Bulletin Articles

Bulletin Articles

“Soon Forgotten”

Categories: Iron sharpens iron

In last week’s article, we briefly looked at each of Christ’s Apostles.  The Scriptures don’t directly tell us much about most of them, so traditions arose.  Some of these are grounded in what the Bible spells out for us; most are untrustworthy, and contradicted by other reports.  Nevertheless, a quick look at some of these can be worthwhile.


When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, “Lord, what about this man?” Jesus said to him, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!”

(John 21.21-22)

The speculation about what eventually happened to each Apostle began, in a sense, before Jesus had even ascended to his Father’s right hand. John, the topic of this first speculation, was probably the last living Apostle, in exile on Patmos.  Tradition says that he took up residence with the church in Ephesus for a time leading up to his exile and death around AD 100. 


While he is barely mentioned in Acts, legends involving Andrew hold that he made his way north to the area between the Black and Caspian Seas, preaching to exceptionally barbaric Gentiles, who eventually killed him.


Philip dropped off the map in Acts.  Tradition says he ended up in the region called Phrygia, part of Paul’s early field in Asia Minor.  Philip is supposed to have been crucified there.


Bartholomew is considered either to have gone with Andrew to the north, or else to have gone to India.  A legend concerning his death is that he was tied up in a large sack, and tossed into the sea to drown.


Traditions have Thomas going to the same region as Andrew and possibly Bartholomew; or else to India.  Legends differ as to how he died, but several put his martyrdom in India.


Matthew is tied by tradition to several regions—but this time, every point on the compass is covered!  That leaves us with no reason to assign greater probability to any one legend, but it is worth noting that he is the first to be associated with Africa.


The report about Matthew applies equally to Matthias.  It appears that having basically the same name caused these two to be mistaken for each other, even in ancient times.

James (the son of Alphaeus)

There is a surprising lack of tradition about James’ work; but one apocryphal book from antiquity says he remained in Jerusalem until the rulers there had him stoned to death.


The surviving sources are full of nonsense and contradict each other, but the one point on which they agree is that Thaddaeus went to Syria and preached Christ until his death.


The early Christian writers don’t even agree on who exactly Simon was, let alone his field of work after Jesus’ ascension.  Eusebius suggests that he stayed in Jerusalem for life.


Peter is one of the few whose deaths are mentioned in the New Testament, but the details are obscure.  Just before the passage quoted above, Jesus had told Peter,

“when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.”

(John 21.18)

Peter himself wrote, “the putting off of my body will be soon, as our Lord Jesus Christ made clear to me” (2Pe 1.14).  Tradition says that this took place around AD 67 at Rome, and that he was crucified upside down, because he requested that his death not be made to so closely resemble that of his Lord.


Paul, likewise, wrote, “the time of my departure has come” (2Ti 4.6).  As a Roman citizen, he would be spared crucifixion, and instead beheaded.

James (the son of Zebedee)

Since we began with the latest, let’s end with the earliest of the Apostles to die a martyr. Herod Agrippa I, not long before he himself was struck down by God, “killed James the brother of John with the sword” (Ac 12.2).  He’d apparently never even left Jerusalem, but he, like the others, finished strong.

As often happens, the Bible’s silence creates a veritable Rorschach inkblot test, in which people fill in the gaps with whatever they want to see.  The point isn’t to determine whether Thomas died in Syria or India—God only knows!  The point is that these witnesses of Jesus’ resurrection did spend the rest of their lives preaching his gospel, even if their stories were not preserved.  We don’t know exactly what happened to most of them, but it doesn’t really matter.  Thinking through the list of names reminds us that behind each name stood a person who dedicated his life to serving the Lord—and that most of their work was soon forgotten by men.

Are you better than the Apostles?  Your name and your achievements will also be forgotten by men.  You just don’t matter enough to be worth remembering for the next thousand years.  When you die, your story will quickly fade from living memory.  But God does not forget!  As he watched over the Apostles, he now watches over you, and knows your story inside and out.  Will you make him proud to be your Father?

Jeremy Nettles