Faithful Thomas

Thomas was not with the disciples when Jesus first appeared after the resurrection. We are not told why and it may not be important. But while the other ten were locked in the upper room out of fear, Thomas was someplace else. Thomas seemed ready to die with Jesus in John 11, so it may be the case that he is willing to go about his life, almost daring the Jews to arrest him too.

On the other hand, perhaps Thomas experienced a “crisis of faith” when Jesus died. If he believed Jesus was the Messiah and that the Messiah was not going to be crucified by the Romans, perhaps Jesus’ death caused him to doubt everything. He may be in a state of denial, like Peter, but deeper.

Whatever the case, he returns to the upper room the disciples tell him that Jesus is alive. Jesus is “more than alive,” he has risen from the dead to a new kind of life. Whatever the reason, when he is told that Jesus rose from the dead, he refuses to believe without further evidence. Thomas gets a bad reputation as a skeptic for not believing what the disciples told him.

On the other hand, there is virtually nothing in Second Temple Period Judaism that anticipated the death of the Messiah not his resurrection to eternal life. It was something which Thomas was not ready to believe since it was unbelievable within his world view. The disciples are making an extraordinary claim, that the messiah intended to die and rise to eternal life. This will require them to re-think virtually everything that they believe.

When Jesus appears in the midst of the disciples a second time, Thomas believes and confesses Jesus as “Lord and God” (v. 28). Thomas’s confession is a theological statement for the whole book of John. The writer has been slowly revealing who Jesus is through a series of misunderstandings, people hear Jesus’ words but do not fully comprehend his meaning. Even after the resurrection, Mary thinks Jesus’ body was stolen, then the disciples wonder if he ever really died. Even when he appears to them, they still do not confess Jesus quite the way Thomas does in v. 28.

John therefore intends Thomas’s words as a final word on who Jesus is: he is the “Lord and God” of the reader, and that by believing that he is the Lord one can have eternal life in his name (verse 31). Are there other ways in which Thomas’s faithful statement functions like a theological conclusion to the Gospel of John?

13 thoughts on “Faithful Thomas

  1. Agreed: Thomas’ confession serves as a theological summary statement for the G. of John. And it personalizes doubt as a common issue both for John’s audience and perpetually… also its supposed solution (direct material/”five senses” evidence).

    Interestingly, Luke does similarly in his gospel. In his case, the supposed material evidence comes, via Jesus himself (as in John), to “the Eleven” and others (24:33 ff). See and even touch. Almost in so many words, “I’m not a ghost!”

    This, and similar material “evidences” storied by Matthew, all serve, it sure seems to me, to indicate that many (or most?) in the post-destruction-of-Jerusalem-and-the-Temple period did NOT believe in a truly bodily resurrection with Jesus teaching, communing with, being touched by the disciples, etc., until the “ascension”. After all, nothing in the pre-war epistles of Paul or any other records we have, clearly pre-war, testifies to that kind of a physically-demonstrated bodily resurrection.

    So is it not possible (highly LIKELY in my mind) that the Apostles/disciples did not experience Jesus bodily after his death at all? Probably “saw” or experienced him in a visionary way. This may have been from Jesus though not Jesus-bodily-on-earth.

    Again, we have no direct statements from them as to just what kept them believing Jesus-as-Messiah-of-Israel would return very soon. Though such belief was not common in 2nd Temple Judaism, it was less outside the boundaries of the Temple-practice-Judaism Acts tells us they continued in than was the claimed (decades later) elevation of Messiah to the status of God or divine being (which was both unconceived and blasphemous), whether based on visions or whatever.

    We have only Mark (around 70-75 C.E., likely) with NO resurrection appearances (discounting the later-added 16:9 ff), then the other 3 gospels, written even later, with clearly conflicting accounts, created per the needs of the separate situations of the audiences.

