James and John
John's name means: "Yahweh Has Been Gracious." James' name, a form of "Jacob," means "He Grasps the Heel" (figuratively, "He Deceives")
Their work: James and his younger brother John were career fishermen working in their father's business on the Sea of Galilee.
Their character: James was quiet and analytical; John was verbal and open. Both of these hardworking men were profoundly changed when they met Jesus. Not only did they follow him, but they were brought into his inner circle along with Peter, their friend and business associate.
Their sorrow: Following Jesus cost them everything. They left their family business, their familiar surroundings, their friends, and even their families to walk with the Savior.
Their triumph: What may have started as pure adventure—following the Teacher—ended in a revolution that changed the world.
Key Scriptures: Matthew 4:18-22; 16:13-17:9
A Look at the Men
Life was good for Zebedee. He owned a prosperous fishing enterprise, and he and his wife, Salome, had two sons who were partners with him in the business.
Although it must have been a blow to their fishing company when James and John left their nets to follow Jesus, there is no evidence that Zebedee and Salome resisted their sons' decision. "After all," they may have said to each other, "think how good this will be for the boys to be seen with the Teacher. Maybe it will even be good for business."
For their part, James and John would never look back. They lived with the Savior. They walked hundreds of miles with him and saw him perform awesome miracles, all the while wondering who he was. Whenever he was asked by commoners and Pharisees, he sidestepped their questions. Why doesn't he just go ahead and declare his messiahship? the disciples wondered.
And then, after two years of being with Jesus, Zebedee and Salome's sons went to the mountain with their friend Peter and saw the light. These men caught a glimpse of the glory of God. And like Moses and Isaiah before them, they were completely dumbfounded. This was the Messiah. They no longer doubted.
From that moment forward, Jesus had a special relationship with James, John, and Peter. He put them in his inner circle as his closest associates. When James and John reported this to Zebedee and Salome, they must have been proud. But Salome took a step beyond good sense when she went to Jesus with an ill-advised request. "One day, when you come into power," she said to the Savior, thinking he would one day be an earthly king, "could you give my sons the highest rank in the land? So lofty would be their positions that one would sit to the right of your throne and one would sit to the left."
This request wasn't just coming from a doting mother. She and her sons had discussed it, for when Jesus said, "You don't have any idea what you're asking," the answer was in the plural. "Yes, we do!" they answered.
When the other disciples heard about James's and John's request, they were outraged—probably because they had wanted these positions of prominence for themselves!
And then, in one short moment, history's most profound lesson in leadership was delivered. Jesus' words must have seared the disciples' hearts. "Heathen leaders take their power and cram it down the throats of their subjects," he told them. "But you're not to do this."
James's and John's faces must have flushed. Jesus was talking to all twelve of the disciples, but it was these two brothers who really felt the sting of his words. Sideward glances from the others made it worse.
"Whoever wants to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave." James and John were transfixed by Jesus' words, but he wasn't quite finished. "I, the Messiah, did not come to be served, but to serve," Jesus said. Then he added, "And to give my life as a ransom for many."
Following Jesus' resurrection, James, John, and five other disciples were back on the sea late at night. They fished all night but caught nothing. As the morning sun peeked over the horizon, they saw a man standing on the shore. "Throw your net on the right side of the boat," he hollered to them. When they did, they couldn't pull the net in because it was so full of fish. "It's Jesus," John said, recognizing the cadence of his voice and the power of his words. "It's Jesus!"
Once on shore, the disciples and Jesus had breakfast together. His final words after the meal, although directed at Peter, were surely for each of the seven disciples who were there. They are words for us as well. "You want to lead?" Jesus asked. "Then feed my sheep."
Reflect On: Matthew 4:18–20
Praise God: For God’s glory.
Offer Thanks: For the life-changing power of God’s presence and holiness.
Confess: Any unwillingness to risk it all to be Jesus’ disciple—any temptation to treat Jesus like your buddy or your example rather than the glorified and perfect Son of the living God.
Ask God: To challenge you to acknowledge his presence more frequently. Wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, listen to his voice saying to you, “Follow me.”
Today's reading is a brief excerpt from Men of the Bible: A One-Year Devotional Study of Men in Scripture by Ann Spangler and Robert Wolgemuth (Zondervan). © 2010 by Ann Spangler. Used with permission. All rights reserved. Enjoy the complete book by purchasing your own copy at the Bible Gateway Store. The book's title must be included when sharing the above content on social media.
What may have started as pure adventure—following the Teacher—ended in a revolution that changed the world.