John 20: 24 – 31
But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, 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 the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.’
A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, 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. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt 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 come to believe.’
Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.
This is one of the most famous stories from the New Testament and the phrase ‘doubting Thomas’ is widely used both in religious and non religious contexts. It is only contained in this gospel and, as chapter 21 is generally thought to have been added in at a later date, represents the final scene (probably) in John’s account of Jesus’ life and ministry.
The rest of the disciples have already seen the risen Jesus in the previous, but Thomas was inextricably absent. He is made to wait a week before Jesus appears to them again. As in the previous story he arrives despite the disciples having locked themselves into their house. Jesus speaks to Thomas directly, knowing what he has said before, and inviting him to feel for himself what the other disciples saw previously, and know to be true.
To his credit, Thomas does not wait to act upon Jesus’ invitation, simply stating “my Lord and my God.” In doing this, Thomas is the first (and last) person in John’s gospel to look directly at Jesus, and address him as God. This is, perhaps, the culmination of John’s gospel, which has described how the word which was with God in the beginning, was made flesh, and finally was recognised as God by man. “Doubting Thomas” is the person who expresses exactly what is at the heart of John’s gospel.
Jesus gently rebukes him after this, citing all the people who will not see him but will still believe. This continues John’s theme of anchoring the story within the context of an established church. Cleary these people will not have seen Jesus, or even seen people who themselves saw Jesus. But Jesus does not treat Thomas unkindly. In fact, we might even view this ‘doubting Thomas’ moniker as unfair; we do not call Peter ‘denying Peter’.
The last paragraph is a conclusion, just as Thomas’ “my Lord and God” was a conclusion. John makes reference to other stories he could tell about Jesus, but the critical thing is that the people listening are able to have “life in his name”. This is the crux of the gospel, that Jesus has come to earth to set us free from fear, from worrying about earthly things and problems, and we are able to live life selflessly for God, and to the full.
As referred to earlier, while there is a Chapter 21 in John, it is not included in the earliest manuscripts and so most New Testament scholars consider it to have been added on, much like the last eleven verses of Mark.
And Jus as John has come to an end; this Daily Bread blog has too. Thank you for following the story of Jesus’ last night, death and resurrection with us through the Easter period. We hope you have been spiritually enlightened, or at least have learned, or can see, a few things that you didn’t before. If you have enjoyed looking at a passage from the Bible and reading a few paragraphs on it, why not get a biblical commentary and go through Jesus’ story from the beginning, or one of the letters, or even learn what the disciples did after Jesus’ death in the Acts of the Apostles next. The ones available on the bookstall are Tom Wright’s “x for everyone”, and also William Barclay’s daily bible readings. These are great ways to look at the story of Jesus as a whole, and pick up things that you couldn’t by just reading the text yourself.