Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. 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.” 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!” 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.” Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!” Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
Mary responded to the angels in the tomb by saying, “‘They have taken my Lord away and I don’t know where they have put him.’ At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus” (vv. 13-14).
After a brief question and answer session between Jesus and Mary, “Jesus said to her, ‘Mary’” (vv. 15-16). Her eyes were immediately opened, and she knew it was the Lord standing before her.
“Jesus said, ‘Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.”’ Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: ‘I have seen the Lord!’ And she told them that he had said these things to her” (vv. 17-18).
Later that evening, while the disciples were sheltering-in-place behind locked doors “for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you!’ After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. [And] the disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord” (vv. 19-20).
But the information that is not shared in the verses about Jesus appearing to the disciples is that Thomas was not with them when the appearance took place.
Thomas, “also known as Didymus,” was one of the Twelve Disciples (v. 24). The name Thomas is actually translated from the Aramaic and Hebrew words “meaning ‘twin.’”1 “In the Gospel of John [as we see in verse 24], he is specified…as ‘Thomas who is called Didymus’ meaning ‘Thomas the Twin.’”2 “It is not clear whether [Thomas] was a proper name or a nickname.”3 It could have been that his first name was actually Judas and in order to keep him and Judas Iscariot apart, Thomas became his nickname for clarity.
In addition to telling us his name, verse 24 also fills us in on the fact that Thomas was not with the other disciples when Jesus first appeared to them. The other disciples told him about what he had missed, “We have seen the Lord!” (v. 25a). To which Thomas responded much like many of us would, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my fingers where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe” (v. 25b).
It was this initial refusal to believe in Jesus’ resurrection that led to Thomas’s final nickname of Doubting Thomas.
Now, before we come down too hard on Thomas, we need to remember the disciples’ first reaction to the news that Mary Magdalene and the other women brought to them that very same morning.
John 20:2 tells us that the women, after finding the empty tomb, ran to tell the disciples. Peter and John ran to see the tomb for themselves, and while they believed the tomb was in fact empty after seeing it for themselves, they still did not understand and believe that Jesus had risen from the dead. That is what led them to return back home and lock their doors for their safety.
Then after Mary Magdalene physically saw the resurrected Savior, she returned to the disciples an told them. But obviously, they still didn’t believe it until Jesus appeared to them himself. It wasn’t until after they saw Jesus for themselves, saw the holes in his hands and side, that they believed.
So, while Thomas was tagged with the nickname, Doubting Thomas, it was actually the Doubting Disciples. It is likely due to his blatant initial refusal to believe what the disciples tell him about Jesus appearing to them that Thomas received five verses devoted solely to Jesus appearing to him.
Thomas makes it very clear what it will take for him to believe that Jesus is resurrected. “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” (v. 25b). He wanted “concrete evidence” and “tangible proof of the resurrection.”4 He wanted what Jesus had already given to the other disciples in his first appearance to them.
“Thomas’s demands set the stage for Jesus’ appearance in these [next] verses” – verse 26-29.
A week after Jesus’ first appearance to the disciples, the “disciples were in the house again, and Thomas with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them” (v. 26).
He greeted them with the same greeting as before, “Peace be with you!” (v. 26).
After that he turned his attention to Thomas.
It was as if it were only Thomas and Jesus in the room. While the room was filled with others, Jesus wanted an intimate moment with Thomas. Does this sound familiar?
Just as Jesus had taken an intimate moment with Mary when she poured the pure nard over his feet, Jesus takes an intimate moment now with Thomas. The rest of the room disappeared, and Jesus focused solely on Thomas. It didn’t matter to Christ how many people were watching. This moment was to solidify Thomas’s faith in Christ.
And “Jesus offers to give Thomas exactly what he demanded.”5
“He said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side” (v. 27). Jesus almost quotes, verbatim, Thomas’s demands given in verse 25. And although Jesus tells Thomas to touch the wounds, Thomas did not actually place his finger or hands into any of the holes in Jesus’ hands or side. Seeing and hearing Jesus was enough for Thomas to make his pronouncement…“My Lord and my God!” (v. 28).
Prior to Thomas’s profession of faith, Jesus told him to “stop doubting and believe” and then after Thomas’s profession, Jesus tells him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (vv. 27 & 29).
Thomas had moved from unbelief to belief. But Christ had not focused on Thomas’s doubt – his unbelief…Christ had focused all he said and did on the grounds of leading Thomas to faith.
