptic, remember! What explains this transformation? What explains his eventual martyrdom? He saw Jesus! There is simply no other reasonable explanation.
So, imagine once again the scene in Herod’s Temple. There the Sanhedrin have attempted to get a prominent leader of the Christian movement to recant his loyalty to Jesus. Instead of a renunciation, we see a confession, instead of a skeptic, we see a disciple. Knowing full well the consequences he courageously declares that Jesus is at the right hand of Power and will certainly return in glory. I can’t help but wonder if some of the last thoughts in James’ mind were on that when he saw his brother alive after his death knowing that he was about to see him once more.
Obviously one skeptic-turned-believer isn’t sufficient to swing a jury but it does serve to begin to make the larger case. I encourage all Christians to make “The Resurrection” an area of study and begin to learn about all of the pieces of evidence that support the foundation of all Christian faith.
 A parapet refers to a small wall on the edge of the roof.
 Eusebius 2.23 as quoted in The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology. P. 615
 Gary R. Habermas and Michael R. Licona, The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregal, 2004). 68