This section on Thomas seems like it could stand alone, we often get sermons that do just that, and yet it is deeply intertwined on the basis of belief, doubt, and mercy. Thomas, it seems, is unfairly singled out, for he believed no more or less than the others. No doubt, Thomas was very open with his thoughts, that does not necessarily make you a dissenter. Historically we know that Thomas died a martyr in the service of Christ, proving his loyalty to the master.
In John’s gospel, chapter 11, verses 1-54, despite imminent danger at the hands of hostile Jews, Jesus declared His intention of going to Bethany to heal Lazarus,….
John 11:8 NASB The disciples said to Him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now seeking to stone You, and are You going there again?”
Thomas alone opposed the other disciples who sought to dissuade Him, and protested,
John 11:16 NASB Therefore Thomas, who is called Didymus, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, so that we may die with Him.”
I can understand Thomas; I relate to him easily. He sees things in black and white, this is the kind of reaction you get from someone who has experienced grief and pain. I know, I have been there.
John 20:24 NASB But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came.
I made an assumption once again. I assumed that Thomas was with them in the house. Every flannel graph I ever saw as I was growing up in church school, showed Thomas there with them. Truth is we do not know where Thomas was; perhaps he was with his own family. He does not come back into the picture for eight days.
John 20:25 NASB So the other disciples were saying to him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he said to them, “Unless I see in His hands the imprint of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.”
Thomas had not gone to the tomb; he did not hear Mary’s testimony of how Jesus appeared to her; he was not there when Jesus appeared in the closed room with them, and showed them the wounds in his wrists and feet.
John left off the part where none of them believed upon seeing the wounds, wounds that the people in that room knew would have been there, and they failed to mention that when Jesus spoke to them about all the things written about Him in scripture, things He had previously told them about Himself, still did not convince them. It was only after he asked for and ate some broiled fish that their eyes were open and they believed.
There is that word again, believe.
How many times now, in this twentieth chapter have we seen this concept?
What did they believe this time?
John 20:26 NASB After eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors having been shut, and stood in their midst and said, “Peace be with you.”
Eight days after the first appearance of Jesus He appears again.
Again there is a significance and I missed it. Truthfully I am not getting it fully but here is what I am picking up on. While the death of Jesus put them into a depression, and sent everyone back to whatever they had known so that they could continue living. The disciples still had one common bond, and that was to meet together on the first day, Sunday. In that house, a place they have been so many times, they ate together, talked about what they saw and heard Jesus say that day; they talked about what was to become our life in Christ, and they bonded with each other. Do we see that directly by our casual glances at God’s word? NO! We have to pay attention to details.
Apparently life was permitted to get in the way at times and that may be what we saw with Thomas. Jesus death was certainly a life event and none of us knows how deeply it affected Thomas.
(If you read this, thinking it’s farcical conjecture, then I ask you to think about almost every event that centers on Jesus as you read the gospels. Where were they when these things took place? Jerusalem, near or in the temple or synagogues, or in the court-yard that women and gentiles had access to. The Sabbath is over and they are allowed to travel beyond the distance limit that Jewish law prescribed. And the fact that Sabbath ended at sunset making it the perfect time to recap a days events. This kind of thought opens all kinds of doors for speculation about how they lived their lives. They may have fished throughout the week and made the migration into Jerusalem before Sabbath began, making base camp at “the house”. Can you imagine what it would be like to spend even 24 hours in the presence of Jesus one day a week. I want so badly to say my life would be changed, but then the thought occurs to me, He lives in me!)
John MacArthur’s commentary says this about Thomas, and I agree with his conclusion. “Thomas has already been portrayed as loyal, but pessimistic. Jesus did not rebuke Thomas for his failure, but instead compassionately offered him proof of His resurrection. Jesus lovingly met him at the point of his weakness (2Timothy_2:13). Thomas’ actions indicated that Jesus had to convince the disciples rather forcefully of His resurrection, i.e., they were not gullible people predisposed to believing in resurrection. The point is they would not have fabricated it or hallucinated it, since they were so reluctant to believe, even with the evidence they could see.”
I am always battling past the voices in my head that try to tell me, “You have said enough already. No one needs to hear your rambling on anymore!” I could not tell you distinctly what a demon voice sounds like. (Well, there was that once when I was a child and I heard this distorted voice come out of a beautiful woman that the “men” of the church were praying over in an attempt to release her from demon possession. She sounded like some of those creepy voices they make up in the movies; you know the ones that make you lose sleep for weeks, as she said with a cackle, I know who you are.) Most of the time they are familiar voices; the same ones that sound like an old supervisor, your dad, your mom, an ex-wife; probably the same ones that told you cannot do it, make it, or succeed.) See, you are not so different from me. And we, are not so different from the disciples.
The next two passages really need no great discussion, for we have seen this, almost word for word when Jesus appeared in the closed room eight days earlier.
John 20:27-28 NASB Then He *said to Thomas, “Reach here with your finger, and see My hands; and reach here your hand and put it into My side; and do not be unbelieving, but believing.” (28) Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!”
I will give Thomas this. At this gesture he believed. The rest of them had to sit through a foundational study given Jesus himself, and still could not believe. It was not until Jesus proved he was not a ghost by eating some fish, that they believed. Thomas bypassed two steps in his ascent to faith.
Perhaps we make the assumption that Thomas’ statement was literal, and that he shoved his hands into the hole in Jesus side. Just the thought of that is disgusting. You ought to understand by now that Thomas was “Mr. Brash Statement” guy himself. Jesus, disgusted by the disciples lack of understanding, told the guys they were going to raise Lazarus from the dead. Thomas responds to all this with, “let’s go to Jerusalem and die with him.” Everyone understood what he meant, and the possibilities were real. If that was to be their fate that day, it would have happened. But do you think Jesus was going to allow anything outside of the Father’s will to happen?
John 20:29 NASB Jesus *said to him, “Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed.”
I do not know if it is the emphasis that a preacher puts on this passage, but I cannot remember a time that it ever came across as a positive for Thomas.
Think about what John has shown us by word pictures. Jesus showed up in a closed room. Gives a common greeting of peace, and begins multiple attempts at proofs necessary for bringing them back to a foundation of belief. With Thomas, Jesus does the same thing, but does not have to go through every step, and Thomas believes. The other disciples, and those with them, DID NOT BELIEVE, and took so much more convincing.
(It may have been necessary, because the believer that has poured over scripture has seen that this foundation is rehashed many times in scripture, and is foundational to our belief as well. This may have been purposefully done this way as a way of establishing these concepts in them. I am glad they did.)
So, who believe without seeing could be directed at us. We only have the words on a page, and images those words build within us. Not seeing this Jesus, but trusting His words, I believe.
Perhaps it all boils down to this:
John 20:31 MSG These are written down so you will believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and in the act of believing, have real and eternal life in the way he personally revealed it.
If there was a person that could sell this to us, it would be John.
He had to work through all the unbelief and doubt,
He had to conquer his anger and rage,
He had to learn what love really was.
When you think about all the years of mellowing that God put him through, initiating him into manhood, it is easier to see more clearly what happened this day, as John did.