Many people would die for a lie, but someone would only be willing to die for a lie if they thought the lie they believed was actually the truth. When it comes to the apostles of Jesus, we have a very different story. No one spent more time with Jesus during his public ministry than the twelve apostles. They believed Jesus was the Messiah until he was crucified. They were expecting Jesus to be an earthly king who would save them from their enemies. They did not know the Scriptures and understand the Messiah must be killed.
The twelve apostles were not faithful zealots to the bitter end. All of them abandoned Jesus during his time of persecution. Their collective spirits were crushed when they saw their Savior being arrested, tried, beaten and killed. They felt they had been fooled into believing a lie. They devoted their lives to following Jesus and they felt it had been a total waste. They argued among themselves who would get the highest places of honor in Jesus' kingdom after he came to power, but when they saw him hang on a cross and die, all their hopes vanished.
Eleven of the twelve apostles eventually died a martyr's death because they preached Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ and that he was resurrected from the dead. They were beaten and imprisoned because they confessed this. Time and again they were told to stop saying these things. They replied, We must obey God rather than men. Eventually, they were tortured to death because they refused to renounce the fact that Jesus rose from the dead.
The validity of Christianity hinges on the resurrection of Jesus.
If Jesus did not rise from the dead, then Christianity is the biggest charade in history. However, if Jesus did rise from the dead, Christianity is the greatest truth in the world. The Romans and the Jews wanted nothing more than to guard Jesus' body after he died. All they had to do was keep an eye on his body for three days because they knew that was how long Jesus said it would be before he rose from the dead. Armed soldiers were sent to deny anyone access to the tomb and guard his body from thieves. God had other plans.
On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared for the body and went to the tomb. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb and when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. In their fright, the women bowed down with their faces to the ground but the men said to them, "Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here! He is risen! Remember how he told you while he was still with you in Galilee: 'The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.'" Then they remembered his words. Luke 24:1-8
If the resurrection was a lie, the apostles knew it. This means they were willing to die for a lie they all knew was a lie. The apostles had to be totally convinced Jesus rose from the dead because they did not believe at first. No one would face torture to the point of death unless they were convinced they knew the truth. If the apostles tried to perpetrate a colossal hoax, it is hard to explain how not even one of them would deny the resurrection to save their own life. What could cause such a tremendous turnaround in their behavior? They went from cowards who were afraid of venturing outside to bold men who went to Jerusalem to proclaim Jesus as the risen Lord.
Everyone would abandon a lie at the risk of murder. Most people would even be willing to forsake the truth to save their own life. Are we to believe all of these men were willing to die for a lie they knew was a lie? And not one of them caved in and changed their story? That type of conviction is seldom seen in one individual let alone eleven. They all refused to deny what they once thought was a lie. What could cause such unanimity? Only the physical bodily resurrection of Jesus and the opportunity to spend time with him after he had risen from the dead could explain this behavior. The disciples were unbelieving when they first heard, He is risen but once Christ appeared to them, they never wavered in unbelief again. The eyewitness testimony of eleven people who were willing to die for what they saw is as reliable today as it was 2,000 years ago.
Here is how the twelve apostles died:
2. James, Jesus' brother 5. James, Alphaeus' son 8. Thaddeus 9. Matthew 11. Bartholomew 12. James, Zebedee's son
Here is a brief look at three of the disciples:
James was the younger brother of Jesus. Early in Jesus' ministry, James and his other siblings did not believe Jesus was the Messiah. They certainly did not believe Jesus was God. Can you imagine what you would feel like if your brother went around saying things like:
I and the Father are one. John 10:30
I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. John 14:6
Soon after Jesus was killed, James was in Jerusalem preaching Jesus was the Christ who died for the sins of the world and rose from the dead. Because of his refusal to stop preaching the Christ was crucified and resurrected, he eventually was stoned to death.
Was James fooled? He bet his life he knew the truth.
Peter was no doubt one of the most ambitious apostles. During Christ's trial, Peter denied he even knew who Jesus was. Three different times he was asked if he was a follower of Jesus and three times he denied that he was:
Peter was sitting out in the courtyard and a servant girl came to him. "You also were with Jesus of Galilee," she said, but he denied it before them all. "I don't know what you're talking about," he said. He then went out to the gateway where another girl saw him and said to the people there, "This fellow was with Jesus of Nazareth." He denied it again with an oath: "I don't know the man!" After a little while, those standing there went up to Peter and said, "Surely you are one of them, for your accent gives you away." Then he began to call down curses on himself and he swore to them, "I don't know the man!" Immediately a rooster crowed. Then Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken: "Before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times." Peter went outside and wept bitterly. Matthew 26:69-75
If Peter denied he even knew Jesus while he was still alive, what could cause him to acknowledge Jesus after he was dead? If he abandoned Jesus before he was killed, why would Peter go to Jerusalem and proclaim Jesus was both Lord and Savior? Peter was also crucified. In fact, when he stared death in the face, he did not beg them to spare his life. On the contrary, Peter begged to be crucified upside down because he did not consider himself worthy to die in the same manner as the Lord.
Was Peter fooled? He bet his life he knew the truth.
Lastly, we come to Thomas, also known as Doubting Thomas. Here is his story:
Now Thomas, one of the twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, "We have seen the Lord!" But he said to them, "Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it." A week later, the disciples were in the house again and Thomas was with them this time. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you!" Then he said to Thomas, "Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe!" Thomas said to him, "My Lord and my God!" Then Jesus told him, "Because you have seen me, you have believed but blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed." John 20:24:29
Thomas wound up dying a martyr's death. He was killed by the sword for what he believed.
Was Thomas fooled? He bet his life he knew the truth.
The only conceivable explanation for the dramatic and sudden change in the apostles' behavior is Jesus really was the Christ, and he proved it beyond any shadow of a doubt by rising from the dead. Jesus appeared to the apostles after he was resurrected on many different occasions over a 40 day period. More than 500 different people saw Jesus after he rose from the dead.
How do you get to heaven?