Contrary to popular opinion, the disciples of Jesus were not vagabonds. They each had a business with which they supported themselves and their families. Matthew was a Jew but considered a traitor to his own kind by being a tax collector for the Romans. Each man was able to continue his lifestyle admirably. There was no financial or social benefit by becoming a disciple of Jesus. By the casual observer, these men were fools for spending three years following Jesus in his ministry. After the resurrection and ascension of Jesus, they left their homelands to travel around the known world. They were considered radicals. With the sacrifices that these men and their families made, why did they do it unless they were fools, unless they were deceived by a charlatan?
The answer is profound! They knew that Jesus was murdered. They went into hiding for fear that they themselves would be murdered.
Then they saw the resurrected Christ!! He was not a zombie. He was not a grotesque looking thing come out of the grave. No longer was his body ravaged with the torture he experienced. He was the glorified resurrected Jesus. They did not just see him; they ate with him. They listened to his teaching. Each of them had a direct experience with the Christ who defeated death. They were not motivated to carry on a myth. They did not practice some collusion to start a cult. They did not want to start a new religion. They were not obedient to the instructions of Christ to merrily preach kindness and goodwill.
They left everything they had because of the overwhelming effect they experienced my seeing, touching, walking, listening, watching their Messiah who conquered death. This was such a profound effect on them that nothing else mattered but to share the good news that any person anywhere could have the assurance of a born again experience by which they no longer needed to fear death. The people to whom they told about this good news had a relationship with Jesus. All but one of the disciples was likewise murdered for their conviction.
According to Fox’s Book of Martyrs, “a noble army, men and boys, the matron and the maid, climbed the steep ascent of heaven, amid peril, toil, and pain.” The knowledge of this book dates back to the year 1563. Observe their stores.
Stephen was a deacon who was stoned to death as the first martyr who professed a belief in Christ as the Messiah. After his killing, there was a great persecution of Christians causing many of them to be scattered abroad. Nicanor was also a deacon who was martyred along with two thousand other Christians as a result of the persecution that ensued.
James the son of Zebedee and the elder brother of John and relative of Jesus was killed after the death of Stephen. His accuser Clemens Alexandrinus was so impressed with the courage of James that he begged for forgiveness from James and became a Christian. They both were beheaded at the same time.
Philip migrated to upper Asia and suffered martyrdom by being scourged, thrown into prison, and afterwards crucified in the year A.D. 54.
Matthew was so transformed by obeying the simple words from Jesus, “follow me.” At one point he wrote the Gospel of Matthew. He was a missionary to Parthia and Ethiopia where he was stabbed to death in the year A.D.60.
Another man named James was chosen to oversee the churches of Jerusalem; he became the author of the book bearing his name in the Bible. When he was 94 years old, he was beaten, stoned, and had his brains crushed with a club.
Matthias was elected by the church to replace the traitor Judas. In Jerusalem he was stoned and then beheaded.
Andrew was the brother of Peter. He took the good news of Christ to many Asiatic nations. As soon as he arrived in Edessa, he was crucified on the cross that resembles an X. Since then, his cross is referred to as St. Andrew’s Cross.
It is believed by many that Mark was a son of a rich woman who provided an upper room in her house where the Last Supper was observed. At first, he was only an observer to the work of Jesus and the disciples. It is supposed that he was the young man who secretly spied out the arrest of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. Even after he became a Christian, he caused dissension among the early missionaries. This caused a split, so that Paul chose Silas as his partner after the great dissension. His former partner Barnabas took Mark as his partner in ministry. Much later toward the end of Paul’s ministry he requested that Mark join him. Mark wrote what is believed to be the first gospel written. He was dragged to pieces at Alexandria during the ceremony of the people’s worship of their idol Serapis.
Peter was crucified upside down in Rome.
Jude, also named Thaddeus, was likewise crucified in A.D.72.
Bartholomew preached throughout various countries and translated the Gospel of Matthew into the language of India. He was beaten and then crucified.
Thomas preached the good news of God in Parthia and India. To this day there is an area of India that is Christian as a result of his ministry. (I had the privilege of meeting a man from India who was working at the same agency as I. He was a Christian as a direct result of the ministry of Thomas.) Thomas was killed by being stabbed with a spear.
Simon preached in the area of Africa and then later in Britain where he was crucified in A.D.74.
John was the only disciple that was not killed for the faith. Instead, the man who was called “the beloved disciple” established churches in the area of present-day Turkey. He was banished to the Isle of Patmos where Jesus instructed him to write the book of Revelation.
These are just a few in the very beginning of the spread of Christianity throughout the known world. This was not possible but by the tremendous sacrifices of men that some would call fools. Their story is so challenging that it makes me wonder how many of us would be true to the faith if we found ourselves under persecution.