James has been traditionally called James "the greater" to distinguish him from the other apostle named James. James was the second apostle listed by Jesus (Mk 3:17) and one of the first apostles called by Jesus (Mt 4:21). James was privileged to be one of the three apostles present for the raising from the dead of Jairus' daughter (Mk 5:37), the Transfiguration (Mt 17:1), and Jesus' agony in the garden (Mt 26:37). James was "greater" in more ways than one.
When James' mother asked Jesus to put her sons at Jesus' right and left hands (see Mt 20:21), there was no doubt that James already had one of the top places in Jesus' kingdom. The only question was: "Would John be promoted?" In the Gospels, John is usually referred to as "James' brother" (see Mt 4:21; Mk 3:17). James was obviously the dominant figure.
However, Jesus did not make James' eminent position official. Instead, He challenged James to drink the cup of suffering, to take up the cross (Mt 20:22). This was the pattern of Jesus' relationship with James. Before Jesus raised Jairus' daughter, He displayed to James the cross of being ridiculed (Mk 5:40). Before and after the Transfiguration, Jesus spoke of the cross (Mt 16:21; 17:22-23). At the agony in the garden, Jesus again showed James "the way of the cross." Finally, after Pentecost, James, now called "the brother of John" (Acts 12:2), got the message and became the first apostle to be martyred (Acts 12:2).