Christ’s Appearance to Thomas
But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples were saying to him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he said to them, “Unless I see in His hands the imprint of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.” After eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors having been shut, and stood in their midst and said, “Peace be with you.” Then He said to Thomas, “Reach here with your finger, and see My hands; and reach here your hand and put it into My side; and do not be unbelieving, but believing.” Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed.” Therefore many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name. (20:24–31)
Not all of the apostles had been present at Jesus’ first appearance. Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came. Thomas was nicknamed Didymus, (“Twin”) for the obvious reason that he had a twin (who does not appear in Scripture). The Synoptic Gospels mention him only in the lists of the twelve apostles; the details of his character come from John’s gospel.
Thomas was the eternal pessimist. Like Eeyore in the Winnie the Pooh stories, he was a melancholy person, with an uncanny knack for finding the dark cloud in every silver lining. Thomas first appears in John’s gospel in connection with the story of the raising of Lazarus. Aghast that Jesus planned to return to the vicinity of Jerusalem, where the Jews had recently tried to kill Him (11:8), Thomas exclaimed fatalistically, “Let us also go, so that we may die with Him” (v. 16). But Thomas’s pessimism should not be allowed to obscure his courage; though he thought the situation was hopeless, he nonetheless was willing to lay his life on the line for the Lord. His love for Jesus was so strong that he would have preferred to die with Him rather than to be separated from Him.
Thomas next appears in the upper room. Jesus had just announced His imminent departure (14:2–3), and reminded the disciples that they knew where He was going. Heartbroken that Jesus was leaving, Thomas promptly contradicted Him, saying despondently, “Lord, we do not know where You are going, how do we know the way?” (14:5), suggesting such devotion that he seemed to think it would be better to die with his Lord than to try to find Him later. Such was his love for Christ.
It is too bad that Thomas missed the Lord’s appearance. Why was he not there? Was it due to his being negative, pessimistic, even melancholy? Was he off somewhere feeling sorry for himself because his worst fear had come true?
Thomas may have felt alone, betrayed, forsaken. His hopes may have been crushed. The One he had loved so greatly was gone and his heart was irreparably torn. He may not have been in a socializing mood. Maybe being alone seemed best. He could not be in a crowd, even with his friends.
But when Thomas returned from wherever he had been, the other disciples were exuberantly and eagerly saying to him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he would have none of it. Thomas was certain he would never see Jesus again. He refused to get his hopes up, only to have them dashed once more, so he announced skeptically, “Unless I see in His hands the imprint of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.” It was that remark that earned him the nickname “Doubting Thomas.” But the track record of the other ten apostles was no better; they too had scoffed at the initial reports of the resurrection (Mark 16:10–13; Luke 24:9–11) and failed to believe the Scriptures that predicted it (20:9; Luke 24:25–26). What made Thomas different was not that his doubt was greater, but that his sorrow was greater.
Thomas would soon be taken up on his skeptical offer. After eight days the disciples were again inside, but this time Thomas was with them. Once again, the doors had been shut, and once again that proved to be no deterrent to the risen Lord. As He had done eight days earlier, Jesus came in and stood in their midst. He immediately singled out Thomas. Ever the sympathetic High Priest (Heb. 4:15), Jesus gently, lovingly, compassionately said to him, “Reach here with your finger, and see My hands; and reach here your hand and put it into My side; and do not be unbelieving, but believing.” The Lord met Thomas at the point of his weakness and doubt, without rebuke because He knew Thomas’s error was connected to his profound love. In patient compassion, He gave Thomas the empirical proof he had demanded.
That was enough for the doubter; his melancholy skepticism dissolved forever in light of the irrefutable evidence in the person confronting him. Overwhelmed, he made perhaps the greatest confession of any of the apostles, rivaled only by Peter’s confession of Jesus as the Messiah (Matt. 16:16), exclaiming, “My Lord and my God!” Significantly, Jesus did not correct him, but accepted Thomas’s affirmation of His deity. Indeed, He praised Thomas for his faith, saying to him, “Because you have seen Me, have you believed?” But looking ahead to the time when the tangible, physical evidence Thomas had witnessed would no longer be available, the Lord pronounced those “blessed … who did not see, and yet believed” (cf. 2 Cor. 5:7; 1 Peter 1:8–9). They, who will never see physical evidence of Christ’s rising, will have a greater measure of the Holy Spirit to empower faith in the resurrection. This is the second beatitude in this gospel (cf. 13:17). Blessed does not just convey a condition of happiness, but also declares the recipient to be accepted by God.
It must be noted that our Lord’s words do not indicate anything defective about the faith of Thomas.
