The apostle had, just hours before Jesus’ death, proclaimed his willingness to die for Him before he’d ever deny him.1 But soon afterwards, he forsook Jesus, running away into the night. The Sunday following, he heard rumors about the empty tomb and the resurrection of Jesus, but he didn’t believe them. That evening, Thomas was noticeably absent from the gathering of Jesus’ disciples, and missed the appearance of the Lord in their midst. Why he was absent isn’t given. It could be something as simple and innocent as sickness, or, given what John records for us, it might be that he was dejected. Perhaps he wouldn’t gather with them because Jesus is dead; it’s over.2
But soon after that meeting that he didn’t attend, the other apostles tracked him down and began to tell him an amazing story: Jesus is back; He appeared while you were gone! Thomas wasn’t going to get his hopes up. Surely he wanted to believe them, but he wasn’t going to believe something like that unless he saw it for himself.3 His answer to the other apostles was a strong one: “No, I will not believe unless I see the print of the nails in His hands, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and might thrust my hand into his ribs.”4
The next Lord’s Day, Thomas gathered together with the rest of the apostles, the doors being shut, when Jesus appeared in the middle of the room. He approached Thomas and looked at him, and submitted to Thomas’ request for proof. “Bring your finger here and behold my hands. And bring your hand here and put it into my ribs, and do not become unbelieving, but believing.”5 Thomas wasn’t chastised verbally; Jesus didn’t ask him, “Why didn’t you believe the others?” But you can almost guarantee that in the midst of his joy over seeing Jesus alive, he was also disappointed in himself for not believing. But he didn’t let that keep him from accepting what he saw.6
Thomas went from doubt in the physical resurrection of Jesus to proclaiming Him as both Lord (Master) and God. Seeing Him raised from the dead confirmed that Jesus indeed was the Christ, and that He also was God.7 This is not, as some wish to argue, Thomas calling Jesus “My Lord,” and then pausing, looking upward to heaven and saying to the Father, “My God.” There is nothing in the text to justify such a splitting of Thomas’ statement.8
But, after Thomas’ statement, Jesus gives him a gentle reminder about the importance of faith and trust. “Because you’ve seen me, you have believed; those who have not seen [me] and yet have believed are blessed.” This is reminiscent of what is said in Mark 16:9-16:
Now when Jesus was risen early the first day of the week, He appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom He had cast seven demons. And she went and told them that had been with Him, as they mourned and wept. And they, when they had heard that He was alive and had been seen by her, did not believe. After that, He appeared in another form to two of them as they walked, and went into the country. And they went and told it to the rest, but they didn’t believe them either. Afterwards, He appeared to the eleven as they sat eating, and upbraided them with their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they did not believe them which had seen Him after He was risen. And He said to them, “You go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. The one having believed and having been baptized shall be saved, but the one having not believed shall be damned.”
From that point forward, we have absolutely no indication that Thomas ever had doubt regarding Jesus again.
The final mention of Thomas comes in John 21, where the apostle joins with Peter in an unsuccessful evening of fishing, followed by Jesus telling them to fish on the right side of the boat. The result was that they caught so many fish that they couldn’t lift them all up onto the boat. Thomas helped row the boat to shore where Jesus Himself was fixing breakfast for them. He ate the fish and bread, knowing he was eating with the Lord.9
-Bradley S. Cobb
1 Matthew 26:35
2 Barton W. Johnson said, “The failure of Thomas to be present with the other disciples was probably due to his utter despair” (The New Testament Commentary, Vol. III.—John, page 302). Larry Deason, in his “That You May Have Life…” An In-Depth Study of the Gospel of John (pages 405-406) presents a plausible scenario:
Thomas earlier was so willing to follow Jesus into the dangers of Judea that he led all the rest (see John 11:16), but is now filled with a grief made worse by a sense of guilt; he had not made good his promise to die with Him. “Why should he be dead and I still alive?” he asks himself. And then he learns that they have seen Him alive—all but he. They try to console him, but he cannot share their joy. Day after day that week, one disciple after another tries to convince Thomas to believe. “I believed once,” he says. “I believed that He was the Messiah and would deliver the nation from all its woes. But look where it got me. Dashed hope is worse than no hope at all.”
One after another tries to describe for him in detail what he saw when Jesus appeared. Finally, Thomas has had enough. To curtail all further attempts to convince him, he shouts out in his frustration, “I will not believe unless I myself see His wounds. Unless I myself actually feel the nail prints and put my hand into His side.” The other disciples are shocked into silence, and Thomas is finally left alone to his guilt and grief.
3 Ted Clarke said of Thomas, “He deserves criticism because of this. None of us today have seen the Lord, but we believe the testimony of the men who did see Him. Thomas should have believed the combined testimony of the other apostles” (Preaching School Notes, 2008-2010, notes on John 20:24-29; Bradley Cobb, Editor).
4 The Greek of John 20:25 has Thomas using two negatives to express his refusal to believe without visual evidence. See An Outline Commentary on John by Max Patterson, page 254.
5 John 20:27, Modern Literal Version.
6 It’s worth noting here that Thomas does not appear to have actually touched the nail-prints or thrust his hand into Jesus’ side. Seeing Him there in front of him was enough to prove that Thomas had been wrong to doubt.
7 There are many Old Testament prophecies which point to the Christ being God, among which are Isaiah 7:14, 9:6-7, Zechariah 12:10, etc. Thus, Thomas had a much greater insight into the nature of Jesus and the Messiah than some people even today do.
8 There are examples of someone speaking and changing the person to whom he is talking. Perhaps the most obvious one is Mark 2:8-11. But in those cases, the change of audience is given to us in the text. There is no such indication in John 20:28. Funny enough, there is such a change in verses 26-27, where Jesus speaks to the apostles, then just to Thomas—and again, it is spelled out for us in the text. Therefore, those who argue that Thomas’ words “My God” were addressed to the Father instead of Jesus have no basis for their argument except for the false doctrine which they are trying to defend, denying the deity of Jesus Christ.
9 John 21:1-14.