The Mission, The Faith, and the Fate of the Apostles

This post looks at what happened to the disciples after Jesus left: their mission, the extent of their faith, and their deaths.

The Twelve

The twelve apostles, including Judas Iscariot, who took his own life after betraying Jesus to the Jewish leadership for thirty pieces of silver, were Simon Peter, Andrew, James (son of Zebedee), John, Philip, Bartholomew, Thomas, Matthew, James (son of Alpheus), Simon, Thaddaeus, and Judas. After the death of Judas, Matthias became the twelfth apostle, although some believe that God intended Paul to be the twelfth.

Jesus Has Departed, Now What?

After Jesus had ascended, and the Holy Spirit had been imparted, the twelve apostles led the Jerusalem church until the time of Herod Agrippa (AD 41-44).[1] His persecution of Christians resulted in the arrest of Peter and the death of James, son of Zebedee, so the Twelve left Jerusalem and placed church leadership in the hands of James, brother of Jesus, and a group of elders.[2]

We can understand the nature of the apostles’ mission from this extra-biblical writing by Clement of Rome, “Having therefore received their orders, and being fully assured by the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, and established in the word of God, with full assurance of the Holy Ghost, they went forth proclaiming that the kingdom of God was at hand. And thus preaching through countries and cities.”[3]

dsc01768The Extreme Faith of the Apostles

The apostles were all willing to suffer persecution for their faith. “They were threatened, beaten, thrown in prison and killed for their faith, and yet they refused to back down because they obeyed God rather than men (Acts 5:29).[4] For me, this clearly demonstrates that they were totally committed to the cause of Jesus. They had nothing to gain from promoting Christianity, and everything to lose. In these circumstances, no one would willingly suffer death for a cause that was known to be a lie. So we can conclude that, after being Jesus’ constant companions for over three years, including through His horrific crucifixion, glorious resurrection, and His post-resurrection appearances, the disciples were, to a man, complete believers that Jesus was the Son of God.

The Fate of the Apostles

Peter. Biblical references to Peter’s teachings include locations such as Jerusalem, Judea, Galilee, Samaria and Caesarea. It is possible that he visited churches in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, and Brian Litfin, in his book After Acts: The Lives and Legends of the Apostles, tells us, “church tradition has Peter ministering in Syria, Greece, Anatolia, and Rome. While there is some disagreement over the fate of Peter, the Acts of Peter, a second-century collection of oral folklore, told that ‘Peter was crucified on a cross— and also that it was in an upside-down posture.’”[5] The picture depicting this and attached to this blog was taken by me, in a church on the outskirts of Rome

Paul. In 2 Corinthians 11: 24-25, Paul describes some of the punishment he received for his faith, “Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked.” The book of Acts tells us much about Paul’s life, but ends before his death. Popular tradition, reinforced by writings in The Acts of Paul, a second century collection of Christian writings, holds that he was beheaded in Rome during the reign of Nero, AD 64-67.[6]

And so the story continues. While there is often a lack of scholarly detail, the popular tradition provided by early Christian writings holds that: Thomas was martyred in India; Luke was hanged in Greece; Matthew died from a sword wound in Ethiopia; Mark was killed in Alexandria, Egypt, where he was dragged by horses until he was dead; James (son of Zebedee) was beheaded in Jerusalem; Bartholomew was martyred in Armenia; Andrew was whipped and crucified in Patras, Greece; and Philip was crucified.

Other early Christian protagonists, including James and Jude, brothers of Jesus, and Barnabas, a member of the larger group of seventy disciples, were also killed.

John, after surviving an attempt at execution in boiling oil, was exiled to Patmos, where he wrote the prophetic Book of Revelation.[7]

As Sean McDowell says in his article Did the Apostles Really Die as Martyrs for Their Faith? “Even though they were crucified, stoned, stabbed, dragged, skinned and burned, every last apostle of Jesus proclaimed his resurrection until his dying breath, refusing to recant under pressure from the authorities. Therefore, their testimony is trustworthy and the resurrection is true.”[8]

[1] Sean McDowell, The Fate of the Apostles: Examining the Martyrdom Accounts of the Closest Followers of Jesus, (Burlington, VT, Ashgate, 2015), 33.

[2] Ibid., (p. 33).

[3] Clement of Rome, The First Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians, c. AD 95-96, quoted in Sean McDowell, The Fate of the Apostles: Examining the Martyrdom Accounts of the Closest Followers of Jesus, (Burlington, VT, Ashgate, 2015), 34.

[4] Sean McDowell, The Fate of the Apostles: Examining the Martyrdom Accounts of the Closest Followers of Jesus, (Burlington, VT, Ashgate, 2015), 263.

[5] Litfin, Bryan (2015-01-16). After Acts: Exploring the Lives and Legends of the Apostles (p. 149). Moody Publishers. Kindle Edition.

[6] Sean McDowell, The Fate of the Apostles: Examining the Martyrdom Accounts of the Closest Followers of Jesus, (Burlington, VT, Ashgate, 2015), 113.

[7] Ibid., (p. 136).

[8] Sean McDowell, Did the Apostles Really Die as Martyrs for Their Faith? Biola Magazine, Fall 2013, http://magazine.biola.edu/article/13-fall/did-the-apostles-really-die-as-martyrs-for-their-f/, accessed December 5, 2016.

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