Thomas’s faith is not depreciated … “but for the fact that Thomas and the other apostles saw the incarnate Christ there would have been no Christian faith at all. Cf. 1:18, 50f.; 2:11; 4:45; 6:2; 9:37; 14:7, 9; 19:35” (Barrett, p. 573).… later believers come to faith through the word of the earlier believers (17:20). Blessed, then, are those who cannot share Thomas’ experience of sight, but who, in part because they read of Thomas’ experience, come to share Thomas’ faith. (D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991), 660)
Thomas’s confession and Christ’s response are a fitting lead in to John’s summary statement of his goal and purpose in writing his gospel: Therefore many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book (cf. 12:37; 21:25). Those who have not and will not see the Lord risen will depend on this gospel penned by John (as well as the other three) to provide the word concerning Christ by which the Spirit can give them regeneration and faith (Rom. 10:17).
And there are many more miraculous signs that Jesus did beyond the miracles recorded in chapters 2–12 (and the other Gospels), including the greatest sign—His resurrection—but they are not necessary because what has been written is sufficient. This statement establishes that this gospel of John is about the miraculous signs pointing to Jesus as Christ and Lord—for the purpose John explicitly expresses in the next statement.
But these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name. As has been said, to expand this verse one need only to go back through the whole gospel. This is the summary statement. To believe that Jesus Christ is God incarnate (1:1, 14), the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (1:29), and the resurrection and the life (11:25) is to believe that truth that when accepted provides forgiveness of sin and eternal life (3:16). John’s purpose is clearly evangelistic. Again, Carson aptly unifies the thought:
John’s purpose is not academic. He writes in order that men and women may believe certain propositional truth, the truth that the Christ, the Son of God, is Jesus, the Jesus whose portrait is drawn in this Gospel. But such faith is not an end in itself. It is directed toward the goal of personal, eschatological salvation: that by believing you may have life in his name. That is still the purpose of this book today, and at the heart of the Christian mission (v. 21). (John, 663. Italics in original.)
A Great Benediction
Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
It is a remarkable characteristic of the Word of God that it is filled far more with blessings than with curses. There are curses, to be sure. There are warnings of judgment. But when all is put together, the blessings are far more numerous and more wonderful than any of these more somber elements.
The Bible begins with a blessing, for we are told that after each day of creation God commented upon the work, saying, “It is good.” The Bible ends with a blessing, “The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God’s people. Amen” (Rev. 22:21). In between are such verses as: “God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it’ ” (Gen 1:28); “I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing” (Gen. 12:2); “After Jacob returned from Paddan Aram, God appeared to him again and blessed him” (Gen 35:9); “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace” (Num 6:24–26); “Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked” (Ps. 1:1); “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord” (Ps. 33:12); “Blessed are they whose ways are blameless” (Ps. 119:1); “Blessed are they whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will never count against him” (Rom. 4:7–8; cf. Ps. 32:1–2); “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord” (Rev. 14:13). In my concordance I find 375 Old Testament passages that deal with God’s blessing. I find 108 separate passages in the New Testament.
It is not surprising in view of this wonderful characteristic of our God and of his revelation to find that the Lord Jesus Christ, the incarnate God, also had many words of blessing during the days of his ministry. We think of the beatitudes of Matthew 5, an obvious example (vv. 3–11). There are blessings pronounced upon children (Mark 10:16), upon one or more of the disciples (Matt. 13:16; 16:17), upon faithful servants of God (Matt. 24:46), upon those who hear the Word of God and keep it (Luke 11:28). There is the benediction at the close of John’s Gospel, which is our text: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29).
This blessing, the fifth of Christ’s “last” words in John’s Gospel, is great for several reasons, among them that it is the last of Christ’s blessings spoken while on earth. Appropriately, it is one that concerns not just a single person or a limited group of people but rather all who should believe on him as Savior.
What Does Christ Mean?
What does Jesus mean when he says, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed”? Does he mean that a subjective faith is better than an objective faith, that a faith that has no relation to evidence is better than a faith that has? Does he mean that only a faith like that is blessed? It is hard to think that this is his meaning, because he has just provided tangible evidence of his resurrection for Thomas by appearing to him and inviting him to put his finger into the holes of his hands and thrust his hand into Christ’s side. Again, it is clear that John did not interpret Christ’s words in this way, because immediately after this John says that he has written certain things in his Gospel in order that those who read might believe.
So we may grant that Jesus is not advocating a faith entirely without evidence. But that still does not answer the question. What does Jesus mean? I believe he is speaking, not of a subjective faith, but of a satisfied faith. He is speaking of faith that is satisfied with what God provides and is therefore not yearning for visions, miracles, esoteric experiences, or various forms of success as evidence of God’s favor. More than that, he is saying that a faith without these things is not inferior to but is actually superior to a faith based upon them.
