Thursday, March 04, 2004

What Happened to the Twelve Apostles of Christ
A follow-up to the "how do you know" question after The Passion of the Christ
By Michael Patton

Many times I purposefully doubt what I believe. Often I take it upon myself to ask, "How do I know what I believe is true? How do I know that what the Bible teaches about Christ is right and that the countless other millions, even billions, of people who believe in something or someone else other than Christ are in error? Why should I devote my entire life to this?" You might have asked yourself these questions recently. You may have just seen Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ and asked, "How do I know that this really happened?" During these times of doubt, my thoughts always turn to one thing more than any else: the resurrection of Christ. In my mind, if Christ rose from the grave, it is all true. Period. If Christ rose from the dead, what he said was true. If Christ rose from the dead, he deserves my full devotion.

But wait a minute. How do I know that the resurrection actually happened? What makes me so sure that it was an actual historic event. After all, I have never seen anyone rise from the dead. Neither have you. All the people that we have known who died are still dead. How do we know that the event of Christ's resurrection, which goes against everything that we experience, really happened. Good question. Here is the answer, and notice I am going to place it in italics: Because the Apostles deaths. If they died because of their unquenchable proclamation that Christ rose from the grave, then the Bible is true, and Christ deserves my complete devotion.

What makes their death so significant concerning the "how do you know" question? Why do I say that their deaths verify Christ resurrection, which, in turn, verifies the truth of Christianity? Here is what I ask myself, "Why would they have died for a lie? Why would they state they saw something (i.e. the resurrected Christ) when they did not? Think about that for a minute before you read on. Really, think about it. Here is the only rational answer that I can come up with: they would not have. They had nothing to gain. No popularity and no prosperity was gained from their lives of confession. They could have recanted at any time, but they did not. They chose to go to their deaths rather than denying the truth. What they were confessing must have been true. Christ must have raised from the grave.

I have spent much time researching the death of the Apostles, looking at both primary and secondary historical resources. What is the conclusion of my studies? All but one died a martyr's death. All but one suffered and died because they proclaimed to have seen Christ die and then to have seen him alive. They all died because of an unwavering, unrecanting claim that Christ rose from the grave. If you do not believe me, do the study yourself. The resources are available.

Therefore, in my mind and for my faith, the gruesome death of the Apostles was one of the greatest gifts that God gave to the Church. It, for me, answers the "how do you know" question. I have recorded the fruit of my studies on their deaths below. Read through their deaths. Think of this as your devotional for this day. This may sound odd, but in a very real sense, I thank God for killing them. I think you will to.

More exhaustive lists of the early Christian martyrs can be easily attained. Thieleman J. Van Braght.s Martyrs Mirror, and of course John Fox.s Foxes Book of Martyrs are among the secondary sources (although not necessarily the best sources). Early primary sources, such as Jerome, Eusebius, Irenaeus, Clemens, Polycarp, Hippolytus, Dionysius, Josephus, and many others give strong historical evidences that the Apostle's sealed their testimony of a risen Christ with their own blood.

(1) The Apostle James 44-45 A.D.
James the Apostle of the Lord was the second recorded martyr after Christ's death (Stephen was the first). His death is recorded in Acts 12:2 where it is told that Herod Agrippa killed him with a sword. Clemens Alexandrinus and Eusebius both tell how the executioner witnessed the courage and unrecanting spirit of James and was then convinced of Christ resurrection and was then executed along with James.

(2) The Apostle Peter 64 A.D.
Although Peter denied that he even knew Christ three times just before Christ's death, after the resurrection he did not do so again. Peter, just as Jesus prophesied in John 21:18-19, was crucified by Roman executioners because he could deny his master again. According to Eusebius, he thought himself unworthy to be crucified as his Master. He therefore he asked to be crucified head downward.

(3) The Apostle Andrew 70 A.D.
Andrew, Peter's brother who introduced him to Christ, went to join his brother with Christ in eternity six years after Peter's death. After preaching Christ's resurrection to the Scythians and Thracians, he to was crucified for this faith. As Hippolytus tells us, he was hung on an olive tree at Patrae, a town in Achaia.

(4) The Apostle Thomas 70 A.D.
Thomas is known as "doubting Thomas" because of his reluctance to believe the other Apostles' witness of the resurrection. After they told him that Christ was alive, he stated, "Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe." (John 20:25). After this Christ did appear to him, and Thomas believed unto death. Thomas sealed his testimony as he was thrust through with pine spears, tormented with red hot plates, and burned alive.

(5) The Apostle Phillip 54 A.D.
Phillip, who was corrected by Christ when he asked Christ to show the him and the other Apostles the Father, saw the glory of Christ after his resurrection and undoubtedly reflected on Christ's response to his request: "He who has seen me has seen the Father." (John 14:9). Phillip evangelized in Phrygia where some hostile Jews had him tortured and then crucified.

(6) The Apostle Matthew 60-70 A.D.
Matthew, the tax collector, so desperately wanted the Jews to accept Christ. He wrote the Gospel according to Matthew about ten years before his death. Because of this, one can see contained within his Gospel the faith that he spilled his blood for. Matthew surely remembered His resurrected Savior's words, "lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world." (Matt 28:20) when he professed the resurrected Christ unto his death by beheading at Nad-Davar.

(7) The Apostle Nathanael (Bartholomew) 70 A.D.
Nathanael, whose name means "gift of God," was truly given as a gift to the Church through his martyrdom. Nathanael was the first to profess that Christ was the Son of God early in Christ's ministry (John 1:49). He later paid for this profession though a hideous death. Unwilling to recant of his proclamation of a risen Christ, history tells us that he was flayed and then crucified[1].

