Thomas was not with the other disciples on Easter evening when Jesus appeared to them.
It would be pointless to speculate as to the reason for his absence, but in a sense it was well that he was not because when he eventually saw the Risen Christ, he made one of the most powerful confessions of faith to be found in the New Testament. ‘My Lord and my God’ (John 20:28).
A ‘Doubting’ Thomas? No!
Unfortunately Thomas’ name has been handed down to us with the prefix, ‘Doubting.’ This is not entirely fair.
We see Thomas elsewhere expressing a courageous loyalty to Jesus (‘Thomas, called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him”’ (John 11:16).
If he had been present when Jesus appeared to the other disciples, we can reasonably conclude that he too would have believed. But, unlike the other disciples he had not seen Jesus for himself and therefore expressed his reservations concerning the report of Jesus’ resurrection. He wanted concrete evidence that the man, whom he knew had died, was now alive.
In most circumstances we would say that that was quite a reasonable position to take. It was a week after his first appearance (John 20:26) that Jesus appeared to the disciples again and this time Thomas was present. Again Jesus gave them the greeting of peace. He then invited Thomas to touch the print of the nails in his hands and the spear wound in his side.
Unbelief is not doubt
Jesus said to him, ‘Stop doubting but believe’ (John 20:27). This is an unfortunate translation. It would be better to translate the sentence as, ‘Do not be an unbeliever, but a believer.’ Unbelief is not the same as doubt. In fact doubt may be a useful thing as it can help protect us from gullibility.
Jesus here was inviting Thomas back into belief from unbelief.
Thomas then made his wonderful personal profession of faith, ‘My Lord and my God.’ He had met the Risen Christ and his unbelief surrendered to belief. Jesus said to Thomas, ‘Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed’ (John 20:29).
Thomas’ faith was real, but Jesus added that those who do not see the evidence yet come to faith in him are blessed.
The resurrection of Jesus actually took place at a point in history, but Christians, who seek to bring others to faith by ‘proving’ that the resurrection took place by referring to the evidence, miss the point. People will not become Christians even though we may give solid evidence of the resurrection, but because they, like Thomas and the other disciples have met Jesus Christ.
Faith is vital
We enter into Christian discipleship on the basis of faith and not on facts and it is an encounter with the living Christ that evokes faith.
Can we ‘prove’ that the resurrection happened? We can certainly demonstrate that it most likely did happen, but we cannot ‘prove’ that it did. It is, in the end a matter of faith – and that is as it should be.
In his well-researched Grace Revisited he reveals grace as having a strong active meaning and is like a many faceted diamond out of which shines a greater understanding of the great God we worship.
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