Take these things one at a time and see why this is so. Take visions, first of all. If you are a normal Christian, I am sure there have been times when you have been discouraged, perhaps overcome with doubt, and you have said, “Oh, if God would only reveal himself to me in some special way so that my sight, touch, or hearing could assist my faith.” We remember that there were people in the Bible who had such evidence. Abraham saw visions; he spoke with the three angelic visitors; he heard the voice of God from heaven on Mount Moriah. Moses met God on the mountain; on one occasion Moses was hidden in a cleft of the rock and witnessed the fire, wind, and earthquake as Jehovah passed by. Isaiah had a vision of God high and lifted up. The disciples saw Christ in the days of his flesh. Paul was caught up to the third heaven. John himself had the magnificent visions recorded for us in the Book of Revelation. “Why can’t we have something similar?” we argue. “Surely we could believe much better and be far more effective in our Christian walk and witness if we did.”
But that is not true, even though we like to tell ourselves that it is. For one thing, we usually want such experiences for the wrong reason—vanity. We would have a far higher opinion of ourselves if we should be granted an experience which most do not have. For another thing, visions do not necessarily lead to greater faith. In the opening pages of Miracles by C. S. Lewis, the well-known Oxford professor and author tells of a friend of his who once saw a ghost. Before the vision, she disbelieved in an immortal soul. After it, she still disbelieved. Obviously, faith gives meaning to experience rather than the other way around.
Second, there are miracles or other special acts of God’s providence. Do you pray for miracles? Do you think you could believe God better if you saw some? The opposite is the case. If you are looking for miracles (which God sometimes does provide, but seldom), you will gradually become insensitive to the thousands of normal evidences of God’s mercy which you receive constantly.
Third, there are people who think they would be stronger in faith and be better able to live the Christian life were they to have some special esoteric experience. We read a passage like 1 Corinthians 12:9–10, where Paul speaks of God granting to some “gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues,” and we think that if we could only do or experience something like that, we would be stronger and happier as Christians. But that is not true either. God sometimes grants such experiences for the good of his church; the very fact that Paul lists these gifts in 1 Corinthians 12 is evidence that he does. But surely anyone who reads these chapters carefully will note that Paul does not encourage us to seek these experiences. If anything, he seems to warn against them, and he certainly does not pronounce any special blessing upon their exercise. Why? Because the blessings of the gospel are for those who live by faith and not by sight, who live by their faith in the character and benevolence of God and not in the evidence of visions, miracles, or other such experiences.
There is one other item which must not be left out, if only because it is so common in our day. It is the supposed evidence of success, measured by the number of people converted, church growth, income for Christian institutions and other such things. Does this mean that we are not to work to see as many people converted as possible? Does it mean that we are not to be concerned with church growth? Does it mean that we should not be concerned with the level of income necessary to run Christian schools, missions, churches, and other institutions? Not at all. But it does mean that we are not to tie our faith in God to such circumstances. We are to pray and believe and go on working even when we do not see this kind of numerical blessing.
What is faith? Faith is believing God on the basis of his Word and then acting upon it. This is true faith. It is this that God blesses. God promises a blessing upon those who have faith. We cannot repeat that enough. God blesses faith, and not the living out of some unusual experience.
How could it be otherwise if (1) God is to be fair in his dealings with his people and (2) the blessings of which he speaks are to be for all? Suppose it to be the other way. Suppose God’s blessing were linked to the unusual. In that case, either his blessing would be for a small and select company only, or else the things we consider unusual would have to become commonplace, in which case they would cease to have the character of “special evidences.” They would be like those other countless evidences of God’s providence which we enjoy daily but do not regard so highly, simply because they are common. No, the blessings of God are for all; and they are based, not upon the unusual in Christian experience, but upon faith which by its very nature and definition is common to all who call upon the name of Christ as God and Savior. This is why the Gospel of John ends on this note. It ends here because John wants to encourage everyone to believe on Jesus and enjoy God’s blessings.
What are those blessings? There are many ways to answer that question, because faith is discussed again and again throughout the Bible. But we may answer it at this point just from John’s Gospel, remembering that John’s Gospel is the Gospel of faith preeminently. In John the Greek word for faith (pistis) always occurs in its verbal form (pisteuō) and is therefore translated “believe.” But in that form it occurs more often in John than in any other biblical book, even Romans (which has much to say about faith) or books that are longer. We find the word 101 times in John’s Gospel, compared with a combined use of “faith” and “believe” 64 times in Romans and only 22 times in Mark. So John is obviously concerned with faith and considers it of prime importance. What does he say of the blessings that flow from it? The following ten items are prominent.
