What can we learn from the apostle Thomas’ life and character? How should we be like Thomas? Thomas was a great man of faith who had to prove all things.
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Well, if the book of Acts were still being written today and, in some sense, perhaps it still is because God is keeping a record of the acts of all of His saints; but if the book of Acts were still being written today, how would your name be recorded in it? You ever thought about that? How would your Christian history be remembered for posterity?
You know, some might say that the Bible isn't always kind toward the heroes of the faith because the Bible doesn't sugarcoat the record of the actions of even the greatest leaders of God's church throughout history. It records the weaknesses and the failings and the sins and real humanity of even the greatest saints of all time.
Think about the account of Abraham, the father of the faithful, who didn't have enough faith to tell the truth about his wife. Think about David. A man who was so great in the eyes of God that he is going to sit over the thrones, or over the whole family, of Israel in the Kingdom of God. And yet, David had tremendous failings as a leader and was one who actually abused his authority by killing Uriah, intentionally, one of his faithful soldiers. Think about Moses, who is recorded as being the meekest man in the Bible, and who at one point became so angry, so un-meek you might say, that his anger welled up and he struck the rock instead of just speaking to it as God had commanded him, and that failing is what kept him out of being able to enter into the Promised Land. Think about Solomon. A great, wise man who was so foolish as to be led into sin in the end of his lifetime. Think about Job and we could go on and on. The great men and women of the Bible have all of their weaknesses, all of their sins and failings fully exposed for all of us to view, even today.
So, the Bible isn't always just this wonderful record of tremendous people who are perfect in every way. The Bible, also, even about the greatest men and women of the Bible, sometimes says very little, sometimes very little at all. I don't know, maybe that's better. The more that's known about somebody, generally, the more of their humanity that we know in the Bible.
But even, for example, the twelve disciples, certainly among the greatest leaders ever used in the work of God, we know very little about most of them. Think about that. How much do you know about the twelve apostles?
We know a fair bit about Peter, James and John. They're the ones that are addressed most often, about whom the most is written, but what about Bartholomew? How much do you know about him? How about James the Less, or Simon? We know their names, but we know little of their character, their nature, we know little about them other than the fact that they were counted to be among the twelve. We know almost nothing about them from the Scripture. James and John? What do we know about them? Well, if it weren't for the fact that John wrote some epistles, we would know very little, other than the fact that they were hotheads, "Sons of Thunder," as they were known by reputation. Jesus Christ had to correct them for their desire to destroy a whole Samaritan city! Christ said that is not why He came. He had to put them back in their place. That's what we know about James and John. Wonderful, isn't it?
How would your name be recorded in the Scripture? I think it's good to think about some of those things.
What about the Apostle Thomas? What do you think about when you hear "Thomas"? Blank...Thomas. What are you thinking? Yeah, doubting Thomas, isn't that how we know him? How would you like to be known throughout all history: doubting whoever-you-are. It doesn't matter the fact that you've walked with God faithfully for...I don't know...ten, twenty, thirty, forty years, you're still going to be known throughout all of time as "The Doubter." Nice, huh? Could that epithet be given to any of us perhaps, was there ever a time in your life, or mine, that we doubted? Well, sure, let's be honest, how would you like that one event to be the thing that was your reputation for all time: Doubting Thomas the Apostle?
Now perhaps, well, it's unfortunate of course, that he has that reputation. It is fortunate that we have, at least a little bit, more information about the Disciple and the Apostle Thomas than about some of the other apostles of the New Testament. Enough, I believe, so that we can look at his reputation and realize that it might be just a little bit unfair. Perhaps any picture of the apostles, just from the accounts of the Gospels, is bound to be a little unfair. After all, it is prior to Pentecost when they were granted the Holy Spirit to dwell inside them, that event that changed their life so significantly, and that has changed your life and my life by the receipt of God's Holy Spirit. So, just reading the Gospels, perhaps, is unfair. Toward any of them, but certainly, I think, to Thomas as well.
And we know from the rest of the New Testament how Peter and John, for example, changed dramatically after that day of Pentecost. John the Son of Thunder became John, the apostle of love. Peter, who denied Christ three times, was used greatly by God in the leadership of the church after Pentecost, so we should not underestimate the power of God's Holy Spirit to work in and change people, should we? We should never look at somebody's failing or shortcoming and think that is the end of the story. God can, and does, still work with people in spite of their human-ness and we should be careful not to judge too critically.
So, just because we don't have a record of how some people grew and changed, let's not fall into that trap of thinking less of them, because of mistakes that may have be made, that are even recorded in the Gospel accounts.
Let's look, today, at the life of Thomas the Apostle and let's see what we can glean about his life and his character, just from the Scripture.
Now, I am not going to go delving into some of the Gnostic writings that have become popular lately because, especially because of the book, The DaVinci Code, many people have become more familiar with the Apostle Thomas. One of the "Gnostic Gospels" or "Gnostic Writings" that was used somewhat as a foundational source text for much of the information that came to be written into that novel came from sources such as, what's recorded as, the "Gospel of Thomas," which was found in Egypt and it is a, well, it's a sham. It's bogus. Let's be honest about it. The "Gospel of Thomas" is spurious and heretical. It is not an authoritative account of the writings of the Apostle Thomas, even though it claims itself to be. It's one of those writings that was written ostensibly by men of faith, but was really a false writing, and that's what the "Gospel of Thomas" is.
