If all of the original disciples of Jesus stood against a wall, two of them would stand out among the rest. Unfortunately, these two disciples would stand out because they are examples used to explain what not to be as a Christian. The first and most obvious disciple would be Judas. The second, and in my estimation the undeserving disciple, would be Thomas.
Thomas, popularly called “doubting Thomas”, was a disciple who followed Jesus during His earthly ministry. There are not many references to Thomas in the gospel accounts, but the few we can read tell an important story.
The famous story of doubting Thomas occurs in John 20. On the first day of His resurrection, Jesus visited His disciples in a locked room, showing them the scars on His hands and His side. The only disciple not present was Thomas. When the others told Thomas that they had seen Jesus, he wasn’t prepared to take their word for it. He said he would only believe if he saw Jesus for himself. Eight days later, Jesus came to the disciples again in an identical fashion as before. This time, however, Thomas was with them. Wasting no time, Jesus speaks 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.’ 28 Thomas answered him, ‘My Lord and my God!’ 29 Jesus said to him, ‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.’”
Now here is where the usual lesson is drawn: we (as New Testament Christians) must not be like Thomas because he did not believe until he had seen Jesus for himself. Because we are living after Jesus’ ascension, we will not actually see Jesus until eternity, so blessed are we the few who have never seen, but believe! Does that sound right? If that is all the application we gain from this passage, we have only skimmed the surface! Notice first, that Jesus never actually rebuked Thomas. In fact, Jesus chose His words very carefully. Think about the context of this passage. Jesus has just risen from the dead and He has only a few short days before ascending back into heaven. After Jesus has finally left this earth, no one will ever again see Him as a man. Meaning, anyone born after Jesus’ ascension will have no choice but to believe in Jesus without ever actually seeing Him. So blessed are those who have not seen, yet have believed!
Regarding our own lives, have we ever actually believed something without evidence? Think about the existence of God. We don’t have to blindly believe that God exists, we can know He exists by simply looking out the window at His amazing creation! Why do we believe the Bible is the word of God? Because we have studied the Bible in detail and found that prophecies were always accurate, the scientific facts were there before even being accepted by man, and the genealogies fit perfectly into known history. So many more examples could be made but the bottom line is this: God has never asked us to believe Him on blind faith. He has always given us ample evidence! Our evidence today is simply different than the evidence given in Bible times. Now, instead of wonders and signs, we have the full, complete written word of God. No, we have not actually seen Jesus. No, we will not see Jesus until He comes again. But that doesn’t mean the disciples have an advantage over us. Our belief is based on a different kind of evidence.
Before leaving this study, an interesting fact to consider in any study of Thomas is that the word believe and Thomas intercept another time in the Bible. The first time we hear Thomas speak is in Luke 11. Jesus has just received word that His best friend Lazarus is ill. He waits two whole days after receiving the horrible news before telling His disciples that they will be traveling up to Judea where Lazarus lived. Instead of immediately obeying, the disciples begin to panic. Going to Judea would be very dangerous for Jesus because the Jews there were eager to kill Him. Jesus brushed off their fears and simply stated that Lazarus had fallen asleep, but He was going to go wake him up. This seemed ridiculous to the disciples because if someone had fallen asleep, wouldn’t they just wake up on their own? Well not exactly.
“Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that he meant taking rest in sleep. 14 Then Jesus told them plainly, ‘Lazarus has died, 15 and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.’”
Jesus wanted them to know that raising Lazarus from the dead was not going to be some sort of trick. He wasn’t expecting them to just automatically believe. He was providing them with enough evidence that they could believe in Him without any doubting. Then, Thomas speaks up for the first time:
16 “So Thomas, called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, ‘Let us also go, that we may die with him.’”
Out of all of the disciples in this passage, Thomas was the one who stood out and demanded that they go with Jesus, even to death. Oh, if every Christian could have the courage of Thomas!
From Thomas we can learn the dangers of doubting, but more importantly we can learn the importance of examining evidence. Like Thomas, we can never afford to take someone else’s word for anything. Our evidence will be different than his evidence. We will never get to see Jesus’s earthly body. In contrast, Thomas never got the opportunity to read through the Bible from cover to cover. Yet Thomas, after seeing his evidence, believed. May all of us, after seeing our evidence, also believe.
By Marissa Teske