One of the most amazing truths of the Gospel comes in its transformative power. Such is easily, and miraculously, seen amongst even the first disciples of Christ…
Prior to His death, each of these men were just like you and I. They weren’t special, as each came from relatively mundane backgrounds, but they were all chosen for a very special purpose. As Christ was apprehended, His core group of followers fled, ducking into the shadows and even – in the case of Peter – denying that he ever knew Him. Fear and disappointment no doubt flourished in their broken hearts as their leader, the one they believed to be their Messiah, hung a bloody and swollen mess upon the cross. Even though they had witnessed great miracles and heard transformative truths, all had been forgotten now at the sight of that dying man. Whoever He had been to them, it was over; the moment passed, a mistake realized. They were a broken brotherhood in an instant; sheep without a shepherd who knew not their next move. Fear – one can image – reigned in the depths of their souls, not knowing now where to go or what to do.
Odd as it seems, this is where the truth of Jesus seems to really shine through. These disciples of His, too scared to save the one they followed for several years, too frightened even to acknowledge their connection to Him, stood by and let Him die. Something changed though. After His resurrection, when He rose from the grave and met with them again, face to face, they saw for themselves that He had conquered death! They witnessed with surety that He was truly the Messiah, the Son of God, the Savior of mankind! It wasn’t long before these timid and utterly average men changed the world around them, building the Church in His name and upon His teachings, and staring unflinchingly into the cold eyes of death until their moment at last came.
The change in these men was phenomenal; from timorous to triumphant and from fishermen to philosophers! How could these unremarkable men of arguably weak constitution go on to challenge the world around them, building such a huge and indomitable idea as Christianity, unless of course there was something special about what they had seen, heard, and experienced? It seems certain that they did in fact witness something worthy of making them bold enough to accept death rather than deny the authority and divinity of their Christ. Bold as they were, they each would – in their own time – face the ultimate price for their convictions.
- Peter was crucified upside down by his own choice in acknowledgment of his unworthiness of being executed in the same manner as his Lord
- Andrew was scourged and tied to a cross, persisting in that wretched state – and preaching for the duration – for days before expiring
- James, standing bold for the faith even in the face of execution, so moved his accuser that he repented and accepted the faith on the spot; both were thusly beheaded
- Philip was scourged, cast into prison, and ultimately crucified
- Bartholomew was – depending on which extrabiblical account you trust – either beaten and crucified or skinned alive before being beheaded
- Thomas was impaled by a spear
- Matthew was stabbed to death with a sword to the back
- James, the son of Alpheus, was beaten and stoned before finally being clubbed to death
- Thaddaeus was crucified in the city of Edessa
- Simon was crucified in England
- Judas Iscariot, the disciple that betrayed Jesus to the authorities, ultimately felt so much remorse for his actions that he hung himself, and there his body swung until it ultimately ruptured, spilling his rotten bowels upon the ground
- Matthias, the apostle who replaced Judas Iscariot, was stoned and beheaded
Of all the original disciples, only John is recorded as having experienced a nonviolent death. That of course came after he suffered much persecution, and attempted murder by being cast into a vat of boiling oil, and ultimately exile upon the Isle of Patmos.
What happened to these men that they went from cowering in the shadows to willing suffering horrible deaths in the name of Jesus Christ? What changed them so? The answer is as obvious as can be. Though Jesus died, they saw Him resurrected to life again, and thus there was no doubt any longer. He was who He claimed to be and there was nothing that could change their mind or sway their course. His promises were sure, and they knew it! No matter what they now faced, their allegiance was with Him and the spread of the Gospel alone. That fervency for the Lord carried on even amongst the newest converts, as day by day the faith blossomed. Even so, amidst the controversy of His teachings and the accounts of His resurrection, those who followed Christ as disciples faced harsh persecution from the traditional Jews, ultimately to the death for many.
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