Why we should be more like doubting Thomas
‘Doubting’ Thomas gets a bad rap over Easter. Each year, we dredge up his unfortunate nickname and criticize his skepticism in the resurrection.
Problem is, when we criticize him, we miss the whole point of his story – and we fail to see how Thomas is in fact presented as an example we should all follow.
See, Thomas was really no different to the rest of the disciples. John stresses in his gospel (chapter 20) that they all needed to see some physical evidence of his resurrection before they truly believed. Look at the emphasis on the word “saw” throughout John 20:
v8: “he saw and believed”
v14: Mary only believed when “she turned around and saw Jesus standing…”
v20: The rest of the disciples believed and “were glad when they saw the Lord”
The point that’s made here is that for all of the disciples, they needed to see in order to believe. So Thomas was no different. The only reason he didn’t believe at first is because he didn’t see. And that makes the point: seeing is vital to truly believe in such a world-altering claim as the resurrection. It would be unreasonable to expect anybody to believe in that without evidence. Because Christian faith is never meant to be blind faith. True Christian faith is faith based on evidence. That’s why Thomas asking to see the physical evidence is actually an example for us.
Okay, but if that’s true, why does Jesus say what he says to Thomas in v29? It does seem like a bit of a rebuke, doesn’t it?…
29 Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
What exactly does he mean by that? Well, like most verses in the bible, we find out the meaning of this by reading the next verses. That is – reading it in it’s context. This is especially important because in the original language, v30 starts with the word “therefore” (often left untranslated) – linking what Jesus said in v29 with what John concludes in v30.
So what does he conclude? This:
30 [therefore] 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.
Given the ‘therefore’ between these two verses, especially if we consider it referring to the second half of John’s statement (v31), taking those verses together means this: the reason that future generations can be blessed in believing the resurrection, even when they don’t see physical evidence for it, is because their faith is based on what the apostles did see and then wrote down for us. In other words, seeing is always vital for believing – but it’s because they saw that we can believe today.
It’s like in a courtroom, we will believe the valid testimony of an eyewitness (especially if there are two or more who corroborate), even though we weren’t there to see what they saw. We can have real, legally-valid belief in an event that we didn’t see, because of the eyewitnesses. The same applies to the resurrection. We are able to have real belief in the resurrection of Jesus, because of what the apostles saw and recorded for us. In fact, in his later letter, John makes this point by starting with these words:
“That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— 2 the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us” (1 John 1:1-2)
He’s really at pains here to make sure we know that he and the other apostles were valid eyewitnesses who experienced all the physical evidence necessary for belief.
So… rather than think of Thomas in a negative light, we should hold him up as an example of true Christian faith – because Christian faith is never blind faith. It’s based on true physical and eyewitness testimony. Do you believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead? If not, examine the evidence for yourself. Do yourself a favour this Easter and read the eyewitness accounts. And if you have… and you’re convinced the resurrection actually happened, well then there is only one conclusion that’s left. The conclusion that ‘doubting’ Thomas came to when he saw the evidence:
28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!”