Harry Whittaker
Studies in the Gospels

250. Seeing Is Believing (John 20:24-29)

There is no indication in the gospel when Thomas rejoined the rest of the disciples, but whenever it was, he was still in the same aggressive state of unbelief. Even though they kept on saying (Gk. impf.) to him with all the confidence of an unshakable conviction that they now knew for certain that Jesus was risen from the dead, he stubbornly refused to accept their witness. Why could they not have the grace to believe themselves mistaken? Perhaps someone else had been impersonating Jesus and thus pulled off a remarkable hoax. If so, "Except I see in his hands the print of the nails..." They could and probably did say: "But we have seen the print of the nails, Thomas! Why will you not believe us?" In answer to which this dogged disciple went on inexorably:"... and except I put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will in no wise believe." And now they had no answer, for this was something they had not done.

Bullinger has very effectively and accurately pointed out that every time in the gospels men are reported as using the specially emphatic negative which Thomas employed here they proved to be wrong. (Mt. 16:22; 26:35;Mk. 14:31;Jn. 11:56;also Ps. 41:8 LXX). Within a week this incredulous disciple was to eat his own words.

Thomas the Twin, the Twice-born

It is in this context that John again (John 11:16) pointedly refers to the meaning of the apostle's name. For Thomas is Hebrew, and Didymus the Greek equivalent, either for "twin" or for "twice-born". This, no doubt, was because the evangelist saw special relevance in it to the occasion described here. Perhaps Thomas was a twin (twin to Matthew? p. 162) but here the cognomen went beyond the mere natural fact to the double personality which Thomas exhibited. There was the disciple of tenacious self-sacrificing loyalty who could say: "Let us also go (with Jesus into Judea), that we may die with him" (11:16). And there was also the very different disciple of John (John 14:5). When Jesus spoke to them of going (to Golgotha) to prepare for them a place (an altar, a sanctuary) associated with his Father's house (the new spiritual temple of believers), Thomas did not again exhort the rest: "Let us also go, that we may die with him." Instead, in hard-headed fashion he insisted on clarification of this mysterious language: "Lord, we know not whither thou goest; and how can we know the way?" It was the expostulation of a man out of tune with his leader.

And now in the upper room the same Thomas still stubbornly refused to accept Jesus as the Way, the Truth and the Life, until the evidence of his own senses compelled him to it. Soon he was to see and know in a way that his faith had never yet risen to.

Once again, it was the first day of the week, the day when Jesus is specially manifest to his own, when the disciples were assembled together in the upper room. This time Thomas was with them -a fact more remarkable and instructive than it is usually deemed to be. Remarkable, since his disbelief of the Lord's resurrection had inevitably set a great gulf between himself and the rest. Many who read these words will know from personal experience that differences of conviction regarding Christ nearly always set up intangible yet impermeable barriers to true fellowship. With the best will in the world, such a consequence is hardly to be avoided. So it is a thing to be greatly marvelled at that Thomas continued to assemble with them. That he had not completely surrendered to the scepticism which was natural to him may be inferred from the words of Jesus: "Become not faithless, but believing."

And what a gain was his from so doing! Earlier his absence from the meeting of the brethren had lost him an incalculable benefit and blessing. Now, doubtless much against his personal inclination, he persisted in seeking the company of the brethren and was rewarded with a renaissance of faith comparable only to that of Peter's.

There is a salutary lesson of loyalty to be learned here. Most followers of Christ have their bad times when doubts about the soundness of their own faith or about the congruity of their own spiritual lives loosen personal ties with the assembly of the brethren (Jn. 15:4; Acts 11:23; Mt. 11:6). At such times there is little inclination towards sharing the fellowship of the faithful. Indeed it is almost the last thing one desires. The experience of doubting Thomas teaches the sterling value of constant contact with the brethren. Even a half-hearted fellowship with them may be the stepping-stone to a renewed fulness of fellowship with One more vital than they.

Jesus manifest again

So it came about. Once again, though doors were fast shut (and stayed shut: Gk. pf.), Jesus miraculously appeared among them. For the third time they heard his high-priestly blessing: "Peace be unto you" (Compare the triple blessing of the high priest, in Numbers 6:24-26): and now the words had special meaning for doubt-tortured Thomas. Now, "by many infallible proofs," he was to learn a rock-like confidence in his risen Lord.

Already, it may be safely assumed, the mere sight of Jesus was sufficient for Thomas to know the futility of his resistance. The voice of Jesus stilling the storm of conflict within him was already producing a great calm. But then came the challenge, couched in the very terms which he himself had used: "Thomas, reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side." Here was no impersonation of the Master he had followed, for who but Jesus himself could so read the doubts of his own mind, and respond to them so graciously? "There is not a word in my tongue but lo, O Lord, thou knowest it altogether ... thou understandest my thought afar off" (Psalm 139:4,2).

"Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands." It is only a blind man who sees with his fingers. In this delicate fashion Thomas' incredulity was reproved. Yet he did not take up his Lord's challenge. Already doubt was gone, and faith flooded in on his rejoicing contrite soul: "My Lord and my God." And who can doubt that as these words burst from him, he went on his knees with his face to the ground and found his worship rewarded with the sight of nail-prints in the feet of his Lord?

"My Lord and my God"

The words are not to be read as a pious ejaculation, nor as the beginning of prayer to God in heaven. Either view is forced and unnatural. It is difficult indeed to believe that an orthodox Jew like Thomas, raised from childhood to say the daily prayer: "Hear, O Israel, Adonai is our God; Adonai is One" (Dt. 6:4), would be able to swing within a second to a different concept of the God of Israel.

