Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
The name “Thomas” has become a proverb in Church history. We call him “Doubting Thomas,” as if he were the only believer ever to doubt. This judgment is much too harsh, but Thomas did make errors we need to avoid.
John 20:24 (Holman) But one of the Twelve, Thomas (called “Twin”), was not with them when Jesus came.
Thomas (Hebrew) and Didymus (Greek) meant twin. This disciple was not present when the others assembled on the Sunday night after the crucifixion. He was absent probably due to heartbreak and embarrassment.
Not long before Passion Week, Jesus had decided to return to Judea to heal Lazarus despite warnings that the religious leaders wanted to stone Him. When the disciples could not keep Jesus from returning to Judea, Thomas boldly said, “Let’s go so that we may die with Him” (John 11:16). But later, in the moment of truth, Thomas broke and fled like the other disciples.
Jesus’ death was what Thomas had said he expected, but he was shocked at his own reaction to the crucifiction. He had openly told all the Apostles he was willing to die with Jesus, but he had not stayed true. Once the fateful event arrived, Thomas ran away. He miserably failed.
When Judas failed, he went out and hanged himself. When Peter failed, he went out and wept bitterly. When Thomas failed, he went out and hid himself. He wanted to grieve alone.
Ashamed, brokenhearted, and unable to look the other Apostles in the eye, the twin simply wanted to be left alone with his grief. The death of Jesus, combined with his own failure, meant the total extinction of hope.
Sorrow and depression always have an isolating effect. Thus, when sad, depressed Thomas heard the disciples were assembling, he stayed away. He did not have the heart to go. It was a costly absence.
His withdrawal from Christian fellowship was a disastrous mistake. His absence caused him to miss the one thing that could have made him feel better. When Jesus came in love, power, and forgiveness, Thomas missed it all.
We always miss a lot when we separate ourselves from the fellowship of believers. Never underestimate the importance of our “not staying away from our meetings” (Hebrews 10:25). Our spiritual health depends on regular, habitual interaction with God’s people. Even John the Baptist, after being separated from fellowship with other believers awhile, began to doubt.
Special things happen when God’s people come together to worship the Lord. Jesus is with us always (Matthew 28:20), but He is among His followers in extraordinary ways when we gather corporately.
Sorrow and depression make us want to be alone. The Evil One, using this instinct to our disadvantage, desperately tries to reinforce this tendency toward isolation. Satan wants to keep us away from other believers. Don’t be fooled. When we want to be in church the least is the very time we need it the most.
Our burdens are lightened through contact with others. Unburdened believers can help us bear our load. It is also a spiritual law, one which defies explanation, that two burdened people can help each other and thereby make their combined total weight much lighter.
In addition to fellowship, sermons and songs help cheer us. The sermon or songs we miss may contain the precious word from God our soul needs. One thing is sure: a preacher’s words and a singer’s songs do not edify pews. Timber and cushions are not blessed by a hug or fellowship. Every empty seat has its own discouraging eloquence, “Someone who needed to be here is absent.”
For your spiritual health, establish the habit of regular church attendance. Do not decide each Sunday and Wednesday whether or not you will attend church. Make this decision once for all time, and then abide by it as long as you live.
Determine never to be a “Missing Thomas.” This decision will be good mental and spiritual therapy for us for a lifetime.
John 20:25 So the other disciples kept telling him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he said to them, “If I don’t see the mark of the nails in His hands, put my finger into the mark of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will never believe!”
These words of a devastated man were Thomas’ way of saying, “I won’t be taken in again: I will not love any more.” His reply is significant. Obsessed with Jesus’ death, he can think only of gaping wounds, nail prints, and spear points.
Actually, Thomas showed no less faith than most of the Apostles did when they heard the ladies’ report. His worst error was the defiant tone of his words.
His pessimism was downright belligerent, bordering on tempting God. We are in no way ever to dictate to God. We must never lay down conditions for God to meet. We are to come up to His expectations.
Thomas was determined not to make any decision based on faith again. He will instead walk only by sight from now on. Thomas was carrying his faith at his finger’ ends, trusting no farther than his hand could reach. He refused to believe the ten Apostles, choosing instead to put his faith in ten fingers.
Despite Thomas’ hardheadedness, there are bright spots in this incident. He did not lie. Thomas refused to say he believed something he did not believe. He did not pretend he had no doubts. He wouldn’t rattle off a creed while hiding inner doubts. Thomas wanted to be sure. He asked for no more evidence than the other Apostles had received. He was honest – a bit too brash – but still honest.
Be an “Honest Thomas.” Deal with your doubts. Work them out, but in the process, do not become a “Demanding Thomas.” Make our words gentle. Avoid harshness. Thomas was wrong in laying restrictions on God. The twin wanted things his way, not God’s way. May we all learn to pray, “God, make me ready to receive You on Your terms.”
John 20:26a After eight days His disciples were indoors again, and Thomas was with them.
Jesus did not appear to the disciples again for a week. He was weaning them from His bodily presence.
Thomas was not apostate. He had been absent, but could not remain an absentee. His presence spoke well for the Apostles. Though Thomas had been absent and defiant, the others had not treated him as a derelict, or ostracized him. They treated him as a wounded comrade, not as a despised enemy. They sought to help him, and tried to strengthen him. Always have a soft heart for Christ’s wayward sheep.
This must have been a miserable week for Thomas. Thomas was depressed while all around him were ecstatic. He agonized with doubt while the others were celebrating. Nothing is more irritating to a sad person than a happy person.
John 20:26b-27 . . . Even though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them. He said, “Peace to you!” Then He said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and observe My hands. Reach out your hand and put it into My side. Don’t be an unbeliever, but a believer.”
Jesus immediately singled out Thomas. Reproof would be unnecessary. The doubter would be melted, not insulted. There is no surer way to humble a man than to repeat, when he has been proven wrong, what he said when upset.
It must have terribly embarrassed Thomas to hear his own challenge repeated back to him by Jesus. It was obvious that Jesus, though invisible, had been present when Thomas had made his rash remarks.
Notice Jesus’ love. He had heard with his own ears the objectionable and obnoxious tone of Thomas, yet condescended to grant the Apostle’s test. Jesus offered to let Thomas do anything he needed to do to strengthen his faith. Jesus extends the same grace to us.