I have often pondered why the Apostle Thomas would doubt that Jesus was alive and why he has become known as the “Doubting Thomas!” After all Jesus had told the disciples many times that He would not be with them for long and would die but would rise again victorious over death. To better understand this conundrum let’s look at the story of Thomas doubting that Jesus was alive.
On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked 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. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord. Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” Now Thomas (also known as Didymusa ), 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.” John 20:19-29, (New International Version or NIV).
Imagine the scene. Jesus is dead but there are reports from those who have been to the empty tomb that Jesus has risen from the dead just as He said that He would. The disciples like good soldiers of the cross are waiting for orders as to what they should do next. They may be worried that they will be killed because they were disciples of Jesus. They may be afraid as they hide out from the Jewish and Roman guards. Suddenly their Master, Jesus, appears within the room and they are overjoyed to see Him. But not all of the disciples are there, Thomas is missing and by the time Thomas returns to the group Jesus has gone from the room. Thomas doesn’t believe the others that they have seen Jesus. Why? Does he think that the disciples are lying about this to him or is there something else in the back of his mind that the Master had said a few days before His death? Does Thomas actually doubt the resurrection or is he just being cautious? Why would Thomas state that he wouldn’t believe the Lord was alive until he placed his hand in the nail pierced scars? Perhaps this next passage of scripture will give us a clue.
As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately. “Tell us,” they said, “when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” Jesus answered: “Watch out that no one deceives you. For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Messiah,’ and will deceive many. You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains. “Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.
“So when you see standing in the holy place ‘the abomination that causes desolation,’ spoken of through the prophet Daniel—let the reader understand— then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. Let no one on the housetop go down to take anything out of the house. Let no one in the field go back to get their cloak. How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! Pray that your flight will not take place in winter or on the Sabbath. For then there will be great distress, unequaled from the beginning of the world until now—and never to be equaled again. “If those days had not been cut short, no one would survive, but for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened. At that time if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Messiah!’ or, ‘There he is!’ do not believe it. For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. See, I have told you ahead of time. “So if anyone tells you, ‘There he is, out in the wilderness,’ do not go out; or, ‘Here he is, in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it. For as lightning that comes from the east is visible even in the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. Wherever there is a carcass, there the vultures will gather. Matthew 24:3:28, (NIV).
Mark recorded this passage as well but states in Mark 13 that only Peter, James, John, and Andrew were present for this teaching from Jesus. I wonder how Mark found out about this teaching as according to his account he wasn’t part of the conversation. Luke in his account in chapter 21 states pretty much the same thing that Matthew does. I think Thomas and the other disciples either heard this teaching or was told about it from Peter, James, John, or Andrew. Thomas was probably thinking about Jesus’s teachings and warnings when he entered the room and was told Jesus had just been there. I know that I would have been thinking about the end times and what they would be like after Jesus’s death and burial. Thomas probably was taking every word spoken by Jesus literally. After all hadn’t the Lord warned all of them to not believe every rumor that Jesus had come? Thomas had obviously been out and about in the streets and he hadn’t seen that the temple was destroyed. He hadn’t seen the chaos and destruction that Jesus had predicted happening. There was no war going on or rumors of war. I can imagine that he was simply being very cautious. After all Jesus had warned him to be cautious. Also the disciples were still lacking in understanding at this point because the Holy Spirit had not come upon them yet. Thomas may have still been under the impression that the Kingdom of Heaven was going to be a physical kingdom and not the spiritual kingdom that Jesus was talking about. I can imagine that if these were the thoughts of Thomas then no wonder he doubted that Jesus had appeared to the disciples.
Think how Thomas must have felt when Christ appeared again and had actually been listening to the discussion taking place and what Thomas had said. We know that Jesus heard this conversation between Thomas and the other disciples because of how Jesus responded to Thomas when reappearing. At that exact moment Thomas knew that Jesus had truly overcome death through the resurrection. What a glorious moment for him and what was his reaction? What would your reaction be? We all have had moments of doubting that Jesus is real, that God exists and that we are here to fulfill a greater purpose. We all have doubted at some point in our life. That is why the words of Jesus are so comforting to me and I want us to look at them again.
Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” Matthew 24:29, (NIV).
I am blessed because I have never seen Jesus and yet believe in Him. You are blessed because you have never seen Jesus and yet you believe in Him. We are blessed! How marvelous is that?