120 DISCIPLES STRONG
After his [Jesus’] suffering, he showed himself to these men [and women] and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God (Acts 1:3).
Post-Resurrection appearances over the next forty days, including resurrection Sunday:
- John’s account at the tomb – he appears to Mary Magdalene (John 20:13-18).
- On Resurrection Sunday, Jesus appears to and walks with two disciples on their way to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35).
- Jesus appears to the Apostle Peter (Luke 24:34) and (I Cor 15:3-5).
- Jesus appears to the apostles, minus Thomas (Luke 24:36-53).
- A week later, his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them (John 20:24-29).
- Jesus appears to some of the apostles for the third time at the Sea of Tiberias (John 21).
- Jesus appears to a crowd of 500 people (I Cor. 15:6).
- Jesus appears to James (I Cor. 15:7).
- Jesus appears to apostles before his ascension to heaven (Luke 24:50-53).
- Jesus appears to Saul (Paul) (Acts 9:3-9).
- Jesus appears to his apostles before his ascension (Mark 16:19).
The disciples who had walked with Jesus for three years, became his best friends, witnessed his miracles and heard his teachings, fled from him when they felt their lives were at risk because of their close association with him. They abandoned Jesus and hid—all except John. John, his beloved disciple, was at the cross with him.
Following the biblical accounts of the gospels, we immediately enter into the book of “Acts,” another book of the Bible written by the apostle Luke. “Acts” is short for The Acts of the Apostles. All the apostles came back together again after they were strengthened by these appearances from Jesus. It was the evidence they needed to carry on their future missions. The first order of business was to replace the twelfth apostle. They chose, by praying and casting lots, a new apostle who had been with Jesus from the beginning of his ministry. Matthias was added to the eleven to replace Judas, who had betrayed Jesus and hung himself.
In those days, Peter stood up among the believers, a group numbering about a hundred and twenty (Acts 1:15).
Okay, wait a minute…
Is it just me, or are others of you wondering, where is everyone? Only 120 believers? Where are the thousands whom Jesus fed, and the hundreds or thousands of those whom Jesus personally healed? Where are all the people who welcomed him with palm branches in Jerusalem the Sunday before his death?Many people enjoyed the benefits of healings and miracles, but only a small remnant of faithful followers left. This is like the nine lepers who didn’t find Jesus after he healed them.
Jesus’ death on the cross exposed the truth in people’s hearts. We know who some of the 120 were—the twelve apostles; Jesus’ mother Mary; Mary Magdalene; Mary, the mother of James; Joanna; Mary Salome (probably the wife of Zebedee and mother of the other James, and John and possibly sister or half-sister of Mary, the mother of Jesus); Barsabbas; and Jesus’ brothers.
Doesn’t it seem like a small number of followers for over three years of teaching and preaching by Jesus and dying for the truth? Many more believed in him when he was alive than when he died. Why? What happened?
People were afraid. Fear stopped many from believing. First-century Christians were often intensely persecuted by the Romans, many to their deaths.
THE DAY OF PENTECOST (JEWISH FESTIVAL OF SHAVOUTH)
The 50th day after Resurrection Sunday
It was time for the Spring Harvest Festival, which brought many people to Jerusalem from various provinces of the Roman empire, provinces of the Parthian empire, cities in Rome, and from the island of Crete. Because of the festival, crowds of visitors were in Jerusalem. God enabled the apostles to speak in all languages so no matter where they came from, visitors could understand the message of Jesus and bring it back to their country’s people (Acts 2:1-6).
Peter addresses the crowd with the eleven by his side. He teaches about prophecies foretold and of Jesus.
Men of Israel, listen to this; Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him…God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact. Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear…Therefore let all Israel be assured of this; God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ. When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’” / Peter replied, ‘Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.’ With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, ‘Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.’ Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day…And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved (Acts 2:47).
Each apostle who fled from the cross from fear now preached about Jesus with courage to their deaths.
Peter – Traditionally believed he first traveled to Antioch, then Corinth, then Rome. He was martyred in the Circus of Nero around 64 A.D. in Rome. He was crucified upside down upon his request. He felt he wasn’t worthy to die in the same manner as his Savior.
Andrew – Preached in Asia Minor, modern-day Turkey, modern-day Soviet Union, and Greek communities. He was martyred in 69 A.D. at Patras on a cross in the shape of an X.
James (brother of John) – “Herod the King laid violent hands upon some who belonged to the church. He killed James the brother of John with the sword” (Acts 12:1-2). He died in 44 A.D. in Jerusalem.
John – The only apostle who didn’t die a martyr’s death. The only apostle at Jesus’ crucifixion. He wrote the books of John and (probably) Revelation. He died around 100 A.D. and is buried near Ephesus.
Philip – Ministered in Asia Minor, North Africa, and Greek-speaking communities. He converted the wife of a Roman proconsul. In retaliation, the proconsul had Philip arrested and cruelly put to death. He was martyred around 80 A.D.
Bartholomew (Nathaniel) – Preached at widespread locations: in India with Thomas. He also preached in Armenia, Ethiopia, and Southern Arabia. He was martyred and buried in Rome. Some sources say he was skinned alive and beheaded. Others say he was flayed with knives.
Thomas – He was widely known for his missions in India. He died around 72 A.D. by four soldiers who pierced him with spears.
Matthew – Preached in the Mediterranean before he was stabbed to death and beheaded in Ethiopia.
James (writer of James) – He remained in Jerusalem for decades until he was stoned to death by the Jewish authorities in 62 A.D.
Judas Thaddeus – Often overlooked because of bearing the same first name as Judas Iscariot. He preached the gospel in various places. The Armenian Church reveres him as the Apostle to the Armenians. He died a martyr in Beirut, Lebanon, around 65 A.D. He was crucified and shot with arrows.
Simon the Zealot – Probably preached with Judas Thaddeus, as both were martyred in Beirut around the same year, 65 A.D. He refused to sacrifice to the sun god.
Matthias – He replaced Judas Iscariot and possibly founded a church in Cappadocia and ministered to Christians on the coast of the Caspian Sea. He was beheaded with an ax in Colchis at the hands of the pagans. Other accounts say he was burned to death. By the third century, Christianity grew and became the official religion of the Roman Empire. The impact of the life of Jesus continues today, 2000 years after his death.
The fringe benefit of Jesus’ suffering for us was so that we could have relationship with him on earth and during our eternal life. Had Jesus not appeared to these apostles after he rose from the dead, Christianity may not have survived. But Jesus once again strengthened them for their mission—their ultimate purpose in life. Because they were strengthened, we are strengthened by their lives and the accounts of their deaths. Why didn’t these men cave to save their lives? Because even though they were afraid, Jesus found a way to strengthen them to endure even after he had died. His appearances are what they needed.
Jesus also provides for us what we need to strengthen us and help us not run away. Day by day he reveals evidences of himself. Christianity will continue through to the next generation when they witness our courage to not run away when we experience hardship. And they will be encouraged to carry the message forward when they witness God strengthening our faith. And so Christianity continues through the generations because God still strengthens us to believe his message. Be strengthened today by the apostles and their deaths. They didn’t have to die for Jesus, but there must have been a good reason they did. Ponder that.