Therefore say I unto you, The kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof. (Matthew 21:43)
As we study the Scripture, we come to another man with a book bearing his name—James. Now this man, not of the 12 apostles, was called by the Lord for a specific purpose. I state that it was a specific purpose, because as it has been well stated:
“It shall greatly help ye to understand Scripture if thou mark not only what is spoken or wrythen, but of whom and to whom, with what words, at what time, where, to what intent, with what circumstances, considering what goeth before and what followeth after.” ~ Miles Coverdale (1488–1569)
To make an attempt to apply Scripture to one’s self without understanding its scope or purpose makes it easy to fall into error and confusion. It is important to know James’ call and purpose to understand the purpose of God in calling him to write his epistle.
There is no record in Scripture directly of the Lord commanding James to write, so we must search the Scriptures to find clues as to what God’s purpose was in calling James, the Lord’s brother (Galatians 1:19), to write his epistle. The first place that we should think to look is the book of the Acts of the Apostles. While the Lord’s brethren are present with the 120 in the upper room in Acts 1, he is not mentioned by name. This James is first mentioned by name in Acts, appearing in chapter 12 verse 17, after Herod killed another James, the brother of John, who was one of the Twelve (Acts 12:2). He does appear named in Acts 12:17, and he already appears to have a place of authority to some extent, but it has not yet been stated why, or what that authority was. When we come to chapter 15, and the “Jerusalem Council”, he has what seems to be the last word, and the word that settles the matter in question, which is essentially, “do Gentiles need to become Jews do be accepted by God?” His having the last word, however, does not explain how he got to that position.
It is interesting, that to find anywhere in Scripture the authority for James’ epistle, it will be found in the epistles of…you guessed it, Paul. I find that interesting, because so many attempt to pit these two servants of Christ against each other, especially in the “scholarship community” (those who call themselves Bible scholars, but study almost anything but the Bible to learn about the Bible, and place more weight on “extrabiblical resources” than on the Holy Scriptures of God).
And that [Christ] was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve: After that, He was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep. After that, He was seen of James; then of all the apostles. And last of all He was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time. (1 Corinthians 15:5–8)
So this tells us something. It tells us that the Lord appeared to James prior to appearing to Paul (Saul of Tarsus) on the road to Damascus. It also tells us that the Lord appeared to James after appearing to the Twelve and that he was not one of the Twelve. Now a record of the Lord’s appearing to anyone is not a record of a haphazard appearance, so it is likely that at this time the Lord gave him “orders”.
It is also from Paul that we learn that this James was “the Lord’s brother” (Galatians 1:19). The Lord’s brothers while He walked this earth were not believers until later, after His resurrection (John 7:5, Acts 1:14). Matthew 13:55 and Mark 6:3 identify a James as one of the Lord’s brethren, sons of “the carpenter” and Mary. That is the extent of what we know about James from the “Gospels”, but there is an episode where we may gather a little bit understanding of James, specifically because he was “the Lord’s brother”.
While [Jesus] yet talked to the people, behold, His mother and His brethren stood without, desiring to speak with Him. Then one said unto Him, Behold, thy mother and thy brethren stand without, desiring to speak with thee.
But He answered and said unto him that told Him, Who is My mother? and who are My brethren? And He stretched forth his hand toward His disciples, and said, Behold my mother and my brethren! For whosoever shall do the will of My Father which is in heaven, the same is My brother, and sister, and mother. (Matthew 12:46–50)
So James opens up his epistle:
James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad, greeting. (James 1:1)
This one verse tells us much about this letter. First, its human author does not designate himself “the Lord’s brother”, but calls himself “a servant of God, and of the Lord Jesus Christ”. Family relationships could earn nothing in the kingdom of God. But those doing the will of the Father, those have the position of brother, and sister, and mother. This is the new family relationship.
This verse also says much about who this letter is written to. It is to the “twelve tribes which are scattered abroad”. This absolutely places this letter into the hands of Jews, and these were Jews who were scattered abroad, or of the “diaspora”. These were referred to by the Pharisees speaking among themselves in John’s gospel:
Then said the Jews among themselves, Whither will He go, that we shall not find Him? will He go unto the diaspora among the Gentiles, and teach the Gentiles? (John 7:35)
The twelve tribes ALWAYS refer to Israel, and to make this refer to “the Church” is a far stretch. The Church which is His Body is never referred to as a nation or as “tribes”, or Israel. Does that mean that we should ignore this letter? No. But it does mean that to properly read and interpret and apply anything from it, we must understand the sender and the receiver.
To properly understand James’ epistle, we must review what the Lord said through the prophets of Israel throughout the Old Testament. An example follows:
For if ye throughly amend your ways and your doings; if ye throughly execute judgment between a man and his neighbour; If ye oppress not the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, and shed not innocent blood in this place, neither walk after other gods to your hurt: Then will I cause you to dwell in this place, in the land that I gave to your fathers, for ever and ever. (Jeremiah 7:5–7)
The Lord spoke of one of whom “among those that are born of women there is not a greater prophet” (Luke 7:28), and He was speaking of John the Baptist.