- It is by faith that we become children of God and thus enter into the privileges of being in God’s spiritual family. John indicates this at several points but especially in the first chapter, where he says, “Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (1:12). Certainly this is a great blessing and the source of many others that follow.
- It is through faith that we have eternal life. This is the teaching of the best-known verse in the Gospel, John 3:16. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” Death is an “enemy” (1 Cor. 15:26). But death shall be conquered by faith, which unites us to Christ who conquered it.
- By faith we are delivered from judgment. John quotes Jesus as saying, “I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life” (5:24).
- John 6:35 teaches that faith ushers us into the blessings of spiritual satisfaction now: “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty.” To come to Christ is to believe on Christ; that is what the parallelism suggests. So belief in Christ is set forth as the key to having all spiritual longings fulfilled.
- Jesus also calls faith the means for entering into the final resurrection: “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die” (11:25–26). The blessings of the resurrection are for those who believe on Jesus.
- Faith in Jesus is also said to be the way in which we become blessings to others, as the Holy Spirit who communicates all God’s blessings works through us. This is taught in John 7:38–39: “ ‘Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.’ By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive.” The image is of a broad river flowing through a desert land, giving life and joy to all who come upon it.
- Through faith we see the glory of God. “Then Jesus said, ‘Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?’ ” (11:40). Without faith we will be like the heathen, who are surrounded by the glory of God in nature, yet either do not see it or else attribute it to that which is not God by a worship of idols. It is only as we look to God that our eyes are increasingly opened to see what he is doing.
- Faith is the secret of a holy life. Jesus said, “I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness” (12:46). In biblical language, darkness is the darkness of sin (cf. 1 John 1:5–10). So walking in the light means walking in holiness by means of the spiritual and moral life which God gives.
- The blessing of a fruitful and effective life comes by faith. Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father” (14:12). This does not necessarily refer to what we would call miracles, though taken together the disciples may well have performed more miracles than Jesus did. It refers rather to the many works of witnessing, preaching, and Christlike service performed by Christian people. They are performed by those who take God at his word and go out boldly to do his bidding.
- Finally, it is through faith that we receive the benefits of Jesus’ prayers on our behalf. He said, “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message” (17:20). If, as we are told in James, “the prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective” (5:16), how much more shall the prayers of the Lord Jesus Christ avail for us! If we lacked all other promises of blessing through faith, this alone should be enough.
What I have written here applies most directly to those who are Christians, to those who have believed on Jesus and to whom these blessings are therefore given. But it applies to non-Christians too in that you are challenged to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ as your Savior.
Do not say, as many do, “I think I could believe in Jesus if he would just appear to me in some special way. I could believe if I had some miraculous vision.” That is not true, though you may think so. Pharaoh did not believe though he witnessed the greatest collection of signs and wonders ever granted to one man at one period of history. Those things are of no use to you. The problem is not miracles or the lack of them. The problem is sin. You are a sinner, and Jesus is the answer to your sin. He died for you, bearing your punishment. Now you must come to him in simple faith. You cannot see him. But you can find him if you seek him with your whole heart.
Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” (John 20:27)
The Bible might be called God’s book of blessings. This is not to say that the Scriptures contain only blessings. There are commands, warnings, and even curses as well. But the Bible predominates in blessings. The purpose of the Bible is to lead us into God’s blessings so that God might be blessed in blessing his people.
The Bible begins with blessings, as God created all things and called them “good.” The Bible also ends with a blessing: “The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen” (Rev. 22:21). In between, we find blessing upon blessing. After making man, “God blessed them. And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it’ ” (Gen. 1:28). When God led Israel out of bondage, he put a benediction into the mouth of his priest, Aaron: “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace” (Num. 6:24–26).
When God’s Son, Jesus, came to earth, he spoke remarkable blessings. His Beatitudes begin, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:3). Jesus blessed children (Mark 10:16), faithful servants (Matt. 24:46), and those who keep his Word (Luke 11:28). In the Gospel of John, Jesus spoke his last blessing when the disciple Thomas had believed, an especially significant blessing since it refers directly to us: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29). Since salvation is received through faith, this blessing provides a key to them all: Jesus promises us, even if we have not seen him with our eyes, that if we believe his Word, we will be blessed with all the blessings that have ever been blessed by God.
In the last of his records of Christ’s appearances to his disciples in Jerusalem, John turns to an event recorded nowhere else in Scripture: Jesus’ ministry to the disbelief of the disciple Thomas.