So, we're not going to be looking at that, we will be looking at what is genuinely recorded about Thomas in the Word of God, the Bible and let's start in John 20. And this is the section of Scripture in John, chapter 20 that, frankly, gives Thomas his bad reputation. We're going to pick up the story, starting in verse 18.
John 20:18 – This is the account of Mary Magdalene having come, now, to the disciples after having been to the sepulcher where Christ had been entombed, having witnessed the fact that the tomb was empty, and that she actually spoke to Jesus Christ, Who, at first, she thought was the gardener there in the dim light of early morning on that day, but realizing that it was, indeed, Jesus Christ.
In verse 18, it says - "Mary Magdalene came and told the disciples that she had seen the Lord and that He spoken things to her."
V. 19 – "Then, the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled, for fear of the Jews..."
Now let's get this picture. The disciples feared the Jews. They had just killed their Lord and Master. They were known to be followers of this supposed "heretic" that was now on the outs, not just with the Jewish leadership but also with Rome, and they feared for their own safety and well-being. So, what do you do when you fear for your own safety and well-being? You gather together just your select few, and you know who each one is, and you come into the room, and you close the door for fear of the Jews. Right? And maybe after you close the door, maybe you push a chair up against the door, and then you count each other's noses and make sure that you know who is in your group, and it's just your group, and you can trust each other for fear of the Jews. So, here they were assembled and after they had closed the door and probably gone through their identity check...yeah, okay, yup, yup, okay, nobody else here? Okay, good, nobody else here.
V. 19 – "...at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in the (their) midst..."
Now, how would you feel if you were just one of those who had just closed and barred the door, counted noses of everybody who was there, made sure you knew who was there and who wasn't, and you turn around and there's somebody else? How would you feel? After you crawled out of your skin, maybe you'd start to settle down, right? They were shocked. They were amazed.
V.19 – "...Jesus came and stood in the midst of them, and said to them (and this is a good thing to say to somebody you just scared the wits out of), 'Peace be to you.'" You know, I come in peace. Don't be afraid. It's only Me.
V. 20 – "Now when He had said this (and after they were done jumping out of their skins), He showed them His hands and His side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord."
You know, until that point, they were scared silly. Yeah, it looked like Him, maybe, but could they be sure? Well, when they were finally settled down, after they saw His hands and His side, ah, "then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord."
V. 21 – "Then Jesus said to them again," in verse 21, 'Peace to you!' He said again, 'As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.'"
V. 22 – "And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, 'Receive the Holy Spirit.'"
V. 23 – "'If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.'"
V. 24 – "But Thomas" (ah, here we are introduced to Thomas), "Thomas, called Didymus"...And that's as it is recorded in The King James, the New International Version, the American Standard Version and the New American Standard, they all say, "Thomas called Didymus." In many other translations, the more modern ones say, "Thomas called the twin." It said that Thomas was not, though he was one of the twelve, he was not with them when Jesus came.
Now, I just want to take a little side trip here and explain something about this name "Didymus" or "the twin," as it is translated in some places, because there are those, especially those who have read the "Gnostic Gospels" and the claims of the "Gnostic Gospels" who seem to believe that this is a reference to the fact that Thomas was the twin of Jesus Christ. That would, or course, make Thomas's conception and birth also immaculate, as Jesus Christ's was, but that's not what the "Gospel of Thomas" or the other gospels claim. You see, they claim that Jesus Christ was not divine, He was just a human being and, therefore, Thomas could be His twin. That's obviously a bogus story. But, that's the claim and we need to be aware that some people do make that claim. Others say that he was the "spiritual twin," you know, the blood brother so to speak, of Jesus Christ, and they try to get around it that way. But, if we just look at the words themselves, Thomas, in the Syriac, which is a form of Aramaic that was spoken by the disciples, means twin. That was his name. "Didymus" is his transliterated name into Greek and it means "twin." So, all its saying is that he was called "Thomas" in Aramaic and he was called "Didymus" in Greek, and they both mean "the twin," that's why it's translated this way. So, whose twin he was, we don't know, but that was his name, he was called "Thomas" and he was called "Didymus." Same thing. That's a side point, but I think one that we need to be aware of.
So, Thomas was not among them when this remarkable event occurred, Jesus Christ appearing in their midst, when they were in a closed and locked room.
V. 25 - So, we find in verse 25 that, "The other disciples therefore said to him (when they finally caught up with Thomas), 'We have seen the Lord.' But he (Thomas), said to them, 'Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.'"
There it is, verse 25. The one sentence in Thomas's life his reputation was established on. How would you like one sentence out of your life to be the one sentence that your whole reputation for all of time was established on? Well, this is it! This is the biggy! Thomas said unless he saw His hands and His side and was able to put his own finger and his own hand into those holes, he wouldn't believe.
Now, does this look bad for poor Thomas? Well, yes, absolutely, doesn't it? Should Thomas have known about the resurrection of the Lord? Absolutely. Hadn't he been told just like the others? Sure. He'd been told just like the rest of the disciples that Jesus Christ would die and rise again, so, why is he doubting? He's doubting Thomas!
Well, was Thomas somehow harder to convince than the other disciples about the veracity of the resurrection? Well, apparently not. Let's read the rest of the story. After all, you know, the other disciples, they had already seen Jesus Christ, hadn't they? They had been in that room when Christ appeared among them. If we go back to verse 20, we see that Christ, in verse 20, showed them His hands and His side. They already had that advantage that Thomas didn't have. Maybe we should read verse 25 again with a little bit different emphasis. Maybe we should read it this way.