    So the Thomas story appears a literary device to bolster faith, as does the Emmaus-and-return-to-Jerusalem acct. of Luke… Creation of a plausible and dramatic scene in both cases, concrete enough to appear as “evidence” that should bolster faith, not mainly in Jesus’ soon “appearing” but in a BODILY form of resurrection, which Paul never experienced or even recounted… perhaps hadn’t even heard of, at least with Gospel details (read the I Cor. 15 passage carefully, preferably in Greek). And it has WORKED over many centuries now.

    It was the “soon appearing”… to “restore the Kingdom to Israel” (and remove the blasphemous, burdensome Roman rule) that was the key hope and cause of the Apostles, when one reads the Gospels and Acts comparatively with Paul’s epistles, CLOSELY and discerningly). This faith did not need to rely on any supposed “resurrection appearances” which involved eating, touching, extended conversations, etc.

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  2. We are all Thomas at one time or another, doubting the existence of God, but also his salvation through Jesus Christ. Perhaps, this is the reason for Thomas’ story in the book of John. The declaration he makes is crucial to the book of John, as it is the purpose of John’s writing, but the relation we have to Thomas’ doubt, unbelief, and then declaration is beyond comparison. It paints a beautiful picture of understanding giving birth to belief. This all being said, Jesus still rebukes Thomas for his unbelief. John 20:29 says, “The Jesus told him, ‘Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” In other words, Jesus does not discredit Thomas’ confession, however, He states that blessings are those who do not need to see to believe. This is portrayed later in the verse, 2 Corinthians 5:7, “For we live by faith, not by sight.” Thomas’ example should be a reminder to have faith and not need sight to give us faith, but to fuel the faith we already have!

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  3. It is no doubt that Thomas was one of the most faithful disciples. Even the fact that Thomas was not locked in the upper room with the other 10 disciples shows that he was not hiding in fear as the others were. Although Thomas didn’t believe that Jesus was resurrected right away, he eventually confessed that Jesus was “My Lord and my God!” in John 20:28. Thomas’ faithful statement functions as a theological conclusion in the way that he is confessing that Jesus is God. This is one of the major theological focuses that is shown throughout John. There is proof of this in John 1:1 which says: “In the begging was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God”, which sets a theological mindset.

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  4. Of course Thomas is going to have doubts especially what he just went through. He believed in something so much that he was willing to die for it. Then when it didn’t go according to his plans, a person will have doubts. Of course the main purpose for the book of John is to show that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and Thomas shows that, but when Thomas says in verse 28 with “My Lord and my God” we could bring up the Trinity aspect in this. Thomas is calling Jesus my God, which is saying that Jesus is God as well.

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  5. John 20:28 “Thomas said to him, ‘My Lord and My God’” A perfect conclusion to the theological aspect to John. The main point John is getting across throughout the entire Gospel is that Jesus is God in the flesh. From John 1:1 through John 20:28, Jesus is revealing God through himself. Although that is the main theological component revealed through Thomas’ statement, I believe there is another that is uncovered. I believe it reveals the simplicity of receiving salvation. It is through the recognition, declaration, and believing that Jesus was God in the flesh, and that he died and rose again on the third day. Whether you believe because you saw or you believe through faith, you are blessed either way and will receive salvation (John 20:29).

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  6. Phillip, you are studied in this and know the complexities, but many readers (like your students) have not had the exposure nor perhaps the inclination to delve into it… any internal or external push: There is a major leap which the Gospels, taken together, along with Acts, have long led Xns to make. One expressed in Thomas’ statement. Namely that Jesus’ original disciples came to realize he was God incarnated. But we actually have no such truly historical data, despite the “early high christology” evidences that do show up in the NT… again, its complicated so I can’t begin to set it all up here, let alone advance the case that they probably did NOT see Jesus that way at all. But it is a very important issue that Christians should not be avoiding.

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    • Long student here. I agree that I am not nearly as studied in this, and you make a good point that Dr. Long has talked about in class that, it’s true, I never would have thought about otherwise. I had always assumed the “early high christology” that the disciples were very aware of Christ’s divinity. Putting myself into the context of one of the disciples, I can definitely understand the confusion.
      I like the idea Dr. Long brought up that maybe Thomas had a “crisis of faith” after Christ’s death. Nobody then expected the Messiah to die. That only seems clear to us from a 21st century perspective, looking back. Hindsight is 20/20 I suppose.