We do not know as much about Thomas as the more prominent disciples. What we learn of him in John’s Gospel, however, presents a consistent picture of dogged, loyal pessimism. In chapter 11, Thomas reacted to the news that Jesus was going back within the reach of the menacing religious leaders by saying, “Let us also go, that we may die with him” (John 11:16). Later, when Jesus began his Farewell Discourse by saying that he was going to heaven to prepare a place for the disciples, Thomas complained, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” (14:5). This small amount of evidence suggests that Thomas was loyal to Jesus and even courageous, but that he was also fatalistic and dour. This picture is confirmed by his refusal to believe the reports of Jesus’ resurrection. When Jesus died, Thomas’s gloomy mind saw the extinction of all hope. A. W. Pink observes, “He reminds us very much of John Bunyan’s ‘Fearing,’ ‘Despondency’ and ‘Much Afraid,’ in his Pilgrim’s Progress—types of a large class of Christians who are successors of doubting Thomas.”
It is with this Thomas that John concludes his account of Jesus’ death and resurrection: “Now Thomas, one of the Twelve, called the Twin, 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 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’ ” (John 20:24–25). It is for saying these words that Thomas has been known to history as “doubting Thomas.” We should not disparage him, however, as if he were the only disciple to doubt: all the disciples failed to believe on Christ’s resurrection at some point.
When it comes to people with sincere doubts, the Bible is remarkably gracious and accommodating. Consider the Queen of Sheba, who had heard the incredible stories about the wisdom and glory of King Solomon, so that she traveled to Jerusalem “to test him with hard questions” (1 Kings 10:1). Her behavior revealed her as a skeptic of the best kind: she did not believe everything she heard, but she was open to believing the truth. So she inquired personally, posing Solomon riddles and asking to see the evidences for the claims that she had heard. The Bible records, “When she came to Solomon, she told him all that was on her mind. And Solomon answered all her questions” (10:2–3). After seeing the truth for herself, the Queen of Sheba exclaimed, “I did not believe the reports until I came and my own eyes had seen it. And behold, the half was not told me” (10:7).
This kind of doubt—a genuine quest for the truth and a willingness to believe it—is often blessed by God and should be honored by all his servants. If you find it hard to believe what you have heard about Christianity and want to know the truth, you should turn to the Bible with an open mind and heart. You should feel free to ask your questions of pastors and other Christians. As long as you are truly seeking truth and are sincerely open to believing if you are persuaded, then Jesus’ promise applies to you: “everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds” (Luke 11:10). If you are sincerely wondering about Jesus, your quest is likely to end with the Queen of Sheba’s ringing affirmation: “Behold, the half was not told me!”
The problem with doubting Thomas, however, was that he really was not a doubter at all. Instead, Thomas was a determined disbeliever. He set forth conditions, demands that expressed not his willingness but his unwillingness to believe: “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” (John 20:25). Thomas was not unsure or puzzled, but stubbornly rejected the news of Jesus’ resurrection. Leon Morris writes: “He would not be persuaded by the combined testimony of all the rest of the apostolic band.… He could not understand why all the apostles, sensible men whom he knew well, had accepted it. And no matter how stupid they had been, he was not going to follow their example.”
It is interesting that Jesus appeared to the disciples on Resurrection Sunday and then did not appear to them again until the next Sunday (when John says that Jesus returned “eight days later,” he is counting inclusively, as was the Jewish pattern). It is possible that Jesus was emphasizing the gathering of his people for worship on the Lord’s Day. Thomas, alone of the remaining eleven disciples, had not been present in the previous week’s gathering when Jesus first appeared. It is not surprising, then, that while the other disciples were strengthened in their faith, Thomas drifted into a hardened state of unbelief. His absence from the fellowship contributed to his unbelief.
This reminds us why all believers need to be regular and consistent in attending the worship of the church. This principle is especially true for those who are wavering in their faith or godliness. Alexander Maclaren urges: “The worst thing that a man can do when disbelief, or doubt, or coldness shrouds his sky, and blots out the stars, is to go away alone and shut himself up with his own, perhaps morbid, or, at all events, disturbing thoughts. The best thing that he can do is to go amongst his fellows. If the sermon does not do him any good, the prayers and the praises and the sense of brotherhood will help him.” Of all the blessings that we miss when we fail to attend church, the most certain is the strengthening of our faith through the ministry of God’s Word. Because he was absent when Christ first appeared to the disciples, Thomas missed the joy of Christ’s presence and the Lord’s ministry of peace. It is no wonder that he spent a week in despondency when he might have been rejoicing in the resurrection.
