Many have read the few gospel references to the apostle Thomas and branded him a brooding pessimist. Instead it may be that Thomas was more of a common sense realist. His was a practical mind confronting mystical truth. He was a person of common sense wrestling with uncommon knowledge. He was one who yearned for road maps as he groped his way into the unmapped world of faith. It is easy to put Thomas down until we admit how often we ourselves have struggled to understand with our senses the spiritual world—to make sense of a God whose ways and wisdom so supersede our own.
Only the Gospel of John includes any words from Thomas, and there are only four brief quotes. Jesus had heard that his close friend, Lazarus, was dying. Going back into Judea meant exposing Himself to raging Jews who’d already threatened to stone Him several times in recent months. However when Jesus expressed the intent to go to Lazarus, realizing the eminent danger, Thomas said, “Let us go also, that we may die with Him.” This may not simply have been a pessimistic proclamation of doom. It may have been Thomas’ dry, no nonsense way of saying, “Jesus is obviously in mortal danger. We’ve followed Him this far—now we follow Him to the death.”
At the Last Supper Jesus spoke about soon going to prepare a place for His disciples, that they may eventually join Him. Matter of factly Jesus said, “You know the way to the place where I am going.” The realist in Thomas probably voiced what the others were only thinking when he said, “Lord, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way to get there?” We must remember that all this talk about “building dwelling places in the Father’s house” was brand new to the disciples. Thomas only wanted clarification. He wanted Jesus to cut through all the mysticism, symbols, and parables and explain Himself in black and white. Still, Jesus may not have clarified things completely for Thomas, declaring that He himself was the only way to get there—the only way to reach the Father and his “House.”
Later, after His resurrection, Christ appeared to Mary, then to the rest of the disciples. For some reason Thomas was missing. When told about the amazing experience he made the notorious statement: “Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, place my finger in the mark of the nails and place my hand in His side, I will not believe.” For this one declaration, down through the centuries Thomas has been labeled ‘Doubting Thomas.’ This is not entirely fair. When Mary Magdalene rushed to the band of disciples with the news that she had seen the risen Christ, they refused to believe it. And when two disciples ecstatically claimed to have seen Jesus on the road to Emmaus the rest would not believe. Jesus eventually appeared to all minus Thomas and scolded the group for their lack of faith. So Thomas was far from alone in his incredulity regarding claims of Christ’s resurrection. Later, in the presence of Jesus, he believed as promptly and totally as had the other disciples, crying, “My Lord and my God!”
Penfield wrote: “I disliked Thomas at the start. But to live with him in imagination is to replace one’s impression of a man who knows all and believes nothing with that of a very human and very courageous spirit whose example lifts one’s soul like music to the light.”
What can we learn from Thomas?
Everyone who has ever yearned for spiritual certainties and solid answers to epic human struggles can identify with Thomas. Thomas wanted some assurance that the faith to which he’d committed his life was based on fact, not fiction. All of us have been there and can gain inspiration from his courageous quest.
Bible Verses about Thomas
Mat. 10:3; Mark 3:18; Luke 6:15; John 11:16, 14:5, 20:24-29, 21:2; Acts 1:13
What questions does this help to answer?
- Who was Thomas in the Bible?
- How do Christians have assurance?
- Is it OK for Christians to have doubts?
- What is faith?