(8) The Apostle James the Lesser 63 A.D.
James was appointed the head of the Jerusalem Church for many years after Christ's death. In this, he undoubtedly came in contact with many hostile Jews (the same ones who killed Christ and stated, "His [Christ's] blood be on us and our children." (Matt 27:25) In order to make James deny Christ's resurrection these men positioned him at the top of the Temple for all to see and hear. James, unwilling to deny what he knew to be true, was cast down from the Temple and finally beaten to death with a fuller's club to the head.

(9) The Apostle Simon the Zealot 74 A.D.
Simon was a Jewish zealot who stove (sic.) to set his people free from Roman oppression. After he saw with his own eyes that Christ had been resurrected, he became a zealot of the Gospel. Historians tell of the many different places that Simon proclaimed the good news of Christ's resurrection: Egypt, Cyrene, Africa, Mauritania, Britain, Lybia, and Persia. His rest finally came when he verified his testimony and went to be with Christ, being crucified by a governor in Syria.

(10) The Apostle Judas Thaddeus 72 A.D.
Judas questioned the Lord. Judas said to him (not Iscariot), "Lord, how is it that you will show yourself to us, and not unto the world?" After he witnessed Christ's resurrection, Judas then knew the answer to his question. After preaching the risen Christ to those in Mesopotamia in the mist pagan priests, Judas was beaten to death with sticks sealing his testimony in blood.

(11) The Apostle Matthias 70 A.D.
Matthias replaced Judas Iscariot (the betrayer of Christ who hung himself) as the twelfth Apostle of Christ (Acts 1:26). It is believed by most that Matthias was one of the seventy that Christ sent out during his earthly ministry (Luke 10:1). By this, it qualifies him to be an Apostle. Matthias, of which the least is known about, is said by Eusebius to have preached in Ethiopia. He was later stoned while hanging upon a cross.

(12) The Apostle John 95 A.D.
John is the only one of the twelve Apostles to have died a natural death. Although he did not die a martyr's death, he did live a martyr's life. He was exiled to the Island of Patmos under the Emperor Domitian for his proclamation of a risen Christ. It was there that he wrote the last book in the Bible, Revelation. Some traditions state that he was thrown into boiling oil before the Latin Gate, where he was not killed but undoubtedly scared for the rest of his life.

The Apostle Paul 69 A.D.
Paul[2] himself a persecutor of the Christian faith (Galatians 1:13), was brought to repentance by an appearance of the risen Christ on his way to Damascus. Ironically Paul was heading for Damascus to arrest those who held to Christ's resurrection. Paul was the greatest skeptic there was until he himself saw the truth of the resurrection. He then devoted his life to the proclamation of a living Christ. Writing to the Corinthians defending his ministry, Paul tells of his sufferings for the name of Christ: "In labors more abundant, in beatings above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths often. Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once was I stoned, three times I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep; In journeys often, in storms on the water, in danger of robbers, in danger by mine own countrymen, in danger by the heathen, in danger in the city, in danger in the wilderness, in the sea, among false brethren; In weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness." (2 Cor 11:23.27) Finally, Paul met his death at the hands of the Roman Emperor Nero when he was beheaded in Rome.

I, however, might be justified in objecting to this. You may already have thought of this. You may be stating, "Don't may people die for something they believe?" The 9-11 bombers believed something and died for it. Does this mean that if you die for something, it is true. Does this justify our objection. This is a great question. The answer, simply put, is no. There is a big difference in dying for something that you believe because you have heard it from someone else (often called hearsay) and dying for something that you believe because you witnessed the events that establish the belief. The difference is in the substance and verification of what each believed. The suicide bombers and others who died for their faith are dying for something that they believe because the have heard it from someone else. This adds no verification to what they believe. It would be like me dying for my faith in Christ's resurrection. All that this would prove is that I truly did believe that Christ rose from the grave, but it would not verify in any way that he actually did raise from the grave. Why? Because I did not see it. Now if I died a martyr's death saying that I saw Christ die and raise from the grave with my own eyes, that would be a different story. Why? Because it would not verify a belief handed down from someone else, but a belief that I was a first hand witness of. At this point, you only have three options to explain my belief: 1) to say that I died for a lie KNOWING THAT IT WAS A LIE, 2) I was delusional or crazy, or 3) it was the truth. The suicide bombers sincerely believe their religion, but it carries no inherent verification. All we know is that they were sincere in their belief. The disciples on the other hand died for something that they said they were eye witnesses of. This carries no hear-say, as they say in law, but first-hand testimony. It is a completely different story.

Here are your three options concerning the Apostles:

You would have to conclude that they died for a lie and knew it (ridiculous since they gained NOTHING from it).
They were all delusional and crazy (but this would take more faith than any option since you would have to explain how they all had the same delusion, many being at different places and different times).
It was true.
Your choice . . .

[1]Although there is some apparent disagreement among sources as to what type of death Nathanael underwent, they are all in agreement upon his martyrdom for his profession. Hippolytus records that he was crucified, and others state that he was flayed alive. More than likely, both are true. Crucifixion was not only a means of execution, but also a means of warning others by public display. Nathanael was probably flayed, and then his scorched body was hung on a cross as a warning sign to other Christians.

[2]Some believe Paul to be the true replacement for Judas Iscariot. This is proposed because Paul, in his letter to the Galatians states: A Paul, an apostle, (not of men, neither by man, but by Jesus Christ, and God the Father, who raised him from the dead; Gal 1:1). The suggestion is that he (Paul) was the true successor of Judas appointed "not of men," but by Christ. This is unlikely though because of the fact that Luke in Acts numbers Matthius with the twelve (Acts 2:14). Paul was indeed an Apostle, but one appointed by Christ for a special mission.


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