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James to the Twelve Tribes

Many in the past have wrestled with the supposed conflict between James and Paul over the issue of law and faith. Both agree that faith needs "fruit" to be considered genuine. Spiral bound book.

Category - Bible Commentaries

Chapter 23

James the Righteous

James 5:6 says (NASB),

6 You have condemned and put to death the righteous man; he does not resist you.

As I already showed, James was referring to Jesus under the title dikaios. It can be translated either “The Righteous” or “The Just.” This was a well-known title of the Messiah, taken from the Septuagint translation of Isaiah 3:10,

10 Woe to their soul, for they have devised an evil counsel against themselves, saying against themselves, “Let us bind the Just, for he is burdensome to us; therefore shall they eat the fruits of their works.

The prophet was speaking to Jerusalem and Judah (3:1; 8), telling us in verse 9 that “they display their sin like Sodom; they do not even conceal it.” This is the context in which we find the prophecy of binding the Just One. It is an allusion to binding the sacrifice to the altar (Ps. 118:27). This sets the scene for Isaiah's description in chapter 53 of the Suffering Messiah.

While one may argue whether the Hebrew text is more or less accurate than the Greek translation, the point is that, by the first century, this term dikaios had become one of the titles of the Messiah. Isaiah also showed that He would be bound and considered to be “burdensome to us.”

The title was applied beyond the Messiah, of course. We see this in Eusebius' account of James himself, for we find that James himself was also known by that title in Jerusalem up to the moment of his death. He was a Nazarite and as such was given access to the Holy Place in the temple, where he went daily to pray for Jerusalem. Though popular among the people, James had enemies among the priests, who eventually conspired to put him to death—not for being the Messiah, but for testifying that Jesus was the Messiah. Eusebius wrote in his fourth century account:

Representatives of the seven popular sects already described by me asked him what was meant by “the door of Jesus,” and he replied that Jesus was the Saviour. Some of them came to believe that Jesus was the Christ. The sects mentioned above did not believe either in a resurrection or in One who is coming to give every man what his deeds deserve, but those who did come to believe did so because of James.

Since, therefore, many even of the ruling class believed, there was an uproar among the Jews and Scribes and Pharisees, who said there was a danger that the entire people would expect Jesus as the Christ. So they collected and said to James: “Be good enough to restrain the people, for they have gone astray after Jesus in the belief that he is the Christ. Be good enough to make the facts about Jesus clear to all who come for the Passover Day. We all accept what you say; we can vouch for it, and so can all the people, that you are a righteous man and take no one at face value. So make it clear to the crowd that they must not go astray as regards Jesus. The whole people and all of us accept what you say. So take your stand on the Temple parapet, so that from that height you may be easily seen, and your words audible to the whole people. For because of the Passover all the tribes have foregathered, and the Gentiles too.”

So the Scribes and Pharisees made James stand on the Sanctuary parapet and shouted to him, “Righteous one, whose words we are all obliged to accept, the people are going astray after Jesus who was crucified; so tell us what is meant by 'the door of Jesus'.”

He replied as loudly as he could: “Why do you question me about the Son of Man? I tell you, he is sitting in heaven at the right hand of the Great Power, and He will come on the clouds of heaven.” Many were convinced, and gloried in James' testimony, crying, “Hosanna to the Son of David!”

Then the Scribes and Pharisees said to each other, “We made a bad mistake in affording such testimony to Jesus. We had better go up and throw him down, so that they will be frightened and not believe him.”

“Ho, ho!” they called out, “even the Righteous one has gone astray! – fulfilling the prophecy of Isaiah: “Let us remove the Righteous one, for he is unprofitable to us. Therefore they shall eat the fruit of their works.” [Isaiah 3:10]

So they went up and threw down the Righteous one. Then they said to each other, “Let us stone James the Righteous,” and began to stone him as in spite of his fall, he was still alive. But he turned and knelt, uttering the words, “I beseech Thee, Lord God and Father, forgive them; they do not know what they are doing.”

While they pelted him with stones, one of the descendants of Rechab the son of Rechabim—the priestly family to which Jeremiah the Prophet bore witness [Jer. 35], called out: “Stop! What are you doing? The Righteous one is praying for you.” Then one of them, a fuller, took the club which he used to beat out the clothes, and brought it down on the head of the Righteous one. Such was his martyrdom. He was buried on the spot by the Sanctuary, and his headstone is still there by the Sanctuary. He has proved a true witness to Jews and Gentiles alike that Jesus is the Christ.

Immediately after this, Vespasian began to besiege them.

(Quoted from Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, Book II, sec. 23)

There are a few things to note from this fourth-century account of Bishop Eusebius. First, James was known as The Righteous, or “James the Just,” as he is called elsewhere. Second, like Jesus and John the Baptist, he was martyred at the feast of Passover. Because Eusebius seems to imply that his martyrdom occurred just before the siege of Jerusalem, some date his death as late as 68 A.D.

However, Josephus tells us that he was martyred during the time of Albinus, who replaced Festus in 62 and who ruled until 64. Antiquities of the Jews, XX, ix, 1 says,

“Festus was now dead, and Albinus was but upon the road [on his way to Judea]; so he [the high priest Ananus] assembled the Sanhedrim of the judges, and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James, and some others [or some of his companions]; and when he had formed an accusation against them as breakers of the law, he delivered them to be stoned.”

Festus was replaced by Albinus, under whom Paul was held prisoner in Caesarea from 58-60 A.D. (Acts 24:27). Shortly after arriving in Caesarea, Festus decided to curry favor with the Jews in Jerusalem and determined to hand Paul over to them for trial. Paul then appealed to Caesar and was sent to Rome. Being shipwrecked along the way, however, he did not arrive in Rome until the Spring of 61, and Festus died the following year.

James was martyred a year later at Passover of 62 A.D., while Albinus was still on the way to Judea to assume his new position as Procurator. In 64 he was replaced, in turn, by Florus, whose bloody temple massacre at Passover of 66 precipitated the Revolt, as Josephus also tells us.

And so, with this history in mind, we can see that James 5:6 was not only a reference to Jesus as The Righteous, who was put to death at Passover of 33 A.D., but it also foreshadowed James' own death at Passover of 62. The timing of his martyrdom, as well as his title, made him a type of Christ.

It was also a fulfillment of Isaiah 3:10, as quoted by Eusebius in his lengthy account of James’ martyrdom. The same verse says, “Therefore they shall eat the fruit of their works.” This is the negative side of the “fruit” principle. When an evil tree brings forth evil fruit, the people are affected negatively.

In other words, the martyrdom of James was the “works” that were the immediate cause of the “fruit,” that is, the destruction of Jerusalem. Hence, the Roman War began just four years after the martyrdom of the last great intercessor for the city.

Yet there is a positive fulfillment of bearing fruit, and this is what James presents next.