V. 25 – "'Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I am not going to believe (you).'" That puts it a little bit differently, doesn't it? The emphasis isn't as doubtful as just doubting their report because they have already had the opportunity to put their own hands and their own fingers in Christ's side. I don't know. Maybe the apostles were jokesters and he just didn't believe them.
Well, let's take a closer look at how the other apostles reacted when they first met Christ after the resurrection. Let's look at the account in Mark, chapter 16. This is Mark, chapter 16, and we are going to pick up the story in verse 9.
Mark 16:9 – "Now when He rose early on the first day of the week, He appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom He had cast seven demons."
V. 10 – "She went and told those who had been with Him, as they mourned and wept."
So here's Mary, Jesus appears to Mary, and she goes to tell the others that she saw Him. Personally. Did they believe her?
V. 11 – Verse 11 says, "And when they heard that He was alive and had been seen by her, they did not believe." How much different is it, if you get a report from Mary Magdalene, "Hey, I've seen the Lord," and you don't believe, or you get a report from Peter and the other disciples, "Hey, we've seen the Lord," and you don't believe? You're still not believing the report, either way, isn't it? So, they didn't believe Mary.
V. 12 – Verse 12 says, "After that, He appeared in another form to two of them as they walked and went into the country."
V. 13 – "And they went and told it to the rest, but (it says) they did not believe them either." Now, they had three witnesses. Three witnesses to the actual resurrection of Jesus Christ. Three eyewitnesses. They didn't believe any of them. They had Mary and had these two disciples.
V. 14 – Later, it says in verse 14, "He appeared to the eleven as they sat at the table (and now we're talking about this meeting behind closed doors and this locked room) and He rebuked their unbelief and their hardness of heart, because they did not believe those who had seen Him after He had risen."
They should have believed, but they didn't. Actually, if you read this in all of the Gospel accounts, we find that Mark is actually being somewhat kind here in relating this occasion. Luke gives us a little bit more detailed picture of just how much it took for Jesus Christ to convince the disciples, and how often they had to have this testimony revealed to them.
So, let's look at the account over in Luke 24. And the story, we're going to pick it up in verse 10, the women had already been to the grave, they had already found it empty, and in the first nine verses we find that the two angels told them that Christ was resurrected, that He lives, and they went, now, to report this news back to the others.
Luke 24:10 – "It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them..." We don't know how many that is, but here we've got at least four or five that are now eyewitnesses to the fact that Christ was gone, the grave was empty, and these women come back and tell these things to the apostles. Mary Magdalene was the only one, apparently, to actually see Christ personally, but the others were all there as witnesses that the grave was empty, and the grave clothes were sitting there and that the angels had already told them, all of them, Christ was resurrected and lives.
V. 11 – "And their words seemed to them (to the disciples) like idle tales," stories, they were making this up, that's how the disciples reacted, "and" it says, "they did not believe them."
V. 12 – "But Peter arose and ran to the tomb; and stooping down, he saw the linen cloths lying by themselves; and he departed, marveling to himself at what had happened." I think we could say he went out confused over what had just happened. What did he just see? How can this be? He had seen Christ dead, he had seen Christ wrapped in those clothes, how could this be? He was marveling to himself because he didn't still believe what the women had told them. Verse 13 now.
V. 13 – "Now behold, two of them were traveling that same day to a village called Emmaus, which was about seven miles from Jerusalem..." Now which of these two disciples were there, actually, we find it's possible Peter was one of them which we will see as we go down this account a little bit later, but, it says they walked together and they were talking about all of these things that had happened, and now picking it up in verse 15:
V. 15 – "So it was, while they conversed and reasoned, that Jesus Himself drew near and went with them." Now, anybody who says that God doesn't have a sense of humor I think needs to read this story. Jesus knew that they were confused; that they really know and understand in their minds about the resurrection, so here Jesus sees two of them talking about it. What do you think He does? Go up and say, "Hey, I'm here!" No, He's going to play with them a little bit, maybe that's over-reaching, but I can't help but think that Christ said, "You know, I'm going to have a little fun here." So, what does He do? He keeps them blinded to the truth, to the reality of what has happened, but he engages them in conversation.
V. 17 – "And He said to them, 'What kind of conversation is this that you have with one another as you walk and are sad?'"
V. 18 – "Then the one whose name was Cleopas answered and said to Him, 'Are You the only stranger in Jerusalem, and have You not known the things which happened there in these days?'" I mean, the news was widespread: They killed the supposed Messiah. And now, His body is gone. You haven't heard this? Well, of course, He had heard this. He was the One, but He was going to let them be strung along a little bit, He wanted to find out somemore of where their mind was.
Now this Cleopas, by the way, we don't know necessarily who that is. Some of the commentaries believe that it was Alphaeus, one of the seventy that God had sent out and the father of the disciples, James and Jude. Also, he is said to be the brother of Joseph, Mary's husband, and that would make him the uncle of Jesus Christ, but that is speculation and it is hard to know with absolute certainty who this Cleopas was. In any case, he wasn't one of the twelve, we know that; he wasn't one of the twelve.
So continuing in verse 19, Christ said to them:
V. 19 – "And He said to them, 'What things?' And they said Him, 'The things concerning Jesus of Nazareth, who was a Prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people,"
V. 20 – "'and how the chief priests and our rulers delivered Him to be condemned to death, and crucified Him.'"
V. 21 – "'But we were hoping that it was He who was going to redeem Israel. Indeed, besides all this, today is the third day since these things happened.'"
