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Grace. Truth. Family.

John 7a – The Brothers and Sisters of Jesus

John 7 focuses in part on the interrelationship of Jesus and His brothers. Most of us have brothers and sisters, and Jesus was no exception. They were half-brothers and half-sisters, since Jesus was the Son of God the Father and Mary, and His brothers/sisters were the children of Joseph and Mary.

The New Testament reveals some of the dynamics between Jesus and His siblings. You might be surprised to find out that not everyone in Jesus’ family was immediately on board with believing Him as the Messiah and divine Son of God. A review of a few passages from the Gospels and a few passages after Christ’s resurrection will show us that their belief did not come until much later.

Matthew 12:46-50 gives us our first clue regarding Jesus’ sibling. It reads (ESV): “While he was still speaking to the people, behold, his mother and his brothers stood outside, asking to speak to him. 48 But he replied to the man who told him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” 49 And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 50 For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.’” [Matthew 12:46-50; cf. parallels in Mark 3:31-34 // Lk 8:19-21].

The silence of this passage towards Joseph gives us a clue to why most scholars believe he was dead by this time of Jesus’ life. Jesus reacts towards His family’s desire to see Him in a surprising way. Instead of warmly welcoming them in, He indicates that His true family are those who do the will of God. This implies that His mother and brothers were not yet part of His true spiritual family, and were not doing God’s will (otherwise, He would’ve invited them in!). This might surprise those that believe Mary was a perfect believer from the beginning, but the Bible does not teach us this. She may have had more belief than her other sons (see John 2:1-11, as well as the birth narratives in Matthew, Mark and Luke), but this passage at the very least puts a separation of some degree between Jesus’ spiritual family and His biological family.

Matthew 13 shows us something similar: “and coming to his hometown he taught them in their synagogue, so that they were astonished, and said, “Where did this man get this wisdom and these mighty works? 55 Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? 56 And are not all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all these things?” 57 And they took offense at him. But Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and in his own household.”” [Matthew 13:54-57; cf. parallel in Mark 6:1-4]

First, we note that Jesus had not only brothers, but also sisters (vs 56). Four brothers are named here: James, Joseph, Simon and Judas (not Judas Iscariot! Apparently this was a very popular name back then, since two of the disciples were named Judas.) Many believe this “Judas” is the same man as “Jude” who wrote the epistle of Jude, and “James” is the same who wrote the epistle of James. If Jude/Judas are indeed the same person, then we can gather that Jesus had at least six siblings: two sisters (since the word is plural here, a minimum of two is required) and four brothers (there may be more, but they aren’t mentioned here by name).

But what is most telling for us here is that Jesus implies that He (“a prophet”) is without honor in His hometown and His own household (vs 57). This would lead us to believe that His family still largely operates with some form of unbelief towards His ministry and purpose.

The passage preached today also lends itself towards this interpretation, not implicitly but explicitly. John 7:5 states it plainly: “For not even his brothers believed in him.” It doesn’t get much clearer than that! And John 7 likely takes place about 6 months before the death of Christ, so this wasn’t early in His ministry by any means.

We can add one final piece of evidence to this pre-resurrection. John 19 describes some of Jesus’ final moments on the cross. “When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” 27 Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home” [John 19:26-27]. Most likely, the “disciples whom he loved” is the Apostle John, author of the Gospel that bears his name. Here, Jesus is giving John the responsibility to care for His mother after His death.

The question becomes: why didn’t Jesus give His mother into the care of one of His brothers? Certainly by this time Joseph must have been dead, otherwise there would be no need to care for Mary in such a way. Perhaps Jesus looked towards John instead of a biological brother because John was a believer at this time and they were not. This is conjecture, but it does make sense according to the context of the other passages cited.

Post-resurrection and ascension, it was a different story. Immediately in Acts 1:14, we see the disciples gathered together to prayer. The text tells us that among those present are “Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers.” It seems that somewhere between the cross (if our interpretation of John 19 is correct) and days after the ascension, Jesus’ brothers finally began to believe in Him.

There are a few other indications in the New Testament that His brothers began to believe after the cross. Obviously, the fact that James and Jude each wrote an epistle indicates that they were believers. Paul, while giving part of his testimony in Galatians 1, mentions that he spent time with James, whom he even implies is one of the “apostles” (Gal 1:19). He calls James “a pillar” of the church, along with Peter and John, in Gal 2:9. 1 Corinthians 9:5 mentions that “brother of the Lord” had believing wives (along with Peter). Passages like these point us to the fact that at least some of the brothers in Jesus’ family began to believe in Him after His death and resurrection, and later two of them wrote books of the Bible and one became one of the pillars of the early church.

Passages like this cause us to consider the reality of family dynamics. Even Jesus’ own family did not believe in Him for many decades. It helps us realize that we may have family members that do not believe in God, to no fault of our own. No one would dare blame Jesus for His brothers and sisters not believing in Him early on. Neither should we blame ourselves or our relatives for unbelieving family members, so long as we have done our part to raise them in the church and share the love of God and truth of the Gospel with them.

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