Thomas Had Doubts
There was one holdout left among Jesus’s disciples—Thomas, called the Twin. No reason is given as to why Thomas had not met with the other disciples on that first day’s evening. But by not meeting with them he had missed out on Jesus coming to them, missed out on Jesus’ commission to them, missed out on eating and talking with the Lord, and missed out on Jesus praying for them to receive the Holy Spirit.
Of course, the other disciples wanted to tell him the good news, but it was seemingly impossible for Thomas to accept without some empirical proof. Doubt can be a good thing, because it makes us think. Doubt is one foot lifted, poised to move forward or backward. Nevertheless, Thomas would have to wait a whole week before Jesus would meet with them again.
So after eight days, again his disciples were inside and Thomas with them. Jesus came—the doors had been locked—but was in the midst, and he said, “Peace to you.”
After that, he said to Thomas, “Bring your finger here and see (perceive, discern, see with your mind) my hands, and bring your hand, thrust it into my side, then you will not become disbelieving but believing.”Jesus to Thomas, John 20:26-27 [READ]
I read those words as Jesus being kind and understanding, offering Thomas the kind of empirical proof none of the others had asked for. Because even though Jesus had shown them his hands and side, none had asked to touch them.
Jesus does not reject doubts that are honest and directed towards belief. Thomas put his foot down firmly toward belief.
Thomas responded and said to him, “My Lord and my God!”Thomas to Jesus, John 20:28
It was the highest point of belief that any disciple had yet reached, and Jesus accepted both Thomas’s assessment, and Thomas’s homage, because Thomas had spoken the truth.
Jesus said to him, “Because you have seen me you have believed? Supremely blessed are those who are not seeing yet believing.”Jesus to Thomas, John 20:29
Maybe John was nodding his head as heard this, since he had himself come to belief just by seeing the empty tomb.
This final scene concludes John’s affidavit to the Life of Christ.
That You May Have Life In His Name
He then summarized his purpose for presenting his testimony, acknowledging there were many other signs Jesus performed before his disciples that John had opted not to include. He wrote his deposition out in a very particular way—seven witnesses, seven claims by Jesus, and seven miraculous signs designed to prove Jesus as both Messiah and the Son of God,
In order that believing, you all would have life in his name.John 20:31
The kind of life that John was talking about wasn’t just a philosophy of life, or even an afterlife, he was literally talking about life, physical life lived eternally as a resurrected being, perfected, made righteous and holy, and glorified by Jesus.
But such a stupendous claim has to be validated by something.
Jesus had offered witnesses to the truth of his teaching: he pointed first to the miracles, then to John the Baptist, and also to the scriptures, which were being fulfilled. But by far and away, Jesus’s teaching is validated and proved to be literally true through his own bodily resurrection.
The resurrection was a literal fulfillment of what Jesus had regularly and consistently predicted would happen, throughout all four gospels, as well as prophecies in the Hebrew Scriptures. The religious rulers got it and did what they could to guard against it, but Jesus’s own followers did not get it, so they were shocked and in disbelief at first. They knew Jesus had died.
Now Jesus would spend the next forty days going to great lengths to establish the truth that it was really him, physically alive again.
Proofs of Jesus as Resurrected Messiah and God the Son
- Was Jesus’s resurrection actually more of a resuscitation, only to die for real at some point later on?
Nobody, in Jesus’s day, ever questioned the fact of his death. Of all the people who would recognize death, it would be a Roman centurion, trained in killing. The centurion in charge of Jesus’s crucifixion made very sure that Jesus was all the way dead, and the two sterling legal witnesses of Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea corroborated that fact.
- Was the body abducted somehow?
The record of Jesus being buried by Joseph of Arimathea, protected by a heavy, sealed stone door, and guarded by armed and trained Roman soldiers is fundamentally reliable, and not disputed. The Jewish leaders actually were afraid Jesus might rise again, and even if he did not, that the disciples might try and make it look like he had.
We know from Matthew that the guards had witnessed the whole thing.
They did not report to Pilate or their superior officers. That would have been signing their own death warrants for dereliction of duty. Instead, they took their story to the one group of people who were the most anxious to cover it up: the chief priests.
The religious leaders had been prepared for this eventuality. History bears this out: the religious leaders could not present Jesus’ body as proof of his still being dead. They did not dare try to arrest the disciples in case Jesus really had risen. They had to say something, though. So they came up with a story. If asked, the soldiers would say that while they were asleep the disciples came and stole the body.
But the story had problems.
- If the soldiers had truly been asleep, then how would they have known who came to the tomb to steal the body?
- How would the disciples have rolled that enormous stone without waking up the guard?
- Why would they have taken time to neatly fold the grave clothes?
- Why would they be so forthcoming with a story that would have meant their execution?
- Was Jesus’ resurrection only spiritual, not physical?
The authors of the Christian Testament carefully listed eyewitnesses to the bodily resurrection of Jesus
- Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, Joanna, Salome and other women
- Cleopas and his companion on the way to Emmaus
- Several times to the disciples in small groups, Peter, Jesus’ brother James, then to Thomas with the rest of the disciples
- 500 people; also many times to those who had traveled with him from Galilee to Jerusalem
- 120 people including the disciples and Jesus’ closest followers
- And finally to Paul
These earliest Christians did not simply endorse Jesus’s teachings, they were convinced they had, themselves, been with a fully alive Jesus after his crucifixion. They saw Jesus with their own eyes, walked with him, touched him, heard his voice, felt his breath and ate with him.
In total, Jesus appeared to all eleven of the remaining disciples, to some individually, to members of his family, to all of the women who had gathered with the disciples, individually to some other followers, and to groups of up to 500 people at a time.
Jesus’s bodily resurrection is what transfixed the hearts and minds of Jesus’s first followers, what changed their lives and started the church.
- Beginning with James, the disciples were ready to be (and almost all were) martyred on their testimony
- James, Jesus’ brother; and Saul of Tarsus were both hardened skeptics who became believers after Jesus rose from the dead and appeared to them. They were also willing to be martyred for their belief.
- The 120 core followers and supporters of Jesus waited in the upper room as per the resurrected Jesus’s instructions, and thereby received the Holy Spirit.
Importance of the Resurrection to Faith in Christ
The Apostle Paul explained that the resurrection is the most important doctrine of the Christian faith. If Jesus did not rise from the dead, the whole structure of Christianity collapses.
- If Jesus is not risen, we will not rise from the dead either, we stay dead.
- All the apostles are liars, and the whole religion is a big farce.
- We will die in our sins – there is nothing that can save us from judgement.
Hallelujah, the weight of evidence is real and overwhelming.
[Thomas | The Brooklyn Museum, James Tissot, Public Domain]
I am indebted to two books for today’s post:
- The Case for Christ, by Lee Strobel
- Evidence that Demands a Verdict, by Josh MCDowell