Among all of Jesus’ many followers there were twelve with whom He had a more intimate relationship. They were hand-picked, traveled with Him all throughout His three year ministry period and eleven of them reunited with Him shortly after His resurrection. One of these eleven is often mentioned by name whenever an account of the resurrection is given. That one is Thomas, or as he is more often referred to: ‘Doubting Thomas’. This name is derived from the gospel as it was written according to John (20:24-), where Thomas states, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.” (ESV)
For this he is now widely known as ‘Doubting Thomas’, as if to condescendingly say ‘he who had little faith’. This is especially said in relation to Jesus’ response to his doubts which reads, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” ‘Hallelujah!’ shouts all those with ‘lots of faith’, we have not seen but are blessed for believing. But is this an affirmation of so-called ‘blind faith’, based simply on our own ability to choose to believe in something as true?
Hold on just one second, say all those who do not go around believing every far out story which gets thrown their way: Thomas ought to be declared a hero of the faith, one who ‘counted the cost’, one who applied critical thinking skills, one who believes truth ought to be open to and able to withstand rigorous testing. Or, perhaps the patron saint of the thinking man: St Thomas the Rational?
Last night I came across another such notion in the comment section beneath a testimony of a person who went along the road of ‘testing evidence’ to conclude that Jesus is Lord. Thomas is referred to ‘as perhaps the only true intellectual’ among the other more thick-headed (my own deduction) disciples.
I am of the opinion, however, that Thomas is unfairly branded ‘the doubter’, and incorrectly labeled a ‘rare intellectual’. Perhaps he ought rather be called ‘Thomas-Come-Lately’ or something of that sort. His response to the news of Jesus’ resurrection was seemingly very similar to that of most others on that day and days to follow. And maybe not too different to many of our own.
Just before that section of the gospel account written by John (in 20:20), Jesus also showed his wounds to others and thereafter they believed: “When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord.” From this it does seem the crowd remained at least a bit sceptical until they saw the wounds.
Similarly, in Luke’s account (24:36-), it played out as follows: “As they were talking about these things, Jesus himself stood among them, and said to them, “Peace to you!” But they were startled and frightened and thought they saw a spirit. And he said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. And while they still disbelieved for joy and were marvelling, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate before them.” So, while for Thomas merely touching His wounds was enough, some of these other ‘doubters’ were only convinced once they saw him eat real food, proving that even his inner works were functioning in a biologically correct manner. Also pointing to the fact that the resurrection is bodily and a return to Edenic conditions.
Luke also mentions that prior to this meeting, where plenty of wound touching occurred, Jesus walked with two people on the road to Emmaus. As Jesus joined their conversation they were “talking and discussing”, or “reasoning” as per the NKJV translation, about the testimonies of a risen Jesus and not readily believing the accounts they heard, to which Jesus responded, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!…”. Peter also before that, ran to the tomb to investigate there, “stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; and he went home marveling at what had happened.” Luke continues in Acts (1:3) stating, “He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God”
From Mark 16 (of which the earliest manuscripts did not include v.9-20) it is also clear that the others did not believe – probably until he showed His scars and ate with them as pointed out in the other accounts. Matthew wrote (28:17) that “…they worshipped Him, but some doubted”.
Thomas, I believe, carries the tag of ‘doubter’ unfairly, as his behaviour was seemingly no different to that of most others. Maybe we should be asking: why was he not with all the others? Or is there another reason, other than the fact that it is an account of how things happened, why he is individually mentioned here, which I am missing?
It also shows that the typical initial reaction to news of Jesus’ resurrection was unbelief, even when that news was conveyed by Jesus Himself. Most probably because people back then, much like today and probably any other time in history, do not expect dead men to rise from the dead, in the flesh. It was only the angels who casually asked and stated “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.”; for the rest it was something to critically engage with and yet mysteriously, a truth which can only be acknowledged once God Himself opens our eyes to see it. They went from unbelief and doubt to laying down their lives for it.
Christ and the message proclaiming him as the Messiah are to be engaged with critically by those who God the Father draws to it. The scriptures appear to have been written to be critically engaged with; a crucial element in knowing God.
“The brothers immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived they went into the Jewish synagogue. Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so. Many of them therefore believed, with not a few Greek women of high standing as well as men.” (Acts 17:10-12)
In saying all this, I believe the critical approach is not so much the method of concluding Jesus as the Christ and God, but rather a grace path through which God allows those to whom He has revealed himself as LORD, to know and trust Him.
“When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened, and they recognised him. And he vanished from their sight.” – Luke, recounting what happened along the road to Emmaus