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      • Glad you are doing this kind of reflection, Eric. Hopefully without too much anxiety. Any kind of “critical examination” (i.e., attempting to be “neutral” and objective in seeking understanding on a deeper level) is often “risky” in an emotional and social sense. It is hard to keep that distinct from a seeming spiritual risk. (But only seeming risk, I eventually became confident of)….

        I had lots of certainty in the faith (basic Evangelical orthodoxy) I was raised in and studied through Bible College (Biola), a 3-year seminary M.Div. (Talbot) and beyond. I also became somewhat of an apologist and a teacher (in theology and psychology, my other field). So it was only VERY gradually that I would fully face, explore and seek to make sense of the actual nature and contents of the Bible – genres, purposes, lack of clarity and coherence of theology, etc. With that, ancient Jewish and early Christian faith and related issues. Dr. Peter Enns, on his blog at Patheos, has had a long, intermittent series of posts by scholars (beyond my “pay grade” as a non-professional) who speak about going through this kind of process, and some of their “aha” moments. Important and fascinating reading! All the best in your learning and growth!

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  7. Thomas was a faithful man, he really was. He had his doubts, but in all honesty I think most people would have their doubts. Jesus states that we are supposed to believe without seeing and he told Thomas this since he only believed when he did finally see him. I think this is important to be noted because he is not completely taking a shot at Thomas, because he even states that Thomas truly does believe in him now. It is important because those were the last times that people were seeing a visible Jesus. We have to be able to believe without seeing since we do not see Jesus here on Earth right now, if we have to see Jesus visibly to believe, we may not have very many Christians in this world.

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  8. Why do we focus on the idea that someone doubted. The same idea we had with Peter denying Christ. It is like our lives today we get called by the things in our past, our mistakes, and pitfalls. The past is important because it made us who we are but I think the focus should be placed on the fact that Peter is a foundation for the church and Thomas claims Jesus as his Lord and God. True faithfulness doesn’t mean there might not be doubt it means that we stay strong in something in the end. Thomas had doubt but in the end still clings to Christ.

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  9. I think a lot of people who give their life to Jesus Christ later in their lives resonate well with Thomas. Perhaps even the individuals who give their life to Christ at a young age. Before I was saved I was asking questions and seeking answers. I wanted facts and evidence. Thomas had some strong doubt though, especially after his 10 friends who also walked with Jesus told him they seen Him. Some people really do need to doubt before they believe, including myself. Skepticism leads to questions, questions lead to answers, and the answers are accepted, then doubt was for good. When skepticism becomes stubborn and prideful, that skepticism harms faith. When we are skeptical about something or doubting something, we need to openly and publicly search for the answers. I talked to many Christians when I was searching and they knew my doubts and curiosities. If I was to keep my doubts and wonders to myself, I probably would have just googled my way to find the answers. The problem with that is I would have been searching things like “why God doesn’t exist” or “Did Jesus really come back to life” or something to ensue in negative feedback. Thomas’s statement “My Lord and my God!” is also a good reference statement to the trinity. He was around to hear God pray to his “father” and at this point seen he resurrected. My NIV Study Bible positions that we can learn that Jesus does not reject doubts that are honest and directed toward belief. It also states that it’s better to doubt out loud than to disbelieve in silence. A man like Thomas is passionate in both doubt and belief: a loyal and honest man. His doubts had truth seeking behind them.

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  10. John 20: 24-30 shows the purpose of Christ’s ministry. He wants people have faith in something that does not necessarily make sense or that seems unbelieveable. All of Jesus’ ministry was building up to his death and then resurrection. I think that this passage was giving encouragement to the disciples that when they go out to preach the gospel, it is to gain followers of Christ. Those followers may believe and may not believe, but it is possible to believe without seeing Christ firsthand. I also think that the deity of Christ is revealed here. There are few passages that say it straight out. There are many passages that show that Jesus and God are one, but it is hard to understand it. Even at the beginning of time, Jesus was present at creation.

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