The Old Testament contains over three hundred passages that refer to the first coming of the Messiah. Within these hundred of prophecies, Bible scholars have found forty-eight specific details about the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.
If the disciples had would have gone back in their memories, they would have recalled an important event and statement Jesus had explicitly told them earlier, that:
The Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day. (Luke 9:22)
It is a well known fact that the disciples of Jesus abandoned and denied association with Him during His arrest, trial and crucifixion. Their reason was fear for their own lives. The Bible says:
And Jesus said to them, You will all fall away this night that is, you will be caused to stumble and will begin to distrust and desert Me for it stands written, I will strike the Shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered”(Mark 14:27; Zech 13:7).
Subsequently, the disciples had real experiences that they believed were literal appearances of the risen Jesus.
To them also He showed Himself alive after His passion (His suffering in the garden and on the cross) by a series of many convincing demonstrations unquestionable evidences and infallible proofs, appearing to them during forty days and talking to them about the Kingdom of God.
And while being in their company and eating with at the table with them. He commanded them not to leave Jerusalem but to wait for what the Father had promised, of which He said you have heard Me speak” (see Acts 1:3-4; John 14:16; 26; 15:26).
There were transformed from scared men hiding in the Upper Room into bold proclaimers of His resurrection. They were even willing to die for their conviction.
Indeed, all but one of the eleven remaining apostles died a martyr’s death, yet none ever denied seeing Jesus alive after His death, not even to save their lives.
However, these same men were totally transformed in their characters by the power of the Holy Spirit in the days following the resurrection of Christ, to the point that they were willing die very painful and brutal deaths.
Someone said, “People will die for what they believe to be true, but none will die for what they know to be false.”
The Martyrdom of the Apostles
Historical records of the first century clearly prove that every one of these men later faced a martyrs’ death without denying their faith in Jesus Christ as their Saviour.
The only reason why these men were transformed from defeated cowards to courageous men of God within a few days of the death of the Saviour was their personal knowledge and experience of the facts surrounding the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Non-believers, atheists, agnostics, etc have suggested that the disciples, during the decades following His death, simply invented their accounts of Jesus. But these apostles were continually threatened and pressured to deny their Lord during their ministry; especially as they faced torture and martyrdom.
However, none of these men who spent time with Jesus chose to save their lives by denying their faith in Him. Each of the apostles was called upon to pay the ultimate price to prove their faith in Jesus, affirming with their life’s blood that Jesus was the true Messiah, the Son of the Living God and the only hope of salvation for a sinful humanity.
Most of the information about the deaths of the apostles is derived from early church traditions. The Church historian Schumacher researched the lives of the apostles and recounted the history of their martyrdoms.
Andrew died on an X-shaped cross in Patras of Achaia, Bartholomew (Nathaniel was flayed alive in Armenia, James (brother of John) was beheaded by Herod Agrippa in Jerusalem, James (son of Cleopas and Mary) was stoned, Jude (Thaddeus), the half brother of Jesus was shot with arrows in Armenia.
Matthew was slain by the sword in Parthia, Mark died in Alexandria, Egypt, after being dragged by horses through the streets until he was dead. Peter was crucified upside down in Rome because he told his tormentors that he felt unworthy to die in the same way that His Master and Lord Jesus Christ had died.
Stephen the first Christian martyr was stoned to death after preaching one of the longest sermons in the book of Acts. James the Just and half brother of Jesus was captured and taken to the very pinnacle of where the devil took Jesus in Matthew chapter 4.
He was told to blaspheme Christ, or be thrown off! James the Just replied: “I see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of glory! So they threw them off. But the fall didn’t kill him, so they started to stone him.
As he lay there, with his bones broken and the stones being thrown at him, he said, Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they do.” Finally someone, out of sheer mercy, got a big wooden club and clubbed his head, and he died.
John was the only one of the 12 apostles left after the others had already suffered a martyr’s death. He became a political prisoner on the island of Patmos because of his exclusive devotion to the word of God and the testimony of Jesus which was taken as treason by the Roman authorities.
He subsequently faced martyrdom when he was boiled in the huge basin of boiling oil but was miraculously delivered to become the only apostle of the 12 to die a natural and peaceful death.
The Early Christians
We also know that thousands of the early Christians and those of later ages suffered violent death, mutilation, burning and other processes that marred and destroyed their physical bodies.
Nero persecuted Christians by daubing them with pitch and burning them alive as torches for his nightly garden parties or sewing them in the skins of wild animals to be hunted by dogs and lions.
One notable Christian who was martyred in about 155 under Antonius Pius was Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna and once a student of the apostle John. Forced into the stadium, Polycarp was asked by the Roman proconsul to swear by the genius of the emperor and to curse Christ.
He replied, “Eighty and six years have I served Him, and He never did me any injury: how can I blaspheme my King and my Saviour? Before the day was over, he was burned at the stake. Like all martyrs before him and the multitudes after him, he had been transformed by the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
All this happened because His message and His physical resurrection transformed His early followers, who did not pick up the sword to defend themselves even during the brutal persecutions, but rather went about spreading His love and the need for repentance and forgiveness of sins to all-regardless of race, sex, ethnicity, poverty, or wealth.
They did so because they believed with all their heart, soul and mind the Words of Jesus: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). This echoed the conviction of Peter’s words spoken to his fellow Jews:
And there is salvation in and through no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by and in which we must be saved (Acts 4:12).
There has been countless number of people that have been transformed by the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. These followers have produced revolutionary changes-socially, politically, economically, and culturally.
As someone has said, Christianity is not a religion; but a revolution against the kingdom of darkness.” And as George Sarton has said, “The birth of Christianity changed forever the face of the Western world.”
Christ’s transformed followers, especially during the first few centuries, effected that change because Christ’s life and teachings challenged almost everything for which the Roman world had stood. The Christians rejected the pagan gods of Greeks and Romans.
These gods, said the second century Christian apologist Aristides, were man-made and thus not gods at all; moreover they were given to all of the weaknesses and sins common to mankind.
Some of the gods, according to Roman mythology, committed adultery, murder, sodomy, and theft; others were envious, greedy, and passionate; still others had physical impediments; some had even died.
But Christians, said Aristides, worship and honour God who is neither male nor female, whom “the heavens do not contain…but the heavens and all things visible and invisible are contained in Him.
This had already been confirmed by Paul’s famous sermon at Athens on Mars Hill. The Bible tells us while Paul was waiting for Silas and Timothy at Athens, his spirit was grieved and roused to anger as he saw that the city was full of idols.
So Paul began to preach to them about Jesus Christ, a man who had recently been crucified in Jerusalem. He drew their attention to a natural debate before he could engage them about the death, burial, and resurrection for sinners.
These Epicurean and Stoic philosophers thought that Paul was trying to be an announcer of foreign deities because he preached Jesus and the resurrection (see Acts 17:18).
Paul concludes that God overlooked people’s ignorance about these things in earlier times, but now commands all men everywhere to repent.
In the past God permitted all nations to walk in their own ways, but He did not leave them without any evidence of Himself and His goodness.
He sent rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying their hearts with nourishment and happiness.
However, the appointed time has come when He expects and charges all men everywhere to repent, and turn from their ignorance, idolatry, and superstition, because He has appointed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness by a Man Jesus Christ, whom He has proved to everyone who this is by raising Him from the dead (see Acts 17:19-31).