The Bible briefly records the death of one apostle, 1) James the son of Zebedee and brother of John. Acts 12 tells us that Herod the ruler of the region began to persecute the church. This persecution took place a dozen to fifteen years after Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection. During the persecution of the Christians by Herod, he had James beheaded and then imprisoned Peter with the intention of executing him after the passover. All but one of the rest of apostles were killed for preaching the gospel. History gives to us accounts the apostles deaths, and while we believe this history to be generally reliable, we must be careful to not put too much weight on these histories.
The two most widely known apostles, Peter and Paul were both put to death at the command of Nero and are believed to have been killed in Rome. After several imprisonments (which are referred to in the New Testament), 2) Paul was beheaded outside of Rome. 3) Peter was captured by Roman soldiers and crucified. It is said that he requested to be crucified because he was not worthy to be crucified in the same manner as Jesus was.
It is said 4) Phillip was whipped, thrown in prison and then crucified in what is today northern Turkey. 5) Matthew is believed to have preached in northern Iran, near the Caspian Sea, and also in Ethiopia. In Ethiopia Matthew was beheaded. 6) Thaddeus is thought to have been crucified in Turkey. 7) Bartholomew went to India, where it is claimed he translated the gospel of Matthew into Hindi. He was beaten and then crucified by the people.
8) Matthias, the one elected by the apostles to take Judas’ place is believed to have been stoned in Jerusalem and then beheaded. 9) Andrew, Peter’s brother, is said to have preached in western Asia and was crucified in a city in eastern Turkey. Andrews is traditionally described as one in which two ends were stuck in the ground, making an X shape instead of the more typical t-shaped cross. 10) Thomas made his way into India where he was killed by being stabbed with a spear. 11) Simon the Zealot preached in West Africa before heading north into Britain where he was crucified. 12) James the less is believed to have lived in Jerusalem to the age of 94 when he was beaten, stoned and then clubbed to death.
The only apostle to not die a martyrs death was still intensely persecuted for His preaching of the gospel. His failure to be martyred was not the fought of his persecutors. John, the brother of James and son of Zebedee is said to have started a number of churches throughout Asia Minor. He was sent to Rome where he was cast into a large pot of boiling oil. Miraculously he was not injured. Later he was sent into exile on a small island called Patmos. He eventually was able to return to the city of Ephesus, where he died a natural death at about 95 years old.
Peter is never identified in the Bible as the leader of the disciples. We have enough clues in the Bible about Peter’s personality to expect he was not going to be bashful or afraid to speak his mind on a matter. Peter was a leading figure among the disciples and the early church. Peter, with James and John, was a part of Jesus’ closest inner circle. Peter did play the role of leader on occasion. One example of Peter taking the leadership after Jesus’ death can be found in Acts 1. The disciples went back to Jerusalem after Jesus returned to heaven. The and over 100 others gathered together in prayer. While the 120 believers were together, Peter stood up and spoke about Judas’ betrayal and told them that they needed to appoint another to be the twelfth apostle in Judas’ place.
We then see Peter acting as the chief spokesman to the people of Jerusalem and the leadership of Israel. In Acts 2-6 Peter is in the forefront of all the events that happened in the first few years of church history. Peter is unmistakeably an important figure in the history of the church. Peter is the one who God chose to send to the house of Cornelius to first preach the gospel to the Gentiles. Peter was one of the two apostles sent to Samaria when Philip preached the gospel among the Samaritans. Peter was imprisoned for his boldness in preaching the gospel. He did great miracles as part of his apostolic ministry. Peter was a leading apostle, but he was not the leader of the apostles.
We know of several occasions in the Bible when Peter was not treated as the chief apostle. When the church in Jerusalem appointed a pastor, they did not pick Peter. They chose the apostle James. When James was beheaded by Herod, the church picked another man. They again passed by Peter to choose James the brother of Jesus. When a great controversy sprang up in the church, Paul sternly and publicly rebuked Peter for his actions in the matter. Later, when a group of elders and apostles met together to discuss the issue, Peter was not the leader. He spoke but it was Jesus’ brother James that led the church in making the right decision.
Peter can be found as one of the leaders among the disciples and in the early church through most of the gospels and the first part of the book of Acts. However, after Acts 12, which is about 15 years after the church began, Peter drops out of the history of the building of the church. He appears one more time in the book of Acts and that’s it. Peter is the author of two books of the Bible, 1 and 2 Peter, both written to Jewish believers. After the book of Acts, Peter is only mentioned one other place in the New Testament, and that reference is far from a positive one. If Peter was the leader of the apostles, one would expect him to show up more often in the later New Testament history of the church. It would be wrong of us to assume that any one of the apostles was considered their leader. They were men gathered together in allegiance to Jesus and followed His commands to go into the whole world telling of Him. Peter was a leading figure, but he was not the leader. He was one of a group of men used by God to start His church and spread His gospel across the globe.