When I read about the many martyrs that have died for Jesus I am humbled and overwhelmed. But at the same time it's so easy for my brain to...disengage. It’s hard for me to focus when I see lists of people—it make my eyes glaze over, no matter what they’ve done. But, let me take you into the world in which these 12 men lived. It’s different then ours because of two things: These men knew Jesus personally and they started Christianity.
I don’t know about you, but there are times when I have my doubts...about who Jesus claimed to be, His miracles and that Jesus is even coming back. It usually happens after I watch some super intellectual science documentary based on technology or some other nonsense. I get distracted sometimes… and then I see something really disturbing on the news—it makes me doubt that the Church is growing and whether Jesus is really in control.
—but then I consider these men. They knew Jesus…lived with him, watched him do miracles and even come back from the dead. They weren’t idiots, especially Paul. He was considered the equivalent of a Nobel Laureate—a genius of his day. If a friend of mine decided to start trying to do miracles I’d be skeptical. If this same friend said that he would save the world I’d be even more skeptical. These men not only believed Jesus, they followed him to death.
If I were to start a new religion for any reason, I sincerely doubt that I would be willing to die for it. That's what's amazing about these men! They were willing. Some doubt that Jesus did any of the things they said He did, including modern day scholars. The fact that these Apostles died for it speaks volumes to me. Nobody dies for a religion they know is fake.
So, as you read this list, be reminded that they lived, had real fears, and real faith—and yet gave their lives, because they counted Jesus worth more than their very lives. I hope their lives encourage you in your journey following after Jesus.
1. James (John’s Brother)
John’s brother, James, was the 2nd recorded martyr. Herod Agrippa killed him with a sword. The executioner watched James’ courage and refusal to deny Jesus. He decided then and there to follow Jesus and was executed with James. (Acts 12:2)
Peter was executed by Rome. He refused to deny Jesus again and also counted himself unworthy to be crucified in the same way Jesus was. They crucified him upside down.
Andrew traveled all the way to Russia to preach the Gospel. He was eventually hanged on an olive tree in southern Greece because of his faith in Jesus
Thomas was famous for his doubting, but after seeing Jesus he stayed strong until the end. Thomas was tortured by being impaled with spears, burned with metal, and finally was burned alive.
Philip was tortured and crucified by angry Jews after preaching the Gospel in what is now modern day Turkey.
Matthew was the tax collector, hated by his fellow Jews until Jesus came into his life. Jesus changed everything for Matthew and gave Jesus everything he had, including his life. Matthew was beheaded in Ethiopia.
7. Nathanael (Bartholomew)
Nathanael was the first to say that Jesus was the son of God (John 1:49). He traveled to Yemen, Ethiopia and even India. It was in one of these missionary journeys when he was flayed (stripped of his skin) and crucified.
8. James (son of Aphaeus)
James, who was the head of the Jerusalem church was killed by angry Jews in Jerusalem. He was made to stand on top of the temple, was pushed off, and then finally beaten to death by club.
9. Simon the Zealot
Simon was a natural evangelist. He preached the Gospel in Libya, Egypt, Mauritania, Britain, and Iran. His life ended when he was crucified by a governor in Syria.
10. Judas Thaddeus (the other Judas)
Judas preached the Gospel in modern day Iraq, Kuwait and Syria. The pagan priests didn’t like him and he was beaten to death with sticks.
11. Matthias (the one who replaced Judas Iscariot)
Little is known about Matthais’ ministry after become an Apostle. He was killed in Ethiopia by hanging on a cross and stoning.
Paul’s list of tortures were extensive. He suffered much for preaching the Gospel. He was finally beheaded in Emperor Nero in Rome.
John was the only Apostle not to have been martyred. His life wasn’t easy though. Many enemies of the faith tried to kill him. He was thrown into boiling oil and yet survived.
Disclaimer: There is varying information on each of the Apostle’s deaths. While the method and location of these men’s execution are disputed, the fact that they died as martyrs is not.