Jesus could have easily chastised Thomas for his unbelief. He could have ripped into Thomas for becoming a believer after physically seeing Jesus’ wounds. He could have reprimanded Thomas for not remembering what Jesus had previously told the disciples about his death and resurrection. But Jesus was not going to tear Thomas down for not believing. Instead, Jesus did what was needed to move Thomas from having doubt to having faith.
Sure. Thomas had made his demands about what he needed to believe in Christ’s resurrection, but it was Christ who came to Thomas in order to bring Thomas from doubt to faith.
Christ made the “offer of himself as the motivation for Thomas’s move from unbelief to belief.”6 “It [was] not touching Jesus that [led] Thomas to [his] confession of faith, but Jesus’ gracious offer of himself.”7
Jesus gave Thomas what he needed to have faith in Christ. Just as he gave the woman at the well what she needed to accept the living water. Just as he gave Zacchaeus what he needed to see he had been cheating people and stealing from them. Just as he gave Mary Magdalene what she needed to be healed of the seven demons. Jesus came to Thomas just as he had come to so many others to help them move from unbelief to belief.
Yet, Christ knew that once he made his ascension to the Father, that that would be last of the people on earth physically seeing him. He wanted the disciples to understand that while their faith in him was great, that those who would place their faith in him without having physically seen him would be considered “blessed” (v. 29).
When he said those words in verse 29, “blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed,” he was referring to all future believers. He was referring to us.
We do not have the luxury of calling Jesus on the phone, the ability to send him a text, the joy of seeing billboards where Jesus is announcing his next plan for our lives. We didn’t get an email from Christ before the pandemic began telling us what was coming or how to prepare for it. And he hasn’t dropped a letter in the mail telling us how to survive what we’re going through. That isn’t how it works, unfortunately.
Physically receiving Jesus’ guidance and words was how the disciples gained their faith. But that isn’t how faith works in our lives.
Our faith is dependent upon believing in what is unseen. Our faith is based on trusting God, his actions, and his promises given to us in the Bible. Our faith is based on our acceptance of conviction brought to us through the Holy Spirit. Our faith is not based on reason, but on conviction.
I have no doubt that through the last few weeks, your faith has probably wavered. There have been periods of doubt and questioning. There have been times when you’ve wondered if Christ is even listening to you…hearing your prayers. Times of wondering if the Lord even cares what is happening on the earth.
We see through the example of Thomas’s response to the news of the other disciples seeing the risen Christ, that our responses are not unusual. It doesn’t surprise Jesus one bit that we have questioned him and doubted his interactions in our lives the last month. It hasn’t made him mad that we have doubted him and his plans. It hasn’t made him mad that we have wondered if he is hearing our prayers. You haven’t run the Holy Spirit off with your despair.
Quite the opposite actually.
Christ is waiting for the right time to appear to you and answer your questions. The Holy Spirit is waiting for the time when you are actually ready to accept what he has to tell you.
Jesus didn’t immediately appear to Thomas when he made his demands. It was a week later when Jesus appeared to Thomas. It wasn’t when Thomas may have thought he needed to have affirmation. It was when Christ knew that Thomas would be receptive to Jesus. Jesus responded to Thomas’s demands when Jesus knew that Thomas would receive the words “See my hands” and then grow in faith.
I have no doubt that we have told Christ many times during this virus that we need proof that everything is going to be okay. I have no doubt that some of us have already received their reassurance from the Lord. And I have no doubt that still others of us are waiting for the words or actions we need to be affirmed that we are going to make it through this.
If you have received your reassurance already, be sure you realize and acknowledge that it was not of your own doing that you received it. Christ is due all the credit for coming to you and letting you know you are going to make it through.
And if you haven’t received that reassurance yet, be sure you realize and acknowledge that Christ will be there in his time…not yours. Just as he needed Mary Magdalene to reach the end of herself at the tomb before he made his appearance known to her, he needs you to reach the end of yourself before he makes his appearance known to you. In his time, when he knows you are truly ready to receive the word he has for you, he will make himself known to you. Until then, do not let your doubt overpower your faith. Until then, give Jesus your demands. Until then, let your faith be greater than your fears. And when the time is right, Christ will come to you as he did to Thomas and say, “See my hands. Stop doubting and believe.”
The New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, S-Z, Volume 5. “Thomas.” 582.
- The New Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. IX. “Luke, John.” 849.
- Ibid., 850.