|Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary|
12:1-5 James was one of the sons of Zebedee, whom Christ told that they should drink of the cup that he was to drink of, and be baptized with the baptism that he was to be baptized with, Mt 20:23. Now the words of Christ were made good in him; and if we suffer with Christ, we shall reign with him. Herod imprisoned Peter: the way of persecution, as of other sins, is downhill; when men are in it, they cannot easily stop. Those make themselves an easy prey to Satan, who make it their business to please men. Thus James finished his course. But Peter, being designed for further services, was safe; though he seemed now marked out for a speedy sacrifice. We that live in a cold, prayerless generation, can hardly form an idea of the earnestness of these holy men of old. But if the Lord should bring on the church an awful persecution like this of Herod, the faithful in Christ would learn what soul-felt prayer is.
Verse 2. - James, the son of Zebedee, or James the Elder, to whom, with his brother John, our Lord gave the surname of Boanerges (which is a corruption of בְנֵי דֶגֶשׁ), sons of thunder. Nothing is recorded of him in the Acts but his presence in the upper room at Jerusalem after the Ascension (Acts 1:13), and this his martyrdom, which was the fulfillment of our Lord's prediction in Matthew 20:23. His being singled out by Herod for death in company with Peter is rather an indication of his zeal and activity in the Lord's service, though we know nothing of his work. Eusebius relates an anecdote of his martyrdom, extracted from the lost work of Clement of Alexandria, called the Ὑποτυτώσεις (or in Latin Adumbrationes), which Clement professed to have received by tradition from his predecessors, to the effect that the informer who accused James was so struck with his constancy in confessing Christ before the judge, that he came forward and confessed himself a Christian too. The two were then led off to execution together; and on the way the informer asked James's forgiveness. After a moment's hesitation, James said to him, "Peace be unto thee," and kissed him. They were then both beheaded ('Eccl. Hist.,' 2. 9.). As Clement flourished about A.D. , the tradition need not have passed through more than three persons. It has been thought strange that Luke relates the death of a chief apostle with such brevity. But it did not bear on the main object of his work. Lightfoot ('Works,' vol. 8. p. 282, etc.) mentions a fanciful story related by Rabauus Maurus, that about this time the apostles composed the Apostles' Creed, each contributing one clause, and that the clause contributed by James the brother of John was, "And in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord."
Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible
And he killed James the brother of John with the sword. This was James, the son of Zebedee, whom our Lord told, that he should be baptized with the baptism he was baptized with, Matthew 20:22 meaning the baptism of martyrdom; and he was the first martyr among the apostles: the death he was put to was one of the four capital punishments among the Jews, and was reckoned by them the most disgraceful of them all, and was inflicted upon deceivers of the people; and such an one James was thought to be (e).
(e) Misn. Sanhedrin, c. 7. sect. 1, 3. & 11. 4.
Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
2. killed James … with the sword—beheaded him; a most ignominious mode of punishment, according to the Jews. Blessed martyr! Thou hast indeed "drunk of thy Lord's cup, and hast been baptized with his baptism." (See on Mr 10:38-40.) A grievous loss this would be to the Church; for though nothing is known of him beyond what we read in the Gospels, the place which he had as one of the three whom the Lord admitted to His closest intimacy would lead the Church to look up to him with a reverence and affection which even their enemies would come to hear of. They could spring only upon one more prized victim; and flushed with their first success, they prevail upon Herod to seize him also.
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