Peter, James and John were the three apostles closest to Jesus. While Jesus spent much time with the twelve, of the twelve these three men were evidently those He considered worthy of the most investment of His time.
Peter, James and John accompanied Jesus to the top of the mount of transfiguration. James and John negotiated with Jesus to sit at His right and left hand in His glory. Peter, James and John went further into the Garden of Gethsemane with Jesus as Jesus prayed the night before His crucifixion.
With this being the case, how interesting it is we know so relatively little of James. We know James was a son of Zebedee, and a partner with John in his father’s fishing business. When Jesus came along and called them to follow Himself, along with John, James immediately dropped his nets to follow Jesus. We know Jesus nicknamed James a ‘son of thunder,’ along with his brother John. (As evidence of that unrefined temper, they later desired to call down fire on the Samaritan village which refused them entry.)
The rest is silent history, except the afore-mentioned brief notations allowing us to understand James was one of the primary apostles along with Peter and John. Of Peter we might say we know much. He was the apostles’ spokesman, and his leadership role was profound in the early-days’ church. He later wrote two epistles which help us to understand the inner workings of His Christ-centered heart. He was probably the source of the Gospel of Mark. Of John we can also say much. He referred to himself as the ‘apostle whom Jesus loved.’ He is the author of arguably the foremost of the Gospels, three important epistles, and then near the end of his life, the towering Revelation of Jesus Christ, which lays out the future of all time for the world to see.
Here we see James’ life cut short, which is also mysterious since so little is known of the circumstances of his death. We can say it was a political move, as Herod Agrippa I decided to put him to death by the sword to please the Jews – and it did.
We then quickly see Peter arrested, with Herod also planning to put him to death since he was excited by the Jews’ response to the death of James. (The Jews evidently knew of James’ importance to the church, and it pleased them to see him dead.) Rather than passing by James’ death so quickly, perhaps we should also consider his relatively quiet, yet important role among the followers of Jesus.