Question: I have long wondered what Paul meant when he said that he and the other apostles were “the last appointed unto death.” Does that mean that no one else after them would ever be martyred for their faith? If so, he was wrong.
Response: Paul was not wrong when he wrote these words: “For I think that God hath set forth us the apostles last, as it were appointed to death: for we are made a spectacle unto the world, and to angels, and to men” (1 Corinthians:4:9).
Some argue that Paul and the other apostles thought that the Rapture would occur in their day. Not so. Although he taught believers to expect the Rapture at any moment (Philippians:3:20-21; 1 Thessalonians:1:9-10; Titus:2:13, etc.), Paul knew that he would be martyred before it occurred: “For I know...that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in...” (Acts:20:29): “For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand” (2 Timothy:4:6).
Likewise, Peter wrote, “Knowing that shortly I must put off this my tabernacle...I will endeavour that ye may be able after my decease to have these things always in remembrance [i.e., he was putting in writing what he had taught them orally]” (2 Peter:1:14-15). Thus we see that the apostles did not expect to be raptured but knew they must each die for their Lord.
Christ declared that His disciples in all ages would be hated by the world and suffer the same as He had at its hands (John:15:18-21); Paul implied that Christians would continue to suffer martyrdom (Romans:8:35-37), warning that “all that who will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution” (2 Timothy:3:12). We know that has been the case throughout history, and even greater numbers of believers will be killed by Antichrist (Revelation:6:9-11; 13:7,15; 10:4). Obviously, then, Paul did not mean that the apostles were the last who would be martyred for Christ. They were the last who were “appointed unto death;” i.e., who must die for Christ.
The apostles had to be martyred to provide one of the great proofs of Christ’s ministry, teaching, and resurrection. Followers of various religions have been martyred out of fanaticism or loyalty to their leaders and beliefs. The apostles, however, died not only out of love for Christ but in testimony of vital facts: Christ did heal the sick; He did raise the dead; He did walk on water, feed thousands with a few loaves and fishes, rise from the dead, etc. Their lives would have been spared had they denied Christ. No one is foolish enough to die for what he knows is a lie. Therefore, the fact that not one of the disciples, in facing martyrdom, retracted anything to save his life is powerful evidence of the validity of the four Gospels and Book of Acts. It was thus essential that they die as martyrs, and they were the last upon whom this necessity was imposed.