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‘Doubting’ Thomas

Readings

John 20: 19-31

This is a well-known passage and the action is fairly self -explanatory. Thomas is thereafter unfortunately and probably (I would say) rather unfairly known as ‘Doubting Thomas’ but as I intend to show there is much more to him than doubt.

The action involves ten of the disciples seeing Jesus on the evening following his morning resurrection appearance to the women and later to Peter and John (Verse 19), Thomas is not there for some reason but is there a week later. (Is this a coincidence or part of an overall plan by God to tell us something?)

Five Things Considered in Regard to this Episode

  • Jesus appears from nowhere on both occasions;
  • Jesus’ words which comprise a greeting, the giving of the Holy Spirit and forgiveness of sins (before the Thomas episode);
  • Thomas, the man what do we know about him?
  • The unity of the apostles and Thomas’ part in that;
  • How to apply the lessons to ourselves.

Jesus appearing from nowhere (verse 19)

When the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them.

There are all sorts of stories on the web about this but there really is no reason to believe that Jesus was already in the room or that the doors flew open or to add anything else to what is written. We know from other scripture that God can move people from one place to another.

John 6 (involving Jesus)
22 The next day the crowd that had stayed on the opposite shore of the lake realised that only one boat had been there, and that Jesus had not entered it with his disciples, but that they had gone away alone. 23 Then some boats from Tiberias landed near the place where the people had eaten the bread after the Lord had given thanks. 24 Once the crowd realised that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they got into the boats and went to Capernaum in search of Jesus. 25 When they found him on the other side of the lake, they asked him, ‘Rabbi, when did you get here?’
Acts 8 (involving Philip)
38 And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptised him. 39 When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again, but went on his way rejoicing. 40 Philip, however, appeared at Azotus and travelled about, preaching the gospel in all the towns until he reached Caesarea.
For me it’s very simple. You either believe in God doing miracles or not. Jesus has just been raised to physical life from the dead so by comparison Jesus coming through walls into locked rooms does not seem particularly difficult.

Jesus’ Words, Holy Spirit Giving and Forgiveness of sins

21Again Jesus said, ‘Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.’’ 22And with that he breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit...’
Peace be with you is in Greek in the original scripture but was probably actually said by Jesus in Aramaic as ‘Shalama Alakhom’. Later this became a normal greeting like ‘hello’ but it was not used much in Old Testament times nor even by Jesus before his resurrection, The Hebrew version of ‘peace’ is Shalom and this was promised by Jesus before his death, to come later.

Now after his resurrection he is saying his ‘Shalom peace’ has arrived. It was very necessary for the disciples at this time. So close after the crucifixion they were still confused, demoralised and scared (hence the locked doors). Pentecost was coming with the familiar story but this early Spirit Giving was perhaps to ensure that they had that ‘Shalom peace’ while they waited for Pentecost when the Holy Spirit would give them fully the power they needed for their evangelistic mission.

‘Shalom peace’ is not doing nothing, sitting in a chair with your feet up, but an active peace where in everything you do you rely on the Holy Spirit as upholder, helper and companion especially for evangelism. It is a feeling of being right with God and yourself as you serve Him even in difficult or frightening circumstances.

‘As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.&ersquo; indicates the Missionary purpose of the peace and we can compare this with the Great Commission in Matthew 28:19, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”.

Difference from Past Times to New Testament Times
Hebrews 1
In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe.
Here there is the contrast between the Holy Spirit speaking through some people at certain times (Old Testament) with the New Covenant (or New Testament) promise of ordinary people able to be imbued with the Holy Spirit to tell good news.

23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.
Only God can forgive sins, and Jesus was and is God. The Apostles were not; they were only human but by the Holy Spirit they could communicate the Good News that belief in Jesus Christ wiped away people’s sins and they were forgiven. They were able to state this confidently because of this intimate connection with the Holy Spirit, not in a human way by personal choice. This is very much associated with evangelism or literally announcing good news, the good news including that sins are forgiven.

Coming back to the passage, ‘...As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.’
We can see that the disciples accepted the commission given to them. Here is Peter preaching after Pentecost.

Acts 2
38 Peter replied, ‘Repent and be baptised, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off – for all whom the Lord our God will call.’

