The main tenant of the Christian faith goes like this: Jesus died on a cross, rose from the dead three days later, ascended back to the Father in Heaven, and promised to come back for those who belong to Him and take us to heaven to be with him for eternity.
In the mean time, He told his followers, go and make disciples of all the nations.
Whether you believe that to be true or not, it’s impossible to deny there were a whole group of people in the first century who not only believed this to be true, but were also there to witness these events and experience Jesus firsthand.
I often wish I could have been one of those early disciples.
And yet whenever I meet people who doubt the truth of Scripture, I often refer them to the book of Acts, where they can read about the impassioned group of men and women who evangelized the known world of their day.
They started churches all over that part of the world—beginning in Jerusalem and then moving throughout the region of Judea and Samaria.
They went to the uttermost parts of the world.
But part of why I want them to read the book of Acts is to see how the people who were closest to Jesus, before and after his death, felt about him.
It’s hard to ignore the power of the life they lived.
For example, one of the regions that the Apostle Paul went to and established a powerful church was in the City of Ephesus. And from there many other churches were established throughout what is called Asia Minor.
That is the region of the world we now know as Western Turkey.
Shortly before the fall of Jerusalem in 70AD, the Apostle John moved from Jerusalem to Ephesus to make it his home base for ministry. He became a spiritual father to the churches in that area.
And yet eventually, John was sentenced to exile on a nearby island called Patmos.
Can you imagine—actually giving your life for Jesus?
Not only did many of these leaders give their lives figuratively—in the ways many of you are doing—like traveling, preaching the Word of God, planting churches, serving people who were in need, etc.
So many of Jesus’ early followers gave their literal lives for the sake of the call.
At the time, Roman Emperor Domitian hated Christians and wanted anyone who was preaching his name to be eliminated. Since Christians were preaching that Jesus was Lord over all, and Domitian believe he was Lord over all, you can see why there would be a conflict.
But since few of these early followers—John included—wouldn’t stop preaching, they were banished.
Or worse, murdered.
In fact, by the time John wrote the book of Revelation, he was an old man, and the only disciple of Jesus still alive.
All the others had been martyred.
- James, John’s brother had been beheaded in Jerusalem under King Herod
- Peter crucified in Rome under Nero
- Matthew had been killed with an axe in Ethiopia
- Mark was dragged death in Alexandria
- Luke was hanged on a tree in Greece by pagan priests
- James, The Lord’s brother was stoned, beaten and clubbed to death in Jerusalem
- Andrew was crucified in Greece
- Bartholomew is beaten and crucified in India
- Thomas had been speared to death in India
- Paul, not one of the original 12, but very significant Apostle was beheaded in Rome under Nero
To me, this is a great testimony to the truth of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead and the authenticity of who he was as the son of God. All these men died because they would not renounce their faith in Jesus and they would not deny his resurrection.
They gave their lives for this witness.
When I think about this, I realize all they had to do to regain their freedom and their life was say, “Ok fine, we made it up!” and they could have lived.
And yet every time these guys were martyred, the gospel spread even more.
Any time I meet someone who is doubting the validity of scripture, or wondering how all of this is possible, I remind them of this: all these men gave their lives. That’s what it was worth to them to make sure you received this message.