Who Were the Twelve Disciples & What Happened to Them?

The Twelve Disciples left behind their ordinary lives to proclaim the extraordinary teachings of Jesus. They intimately witnessed the very dawn of Christianity.

Jul 5, 2024By Matthew Grant, MTS (Theology), BA Education, BA (Hons) History

who were twelve disciples what happened

 

In approximately 30 CE, Jesus of Nazareth began to recruit disciples from the neighboring Jewish villages surrounding Roman-occupied Jerusalem. The thirtysomething former carpenter was about to unleash a radical mission that would inaugurate Christianity. Jesus was determined, with the help of twelve close collaborators, to establish the reign of God in the hearts and minds of his own people and beyond. The twelve disciples were Peter, Andrew, James, John, Philip, Bartholomew, Thomas, Matthew, James, Thaddaeus, Simon, and Judas.

 

Peter

St. Peter, by Peter Paul Rubens, c. 1611, Source: Museo del Prado, Madrid

 

Most details regarding Peter and the other eleven disciples are found in the New Testament of the Christian Bible. Peter, a fisherman by trade, hailed from a small fishing village north of Jerusalem called Bethsaida. Soon after he met Jesus, Peter left the fishing profession to follow the charismatic itinerant preacher full-time. He believed and famously confessed that Jesus was the Messiah, God’s specially anointed messenger, who had been long foretold by the prophets of ancient Judaism. Peter’s original name was Simon, but Jesus changed it to Peter, which means “rock.” The name change signaled Peter’s new vocation as the foremost representative of Jesus.

 

However, Peter’s devotion was not ironclad. A council of powerful religious elites in Judaism, the Sanhedrin, arrested Jesus in Jerusalem for claiming to possess the same authority of God. Peter, fearing the same fate, publicly denied that he was an associate of Jesus. He also hid in fear when Jesus was scourged and crucified by the decree of the Roman governor Pontius Pilate for disturbing peace and order in Jerusalem.

 

Nevertheless, Peter went on to play a significant leadership role in the early Christian communities in Jerusalem and the surrounding areas. He was utterly convinced and publicly announced that Jesus had risen from the dead. Ancient Christian writers, such as Clement of Rome, unanimously attest to the fact that Peter was arrested and executed by Roman officials because of his Christian beliefs. Peter was crucified in Rome before the year 69 CE. during the persecution of Christians ordered by the Roman Emperor Nero.

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Andrew

St. Andrew, by Peter Paul Rubens, c. 1611, Source: Museo del Prado, Madrid

 

The New Testament indicates that Andrew was Peter’s brother, and like his brother, was from Bethsaida and a fisherman by trade. He first met Jesus on the banks of the Jordan River with John the Baptist, a cousin of Jesus who had his own public following at the time. Andrew had spent some time with the rugged and fiery prophet while he intensely urged his followers to publicly repent of their sins.

 

The Baptist was preparing his disciples for the arrival of the Messiah who would usher into the world God’s judgment, salvation, and reign. John the Baptist, upon seeing Jesus with Andrew, believed him to be the long-awaited messianic figure. Andrew was convinced by John the Baptist’s testimony and immediately left the ascetic preacher to follow Jesus.

 

Andrew introduced Peter to Jesus, and soon thereafter the brothers left the fishing industry to ally with the magnetic and polarizing preacher from Nazareth. However, the Christian Bible is silent concerning Andrew’s missionary activity after the disciples were sent out by Jesus to make disciples of all nations. The 3rd century CE Christian writer Origen of Alexandria identifies Scythia as the disciple’s missionary destination. The Acts of Andrew, a 3rd-century CE apocryphal (non-canonical) text, places Andrew’s preaching career in the Roman-controlled Greek city of Patras. This work also states that the Roman governor Aegeates had Andrew flogged and killed by crucifixion. He was martyred because of his public devotion and for preaching about Jesus.

 

James

St. James the Elder, by Peter Paul Rubens, 1612-13, Source: Museo del Prado, Madrid

 

James was the brother of John the Evangelist, who was also a disciple of Jesus. He worked as a fisherman north of Jerusalem on the Sea of Galilee with John and their father Zebedee. The New Testament notes that James was also a working associate of Peter and Andrew. Jesus invited the Zedebee brothers to be his disciples while they were at work on their father’s boat. The brothers accepted the invitation and left their fishing careers immediately and permanently to help Jesus bring people to God. Jesus dubbed the Zebedee brothers “sons of thunder” because their dedication to Jesus was exhibited through their intense and unyielding temperaments. Jesus once rebuked the brothers for wanting fire from Heaven to destroy an entire village after it rejected him and his message regarding the Kingdom of God.

