Tag Archives: Thomas

In Faith We Doubt

Would faith today be so widespread without Thomas?

Doubting Thomas, by Hendrick ter Brugghen, c. 1622

I wonder what you think might be one of the crucial momnets related to Christ’s resurrection? For me, it is the moment Jesus lets Thomas see, and touch for himself his wounds, the marks of his crucifixion (John 20:24-29). Would the events have been so plausible without Thomas’ insistence on seeing the evidence himself.

All the disciples except Thomas saw Jesus on the evening of the day of his resurrection. Thomas was not with them, we do not know where he was at that time. Maybe he was out procuring supplies. It was another week before Thomas also saw Jesus when he appeared to them again.

Thomas must have had a strong character. For a week he resisted the peer pressure of his friends and fellow disciples, before Jesus appeared to them again when all were present. Thomas doubted but there is no suggestion he didn’t believe. Thomas asked the question I probably would, you probably would and I suspect most believers might ask.

Unbelief is quiet different from doubt, it includes denial, which Thomas never did. I suspect that at some time of life everyone who has a faith doubts at some time, to some degree. I have. Sometimes we all need some kind of sign.

When Jesus appeared the second time, he let Thomas see and touch his wounds then said to him “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (UKNIV). These words could easily be perceived a rebuke to Thomas, for his doubt. Perhaps it was; I do not think so.

I think Jesus’ remark was encouragement, to the disciples and future generations. Encouragement for all the people of the time and to come, who could only rely on the testimony of people like Thomas and would rely on word of mouth and later, the gospels we rely on today.

With thanks to Joanne for inspiring part of this post.


Doubting Didymus

Did the disciple we know as Thomas get a raw deal?

Doubting Thomas, by Caravaggio

Didymus, whom we know better as the disciple Thomas, is one of the only two disciples whose name has survived in fairly common usage in today’s language, Judas being the other. I imagine that at some time you have heard someone referred to as ‘a Judas’ and in Thomas’ case, you have probably heard someone called ‘a doubting Thomas’

Thomas, was sceptical that Christ had risen again. He was the only one of the remaining eleven disciples, Judas having already killed himself, who was not present at Jesus appearance in the upper room a week after Mary Magdalene told the disciples their Lord had returned. Thomas, when told of Jesus appearance, is reported to have said “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” (John 20: 25 NIV).

A week earlier, before Jesus’ appearance in the upper room, Luke writes (Luke 24: 11) that when Mary Magdalene told the disciples that Jesus had risen, they did not believe her. I think it is important to remember that when Jesus first appeared to the disciples, Thomas was the only one not present. The rest had not only seen the Lord, they met him all together.

For Thomas, Jesus’ resurrection was second hand information on both the first and second appearance of Jesus after his crucifixion. The first time when Mary Magdalene brought the news from the open tomb and on the second occasion, when the other disciples told Thomas what they had seen.

After what they had witnessed at Calvary, can we really blame Thomas for his skepticism? If it had been one of the others instead of Thomas, would he have put his doubt into words? How often do we keep quiet about things today,  just so as not to stand out in a crowd, or look silly in front of our peers? Perhaps Thomas was the only one with the courage to speak out about his doubts.

The disciples had all seen Jesus perform miracles, including resurrecting at least two people, Lazarus and Jairus’ daughter, although in both those cases their bodies were whole and without injury. In Jesus’ own case not only was the cadaver mutilated, it would mean a dead man healing himself.

Try and imagine yourself in Thomas’ place, would you have found it easy to believe such a momentous event without evidence of some kind? Thomas doubted, he was skeptical but let us not forget what Peter did; he lied. Three times, Peter denied knowing Jesus at all. Thomas never denied the Lord was alive, he just wanted something more than second hand testimony, after all since Peter had already lied, why should Thomas believe him at all.

Poor old Thomas’ woes don’t end there. When he sees the Lord for himself and Jesus allows him to touch his wounds, Thomas believes and he cries out “My Lord and my God!”. Jesus next words though “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” might be taken as an implication (at least in the NIV translation), that Thomas is less blessed than those who believed without seeing the Lord. Whilst almost certainly not intended like that, it can be read that way, so suppose that that was how Thomas took it?

When Thomas did see the risen Lord and touch his wounds, are we to believe that at least some of the other disciples in the room did not also want to reach out and touch but were afraid to, perhaps even afraid to ask? If I were a betting man, I would give good odds that they all the other disciples watched very closely as Thomas was given licence to, and had the courage to, touch Jesus’ wounds to satisfy himself. Perhaps Caravaggio’s picture that I included with this post makes the point. We do not know who the two disciples are in the picture with Thomas but, just look how closely they are watching what he does.

Thomas touched Jesus wounds almost two thousand years ago. We have no option other than to rely on the accounts in The Bible, on which to have faith. Could we have the same confidence in our faith without Thomas’ actions? So, to answer my own opening question; Yes I think Thomas (or Didymus) does get a raw deal, at least in the way his actions are reported in ‘the press’.