V. 22 – "'Yes, and certain women of our company, who arrived at the tomb early, astonished us.'"
V. 23 – "'When they did not find His body, they came saying that they had also seen a vision of angels who said He was alive.'"
V. 24 – "'And certain of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but Him they did not see.'"
V. 25 – "Then He said to them, 'O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken!'" Slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!
V. 26 – "'Ought not the Christ to have suffered these things and to enter into His glory?'"
V. 27 – "And beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself."
V. 28 – "Then they drew near to the village where they were going, and He indicated that He would have gone farther."
V. 29 – "But they constrained Him, saying, 'Abide with us, for it is toward evening, and the day is far spent.' And He went in to stay with them."
V. 30 – "Now it came to pass, as He sat at the table with them, that He took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them." How long had he been talking with them? Hours, maybe, it would seem from the context of the story, and they still didn't know Who He was.
He took the bread and He blessed it and He broke it and He gave it to them and,
V. 31 – "Then (it says), their eyes were opened and they knew Him; and He vanished from their sight."
V. 32 – "And they said to one another, 'Did not our heart burn within us while He talked with us on the road, and while He opened the Scriptures to us?'" Oh, the light bulbs went on! Maybe it was after He disappeared, but the light bulbs really went on for them and they said, "It was Him the whole time. It was Him!" How do you think they felt? Talking to this stranger and then finding out it was their close Associate and their Friend, their Lord Jesus Christ. Duh!
V. 33 – "So they rose up that very hour and returned to Jerusalem, and found the eleven (Was Thomas there amongst them? Apparently not, as we will see.) and those who were with them gathered together,"
V. 34 – "saying, 'The Lord is risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!'" So, apparently Simon was the other one on the road with Cleopas it would seem, at least that is the context. So, "The Lord is risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!"
V. 35 – "And they told about the things that had happened on the road, and how He was known to them in the breaking of bread."
V. 36 – "Now as they said these things (Apparently a little bit later, still talking about this, but now apparently shut inside a closed room, as we read in John's account.), Jesus Himself stood in the midst of them, and said to them (remember?), 'Peace be to you.'"
V. 37 – "But they were (what does it say in verse 37?) terrified..." Yes! They had just been told by eyewitnesses, and when Jesus showed up on their own door...no, not on their own doorstep, because it was inside the doorstep...when He showed up at the table with them they were still, "...terrified and frightened, and supposed they had seen a spirit."
V. 38 – "And He said to them, 'Why are you troubled? And why do doubts arise in your hearts?'" Well, this is all of them , isn't it? This isn't just Thomas. Doubts arose in the hearts of all of them.
And He said in verse 39:
V. 39 – "Behold My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself. Handle Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see I have.'"
V. 40 – "When He had said this, He showed them His hands and His feet."
V. 41 – "But while they still did not believe..." Only this time for joy, you know their incredulity, their doubt, maybe, had turned to, "I just can't believe this!" Did you ever have to convince yourself of something, that you can't deny the reality of it, it's right there, but it's just an unbelievable thing to consider, so their doubt, "No, it can't be," turned into, "I'm amazed, how can this be?"
"But while they still did not believe for joy, and marveled (while they were giddy with excitement you might say), He said to them," Got any food? You can imagine, here they are, just beside themselves saying, "It's Him! It's Him! It's really Him! Look, put your hand in here, touch, it's really Him!" After awhile you can see Him saying, Just settle down! You got something to eat? You know, we have things to talk about now. And so, they settled down, they brought Him some food, they gave Him a piece of broiled fish and some honeycomb, and He took it and ate it in their presence and said in verse 44:
V. 44 – "And he said unto them, 'These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me.'"
V. 45 – "Then opened he their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures."
Now, in light of this full context, in light of all of these things, does Thomas look any worse than any of the other disciples? They were all doubtful, weren't they? They had the eyewitness account of Mary that they didn't believe. They had the eyewitness account of the two disciples who were on their way to Emmaus that they didn't believe, and when He showed up after that, having been told, they still didn't believe and He had to convince them by, doing what? By saying, look, put your hands here, feel me, touch me, see for yourselves, and then they finally believed. So, we could really say it wasn't just an account of doubting Thomas, it was an account of doubting Peter, doubting Bartholomew, doubting John, doubting Jude, doubting James, because they all doubted. The one, it seems, who was easiest to convince was Mary who Christ told when He first saw her, you can't touch me, but she believed. Interesting. So Thomas looks like just any of the disciples, no more of a doubter, no less of a doubter, really. They had already seen and talked with Jesus and still needed the proof of the nail holes in His hands in order to be satisfied that it was really Him; so, when Thomas shows up on the scene, Christ gave him the same opportunity that He had given the others.
None of them really understood this about the resurrected Jesus Christ although, they had been told by Jesus beforehand that it would be true and that's what would happen, they really didn't get it. The light bulb hadn't gone on. They were just nonplussed, you could say, by the whole experience. Thomas didn't have the benefit of being with them at that time in that locked room when He had already given them an opportunity to feel the nail prints themselves. So, how can we expect him to be any different? He was just like the rest like of them. He was just like, probably, you and I would have been in very similar circumstances; but, you know, once Thomas got it, once he understood, then he, too, was just as excited and just as thrilled as the other apostles, knowing and understanding and appreciating the resurrection of his Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Now let's go back to the story in John, chapter 20, and let's finish the story, picking it up where we left off in John, chapter 20 and verse 25 and let's see this a little bit more fully, I think, at this point.
John 20:25 – "The other disciples therefore said unto him, 'We have seen the Lord.' But he said unto them, 'Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe."
