Wednesday, March 31, 2010


You’ve probably heard this man’s name used in vain, even used it yourself, “Doubting Thomas.” This is a man whose reputation I believe has suffered from bad press. We have a caricature of this disciple in our minds: a man who refused to believe, who refused to take the leap of faith, a man who had to be confronted with the most incontrovertible evidence, a man who had to “see to believe.” He’s a sort of bad guy in the roll call of disciples.

Then there are others who would uphold Thomas as a real intellectual, the first “Christian rationalist.”

Well, what kind of person was Thomas anyway? Why on earth would Jesus choose such a man? Why does John record this incident in his gospel when the other three gospel writers didn’t? His story is told in John, chapter 20.

“But Thomas, one of the twelve, the one called Didymus (both names mean “the twin”) wasn’t with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples were telling him, ‘We’ve seen the Lord!’ But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in His hands and stick my finger into the mark of the nails and stick my hand into His side, I will not believe’” (John 20:24, 25).

Thomas was one of the disciples who had fled when Jesus was arrested in the garden. He apparently, however, had snuck back and witnessed the crucifixion. He’d seen the nails driven into Jesus’ hands and feet and the spear thrust into His side. He knew his Master had died. And now these guys were telling him they’d seen Jesus alive? If I were in Thomas’ place, I suppose I might have said the same thing.

Would the other disciples have acted any differently? Go back to that first sighting.

“When it was evening on that day, the first of the week and the doors were locked tight where the disciples were, because of fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in the middle of them and says to then, ‘Peace to you!’ And when He said this He showed them His hands and His side” (John 20:19, 20).

“And they were fearful and afraid and thought they were seeing a ghost. And He said to them, ‘Why are you troubled and why do reasonings rise up in your heart? Look at my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me and see, because a ghost doesn’t have flesh and bones as you see me having.’ And when He said this He showed them His hands and feet. And as they were still unbelieving from joy and marveling … (Luke 24:37-41).

It seems to me that Thomas was asking for no more than the other disciples had experienced. They had received indisputable evidence that Jesus had risen from the dead. Thomas wanted the same.

And the following week, Jesus gave Thomas the same opportunity as the others.

“Eight days later, His disciples were inside again and Thomas with them. Though the doors were locked tight, Jesus came and He stood in the middle of them and said, ‘Peace to you!’ Then He says to Thomas, ‘Bring your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand here and stick it into my side. Stop doubting and start believing!’” (John 20:26, 27)

There seems to be no rebuke. Jesus doesn’t say, “Thomas, how much evidence is it going to take to convince you?” No! Nor does He say (as many think He does), “Thomas, don’t worry about the evidence, just take a leap of faith.” Jesus’ concept of faith, the biblical concept, is not that of many present day pop psychologists and theologians. His challenge seems to be simply this, “You want evidence, well, here it is, standing right in front of you! Examine the evidence!”

And the challenge to stop doubting and start believing is not a rebuke either. It’s as though Jesus is saying, “You wanted proof; I gave you proof – now act on it!”

And Thomas did. We never read whether or not Thomas took the challenge to touch and no one can say dogmatically whether he did or didn’t. But I think he did – not because he needed to in order to believe. His sight confirmed to him that this was really Jesus – crucified and risen. If Thomas did reach out and touch Jesus’ wounds, he did it because Jesus told him to.

His cry, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28), is not an oath. Thomas wasn’t just blurting out God’s name as people so commonly do today. He was speaking directly to Jesus, not to no one in particular, not to God in heaven, but to this man standing right in front of him. He was confessing that Jesus is Lord and God. (Thomas is the first person to specifically call Jesus “God.”) And Thomas was making it personal – “my Lord and my God.”

“Jesus says to him, “Because you have seen me have you believed? How happy (or lucky) are those who have not seen and have believed!” (John 20:29)

At last, Thomas is a confirmed witness of the resurrected Christ – and of His deity. He has believed because he saw.

But we are those “who have not seen and have believed.” We are the “happy” or “lucky” ones. Happier than Thomas? Jesus doesn’t say that; He is not grading or comparing different faiths. It is because Thomas and the rest had to see, that we can believe their witness. We accept the testimony of trustworthy persons. Jesus didn’t pick gullible fools or superstitious religious nuts, He picked hard-headed men who asked questions, who all had to see to believe. We can trust their witness because they were convinced by the evidence they saw and touched.

The resurrection is the great proof of the person and work of Jesus Christ. Only one man ever came back from the dead permanently. His resurrection furnishes proof to the world that He is the Son of God and that He accomplished what He was sent to do!

The Bible tells no more of Thomas except that he was with the others on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 1:13). Tradition tells us that he died a martyr’s death in India. I personally know a man who grew up in a church supposedly founded by him.

Bill Ball


S.Collins said...

Thanks, Bill, for that great insight. I really am convinced God is the ultimate source of our reason and logic, and that He does not discount those who need facts to make sense in order to believe. I think you have done a great job of establishing that God is in the "reason" business as well as the "faith" business.

Bill Ball said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
mercysmith said...

Great insight and well put Bro. Bill! You andUni have a wonderful Easter!