This post is part of an ongoing series, highlighting the martyrdom of the apostles, deacons, and missionaries of the first century church.
“Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
Ten years after the death of Stephen was the martyrdom of James the son of Zebedee.
Meet James the son of Zebedee
Also know as James the Great, we first meet this apostle in Matthew 4:21-22. In this passage, James and his brother John, both fisherman, were mending their nets when Jesus called them to the ministry. Upon hearing His call, they “immediately left the boat and their father, and followed Him.”
The death of James the Great
About ten years after the martyrdom of Stephen, Herod Agrippa was appointed governor of Judea. In an effort to establish himself in the good graces of his people, he ordered a sharp persecution against all Christians. He determined to make a substantial impact by striking down the most prominent Christian leaders. One of these leaders was James the Great.
The account of James’ death is given to us by a distinguished primitive writer, Clemens Alexandrinus. Alexandrinus tells us that as James was led to the place of martyrdom, he boldly called his main accuser to repent of his conduct and place faith in Christ for the forgiveness of his sins. As God would have it, the accuser fell down at James’ feet, pleading for forgiveness, professed himself a believer, and resolved that James the son of Zebedee would not receive the crown of martyrdom alone. They were beheaded together.
James was one of “the three” (Peter, James, and John) that Jesus spent a considerable amount of time with. This close friend of Jesus finished well and gladly received the cup of suffering which “he had told our Savior he was ready to drink.”
Meet John the beloved
John “the beloved” (also one of “the three”) was the younger brother of James the Great. Upon Jesus’ ascension into heaven, John resolutely committed the rest of his life to faithful work in the Great Commission. He was a relentless church planter, founding the churches of Smyrna, Pergamos, Sardis, Philadelphia, Laodicea, and Thyatira.
During the second persecution (under the reign of Domitian, the brother of Titus), Domitian exiled John to the island of Patmos. But upon Domitian’s death, John was allowed to return to Ephesus in the year A.D. 70. There he remained, governing the churches of Asia and writing his Gospel. He died at about the age of 100. While he was the only apostle who escaped a violent death, he was not in any way immune to the suffering and persecution of the day. At 100, he likely had a lot of scars on his body, because before his exile to Patmos, they tried to kill him in Rome. It is recorded that there in Rome, John was cast into a cauldron of boiling oil. How he survived and escaped is still a mystery. But because of this miracle, John the beloved escaped to plant churches and write books of the Bible until he finally died and reunited with Jesus.