V. 26 – "And after eight days again his disciples were within, and Thomas was with them (this time): then came Jesus, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst (the same as He had done for the other before, the same experience), and said (guess what?), 'Peace be unto you.'"
"Then He said, specifically, to Thomas," in verse 27:
V. 27 – "Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing." He was giving Thomas the very same opportunity that the other disciples had already had. No difference here.
Hold your finger here and let's turn to I John 1. We see how important it is that they all had this opportunity to not just be eyewitnesses but to actually, physically, experience the reality of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
In I John 1 and verse 1, John the Apostle writes:
I John 1:1 – "That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes (they saw with their eyes the reality of the resurrection of Jesus Christ), which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled (you see, all of the disciples had done that, it wasn't just Thomas, all of them had done that), of the Word of life..."
V. 3 – "...that which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ." You see how important it is, that each of them were eyewitnesses to the reality of the resurrection and they physically were able to put their hands in the nail holes and the spear hole of Jesus Christ. All of them.
Let's go back again, then, to John, chapter 20 and verse 28. When Thomas had this opportunity, just like the others had.
John 20:28 – "And Thomas answered and said unto him, 'My Lord and my God.'" It didn't take him any more convincing than that.
Do you remember the time when you really got it? When it really sunk in for you, Who Jesus Christ really is, the living Son of God, our Savior and King? Do you remember when you got it? This is the time when Thomas really got it, and he was awed by it, and then "Jesus said to him" in verse 29:
V. 29 – "'Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed."
So we have this record that all of the disciples were actual eyewitnesses of the resurrection, all of them were personally convinced by direct contact that they had with the resurrected Jesus Christ, and that motivated them, and that drove them for the rest of their lives, filling them with faith and confidence to be able to go out and to do the work that Jesus Christ was sending them out to do, to raise up the church of this age. They were commissioned to go out and to preach that truth to those that would not have the benefit of also being able to put their hands into the nail holes.
V. 30 says – "And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book:"
V. 31 – "But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name."
So, now that we have gotten this whole issue cleared up that Thomas was really no more faithless or no more doubting than any of the other disciples, he was just like them, he was no more stubborn or thickheaded than any of them, and, really, if we are honest, aren't we all pretty thickheaded sometimes? Doesn't it take us all some convincing sometimes? I guess we could say we're pretty much like Thomas a lot of the time, like Peter, like James, and like Jude, and like all of those who had to be truly convinced.
Now let's look at some of the other Scriptures that tell us something of the character of this man, Thomas, and of his life with Jesus Christ the Messiah. We know very little, actually we know nothing about the calling of Thomas. We have recorded in the Gospel accounts how it was that Christ called Peter and Andrew and some of the others. We don't have an account of how He called Thomas we just know that he somehow came to be among the twelve, at some point.
We know that in the lists of the apostles that are recorded in Matthew, chapter 10, and in Mark, chapter 3, and in Luke, chapter 6, usually his name is associated with Matthew and with Bartholomew, so it seems as though Christ, when He called them, put them in teams of three. There was Peter, James, and John, and another group of three, it seems was, Thomas and Matthew and Bartholomew. But, those are the only mentions that we have of Thomas in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. All of the other mentions of Thomas come from the Gospel of John, and so let's go over to John, chapter 11, and beginning in verse 1 there, we'll see a little more about the experiences of Thomas and his reaction.
John 11:1 – "Now a certain man was sick, named Lazarus, of Bethany, the town of Mary and her sister Martha."
V. 2 – "It was that Mary which anointed the Lord with ointment, and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick." And so we find that Mary and Martha had a brother named Lazarus.
V. 3 – "Therefore his sisters sent unto him, saying, 'Lord, behold, he whom thou lovest is sick.'"
V. 4 – "When Jesus heard that, he said, 'This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God might be glorified thereby.'"
V. 5 – "Now Jesus loved Martha, and her sister (Mary), and Lazarus."
V. 6 – "So, when he heard therefore that he was sick, he abode two days still in the same place where he was." Kind of a funny reaction when you hear about somebody who is sick, you stay put. You know, you would think, well, if you heard he was sick, you would go bring him some chicken soup, right? He would do something for him, why did He stay put? Well, He knew that God had a special purpose in this sickness and He was going to allow the death of Lazarus so that a point might be made before the disciples, so He stayed put for two days, where He was.
V. 7 – "Then after that saith he to his disciples, 'Let us go into Judea again.'"
V. 8 – And "His disciples say unto him, 'Master (Teacher, You know) the Jews of late sought to stone thee; and goest thou thither again?'" Don't You know that's walking into a death sentence? They are looking out for You!
V. 9 – "Jesus answered, 'Are there not twelve hours in the day? If any man walk in the day, he stumbleth not, because he seeth the light of this world.'"
V. 10 – "'But if a man walk in the night, he stumbleth, because there is no light in him.'"
V. 11 – "These things said he: and after that he saith unto them, 'Our friend Lazarus sleepeth; but I go, that I may awake him up.'"
V. 12 – "Then said his disciples, 'Lord, if he sleep, he shall get well.'" Good thing! You know how many times when you read through the Gospels Christ says something and it just goes z-z-zing, way over the top of the disciples' heads? Well, it's a good thing. If you're sick, you rest some and you get better. That's good. Why areYou going to go wake him up, Lord?
V. 13 – "Howbeit Jesus spake of his death: but they thought that he had spoken about taking rest in sleep."
V. 14 – "Then said Jesus unto them plainly, 'Lazarus is dead.'"
V. 15 – "'And I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, to the intent ye may believe; nevertheless let us go unto him.'"
