While the apostles waited in Jerusalem for the Holy Spirit to come, they appointed from the multitude of disciples an apostle to take the place of Judas. In giving the essential qualifications that such a man should have, Peter said, “Of the men therefore that have companied with us … beginning from the baptism of John, unto the day he was receive up from us, of these must one become a witness with us of his resurrection” (Acts 1:21-22). Thus, when Peter announced that although the Jews had slain Jesus, “God had raised him up, where we all are witnesses” (Acts 2:32), all were.
Peter’s testimony on Pentecost that Jesus had been raised from the dead was reaffirmed again and again. In Acts 4:33 the historian affirmed, “And with great power gave the apostles their witness of the resurrection of Christ”. They had not always demonstrated such boldness and confidence. It wasn’t just Thomas that didn’t believe Jesus had been raised; Mark tells that Mary Magdalene’s testimony was not believed at first (Mark 16:11), neither did they believe the testimony of two others (Mark 16:13). Then Jesus “appeared to the eleven as they sat at meat and upbraided them with their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they believed not them that had seen him after he was risen” (Mark 16:14). In His personal revelation of Himself to them He said, “These signs shall accompany them that believe: in my name shall they take up serpents, and if they drink any deadly thing it shall in no wise hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick and they shall recover … and they went forth and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them, and confirming the words by signs that followed” (Mark 16:17-18, 20). The resurrected Christ presented Himself alive to His apostles, ate and communicated with them about 40 days, and forever removed their doubts of His resurrection. They might stumble in other matters but not in their conviction that God had raised Jesus from the dead.
Just as God had given Jesus signs, wonders, and manifold powers to convince His nation God had sent Him, Jesus gave the same powers to His apostles to prove to an unbelieving world that God had raised Him from the dead. Peter and John healed a man who had been lame from birth and restored him to perfect health (Acts 3:1-8). So marvelous were the miracles Peter worked that people brought their lame and sick people and laid them on the streets hoping that Peter’s shadow would fall on them and heal them (Acts 4:14-15). Peter even raised a beloved sister from the dead (Acts 9:36-41). The witness of the apostles brought thousands, perhaps millions, to believe the gospel they preached: Christ died for our sins and was raised from the death the third day (1 Corinthians 15:1-3). Even today the work the apostles began by their testimony continues to exist. Sometimes waning, sometimes flourishing, it will never be destroyed for the word which quickens life in the new creature is eternal. Jesus said, “Heaven and earth shall pass away but my word shall never pass away” (Matthew 24:35).
The apostles’ voices have long been silenced by death. None living today have opportunity to see some miracle wrought through the power Jesus gave the apostles to confirm the word they spoke (Hebrews 2:4). Yet to all who should come after them until the return of Jesus, the apostles still offer their testimony: “Jesus is risen”. How can that be? Through their martyrdom.
The New Testament records the death of only one of the apostles, James, the brother of John (Acts 12:1-2). It records that Paul was under the sentence of death when he wrote Timothy his second letter, but does not record his actual beheading. The New Testament records the expectation of Peter that his own martyrdom was nearing (2 Peter 1:14). Of the death of the other ten the Holy Spirit is silent. Yet if early tradition can be believed, only John died a natural death; the rest of the apostles were all martyred like James, Paul, and Peter. Yet by their martyrdom the apostles are as Abel. Like he, they “being dead yet speaketh” (Hebrews 11:4).
There is no record that any apostle ever recanted the testimony he had given that he had seen the resurrected Christ. Nor, to my knowledge, is there accusation on the part of unbelieving men that any of them ever so did. On the other hand, we do have testimony of two apostles who were facing martyrdom and their testimony speaks volumes. Did they have regrets? Let them tell us.
Jesus prophesied Peter’s future decease and John recorded His words: “Jesus said to him (Peter) … when thou wast young thou girded thyself and walkest whither thou wouldest: but when thou shalt be old, thou shall stretch forth thy hand, and another shall gird thee and carry thee whither thou wouldest not. Now this he spake signifying by what manner of death he should glorify God” (John 21:18-19). That time drew near and Peter commented, “Knowing that the putting off of my tabernacle cometh swiftly, even as our Lord Jesus Christ signified unto me. Yea, I will give diligence that at every time after my decease to call these things to remembrance. For we did not follow cunning fables when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty, For he received from God the Father honor and glory, when there was borne such a voice to him by the Majesty Glory, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased: and this voice we ourselves heard borne out of heaven, when we were with him in the holy mount” (2 Peter 1:14-18).
Of His impending death Paul wrote, “For which cause I suffer also these things: yet I am not ashamed, for I know him whom I have believed and am persuaded he is able to guard that which I have committed unto him against that day” (2 Timothy 1:12). Finally, he wrote, “For I am already being offered and the time of my departure is come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith: henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, shall give to me in that day: and not to me only, but also to all them that have loved his appearing” (2 Timothy 4:6-8).
In their lifetime the apostles witnessed the truth of Christ’s resurrection. And in their death it was that resurrected Christ they had seen that sustained and strengthened them in the dark hour of their trial and death. God promised, “I will in no wise leave thee nor forsake thee”. He kept His word. John wrote, “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord. Yea saith the Spirit that they may rest from their labors and their works do follow them”.