Not much information has survived about the fates of the 12 disciples, but some is still available from various sources, including the New Testament itself, apocryphal texts and early Christian historians. What we do know is that they did spread Christianity after the death of Jesus and were committed to spreading the Gospel, even if that meant death.
We know from Scripture that the Holy Spirit gave the disciples the ability to speak in different languages and spread the words of God and Jesus Christ. In the Book of John we are told: “Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, ‘Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.’ By this he meant the Spirit, who those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified.” This promise was fulfilled at Pentecost, when Jesus’ followers received the Holy Spirit.
The Book of Acts describes the arrival of the Holy Spirit which is talked about in great detail in Acts 2. The account begins with the Holy Spirit descending upon a group of followers who upon receiving it began to speak in tongues. We are told in this account, “And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound of heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the houses where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues, and the Spirit gave them utterance” (Acts 2:1-4). Because the Holy Spirit came down, the Apostles were enabled to spread the Good News of Christ, just as Jesus had promised. With the decent of the Holy Spirit, a New Covenant was inaugurated.
The disciples continued to spread Christianity from Jerusalem to Damascus, to Antioch, to Asia Minor, to Greece and finally to Rome. One big tradition that grew around them was the Apostle’s Creed, a short profession of faith said to have been used by each Apostle. This began to be used in the Roman Church in the 3rd century.
There are many who believe that James the Elder went to Spain, St. Thomas went to India, St. Matthew went to Ethiopia and St. Bartholomew went to Armenia. Here’s what we know about a few them from various accounts.
Simon-Peter was appointed by Jesus as the leader of the new sect – the leader of the apostles. The Lord Jesus remained his loving and faithful Guide. Jesus reaffirmed Simon as Peter, the “Rock,” in Matthew 16:18-19, promising that he would be instrumental in establishing Jesus’ Church. After His resurrection, Jesus specifically named Peter as one who needed to hear the Good News (Mark 16:7). And, repeating the miracle of the large catch of fish, Jesus made a special point of forgiving and restoring Peter and re-commissioning him as an apostle (John 21:6; 15-17). God used Peter greatly in the foundation of the church. It was Peter who first proclaimed the Gospel on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:14-47).
Peter was also the first to take the Gospel to the Gentiles (Acts 10:1-48). In a sense, Peter was the foundation of the church. The Catholic Church uses this argument as evidence that it is the one true church. He is viewed by Roman Catholics as the first Pope.
He was eventually martyred in Rome during the reign of the emperor Nero. As the story goes, when he was given the choice of how he should die, he said, “I’d like to be crucified up-side-down because I am unworthy to die as my Lord died.” The Scriptures do not record this request of Peter. However, John 21:16,19 alludes to the fact that Peter would die a martyr’s death: “Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go. Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. The he said to him, ‘Follow me!’” Early church history points to this happening sometime between AD 67 and AD 70 because Peter was in prison for Christ’s sake and was crucified.
Church tradition and history tells us that Thomas, commonly referred to as “Doubting Thomas,” traveled outside of the Roman Empire as a missionary, possibly as far as India to preach the Gospel. It is believed that he reached as far as Muziris, India where he baptized several believers and brought the Gospel Far East. There isn’t a great deal known about his death, but tradition says he was stabbed with a spear, dying from the wound.
Another disciple we have some detail about is Bartholomew. Unlike Peter, who was strong-willed and skeptical Thomas, he stayed in the background.Unfortunately, not much is known about his life before and during Jesus’ ministry. What we can gather about him is gained from what other writers have written about him. The passages he was mentioned in include Matthew 10:3; Mark 3:18; Luke 6:14; and Acts 1:13. He supposedly preached in several countries, including India where he translated the Gospel of Matthew for believers. It is said that he went on with Judge the Apostle to the Roman province of Armenia where they gained many converts for Christ. They even convinced the Armenian King Polymius to turn to Christianity. At the end of his life, accounts say that “impatient idolaters” beat Bartholomew then crucified him, while in another, he was skinned alive, then beheaded.
While we may not know a great deal about what happened to each disciple, we know they were cornerstones in the Christianity movement. They knew what they were called to do and weren’t afraid of that mission. Without them, where would the church be?