John 20:24-29: Now Thomas (called Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he 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.”
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.”
Thomas is your classic pessimist, and he usually is referred to by his famous nickname, “Doubting Thomas.” Doubting, is the one word that comes to mind when you mention the name of Thomas the disciple. But as we examine his life more closely, we may be surprised to find out that he is not so much the doubter as portrayed in John chapter 20.
John MacArthur, in his book, Twelve Ordinary Men, says this about Thomas: It probably is fair, however, to say that Thomas was a somewhat negative person. He was a worrywart. He was a brooder. He tended to be anxious and angst-ridden. He was like Eeyore in Winne the Pooh. He anticipated the worst all the time. Pessimism, rather than doubt, seems to have been his besetting sin.
In the Gospel accounts of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, the disciple Thomas is only mentioned when he is named with the other eleven disciples in a list of disciples. Matthew, Mark, or Luke do not give us any further details about the disciple Thomas. Everything that we know about this man comes from John’s Gospel.
Thomas was a devoted disciple to Christ. In John chapter eleven, Jesus is headed back to Judea to raise his dear friend Lazarus from the dead. His disciples try to remind Jesus that the last time they were in Judea, things didn’t go very well. “But Rabbi,” they said, “a short while ago the Jews tried to stone you, and yet you are going back there?” – John 11:8. The disciples were worried that Jesus would be killed if he returned to Judea and they were probably worried about their own safety as well.Then in John 11:16, we see a different Thomas in this passage when he says to the other disciples: “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”
You could look at this passage and label Thomas as pessimistic or lacking in faith. I see Thomas in a somewhat different light. I see a disciple that is saying that he is willing to follow Christ, and if Jesus is going to die, then he is prepared to die with him. He is not afraid to speak up and tell the other disciples to come and follow Jesus and accept whatever lies ahead. In this passage, Thomas can be seen as a source of strength to the other disciples.
Thomas gets labeled a doubter because he refused to believe that Jesus had risen from the grave until he saw him face to face. Remember however, that the other disciples also were slow to believe until Jesus appeared to them shortly after His resurrection. It didn’t take Thomas but just a few moments to utter that memorable phrase after seeing Jesus, “My Lord and my God!” Thomas was a true believer, but like most of us, his faith at times was weak. Jesus knew that and by His infinite grace, he renewed the faith of Thomas and used him to spread the Gospel to foreign lands.
John MacArthur goes on to say this about the later ministry of Thomas: There is a considerable amount of ancient testimony that suggests Thomas carried the gospel as far as India. There are churches in south India whose roots are traceable to the beginning of the church age, and tradition says they were founded under the ministry of Thomas. The strongest traditions say he was martyred for his faith by being run through with a spear – a fitting form of martyrdom for one whose faith came of age when he saw the spear mark in his Master’s side and for one who longed to be reunited with his Lord (John MacArthur, Twelve Ordinary Men, page 164).
Thomas was a doubter, he was pessimistic, and his faith was sometimes weak. Many of us are like Thomas, at times. We doubt, we become weak, we lose faith, especially when things don’t go our way. But like Thomas, our faith and our outlook on life can be renewed by the grace of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Thomas stands as a testimony that God can use those of us that are weak and inferior to spread the Gospel message that Christ is Risen, Christ is Risen Indeed!