John 20:24 Now Thomas (also known as Didymus ), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”
But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”
26 A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”
28 Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”
29 Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
I confess that Thomas is one of Jesus’ disciples whom I admire most. John’s gospel portrays him as a hard-headed, practical and honest man. When Jesus had said that he was committed to going up to Jerusalem, into the angry heart of Jewish opposition, Thomas grasps what’s going on and says to the rest of the disciples, “Let’s go too, so that we may die with him” (Jn 11:16).
At the Last Supper, Jesus tells his disciples that he is going to his Father to prepare a place for them, concluding by saying, “And you know the way to the place where I am going.” Thomas replied, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” (Jn 14:5-6). It’s as if he’s saying, “Just give it to us straight and clear.” He is a realist; a practical, ‘don’t beat around the bush’ kind of guy. And that’s why he’s a good man to see interacting with the resurrected Jesus.
The first thing that Thomas does when he hears about the resurrection of Jesus is take the position of a fair-minded skeptic. He effectively says, “If you want me to believe this, you’re going to have to give me good grounds for belief.” Mary and some women, others of the Twelve and the community of Jesus’ followers, are reporting that they have seen Jesus himself. Thomas wants to verify that these experiences are not dreams or hallucinations. Further, he wants to verify it actually is the very same Jesus who was brutally executed on the cross, and that it is physically him— resurrected in bodily humanity. So he declares his threshold for evidence: he must see the nail marks in his hands and feel the spear wound in his side (v25).
I am grateful for Thomas. If a man has come back from the dead, I want it verified. There must be reasonable grounds for belief; hard evidence. He already had secondary evidence— the testimony of several others of the Jesus community, whom he knew and trusted. But he wanted primary evidence.
So when Jesus again enters the locked room where Jesus’ disciples are meeting, he offers himself to Thomas as evidence of the first order. And he pairs this with a call to set aside doubt and believe.
When Thomas replies, “My Lord and my God!” (v28) we hear his conclusion— although we’re not told whether he did poke his hand into the wound in Jesus’ side or the scars in his hands. Instead we learn that he had the courage to move from skepticism to belief. He changed from Doubting Thomas to Believing Thomas.
And Thomas’ belief is a fully Christian belief. He already believed a lot of other things (good things) about Jesus. A good man? Yes. A worker of miracles? Yes. A prophet and a teacher? Sure. But now Thomas moves to a genuinely Christian belief: “You are my Lord and my God.” He now affirms and declares that Jesus is fully divine, and therefore possessing all authority. Even Satan knows that Jesus is divine but he opposes his rule. Contrastingly, Thomas’ fully Christian belief embraces Jesus as both God and Lord– the Ruler with complete personal authority in his life.
Have you ever wondered what happened to Thomas? The New Testament records that Thomas remained active with the other apostles for the early part of the book of Acts, but after that there is no mention of him. What did he do next? Some documents of the early church tell us that Thomas left Jerusalem for the East, likely traveling as far as India. There is good evidence that, all along the western coast of India, he continued to testify to Jesus and established there a small but robust Christian church. But opposition arose, and eventually Thomas was martyred for his faith*.
So Thomas is the apostle for the contemporary evidentialist. He becomes fully convinced of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, makes the first fully Christian confession of Jesus’ Lordship and Divinity, and then gives his life to declaring this truth to the ends of the earth.
My Lord and my God, please enrich my faith and grant me courage so that– well convinced of your gospel– I might declare this truth to the ends of the earth (or wherever you might direct me to go!). Amen.
*(C.L. Blomberg, “Thomas”, International Standard Bible Encyclopedia Ed. Bromiley (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1988) Vol IV, 842; J.L. Gonzalez, The Story of Christianity Vol 1 (San Francisco: Harper, 1984) 29-30.)