THE BRAVEST OF MEN—The Lives of the Apostles After Calvary
By Dr. Lorin Swinehart
The reign of the Emperor Nero was a dark time for many in ancient Rome. After a great fire destroyed much of the city in 64 AD, Nero looked about for a scapegoat. He settled upon resident Jews, Christians and others. He ordered that Christians be thrown to the dogs, crucified, and tortured to death in the arenas in every horrendous fashion imaginable.
Like so many others at the time, the Apostle Peter incurred the displeasure of Roman authorities. The historian Eusebius tells us that after being arrested in Rome in 67 AD and spending ninety days chained to a pillar, Peter was, at his request, crucified upside down, so as to not die in the same position as had Jesus Christ.
While the careers of some of the Twelve Apostles are sketchy, there is reason to believe that most died cruel and painful deaths either by imperial fiat or at the hands of frenzied mobs.
The activities of St. Andrew, the brother of Peter, may have taken him north of the Black Sea to the cannibalistic Scythians, but most of his time was spent among the Greeks. He was finally arrested in the Greek city of Patros, imprisoned, scourged and crucified on an “X” shaped cross with ropes instead of spikes, so as to prolong his agony.
St. Thomas, probably traveled throughout present day Iran before journeying to the Malabar Coast of India, where locals who objected to his teachings speared him to death.
Three saints named James were prominent in the church in Jerusalem. Two were Apostles who traveled with Jesus. One was converted after the resurrection. St. James the Great, the son of Zebedee, was the brother of the Apostle John. He may have wandered as far as Spain in his missionary travels before returning to Jerusalem, where he was beheaded in 42 AD on the orders of King Herod Agrippa.
St. James the Less is, again, something of a mystery. We know little of him. He was most likely martyred in Jerusalem during the persecutions of 62 AD.
St. James the Righteous, believed by many to have been a brother of Jesus, served as head of the church in Jerusalem and had the authority of an Apostle, even though he was not one of the original twelve. This James was highly successful in converting Jews, so much so that he incurred the wrath of the Sanhedrin. When invited to address the citizenry from a cornice of the temple, it was expected that he would deny that Jesus was God. When he announced the opposite to the throng, he was hurled from the top onto the pavement, where a mob began to stone him. Finally, one ruffian dispatched him with a huge hammer.
St. Philip may have, like Andrew, proselytized among the Scythians. Having aggravated the Roman governor of Phrygia, a province in Anatolia, he was martyred at the age of 87 by first stoning and then crucifixion, like St. Peter, upside down.
St. Bartholomew traveled throughout Asia Minor, Persia and Armenia. On August 24, 62 AD, he was skinned alive and crucified in Armenia.
St. John may have been the only Gospel writer to have actually known Jesus. It seems that he served with St. Paul in Rome for a time, where he was arrested and boiled in oil but miraculously survived. He later survived an attempted poisoning. John is believed to have penned the book of Revelations, which many scholars believe described the Neronian persecutions, while living in exile on the island of Patmos. He lived into his nineties until he died of natural causes, unusual among the Apostles.
Little is known of St. Matthew, other than that he was once a tax collector serving the detested Roman occupiers. He probably was not the author of the Gospel of St. Matthew, although he may have penned a collection of the sayings of Jesus, which were later included in the Gospel bearing his name. Matthew may have ranged as far as Egypt and Ethiopia before dying of natural causes in Persia.
St. Simon and St. Jude were the only two Apostles who died together. As the story goes, they incurred the wrath of an evil sorcerer who stirred up a mob against them in the Punjabi city of Kalyana. Jude is reputed to have turned to Simon, saying, “I see that the Lord is calling us.” The howling mob stoned the two elderly Apostles. St. Simon was run through with a spear. Subsequently, St. Jude was sawed to pieces.
Little is known of St. Matthias, the disciple chosen by the remaining eleven after the suicide of Judas. He may have traveled among the Armenians and the Scythians. All we know is that he was martyred by stoning in Jerusalem.
This brings us to the unfortunate man named Judas Iscariot. Had he not betrayed Jesus or if he had repented of his offense, as St. Peter did after denying him, there would be schools, hospitals and monasteries today named in honor of St. Judas. Jesus said of him that it would have been better if he had never been born. Certainly, a guilty conscience is a heavy burden, perhaps enough to drive a man to suicide.
According to St. Luke, Judas purchased a field with his ill-gotten thirty pieces of silver. St. Matthew tells us that Judas hanged himself, whereas Luke says he fell and his bowels burst out. It is not difficult to imagine that a hanged man would become bloated and burst after a time.
Jesus says that in the end all offenses will be forgiven. Perhaps there is even hope for the tragic figure of Judas.
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