By Prof. Michael Ogunu
Throughout the history of the Church from the time of the Roman persecutions to date, Christians have been called upon to suffer and die for faith if situations demand it. The martyrdom of the apostles and their contemporaries is a proof of the historic reality of the Gospel story. For the apostles were willing to attest in blood what they had seen, what they had heard and what they believed in.
Matthew suffered martyrdom in Ethiopia, killed by a sword wound.
Mark died in Alexandria, Egypt, after being dragged by horses through the streets until he was dead.
Luke was hanged in Greece as a result of his tremendous preaching to the lost.
John faced martyrdom when he was boiled in a huge basin of boiling oil during a wave of persecution in Rome. However, he was miraculously delivered from death. John was then sentenced to the mines on the prison island of Patmos. He wrote his prophetic Book of Revelation on Patmos. The apostle John was later freed and returned to serve as Bishop of Edessa in modern Turkey. He died as an old man, the only apostle to die peacefully.
Peter was crucified upside down on an x-shaped cross. According to church tradition, it was because he told his tormentors that he felt unworthy to die in the same way that Jesus Christ had died.
James the Less (the Just), the leader of the church in Jerusalem, was thrown over a hundred feet down from the southeast pinnacle of the Temple when he refused to deny his faith in Christ. When they discovered that he survived the fall, his enemies beat James to death with a fuller’s club. This was the same pinnacle where Satan had taken Jesus during the Temptation.
James the Greater (elder), Son of Zebedee, was a fisherman by trade when Jesus called him to a lifetime of ministry. As a strong leader of the church, James was ultimately beheaded in Jerusalem. The Roman officer who guarded James watched amazed as James defended his faith at his trial. Later, the officer walked beside James to the place of execution. Overcome by conviction, he declared his new faith to the judge and knelt beside James to accept beheading as a Christian.
Bartholomew, also known as Nathaniel, was a missionary to Asia. He witnessed to our Lord in the present day Turkey. Bartholomew was martyred for his preaching in Armenia where he was flayed to death by a whip.
Andrew was crucified on an x-shaped cross in Patras, Greece. After being whipped severely by seven soldiers, they tied his body to the cross with cords to prolong his agony. His followers reported that, when he was led towards the cross, Andrew saluted it in these words: ‘I have long desired and expected this happy hour. The cross has been consecrated by the body of Christ hanging on it’. He continued to preach to his tormentors for two days until he expired.
Thomas was stabbed with a spear in India during one of his missionary trips to establish the church in the sub-continent.
Jude was killed with arrows when he refused to deny his faith in Christ.
Matthias, the apostle chosen to replace the traitor Judas Iscariot, was stoned and then beheaded.
Barnabas, a member of one of the groups of seventy disciples, was stoned to death at Salonica. He wrote the Epistle of Barnabas and preached throughout Italy and Cyprus.
Paul was tortured and then beheaded by the evil Emperor Nero at Rome in A.D. 67. Paul endured a lengthy imprisonment, which allowed him to write his many epistles to the churches he had formed throughout the Roman Empire. These letters, which taught many of the foundational doctrines of Christianity, form a large portion of the New Testament. The foregoing account of the sufferings and death of the apostles is a poignant reminder to us that our sufferings here are indeed minor compared to the intense persecution and cold cruelty they endured during their times for the sake of Faith. As disciples, we are reminded that, “Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single grain, but if it dies, it yields a rich harvest” (John 12:24).
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