 

James acted as one of the first leaders among the Christian communities in Jerusalem and its surrounding areas in the district of Judea. These early Christians were mostly people of Jewish descent who believed that Jesus rose from the dead after his crucifixion. James and his fellow Jewish Christians were adamant that the resurrection of Jesus proved that he was the true Messiah who had come from God to establish the Kingdom of God on earth. They saw the movement started by Jesus and his disciples as a logical fulfillment and continuation of Judaism. However, Herod Agrippa I, the last Jewish King of Judea, perceived James as a leading member of a heretical Jewish sect that needed to be silenced. As a consequence, Agrippa I had James put to death with a sword sometime before 45 CE.

 

John

St. John, by Peter Paul Rubens, c. 1611, Source: Museo del Prado, Madrid

 

John is often called John the Evangelist because he has traditionally been identified as the writer of the Gospel of John in the New Testament. The writer of the Gospel of John claims to be a reliable eyewitness to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. John is depicted as resolute in his devotion to Jesus. The former fisherman was the only disciple not to desert Jesus during his arrest and execution. As Jesus hung on the cross, he entrusted his mother Mary to John’s care and, after the crucifixion, the disciple honored the request by having Mary live with him.

 

The 2nd century CE Christian writers Justin Martyr and Ireneaus of Lyon report that John wrote his gospel from Ephesus in Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey) in the late 1st century CE. The majority of ancient Christian writers maintain that John died of natural causes. Christian theologian Tertullian of Carthage, writing in the 3rd century CE, was aware of the tradition that during Roman Emperor Domitian’s persecution of Christians, toward the end of the 1st century, John was arrested and brought to Rome. John was thrown into a boiling pot of water, but did not succumb to his injuries. Roman authorities then banished John to the Greek island of Patmos. John supposedly wrote the Revelation of John, the last book of the New Testament, while in exile on Patmos. He then went back to Ephesus during the reign of Roman Emperor Trajan and died around 100 CE.

 

Philip

St. Philip, by Peter Paul Rubens, c. 1611, Source: Museo del Prado, Madrid

 

Philip, like Peter and Andrew, was from Bethsaida. The day after Jesus met Peter and Andrew, he saw Philip in the district of Galilee and invited him to become his disciple. Philip accepted the invitation because he believed Jesus was the Messiah from God that had been promised by Moses and other prophets of Judaism. The disciple could not contain his excitement and immediately searched for his brother Nathanael to tell him that he had met the promised Messiah. Philip believed that the Messiah would lead him to God, which prompted him to ask Jesus to show him and the disciples God. Jesus answered Philip by way of a personal declaration of his divine nature. Jesus explicitly stated that whoever sees him sees God.

 

The Christian Bible, in the Acts of the Apostles, records Philip as one of the disciples present as they devoted themselves to prayer before setting out on their mission to preach the message of Jesus to the wider world. Polycrates of Ephesus, writing in the late 2nd century CE, states that Philip was a faithful emissary of Jesus who was buried in Hierapolis (modern-day Turkey). The Acts of Philip, a 4th century CE apocryphal story, lists Philip’s mission field as Greece, Syria, and Asia Minor. According to this tradition, Philip suffered a martyr’s death by crucifixion during the reign of the Roman Emperor Domitian. The story also refers to Philip’s death occurring in Hierapolis.

 

Bartholomew (Nathaniel)

St. Bartholomew, by Peter Paul Rubens, c. 1611, Source: Museo del Prado, Madrid

 

Bartholomew, which means “son of Talmai,” has traditionally been considered the Hebrew surname of the disciple Nathaniel. The son of Talmai was from the village of Cana, which was north of Jerusalem. Nathaniel was skeptical at first when his brother Philip indicated that Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah. He could not imagine that a special messenger from God, the promised King of Israel, could come from the small and seemingly unimportant Galilean village of Nazareth. At their very first meeting, Jesus displayed his omniscient powers to Nathaniel. He declared that Nathaniel had an upright moral disposition and knew exactly where his soon-to-be disciple was located prior to their first encounter. Nathaniel, bewildered by the strange incident, professed that Jesus was the Son of God and true the King of Israel.

 

The Gospel of John indicates that Nathaniel was one of the disciples present when the risen Jesus appeared to them on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. However, there are no known existing sources from the 2nd century CE that indicate where Nathaniel went later on for his missionary travels or how he perished. However, the 4th century CE Christian historian Eusebius of Caesarea, cites a 2nd century CE tradition regarding Nathaniel evangelizing in India. There is no consensus when it comes to the type of death that Nathaniel endured, though the fact that he suffered martyrdom for his Christian beliefs is not in dispute. One tradition indicates that Nathaniel was beheaded, whereas another tradition mentions that he was flayed alive and then crucified.

