James the Apostle and John the Evangelist were brothers. Their father, Zebedee, was clearly a man of wealth and influence. He was a fisherman by trade and, therefore, so were James (the older) and John (the younger). Zebedee provided for them in their youth and education. Their mother, Salome, was one of Jesus' followers and would, later, be one of the women who followed after Jesus and provided for him as he engaged in ministry prior to his death.
Growing up in Galilee, their family likely knew Jesus' family and, perhaps, were even distant relatives. As they grew older they engaged in the fishing trade of their father until, one day, Jesus came alongside the Sea of Galilee and called out to the brothers on the boat and proclaimed that if they would follow him, then he would make them "fishers of people." Along with his brother, James accepted the call and became one of "the twelve disciples." He abandoned the life of affluence that his father provided for the life of a wandering disciple of an itinerant teacher.This sacrifice should not be overlooked. After all, James would follow Jesus loyally for years forsaking his own life in pursuit of the Kingdom--even if he wasn't entirely sure what it might look like.
As Jesus and his disciples approached Jerusalem for the last time, Salome ambitiously decided to take some initiative and convince Jesus of her sons' worth as leaders in the new Kingdom. Salome said to Jesus, "Jesus, I want you to tell me that my sons can be your inner circle when you finally start this Kingdom you've been talking about." Oblivious that the Kingdom had already started and they were missing it in their ambition, her sons joined in with her and placed their hope in worldly gain and power. For a moment, James bought into the lie of success through power--a new kingdom just like the other kingdoms except with himself on top.They bought into that old lie that says, "The only thing wrong with this world's kingdoms is that I'm not the one in charge." Jesus, knowing how the Kingdom worked and hoping to get it through to them asked: "Can you drink the cup I'm getting ready to drink?" In their ambition, they exclaimed, "Yes!" Jesus knew they still didn't get it and so he said to them, somewhat cryptically, "Yes, you will drink the same cup but the Kingdom is not about power like you understand it. No, it's different--it's not about domination and control. It's about love and sacrifice."
James would, later, be present at the transfiguration of Jesus at Gethsemane. James, along with Peter and John, would see their Lord and Savior conversing with Moses and Elijah. The effect of this event for James' change of outlook and character should not be underestimated. Even as James gazed upon Jesus transfigured that night, parts of James were being transfigured.
Jesus would, of course, go on to lay down his life and die for the sins of the world. He would offer forgiveness to the death-dealers surrounding him and love to those intent on being his enemies. This frightening inauguration of a new Kingdom scattered the Twelve--including James. Perhaps the words of Jesus about the cup he would drink came back to haunt James. Regardless, James would help lead the disciples and early Christians in living into the Kingdom they understood so late. He who had been given much and who had come from an affluent family would give it all up for a chance to be a part of a new and different Kingdom--the Kingdom of God.