By Bob Stock
Excluding Judas, who hanged himself, the twelve apostles (including Matthais, Judas’ replacement) and the apostle Paul were all persecuted for their faith, and in most cases, per fact or legend, these thirteen died for their faith in foreign lands.
Both Peter and Paul died in Rome during persecution under Emperor Nero: Peter was crucified upside down and Paul was beheaded. John died of old age at Ephesus, where he was a church leader, having been exiled on Patmos and escaping unhurt after being thrown in boiling oil in Rome. James, the son of Zebedee and a brother to John, ministered in Spain and was executed by sword at the command of Herod in Judea. Andrew spread the gospel in Asia Minor, Scythia, Thrace, and in Greece, where he was crucified at Patras. Thomas preached in the areas east of Syria as far as India, where soldiers lanced him through with spears. Philip ministered in Carthage and Asia Minor, where he was arrested and cruelly killed of unknown means at Hierapolis. Matthew served in Persia and Ethiopia, where he was stabbed to death. Bartholomew (Nathanael) witnessed in India, Armenia, Ethiopia, and Southern Arabia; there are several accounts of his martyrdom, including being crucified or beheaded in India or Armenia. James, the son of Alpheus, ministered in Syria and Egypt and was crucified there. Simon the Zealot spread the gospel in Persia and was killed for refusing to sacrifice to the sun god. Thaddeus (Jude) ministered in Armenia, Syria, and Persia, where he was martyred with an ax. Matthais served in Syria; there are several accounts of his martyrdom, including being burned alive in Syria or stoned and beheaded in Jerusalem.
What can we learn from the apostles’ deaths?
First, all the apostles took Jesus’ last mandate, the Great Commission, to “go” seriously and therefore, obediently ministered outside their home country (Matt. 28:18–20).
Second, all were persecuted for their faith in Jesus, and all, except John, died as martyrs for that faith (although there are some discrepancies in the means and locations of death, the discrepancies indicate extensive persecution and martyrdom). Second Timothy 3:12 (NASB) says, “Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.”
Third, all the apostles saw Jesus in His resurrected form, which was documented in the Scriptures for posterity’s sake, including for our faith. This fact, along with the following point, was instrumental in changing the apostles from being weak emissaries for Jesus as depicted in the four gospels to mighty warriors of the faith thereafter.
Fourth, all the apostles were filled with the Holy Spirit to live empowered lives for Jesus. From that point on, the apostles “went” themselves and “sent” others to fulfill the Great Commission by spreading the gospel throughout the lands, even as it meant persecution and possible death. We must have and need this same infilling of the Holy Spirit to fulfill the life God has destined for us.
The modern-day American church professes to desire the life of the first century church: its passion, fellowship, simplicity, and clarity. But in fact, we have not “gone” to preach the gospel, nor have we done much “sending.” We spend more on pet food than we do on global missions. We view global missions as just one of many ministries of the church, relegating global missions to a once-a-year missions conference. We get more excited about sports, social media, entertainment, pets, and food than we do about how we can enhance global outreach to the unreached people of the world. We pray more for the physical, emotional, and financial health of ourselves, family members, and friends than we do for the billions of people who have never heard a valid presentation of the gospel in their lives and will consequently die to an eternal damnation.
John 14:15 says, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.” Are you keeping His last great commandment by going and/or sending to the nations to spread His gospel to the point of sacrifice and persecution? If not, why not? As followers of Jesus, it is our reasonable and expected service. Church, we have work to do! If not us, who? If not now, when?
“The question for us to answer is not, ‘Am I called to the foreign field? But, can I show sufficient cause for not going?’” – Robert Speer
“The Christian is not obedient unless he is doing all in his power to send the gospel to the heathen world.” – A. B. Simpson
“The primacy of missions is written in large letters across the pages of the whole Bible. All the apostles gave themselves to missions, and only the sword could cut short their path to the uttermost part of the earth.” – George W. Peters
“Somewhere along the way we have subtly and tragically taken the costly command of Christ to go, baptize, and teach all nations and mutated it into a comfortable call for Christians to come, be baptized, and listen in one location.” – David Platt
“The Great Commission is not an option to be considered; it is a command to be obeyed.” – Hudson Taylor
“Go, send, or disobey.” – John Piper