What Happened to the Disciples?
Peter, James, John and the others. What happened to them after the ressurrection?

Doreen asks: What happened to each of the disciples after the resurrection? I am a brand new adult Sunday school teacher and have very little knowledge and don't know what resources are out there for me. Thank you.
Question about A General Question: Biblical history
Motivation - Student: Doing research; Student: Class discussion
Bible view - The Word of God - [question 100, Tuesday, 08-May-2012]

The List of Disicples

Doreen asks 'What happened to each of Jesus' disciples after the resurrection?' The first order of business is to list each of the disciples by name. This seems easy, but there are several twists. The list below from Luke 6 is straight-forward:

And when it was day, he called unto him his disciples: and of them he chose twelve, whom also he named apostles; Simon, (whom he also named Peter,) and Andrew his brother, James and John, Philip and Bartholomew, Matthew and Thomas, James the son of Alphaeus, and Simon called Zelotes, And Judas the brother of James, and Judas Iscariot, which also was the traitor.
- Luke 6:13 [KJV]

but one must be careful to be precise. There are two disciples named James, one the brother of John and one the son of Alphaeus. The latter is usually called James the Less. There is possible confusion between Simon Peter and Simon called Zelotes, so the former is called Peter and the latter Simon. Finally, there are two disciples named Judas: the brother of James and Judas Iscariot.

last supper
Artist rendition of Jesus and His disciples at the Last Supper

But what about Judas Iscariot? He was the man who betrayed Jesus and soon thereafter killed himself (Matthew 27:5, Acts 1:18). He was not present after the resurrection, so it is tempting to shorten the list of disciples immediately to eleven. But this is not consistent with Scripture, as was quickly noted by the remaining disciples in Acts 1:20. In this passage the disciples refer to verses in Psalms 69 and 109 that indicate another person was to take the place of Judas Iscariot. So they prayed earnestly to God for a replacement. Then, drawing lots, they chose a man named Matthias as the new twelfth disciple.

Even though the eleven disciples were sincere, even though they had Bible verses to back up their actions, and even though they used a popular method for determining God's will (drawing lots), the selection of Matthias was evidently not what God had in mind. Matthias is mentioned by name only once, and he is never mentioned again. It is clear from the narrative that follows in the book of Acts that God selected a man named Saul of Tarsus (later named Paul) as the replacement for Judas Iscariot, not Matthias. We should learn from this account that casting lots is not condoned in the New Testament as a reliable method for determining God's will and, more generally, we should learn that, even with best intentions and diligent Bible study, it is not always possible to precisely determine God's will in a particular matter. This is made clear in the verse from Isaiah:

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD.
- Isaiah 55:8 [KJV]

Instead of trying to out-guess God, the Bible encourages us to trust God, placing our life in His hands, knowing He is in control of every situation. He always wants what is best for those who trust Him, because He loves us. Even more, He loves those who do not trust Him, and provides grace to help in time of need.

The list of disciples is then:

  • Peter
  • Andrew
  • James
  • John
  • Philip
  • Bartholomew
  • Matthew
  • Thomas
  • James the Less
  • Simon Zelotes
  • Judas
  • Paul

Careful comparisons of biblical texts show variability in the names of the disciples. Nevertheless, the list above is accurate and complete. It is better to refer to the twelve disciples as apostles, because the word disciple applies to anyone who follows Jesus in his or her heart. James and John are sometimes called the sons of Zebedee. Matthew is sometimes called Levi the publican, Bartholomew is sometimes called Nathaneal and Thomas is sometimes called Didymus. In addition, Simon (Zelotes) is sometimes called Simon the Canaanite. And Judas is called by four additional names: Jude, Thaddeus, Lebbaeus, and Judas brother of James. Whew! Further, there several arguments, some biblical, some not, that James the Less was actually a child of Jesus' mother Mary, born to her and her husband Joseph after Jesus was born. This argument is not particularly important to our current discussion, but it makes a big difference to those Bible students who believe Mary remained a virgin through her entire life!

Even with possible confusion in naming, the authority of these disciples is clear. They walked closely with Jesus and talked with Him on an everyday basis. Of the twelve, six are direct authors of the New Testament: Peter, John, Matthew, James the Less, Judas, and Paul. Only evangelist Mark and physician Luke wrote additional New Testament books.

The Early Days

The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the word of our God shall stand for ever.
- Isaiah 40:8 [KJV]

God's Word does not change. His statutes and judgements have been established in eternity past and will remain through eternity future. But the methods God uses to communicate His Word do change over time. Adam, for instance, walked with God in the Garden of Eden. Moses received God's Law engraved in stone. Today God speaks through the written Word (the Bible) as enlightened and empowered by the Holy Spirit. Theologians like to call these periods of time dispensations. After the resurrection of Jesus God's communication method moved from the dispensation of law to the dispensation of grace, precisely as predicted by the prophet Jeremiah:

But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the LORD: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the LORD: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.
- Jeremiah 31:33ff [KJV]

We see this transition in the New Testament book of Acts. Implementing this God-ordained transition was the job of the apostles.

