The Exchange with Pastor Josh: Where Did the Apostles Go?

Jesus commanded that we are to “love the Lord your God…with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37). It is a command that can be joyfully obeyed especially when done together with other Jesus followers. That is what “The Exchange with Pastor Josh” is all about. The questions and insights that are shared are not from Pastor Josh but rather emerge from a group of Jesus followers discussing and interacting with one another. I have tried to faithfully capture the insights and flow of the conversation here so that others can be inspired to “love the Lord your God…with all your mind” as well. My acknowledgement and gratitude goes to the group of Jesus followers gathered for The Exchange on March 24, 2001. The Lord and you know who you are.

Soli Deo Gloria

Question: Where did the apostles go and what happened to them after Acts?

Let’s start by clarifying who the “apostles” are and what we mean by “Acts.” The “apostles” were a group of men who were instructed and commissioned directly by Jesus to proclaim the good news of Jesus as Saving King over all humanity. Empowered by the Spirit of God, they began this work in Jerusalem and carried it across the world known to them in the first century. We read about this in a book in the Bible often referred to as “Acts.” It likely did not have a title in its original form, but in the second century, the title “Acts of the Apostles” was added when it was separated from the first volume, the Gospel According to Luke. You can see that title for the first time in the list known as the Muratorian Canon (google it to find out more!). The author, Luke, notes this theme of the acts of the apostles in Acts 5:12, “Many signs and wonders were being done among the people through the hands of the apostles.”

Despite this general description, readers of Acts will note that not all the apostles factor very prominently. In fact, Peter and John seem to dominate the story early (Acts 1-8). Beginning in Acts 9, the story focuses heavily on Paul and his missionary journeys. The whole book is designed to show how Jesus’ words in Acts 1:8 are begun to be fulfilled, and the ending hints that the work is continuing “to the ends of the earth.” The last words of the book declare that Paul was proclaiming and teaching about the kingdom of God and Jesus Christ “with all boldness and without hindrance” (Acts 28:30-31). But what happens next?

Largely, we are dependent upon the reports of the next two generations of Christians for our knowledge of what happens next. Peter was reportedly crucified upside down because he didn’t consider himself worthy to die like Jesus. Paul was reportedly beheaded for refusing to stop preaching about Jesus. All but John are reported to have met the same fate of martyrdom. Some are reported to have traveled extensively across the ancient world before facing death. You can read a brief summary in Whatever Happened to the Twelve Apostles? Are these stories reliable? Each one would need to be assessed on it own, and several scholars have done just that. One example is After Acts: Exploring the Lives and Legends of the Apostles. Some of the stories are very early and have a high likelihood of being accurate. Early Christians such as Clement and Ignatius reference the martyrdom of some of the apostles, and the church historian Eusebius talks about that as well here. What we do know is that these first followers of Jesus had amazing success in their mission to proclaim Jesus and form new Jesus communities. In addition, we know they faced stiff opposition and, for most of them, violent death too.

Does any of this matter? Definitely! First, it provides context for us making sense of how the good news of Jesus’ kingdom made its way to us. None of us have discovered this on our own, but instead we are part of a long unbroken line of good news proclamation. That fact motivates us to continue the apostolic mission to proclaim Jesus as King and build Jesus following communities. Second, the testimony of the apostles gives us confidence in the claims of the New Testament. Actual people experienced these things and shared those experiences. Their faithfulness to the point of death gives us assurance that they were not lying because who would die for a known lie?

Also, we recognize a new challenge that the testimony of the apostles corrects. It used to be that the main challenge Christians faced was from those who denied the historical reliability of the New Testament. They would often reject it without considering its historical merits. Now, however, it is common for people to say that they accept Jesus but they cannot accept some of His teaching or some members of the family of faith. They describe themselves as “spiritual” but have “no religious affiliation.” This group will often talk about Jesus in positive terms even while redefining what it means to follow Him. They may say that we are to love without judgment or that truth is personal and not subject to outside verification. These subtle attacks on the good news of Jesus require discernment on our part and clarity as to what the apostles were indeed passing down to the next generation.  

The third way that the faithfulness of the apostles to their death impacts us is by giving us courage in the face of opposition. Although they were ordinary men, they did extraordinary things. They suffered faithfully, and because of that we do not suffer alone. Hebrews 12:1 reminds us that “since we also have such a large cloud of witnesses surrounding us,” we are not alone. We are not the first generation of Christ followers to face opposition.

One final note…we mentioned that the title of Acts is actually the “Acts of the Apostles” since they are the main characters. It would be better to point to a different main character of the book of Acts. There is one who shows up from beginning to end, the Holy Spirit. How do ordinary men go from fishing to proclaiming before emperors? The Holy Spirit. How do men and women endure suffering and even death for the cause of Christ? The Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the main character in the book of Acts…but He is also the main character in our own story too! He empowers us who follow Christ that we may proclaim the message of the Kingdom of God and of Jesus Christ “with all boldness and without hindrance” (Acts 28:30-31)! Because of the Holy Spirit, the legacy and work of the apostles continues in us!

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