How the twelve apostles died is actually unknown to us. Scripture is specific only about the deaths of Judas Iscariot, who hanged himself after returning the coins he had received for betraying Jesus (see Matthew 27: 5), and James, the son of Zebedee, who was martyred by Herod (see Acts 12:2). Except in the case of Beloved John, who is thought to have lived to an old age and died of natural causes on the Isle of Patmos, the others are believed to have died violent martyrs deaths. Their specifics are known to us through secular histories, church tradition, and even legends handed down from generation to generation. None of us can attest to the absolute accuracy of these traditional views. Yet, they do give us pause as we reflect on the passion of Christ.
Simon Peter: crucified on an upside down cross
Andrew: crucified in Asia Minor
Thomas: speared to death by soldiers in Syria
Philip: put to death by a Roman proconsul in Asia Minor
Matthew: stabbed to death in Ethiopia
Bartholomew: uncertain martyrdom in Southern Arabia
James, the son of Alpheus: stoned and clubbed to death in Syria
Simon the Zealot: killed in Persia for refusing to offer sacrifice to the sun god
Matthias: burned to death in Syria
Jude: crucified my magi in Persia
There are many different versions of these brief capsules. While various research or study organizations may conclude slightly different endings, the one unified truth is that all of them, with the exception of John, died vicious deaths.
My conviction is that something happened to each of them to advance their hot flash tendencies to genuine passion, the passion of death. What occurred in their lives is the main event in human history and is certainly no surprise today, the day following our celebration of the resurrection of Jesus. But, in all honesty, the empty tomb has in many ways become a matter of fact reality to the human race, even to many professing Christians. Many of us did the Easter parade again this year with a shrug. Still, several related events unfolded then that were pivotal in shaping their mission for the rest of their lives.
1. The resurrected Jesus revealed himself to them.
While the three Gospels vary slightly in their identification of the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus to his disciples, there is no doubt that he did so. The Apostle Paul's summary of the resurrection appearances provides assurance of his resurrection as a moment of understanding and clarity for his followers.
For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins
according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day
according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve.
After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the
same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he
appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to
one abnormally born.
1 Corinthians 15:3-8, NIV
In one of those appearances, Luke wrote, "Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures" (Luke 24:45). He showed them his hands and his feet and what had previously been confusion and misunderstanding now became genuine passion in them. Everything changed for them in those moments of revelation.
2. The resurrected Jesus gave them a clear and concise mission.
Each of the synoptic Gospels records the writers interpretation of the mission Jesus assigned his followers after the resurrection. Our most familiar version is Matthew 28:19-20, the Great Commission. Jesus said---
Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father
and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have
commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.
Matthew 28: 19-20, NIV
This mission is also verbalized in Mark 16: 15-16, Luke 24:47, and Acts 1:8. In John's Gospel Jesus said, "Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you." (John 20:21, NIV).
After the resurrection the followers of Christ were given a specific mission to make disciples of all nations. As is evident in the Book of Acts, this mission challenged them and became their passion.
3. The resurrected Jesus gave them promises to secure their mission.
He also gave them promises to secure and sustain them in the pursuit and fulfillment of this mission.
Promise 1: I will be with you always (Matthew 28:20)
Promise 2: You will receive power (Acts 1:8)
Promise 3: You will be my witnesses (Acts 1:8).
These post-resurrection truths became the transitional elements that would guide them to their deaths over the next forty to fifty years. Today, reflecting on another Easter celebrating the empty tomb, I am aware that these very same truths are the basis of my personal faith, and the mission that he has entrusted to me. My personal prayer is that they will be source of personal passion in my life as well.
Glory to God.
These synopses about the death of the Apostles was compiled and published by christianity.com. You may view their website by clicking here.
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