 

Thomas

St. Thomas, by Peter Paul Rubens, c. 1611, Source: Museo del Prado, Madrid

 

Most information regarding Thomas comes from the Gospel of John. Thomas was a courageous and devoted disciple who followed Jesus even when the latter faced violent threats from some of the religious authorities of Judaism. They accused Jesus of blasphemy because it appeared that in some of his public statements he had put his own personal authority on equal footing with the authority of the all-powerful and all-knowing God of Judaism. Regardless, Thomas remained steadfast in his loyalty to Jesus and vowed to accompany Jesus as he faced his enemies in Jerusalem. However, Thomas, most likely out of fear, did eventually desert Jesus when he was apprehended, tortured, and crucified.

 

Thomas was also a skeptic at heart when it came to the supernatural. He at first doubted the other disciples’ shared testimony that they had encountered the resurrected Jesus. This is why he has come to be known in history as “doubting Thomas.” In the bible, Thomas believed in the resurrection of Jesus only after he witnessed the risen Jesus for himself. This fundamental Christian belief propelled Thomas into missionary activity beyond the confines of his homeland. Eusebius states that Thomas preached the religion of Christianity in Parthia (present-day Iran).

 

The Acts of Thomas, an early 3rd-century CE apocryphal work, claims that the disciple traveled to India to proclaim the teachings of Christianity and make new disciples of Jesus. In the story, Thomas suffers martyrdom for his missionary efforts in India by being speared to death by four soldiers.

 

Matthew

St. Matthew, by Peter Paul Rubens, c. 1611, Source: Museo del Prado, Madrid

 

Matthew was a tax-collector living in Capernaum, a village north of Jerusalem by the Sea of Galilee. He worked for Herod Antipas, the Jewish ruler of Galilee and vassal to the Roman Emperor. Collecting taxes for Herod meant indirectly supporting the foreign occupation of Galilee. Matthew’s fellow citizens would have considered him a defender of Rome, a traitor to his own Jewish people, and a sworn enemy. In fact, the Pharisees even lumped tax-collectors in with public sinners. Despite Matthrew’s ill-repute, Jesus called Matthew to be his loyal follower and associate in spreading the Kingdom of God to all of the nations of the world. Matthew, who was also known as Levi, left his job as a tax-collector and worked on behalf of Jesus.

 

Ancient Christian tradition identifies Matthew as the author of the Gospel of Matthew, the first gospel in the New Testament. Matthew held a leadership role in the Jewish Christian community and his gospel contains almost two hundred references to scriptures that are found in Judaism. Christian writers Ireneaus and Clement of Alexandria, both writing in the 2nd century CE, attest that Matthew concentrated his initial missionary work in Jewish villages near Jerusalem. He attempted to convince his fellow Jews that the Messiah of God had arrived in the person of Jesus. He was eventually killed for his devotion to Jesus and the Christian religion, but there is disagreement among ancient traditions regarding the exact details of his death.

 

James (of Alphaeus)

St. James the Minor, by Peter Paul Rubens, 1612-13, Source: Museo del Prado, Madrid

 

James, the son of Alphaeus, was a close relative of Jesus and the brother of the disciple Thaddaeus. He is also known as James the Less or James the Minor to contrast him with the other disciple named James, who is one of the Zebedee brothers and sometimes called James the Greater or James the Elder. Historians have speculated that James the Less was given his nickname because he was younger or shorter than the other James. The New Testament does not provide many details about James the Less prior to the crucifixion of Jesus. However, it does indicate that he encountered Jesus after his resurrection and that he held a high position of authority among the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem.

 

Extra-biblical documents provide some more clues about the personality and activity of James. According to Eusebius, a 2nd century CE Jewish Christian writer named Hegesippus the Nazarene was well versed concerning James. Hegesippus declared the disciple to be a holy and ascetic individual and, since the time of Jesus, he had been called James the Just. Hegesippus goes on to explain that James gained many Jewish converts to Christianity in Jerusalem, but this caused great anger among some of the religious authorities of Judaism.

 

The Sanhedrin captured James and ordered him to renounce his faith in Jesus. When he refused, James was stoned and then beaten to death with a club. Flavius Josephus of Jerusalem, a 1st century CE Jewish historian, provides a similar account of the martyrdom of James. He states that the Sanhedrin accused James of violating the laws of Judaism and condemned him to death by stoning.