Breakfast on the Beach - John 21 records an incident that affected the life of seven apostles: Peter, James, John, Bartholomew, Thomas, and two other apostles un-named. The resurrected Jesus had a fish breakfast with them on the shores of Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberias or Lake Gennesaret. During breakfast Jesus restores Peter after his fall at the crucifixion (John 18:27) and commissions him to feed the people of Israel spiritually. This is precisely what Peter did for the rest of his life.

Meeting in the Upper Room - Likewise all eleven apostles (the twelve without Judas Iscariot and before the appearance of Paul) were in an upper room somewhere in Jerusalem, waiting for God's direction, as Jesus had asked them to do. In addition to the eleven, there were about 100 more people who had fastened themselves to the Lord. You can read the account in Acts 1:13ff. Peter was their leader.

The Outpouring of the Holy Ghost - In an astounding event in the upper room, God Himself literally sweeps through the apostles and other believers and empowers and emboldens them to take the Gospel to the people of Israel. This happened on the Jewish holiday called Pentecost, and is recorded in Acts 2. Peter, again, speaks prominently to masses of people, and thousands respond positively to the Good News of Jesus Christ.

James and Thomas - The Bible gives some information about apostles James and Thomas. James is killed by Roman authorities (Acts 1:12), and Thomas receives Christ in the episode known popularly as Doubting Thomas (John 20:26)

The Jerusalem Council - Several of the apostles, notably Peter, James the Less, and Paul participated in an important meeting of believers in Jerusalem (Acts 15). The meeting involved the question about whether or not keeping the Jewish Law was required for Gentile (non-Jewish) believers.

The Other Apostles - Most of the other apostles, Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, James the Less, Simon Zelotes, and Judas, disappear from the pages of Scripture after the outpouring at Pentecost. They no doubt continued in the Lord's work, but detailed information about them is not provided in the Bible.

The New Testament Writers

The Bible claims that it was written by God through the hands of holy men, that is, by men set apart by God to accomplish this task. Many of the apostles participated in this important work.

For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.
- 2 Peter 1:21 [KJV]

The table below shows the books written by apostolic authors. It is, in fact, most of the New Testament.

Apostle New Testament Book(s)
Peter 1 and 2 Peter
John John, 1, 2, and 3 John, Revelation
Matthew Matthew
James the Less James
Judas Jude
Paul Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon, and (possibly) Hebrews


Peter was Jesus' right-hand man. The Roman Catholics believe that the Pope descended directly from Peter. While there is no biblical proof for this, the importance of Peter in early Christian life round and about Jerusalem cannot be underestimated. The Bible records several post-resurrection incidents in the life of Peter that reflect his prominent role.

Meetings with Paul - Peter and Paul did not always agree on everything (2 Peter 3:15), they met often to discuss their ministries and make coordinated plans for reaching people with the Good News. (Acts 9:26, Galatians 1 and 2)

Peter and Cornelius - Until this important event at the house of a man named Cornelius, the Gospel of God's Love had been extended only to Jewish people, that is, descendants of the people of national Israel. In Acts 10 the Gentile, non-Jewish people are officially included in God's kingdom. This event is a major turning point in moving from the dispensation of Law to the dispensation of grace.

Peter's Miraculous Deliverance from Prison - Acts 12 records the last biblical account of Peter. He is imprisoned and miraculously set free by God. The narrative in the book of Acts turns to the life of the apostle Paul.


The apostle John is called the disciple whom Jesus loved (John 13:23). He is the only apostle who traditionally (not biblically) died of old age. On the cross, Jesus asks John to take care of His elderly mother Mary after He is gone, and so he did. Mary moved in with John (John 19:26). He also finds himself on an island called Patmos where he writes the book of Revelation (Revelation 1:9)


The preponderance of the book of Acts records the life of the apostle Paul, formerly known as Saul of Tarsus. Paul was a zealous Jew who brutally persecuted Christians (Acts 9), but one day God changed Paul into a zealous Christian. This happened as Paul traveled toward the city of Damascus (also in Acts 9). After his conversion, Paul preached Jesus in Jerusalem and elsewhere, but then, for many years, Paul was in the Arabian desert and probably met face-to-face with Jesus for training as an apostle (Galatians 1:15ff). Paul sets out on several missionary trips, preaching the Gospel of Jesus to Gentiles (non-Jews). He is imprisoned several times and even shipwrecked (Acts 27). Without God's work through Paul, there would be no hope for non-Jewish people to participate in the Kingdom of God as described in the Bible.

A Word about Church Tradition

The treatment above gives a microscopic view of the activities of the apostles after the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It comes from the Bible as its only source.

Sometimes you hear additional information about the apostles, such as Peter being crucified up side down, John's eyes being put out, and Paul being be-headed. This information does not come from the Bible, but from church tradition. Much of it is reliable. Much of it comes from ancient sources. But, since it does not appear explicitly in the Bible, we do not discuss it on the Answers from the Book web site. There is only one Book!

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