During Christ’s ministry on Earth, many men and women loved Christ and followed him and his teachings. Some of the most notable followers included Jesus’ 12 disciples, men who were called by him to minister to, serve, and teach the children of God.
Just like all of Christ’s disciples today, the 12 Disciples back then had different backgrounds, different strengths and weaknesses, and different personalities. Some of these men were closer to Christ than others, including two brothers, James and John. Their active participation in Christ’s life and their friendship with him has made them some of the most notable historical figures in the bible.
James and John also had especially strong personalities, which earned them a nickname given by Christ: the Sons of Thunder. Not only did Christ know and love these two brothers, but he also used their strengths to lay a great foundation of service and love, despite their shortcomings. Let’s learn more about who these brothers were, where they got their nickname, and their lasting impact on the world today.
James and John, the Sons of Thunder, were Galilean fishermen before Jesus called them to follow him. Their father Zebedee was a well-known and successful fisherman in Galilee, and the two brothers worked with their father in the family business (Mark 1:20). Tradition suggests that the biblical woman Salome, a follower of Christ, is the wife of Zebedee and mother to James and John.
Like the apostles Peter and Andrew, Jesus called upon James and John, and “immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him,” showing that the two men were obedient and dedicated to God early on (Matthew 4:22). Zebedee encouraged his sons to go with Christ when the Lord called them, and Salome ministered unto the Savior; both tradition and scripture suggest that James and John came from a righteous family who served Christ during his Earthly life.
James was most likely the elder of the two since he is always listed first when they are mentioned. He was also known as James the Great, which scholars believe was one way the disciples distinguished between this James and another apostle, James the Lesser, who was probably younger or smaller in stature. James was a dedicated missionary, even after Christ’s death, and it was his commitment to preaching the truth to others that eventually led to his martyrdom.
John, who is called the Apostle of Love, was the youngest of the 12 and especially close with the Savior according to most scholars. The book of John talks often about “the disciple who Jesus loved” (John 21:20-21), and John is widely accepted as this apostle. John outlived all of the other disciples, most likely cared for Jesus’ mother Mary after Christ’s ascension, and is known for being beloved by Christ.
Jesus knew the brothers’ nature when he first met them, and he chose “Boanerges” as a fitting nickname, which translates to “sons of thunder” (Mark 3:17). The people of Galilee were known for being industrious and hardy people who were also very proud of their culture. James and John certainly fit in with the people; their nickname was likely related to their zeal, boldness, and their sometimes reactive tempers.
As members of Jesus’ inner circle, James and John were privileged to witness many of Christ’s most powerful and impactful miracles. They spent their time traveling with him, following his teachings, and learning from him—not only were they his followers, but these men deeply cared for their Teacher and Savior. Sometimes, however, their intensity and enthusiasm could get a little out of hand.
There was one time in the bible when the two brothers were traveling with Christ to Samaria. During this time, Jerusalem and Samaria were always at odds because of their mutual prejudice against each other. On this trip, Christ had sent a messenger ahead to try and secure a place to stay during their visit. Via the messenger, Jesus was refused by a Samaritan because Christ was a Jew. Defensive of Jesus, James and John asked the Lord if he wanted them “to call fire down from heaven to destroy them” (Luke 9:54). Jesus chastised them for their harsh and careless response, and we clearly see how aptly named the Sons of Thunder were by their tempers and quickness to anger.
Though they were rebuked in this moment, their nickname also shows just how well Christ knew each of them and how he loved them. Their thunder-like qualities, like their boldness, power, and desire to protect what they love, are also what made them such dedicated and righteous apostles.
Even more amazing is how these men were able to become everything Jesus wanted them to be. John became known as the Apostle of Love and lived a long charitable life, and James spent the rest of his life preaching, teaching, and serving the children of God as a missionary. Though they may have needed to work on their anger, Jesus took their weaknesses and made them strong. Through Christ’s love and life, James and John experienced transformative growth as they became the best versions of themselves.
Christ loves and sees the best in each of us; in his eyes, our potential and our successes far outweigh our insecurities and shortcomings. We see this with James and John, who Christ loved not despite, but because of their passion, dedication, and strength.
The unique personalities of the apostles James and John added richness and authenticity to the 12 disciples of Jesus. Though the events of the Bible happened long ago, the disciples in Christ’s time were just as multifaceted and complex as the rest of us today, with different strengths and weaknesses, callings, and talents.
You can learn more about James and John, other followers of Christ, and most importantly, Christ’s experiences and gospel by tuning into The Chosen.