Thomas benefited, nonetheless, by the faithful Christian friendship of his fellow disciples. They might have reasoned, being aware of God’s sovereignty in salvation, that there was nothing for them to do about Thomas’s absence. But that is not what they did. Even though they could not persuade Thomas about what they had seen, their witness seems to have accounted for his presence on this second Sunday, so that Thomas was present when the Lord appeared again. Likewise, believers today should be alert to those who have drifted away from the church and should provide the encouragement and witness they need in order to return to the fold of Christ.
See My Hands
Despite his unbelief, Thomas was brought to faith by Jesus’ second appearance in the midst of his disciples. John writes: “Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you’ ” (John 20:26). If this sounds familiar, the reason is that this is a virtual replay of the previous week’s appearance. In his resurrected body, Jesus was able to appear right before his disciples without coming through the door. This time, he spoke directly to the remaining unbeliever: “Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe’ ” (20:27).
There are three points for us to note about Jesus’ ministry in calling Thomas to faith. The first is that Jesus did not mind repeating his earlier ministry. Jesus was born in this world to offer peace with God to men and women lost in sin, so it was no burden for him to repeat this message a second time. Indeed, Jesus delights today to present himself over and over again to sinners whom he is calling to salvation, speaking to their hearts, “Peace be with you.” If you have been saved, it is because Jesus came to you through his Word and declared peace. He told you that his atoning death had put an end to God’s wrath against your sins and summoned you to lay down your arms in surrendering faith. If you recognize that Jesus offers peace with God and eternal life, then it is Jesus himself who has come before you and speaks to your soul through the Bible, calling you to faith.
Second, Jesus also presented the cause of our restoration to God. Just as in his earlier appearance, he displayed the marks of his sacrifice for our sins upon the cross. Jesus constantly sets the cross before us to stir up our faith and grant us peace. If you find yourself doubting God’s love, remember the cross, where God’s Son freely gave his life for you. If you feel that you could not possibly have peace with God, remember the wounds of Christ and see the price that satisfied God’s justice toward you. If you close your eyes at night and fear that you might die and be sent to hell, remember 1 John 1:7: “the blood of Jesus [God’s] Son cleanses us from all sin.”
It is because of this focus on the cross that Jesus instituted the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper to provide a perpetual memorial of the peace he won through his atoning death. Receiving the emblems of Christ’s body and blood, broken and shed for our sins, every believer should be assured not only that God will receive his or her soul into heaven in the future but also that God’s blessing has been secured for us right now. A. W. Pink writes: “When we have gone astray, what is it that recalls us? Not occupation with the intricacies of prophecy or the finer points of doctrine (important and valuable as these are in their place) but the great foundational truth of the Atonement. It was the sight of the Saviour’s wounds which scattered all Thomas’ doubts, overcame his self-will, and brought him to the feet of Christ as an adoring worshiper.”
Third, notice the pastoral care with which Jesus ministered to Thomas’s disbelief: “Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe’ ” (John 20:27). On the one hand, Jesus was graciously answering Thomas’s demand, not ridiculing or rebuking Thomas but ministering to his unbelief. J. C. Ryle comments: “It is hard to imagine anything more tiresome and provoking than the conduct of Thomas.… But it is impossible to imagine anything more patient and compassionate, than our Lord’s treatment of this weak disciple.… He deals with him according to his weakness, like a gentle nurse dealing with a froward child.” On the other hand, Jesus in this way revealed to Thomas the truth of his deity. How could Jesus know what Thomas had said, unless he was the Lord of resurrection life, the God who knows all secrets? When Thomas finally believed, it was not ultimately because of the testimony of his friends, valuable as that was, but because Jesus had revealed himself personally in such a way that Thomas could no longer disbelieve.
William Hendriksen points out how thoroughly Jesus responded to Thomas’s objections with a gracious answer designed to win his faith. Thomas had insisted, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails,” and Jesus told him, “See my hands.” Thomas demanded to “place my finger into the mark of the nails,” and Jesus invited him, “Put your finger here.” Thomas added that he must “place my hand into his side,” so Jesus answered, “Place it in my side.” “I will never believe,” Thomas insisted, but Jesus commanded in sovereign grace, “Do not disbelieve, but believe” (John 20:25–27). In every conversion, Jesus personally ministers to the unbelief of the individual sinner and sovereignly calls the individual soul, “Do not disbelieve, but believe.” If Jesus is calling to you, you should listen and respond. When Jesus comes before you through his Word, you should put away your unbelief and follow the example that Thomas gave before you.
