There are two prominent figures named James in the Bible. There is James the brother of John, son of Zebedee, who was an apostle of Jesus. He was one of the 12. The other is James the brother of Jesus. It is this James, the brother of our Lord, who wrote the book of James.
We know that Jesus had four earthly brothers who were born to Joseph and Mary after Jesus’ miraculous virgin birth. Matthew 13:55, speaking of Jesus, says,
Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not His mother called Mary, and His brothers, James and Joseph and Simon and Judas?
Since James is mentioned first in this list, he probably was the eldest of the four, second only to Jesus. We know nothing else about Jesus’ brothers Joseph and Simon, but we do know that Judas, the youngest, is the author of the Book of Jude (see Jude 1:1)
The Gospel of John gives us insight into how Jesus’ brothers felt about him during his earthly ministry. John writes in John 7:5,
For even His brothers were not believing in Him.
Jesus’ own brothers, James and Judas included, did not believe in Him during his earthly ministry. However, we see a very different picture painted of Jesus’ brothers in Acts 1:14, where the apostles and other believers have gathered in an upper room in Jerusalem after the ascension of Jesus.
These all with one mind were continually devoting themselves to prayer, along with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers.
If Jesus’ brothers did not believe in Him during his earthly ministry, but believed in Him after he rose from the dead and ascended to the right hand of God, what changed?
They had encountered the risen Christ.
Paul records for us in 1 Corinthians 15:6-7,
[Jesus] appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles.
Did you catch that? Jesus made a personal appearance to James. James, who did not believe that Jesus was the Messiah, was visited personally by the Messiah, and this made all of the difference.
Have you encountered the risen Christ? He wants to reveal himself to you, and He can be found in the pages of Scripture. Seek Jesus today while He may be found.
[I originally wrote this for faithemporium.org as an introduction to my sermon series on James]