As French mathematician Blaise Pascal put it, “I believe those witnesses that get their throats cut.” With the exception of John, every one of the apostles died horribly violent deaths. Yet they did this without ever denouncing their faith. Andrew was scourged, and then tied rather than nailed to a cross, so that he would suffer for a longer time before dying. Andrew lived for two days, during which he preached to passersby.
So how did the disciples die?
Let’s take the brothers first. Simon AKA Peter and his older brother Andrew. Both were crucified as old men. Peter was the first pope, Christ’s Vicar, the head of the visible Church. Andrew, before he met Jesus was a disciple of John the Baptist. Andrew was there when John pointed at Jesus on the banks of the River Jordan and said: “Behold the Lamb of God!” Andrew followed Christ after His holy baptism and innocently asked Him where He lived. Jesus innocently answered: “Come and see”. Andrew preached the Faith in Asia Minor (Turkey) and in Scythia, east of Turkey (north of Iran). went to Patras in western Greece in 69 AD, where the Roman proconsul Aegeates debated religion with him. Aegeates tried to convince Andrew to forsake Christianity, so that he would not have to torture and execute him. But when that didn’t work, apparently he decided to give Andrew the full treatment. Andrew was scourged, and then tied rather than nailed to a cross, so that he would suffer for a longer time before dying. Andrew lived for two days, during which he preached to passersby.
Peter was martyred under the Nero persecution in the year 67. Peter, too, was, as His Master, crucified by nails on Vatican hill. As the story goes, Peter asked to be crucified upside down, so that his death would not be the equal of Jesus and the Romans obliged.
Paul, the Apostle, was beheaded outside the walls of Rome on the same day as Peter.
James the Greater and his brother, John, “Sons of Thunder”. James was the first Apostle to be martyred. He was a victim of Herod Agrippa who seized him when he was in Jerusalem in the year 42 and had him beheaded. Acts 12:1-19 says that James was killed with a sword. The newly-appointed governor of Judea, Herod Agrippa, decided to ingratiate himself with the Romans by persecuting leaders of the new sect. After James was arrested and led to place of execution, his unnamed accuser was moved by his courage. He not only repented and converted on the spot, but asked to be executed alongside James. The Roman executioners obliged, and both men were beheaded simultaneously.
John, the youngest Apostle, was the only one not martyred. However, in the year 95, he was taken prisoner at Ephesus and sent to trial in Rome. Sentenced to death, he was boiled in oil before the Latin gate. He was miraculously preserved from the burning, yet he did feel the pain. The miracle moved the emperor to nullify the death sentence and to send him into exile to the island of Patmos. He was later freed and died at Ephesus in the year 100 when he was eighty-eight years old.
Simon, Jude (AKA Thaddaeus, Lebbaeus, Judas), and James the Less, brother, cousins of Jesus. Simon, the Zealot, preached the faith in Persia together with his brother, Jude. Simon was crucified at Edessa in the year 67. Jude, likewise, was martyred that same year in Persia. Jude was clubbed to death. He was also named Thaddeus “big hearted” to distinguish him from Judas the traitor.
James the Less was martyred in the year 62. He was chosen by Jesus to be the first bishop of Jerusalem and he remained there permanently in order to save a remnant of the Jews. The ancients of the Jews, however, tired of his preaching and they took him to the pinnacle of the temple and told him to renounce Christ before all the people who were gathered below. Having none of that, he rather preached Christ crucified as Savior, and they cast him off from his pulpit. Still living after he hit the ground, they finished the job by bashing his brains out with a club. This was recorded by the Jewish historian Josephus.
Philip. Philip was first a disciple of John the Baptist until John testified that Jesus was the Savior. Philip, then, came to Nathanael and said to him: “We have found him of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets did write, Jesus the son of Joseph of Nazareth” (John 1:45). Nathanael would be an Apostle, too. His Greek name is Bartholomew. Philip powerful ministry in Carthage in North Africa and then in Asia Minor, where he converted the wife of a Roman proconsul. In retaliation the proconsul had Philip arrested and cruelly martyred at Hierapolis in the year 62. Like Peter, he was crucified upside-down.
Bartholomew (or Nathanael) was introduced to Jesus by Philip. Upon seeing Bartholomew Jesus said to him: “Behold an Israelite in who there is no guile. Nathanael saith to him: Whence knowest thou me? Jesus answered, and said to him: Before that Philip called thee, when thou wast under the fig tree, I saw thee. Nathanael answered him, and said: Rabbi, thou art the Son of God, thou art the King of Israel” (John 1:47-49). Bartholomew was a nobleman, his name means “son of Ptolemy. He preached the Faith as far away as India. He returned after that to Asia Minor and was martyred by being skinned alive and then beheaded in Armenia in the year 72.
Matthew, another Apostle with a Greek name (Gift of God), a publican, a tax collector in Capharnaum, the city of Peter and Andrew. His Hebrew name was Levi. Matthew left his custom house immediately after Jesus called him: “Come, follow me.” He wrote the first of the Gospels. He wrote it for the Jews. It is filled with citations from the Old Testament prophecies. Matthew preached the Faith in Africa and was martyred in the year 65 in Ethiopia while offering Mass.
Thomas (also called Didymus, which means “the twin.”) Thomas was not there when Jesus first appeared to the Apostles after His Resurrection. Thomas doubted; in fact, he went so far as to protest: “Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe” (John 20:25). When Jesus came to His Apostles the second time, Thomas was there. “Then he saith to Thomas: Put in thy finger hither, and see my hands; and bring hither thy hand, and put it into my side; and be not faithless, but believing” Thomas then said to Him “My Lord and My God” (John 20:27). Thomas preached the Faith in Persia and India where he angered local religious authorities, who martyred him by running him through with 4 spears in the year 74.
Matthias, who replaced Judas, was one of the seventy-two disciples of Our Lord. To qualify he had to have been with Jesus from the beginning of His public ministry and been a witness to His Resurrection. He preached the Faith first in Judaea, then Cappadocia, and finally in the northern most regions of Asia Minor near the Caspian Sea. Two traditions come down to us regarding his martyrdom in the year 65. One has it that he was crucified, another that he was hacked to death.
All the disciples who ran away in fearful flight (John 20:19) following Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion were so convinced of the resurrection that they were willing to risk their lives testifying to it. What gave these cowards the backbone to do this? All the apostles and early Christian leaders died for their faith, and it is hard to believe that this kind of powerful self-sacrifice would be done to support a hoax. People might live with a lie if it brings them money or power, but people won’t die for a lie. In short, we must ask, what caused these remarkable transformations? The fact that all of the apostles were willing to die horrible deaths, refusing to renounce their faith in Christ, is tremendous evidence that they had truly witnessed the resurrection of Jesus Christ.