Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Persecution and the Apostles

Acts 5:17-42 tells the story of the second time the apostles were jailed for preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is not the only time such a circumstance occurred.

Acts 4:1-7 tells how the priests, the captain of the temple guard and the Sadducees arrested Peter and John, who spent a night in jail. The next day they were brought before the rulers, elders and teachers of the law to defend their healing of the crippled beggar at the temple gate.

Acts 6:8-8:1 tells how Stephen, one of the seven men chosen to administer the distribution of food, was seized by the elders and teachers of the law and brought to trial by the Sanhedrin, before being stoned to death for blasphemy.

Acts 12:1-2 briefly tells how James, the brother of John (not Jesus’ brother) was arrested by King Herod, and put to death by the sword (AD44).

Soon after, King Herod seized Peter. Acts 12:3-18 tells how Peter was kept in prison for a third time, under strict guard and bound in chains. The church prayed earnestly for Peter, and the Lord sent an angel to rescue him in the middle of the night.
Paul and Silas were also imprisoned. Acts 16:16-40 tells how they were brought to the magistrates by someone who objected to their actions in releasing a slave girl from demons. They were flogged and jailed, but during the night an earthquake shook the prison where they were held, and Paul was able to use the opportunity to speak to the jailer about Jesus. Paul and Silas were released the next day by magistrates bent on appeasing the wrath of Roman citizens who had been punished without the requisite trial.

Finally, Paul was arrested by the commander of the Roman troops in Jerusalem, Claudius Lysias. Paul was able to give a speech to the crowd present at his arrest, as well as the Sanhedrin (including Sadducees and Pharisees), Governor Felix of Caesarea and his wife Drusilla, Felix’s successor Governor Porcius Festus and King Agrippa and his wife Bernice, before being sent to Rome to present his case to Caesar, the Emperor of Rome. Acts 21-28 tells of these events, which are also attested to through details from Paul’s letters.

Extra-biblical sources and church tradition record that while Paul was probably released from his house arrest in Rome around AD63, both he and Peter were later martyred for their faith. Tradition has Peter put to death in Rome about AD64 by being crucified upside down (supposedly he requested this position because he felt unworthy to be crucified in the same way as Jesus had been). Eusebius wrote that Paul was imprisoned a second time in Rome before Emperor Nero ordered his death, sometime during Nero’s persecution (AD64 until the emperor’s death in mid AD68). Dionysius (ca AD170) is quoted by Eusebius as saying that Peter and Paul were martyred at the same time, although this may not mean the same year. Tertullian wrote that Paul was beheaded, as would be typical for Roman citizens who were sentenced to death.

John was later exiled to the small, rocky Mediterannean island of Patmos, off the coast of modern-day Turkey (Revelation 1:9). This was possibly during the persecution of Christians by Roman emperor Domitian (AD81-96). John supposedly lived and worked in Ephesus during his later years, being the only apostle who died a natural death.

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