The life, testimony, ministry, and teachings of one Jesus from Nazareth
As we go through John’s account of events after the resurrection, one of the characters that stands out is the disciple Thomas. Remember…he’s the one who refused to believe the resurrection unless he was able to put his hands in Jesus’ nail holes and side. Because of this, Thomas has been dubbed “Doubting Thomas” and given a negative connotation. However, was Thomas’ lack of faith really unjustified? Does he really deserve the bad rap he’s been given?
John is the only gospel writer who shares Thomas’ story with us, so if it were not for the Apostle John—who outlived all the other disciples—Thomas’ moment of infamy would never be known. However, John included this incident not to put Thomas down, but to further emphasize the point and purpose of this gospel. Thus in the latter part of chapter twenty, John writes:
“Now Thomas, one of the Twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord.’ But he said to them, ‘Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.’ Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.’ Thomas answered him, ‘My Lord and my God!’"
The story starts out with Thomas absent when Jesus first appeared to the disciples. What an event to miss! However, Jesus knew that Thomas would not be present when He first visited the disciples, and that was all part of His plan. So Thomas, missing the big reveal, rejoins the group and finds the disciples talking about how they had seen the risen Lord. And for some reason, Thomas can’t wrap his head around their story. Thus he declares that until he sees and touches Jesus he will never believe. It is because of this strong statement that Thomas has been labeled “Doubting Thomas”.
However, was his requirement unreasonable? I think not. John tells us early in this chapter that Jesus had showed the other disciples His hands and side when He first appeared to them, and that it was because of this that they believed. So why couldn’t Thomas insist upon seeing the same thing? Something as supernatural and crazy sounding as the resurrection would have been hard for one in the midst of grief to wrap their mind around, so Thomas’ request for proof seems valid. He didn’t want to just blindly believe what the others were telling him, he wanted to see and experience the risen Lord. And I think this is a very healthy attitude to have.
It is so easy to become deceived by the smooth talking and charisma of others, so we can’t just blindly follow their testimony and speech. In his first epistle, the Apostle John warns us to test all things to see whether they are from God. So Thomas’ moment of doubt could actually be considered a moment of wisdom. But since the disciples’ testimony of the risen Lord was true, Thomas was the one who stood on the wrong side of truth. However, Jesus was eager to reveal Himself to the one who had reservations. Thomas had outlined what it would take for Him to believe, and Jesus fulfilled it. He came to the disciples and told Thomas to touch the scars and see and believe.
Likewise, Jesus wants us to believe also. He doesn’t want to be shrouded in a cloud of mystery, but rather desires to be seen, experienced, and alive in our lives. And we all need to personally experience Jesus. It won’t be in the physical sense like it was for Thomas, but we all need to “see”, in the spiritual sense, the risen Christ—see that He is alive in the people who are called by His name, through the pages of His word, or the working of His Spirit. We can believe that Jesus died on the cross and is the Son of God, but unless we know and have seen the risen Lord our faith will be weak. Thomas believed that Jesus was the promised Messiah, so he had some faith. And he knew that Jesus had died on a cross, but his faith was too weak to believe that his beloved Lord was still alive. Why? Because Thomas had yet to experience personally the resurrected Christ. The witness and personal testimony that Christ is alive is the foundation and food to our faith; without it we will not stand. We cannot rely on the experience and belief of our parents or grandparents, pastors or teachers, but must know and “see” that Jesus is alive for ourselves.
So the question is…have YOU “seen”, in the spiritual sense, and personally experienced the risen Lord? Do you blindly believe all that you’re told, or do require proof? Are you riding and relying on your parents’ or grandparents’ personal experience to give feet to your faith? Do you desire and seek after a personal experience and relationship with the One who is alive? And has He answered that prayer and desire to know Him yet? If so, what is your response?
Thomas concluded his infamous moment in history with, “My Lord and my God!” He believed and then surrendered. Surrendered his unbelief, his life, his everything. According to tradition, Thomas eventually traveled to India where he shared the gospel and was ultimately martyred in the 1st century. So despite his moment of weakness, Thomas was a great man of faith and soldier of the cross, and what gave him the desire to take the gospel to the far ends of the known world and the strength to sacrifice his life for it was his personal experience of the power and glory of the risen Lord. May this be our testimony! And while we are not able to physically see Jesus as Thomas did, our experience and testimony of an unseen, supposedly dead God has even more power. So take heart, seek the risen Lord, and believe, for
“Jesus said to him, ‘Have you believed because you have seen me?
Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.’”