Thomas, the man

There are other scriptural references to Thomas:

John 11
11 After he had said this, he went on to tell them, &lsquo'Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up.’ 12 His disciples replied, ‘Lord, if he sleeps, he will get better.’ 13 Jesus had been speaking of his death, but his disciples thought he meant natural sleep. 14 So then he told them plainly, ‘Lazarus is dead, 15 and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.’ 16 Then Thomas (twin in Aramaic) (also known as Didymus) (which means twin in Greek) said to the rest of the disciples, ‘Let us also go, that we may die with him.’
Who was his twin? We have no idea; he is not identified as an apostle. We get no details of this twin. If his twin were still alive Thomas was clearly not afraid to be on his own. Thomas knew of the danger in Jerusalem but was not afraid to go and die for the cause.

John 14
‘Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. 2 My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. 4 You know the way to the place where I am going.’ 5 Thomas said to him, ‘Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?’ 6 Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7 If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.’ 8 Philip said, ‘Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.’
Thomas wants to understand precisely what Jesus is saying and is not afraid to ask. Even when he is told Philip still does not get it – does Thomas get it at this point or not?

John 20
24 Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord!’ But he said to them, ‘Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.’
Thomas is practical and down to earth. Seeing is believing but we can note that Thomas is there on the second occasion; he has not gone off muttering to himself that all the other disciples must be completely deluded and that he will have nothing to do with any ‘resurrection nonsense’. Thomas needs to see that Jesus has a physically resurrected body as in this era a belief in ghosts, disembodied spirits etc. was normal (when Jesus walks across Lake Galilee the disciples think he is a ghost).
Jesus commends those who have not seen as Thomas has (Verse 29) but he does not criticise Thomas perhaps because of what happens next:
Thomas declares to, Jesus, ‘My Lord and My God’. This is the first time in scripture that this expression is used about Jesus. Peter says, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God’ in Matthew 16 although Mark 8 only says ‘You are the Christ’.

Thomas is thus not only very perceptive but again not afraid of speaking what is on his mind.
The Greek here is Kurios (‘Lord’ used of God) and Theos (‘God’) which translate the Hebrew Adonai and Elohim. In Genesis 15:2 Abram addresses God as Adonai Yahweh and in Genesis 1:1 (Creation) the first name used for God is Elohim.
The phrase repeats part of Psalm 35 although the order is reversed:

Psalm 35:22-23
Lord, you have seen this; do not be silent. Do not be far from me, Lord. Awake, and rise to my defence! Contend for me, my God and Lord.
According to legend Thomas goes off to India and (what is today) Iraq and founded Christian communities which are still there today despite great adversity and persecution especially in the case of Iraq.

We can see that Thomas was a good man, strong, brave and willing to check out what others said which he did not agree with.

The unity of the apostles and Thomas’ part in that

This passage finishes with a summary of what John is trying to achieve with his Gospel Book

30 Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. 31 But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

We are not eyewitnesses like Thomas but we can accept the eyewitness testimony given by others in John’s Gospel by faith. This is good news which includes the forgiveness of sins and being saved to everlasting life,

1 Corinthians 1
10 I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought. 11 My brothers and sisters, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. 12 What I mean is this: one of you says, ‘I follow Paul’; another, ‘I follow Apollos’; another, ‘I follow Cephas’; still another, ‘I follow Christ.’ 13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptised in the name of Paul? 14 I thank God that I did not baptise any of you except Crispus and Gaius, 15 so no one can say that you were baptised in my name.
Thomas was frightened and dismayed (like others before Jesus appeared to them) and could have decided all the others had got it wrong, been a bit of a ‘dog in the manger’ and gone off and founded his own religion or just given up!
Then there would have been the ‘Peter, John and the other 8 Churches’ and possibly the ‘Thomas Church’. Thomas did not do that; he hung in and focused on his relationship with Jesus – was he really alive? Had the others really seen him? He needed to be sure for himself? ,br />Is it coincidence that Thomas who seems at this point to be the most perceptive (Christ is God) acts as he does?

How to apply the lessons to ourselves

Our nature may be to doubt like Thomas and that is not necessarily wrong. We need to be sure BUT: we need to take on board Thomas’ good qualities. If we don’t understand we need to find out.

The Corinthians passage is a powerful lesson that we also need to be a united body, not factionalised as in Corinth. We need to support Jesus and with the Holy Spirit proclaim the Gospel of forgiveness of sins but we need to support each other in doing that.