V. 16 – "Then said Thomas (usually in the Gospel accounts you read, and then Peter says something, but now it says Thomas), which is called Didymus (Twin), unto his fellow disciples, 'Let us also go, that we may die with him.'" Now, some commentators see a pretty fatalistic attitude here. He's going, all right, let's all go; He's gonna' die, let's die with Him. And that's how it's read; that's how, it is understood by many. You know, Thomas was, after all they think, always doubting, he was always negative, right? So, it's just his context, it's his nature, to just be fatalistic here. But you know I'm not so sure that's the right way to understand this because we've already seen that Thomas was no more doubting than any of the other disciples. So is it right to apply that understanding to the statement, "let's go die with Him"?
God didn't call a bunch of fatalists to be the twelve. He didn't call a bunch of negative individuals. He called disciples that were men of action. He called Peter, of whom its said and recorded in Matthew 26:35, "Though I should die with thee, yet will I not deny thee." Now, we know that Peter did deny Jesus Christ, but his heart, his attitude was one that he was willing to go to the death for Jesus Christ; that was his character and that was his nature, that was his heart. He was a faithful servant of His Lord and Master Jesus Christ. Willing to die for Him. We know that James and John, the Sons of Thunder, were powerful men of action, saying we're ready to do whatever it takes, we're ready to "command fire to come down from heaven" to blot out this whole city, because they cast You out. We know that one of the disciples was Simon the Zealot. The Zealots were those who wanted the violent overthrow of the Roman government; not afraid to take up spear in their hands, and to die in the work that they had to do. These are the types of people that Christ called to be His disciples. They were men of action, willing and ready to die for their Master, if they needed to do so.
So why do we read a fatalistic attitude in this comment by Thomas: "Let us also go (if He's going to die, I'm going to die with Him)." And personally, I think that is the way we ought to understand it. Kind of the Klingon approach, you know? Those of you who are Star Wars fans, you can see Whorf getting ready for battle. "Perhaps today is a good day to die!" Well, here's Thomas saying, "Okay, if He's going to die, I'm going to die with Him." "Let's all go!" Maybe that is the way to understand this verse instead of that fatalistic attitude so many see here.
But, what you? What about me? Are we ready to die for Jesus Christ? Are we ready to die for the truth, if that's what it takes? The apostles were. Are we willing to make that ultimate sacrifice for God? After all, that is what we said when we were baptized, isn't it? That we were willing to go to that extent; that is, after all, what many Christians will have to do before the second coming of Jesus Christ, because we know that martyrdom of the saints is prophesied yet ahead. Are we willing to go to that end in the hope of the resurrection?
Well, as we finish this section back in John, chapter 11, I think it is interesting to see what the subject was in John 11, because the subject was, indeed, the resurrection. It was the resurrection of Lazarus, yes, but Christ used that to teach a lesson that, frankly again, went over the disciples' heads later on. Continuing, now, in John, chapter 11 and verse 17.
V. 17 – "Then when Jesus came, he found that he had lain in the grave four days already."
V. 18 – "Now Bethany was nigh unto Jerusalem, about fifteen furlongs (about two miles) off:"
V. 19 – "And many of the Jews came to Martha and Mary, to comfort them concerning their brother."
V. 20 – "Then Martha, as soon as she heard that Jesus was coming, went and met him: but Mary sat still in the house."
V. 21 – "Then said Martha unto Jesus, 'Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died.'" You know, many of us feel this way, don't we? We have faith in God, we know that if God wills, then whatever will, or won't, happens, whatever it is in the circumstances. She knew, she had so much confidence in Who this Man was, Jesus Christ, she had absolute faith that if Christ were there, Lazarus didn't have to die because Christ had the power, Christ had the authority to preserve his life, to heal him. She had seen many healings. She knew that to be the case, but she said in verse 22:
V. 22 – "'But I know, that even now, whatsoever thou wilt ask of God, God will give it thee.'"
V. 23 – And then, "Jesus saith unto her, 'Thy brother shall rise again.'"
V. 24 – "Martha saith unto him, 'I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day.'" They knew that, that's our hope as well, isn't it? We know that if we die in this life we have the hope of the resurrection. We all will rise again. So, we share the very faith of Martha.
V. 25 – But then, "Jesus said unto her, 'I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live....'" "Though he were dead," he shall live. Now, Thomas did believe in Jesus Christ and he, and every one of us, must die in Him, if we are to live, so that we can live. When we go under the waters of baptism, that's a type of death. We die to the old man, so that we can live to the Lord Jesus Christ, so that we can live in the family of God forever.
Continuing in John 11 and verse 32 now, dropping down a few verses.
V. 32 – "Then when Mary was come where Jesus was, and saw him, she fell down at his feet, saying unto him, 'Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died.'" You see, they had no doubt in their minds that, if Christ had come while Lazarus was still alive, he could still be alive. God could have prevented his death. They just didn't know yet that God had the power over death. That's what they didn't yet perceive.
V. 33 – "When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews also weeping which came with her, he groaned in the spirit, and was troubled (He was troubled),"
V. 34 – "And said, 'Where have ye laid him?' They said unto him, 'Lord, come and see.'"
V. 35 – "Jesus wept."
V. 36 – "Then said the Jews, 'Behold how he loved him!"
V. 37 – "And some of them said, 'Could not this man, which opened the eyes of the blind, have caused that even this man should not have died?'" You see what their whole focus was? They wanted to preserve physical life.
