If you ever watch any of the current affair programmes, is it any wonder that we have become a nation of sceptics? With so many people trying to line their own pockets, at other people’s expense, is it any wonder that we have learned, or needed to learn, to be just that little bit sceptical?
Of course, those who try to scam people would be a minority. Nevertheless, even with a small number of rogues and crooks it pays to be careful. Indeed, we need to be on our toes, because some who seem to be the most innocent of people, have been caught trying to get every they can from each of their victims.
And sadly, that’s not just true of people who are trying to sell things that are either useless, overpriced, or don’t exist. It’s also true of those who sell religion too. After all, it doesn’t seem that long ago, that one TV evangelist after another was caught lining their own pockets, rather than using the donations sent them for the purposes for which they were sent.
With all this going around, then, and with the explosion of scams on the internet, is it any wonder, that we have become a nation of sceptics? And if we have, isn’t it comforting to note that one of Jesus’s disciples, Thomas, is noted for being a sceptic too.
B. ‘DOUBTING THOMAS’
1. Thomas’ Background
Now we really don’t know much about Thomas, as a person. We don’t even know if Thomas was his real name. After all, he was called Thomas or Didymus, but both of those names simply mean ‘twin’. But a twin to whom? We don’t even know that. What we do know, however, is that Thomas was consistently listed in the second group of three disciples. And that may mean that while not in the most inner circle of disciples, he still had a very special bond with his Lord. Indeed, he knew him so intimately, that when news arrived that Lazarus was dying, it was Thomas who suggested that they go to Lazarus’s rescue. And that is despite the fact that the Jews were out to stone Jesus.
Thomas understood much about Jesus. And he knew that Jesus would be willing to put his life on the line for his friend (John 11:16). Despite that, however, just like the other disciples, Thomas’s understanding of Jesus was not always as it should have been. Because in Jesus’s final week, when Jesus was talking doom and gloom, it was Thomas who openly confessed he didn’t know what Jesus was talking about. And it was Thomas who admitted he really had no idea what Jesus was about to do either (John 14:5).
2. Background to the Story
And this, of course, brings us to the events of Easter Day. Because on Easter Day Jesus made at least four resurrection appearances. He appeared to Mary Magdalene at the tomb (Jn 20:10-18); he appeared to two disciples together, as they walked on the Emmaus Road (Luke 24:13-35); he appeared to Peter (Luke 24:34); and then, finally, he appeared to ten disciples at once in a locked room (Jn 20:19-23). And the one person who was missing at all those resurrection appearances was Thomas.
Now there’s a common thread to the early resurrection appearances. According to Mark, after Mary Magdalene had seen Jesus, she went and told the disciples what she had seen. But even they refused to believe them (Mark 16:9-11). And when the two men on the road arrived at their destination and told the other disciples they had seen Jesus, they didn’t believe them either (Mark 16:12-13).
Indeed, it seems that, at first, any talk of a resurrection appearance of Jesus was not accepted. All such stories were resisted as idle talk. In each case, those who had not seen Jesus for themselves refused point blank to accept them. And that rather puts into context the post-resurrection story of Thomas—the one notable person who had been absent from all the resurrection appearances to date.
3. The Response of Thomas – The Theory (25)
So, after Jesus’s initial resurrection appearances and when all the other disciples had told Thomas they had seen Jesus, we, perhaps, should not be surprised at his reaction.
His unbelief was exactly the same as the unbelief of all of the others to the news of Jesus’s resurrection. He was unwilling to accept the testimony of others. He needed to see Jesus for himself. And, perhaps, because of his closeness to Jesus and his inability to have understood the path that Jesus had taken, maybe, just maybe, his scepticism was coloured with shock from the tragedy of the crucifixion itself.
Any talk of resurrection was just too much to believe. And therefore, the disciples’ statement to him that they had seen Jesus, was a statement that he just couldn’t accept. As a consequence, his demands to see the risen Jesus with the marks of the nails, and on the condition that he could place his hands in the crucifixion marks on Jesus’s body, is very understandable.
And more so, because it was now a week after the first resurrection appearance, and he had still not seen the risen Lord. Proof positive, for him at least, that he had every reason to be sceptical.
4. The Response of Thomas – The Practice (26-28)
However, all this was to change. One week after the resurrection and the disciples, again, having gathered together in a locked room—but this time with Thomas in attendance—Jesus came among them, gave the disciples his usual greeting, and then turned his attention to Thomas.
Now, you can almost feel a pregnant pause at this point. What was Jesus going to say? Well, one might have expected some words of chastisement or words of reproach for Thomas’s unbelief. But they didn’t come. Instead, Jesus presented himself to Thomas and invited him to carry out his tests—to place his finger in the scars of his hands and his hand on his side. And he urged Thomas, with the evidence that was before him, to cease to be an unbeliever and believe.
Now no doubt Thomas’s reaction to all this, probably surprised himself. Thomas was not the sceptic that he thought he was at all. And at the sight of Jesus alone all his doubts vanished; his need for his tests quickly faded away. Jesus’s presence and Jesus’s words were enough. And so, Thomas gave utterance to his newfound faith ‘My Lord and my God’.
