Now Thomas, one of the Twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came.
So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.”
Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them.
Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.”
Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!”
Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
The Sunday following the resurrection of our Lord is sometimes called St. Thomas Sunday because of the events described in John 20:24-29. Because the Apostle Thomas said (v 25) “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe”, he has also became known throughout history as Doubting Thomas. Because of these words the phrase ‘Doubting Thomas’ also entered into the popular vocabulary to describe anyone who refuse to believe something without direct, personal evidence. Charles Dickens may have named the character of the harsh skeptic in Hard Time for These Times in whose mouth he placed the words “…what I want is Facts…nothing but Facts…” Thomas for this very reason. No doubt many sermons this Sunday will focus on John 20:25 and similar parallels will be drawn about the Apostles Thomas’ words of “unbelief”.
There are many works of art that also depict the events described in John 20: 24-29. One of the most famous is shown on the right by Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio from the early 17th century. Like the sermons which will focus only on the Apostle Thomas’ skepticism, this painting, though seemingly beautiful, is completely wrong.
Many will consider the words of Thomas quoted in verse 25 this Sunday but forget about Peter’s three time denial of Jesus (Matthew 26: 69-75). Many will wonder at Thomas’ skepticism but forget how all the disciples fled into the darkness of unbelief on the night of His arrest (Mark 14:50-52). Few if any will note that even though The Risen Savior had already appeared to all except Thomas (who was absent) the disciples still met behind locked doors “for fear of the Jews” (John 20:19). The skepticism of unbelief was not only Thomas’ problem but the defining characteristic of Jesus’ followers from His arrest in the garden until this very moment!
Yes, Thomas doubted, but so too did all the others. The message of John 20: 24-29 then is not as much about Thomas’ unbelief as it is about the faithfulness of God even in the face of unbelief and fear. Prior to His arrest, Jesus prayed
“While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled.” (John 17:21).
On the eight day following the resurrection, for the first time since before the arrest, all of the disciples were together in one place. Now God would show His faithfulness to all those who had been given to Him and “not one of them”, including Thomas, would be lost.
Mary Magdalene responded to the presence of the Risen King by attempting to cling to Him (20:17) and scripture says the disciples were glad (20:20) when Jesus appeared to them. The Loved One is alive! The natural response in such circumstance is to try and cling to Him. The Master has risen! Naturally, feelings of gladness would wash over all those who, less than 24 hours before, were weeping from despair.
Thomas’ natural response was to not believe unless he could place his finger into the mark of the nails and his hand into His side. Instead, Thomas, like all the others, did not doubt, but believed (20:29), what his eyes had seen. Unlike all the others however, Thomas did not respond naturally, but in worship of The King, for it was only from his mouth that we hear the declaration “My Lord and my God”!