The angry crowd screamed murderous words as they moved down the dusty Jerusalem trail. It had been just over ten years since Jesus was led down the same streets to be executed by the Romans. Now, one of His closest followers, James the brother of John, was being physically and verbally tormented. King Herod of Judea had issued the order for his execution, and James refused to put up a fight. Church historian Clemens Alexandrinus writes that one of the executioners was so moved by the courage of James that after apologizing to James, he was forced to join him in execution. Moments later, James knelt, prayed, and felt the swift cold sword blade blow against the back of his neck.
Ten years later, as church history tells, Philip witnessed to the wife of the Roman Proconsul, and she was converted. Enraged by this, the Proconsul ordered that Philip not only be scourged and crucified, but that to increase the agony, Philip should be crucified upside-down. The apostle Philip was then savagely beaten, and dragged to the edge of a town called Hierapolis, in what is now modern-day Turkey. There in classic Roman fashion, the bloodied Philip was nailed to a cross to be crucified. As Philip died on the cross, he continued to preach the gospel to all those gathered around.
Around the same time, Nathaniel the brother of Philip, and by then a missionary along the Caspian Sea, was captured. Church history explains that the first stage of his torture was a practice known as "flaying," or being skinned alive. While still struggling in pain, he was then beheaded near the modern day capital city of Baku, Azerbaijan.
The Apostle Peter was eventually captured, tortured, and ordered to be crucified during the reign of Nero. When it became clear that he was going to be crucified, church historians tell us that Peter requested to be executed in the excruciating inverted position like Philip. His reason for the added torture- he did not count himself worthy to die in the same fashion as Jesus.
The Apostle Thomas labored in the region that is now modern day Iran and Iraq before travelling to southern India as a missionary. While ministering in India, he was run through by angry natives with multiple spears. Unrelenting in his preaching while he was assaulted, Thomas was eventually thrown into the flames of a burning oven where he finally died an agonizing death.
The night that Jesus was captured to be executed, He had explained to His disciples, "And these things will they do to you, because they have not known the Father...but these things have I told you, that when the time shall come, ye may remember that I told you of them...Nevertheless...it is expedient for you that I go away."
Jesus knew that momentarily He would be taken from His disciples and they would be scattered. He knew also that eventually they would be strengthened and encouraged by His resurrection. However, the ultimate strength that they would receive would come in the form of the indwelling, empowering Holy Spirit. They could not receive this comforting Strengthener unless Jesus departed.
Having foretold of their coming persecution, Jesus then encouraged them with the promise of the coming Spirit. He would come to work in their hearts. He would give strength where there was weakness. He would reveal truth where there was darkness. And He would bring the words of Jesus to remembrance as each of the disciples were executed. This night and these words would never be forgotten. Rather, as each disciple met death at the hands of wicked men, their minds must have rushed back to this moment with Jesus as He explained the harrowing yet honoring future events for each of them.
Food For Thought: Why would Jesus tell His disciples that they would eventually be killed? Besides just telling them of their impending death, what did Jesus promise to do for them?