Then what did he mean? A remarkable passage in Zechariah throws an unexpected light on this incident:

"And I will pour upon the house of David and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem the spirit of grace and of supplications: and they shall look upon me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him as one mourneth for an only son, and shall be in bitterness as one that is in bitterness for a firstborn" (Zech. 12:10).

That this is a prophecy due for fulfilment in the Last Days when Christ returns, can hardly be doubted. The context is emphatic. But evidently Thomas, with a quick mind familiar with Old Testament Scripture, saw immediately the relevance of this passage to his present experience. There is some evidence that Thomas belonged to "the house of David" (p. 162) and with him at that time were some "inhabitants of Jerusalem." But it is the switch of pronouns which is most striking - "me... him." Here "Me" refers back to Jehovah. The context makes this very plain. And the One referred to as "him... an only son... a firstborn" is Jesus. This remarkable prophecy recognizes, long years in advance, the close relationship between Father and Son (cp. Jn. 14:7,11). As with Abraham and Isaac at the time of the sacrifice, so also when Jehovah's Son was pierced (a prophecy of crucifixion) "they went both of them together." The rejection of the Son was the rejection of the Father. The torturing death of the Son was the torture of the Father.

Thomas saw all this truth in a flash, and it stands as his everlasting glory that he could immediately express it in one pregnant phrase: "My Lord (Jesus) and my God (his Father)."

One further detail in Zechariah confirms that Thomas' confession originated here: "I will pour upon the house of David... the Spirit of grace and of supplications" (i.e. intense prayer for forgiveness). In that upper room, when Thomas was not there, Jesus had breathed on them and said, "Receive ye the Holy Spirit"; and he then spoke immediately of sins forgiven. This can hardly be accidental similarity.

In all this Thomas prefigures his own unbelieving nation, who through many centuries have refused to see the Father in His risen Son. Yet the day comes when "they shall look unto me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him, as one mourneth for the Only Son." But this mourning and bitterness will not endure any more than did that of Thomas.

Disciples of all later generations have good cause to be thankful for the stubbornness of Thomas. Just as the lack of faith of the Lord's own family had evoked the wonderful truth: "Whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother" (Mark 3:21,32,35), so now Thomas' resistance has bequeathed another heartening reassurance: "Blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed."

The blessing is both present and future, as Peter clearly expounds by his direct allusion to these very words: "Whom having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable ("My lord and my God!") and having been glorified," prospectively, with Christ; for Peter goes on to write powerfully about "the sufferings of Christ and the glories that shall follow," the very theme which the Lord himself expounded repeatedly during the Forty Days (1 Peter 1:8,11; Luke 24:26,46).

There is no greater crescendo of emphasis on the vital importance of believing than this paragraph presents. The sequence is impressive, (as also is the sequence in Mark 16:1 1,13,14,16,17):

I will not believe
Be not unbelieving;

but believing.
Because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed;

blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.
that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ...

and that believing ye might have life.

In John's Greek, "faith" and "belief" are the same word. Here then is John's gospel of justification by faith. It is the gospel which was also preached to Gentiles by Paul —those who have not seen and yet have believed - and it stands on the unimpeachable witness of men who knew Christ risen from the dead.

NOTES: John 20:24-29

One of the twelve. In four other places the Gospels use the eleven in their resurrection narratives. Yet it is hardly possible to believe that Judas was present on this occasion.
Except I shall see. Even this obstreperous unbelief adds to the glory of God in v.28.
Although not stated explicitly, it is surely a valid assumption that these meetings took place in the "upper room" of the Last Supper: Note the events associated with the place:

1. The washing of the disciples' feet.

2. The Breaking of Bread.

3. The discourse of John 14.

4. The repeated "Peace be unto you".

5. The in-breathing of the Spirit.

6. The manifestation to Thomas.

7. The appointing of Judas' successor.

8. The restoration of imprisoned Peter to his brethren.

The door being shut. The message of. v.21 not yet appreciated.

The print of the nails. Without this evidence could it be known that this was the same body? The one who sits on David's throne must be proved to be Son of David.

Clement of Alexandria says the apostle's hand went straight through the Lord's body. Those early Fathers were good at foolishness of this sort.
How often Jesus read the minds of men! Mt. 12:25; 16:8; 1 7:25; Mk. 2:6, 8: Lk. 5:22; 6:8; 7:39,40; 11:17; Jn. 1:48,49; 6:61,64; 11:14,15; 13:11; 14:19,20: 20:27; 21:17.

Reach hither thy finger. It looks as though Thomas did not respond to this challenge. He was already convinced. Note seen (v.29).

Thrust it into my side. Had Thomas done so, would he have found a rib missing? Gen. 2:21.
My Lord and my God. A distinction between the Father and the Son may be inferred from v.31, and also v.l 7: "my God." Thomas was surely referring to 14:5-7. The language of Theophany:

(a) Angels referred to as God: Gen. 1 6:1 3; 18:1,3,14; 31:1 1,1 3; 32 30; Hos. 1 2:3,5; Jud. 6:1 2,14; Ps. 8:5 (Heb. 2:7); Zech. 3:2; Acts 12:7,17.

(b) Rulers referred to as God; Ex. 21:6; 22:8,28; 23:20,21; 7:1; 1 Sam. 2:25; Ps. 82:1,6 (Jn. 10:34); 78:20; 97:7; 138:1.

(c) Messiah referred to as God: Is. 8:1 3,14; 61:1,6; 64:4, 65:16; Zech. 12:10;Mal. 3:1; Jn. 20:28; Heb. 1:8; Tit. 2:13.
Blessed are they, certainly now, and also hereafter. Believed. Gk. aorist implies decisive change from unbelief.

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