Doubt Replaced with Faith
The first thing we notice about Thomas’s conversion is that he does not seem actually to have placed his fingers into the wounds of Jesus’ hands and side. Once Jesus had revealed himself to Thomas, the disciple no longer placed any demands before his faith; instead, his faith compelled him to drop all his objections and immediately profess Jesus as Savior and Lord. It was not because his demands had been met that Thomas decided that he was willing to believe. Instead, Christ’s personal self-disclosure overwhelmed the unbelief and drew Thomas to Christ as a servant and worshiper.
In this way, Thomas moved from being the last holdout to Jesus among the disciples to the one who offered the highest profession of faith in Christ. It was just as Paul would later declare: “Where sin increased, grace abounded all the more” (Rom. 5:20). In John’s Gospel, indeed in all four of the Gospels, there is no greater profession of faith than the one given by the once-disbelieving Thomas: “Thomas answered him, ‘My Lord and my God!’ ” (John 20:28).
Thomas professed Jesus in two vital terms that every Christian must likewise embrace. First, he named Jesus his Lord, committing himself wholly to Jesus for salvation, worship, and obedience. Thomas thus gave the confession of Psalm 16:2: “I say to the Lord, ‘You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you.’ ” Some Christians are taught that we may look to Jesus as Savior while withholding commitment to him as our Master. Thomas belies this notion, showing that faith in Christ demands a self-surrender to him as our sovereign Lord.
Second, Thomas professed the deity of Christ, worshiping him as “my God.” J. C. Ryle calls this “a distinct testimony to our blessed Lord’s divinity. It was a clear, unmistakable declaration that Thomas believed him, whom he saw and touched that day, to be not only man, but God. Above all, it was a testimony which our Lord received and did not prohibit, and a declaration which He did not say one word to rebuke.”
In order for Jesus to offer the salvation presented in the Bible, it is necessary for him to be God. His eternal priestly mediation, his sufficient atonement for sin, and his perfect redemption, along with the effectual, sovereign call by which he summons sinners to believe, all require that Jesus be very God of very God. Ryle comments:
Forever let us bless God that the Deity of our Lord is taught everywhere in the Scriptures, and stands on evidence that can never be overthrown. Above all, let us daily repose our sinful selves on Christ with undoubting confidence, as one that is perfect God as well as perfect man. He is man, and therefore can be touched with the feeling of our infirmities. He is God, and therefore “is able to save unto the uttermost them that come unto God by him.”
Thomas worshiped Jesus and confessed him as the Lord, the sovereign, covenant Savior of the Bible, and as the one true and living God, incarnate in the flesh for our salvation. Do you confess these things to be true of Jesus? If you do, be sure to add another word that Thomas inserted. He confessed Jesus not only as Lord and God but as “my Lord and my God!” (John 20:28). Jesus offers himself to you, so do not fail to receive him in worshiping faith. And then offer yourself to him in surrendering adoration, acclaiming him as “my Lord and my God.” If you do, like Thomas, you will be saved.
Blessed Are the Believers
With Thomas’s glorious confession, the apostle John brings the record of his Gospel to its climax. He began with an assertion to the deity of Jesus. “In the beginning was the Word,” he wrote, “and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1). Over twenty chapters, John has told of the remarkable ministry of Jesus, centered on the seven great signs of his deity, and then focusing on Christ’s departing ministry, his saving crucifixion, and his glorious resurrection. For John, the fitting climax to this whole Gospel record is a determined unbeliever who was confronted by the sovereign grace of Jesus and confessed the titanic truth declared all through this Gospel: “My Lord and my God!” To John, the gospel is not merely true but saving truth; he wrote his Gospel so that, like Thomas, “by believing you may have life in his name” (20:31).
It is with the evangelistic purpose of this Gospel in mind that John concludes Jesus’ ministry to Thomas with words spoken by Christ about disciples who would come afterward. Jesus said to Thomas, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29).
Do you have conditions and demands—things that you must see—before you will consider believing in Jesus? Jesus might or might not answer them in the way that you desire, but he will reveal himself to you personally if you will seek him through his Word. Jesus was reminding Thomas that there would be legions of disbelievers saved without a physical demonstration of Christ’s resurrection body, but with an equally effectual revelation of Christ in the written record of the apostles. It is through his Word that Jesus stands before us today, calling us to faith with a self-disclosure that is just as real and powerful as that which brought Thomas to his knees and with a special blessing for those of us who believe.
Jesus insisted to Thomas that if you believe without having seen him, you will be blessed. What are these blessings? They include the blessings received by anyone who has ever believed: your sins will be forgiven, you will receive the free gift of eternal life, you will be accepted into God’s embrace as a dearly beloved child, you will be delivered from the judgment that is to come, you will be raised in a glorious body like the resurrected body of Christ, you will have power to lead a holy and spiritually peaceful life, and you will be blessed to be used by God as a witness for the salvation of others. These blessings and more will be yours by making Thomas’s confession your own, acclaiming Jesus as “my Lord and my God!” If you have done this, then you can marvel at the truth that Jesus’ final gospel blessing was a benediction spoken over you: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29).
