Christian tradition has it that all but one of the twelve Apostles held the title after Matthias was killed. John was the only one who lived to old age. Only James, the son of Zebedee’s death, is discussed in the New Testament. Matthew 27:5 says that Judas Iscariot threw the money he got for betraying Jesus down in the Temple and then went and hung himself. Acts 1:18 says that he bought a field, then “when he fell headfirst, he burst open in the middle, and all his bowels gushed out.”
Even though the many stories and legends aren’t always true, it’s safe to say that the apostles spread the message of the risen Christ far and wide. An old account says they threw dice to decide who would go where so everyone could hear about Jesus. They went through a lot for their faith, and most died of violent deaths because of their brave journeys worldwide.
Peter and Paul
Both were martyred in Rome about 66 AD, during the persecution under Emperor Nero. Paul was beheaded. Peter asked to be crucified upside down because he didn’t think he was good enough to die the same way as his Lord.
He was said to have gone to the “land of the man-eaters” in the Soviet Union. Christians there claim him as the first to bring the gospel to their land. He also preached in Asia Minor, modern-day Turkey, and in Greece, where he is said to have been crucified.
Famously known as “Doubting Thomas,” he was probably most active in the east of Syria. Tradition has him preaching as far east as India, where the ancient Marthoma Christians revere him as their founder. They claim that he died there when pierced through with the spears of four soldiers.
This apostle possibly had a powerful ministry in Carthage in North Africa and Asia Minor, where he converted the wife of a Roman proconsul. In retaliation, the proconsul had Philip arrested and cruelly put to death.
Also known as Levi, the tax collector and writer of a Gospel ministered in Persia and Ethiopia. Some of the oldest reports say he was not martyred, while others say he was stabbed to death in Ethiopia.
A true pilgrim, this apostle had widespread missionary travels attributed to him by tradition: to India with Thomas, back to Armenia, Ethiopia, and Southern Arabia. There are various accounts of how he met his death as a martyr for the gospel.
This James, the son of Alpheus, is one of at least three James referred to in the New Testament. There is some confusion about which is which, but this James is reckoned to have ministered in Syria. The Jewish historian Josephus reported that he was stoned and then clubbed to death.
Simon the Zealot
As the story goes, he ministered in Persia and was killed after refusing to sacrifice to the sun god.
He was the apostle chosen to replace Judas. Tradition sends him to Syria with Andrew and to death by burning.
John the Evangelist is the only one of the original 12 generally thought to have died a natural death from old age. He was the church leader in the Ephesus area and is said to have taken care of Mary, the mother of Jesus, in his home. During Domitian’s persecution in the middle ’90s, he was exiled to the island of Patmos. He is credited with writing the last New Testament book, Revelation. An early Latin tradition has him escaping unhurt after being cast into boiling oil in Rome.
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