Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
John was the master of hidden meanings. We must follow a hidden path traced by the delicate pencil of our author, the great dramatic genius (Maclaren).
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 he did make errors which 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) mean twin. He was not present when the disciples assembled on the Sunday night after the crucifixion. He probably was not there due to heartbreak and embarrassment.
A few days earlier, Jesus decided to return to Judea to heal Lazarus despite warnings that the religious leaders wanted to stone Him. When Jesus could not be prevented from returning to Judea, Thomas boldly said, “Let’s go so that we may die with Him” (JN 11:16). In the moment of truth, Thomas broke and fled like the rest.
Jesus’ death was what Thomas expected, but he was shocked at his own reaction to the death. 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. The twin was ashamed, brokenhearted, and unable to look the other Apostles in the eye. He 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 Thomas heard the disciples were assembling, he stayed away. He did not have the heart to go. It was an absence he paid dearly for.
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. Jesus came in love, power, and forgiveness, but Thomas missed it all.
We always miss plenty when we separate ourselves from the fellowship of believers. Never underestimate the importance of our “not staying away from our meetings” (Heb. 10:25). Our spiritual health depends on regular, habitual fellowship with God’s people. Even John the Baptist, after being separated from fellowship with other believers awhile, began to doubt.
Special things happen when we come together to worship the Lord. Jesus is with us always (MT 28:20), but He is among His people in an extraordinary way 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 to isolationism. Satan wants to keep us away from the fellowship of 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. It is a spiritual law which defies explanation; two burdened people can help each other and thereby make the total weight much lighter. An unburdened person can also help us bear our load.
In addition to fellowship, sermons and songs help cheer us. The sermon 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.”
Heed your Pastor. For your own sake, 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 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 must come up to His conditions.
Thomas was determined not to make any decision based on faith. He will instead walk only by sight. Thomas carried his faith at his finger’ ends. He trusted 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 week must have been miserable for Thomas. He suffered with doubt while the others were celebrating. Nothing is more irritating to a sad person than a happy person. Thomas was depressed while all around him were ecstatic.
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 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 needful to strengthen his faith.
John 20:28 Thomas responded to Him, “My Lord and my God!”
“Loving Thomas” made a quick response. Remembering his own arrogance devastated him. The thought that Jesus had been present and heard his crude remarks overwhelmed Thomas. His stubborn spirit melted in an instant.
It was a scene worthy of Heaven itself. The massive wall of shame, embarrassment, defiance, and doubt in Thomas was washed away by a flood of Jesus’ forgiving love. Thomas could now share the ecstasy.
For eight days, Thomas had pondered the thought, “What if Jesus really is alive?” He knew exactly what it would mean, and drew the only logical conclusion.
His leap of faith was astonishing. He jumped from skepticism to an unseen world. His words remain the strongest testimony to the divinity of Jesus ever uttered. He rose to the loftiest view of Jesus found anywhere in the Gospel.
Thomas became the first to verbalize the ultimate truth about Jesus. Others had thought it before, but to Thomas belongs the honor of being the first to look into the face of Jesus and say, “My God.”
John never could forget this instant. After 60 years, the awe of the moment was still a fragrance to his soul, and he chose to make it the climax of his Gospel.
John saw the significance of it all. Once the truth expressed by Thomas was verbalized, the lives of the disciples and the history of the world could never be the same. Once spoken, it became a reality in their lives that demanded a change. Things would be different now.
In Thomas, John saw the surrender of himself and all the other disciples. Yes, Jesus is God, and we yield ourselves to His Lordship. The confession of Thomas must become the confession of us all.
John regularly saw things the others missed. Jesus said, “God is Spirit” (JN 4:24a). John saw it confirmed in Jesus’ healing of a Nobleman’s son without having to be physically present when it happened (JN 4:46 ff).
John heard Jesus say, “I am the Bread of Life” (JN 6:48), and saw it confirmed in the feeding of the 5000 (JN 6:10).
Jesus said, “I am the light of the world” (JN 9:5b). The disciple saw the claim proved in the healing of the man born blind (JN 9:7).
Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life” (JN 11:25). John saw proof in Jesus’ raising of Lazarus from the dead (JN 11:44).
Soldiers gambled for Jesus’ garment (JN 19:24). John recognized it as fulfilling an Old Testament prediction (PS 22:18).
They gave Jesus vinegar to drink (JN 19:29), as the Psalms (69:21) had predicted would happen. The soldiers did not break Jesus’ legs (JN 19:33); John saw in this that Jesus was the ultimate Passover lamb (EX 12:46). In the pierced side of Jesus (JN 19:34,37), John saw another Old Testament prediction (ZC 12:10).