Question: What did Paul mean when he said that he and the other Apostles were “the last appointed unto death”? Did that mean that no one else after them would ever be martyred for their faith? If so, he was wrong.
Response: Paul wasn’t 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 Cor: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 (Php 3:20-21; 1 Thess 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 Tm 4:6). Likewise, Peter wrote, “Knowing that shortly I must put off this my tabernacle…I will endeavor that ye may be able after my decease to have these things always in remembrance” (2 Pt 1:14-15). The Apostles didn’t 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 would suffer the same as He had at its hands (Jn:15:18-21); Paul implied that Christians would continue to suffer martyrdom (Rom:8:35-37) and warned that “all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution” (2 Tm 3:12). We know that has been the case throughout history, and even greater numbers of believers will be killed by Antichrist (Rv 6:9-11; 13:7, 15; 20:4). Obviously 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. Their lives would have been spared had they denied Christ. No one is fool enough to die for what he knows is a lie. The fact that not one of the disciples retracted anything to save his life is powerful evidence of the validity of the Gospels and the Book of Acts. It was thus essential that they die as martyrs, and they were the last upon whom that necessity was imposed.