The burden of the ministry of John the Baptist was not the “beginning of Christianity”. John was an “Old Testament prophet” with a message consistent with the messages of the prophets.
But the angel said unto him, Fear not, Zacharias: for thy prayer is heard; and thy wife Elisabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John. … And [John] shall go before [the Lord] in the spirit and power of Elias, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to make ready a people prepared for the Lord. (Luke 1:13, 17)
John looked for and demanded fruits worthy of repentance:
Bring forth therefore fruits worthy of repentance, and begin not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, That God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham. And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: every tree therefore which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.
And the people asked him, saying, What shall we do then?
He answereth and saith unto them, He that hath two coats, let him impart to him that hath none; and he that hath meat, let him do likewise.
Then came also publicans to be baptized, and said unto him, Master, what shall we do? And he said unto them, Exact no more than that which is appointed you.
And the soldiers likewise demanded of him, saying, And what shall we do? And he said unto them, Do violence to no man, neither accuse any falsely; and be content with your wages. (Luke 3:8–14)
The fruits that were worthy of repentance were not ethereal or immaterial. They were actual works and attitudes that were tangible. This is the same burden that James brings to the recipients of his epistle. As he addresses the “twelve tribes which are scattered abroad”, he tells them that “faith without works is dead” (James 2:17, 26), and reminds them that Abraham’s faith brought forth fruits (James 2:21).
Notice that James speaks to the covenant people about Abraham as under the covenant. He takes the twelve tribes scattered abroad back to Genesis 22, while Paul, speaking of the faith of Abraham in Romans 4, actually takes us back to “Abram” in Genesis 15 before the covenant of circumcision.
Now the prophet Isaiah spoke of a nation (Israel) that did not bring forth the fruits that the LORD looked for:
Now will I sing to my wellbeloved a song of my beloved touching his vineyard. My wellbeloved hath a vineyard in a very fruitful hill: And he fenced it, and gathered out the stones thereof, and planted it with the choicest vine, and built a tower in the midst of it, and also made a winepress therein: and he looked that it should bring forth grapes, and it brought forth wild grapes. And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem, and men of Judah, judge, I pray you, betwixt me and my vineyard. What could have been done more to my vineyard, that I have not done in it? wherefore, when I looked that it should bring forth grapes, brought it forth wild grapes? And now go to; I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard: I will take away the hedge thereof, and it shall be eaten up; and break down the wall thereof, and it shall be trodden down: And I will lay it waste: it shall not be pruned, nor digged; but there shall come up briers and thorns: I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it. For the vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah His pleasant plant: and He looked for judgment, but behold oppression; for righteousness, but behold a cry. (Isaiah 5:1–7)
Hear another parable: There was a certain householder, which planted a vineyard, and hedged it round about, and digged a winepress in it, and built a tower, and let it out to husbandmen, and went into a far country: And when the time of the fruit drew near, he sent his servants to the husbandmen, that they might receive the fruits of it. And the husbandmen took his servants, and beat one, and killed another, and stoned another. Again, he sent other servants more than the first: and they did unto them likewise. But last of all he sent unto them his son, saying, They will reverence my son. But when the husbandmen saw the son, they said among themselves, This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and let us seize on his inheritance. And they caught him, and cast him out of the vineyard, and slew him.
When the lord therefore of the vineyard cometh, what will he do unto those husbandmen?
They say unto Him, He will miserably destroy those wicked men, and will let out his vineyard unto other husbandmen, which shall render him the fruits in their seasons.
Jesus saith unto them, Did ye never read in the scriptures, The stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner: this is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes?
Therefore say I unto you, The kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof. (Matthew 21:33–43)
The vineyard is told to us in Isaiah to be the house of Israel. The husbandmen, they are the chief priests and Pharisees—Israel’s religious leaders (Matthew 21:45). They sat in Moses’ seat (Matthew 23:2). Who is the nation bringing forth the fruits? The Lord spoke in Luke to a group of people to whom the Father would love to give the Kingdom:
Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell that ye have, and give alms; provide yourselves bags which wax not old, a treasure in the heavens that faileth not, where no thief approacheth, neither moth corrupteth. (Luke 12:32–33)
Keep this in mind when you read in James about the poor and the rich, the rich made low, and the miseries coming on the rich. (See James 1:10–11, 2:1–7, 5:1–3). Now this group in the land would not be the only members of that nation that were to be the recipients of the kingdom.
