1 Corinthians 15:1–11
Jesus spent 40 days visiting the faithful after he rose from the dead. It seems that he didn’t bother to visit his enemies or trying to persuade non-believers. Perhaps, if we were advising God on how to do his job, we would have suggested that Jesus visit the Jewish leaders. We might have thought about how they would react if the Jesus they had killed walked into their dining room during dinner. Can you imagine it? Jesus walks in and says, Guess what? I’m not dead! I really am the messiah, and you must believe in me.
He didn’t do that. I suppose that if he had they would have protested that he was an imposter. You know how we human beings are, and you know the false arguments we love to create just to prove ourselves correct. They would probably have found some sophisticated way to rationalise the experience and still deny the truth of who Jesus is.
As believers we trust that God always knows best and Jesus always does what is best. This is a basic standpoint for us. According to the Bible, our Lord thought it best to spend his time with his followers, with his disciples and the apostles. We see this in 1 Corinthians 15:6, 7.
“After that, he was seen by more than 500 of his followers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. 7Then he was seen by James and later by all the apostles.”
You probably noticed something peculiar in those two verses. I expect you have a question now. Verse six talks about 500 followers. Jesus didn’t have this many followers in Jerusalem, so it is generally assumed that they were meeting on a mountainside in Galilee. When Jesus ascended he was on the mount of Olives near Jerusalem, and Acts 1 says that 12o followers witnessed the event. Galilee is where most of his followers lived. It is also a fact that by this time it wasn’t safe for followers of Jesus to meet in Jerusalem.
Verse seven speaks of all the apostles seeing the resurrected Jesus. Since you know that there are 12 apostles, you automatically assume this means the 12 closest disciples of Jesus. Turn back to verse five and see what it says.
“He [Jesus] was seen by Peter and then by the Twelve.” The phrase ‘all the apostles’ doesn’t appear to mean the twelve. Jesus saw the twelve already. All the apostles appear to mean a larger group of his followers who were referred to as apostles by Paul. That suggests the 72 whom Jesus sent out, though this is not sure.
In between these two groups there is a person named James. Who is this person? If we are reading quickly and we don’t stop to meditate, this point may pass us by and we shall think this James to be one of the disciples. In fact he is not, and he is named by Paul for good reasons.
One of those good reasons is that this James was still alive to testify to the truth of Paul’s statement in around ad53. Most scholars agree that he is James the brother of Jesus.
The question I have now, and you may have also, is this. Why did Jesus appear to his brother?
You see, everyone else was a believer. James was not. We find this reported in John 7:5 – “even his brothers didn’t believe in him.”
There is no answer in Scripture. There are however some interesting things said by the very earliest Christians. Jerome was born in ad347 in Greece. Jerome was a priest, confessor, theologian and historian. He translated most of the Bible into Latin (the translation that became known as the Vulgate), and is famous for his commentaries on the Gospels. His list of writings is extensive. This is to tell you why we should take seriously what he says. In one of his many writings, named ‘On Illustrious Men’ (De Viris Illustribus), Jerome quotes ‘The Gospel of the Hebrews’.
You have never read The Gospel of the Hebrews. It isn’t in your Bible. At one time in the very early church it was a widely read Gospel in the churches of Alexandria and Jerusalem alongside Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. It was called The Gospel of the Hebrews because it was used by Greek-speaking Jewish–Christian communities.
Today only fragments of it survive as brief quotations by the early Church Fathers Clement, Origen and Didymus the Blind. And in the writings of Jerome. Although it is not part of the canon and isn’t in our Bibles, it has some small authority and was once accepted.
The Gospel of the Hebrews, as quoted by Jerome, records an event that happened after the resurrection of Jesus. This is what Jerome writes.
“And when the Lord had given the linen cloth to the servant of the priest, he went to James and appeared to him. For James had sworn that he would not eat bread from that hour in which he had drunk the cup of the Lord until he should see him risen from among them that sleep. And shortly thereafter the Lord said: Bring a table and bread! And immediately it is added: He took the bread, blessed it and brake it and gave it to James the Just and said to him: My brother, eat thy bread, for the Son of man is risen from among them that sleep.” (Jerome, De Viris Illustribus, Chapter 2)
This passage is used by Jerome to claim that when James saw his brother crucified he was so shocked that he decided to fast from that moment on. James appears to have come to faith at that moment. James did not come to faith because Jesus appeared to him. Jesus appeared to James because James was already a believer. James came to faith before the appearance.
Just how or when James came to faith, at or just before the crucifixion, is not the point. The point is that he had come to faith in his brother before the resurrected Jesus appeared to him.
It was to his brother that Jesus handed over the role of leader, not to Peter.
Who was the first leader of the church after Jesus died? James was.
For evidence see the book of Acts.
Acts 12:16, 17 – Peter continued knocking. When they finally opened the door and saw him, they were amazed. 17He motioned for them to quiet down and told them how the Lord had led him out of prison. “Tell James and the other brothers what happened,” he said.
In this incident, Peter treats James as the leader of the church.
Later on there was a controversy over theology between Paul and some others. To get this resolved, Paul went to see the leaders of the church. When they arrived in Jerusalem, Barnabas and Paul were welcomed by the whole church, including the apostles and elders. They reported everything God had done through them. But then some of the believers who belonged to the sect of the Pharisees stood up and insisted, “The Gentile converts must be circumcised and required to follow the law of Moses.”
This is what happened next.
Acts 15:13, 19 – When they had finished, James stood and said, “Brothers, listen to me.” … “And so my judgment is that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God.”
James made the decision. James was the undisputed leader of all who followed Jesus.
The first question normally raised is why was James selected by Jesus as the leader? This is normally compounded with the assertion that Peter was obviously the leader of the twelve apostles in the gospel tradition; thus the sudden change of leadership is hard to explain.
Hegesippus, writing soon after the time, recorded in his ‘History of the Church’ what happened after James was martyred in ad69.
“And after James the Just had suffered martyrdom, as the Lord had also on the same account, Symeon, the son of the Lord’s uncle, Clopas, was appointed the next bishop. All proposed him as second bishop because he was a cousin of the Lord.”
Peter did not succeed James, but instead left Jerusalem and went to Rome. The church chose a close relative of the Messiah as the next leader of the faithful.
When we are a Peter, we need to have faith that we are still a rock even though another person is the leader. Peter was more prime minister than king. And if we are a James figure, we must trust that God was right to pick us even though we are new at walking in faith. James had actually known Jesus his whole life. Most of us must just have faith that God knew what he was doing when he made James leader instead of Peter. Do you have a James as your leader when you think it should be Peter? Trust God. He knows exactly what he’s doing. James was a man of extraordinary and outstanding faith. Bless you.