There is an old Chinese proverb that seems
to me it might be appropriate to Thomas:

“I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand”

Is It A Ghost?

An unexpected appearance.

Christ Appears to the Apostles Behind Closed Doors, by Duccio di Buoninsegna ca. 1255 – 1319

For a week now they had been keeping a low profile. Whilst not in hiding, they were taking care to do nothing that might draw attention to themselves. As a precaution, none of them went out alone and when they did go out it was only for necessities, coming straight back after finishing whatever errand they went on. Didymus and Mary were out at the market, buying food for the evening meal.

The remaining men in the upper room were talking quietly amongst themselves, as they had been doing for most of the week, inside the locked room. It was not locked to keep them in but to keep others out, because they were afraid, and they only unlocked it to re-admit one of their own. From time-to-time a voice would become raised as discussion turned to argument, the speaker quickly told to hush by the others, fearful that too much noise might draw unwanted attention to themselves.

Outside, the shadows were lengthening and light failing. as the sun dipped towards the horizon; Soon they would have to light the lamps. The last rays of the sun shone through the windows and where it fell was lit brightly by the warm, evening light. Away from the windows, where those last shafts of light did not reach, the shadows deepened until they seemed even darker than the night that would soon come. Yet as dark as those shadows were, in the darkest corner of the room it seemed to darken even more, thickening into an impenetrable, obsidian blackness.

Bartholomew saw it first then the others, who after noticing he had fallen silent, turned to follow his eyes to where he was staring. Most of then stayed stock still, frozen to the spot they occupied with some holding their breath. Philip and Thaddeus moved closer to the locked door, ready to make their escape. Finally James, the Son of Alphaeus, reached for a lamp and after a couple of unsuccessful attempts at lighting it a small flame spluttered into life. Picking up the lamp and holding it out in front of himself, he moved slowly closer to the darkened corner.

As he approached and the flickering light from the guttering flame reached out, they began to make out the shape of a man, a moment later the man moved. With an unhurried but sure footstep he came forward, stepping past James and into the last shaft of sunlight in the room. Those closest took an involuntary step back and James dropped the lamp, spilling the oil, and at the same time his jaw dropped at the sight of who it was that stood before them. When the lamp hit the floor and shattered, everyone who had not already moved also jumped, startled. Fortunately, when the lamp dropped it went out, so it did not ignite the spilled oil, just left a slippery mess on the floor, seeping away through the rough floor, and greasy splashes around the bottom of the robes of those standing closest.

James and John, the sons of Zebedee, were the first to speak, saying, almost together, “Teacher”. Everyone in that room had witnessed miracles but still found this one beyond their wildest imagination. Even those who had believed Mary Magdelene, when she had first returned from the open tomb a week earlier and said their teacher was alive, were taken aback. A second later there was a joyous uproar in the room at the ten men there saw their Lord alive and well, if still bearing scars, and they all rushed forward to greet him.

As the uproar began to subside so that he might be heard, Jesus said “Peace be with you.” He had to repeat it to get their full attention. He continued “As the Father has sent me I am sending you.” and as he breathed the Holy Spirit over them he went on “Receive the Holy Spirit”.

Diddymus and Mary had not returned from the market in time to see Jesus’ appearance. When they were told about how he had appeared to them, Didymus would not believe them. He wanted to see it for himself.

Another week went by and when all eleven of his remaining disciples were again gathered together in the locked upper room, Jesus appeared a second time to them. After the greetings had been exchanged, he addressed himself directly to Didymus. He knew that, that disciple had doubts and needed reassurance and so Jesus showed him his wounds, where the nails had pierced his hands and feet and the spear had stabbed into his side.

Didymus reached out tentatively, twice withdrawing his hand, wanting to touch the Master but fearing to do so. He did not know if he was more afraid that this was Jesus come back to them, or that it was not the man he had known. Eventually, needing proof one way or the other, he resolved to touch the wounds.

Meeting Jesus eyes fully for the first time, he pointed to the wound in Jesus’ hand and was given an almost imperceptible nod of permission. Closing the distance from pointing to touching Didymus gently felt the uneven swelling around the wound in his master’s hand and the deep depression where the nail had penetrated. As he touched his friend and teacher, he could not help a sharp in take of breath just as Jesus had done when the first nail was driven through into the rough cross.

Didymus eyes flicked back and forth between Jesus face and his side, while he reached to where Jesus had parted his robe, exposing the angry scar where the spear had gone in. He ran his finger tips gently along the scar, carefully so as not to cause any more pain by his touch. A moment later Didymus, usually know as Thomas, fell to his knees grazing them on the rough wood floor and, clutching at Jesus robe, he cried out “My Lord, my God”.

Based on John 20: 19-31