In verse one of chapter 12 we read that King Herod had arrested some of the Christians in order to persecute them. And in verse two we read that Herod had James, the brother of John put to death with the sword.
That’s all that is said about James. The narrative moves quickly to the imprisonment of Peter, and how the Angel came to release him in the middle of the night before he was scheduled to be martyred.
But I want to talk a bit about James. Which James is this? The verse says this was James, the brother of John. He was one of the first three disciples that Jesus called at the beginning of His ministry. Jesus called James and John “Boanerges” — Sons of Thunder.
I was curious about this nickname, so I did a little research. Why did Jesus call these brothers Sons of Thunder? I had a hunch that perhaps it was because they had commanding presence…perhaps with loud voices. I have a brother-in-law with a very loud baritone voice. When Mike speaks, everyone in the room hears him. I could imagine James and John perhaps being like that.
We do know that Jesus always had a reason for everything He did, so let’s see if Scripture gives us a clue. It’s in Mark 3:17 that we learn that Jesus called them Boanerges, but that verse does not tell us why.
A clue might be found in Luke 9:54. Jesus was traveling with His disciples, and they passed through Samaria on the way to Jerusalem. While in Samaria, they wanted to stop for the night but the Samaritan people didn’t want them there. Remember, Jews and Samaritans had a hatred for each other, so since Jesus and His disciples were on the way to Jerusalem, the Samaritans thought they were Jews. Which of course they were, technically.
So because of this trouble, James and John asked Jesus if He wanted them to call down fire from Heaven to destroy them. Of course Jesus didn’t let them, and He rebuked them at the idea. But their request does suggest that James and John might have been passionate at the least, and perhaps had short fuses to anger. Sons of Thunder. Seems to fit, don’t you think?