I am the good shepherd, and know My sheep, and am known of Mine. As the Father knoweth Me, even so know I the Father: and I lay down My life for the sheep. And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear My voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd. (John 10:14–16)
These became the believers of the diaspora. These are they to whom James writes. Now if the nation did not bring forth the fruit that the Lord of the vineyard desired and so the leaders of that nation lost the privilege as the husbandmen, what would be required of the little flock? They were to bring forth “grapes”, not “wild grapes”. The Lord should expect to look for judgment (justice) and find it, but not find oppression. James chapter 2 starts at this place when speaking of the treatment of the rich and the poor in the assembly (James 2:2 — Greek: συναγωγή — synagōgē — “synagogue”). Read James 2 with this thought in mind and see if this does not fit together perfectly. Notice especially this:
Hearken, my beloved brethren, Hath not God chosen the poor of this world rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which he hath promised to them that love him? But ye have despised the poor. Do not rich men oppress you, and draw you before the judgment seats? Do not they blaspheme that worthy Name by the which ye are called?
If ye fulfil the royal law according to the scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself, ye do well: But if ye have respect to persons, ye commit sin, and are convinced of the law as transgressors. For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all. For he that said, Do not commit adultery, said also, Do not kill. Now if thou commit no adultery, yet if thou kill, thou art become a transgressor of the law. So speak ye, and so do, as they that shall be judged by the law of liberty. For he shall have judgment without mercy, that hath shewed no mercy; and mercy rejoiceth against judgment. (James 2:5–13)
In every way, James’ epistle to the diaspora points back to the “Sermon on the Mount”, which is in every way the charter of the Kingdom of Heaven. There, we see the Lord speak about who it would be that would enter into that Kingdom:
Not every one that saith unto Me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of My Father which is in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy Name? and in thy Name have cast out devils? and in thy Name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from Me, ye that work iniquity. (Matthew 7:21–23)
Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them. (Matthew 7:20)
For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:20)
Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone. … For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also. (James 2:17, 26)
This is where James is coming from in his epistle. There are a few things which are not spoken about in James’ epistle. This does not imply an oversight, but that they are outside the scope of the purpose of this epistle. Three very important doctrines are these:
- The cross
- Justification by grace
- Redemption by the blood of Christ
How could such important matters be overlooked? They are beyond the purpose of this epistle, to continue the message of John the Baptist, the Lord Himself, and His Apostles to call a Nation bringing forth the fruits of the kingdom. At the time in which James wrote, these doctrines may not have been revealed as they are now revealed to us in the Apostle Paul’s epistles. Some, including C. I. Scofield in the Scofield Reference Bible, while keeping Ussher’s date of A.D. 60 in the center column, from content assumes a very early date of James’ epistle.
DATE: Tradition fixes the martyrdom of James in the year 62, but his Epistle shows no trace of the larger revelations concerning the church and the distinctive doctrines of grace made through the Apostle Paul, nor even of the discussion concerning the relation of Gentile converts to the law of Moses, which culminated in the first council (Ac 15.), over which James presided. This presumes the very early date of James, which may confidently be set down as “the first Epistle to Christians.”—Weston.
At the opposite end of the dispensational spectrum, E. W. Bullinger has this to say:
Some commentators rightly place the time of writing before the Jerusalem Council of about A.D. 45. (According to tradition, James was martyred in 62 or 68.) One well qualified to value fairly the evidence says, “And a careful study of the chronological question has convinced me that they are right who hold the Epistle of James to be perhaps the earliest of the New Testament writings. It belongs to that period of the Pentecostal dispensation when the whole Church was Jewish, and when their meeting-places still bore the Jewish designation of synagogues”” (ch James 2:2).”
If these learned Bible students are correct, James wrote before Galatians and Romans were written. But aside from arguments about chronology, the fact still remains that James and Paul were not at odds with each other, but were writing to a different people about a different subject for a different purpose. The dispensation of grace was not given to James, it was given to Paul (Ephesians 3:2), and it would be through Paul that the riches of grace would be made known.
We can see that as late as Acts 21, James was still ministering in the temple to believers in Jerusalem, and the Jewish believers there still considered themselves under the Law of Moses, for they were still “zealous of the law” (Acts 21:20). And here, Paul, to the Jews became a Jew (1 Corinthians 9:20), which is seemingly contradictory to the epistles of Galatians and Romans, but remember that the “Jerusalem Council” decided nothing about Jews observing the Law. They only agreed with Paul and God that Gentile believers were not bound by the Law. In Romans, it begins to be very evident that Jews were not under the Law anymore either, and in an epistle from an Hebrew of the Hebrews to the Hebrews, we find an end to the things of the Old Covenant and the believing Jews commanded to go on to perfection to the better things of Christ.
In Romans, we learn from the Apostle Paul, that by the Law we are found to be sinners. We learn that we need righteousness without the Law.
But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference: For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; Being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in His blood, to declare His righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; To declare, I say, at this time His righteousness: that He might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.
Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay: but by the law of faith. Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law. (Romans 3:21–28)
Will you, dear reader, believe this good news from God and accept the death of Christ on your behalf as complete for the forgiveness of your sins and believe on Him “Who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification” (Romans 4:25)? The righteousness of God is the greatest of treasures, given freely to those who believe. God’s gospel is simple—Believe it!