‘My God’. Nobody had ever described Jesus in that way before. This was indeed a leap from scepticism to full-on faith. Thomas, in a moment, had not only acknowledged that Jesus had indeed been resurrected from the dead, but he had seen what that resurrection implied. Mere men do not rise from the dead in this fashion. And they certainly don’t continually visit their former colleagues. To Thomas this could mean only one thing—that Jesus truly was the Son of God.
5. Jesus’ Response to Thomas (29)
And Jesus’s response to Thomas? Not with harsh words, but with a word of approval. However, he did go on to commend those in the future who would believe without the benefit of a personal resurrection appearance.
Now it seems to me that poor old Thomas often gets bad press. He’s known as ‘Doubting Thomas’, like he’s been picked out as the only one who had done something terribly wrong. And that, maybe, he is a lesser person because of his unbelief. And yet, Thomas’s disbelief was no different to the unbelief any of the other disciples before they too had seen the resurrected Jesus for themselves.
But more than just believe, Thomas in his expression of faith, showed that he suddenly understood what it was all about. He understood that his newfound faith was not complete in itself, but only the start of something new. He realised what was required was a deep commitment and a willingness to serve. And he discovered that the one person he was to serve, Jesus, was far more interested in what Thomas needed to have and practice—faith—than in chastising or giving reproof for his unbelief.
And those three aspects put a rather different perspective on the story of Thomas than is often ascribed. As a consequence, it is a story that has much to teach us.
1. A Healthy Dose of Scepticism
Because first of all, an element of scepticism is a normal part of living.
The reality was that there was nothing unusual about Thomas being a doubter. After all, Thomas had shown the exact same scepticism which all the other disciples had shown. For sure, by the time it came to his turn, the body of evidence that Jesus had indeed been resurrected from the dead had become substantial—with the evidence of the empty tomb and the number of eyewitnesses. But time wise, it was still only a week since the first resurrection appearance.
So, if the disciples, and Thomas in particular, were sceptical and needed to experience the proof of the resurrection for themselves, doesn’t that suggest that there is something very normal about having doubts and wanting more evidence and even wanting to experience things for ourselves. Because in life, we are told and taught many things. Some things are true, some have elements of truth, and other things have no truth in them whatsoever. And somehow in all of this, as individuals we have to try to separate fact from fiction.
From the perspective of everyday living, then, an element of scepticism can be a healthy thing. It certainly can mean that we don’t get taken in so easily. And, I suggest, an element of scepticism and doubt should be something that we bring to our faith too.
And the reason I say that, is because the Apostle Paul, knowing the problems that the church at Thessalonica were having, encouraged them to ‘Test everything’ (1 Thessalonians 5:21) and not just mindlessly accept everything they were taught. Indeed, the Apostle Paul encouraged his readers to be at least a little sceptical and weigh up the evidence of what they were taught for themselves.
2. Jesus Meets Our Needs
Secondly, no matter what our doubts, no matter how sceptical we may be, the story of Thomas demonstrates beyond doubt that we have a saviour who cares.
When Jesus confronted Thomas, he didn’t slang off at him. He didn’t tell him to pull up his socks for not believing. Jesus’s response was simply to show Thomas what he needed in order for him to have faith. And do you know, I think that that is the most remarkable aspect of the whole story?
If Jesus was upset about Thomas’s lack of belief—after all they’d been through together—he didn’t show it. For Jesus there was a greater priority. And so, he gave Thomas the means to be a man of faith. And that’s exactly what he became.
And I believe that Jesus gives us all the means to be men and women of faith. It’s just a matter of how we respond to it. And that says something about the nature and character of our God.
3. Salvation and Beyond
And, thirdly, when our doubts have been resolved, we need to remember that that is only the start of the process.
Thomas’s reaction to being confronted by the risen Christ was that all of his doubts were swept away. And it could have ended there, scepticism resolved. Except for the fact that Thomas then went on and responded to Jesus, calling out ‘My Lord and my God!’ To Thomas, Jesus’s resurrection not only proved he was his Lord who had risen from the dead, but that this was the start of a new and ongoing relationship which required further trust and obedience.
This story teaches us, then, that the point of faith is only the start of the Christian journey. It is a journey that requires us to pursue an ongoing relationship with our God—a relationship in which we continue to learn more about God and about ourselves; a relationship that, as time goes by, grows deeper and deeper; a journey by which we are to rely on God for our daily needs, where we acknowledge God’s presence, leading, and guidance in our lives; and a journey which involves exercising the gifts and talents that God gives us, as we carry out the responsibilities that our new found faith brings.
Sceptics, we all need to be sceptics to some degree regarding the things of this world. And that is understandable. The inability of people to perform to our hopes and expectations is one thing, but our experience of people who are only too willing to fleece us for every cent we have is another. In a sense, being a sceptic is a necessary part of life.
But being a sceptic, being able to question things regarding our faith, should be part of our experience too. We shouldn’t just blindly follow, where other people tell us we should tread.
So, in the case of Thomas, perhaps his unbelief in those first seven days after the resurrection was understandable. However, having been confronted with the risen Lord, he not only accepted the risen Lord as his Saviour, but in those five words ‘My Lord and my God’ he accepted him in his ongoing life too.
And my hope, and my prayer, is that we can all accept the risen Lord as our Saviour. And that we can then go on to claim Jesus as our Lord and our God in our daily lives too.
Posted: 1st February 2022
© 2022, Brian A Curtis