So, Jesus has now revealed himself to his disciples in many ways – in gardens, on roads, in locked rooms. It’s interesting that he didn’t reveal himself first to his apostles, but instead to women and others who were only mentioned once or twice in all of the New Testament. But even among the apostles, there is still one who hasn’t seen Jesus in person yet.
Thomas, also known as Didymus, which means twin, is only briefly mentioned in lists of the apostles in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. But, John mentions him a few times more, which is also where the story of his doubt is written.
His first mention in John is when they find out that Lazarus has died and Jesus wants to go to Bethany to visit Martha and Mary. Thomas says to the other disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him”. Right before this, Jesus had been in Jerusalem for the Festival of Dedication (or Hanukkah) where he upset the religious leaders to the point where they attempted to stone him. He had gone across the Jordan and was staying there when he received word from Mary and Martha that Lazarus was very sick.
Thomas knows if Jesus goes back to Jerusalem, that it will mean certain death, but at this point, he was ready to stay by his side. At the Last Supper, after Jesus discusses being betrayed by Judas and denied by Peter, the disciples are disheartened. This is when Jesus assures them that he is going to prepare a place for them. Thomas then asks him how they will know the way. And Jesus responds by saying he is the way.
Thomas is a questioner, but he is also faithful. He wants to go where Jesus goes. To stay by his side. His questions do not mean he doesn’t have faith. He seems more to just want to understand the plan. And I can relate. How many times have I asked God what the plan is? In the last 24 hours?
Also, he wasn’t the only one that had trouble believing. Matthew and Mark both include accounts of people who were doubting. In Matthew, Jesus is standing on a mountain in Galilee right in front of them and verse 14 said “but some doubted.” In Mark’s accounts of the women telling the disciples that Jesus had risen and his account of the companions on the road, he includes that the people they told did not believe them, either. Luke includes that the women were not believed because their words seemed like nonsense.
Jesus rebukes those who don’t believe, but with Thomas, Jesus invites him to touch his hands and his side before telling him to stop doubting and believe. And yes, Jesus follows that up with the “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed,” but he didn’t abandon Thomas in his doubt.
There are a lot of people who are questioning the church right now. And while there have been a lot of support for those who are deconstructing, the louder voices in the church have been condemning those who doubt, those who question, those having crises of faith and church. But Jesus never condemned the questioning. He didn’t condemn Thomas. He answered and invited Thomas to seek out the truth.
Thomas is mentioned another time in Acts, on the day of Pentecost. Thomas is with the other apostles and disciples in an upper room. He is constantly praying, continuing his apostolic ministry, and filled with the Holy Spirit. I can imagine the impact he might have had on other doubters, on questioners. I imagine he walked with them through it all just as Jesus had walked with him. All of the apostles played different roles and reached different people. Just as different believers today can further the kingdom of God in different ways. Those who hold doubt, and even those who hold shame…