Jesus’ Brothers

For even his brethren did not believe on him (John 7:5).

For many of us, the one refuge we can count on in life is family. Even if everyone else is against us and berates us, we like to think that our family members will still accept us and believe in us.

Yet, on the other hand, our family tends to know us all too well. They watched us grow up and many have rather “incriminating” stories about our pasts. Sometimes family members refuse to see any growth or change in us; in their eyes we are still quite young, quite inexperienced, or quite mischievous, even if we have grown up and have learned our lessons.

Jesus had no ordinary beginning, and while we are not given much information about His early years, we have little doubt that they were not very ordinary, either. Contrary to certain religious traditions, it does not seem as if the household comprised only of Joseph, Mary, and Jesus. We are told that He has brothers and sisters– James, Joseph (or Joses), Simon, and Judas (cf. Matthew 13:55, Mark 6:3).

We do not know much about them. It seems as if they are not terribly much younger than Jesus, since they are old enough to have formed beliefs, and they are known in the community of Nazareth. We can imagine, however, what it might have been like to be the younger brothers of Jesus– the One who always seemed a bit different, One with whom they grew up, but now the One who is making rather grandiose claims about Himself and is engaging in work that is well beyond your average Galilean carpenter!

While there is much we do not know, there is one thing that the Gospels make certain– His brothers do not believe in His claims regarding Himself. In Mark 3:21, Mark informs us that “they who were of” Jesus went to Capernaum to seize Jesus because, in their estimation, He was out of His mind. In John 7:3-5, His brothers are all but taunting Him, challenging Him to go up to Jerusalem and prove to be who He claims to be, for they did not believe in Him. Jesus’ responds in ways likely not much less acerbic, declaring that it is not yet His time, and that while the world cannot hate them, it does hate Him (John 7:6-8). Sibling rivalry indeed!

At first, this might seem incredible to us, and it may lead to some doubt. Jesus suffered temptation, and yet without sin (Hebrews 4:15); wouldn’t His brothers have noticed this in His first thirty-four or so years? Did they not understand how their mother had conceived Jesus through the power of the Holy Spirit, and did they not hear about all of the signs that accompanied His birth (Matthew 1-2, Luke 1-2)? How could they not believe in Him?

Yet, when we think about it, we can make some sense of it. There is a reason why it is said that familiarity breeds contempt. With the exception of Jesus at the Temple when He was 12, we do not get the impression that Jesus was active in ministration until His baptism and temptation (cf. Matthew 3-4). If you know Jesus as your older brother who lives in Nazareth of Galilee and who works as a carpenter, perhaps even working together with you in that trade, and then all of a sudden He claims to be the Son of God, abandons the trade for at least a portion of the year, gathers twelve fishermen, zealous, tax collectors, and others around Him, and starts proclaiming this message of the impending Kingdom of God, we can see why they would think Him a little crazy. This is Jesus, from the backwaters of Galilee, the carpenter. Who does He think He is? Why is He doing things that very likely will get Him into trouble, and by extension, His mother and brothers? We can see why Jesus spoke as He did in Matthew 13:57/Mark 6:4: “A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and in his own household”!

So Jesus’ brothers did not believe in Him. That was probably not a good testimony for Him, but we get no indication that He compelled or coerced them into believing. They had as much of a chance to share with Him in the work of God as everyone else did (cf. Matthew 12:49-50).

Jesus’ brothers were good Jews, however, and they would have been in Jerusalem for the Passover in that fateful year when their elder Brother would be crucified. And then we learn something extraordinary.

[The eleven] with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers (Acts 1:14).

Wait a second! Here Jesus’ brothers are listed as in prayer with their mother, the other women, and the eleven disciples. Something clearly happened. But what?

The Gospels do not provide direct testimony, but later on, Paul mentions that when Jesus was raised from the dead, He appeared to over five hundred brethren, and then to James (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:3-7). James here is the same James who is listed as Jesus’ brother in Matthew 13:55!

