“We have seen the Lord” (John 20:25)! These words must have been spoken with great excitement. Thomas had not been present when the Lord appeared to the Twelve earlier that week, the first day of the week, the very day He arose from the dead (John 20:19,24). The other ten apostles were trying throughout the week to convince Thomas of the truth of their encounter with the risen Lord. They were joyous because they had seen the risen Saviour (John 20:20). But Thomas could not bring himself to believe them. His response was as stern as it could be: “Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe” (John 20:25). No wonder many call him “doubting Thomas.”
We know a little bit more about Thomas from the references we have of him in the New Testament. For instance, we can gather from his name that he was probably a twin. The name “Thomas” is a Greek form of the Aramaic word which means “the twin.” He is also called “Didymus” (John 20:24), which also means “twin.” The identity of his twin is not revealed in scripture but some have suggested that because he is most often listed with Matthew, that he was his twin (Matt. 10:3; Luke 6:15; Mark 3:18). Other traditions say that he had a twin sister named Lydia. The truth is, we really don’t know.
While most people latch on to Thomas’ statement above and condemn him for his doubt, there is another side to this we should not fail to see. Besides, Thomas is not the only doubter amongst the Twelve. When Mary Magdalene told the apostles of Jesus’ resurrection and appearance to her, they “believed not” (Mark 16:11). Afterword, when Jesus appeared to the eleven as they sat at meat, He “upbraided them with their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they believed not them which had seen Him after He was risen” (Mark 16:14). All of the apostles had experienced some form of doubt at some point.
Often during their time with the Lord they expressed doubt in some form. Peter doubted as he began to sink in the waves on the sea of Galilee, so that the Lord had to rescue him from drowning (Matt. 14:29-31). Jesus rebuked all the apostles as they were in a vessel with Him when the winds and waves threatened their safety, or so they thought (Matt. 8:25,26). Jesus rebuked their lack of faith when they thought He condemned them for not bringing bread. He reminded them of the fact that He had multiplied the loaves and fish (Matt. 16:5-12). Jesus said to them on these occasions, “O ye of little faith” (e.g., Matt. 16:8).
But these events were from an earlier time with the Lord. Now, at the close of Jesus’ time on earth, they should have known better. But much of the source of their doubt now was that which comes from being overwhelmed with joy at some good news it can hardly be believed. Even when the Lord was standing before their very eyes, probably late on the first day of the week, they were “terrified and affrighted, and supposed that they had seen a spirit” (Luke 24:36,37). Jesus showed them His hands and feet and this is probably what caused Thomas, who was not present on this ocassion, to say that unless he saw them he would not believe either (Luke 24:39,40; John 20:25). But the reason they had trouble believing was that they were overcome with joy (Luke 24:41). The very same could be said of Thomas, as well. The other apostles, then, were really not any different than Thomas.
The first time we read of Thomas speaking is when the Lord purposed to go into Judea again (John 11:7). The apostles, it seems, thought they had a duty to remind the Lord that the Jews had, of late, sought to stone Him and that going back might not be a good idea (John 11:8). But Jesus said He was going back to raise Lazarus from the dead (John 11:11-15). It was then that Thomas spoke to the other apostles: “Let us also go, that we may die with Him” (John 11:16). In this statement, Thomas shows both his complete devotion to the Lord but also manifests either a lack of understanding of the Lord’s teaching or a lack of faith.
Thomas was not unlike Peter in this way: though he said he would die with the Lord, when the time came for the Lord to be taken, he fled just like all the other apostles (Matt. 26:56). Peter had said “Though all other men shall be offended because of Thee, yet will I never be offended” (Matt. 26:33). Yet Peter denied the Lord three times that very night (Matt. 26:34). Though Thomas loved the Lord, he seemed unable to get his mind around just who Jesus was. When Jesus told the apostles that they knew where He was going and the way He was going, Thomas confessed his ignorance about these matters (John 14:1-5).
One week later, we find Thomas assembled with the other apostles. Why he was not there the first time, the Bible does not say but it may well be he was grieving for the Lord, thinking that all was lost since His crucifixion. But now he is there and the Lord appears miraculously in their midst (John 20:26). After greeting them all, the first thing the Lord does is to address Thomas “Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing” (John 20:27). The Bible does not say whether he did or not, but the last thing we hear him say to the Lord is, “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28). He had learned who Jesus was.
Eric L. Padgett