Thomas is a late bloomer, I guess. A commercial fisherman, he grew up around the Sea of Galilee. Jesus came to Capernaum, calls him, and he follows. For three years Thomas follows.
Thomas's Pessimism and Courage
But Thomas is a pessimist. Some people rejoice to see a glass half full, but Thomas sees it half empty. Oh, he's full courage, but also possesses a streak of fatalism. Once, when Jesus and his disciples hear about their friend Lazarus's death near Jerusalem, the center of Jesus' opposition, Thomas comments darkly, "Yes, let's go there that we might die with him." His words are almost prophetic.
Soon, his world falls apart. Thomas sees his Master arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane and he flees for his life. On Good Friday he watches at a distance as they spike his Friend to a cross on the Roman killing grounds of Golgotha. As Jesus' life drains away, so does Thomas's hope.
Shock and Disbelief
On Saturday he is in shock. On Sunday he is so disillusioned that he doesn't gather with his fellow disciples for an evening meal. Thomas is dazed, hurt, bitter -- and lashing out. Monday morning, the disciples go looking for Thomas and tell him what has happened in his absence.
"Thomas, we were in that upper room where we'd been meeting. We lock the doors for protection. Yet, all of a sudden, Jesus appears. 'Peace, Shalom,' he says. Then he shows us his hands. There are jagged holes where the nails had been. He pulls back his tunic and shows us where the spear penetrated his chest. But he isn't weak or sick or dying. He is alive, raised from the dead!"
Afraid to Believe
"I don't believe it," barks Thomas. "I don't believe a word of it. You're seeing what you want to see. Jesus is dead. I saw him die, and part of me died with him. But he's dead, and the sooner you accept that fact, the better off you'll be. Give it up!"
Peter pleads with him. "Thomas, I saw him myself, I tell you, and he was as real as you are!"
Thomas is cold, with an edge in his voice that cuts like ice. "Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it."
But Thomas's anger cools, and by the next Sunday evening he is eating with his fellow disciples in the same locked room. Suddenly, Jesus stands among them once again and speaks -- "Shalom, peace be with you."
Detail: "The Incredulity of Saint Thomas" (1601-02) by Italian artist Caravaggio (1573-1610). Click for full painting.
All the blood drains from Thomas' face. Jesus turns to him and speaks plainly, without any hint of rancor or sarcasm, "Put your finger here, see my hands." Jesus holds out his scarred hands for him to examine. Thomas recoils. Not out of fear, really, but from a mixture of amazement and revulsion.
Jesus begins to open his outer garment and says, "Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe."
My Lord and My God
Thomas is weeping now and then begins to sob out loud. Jesus reaches out and puts a hand on his shoulder. Then Thomas slips to his knees and says in awe, "My Lord and my God!"
Thomas, "Doubting Thomas," as he is sometimes called, is the first disciple to put into words the truth that Jesus is both Lord and God. "Doubting Thomas" utters the greatest confession of faith recorded anywhere in the Bible.
Jesus replies, "Because you have seen me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed."
Preacher in the East
What happens to him? Doubting Thomas does not stay a doubter. When he sees the risen Jesus, all that Jesus has taught over the years now clicks in, and to his death Thomas is an outspoken advocate for his Lord.
Church tradition tells us that he preaches in ancient Babylon, near the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, where Iraq is today. He travels to Persia, present-day Iran, and continues to win disciples to the Christian faith.
Then he sails south to Malabar on the west coast of India in 52 AD. He preaches, establishes churches, and wins to Christ high caste Brahmins, as well as others. When the Portuguese land in India in the early 1600s, they find a group of Christians there -- the Mar Thoma Church established through Thomas' preaching a millennium and a half before.
Finally, Thomas travels to the east coast of India, preaching relentlessly. He is killed near Mylapore about 72 AD, near present-day Madras. Tradition tells us that he is thrown into a pit, then pierced through with a spear thrown by a Brahmin.
He who had so fervently proclaimed his unbelief carried the Christian message of love and forgiveness to the ends of the earth in his generation.
The Doubter Speaks Today
Thomas would speak to doubters today, to those of us who have seen our hopes and dreams destroyed. Doubting Thomas would tell his story of how Jesus' life had intercepted his own. He would tell us of his fears and his doubts. And then, with a radiant, joyful face, St. Thomas, Apostle to India, would recount his joy at seeing and knowing the risen Jesus himself. "My Lord and my God!" he would say. "My Lord and my God!"
Doubting Thomas - What can I learn from him?
Doubting Thomas was one of the 12 disciples in the Bible. Another name for Thomas was Didymus, which comes from the Hebrew and Greek words both meaning 'the twin.' He wasn't one of the more well known disciples, but he was popular enough to earn the nickname "Doubting Thomas." He was given this label because he simply did not believe that Jesus had risen from the dead. I too have been a 'Doubting Thomas.' But the experience made me a better person and made my faith so much more stronger.
Jesus appears to some of the disciples, but Thomas was not with them the first time. John 20:25 says, "So the other disciples told him, 'We have seen the Lord!' But he [Thomas] said to them, 'Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it.'"
Eight days later, Jesus appears before His disciples again: "A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, 'Peace be with you!' Then he said to Thomas, 'Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.' Thomas said to him, 'My Lord and my God!' Then Jesus told him, 'Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed' (John 20:26-29).
How truthful all this is. If Thomas hadn't been a doubter, this famous saying may not have been recorded in history. This particular saying has helped me many times in my life. When things have been going badly for me, when I have faced hardships and pain, this saying has given me hope.
Even though Thomas earned a negative label, he was not lacking in some very good qualities. He displayed great courage and loyalty. When the other disciples tried to keep Jesus from going to Bethany to raise Lazarus from the dead because of the danger from those in the area who had just earlier tried to stone Him (John 11:8), Thomas said to them, "Let us also go, that we may die with Him" (John 11:16). Thomas also asked Him one of the most famous questions. John 14:5-6 says, "Thomas said to him, 'Lord, we don't know where you are going, so how can we know the way?' Jesus answered, 'I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.'"
I think I have behaved similar to Thomas at times. I have gone through stages in my life when I questioned God. When I was in college I remember wondering how religion and science could agree. I had many questions and doubts at this time and could have been called a "Doubting Thomas." Jesus didn't have to appear to me and show me His wound, however. But He has showed Himself to me in many other ways.
Jesus has answered many prayers for me, maybe not in any miraculous way, but He has made me very much aware that He does exist. I find Jesus in my every day walk through life. Sometimes I see His humility on a street corner in the shape of a homeless man. Sometimes I see Him walking with me in my garden, pointing out the first blossoms of spring or the pretty fall colors of a red maple. I see Jesus' love in the hug my grandson gives me and when he says, "Grandma, I love you." I see Jesus in the pink of a sunset and the beautiful colors of a stained glass window. Thank goodness I haven't been a "Doubting Thomas" for some time now. I stay close to God in my daily prayers, in my mission work, and in studying the Bible. Now days I walk with Jesus everyday, that way I won't get lost and hopefully be a "Doubting Thomas" again.