Doubting

In the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, the disciple known as Thomas is nothing but a name in a list. But in John’s Gospel, we get to see his personality and we discover that although he is a faithful disciple, committed to Jesus, he seems to mostly expect things to turn out badly. Once, when Jesus tells his disciples that he is going to raise Lazarus from the dead in a village near Jerusalem, Thomas responds by telling the other disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” (John 11:16)

Thus, his reaction to Jesus’ resurrection is not so surprising. When the other disciples tell him that they’ve seen Jesus, Thomas refuses to believe them and announces that unless he can see the nail marks in his hands, and then actually put his fingers there and in the spear wound in his side, he’s not going to believe them. The astronomer Carl Sagan commented that “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” Thomas would obviously agree with Carl Sagan.

Despite all the people he knew telling him that Jesus was no longer dead, Thomas was not willing to believe it–even though he’d seen Jesus raise Lazarus from the dead. After all, Thomas had, in fact witnessed Lazarus hopping from a tomb. He’d seen it with his own eyes. But he hadn’t actually gazed upon Lazarus’ rotting carcass. He’d only seen a stone moved from a tomb entrance and watched a man in grave wrappings stumble out of the darkness. So perhaps Thomas hadn’t been certain that Lazarus was, in fact, really dead before his appearance.

In contrast to that, he knew for a fact that Jesus was dead. He’d seen him die. And since he hadn’t seen any people he knew without question were really dead ever come back from that state, he wasn’t going to believe it now just because a bunch of people he’d known for only the last three years or so told him so. His doubt was, in fact, quite rational, at least from his perspective.

So. A week passed. Thomas was with the other disciples inside the same locked room when Jesus suddenly appeared.

Jesus turned to Thomas and said, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” (John 20:27)

John’s Gospel does not tell us whether Thomas reached out and touched Jesus; all we get is Thomas’ verbal reaction: “My Lord and my God!” followed by Jesus’ telling him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” John concludes his Gospel with the comment that, “Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” (John 21:25)

Of the disciples, John is my favorite, but Thomas is the one I most resemble.

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About R.P. Nettelhorst

I'm married with three daughters. I live in southern California and I'm a deacon at Quartz Hill Community Church. I spent a couple of summers while I was in college working on a kibbutz in Israel. In 2004, I was a volunteer with the Ansari X-Prize at the winning launches of SpaceShipOne. Member of Society of Biblical Literature, American Academy of Religion, and The Authors Guild
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