How did the apostles meet their deaths?
The following chart provides a list of the apostles as presented in three of the gospels and the book of Acts. The chart reveals that the apostles are grouped by fours.
Peter, Andrew, James, and John
The first group of four apostles were Jesus’ inner group. They were with Jesus shortly after the beginning of His ministry. John 1:35-42 records the occasion on which they responded to Jesus by believing in Him. That is, they believed He was the promised Messiah. Jesus asked them to follow Him three times. The first time was after they believed. The second time occurred when they were fishing (Mark 1:14-20) and the third time occurred after another time of fishing (Luke 5:1-11). On that occasion they finally left everything and followed Jesus. At least three of them were invited to join Jesus when He raised Jairus’ daughter from the dead (Mark 5:37-43). Jesus also invited only Peter, James, and John to join Him on the Mount of Transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-13). All four privately asked Jesus questions on the Mount of Olives (Mark 13:1-8). Peter, James, and John were asked to wait for Jesus while He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26:36-37). Lastly, Peter and John were in discussion with Jesus prior to His departure to heaven (John 21:12-23). John was the disciple Jesus asked to care for His mother (John 19:26-27). It should be noted that James and John had the same father, Zebedee (Matthew 10:2) and Peter and Andrew were brothers (Matthew 10:2). These men were part of Jesus’ inner group.
Philip, Bartholomew, Thomas, and Matthew
The second group of four apostles included two men who were into details. That is, they appear to have been analytical men: Thomas and Matthew. Thomas is known as Didymus (John 21:2) and “Doubting Thomas” because He questioned that Jesus had actually returned to life (John 20:26-29). He wanted to place his finger into Jesus’ wounds to confirm that the wounds were real. Matthew was a tax collector for the Roman Empire. These two men were probably technically oriented. It appears from John 1:35-51 that Philip and Bartholomew believed in Jesus Christ as their Messiah on the same day that Peter, Andrew, James, and John did. Bartholomew was also known as Nathanael.
James, Thaddaeus, Simon, and Judas
We know very little about the third group of four apostles. We know almost nothing about James the son of Alphaeus from the Bible other than that he was also called James the Less (Mark 15:40) and that Matthew was his brother (Matthew 9:9; Mark 2:14). Thaddaeus was also called Lebbaeus and was known as Judas, the son of James. Simon the Cananaean was also called Simon the Zealot. The Zealots were anti-Rome and were politically motivated. One wonders how Simon felt about Matthew, who would have been considered a traitor by the Jews because he was a tax-collector of Rome. The Bible reveals nothing significant about this apostle. Judas Iscariot was the traitor (Matthew 10:4) who later hung himself (Matthew 27:3-6) and was therefore not listed in the book of Acts.
The table below provides the best information that we have on the deaths of the apostles.
|Apostle||Other Name||Traditions – Regarding Their Deaths|
|Simon||Peter||Tradition says that Peter died in A.D. 64-68 during Nero’s persecution of the Christians. He was crucified upside down on a cross.|
|Andrew||Andrew was crucified on a St. Andrews cross. The cross has the shape of an “X.” He was not nailed to the cross but was tied. It took several days before he died. It is said that he preached while hanging on the cross.|
|James||James, son of Zebedee||James died in A.D. 44 after he was beheaded by King Agrippa I who had launched a new persecution of Christians. He was the first martyr from among the twelve apostles.|
|John||Disciple whom Jesus loved (John 19:26; 20:2; 21:7, 20)||The beloved John was in exile on the Isle of Patmos before he was released and went to Ephesus where he died (A.D. 100-105).|
|Philip||Philip died in Hieropolis, Turkey by hanging (A.D. 80).|
|Bartholomew||Nathanael||It is believed that Bartholomew had ministered in Armenia and was flayed to death with knives in India.|
|Matthew||Matthew died a martyr’s death in Ethiopia|
|Thomas||Didymus||Ancient tradition says that Thomas died near Madras, India in A.D. 70. He was killed with a spear.|
|James, son of Alphaeus||James the Less (Mark 15:33-41)||Tradition says that James was crucified in Lower Egypt and then sawed in pieces (A.D. 62).|
|Thaddaeus||Thaddaeus||Thaddaeus was martyred in Persia. He died via arrows.|
|Simon the Cananaean||Simon the Zealot||Tradition says that Simon was crucified. It is believed that he ministered together with Thaddaeus.|
|Judas Iscariot||Judas hanged himself (Matthew 27:5) before Jesus Christ died by crucifixion (A.D. 33). His death is the only one that is recorded in the Bible.|
It is amazing that we know so little about the men who “turned the world upside down.” Jesus had prepared and God used them in a powerful way to alert the world to His good news that Jesus Christ had come into the world to save sinners. These men gave their lives and died so that all could hear the good news that the forgiveness of sins is free to anyone who believes in Jesus Christ and accepts Him as Lord and Savior.