Notable Families (Part 3)

Albert McShane, N. Ireland

Already two Old Testament families have been considered, but there is one outstanding family in the New Testament which also deserves attention. It is that of Zebedee and his wife Salome. Little is recorded in Scripture about Zebedee, but much more is said about his wife. Possibly her father was Heli, but nothing is revealed as to her background. Her parents called her after the great king of Israel, Solomon, and gave her his name in the feminine form. (According to history the daughter of Herod who carried John’s head in a dish, also bore the same name. One rejoiced at the death of John, the other was saddened at the death of Christ). However, from the calling of her two sons, James and John, until the burial of the Lord she had an important role to play in the ministry of Christ. No other woman had the honor of rearing two of the three most favored apostles. Like the mother of the Lord, she may have been a widow at the time of the crucifixion, for neither Joseph nor Zebedee is mentioned during it.

When the news reached her that her two sons had left their father and the boats to follow Christ, she must have been somewhat bewildered. How will they find the wherewithal to exist and how will their father carry on without them? Questions such as these must have been rising in her mind. However, as the fame of Christ spread, she could not but be pleased that her two boys were involved in such a wonderful movement. Whatever contacts she had with them during the times when the Lord dwelt at Capernaum, these gave her opportunity to learn of the wonders He was working, not only in Galilee, but also in Judea. This must have gladdened her heart, and caused her to be thankful that her two sons were associated with such a wonderful person. At length there came the occasion when the Lord was departing from his centre in Galilee for the last time, and was on His last journey to Jerusalem where He would die. At that crisis she was one of the women who not only accompanied Him, but one who ministered unto Him and His disciples.

Somewhere near Jericho, when on this memorable journey, the thought dawned upon Salome and her sons that the One they were following would one day be reigning in His kingdom. In spite of the fact that He had spoken of His rejection and death, this was not the end, for He also made plain that He would rise again. They conceived that it would be great if on that day the two sons were seated on either side of His throne. If in the preview of the kingdom on the mount, they were honored to be present, it appeared to them that when the full manifestation of His glory would be seen, they should then have a special place of honor. Without granting the request, and without claiming to have the final say as to who should share these lofty positions, the Lord uses the occasion to show that such coveted places are reached, not by those who desire them, but by those who deserve them. He established the link between suffering for Him in the day of His rejection, and the reward of reigning with Him in His coming kingdom. Instead of an assurance of high positions, they were given the assurance of the sufferings which would be their portion.

At length the day came when the prophecies of Christ regarding His sufferings were fulfilled. The women from Galilee, including Salome, stood and watched the sad scene. Three women present had the name "Mary". One was Magdalene, another was the mother of the Lord, and the third was the mother of James the less. With them was the sister of the mother of Jesus. The clear inference is that the person not named was Salome. In his gospel John never uses his own name, nor his brother’s name "James", nor does he call the mother of the Lord "Mary", so it can be easily understood that if Salome was his aunt he would not call her by name. In light of this strong inference it becomes clear that when the Lord spoke to His mother on the cross, and associated her with John, He was putting her into the care of her nephew, so she would be no stranger in the home to which she was being brought.

Among the few women who went to the tomb on the first day of the week was the faithful Salome. Whether they all lodged in the same house is not stated, but they were together in the early hours of the morning. She was one who brought news to her son and Peter that Christ was risen. Though the spices prepared by the women were never needed, nevertheless, these costly aromatics demonstrated the devotion of heart they had for the One they had followed, and whose body they had seen buried in Joseph’s tomb.

There is little likelihood that Salome was spared to read any of her son John’s writings, but she may have been alive when James was slain. If so her mind would have recalled the words of the Lord regarding the cup which He had to drink, and which was also to be drunk by her sons (Matt. 20:22-23).

Although Zebedee and Salome drop out of the Scripture record, the fame of their family continued, for John, who was one of the first called to be an apostle was spared longer than any of the Twelve. No man had greater experiences during a lifetime. Long after his association with Christ on earth, he had the wonderful experience of the Lord’s day on Pathos. He who saw the Lamb pointed out by the Baptist, saw the Lamb on the throne. He who sailed with Christ on the Sea of Galilee, saw the sea of glass. He who was on the mount of transfiguration and saw the majesty of Christ, was on the mount and saw His bride. He who saw Christ girded with a towel, saw Him girded with a golden girdle. He who lay on the bosom of Jesus, lay at His feet as one dead. He who was told of the coming of Christ and going to His Father’s house, was caught up to it. He who asked for fire to come down from heaven, saw the lake of fire. He who saw the Lord on an ass, saw Him on the white horse. He who saw the darkness of the cross, saw the city which needed no light. Well might we ask, what other man ever had such varied experiences, or such divine favors?

What family reunions in heaven will entail has not been fully revealed, but the family here considered will be amongst the greatest to enjoy its bliss. Salome and Zebedee may not have been famous in the world’s history, but they and their family set their hearts on a kingdom which will last for ever. It would be well if all Christian mothers made it their aim to seek a high place in the same kingdom for their sons, even though they are aware that this will involve much suffering.

In the three families considered in this series it will be noticed that although there were three children in two of the families and two in the other, yet there was one outstanding child in each case. Moses was the chief in the family of Amram and Jochebed, Shem was the blessed one in Noah’s family, and John was the most highly favored of the two sons of Zebedee and Salome.