V. 38 – "Jesus therefore again groaning in himself cometh to the grave. It was a cave, and a stone lay upon it."
V. 39 – "Jesus said, 'Take ye away the stone.' Martha, the sister of him that was dead, saith unto him, 'Lord, by this time he stinketh: for he hath been dead four days.'" You open that and, man, it's going stink, you know, you're sure you want to do that?
V. 40 – "Jesus saith unto her, 'Said I not unto thee, that, if thou wouldest believe, thou shouldest see the glory of God?'"
V. 41 – "Then they took away the stone from the place where the dead was laid. And Jesus lifted up his eyes, and said, 'Father, I thank thee that thou hast heard me.'"
V. 42 – "'And I knew that thou hearest me always: but because of the people which stand by I said it, that they may believe that thou hast set me.'"
V. 43 – "And when he thus had spoken, he cried with a loud voice, 'Lazarus, come forth." Now, imagine you're Lazarus. The last...you fell asleep for all you know...and you wake up wrapped in graveclothes. You know, hands pinned to your body, cloth over your face, and then you hear, "Lazarus come forth." And you're wrapped up in these graveclothes. Easier said than done! Right?
V. 44 – "And he that was dead came forth, bound hand and foot with graveclothes and his face was bound about with a napkin." You know, hopping his way out to the entrance of the cave. How did he even know where to go? He had a cloth over his face. He probably just saw the light kind of coming through the cloth and he headed for the light! Ah-h-h the truth, about all those stories, about people dying and coming back. No, I'm only kidding. But, he somehow knew the direction to go, though he was bound and covered in the graveclothes, and there he went, hopping, out towards the edge of the cave
Now, imagine you're the people standing outside witnessing this. Here comes this dead guy, hopping out, looking like a mummy. Where would your jaw be right now? I mean, down about your belly button, right? Amazed! Put yourself in their sandals and think about this for a moment. What are you doing? Christ is probably looking around at Lazarus standing here all bound up and all these people staring in amazement. So, what does Christ do? Well, let's see.
V. 44 – It says, (would somebody please?) "Loose him, and let him go." That is what He said. Loose him! Let him go.
V. 45 – "Then many of the Jews which came to Mary, and seen the things which Jesus did, believed on him." Well, Thomas was one of those who was there. Thomas was an eyewitness to this incredible miracle and, still, he found it difficult to comprehend the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ Himself. Okay, He's got power over the death of other people, but Himself? That was still a hard thing for them to conceive. You can imagine, when it finally did sink in, for Thomas and all the others, what a huge impression it would have made in their lives. Truly, a life changing experience, when they were personal eyewitnesses of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Now let's fast forward to the Last Supper in John, chapter 13. This is the next account where we read about Thomas. He was sitting there at the Last Supper, so called, that Passover meal that he shared with the disciples; that Christ shared with them. In verse 30 of John 13:
John 13:30 – "Having received the piece of bread, he then went out immediately. And it was night." And that is referring to Judas, the traitorous disciple.
V. 31 – "So, when he had gone out, Jesus said, 'Now the Son of Man is glorified, and God is glorified in Him.'"
V. 32 – "'If God is glorified in Him, God will also glorify Him in Himself, and glorify Him immediately.'"
V. 33 – "'Little children, I shall be with you a little while longer. You will seek Me; and as I said to the Jews, "Where I am going, you cannot come," so now I say to you.'"
V. 34 – "'A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another.'"
V. 35 – "'By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.'"
V. 36 – "Simon Peter said to Him, 'Lord, where are You going?' Jesus answered him, 'Where I am going you cannot follow Me now, but you shall follow Me afterward.'"
V. 37 – "Peter said to Him, 'Lord, why can I not follow You now? I will lay down my life for Your sake.'" See, there it is again, that attitude of willingness to die for Jesus Christ.
V. 38 – "Jesus answered him, 'Will you lay down your life for My sake? Most assuredly, I say to you, the rooster shall not crow till you have denied Me three times.'"
Continuing in chapter 14 and verse 1:
John 14:1 – "'Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me.'"
V. 2 – "'In My Father's house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.'"
V. 3 – "'And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.'"
V. 4 – "'And where I go you know, and the way you know.'"
V. 5 – "Thomas said to Him, 'Lord, we do not know where You are going, and how can we know the way?'" It was Thomas, this time, who spoke up. You know, he seems to be one of the more forward of the disciples. If it's not Peter or John, it seems, maybe, it was Thomas who was the next to speak up in certain circumstances.
V. 6 – "Jesus said to him, 'I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.'"
V. 7 – "'If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; and from now on you know Him and have seen Him.'"
V. 8 – "Philip said to Him, 'Lord, show us the Father, and it is sufficient for us.'" And the conversation goes on.
Well, like all of the disciples at the table that night, Thomas was puzzled. Philip was puzzled. Peter was puzzled. He was confused and he sought some instruction and some direction from God. You know, so should we when we're confused and puzzled, when circumstances in our lives develop and we just don't understand what it is that God is doing in our lives, hopefully we do what Thomas did. We go to God and say, "I don't understand. Would you tell me what's going on here?" We do that in prayer, don't we? We should be like Thomas in this respect, willing to go to the right Source to get the answers that we need.