29. Because thou hast seen me, Thomas. Christ blames nothing in Thomas, but that he was so slow to believe, that he needed to be violently drawn to faith by the experience of the senses; which is altogether at variance with the nature of faith. If it be objected, that nothing is more unsuitable than to say that faith is a conviction obtained from touching and seeing, the answer may be easily obtained from what I have already said; for it was not by mere touching or seeing that Thomas was brought to believe that Christ is God, but, being awakened from sleep, he recalled to remembrance the doctrine which formerly he had almost forgotten. Faith cannot flow from a merely experimental knowledge of events, but must draw its origin from the word of God. Christ, therefore, blames Thomas for rendering less honour to the word of God than he ought to have done, and for having regarded faith—which springs from hearing, and ought to be wholly fixed on the word—as bound to the other senses.
Blessed are they who have not seen, and have believed. Here Christ commends faith on this ground, that it acquiesces in the bare word, and does not depend on carnal views or human reason. He therefore includes, in a short definition, the power and nature of faith; namely, that it does not rest satisfied with the immediate exercise of sight, but penetrates even to heaven, so as to believe those things which are hidden from the human senses. And, indeed, we ought to give to God this honour, that we should view His truth as (αὐτόπιστος3) beyond all doubt without any other proof. Faith has, indeed, its own sight, but one which does not confine its view to the world, and to earthly objects. For this reason it is called a demonstration of things invisible or not seen, (Heb. 11:1;) and Paul contrasts it with sight, (2 Cor. 5:7,) meaning, that it does not rest satisfied with looking at the condition of present objects, and does not cast its eye in all directions to those things which are visible in the world, but depends on the mouth of God, and, relying on His word, rises above the whole world, so as to fix its anchor in heaven. It amounts to this, that faith is not of a right kind, unless it be founded on the word of God, and rise to the invisible kingdom of God, so as to go beyond all human capacity.
If it be objected, that this saying of Christ is inconsistent with another of his sayings, in which he declares that the eyes which behold him present are blessed, (Matth. 13:16,) I answer, Christ does not there speak merely of bodily sight, as he does in this passage, but of revelation, which is common to all believers, since he appeared to the world as a Redeemer. He draws a comparison between the Apostles and the holy kings and prophets, (Matth. 13:17,) who had been kept under the dark shadows of the Mosaic Law. He says, that now the condition of believers is much more desirable, because a brighter light shines around them, or rather, because the substance and truth of the figures was made known to them. There were many unbelievers who, at that time, beheld Christ with the eyes of flesh, and yet were not more blessed on that account; but we, who have never beheld Christ with the eyes, enjoy that blessedness of which Christ speaks with commendation. Hence it follows, that he calls those eyes blessed which spiritually behold in him what is heavenly and divine; for we now behold Christ in the Gospel in the same manner as if he visibly stood before us. In this sense Paul says to the Galatians, (3:1,) that Christ was crucified before their eyes; and, therefore, if we desire to see in Christ what may render us happy and blessed, let us learn to believe, when we do not see. To these words of Christ corresponds what is stated in another passage, in which the Apostle commends believers, who love Christ whom they have not seen, and rejoice with unspeakable joy, though they do not behold him, (1 Pet. 1:8.)
The manner in which the Papists torture these words, to prove their doctrine of transubstantiation, is exceedingly absurd. That we may be blessed, they bid us believe that Christ is present under the appearance of bread. But we know that nothing was farther from Christ’s intention than to subject faith to the inventions of men; and as soon as it passes, in the smallest degree, beyond the limits of the word, it ceases to be faith. If we must believe without reserve all that we do not see, then every monster which men may be pleased to form, every fable which they may contrive, will hold our faith in bondage. That this saying of Christ may apply to the case in hand, we must first prove from the word of God the very point in question. They bring forward the word of God, indeed, in support of their doctrine of transubstantiation; but when the word is properly expounded, it gives no countenance to their foolish notion.
30 Many other signs also Jesus did in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book. 31 But these are written, that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that, believing, you may have life through his name.
29 The first clause of v. 29 may be a statement (so KJV, NIV) or a question (so NET, RSV). The latter is perhaps better: “Because you have seen me, have you believed?” Then comes the contrast: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” The entire Christian church from the ascension onward is comprised of those who have believed without seeing. If physical seeing were necessary to convince people of the reality of the resurrection, the church would have faltered within the first year of its life.