The audio for this evening’s sermon is available here, as is a PDF handout. Remember that you can leave comments and questions at the bottom of the page, or by clicking on the comments link just above this paragraph. This post is part of the conclusion to the long Acts series; my plan is to blog through two books on Pauline theology over the next three months, along with an occasional post on Hebrews as it relates to Roman Christianity after Acts.
Of the three “inner circle” disciples, we know the least about James and John. Both James and John are only mentioned in passing in Acts, John always with Peter, and James only when he died in Acts 12. But even these brief notes are more than the other nine apostles who are not mentioned at all in the book. If John is so unimportant to Luke in the book of Acts, why should we take the time to look at the ministry of John as a conclusion to a series on the book of Acts? The main reason is that John was the last of the apostles to die He was the last link to the apostolic era.
John is know from the Gospels as one of the three disciples who were closest to Jesus. Perhaps the best example of this is the Transfiguration. Jesus selects Peter, James and John, takes them to a mountain location, and allows them to see his glory (Mt 17:1-13, Mk 9:2-8, Lk, 9:28-36). When Jesus raises Jarius’ young daughter from the dead, Peter James and John are the three disciples who accompany him (Mk 5:38). These are the three disciples who are asked to “keep watch” while the Lord prays in the garden just prior to his arrest (Mt 26:36-28)
What makes Peter, James and John different? Why were they chosen to be the “inner circle” of the disciples? The most simple explanation is that they were among the first of the disciples, and it is possible they followed John the Baptist before following Jesus (John 1:37-28, two unknown disciples might be James and John).
It is also likely that Peter, James and John understood Jesus as the Messiah better than all of the other disciples. We know Peter’s famous confession of faith in Mark 8, but I think that James and John also understood Jesus as the Messiah. Like Peter, that understanding was not quite correct.
Here is an example of what I am thinking about. When Jesus was refused by a Samaritan village, James and John offer to call down fire from heaven to destroy the unbelieving village (Luke 9:51-56). Context in critical in this short story. Luke 9:51 is the major transition in the book of Luke, at this point Jesus begins a journey to Jerusalem which will result in the crucifixion, He is absolutely aware of what he is about to do, and it is possible that this “resolution” was communicated to his disciples. James and John therefore see this as the time of the Messiah coming – Jesus is going to Jerusalem to judge those who are not living in accordance with the Law and to establish True Israel (with the disciples a s new twelve tribes, James and John on the right and left, etc.)
Why call down fire from Heaven? These Samaritans have rejected Jesus and the truth that he is the Messiah. James and John see themselves as re-enacting Elijah’s ministry. Elijah was the prophet who confronted Baalism in Samaria and called fire down form heaven in order to judge those who had already rejected the Lord. I suggest that James and John are “volunteering” to act as the Elijah, going before Jesus as the Messiah. However, I am not aware of any Second Temple Period source which imagines Elijah coming prior to the Messiah as a judge.
I would include the request to sit on either side of Jesus in the Kingdom as another example of this strong belief in a literal kingdom in the immediate future. James and John want to serve Jesus at the highest level possible in that kingdom.