Well, the last place that Thomas is mentioned in the Gospels is in John 21, at a time when he is out fishing with Peter. Christ died and was buried. They said, "Now what do we do? Well, let's go fishing!" So they were all out fishing. In verse 1 of chapter 21:
John 21:1 – "After these things Jesus showed Himself again to the disciples at the Sea of Tiberias, and in this way He showed Himself:"
V. 2 – "Simon Peter, Thomas called Didymus (the Twin), Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of His disciples were together." And we know that Christ told them, on this occasion, after doing again another miracle in their lives, when they hauled in this huge catch of fish, after having fished all morning and found nothing, and here's this Man on the shore Who says to them, "cast the net on the other side," and they're probably in the boat saying, "What do you know?" But they did it. They threw the net on the other side, pulled in this huge haul of fish and they realized that that Man on the shore was the Master; it was Christ! So, Peter swims to shore!
And in verse 18 Christ, after talking to Peter, says, telling him to "feed My sheep," He says in verse 18:
V. 18 – "'Most assuredly, I say to you (talking to Peter), when you were younger, you girded yourself and walked where you wished; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish.'"
V. 19 – "This He spoke, signifying by what death he would glorify God. And when He had spoken this, He said to him (Peter), 'Follow me.'"
V. 20 – "Then Peter, turning around, saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following, who also had leaned on His breast at the supper, and said, 'Lord, who is the one who betrays You?'"
V. 21 – "Peter, seeing him (that disciple), said to Jesus, 'But Lord, what about this man?'"
V. 22 – "Jesus said to him, 'If I will that he remain till I come, what is that to you? You follow me.'" You be concerned with what you have to do, Peter, and don't worry about what I give him to do. Good advice for all of us, you know? Stop looking over our shoulder and saying, "Well, what about him? What about him? How come he's got that advantage and I have to do this other thing?" Christ just says, just do what I give you to do and don't worry about the other individual.
V. 23 – As a result, though, of Christ's answer to Peter, "Then this saying went out among the brethren that this disciple would not die. Yet Jesus did not say to him that he would not die, but, 'If I will that he remain till I come, what is that to you?'" You see how people get things turned around, you know that telephone game, where the information starts at one place and gets turned around by the time it gets to the other side? That is what happened here.
Well, as it turned out, Peter and all the disciples, except John, did die a martyr's death and that includes Thomas, who was there on this occasion when Christ told them that they needed to be fishers of men. They all did die a martyr's death.
The book of Acts records some of Peter's works, mostly Paul's works, but little or nothing about the acts of the rest of these fishers of men; but, Thomas did go on to do the work that Christ had commissioned him, and to do it faithfully. They went out, they fished. In Matthew they were given the great commission to preach the Gospel and "make disciples of all the nations." They were sent to the lost sheep of the House of Israel and then beyond.
Well, we don't have a record in the Bible, but tradition seems to indicate that the Apostle Thomas went east, first to Babylon and then on to Persia, to India and to the borders of China. At least that's what tradition says. Is there any way to absolutely prove that? I don't know, but tradition is pretty strong that that is where Thomas went. As a matter of fact, there are millions of Christians in India today that believe that Thomas was the one who established Christianity in their country. Now, there are different factions of them, especially since the Portuguese, when they went out colonizing the world, they landed in India, didn't expect to find any Christians there, and there they were! They said how did Christianity get here? As a result, they took them, kind of, under their wing, a little bit more forcefully than others, and they Catholicized them after that point. But, Christianity was already there; apparently it was the work, originally, of Thomas who went in that direction, according to tradition as I said.
Thomas was a man of faith. He was an apostle whose faith motivated and drove him to continue to do the work of God through to the end of his life and died a martyr doing the work of God. Tradition says a Brahmin priest, upset at his success in preaching the Gospel, ran a spear through Thomas while he was kneeling in prayer. But, he was willing to die because of his faith in Jesus Christ and because his faith motivated him to do the work through to the end of his life. Doesn't sound much like a doubter to me, does it? Oh, sure, he doubted as a disciple, but as an apostle he faithfully and powerfully did the work that God had entrusted him to do, as you and I ought also to do. He was a good example, this apostle of God.
He wasn't one to be easily taken in, you know, he wasn't gullible, he wanted proof, and that is what he was asking for when Christ appeared in his presence. He wanted the same proof that the other disciples had had. So, he wasn't easily taken in, but you know, once it was proven to him, he stuck with what truth he found and he was unmoved from that point, just like, again, the other disciples.
You could say he was one who "proved all things and held fast to that which was good," as we are told in I Thessalonians 5:21. We, also, ought to do the same. So, I hope we are a little bit like Thomas, and that we can "prove all things"and hold fast to that which is revealed to us. We need to prove the truth, we need to be totally committed to God the Father and to Jesus Christ, and the work that He has given us to do, just like Thomas, who was faithful in all the work that God had given him to do.
So, let's go on. Let's do the work of preaching faithfully the Gospel of Jesus Christ, as we've all been given to do, collectively, as the church. Let's hold fast because the ride isn't always easy, is it? The ride for Thomas wasn't always easy. Christ had told them that it wouldn't be, but he still did it, this doubting Thomas, who was a man of great faith, and I think in many ways a wonderful example for each of us to follow in his steps. Oh, not that we should doubt but once things are proved to us, we stand back and say, "my Lord and my God," and we faithfully follow Him to the end. Let's look to the resurrection as Thomas did. The true, the real resurrection to eternal life that is guaranteed to all, who put their trust in God. Let's carry on the work and let's do it with faith and great zeal.
It's good to be here with each of you. I look forward to spending some time with many that I haven't seen in quite a long while. So, it's great to see you. I hope you have a wonderful remainder of the Sabbath!