Rev. James Slopsema, minister emeritus in the Protestant Reformed Churches and
member of First PRC in Grand Rapids, Michigan

The other disciples therefore said unto him [Thomas], 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. And after eight days again his disciples were within, and Thomas with them: then came Jesus, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, Peace be unto you. Then saith he to Thomas, 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. And Thomas answered and said unto him, My Lord and my God. Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed. John 20:25-29

Our Lord appeared to His disciples ten times after His resurrection and before His ascension into heaven. Jesus appeared to various of His disciples five times on the very day of His resurrection, the last of which was to the ten disciples without Thomas. In this meditation we deal with the sixth appearance of Jesus one week later to the disciples again. This appearance was especially for the sake of Thomas, because a week before he would not believe the disciples’ report that Jesus had risen.

The appearances of Jesus after His resurrection were very significant. They not only served to establish the fact of Jesus’ resurrection but were also used by Jesus to instruct His disciples concerning the significance of the resurrection. The same is true with this appearance of Jesus to Thomas.

Since we have just celebrated Jesus’ resurrection, it is appropriate that we treat one of Jesus’ appearances.

A persistent unbelief

Thomas refused to believe the report of the other disciples that they had seen the risen Lord.

The gospels record that the disciples initially thought that what they saw was merely Jesus’ spirit. However, Jesus proved to them that it was He in the flesh. He showed them His hands where the nails had fastened Him to the cross and the wound in His side where the spear of the soldier had pierced Him. This proved that it was He, Jesus. Plus, He ate a piece of bread and fish in their presence. This proved that it was not merely Jesus’ spirit that they saw.

But for some reason Thomas was not present that evening. And Thomas would not believe the report of the disciples. No doubt they told him all that they had seen. His nail-pierced hands. The wound in His side. He had eaten fish and bread with them. But Thomas was firm, “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.”

This was unbelief. That is evident from Jesus’ response to Thomas, “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.”

We must understand what Jesus meant that Thomas was faithless. The meaning is not that Thomas was an unbeliever possessing no faith. Judas Iscariot had been an unbeliever, masking as a true believer. But he had shown his true colors. Thomas was no Judas but a believing child of God. Rather, the idea is that, even though Thomas possessed true faith, he failed to believe the resurrection of Jesus. There are times when in weakness of faith God’s people are not able to believe the works and promises of God. This is especially in times of adversity when it appears that God’s promises are not true. It is also true when God does something extraordinary. Then we must see it to believe it. The latter was the case with Thomas.

From this occasion comes the phrase “doubting Thomas.” This expression is used to describe one who is not easily persuaded but has doubts. However, in all fairness to Thomas, let us understand that Thomas was essentially no different from the other disciples. The other disciples also doubted the report they had heard of Jesus’ resurrection from the women who had visited Jesus’ grave. They were not convinced until they had seen the physical evidence of it. This was certainly true of Peter and John who went to the grave and saw thegrave clothes. And when Jesus appeared to the ten on the evening of His resurrection, they thought they only saw Jesus’ spirit come from the dead. Thomas was essentially no different from these. The only difference was one of degree. Thomas was more emphatic and vocal concerning his doubts.

A wonderful confession!

Jesus invited Thomas to reach out and place his finger in the nail prints of His hand and put his own hand in the spear thrust in His side, charging him to be not faithless, but believing.

Thomas’ response was to stammer, “My Lord and my God.”

This was a marvelous confession of faith on Thomas’ part.

It was an acknowledgment on the part of Thomas, first, that Jesus had indeed risen from the dead. Notice, Thomas did not shrink back in fear, supposing he saw Jesus’ spirit. Nor did he carefully examine Jesus’ wounds. Rather, he responded to Jesus in utter astonishment. He obviously accepted the fact that it was Jesus whom he saw. And considering all that had happened, he also accepted the fact that Jesus was risen from the dead.

But this was also a confession on Thomas’s part that he still looked to and clung to Jesus as the Savior.

The disciples had all along recognized Jesus as their Lord and their God.

They had consistently addressed Him as Lord, a title that was given to those of high rank and position. They had addressed Jesus as their Lord because of their belief that He was the Messiah. They looked to Him as their Lord to establish the kingdom of God.

And therefore, they had also looked to Jesus as their God. It was commonly understood that the promised Messiah would be God. After the completion of the third Galilean tour, the disciples were rock solid in their belief in Jesus. Speaking for the rest, Peter confessed, ”Thou are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matt. 16:16).

Now Thomas, upon seeing Jesus, uttered in amazement and rather spontaneously, “My Lord and my God.” This was really a confession on the part of Thomas that Jesus was still his Lord and God. Jesus’ death had no doubt shattered Thomas’ conviction of all this. But now that he sees the risen Lord, he is convinced of these things. Thomas does not understand the purpose of Jesus’ death and resurrection. But despite all this, he lays hold of the risen Jesus as his Lord and God.

Thomas is no more faithless, but believing.

A great blessing

In response to Thomas’ confession, Jesus contrasts the faith of Thomas, who believed because he saw, to the faith of others who would believe even though they would not see.

We must understand the nature of the contrast here. Jesus is not contrasting Thomas to other of his contemporaries. They all needed to see Jesus before they believed His resurrection. Jesus is rather contrasting the faith of Thomas, and thereby the faith of all the disciples, with the faith of those who in the future would believe. Thomas and the others needed to see the risen Lord before they believed the resurrection. In the future, many would believe the resurrection, even though they had never seen with their eyes the risen Lord.

The difference is Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit was poured out upon the church.

Prior to Pentecost the church, including the disciples, possessed faith through the work of the Holy Spirit. And by reason of that faith, the disciples believed in Jesus as Lord and God. But their faith in Jesus staggered at His resurrection. The patriarchs and prophets had spoken of His death and resurrection. But when these events took place, the disciples at first did not believe. There were several reasons for this. There was the nature of the resurrection. It was a resurrection unto glory that left them only with an empty grave. And then there was the lack of revelation. All the disciples had in the Old Testament revelation of the resurrection was a shadow of the real thing to come. And then there was the immaturity of their faith because the Holy Spirit had not yet been poured out upon them. And so, Jesus had to appear to the disciples for them to believe the fact of the resurrection.

But after Pentecost and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, faith does not need to see the risen Lord. The faith that the Spirit of Pentecost works in the hearts of God’s people is fuller, richer, and more mature. In addition, that faith has the fuller revelation of the New Testament Scriptures, which bring us beyond the shadows of the Old Testament to the reality of salvation in Jesus Christ. And so, faith believes the resurrection even though the believer has never seen the risen Lord.

And those who believe are blessed, as Jesus indicated by His greeting to the disciples, “Peace be unto you.” This was more than a formal greeting. It revealed the work of the risen Lord to bring peace to the church. This peace is peace with God, and then peace with all those who are at peace with God. Jesus laid the foundation of this peace at the cross through the complete atonement of sin. But as the risen Lord, Jesus makes this peace a living reality. Jesus does this by securing for us the forgiveness of our sins through His intercessory prayers. And He changes our heart and lives so that we live in love rather than in enmity against God.

Jesus proclaims this blessing to those who believe in His resurrection even though they never see Him in this life. Do you know the risen Lord? Many today stumble at the resurrection and thus do not enjoy this peace. Let us believe in the risen Lord and look for the peace of the resurrection.