As we’ve been talking about eyewitnesses around the life of Jesus, there is a small group that bears consideration. Think about his own brothers. They saw him every day growing up, and knew him well. The few glimpses we get of them suggest that they had concerns about their eldest brother. Mark 3:21 says that as Jesus’ ministry began to draw crowds, “[his family] went to take charge of him, for they said, he is out of his mind.” We know that the Pharisees expressed this opinion later on, since John in 10:20 they say “he is demon possessed and raving mad”, but it might seem surprising that his own brothers raised concerns about Jesus’ mental stability.
Since our knowledge about Jesus’ childhood is limited to a couple of short glimpses, I would offer a couple of opinions about why his brothers might have felt that way. First, we know from Luke’s gospel that twelve-year-old Jesus stayed behind in the Temple. When he interacted with the teachers, his exasperated parents were “astonished” at his display of wisdom (2:48). They “did not understand” that he had to be in his father’s house ( verse 50). This suggests that Jesus did not fully display his spiritual and intellectual gifts at home as a child, and lived as a fairly normal boy in a normal family.
Did Jesus Have Siblings?
There has been some degree of ecclesiastical debate about Jesus’ family. The Roman Catholic church believes that Mary remained a virgin for life. This is at odds with Scripture. Mark 6:3 specifically mentions his brothers “James, Joseph, Jude, and Simon”, as well as his sisters. Some believe that these were perhaps older children Joseph had from a previous marriage. Others theorize they were cousins of Jesus that Mary was raising. (Those assumptions are never explicitly stated in Scripture, however.)
While these positions allow for Mary to remain a virgin, nowhere in Scripture does it proclaim Mary to be such. In fact, Matthew 1:28 suggests otherwise, saying that Joseph “had no union with her until she gave birth” to Jesus. I’d also point out that Gospel writers had several Aramaic words for brother they could have used. But, several times they used adelphos, which refers to a brother out of the same womb. (It also meant born to the same parents). I mean no disrespect to Mary’s reputation, but it seems clear that Mary and Joseph had other children, and that Jesus grew up in a good-sized family.
Skeptics Close to Home
In any case, Jesus certainly displayed patience as he prepared for his mission (note his several references to “my hour is not yet come”). It is very likely that even his brothers were therefore somewhat surprised by his sudden (awesome) display of wisdom and spiritual gifts when he began his ministry. That’s probably why John 7 records this : “Now the Jews’ Feast of Tabernacles was at hand. 3 His brothers therefore said to Him, “Depart from here and go into Judea, that Your disciples also may see the works that You are doing. 4 For no one does anything in secret while he himself seeks to be known openly. If You do these things, show Yourself to the world.” 5 For even His brothers did not believe in Him.”
Early in his ministry, it seems pretty clear that Jesus’ family struggled with what to think about his preaching and his display of miraculous power, although as John pointed out, Mary had great confidence in her son’s ability to do something amazing at the wedding in Cana of Galilee… But Jesus’ brothers, who tried both to take him home from the gathering crowds, and also pushed him to go to the feast of Tabernacles, were still unsure about what to think about him. Matthew 13:57 quotes Jesus as saying that a prophet is “without honor in his own house.” Perhaps familiarity breeds contempt, but it’s also quite probable that, having seen Jesus every day living a somewhat normal life, his brothers had established a baseline opinion about him that was just hard for them to expand.
So, Why Mention It?
So, why do I mention his unbelieving brothers, and what do they have to do with what you might think about Jesus? It’s because they didn’t stay unbelieving. Acts 1:14 says that after the crucifixion, the disciples waited in the upper room along with “Mary, the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.” We know that his oldest brother James went on to be a respected leader in the Jerusalem church and wrote the epistle bearing his name. In Jude’s letter (written by the younger brother of Jesus), Jude identifies himself not as an apostle, but as “a servant of Jesus Christ and a brother of James” (Jude v 1).
Even though they struggled at first with their eldest brother’s identity, at least two of Jesus’ brothers became strong believers as well as leaders in the early church. After the resurrection, they joined the growing throng of people who verified that Jesus was who he said he was. Jude said, “Keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you eternal life” (verse 21). James characterized himself as a “believer in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ” (James 2:1). If you’ve ever been skeptical about Jesus, consider the reaction of those who witnessed him in person, including his own brothers. Hear their testimony before you decide. James 5:9 says, “the judge is standing at the door”. Don’t reach a verdict before you have listened to all of the evidence.
They say familiarity can cloud a person’s view,
Obscuring what they see because of what they thought they knew.
Jesus’ brothers had concerns that he was going crazy,
Because they were so close to him, it made their vision hazy.
I’m sure they were concerned about the family’s reputation
When crowds began to follow him, and caused so much sensation!
But after their initial doubt had caused them such concern,
Apparently they realized how much they had to learn;
Both wound up following Jesus as they worked with one accord,
And served the early church with zeal. They even called him ‘Lord’!
If you still doubt who Jesus is, then read their words, and get this:
You wouldn’t judge a trial without assessing every witness.
His brothers may have started out as doubters who were rude,
But what they had to say about him can’t be misconstrued:
The letters offer testimony made by James, and Jude.
They both saw what they saw, and then they wrote it down because
They both believed that Jesus Christ was who he said he was.
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