How all of this happened is not detailed precisely. It is entirely possible that Jesus’ brothers came around at some point during His ministry, but there’s no evidence of such. They would have seen Jesus’ trial and crucifixion, and we know that at least James, and likely the rest of His brothers, saw Jesus in the resurrection.

And that is the power of the resurrection– unbelievers are often made believers! James will become a prominent elder in the Jerusalem church and the author of the letter bearing his name; according to Josephus, he is martyred at the hands of the Jews (Acts 15:13, 21:18; Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 20.9). Judas, otherwise known as Jude, is responsible for the letter bearing his name. Both of them refer to themselves as servants of the Lord Jesus Christ (James 1:1, Jude 1:1). Can you imagine? Those who once did not even believe in the claims of their older Brother, who thought Him crazy, now call Him Lord and are willing to be known as slaves of their elder Brother!

Jesus is Lord, and the proof is in the resurrection. Jesus’ resurrection was the difference that changed recalcitrant brothers into willing servants. Has Jesus’ resurrection changed your life? Let us trust Him as Lord and do His will!

Ethan R. Longhenry

This Generation

“Whereunto then shall I liken the men of this generation, and to what are they like? They are like unto children that sit in the marketplace, and call one to another; who say,
‘We piped unto you, and ye did not dance; we wailed, and ye did not weep.’
For John the Baptist is come eating no bread nor drinking wine; and ye say, ‘He hath a demon.’
The Son of man is come eating and drinking; and ye say, ‘Behold, a gluttonous man, and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners!’
And wisdom is justified of all her children” (Luke 7:31-35).

Jesus has sharp words for those in “this generation.” They were never satisfied– they always found some reason for not believing. Many did not approve of John the Baptist because he lived in the desert, eating locusts and honey, and not drinking, and preached righteousness (cf. Matthew 3:4, Luke 3:1-17). Jesus lived among the people, eating bread and drinking wine, and they condemned Him for doing that!

Jesus understands that, in the end, it does not matter what He does or does not do– the unconvinced will find reasons to justify being unconvinced. John’s statement toward the end of Revelation ought not be taken to extremes, but does present reality fairly well:

“He that is unrighteous, let him do unrighteousness still: and he that is filthy, let him be made filthy still: and he that is righteous, let him do righteousness still: and he that is holy, let him be made holy still” (Revelation 22:11).

In the end, it was only probably a very few people, if any, who were genuine seekers and yet disturbed by Jesus eating and drinking, and that with sinners. Those who were willing to consider who Jesus was and what He did would understand that He was performing His mission of seeking and saving the lost of Israel who could be redeemed (cf. Luke 19:1-8). People had really already made up their minds– they just then searched for whatever reason would work to justify it. The fact that Jesus ate and drank, and that with sinners, was an easy justification. So was the belief that He was born in Nazareth, and thus could not be the Messiah (cf. John 7:41, 52). The Pharisees were willing to ascribe His miracles to the power of Satan in order to “save face,” only to be more fully exposed (cf. Matthew 12:22-37)!

Is our generation that much different than His generation? Many people find reasons for not believing in Jesus. Perhaps you have some reasons that you do not believe that Jesus is the Christ. What are those reasons? Are they really legitimate reasons, or are they justifications to make you feel better about the decision you made in advance? Could any amount of evidence be provided to help you understand that Jesus really is all that the Scriptures say He is?

In the end, let us know that wisdom is indeed justified. Bad reasoning gets exposed. Desperate arguments are seen for what they really are. Let us be honest with ourselves: are deep-seated difficulties, for whatever reason, really worth the cost of the soul? Can we see that Jesus was a good man, and that He taught good things to which people should listen? If so, how can we deny that He is the Christ, the Son of the Living God, without saying that we think that an egomaniacal lunatic is a good teacher?

Anyone can come up with reasons to not accept what Jesus teaches. But are we willing to take another look and really explore not just what we believe, but also why we believe it, and to dispense with that which is false, even if it requires a change in our lives and a dose of humility?

Let us consider what Jesus taught and did and ask ourselves– are we like “this generation,” or will we step out, be a little different, and serve the risen Lord?

Ethan R. Longhenry