 

Thaddaeus (Judas of James)

Saint Jude Thaddeus, by Georges de La Tour, 1615-1620, Source: Wikimedia Commons

 

Thaddaeus is also known as Judas of James or Judas Thaddaeus. Some early Christians probably preferred the name Thaddaeus, or even Jude, over Judas because another disciple named Judas (Iscariot) notoriously betrayed Jesus. Thaddeus only speaks one time in the New Testament. The night before Jesus died, Thaddaeus asked him how he would reveal himself to the disciples in the future. Jesus instructed Thaddaeus and the other disciples that strictly following his command to love God and all people would result in an indwelling of his presence in their minds and hearts.

 

An ancient Christian tradition holds that Thaddaeus went to the lands in and around Persia (modern-day Iran) to make new disciples of Jesus and that he was later martyred there. The Passion of Simon and Jude, an apocryphal story from the 4th or 5th century CE, contains details that fall in line with this tradition. In the story, Thaddaeus does go to the Parthian Empire

 

and the surrounding areas, including Babylonia (present-day Iraq), to perform many healings, exorcisms, and baptisms. He convinces many people living in the city of Babylon to follow the teachings of Jesus and, as a result, establishes a thriving Christian community in the area. Priests of the local religion demanded that Thaddaeus stop his missionary work, recant his loyalty to Jesus, and worship their sun and moon gods. Thaddaeus refused to give into their demands and was subsequently killed by the priests.

 

Simon (the Cananaean or the Zealot)

St. Simon, by Peter Paul Rubens, c. 1611, Source: Museo del Prado, Madrid

 

Simon’s name is attached to the nickname “the Cananaean” or “the Zealot” in lists of the Twelve Disciples in the New Testament as a way to distinguish him from the disciple Peter, who was also known as Simon. The name Cananaean is most likely derived from a Hebrew term that means “zealot.” Perhaps Jesus gave Simon this name because he had genuine zeal for the laws and teachings of Judaism and the Kingdom of God. Simon may have also been a member of the Jewish sect called the Zealots, which was a religious and political movement seeking to overthrow the Roman officials and permanently expel them from Jerusalem and the nearby regions.

 

There are no 2nd or 3rd century CE sources that provide precise details regarding the missionary activity of Simon. An array of later sources do assert that Simon, like the other disciples, preached the message of Jesus and for that he was martyred. However, there are far too many conflicting traditions to know for certain where he preached and where he was killed. Egypt, Britain, and Persia are some of the places mentioned concerning Simon’s missionary activity. The Passion of Simon and Jude narrates the story that Simon joined Jude (Thaddaeus) on his missionary activity in Persia (the Parthian Empire) and that the two Christians were martyred there together. Armenian and Christian historian Movses Khorenatsi, writing in the 5th century CE, maintains that Simon died north of the Parthian Empire in Caucasian Iberia.

 

Judas Iscariot 

The Betrayal of Christ, by Caravaggio, c. 1603, Source: Wikimedia Commons

 

Judas Iscariot is notoriously known for his horrifying and abominable betrayal of Jesus, which led to the latter’s torture, crucifixion, and death. The Christian Bible makes no mention of where and how Jesus called Judas to be one of his disciples. The name Judas is usually qualified with his surname in order to distinguish him from the other disciple named Judas (Thaddaeus). The name Iscariot is derived from a Hebrew word that means “man from Kerioth.” Judas, therefore, was probably from this village, which was located close to Jerusalem in the region of Judea. He is also never mentioned in the New Testament without some accompanying allusion to his betrayal of Jesus.

 

Judas was a greedy, traitorous, and evil individual. He had the role of treasurer among the disciples, for he was in charge of the money box that contained funds for common expenses and the poor. Judas stole from the money box for his own selfish purposes. He also betrayed Jesus for 30 pieces of silver. He conspired with some of the leaders of Judaism, who were significantly hostile to Jesus and his religious teachings. The unholy alliance settled on the time and place of the betrayal. In Jerusalem’s Garden of Gethsemane, Judas identified Jesus to the arresting and armed mob by greeting him with a seemingly friendly kiss.

 

Afterward, Judas did appear to express some regret for betraying his religious teacher. He returned the blood money to his fellow conspirators. However, Judas did not seek out Jesus to repent, which led him to fall into despair and commit suicide by hanging.

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By Matthew GrantMTS (Theology), BA Education, BA (Hons) History Matthew has been a teacher in good-standing with the Ontario College of Teachers in Canada since 2010. He is a formally trained theologian who has extensive knowledge regarding the history, theology, and spirituality of Christianity in general and Catholicism in particular. He is currently working as a freelancer, offering his clients research, writing, editing, proofreading, and teaching services.